Copyright © 2008, John F. Raffensperger.
Jason Roberts Brown stepped cautiously into the executive corridor of AccuDollar Software, Inc. He found the door he sought – Wilbur Buchanan, Vice President.
“Good morning, sir. I’m Jason Roberts, the new hire. This is my first day. Could you tell me where I should report?”
“Oh, hello,” said Wilbur. “You’re a new hire? I’m surprised to hear that. Well, welcome to AccuDollar Software! What job will you be doing for us?”
“Actually, sir, I’m not sure. The Director of Human Resources just told me to show up on December twenty-second.”
“Oh. Well, she’s not here now, and I don’t have any paperwork on you. Look, most people are going to take off until January third. Why not just come back then, and we can get this sorted out?”
“I guess that would be okay! Could I just see where my desk is?” Jason smiled with a new hire’s enthusiasm.
Wilbur replied, “It would help to know what job you’re going to do. What kind of skills do you have? Can you program?”
“Sure can! I’ve got a masters in computer science.”
“Good! You’ll probably join our software developers, then. They’re in the bullpen down the hall, past the managers’ offices. Why don’t you just pick out a desk you like, any empty desk, and call it yours.”
“Great! Thanks! Uh, one more thing. You said you were surprised to hear of a new hire.”
Wilbur looked down and shuffled his feet. “Uh, well, frankly, I thought we had a hiring freeze. Look, I’ve got some last-minute Christmas presents to buy, so I’m getting out of here in a few minutes. I’ll see you again on the third.”
“No problem!” said Jason.
“So long then.”
“Yeah, and Merry Christmas,” said Jason with a smile.
Jason turned and walked down the managers’ corridor. All the doors were shut but two, so he introduced himself in those two offices. Both managers said they were leaving momentarily, too.
At the end of the managers’ corridor, Jason found a big room with a high ceiling, like a small gymnasium, full of cubicles. This was the developers’ bullpen.
In the first cubicle, a young man sat, holding a plastic bottle. He seemed to be chatting to a woman leaning on the cubicle partition. Jason introduced himself.
“Good morning! I’m Jason Roberts, the new hire.”
“Hi! I’m Ginger. Welcome to the Bullpen.” Ginger shook his hand. “This is Andy.”
Andy didn’t look up, but said something unintelligible. As he did, he spat into the plastic bottle.
Jason looked at the young man in the chair. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.”
Andy glanced at him, but quickly looked down again. In a choking voice, he said, “Are you a programmer?” Andy spat again, a huge stream of spit into the half-full bottle.
“Yes, I can program, but they haven’t actually told me what I’m going to be doing. For all I know, I’ll be sweeping the floor!”
Ginger and Andy both cracked a smile.
Ginger beckoned to Jason, “Come on. I’ll introduce you to everybody.”
“Great! Thanks! Hey, nice to meet you, Andy!”
Andy waved, without looking up.
As they stepped away, Ginger whispered, “Cerebral palsy. He’s our best developer.” Reaching the next cubicle, Ginger said, “Hey, Sue, meet our new hire, Jason.”
Sue pulled away from her desk, wheel-chair bound, and gave her hand smiling to Jason.
“Hi, Jason! I overhead you with Andy. How are you doing?”
“Actually, I’m doing great! A new job, and Saturday’s Christmas. Mr. Buchanan even told me to stay on holiday until January third.”
Sue laughed. “Wow! You’ve already got vacation, and you just started!”
“Right, but I don’t know if they’re going to pay me for the week between Christmas and New Year’s!”
Sue laughed again, an easy laugh. “Well, it’s good to have a job. Welcome aboard and good luck!”
“Thanks! Hey, let’s talk again.” Jason turned and followed Ginger to the next cubicle.
So one by one, Jason met everyone in the Bullpen. He met Oscar, the black-moustached Mexican, Ted, the Japanese expert in artificial intelligence, Debbie, the database genius, and Bill, a huge fat man with tremendous beard. Bill looked like a wizard, or Father Time. He had pictures of sail boats all over his cubicle. Mary Ellen was enormously pregnant. Gregg, a nerdy young man in the corner, smiled and blurted out, “Hey, have you done any math modelling?” Jason knew a little about it. Eileen was overweight. Ginger said she was a terror, but was the only one who understood the file system. All told, Jason met sixteen software developers, and it was barely 9:30 in the morning.
