I’ve been working in development environments my whole career, over 30 years. I started out sharing an office that actually had a door on it; yes, that was a really long time ago. I’ve gone from offices to cubes to open spaces. I’ve worked on really large teams, very small teams, and lots of medium-sized teams. I’ve also used waterfall, iterative, agile, and cowboy methodologies. One sure constant is that there are always plenty of sources of humor. Just ask Scott Adams.
So rather than a technical blog, I decided to share five funny moments from my developer team history. I suppose you had to be there to get the full effect of the humor, but hopefully you can relate or, if not, this will make you think about what your top five funny moments are.
5. Better off not opening your mouth
In the 1990s, I worked for a second-line manager that had a southern drawl that made him sound… less than intelligent. Don’t get me wrong; I am from the south and was “raised as a young’n” who needed a whole lot of vocabulary help when I got to college. But this particular manager made no attempt to correct his style of speech or improve his language skills. Additionally, my colleagues and I had little respect for his decision making because of previous events, so his backwoods drawl did nothing to help that.
On this particular occasion, one of his key direct report managers, his lead product planner, and his lead architect (me) were trying to convince him that he was heading down a bad path and should reconsider his decision as none of agreed with him. His response still makes me C.O.L. (chuckle out loud). He said, “Team, team, team. Our problem is that we are diabolically opposed.” Yep, that’s right, he said “diabolically.” We all bit our tongues hoping he meant “diametrically,” but maybe not. He did tell someone that he was “operating on different plane from everyone else.” We did lose it one other time, though, when we were in a meeting (with customers!) and he started a sentence with “Maybe it’s my understandin’ of the English language, but…”
4. Don’t go there
As a consultant, you want to be jovial with your clients and keep things light and fun, but sometimes you find yourself sliding down a slippery slope that you know you should avoid. On this occasion I was working with a team that was just starting to adopt an Agile Scrum methodology and so we were using a physical task board with post-it notes, or stickies, as we called them.
The business analyst was a nice young lady that liked to cut up and crack jokes like the rest of us, but of course we had to make sure we didn’t let our humor go down a bad path. This can sometimes be hard to do when you don’t see it coming. As we made progress in our project, our board became covered with multiple colors of stickies which this BA tried to keep track of. She was also the keeper of the stacks of sticky note pads. One day while we were admiring her skills at keeping things organized, she blurted out without thinking, “I guess you could call me the ‘Sticky Queen.’” No sooner had the words left her mouth, than she wanted to yank them back in. As for me, I froze. That is the kind of statement that those of us who live in the land of puns want to grab hold of and never let go. There are so many places to go with that statement, but political correctness prohibits it. So, I tried my best to redirect the conversation, but you could tell we were all about to burst. I have on a couple of occasions brought this statement back up, but each time I quickly retreated, having made my subtle point.
3. I get no respect
Around 2003, I was leading a team of a dozen consultant developers. As with any team of developers, personalities (when present) varied greatly. This one developer, let’s call him “Stewie,” was kind of quiet, a bit unique, but talented. He and several other consultants and I were having a design discussion where I was presenting what I thought was a good approach and near the end of my “lecture” I noticed he was not engaged so I asked him his opinion. His insubordinate response did not make me happy, but it was nevertheless funny. He responded with “What you were saying sounded stupid, so I stopped listening.” I’m not sure if it was the pure lack of respect or boldness of the response that made it funny, but in the end, he no longer works for us, so I guess the laugh is on him. (Just kidding, Stewie.)
2. Don’t try this at home
Around that same time in 2003 with that same team, I delivered a classic line that my team has never let me live down, especially since it was also a major technical faux pas. We were working on estimates for future work and decided to use a shared spreadsheet. I spent a lot of time using Microsoft Excel and, in fact, the team liked to kid me by saying Excel is not a programming language. I knew that, but I took great pride in all the tricks I could do with Excel. Unfortunately, I did not have much experience with a shared worksheet.
Near the end of our hour long estimation session, I became curious about how more than one of us seemed to have write-access to the same worksheet. My curiosity got the better of me and I blurted out this classic line that they have never let me live down, “I wonder what would happen if I hit save?” And so I hit save. I did so immediately after the scribe for the meeting who had been making all the changes hit save; only I had none of the changes. All changes were lost and we had to go back through the exercise again. But that statement will always haunt me, thanks to none of them ever letting me forget it.
1. Good clean humor
My favorite line of all time was delivered by one of the most genuinely kind and loveable programmers I have ever met. I want to call him Gomer because he comes from a small mountain town in North Carolina and sometimes you can hear the twang in his voice. I am reluctant to use this nickname though because he is really brilliant and successful. But for this story, I will use that name. So keeping with theme, I will call his buddy, Andy. Andy, too, is a very bright developer and the two of them together were extraordinary problem solvers.
One day I was commenting on how good this team was at solving problems and Gomer blurted out what I think is the funniest, unintentionally awkward compliment ever uttered. He said, “Andy is great in the shower!” We all just stopped and stared at him as he didn’t realize at first what he had said. As it dawned on him, he turned red and quickly explained that on multiple occasions he and Andy would work on a tough problem and leave work late without an answer. The next day Andy would come in with the answer that came to him while he was in the shower. While many of us can relate to what he meant, we will never ever let Gomer forget that line.
Software development is a serious business that requires a lot of discipline, knowledge, and professionalism. But there is no better cure for stress than friendly humor. Whether your sense of humor is dry, blatant, hilarious, or just plain stupid, use it wisely and it can be one of your most important soft skills.
— Keith Shakib, [email protected]
So in enumerating funny moments in history I may have left out one of the funniest. Let’s call it…
In a project 10 years ago we had a dozen consultants working with a large client here in Kansas City. One of the newest members of the team, let’s call him Nike, was one of the most fun loving guys on the team and was always goofing around. As an example, when he would instant message me he would start off with “Hey poopy.” One day, when I was in a meeting he did this exact thing only this time, within a minute or so, other consultants as well as clients started messaging back responses, like “why are you calling me Poopy?” and even one response was from a client he didn’t even know. By the time I returned from my meeting, Nike was totally frazzled. He said his text to me must have somehow been broadcast out to a large group. He had tried everything including shutting down his laptop and restarting and was about to uninstall and reinstall the instant messenger as well as Windows if necessary.
I was trying to keep my composure but just couldn’t and finally broke down laughing. As it turns out, when he messaged me I was in a conference room with some of the other consultants and one or two clients and was projecting my laptop. When the “hey poopy” message came across, everyone in the room thought it was funny and agreed to all message him back and even messaged other people around the company to get them in on the joke. On our end, all we saw was that the messages stopped and Nike signed off. We had no idea we had the exact impact we were hoping for. Be careful throwing around your “hey poopy”; it may land right back where it started.