The network administrator, Judi, complained, “Look, the only reason I’m here is because I have to support the network. Nobody’s doing anything! Why don’t they all just go home, then I could go home, too?”
Jason focused on her second sentence. “What do you mean, ‘nobody’s doing anything’”?
Judi replied, “We finished the last upgrade two months ago, and management hasn’t decided what features to put in the next upgrade. So we’re only doing support, but even that’s dribbled off in the last couple weeks. With the holidays, nobody’s calling in at all. So we’re stuck here doing nothing. At least they should have given us some sort of direction.”
“Hmmm,” said Jason. He looked out the window at the gray parking lot. “Say, I need a coffee. Could you show me where the caffeine is located?”
“Sure, come on. I need one, too.” Judi led the way to an espresso machine. As she got out the coffee, the last two managers swept past, their heavy coats on.
“Merry Christmas,” said one, and they were gone.
“Merry Christmas,” said Jason to the vacant door. “I guess it’s just developers left.”
“Yeah, and me. I don’t do development, I just keep their computers going.”
“I see. So you’re stuck keeping computers going that nobody’s using.”
“That’s right. I guess I wouldn’t feel so bad if they were actually doing something. I guess we’re all in the same boat.”
“Great espresso! Could I have another?”
“Okay.” They talked about the holidays. Neither had family in town. Judi was planning to spend Christmas with friends. She asked Jason about his plans.
Jason said, “Well, it’s kind of embarrassing. I’m kind of new in town, and I don’t know anyone. This conversation is about the longest I’ve had with anyone in a week.”
Judi finally smiled. “Well, actually, maybe it’s the longest conversation I’ve had in a while, too. Mostly I stare at computers.”
“So what are the developers going to do all week?”
“I don’t know. I guess they’ll keep surfing the net and gossiping about Ralph Brown.”
Jason didn’t flinch. “Oh? So what’s the latest gossip?”
“Oh, the usual. That he’s a complete crank with a good-for-nothing son.”
“Ouch! How did that get decided?”
Judi carried on unknowingly. “Well, whenever Ralph comes in, all he seems to do is shout for about an hour, then he just leaves. Nothing much changes, but I guess he has to get it out of his system, to make himself feel like he’s still running the company. And we’ve heard his son flunked out of graduate school.”
“Hmmm. I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Anway, listen, I’ve got an idea.”
“Wait, you’re the new hire, you’ve been told to go away for two weeks, and you’ve got an idea!? You haven’t even found your desk yet.”
“No, but I’m thinking about that empty desk over by Sue.”
“So that’s your idea.”
“No, really. Why don’t we write some software?”
“Well, I don’t write software. You’ll have to talk to the developers.”
“Okay, I will then!” Jason gave Judi a huge smile, put down his espresso cup, and walked to the front of the bullpen. He dragged an empty desk into the hall, and stood up on it, so everyone could see him over the cubicle partitions.
“Hey everybody! Let’s write some software!”
There was a stunned silence.
Bill growled out, “Say your name again?”
“It’s Jason. Look, everybody’s bored out of their minds. We may as well do something interesting.”
“You’re just started an hour ago, right?” It was Oscar.
“Yeah, and already I’m getting into trouble. So who wants to write some software? Anyone who wants to write some code, step out into the hall.”
Bill growled out, “Yeah, I’m gonna step out into the hall, but it’s gonna be to leave.”
“Well, that’s up to you. Anyone else?”
There was a scraping sound. Andy, carrying himself on a wrist-crutch, stepped out into the hall. He mumbled something unintelligible. Ginger sang out, “He says he would rather do something useful than play Tetris.”
Then Sue wheeled out into the hall. “I like to code, but what are we doing?”
“All right! I got two developers. Who else wants to join the team?”
Oscar muttered, “Hey, what’s this guy trying to do?”
Judi answered, “It doesn’t matter. You guys got nothing else to do. You may as well do something.”
Ted, Debbie, and Eileen stepped out. Then Ginger did, too.
“Yes! Let’s meet in the coffee room.”
A minute later, Jason, Andy, Sue, Ted, Debbie, Eileen, and Ginger were in the coffee room. Judi leaned in the doorway.
Eileen said, “So what are we going to write?”
Jason answered, “Well, what would you like to write?”
Judi rolled her eyes. “Why am I in here? I don’t write code, and you have no idea what you’re doing.”
“Just hold on.” Jason turned back to the four developers. “If you guys could write anything you wanted, what would you write?”
There was silence again. Ted said, “Well, I would write more decision support software.”
Eileen reached for a donut from the counter. “I guess I would do file management.”
Jason interrupted, “No, I mean, forget accounting code. If you could write any kind of program at all, what would it be? Would you want to write audio software, or image editing code, or kids’ programs, or network protocol, or what?”
Silence again. Then Ginger said, “Well, I’d like to write kids’ software. But that’s not going to get approval. We do accounting software, remember?”
Jason answered, “Of course, but maybe if we came up with a good demo, we could start a new division.”
“Yeah, and get this company out of trouble,” muttered Oscar, at the door beside Judi. He had arrived unnoticed.
“Hey, Oscar! Come get some espresso.” Jason started up the espresso machine.
Suddenly, everyone was hopeful. “So, what are we going to write?” They all looked at Jason.
“If this is going to work, we have to finish this by January second. So we have to re-use a lot of existing code. There’s not enough time to write much new stuff. What have we got, and how could we cobble it together into a program for kids?”
“Wait a second,” said Eileen, “Do you mean we’re going to be writing code between Christmas and New Year’s? That’ll be a first!”
“Come on,” said Oscar, “Back in ’97, we were finishing version one point five on New Year’s Eve.”
“What about a shoot-em-up action game?” Debbie was looking interested.
“Okay! What code do we have that we can re-use?”
“Thinking like a true manager,” chimed in Oscar again. “Look, let’s think about what the game does first, then decide if we can re-use any accounting code.”
Jason turned, “What do you think, Andy?”
Andy’s raspy voice was hard to understand, but Jason was getting used to it. “…something something shoot ‘em up something something could be a template something RPG but we would have to come up with our own images something something…”
When Andy stopped, Jason thought for a moment, realizing at once that he couldn’t understand most of what Andy had said, but also that Andy seemed to have some interesting ideas. “Have we got a white board?” he asked the group.
Judi pointed to the corner, “How about a flip chart?”
“That’ll do.” Jason picked up the marker and handed it to Andy. “Could you put your thoughts on paper for us?”
Andy spent the next ten minutes outlining a generic game of conflict, interrupted by Bill coming in to get a coffee. As the espresso machine made its characteristic hiss, Bill frowned, slouching against the wall. Andy asked Bill a question, which Jason only partially understood, “Hey, Bill, do you know how something something something battles?”
Bill straightened up a bit and the frown left him. “Sure. Nelson at Trafalgar is considered one of the great stories. Are you guys going to write a naval RPG?”
Judi whispered to Debbie, “What’s an RPG?” “Role playing game,” she whispered back.
Andy said, “Well, it’s an option. We would have to look to you for all the AI rules.” Jason realized that he had understood Andy perfectly that time.
Judi whispered to Debbie, “What’s an AI?” “Artificial intelligence,” she whispered back.
Bill straightened up further. “Well, if you are goin’ to base a game on naval tactics, I guess I would be your local expert there. Count me in!”
Andy turned a page on the flip chart and began to draw boxes labeled with cryptic acronyms. Occasionally he would circle a set of boxes and write someone’s name on it. “Image database, Debbie.” “GUI, Ginger/Andy.”
Andy’s boxes got more detailed. “The parts here with stars are bits that we’d have to create from scratch. Everything else we can pull off existing code.” There were a lot of stars.
People began to chime in. Eileen offered, “Well, I could plug in the accounting file system. You can’t do much better for that in performance. The code’s already been optimized. You could cross off that star.”
Andy’s boxes started to include names of people that weren’t in the room. “AI, Bill/Ted.” Bill slipped out of the room, and came back with Ted a few minutes later.
“Yay, Ted! Ya gonna join us?” said Debbie. “May as well,” he replied.
Ted and Bill began a second conversation in a low voice, working through how they would convert accounting logic to naval tactical logic. Again, Bill slipped out of the break room, this time coming back with young Gregg.
With his hand on Gregg’s shoulder, Bill said, “We need Gregg. He’s the only one who can write the network code.”
“What are you talking about?” said Eileen. “This isn’t networked software.”
“That’s not the kind of network I mean. To develop the AI, we need some graph theory. I meant graph network code. And Gregg’s our man there.”
After another 15 minutes of flipcharting with Andy’s lead, some of the stars had been crossed out, and Andy seemed to run out of things to write down. The group stared at the flip chart.
Jason stood up from the plastic chair. “Well, everybody grab the page with your name on it, and let’s see what we can get done by noon.”
“By noon?” said Eileen. “This software would take six months to write.”
Andy was thoughtful, staring at the flip chart. “I think we could do it faster than that.”
Jason said, “Well, either way, let’s see what we’ve got at noon. I tell you what, if you guys can get your existing code into the new project directory, and compiled once, I’ll buy Chinese food for lunch.”
Andy said, “Szechuan Palace on Touhy, and get plenty of egg rolls.” And he tore off the first page, and led the way out of the room.
Eileen took page two, muttering, “There’s just no way you can get a compile on a new project in ninety minutes.” Debbie reached under for page 5, replying, “Well, there’s no harm trying.”
When they had all left the room but Jason and Judi, two pages were left. One page was labeled “Mary Ellen.” The other was labeled “Oscar.”
Judi said, “I’ve no idea how you’re going to get those two on board. Oscar has family, and will probably want to leave early. Mary Ellen doesn’t really get along.”
“Oh, and I suppose you get along with everyone, do you?” Mary Ellen had just walked in as Judi was speaking. She went towards the refrigerator and opened it with a grunt. “And who took my yogourt? I’m starving.”
Judi was silent. Jason had a sinking feeling. He looked at his watch. “Well, I could go buy some for you.” Both Judi and Mary Ellen stared at him shocked.
“Look, I usually take a ten minute run every hour or two, and I saw a store a couple blocks away. What kind of yogourt do you like?”
“Well, as long as you’re going.” Mary Ellen looked sideways at him. “The doctor said I’m supposed to have the full fat kind. I like raspberry.”
“Done then,” said Jason. “I’ll be right back.” He dashed out of the room, down the hall, and out of the building.
“Doesn’t he need his coat?” said Judi?
Jason first jogged entirely around the AccuDollar office building. It wasn’t very large. The parking lot was on two sides. The third side was a one-way street and had a sidewalk. Behind the building was a flat area that must have been grass, but all he could see was a foot of snow. He noticed a large grill, and pictured it with steaks for company picnics in wealthy summers past. Now the grill was rusting, its top knocked off, with snow in place of charcoal.
After going around the building, he jogged to the convenience store, found the raspberry yogourt and an oatmeal bar, and jogged back. Unfortunately, the front door was locked this time. He knocked until Judi let him in. He found his way to Mary Ellen’s cubicle, and put down the food.
“Oh, wow! Thanks! An oatmeal bar, too.” Her pale face stared at him, her pregnant stomach tight against her desk. “Look, I’m not doing anything. Can I help write the video game?”
“Sure.” Jason smiled. Then he put out his hand, and she shook it. “Great! Let me get you your piece of the puzzle.” He got the paper off the flip chart and brought it back to her.
“Now this is Andy’s handiwork. If you can’t make sense of it, check with him. And, Mary Ellen, if you need any munchies, just let me know. I don’t have an assignment yet, and chasing down yogourt is easy.” He smiled broadly at her. And for the first time, Mary Ellen smiled back.
Jason went back to the break room for the last piece of paper. It said “Audio, Oscar.” Jason stared at it, then tore off the page and took it to Oscar’s cubicle. As he walked, he heard furious typing coming from all directions, with Ted and Bill talking excitedly about “starboard cannon” and “fools taking port tacks”.
Oscar was looking at an on-line toy catalogue. He was grumpy. Before Jason could say a word, Oscar snapped, “You’re the new guy, but somehow you’ve made me look like the odd man out. Not that it matters.”
“This is a completely voluntary project, Oscar. You don’t have to join. Everyone would be thrilled to have you involved, but it’s your own choice.” He paused a moment, looking at the photos pinned to Oscar’s cubicle. “Gorgeous kids. Have you got presents lined up yet?”
Oscar relaxed very slightly. “No, not all of them. I want to get some Lego for my oldest.” He pointed to a picture of a boy who looked just like Oscar, but with jet black hair sticking straight up.”
“Well, look, we’re writing an RPG based on 18th century warships. If you want to help, here’s a module with your name on it.”
“Oh, and you’re assigning projects now, are you?” Oscar sneered.
Debbie’s voice came through the cubicle wall. “Oscar, we planned it together! Jason, bring me that page.”
Jason walked around the divider. Debbie took the large paper and stared at it. “I know a little about audio. I think the database CD has some drivers for it.”
Oscar’s voice came through the cubicle. “Those are terrible drivers. It has to be done in C or your whole application will fall over.”
There was a pause, then a squeaking sound. Sue was coming down the hall in her wheelchair. She leaned across Debbie’s desk and took the flip chart paper, then she wheeled into Oscar’s cubicle.
“Oscar, could you just do this? Please?”
Oscar yanked the paper from her. “Okay, but you’ve got me only until three.”
Sue said, “And we’ve got a bet with Jason to have a stage one compile by noon.”
Oscar said, “There’s nothing to compile. It’s just the libraries.”
Sue replied, “Well, could you check it into the Nelson project directory?”
“How did you name it Nelson?”
Bill’s big voice boomed across the room. “He was an English admiral.”
“Oh.” said Oscar. He was quiet a moment. “Well, get some pork dumplings.”
“Yay, Oscar!” sang out Debbie.
Jason went to Judi’s office, borrowed the phone book, and ordered food from Szechuan Palace. “How far away is that?” he asked her.
“About a half mile. Usually that’s just 5 minutes, but I don’t know with this snow. It’s actually shorter to walk, since you can go down the one-way street.”
“I’ll jog there. Do you want to come with me?”
Judi thought a moment. “Okay.”
So they jogged together to the Chinese restaurant. It was a good thing that both went, since Jason had ordered a lot of food. They returned a little after twelve and put the food in the break room, then Jason asked Andy, “How’s progress?”
Andy replied, “You already bought the food! Does it matter?”
Jason smiled, “No, I guess not.”
“Well, I’m surprised we’ve got this far this quickly.”
Jason climbed on the empty desk again. “Free food!” he sang out.
After lunch, Jason walked from cubicle to cubicle to get to know his new workmates. Gregg was having some trouble with a shortest path algorithm. “It doesn’t calculate the primal retrieval correctly.” Jason asked him to step through the code with the debugger, and asked him questions about it. After ten minutes, Gregg said, “Gotcha! Off by one pointer. That’s bitten me before. Thanks, Jason!”
Jason replied, “Well, you did it. I just watched.” “No, but you asked the right questions. Thanks!” Gregg repeated.
When he got to Oscar’s cubicle, Oscar handed him a printout. “You might want to have a look at this,” he said. He put his finger to his lips, and pointed to the break room. So Jason took the printout and went to the break room to read it. He made an espresso and looked at his watch. Two o’clock. The printout was a financial report, and it took some time to make sense of it, but it showed that sales had fallen 44% in the last year, and that AccuDollar was hemorraghing cash at an increasing rate. A budget forecast showed end-of-year cash reserves severely in the red, an untenable business situation.
Two hours later, Jason invited the whole group to a jog around the building. “We have to celebrate! We can take everybody. I’ll push Sue.” Andy looked doubtful, but Bill knew an old Boy Scout trick. He and Ted joined hand to arm to make a seat for Andy. As they went out, Andy reminded Jason to unlock the front door. And away all eleven of them went, Debbie and Jason pushing Sue’s wheelchair across the parking lot ice, then into the snow behind the building, Bill and Ted running sideways like crabs with Andy between them, Mary Ellen’s girth swaying side to side, everyone laughing. Andy managed to grab a handful of snow off a fir tree and threw it at Sue, precipitating a brief snowball fight.
As they came around the building back into the parking lot, breathless and giggling in the chill early twilight, they saw a shiny black BMW that hadn’t been there before.
“Oh, s---,” muttered Bill. As the group filed back into the building, Ralph Brown was standing in the lobby, hands on his hips.
“What is going on here? Is anyone doing customer support, or are all of the AccuDollar employees out playing in the snow?”
“We were just taking a break! Gol-leee!” muttered Debbie.
Ralph looked sternly at them. “As you may or may not know, this company is having some serious financial difficulties. I’m sorry to have to bring you this news just before Christmas, but some kind of change has to happen. Unless our cash situation turns around in the next month, we are going to have start laying off staff. We have had complaints about our customer support before, and I won’t tolerate much more.” With that, he turned and walked out. Only the sound of his BMW starting up broke the silence.
“Yay. Merry Christmas.” muttered Debbie finally. “What a guy.”
Oscar announced he had to leave. “Look, I said I had to leave at three, and now it’s after four,” he said. “I’ve finished your audio code. I even created a few sound effects from some old home videos. But I have to get to the toy store.”
Jason said, “Oscar, thanks for your help today. It’s been fun playing with this video game.”
After Oscar left, the rest of the team kept at it, modifying accounting code into video game code, like taking a jigsaw puzzle apart, and putting it back together to make a different picture. Andy’s initial architecture was so good that by 5 pm, quitting time, the group was imagining a Version 0.1 just after Christmas.
Several of the group left right on time. As Gregg went out, he told Jason, “That code we were working on is about half done. If you want to look at it, it’s checked in to the project directory.”
Jason noticed that Andy, Bill, Sue, and Mary Ellen had made no move to leave.
“Say Bill, you don’t have to hang around if you don’t want. The project’s not that important.”
“Well, Jason, honestly it’s kinda fun, and I haven’t had fun writing code in a long time. Nobody at home but the cat anyway.”
“What about Andy?” asked Jason in a low voice. “Oh, he generally stays late anyway.”
“And Mary Ellen?”
“What about Sue?”
Sue’s voice sang out “I can hear you guys, for heaven’s sake! My parents are supposed to come down from Madison, but I just got an email from my mother. They’re socked in with snow and don’t want to leave until tomorrow night. So I don’t have anything else to do.”
Jason climbed on top of the empty desk so he could see the four remaining employees. “How about if I clean off that grill out back? I bet the convenience store would have something to go on it. Give me an hour, and we’ll have something grilled.”
There was a smattering of applause, so Jason went off to the store. To his surprise, he found steak, potatoes, frozen vegetables, and self-starting charcoal. He got some ice cream to go with it. The grill took a while to get cleaned off, but the charcoal was easy enough to light. An hour later, he called the other four together, just as the vegetables came out of the break room microwave.
Halfway through her steak, Mary Ellen said, “So Jason. This is quite a first day on the job. Why did they hire you, if they are planning layoffs?”
Jason didn’t know what to say. “Well, maybe it was a mistake.”
No one could reply to that.
“Well, you sure are a nice guy, buying us snacks and lunch and dinner. At least you’ve gotten in good with the developers.”
“Thanks, Mary Ellen. I appreciate that. I just think that people should be working on what they are good at and what they like. And I like to eat!” He paused a moment. “Where do we get our compact disks produced?”
Andy pointed across the street, to a building with a sign “Data Reproduction Systems, Inc.” “They’re closed until January 5th.”
Jason asked, “Do we have any CD burners here in the building?”
Bill said, “Every PC here can burn CDs. The computers in the server farm are off-the-shelf PCs, so they might have CD burners too. That would be kind of slow, though.”
“And where can we get a lot of blank CDs?”
“We usually buy those wholesale. There’s probably several hundred in Judi’s office.”
After the ice cream, the small group got back to work. Jason sat at Gregg’s computer and looked at his code. It was quite readable. A list of tasks showed the chores remaining. Soon, he was clacking away at the keyboard. At 8 pm, the others were getting their coats on.
“Are you going to work on this all night?” asked Mary Ellen.
Jason replied, “No. I’m pretty tired. But maybe I’ll start a beginner’s guide to naval warfare just for fun. Are you okay?” Mary Ellen suddenly looked pained, and was holding her back.
“Oh, yeah, just an early contraction. The baby’s due in a week. Good night, and thanks for dinner.”
Soon, Jason was alone. He wrote the outline for a user’s guide to their game in an hour, then scrounged around the office for blank CDs. By 9 pm, he had close to a thousand, which he stacked by Judi’s door.
The next morning, the twenty-third, the managers never came in at all, but the developers arrived a bit earlier than usual. The espresso machine was in near continuous use from 8:30 to 10, when many in the group went for a run around the building. The brilliant sun and the freezing air was a welcome change from the stuffy bullpen.
At 2 pm, Andy banged his crutch on the cubicle partition. “Everybody!” was all he said. The group gathered around. There on his screen, they saw a stick outline of a ship as it changed sail, and opened fire on another ship.
“Awesome!” shouted Jason. “Awesome! You guys are the greatest! Look, we can do it!”
“Do what?” said Debbie. “This is just a game that we’re doing for fun, right?”
“Why not for real?” said Ted. “We’re a software company.”
“We’re an accounting software company,” said Eileen. “We don’t know how to sell video games.”
“Could we sell direct to the retail stores?” asked Jason.
Eileen was skeptical. “Well, sure you can, but we don’t have any sales people.”
“Can’t be much harder than selling real estate,” replied Ted.
“If we had shrinkwrapped software, could you sell it to the stores?” asked Jason.
“Well, yes, but we need lawyers and contracts and stuff.”
“Ted, if we had the sales, I bet the lawyers would take care of themselves,” said Debbie.
There was silence.
Then Bill said “We need to fill in those stick figures. Debbie, let’s talk about the image database. Sue, didn’t you have a career in graphic arts once?”
Oscar looked bored. “The audio’s done. What have you got for me?”
Jason said, “Follow me.” He took him to Judi’s office. “Judi, suppose we were going to print a thousand CDs tonight, label them, and shrink wrap them. What would we need?”
Judi said, “Just labor. That’s a lot of work.” Oscar rejoindered with his slight accent, “Well, amigo, nothing to it but to do it.”
Two hours later, Ted drove down to see his brother-in-law Kenji, who supervised sales of consumer electronics at George Valley’s Department Store. Kenji was busy and distracted, so when Ted started the demo, Kenji didn’t realize that the demo was appearing on the store video network, including the large plasma display in the front window. A crowd slowly grew, watching the game.
“Ted, it looks good, but we don’t have the shelf space. And I don’t have time to sort out a deal when tomorrow’s Christmas Eve. I’m sorry.”
At that moment, a well-dressed man held up a silver credit card, “How much for the naval battle game?”
Kenji was apologetic. “Sorry, sir, it’s just a demo. It’s not for sale.”
“Well, when does it come out?” Another man called out, “’Scuse me, what’s the name of the navy game?” “Me, too,” said a greasy teenager.
Kenji looked back at Ted. “How many have you got with you?”
“Just the demo.”
“What’s it called?”
Kenji realized they hadn’t even named the game. “Cannons and Fools,” he said.
“I’ll give you $300 right now for that CD.” The man thrust a silver credit card forward.
“We don’t even have a stock keeping number for it yet!” protested Kenji.
“I bet you can sort that out. Ring this up.” Ted took the silver credit card and handed it to Kenji, then he gave the demo and a few pages of instructions to the customer, and tore out of the building.
By 6 pm, all the printers and photocopiers in the building were cranking out documentation. The server farm and all the managers’ computers were writing CDs. Jason bought 2,000 blank CDs and a labeling machine from a local stationary store.
At 8 pm, the shrink-wrap machine broke. It took Bill twenty minutes to fix it. By 10 pm, the four developers remaining were exhausted, but had almost 400 video games ready to sell on Christmas Eve morning.
“Not bad for two days’ work,” laughed Bill.
The next morning, all eleven developers printed documentation, burned CDs, and shrink-wrapped packages. Ted drove the packages downtown every two hours, noticing the crowd at the plasma screen every time.
“We’re not going to have enough,” said Kenji. “Raise the price a little,” replied Ted.
At 4 pm on his last trip, Ted noticed that the crowds had begun to clear. They had already sold 2,200 video games with AccuDollar’s take at $150 per game, and Kenji had run out, but had orders for 1,000 more. That was at least $330,000.
When Ted returned to the office, he heard something strange – a phone ringing. Debbie answered. “AccuDollar Software…Yes, sir, Cannons and Fools is one of our products…Well, sir, we haven’t had any calls about that issue before. Would you please hold on a moment?”
She called to Andy. “Andy, the installation doesn’t work. We’re going to have a melt down on Christmas Day!”
Andy got up and crutched his way to Debbie’s cubicle. “Ask them what’s on the screen.” In a few minutes, Andy worked out a trivial fix, and they realized that the problem would only occur on older machines. “Tell them Merry Christmas,” he said.
At 4:45 pm Christmas Eve, just minutes before quitting time, Ralph Brown showed up again. He slipped in quietly, and peeked into the bullpen. He was dumbfounded. The bullpen was an absolute wreck. The floor was covered with empty Chinese food containers, wadded paper, pieces of shrinkwrap, and muddy footprints. And it was noisy. Phones were ringing, all the printers were going, the door to the server farm opened and closed three times in a minute, and every computer he could see had its CD light on. He stepped into the bullpen.
“What in the world is going on?”
Everyone stopped moving and stared at him.
“This looks like a Version One event.” He was dumbfounded. “What’s happening?”
Jason’s head came up slowly from Bill’s cubicle. “Hi, Dad.”
“He’s your father!?” exclaimed Eileen. “What was this, some kind of trick to get a whole lot of slave labor during the holidays?”
“What trick?” asked Ralph.
Oscar was furious. “I get it now! You sent in your kid to get us to do all this work, just so you could make a quick buck! What a nasty trick indeed!”
“What trick!?” shouted Ralph. “Would somebody tell me what is going on? You’re supposed to be doing customer support!”
Everyone looked at Jason.
“Well, Dad, nobody wants to do that anymore. So we decided to write a video game.”
“A video game!! You guys don’t know anything about video games. Jason, could we talk about this at your desk?”
“I don’t actually have a desk yet.”
The phone rang. Debbie answered it. “AccuDollar Software…” She looked at Ralph. “It’s for you,” she said.
Ralph took the phone. “This is who? … What fools? What do you take me for? …Oh, I see. … Yes? … Oh. How much again? … Very well. Be sure that you pay it on time… Yes. And a pleasure doing business with you also…Merry Christmas to you, too. Goodbye.”
After hanging up, he looked around the room, then at the floor. He kicked aimlessly at an empty eggroll container.
“Well, Jason, I don’t know what you’ve done here, but if you can keep up results like that, then you can have the company.”
“How about right now?” Jason asked.
“What? Right now? Hmmm. Okay. Sure. Right now.”
“Good.” He turned to face the developers. “I would like to announce a Christmas bonus for the developers. You will split all the profits from Cannons and Fools from its first week of sales.”
Eileen spoke up. “Excuse me.” She was staring into the cubicle next door. “I think Mary Ellen’s in labour.”