Curb your enthusiasm

Long ago, at the beginning of my career, I was part of a team developing software package for Stock Brokers. There were five of us slaving away round the clock at a Stock Broker’s place near BSE : one PM, one functional expert, two senior programmers and yours truly. The agreement with the Broker was that they would get first crack at using the package once it was released. Being the juniormost my responsibilities were to develop reports and keep everyone in good humor while the senior guys were cranking out serious, sexy, complicated transaction code for share trading. The package also had integration to Accounting which was being developed at our company’s Product Development Center in Pune. A senior manager was responsible for overall management of both packages and ensuring they were on track and worked together. This was the successor to the first version of the package which was quite successful. As you can imagine the expectations were sky high and all kinds of features and functionality were expected from the latest and greatest next release. The pressures were high and the small room where we were developing was more of a rat-hole with a big server on a table for six people and the five of us around it banging
out code for months. Folks from the broker’s office would peep in regularly asking how things were progressing and demanding impromptu demos of the work in progress product. Since the outer office did not have air conditioning the folks working there used to keep the door of our room open for some cool air to flow out. Which mean the heat was on for us literally. With sundry new features being thrown in ad hoc for various considerations this project also hit a rough patch like many projects do. Company management decided to dispatch senior manager to bring order and also to supervise project team work for a week. This manager was one of the oldest and most trusted employees in the company. We had about one week notice about the manager’s visit to prepare and rehearse our routine 🙂

I had had brief interactions in the past with this manager. He was good but given to talking about good old times and how the youngsters don’t realize how good they have it. I don’t think he liked my habit of cracking jokes. People find it difficult to understand one can be serious and have fun at the same time 😦 Needless to say I had preferred to keep my distance from him. But this time there was no possibility of avoiding direct contact. Luckily one of the senior guys had recent experience working with the manager in Pune and gave us few pointers to keep the guy happy: Always agree with him, maintain a serious look, laugh loudly at his jokes and if ever there was discussion about movies praise actress Sridevi a lot as she was his favorite actress. For the next week I worked hard on internalizing the following:
1) Curb enthusiasm (to crack jokes)
2) Rehearsing loud laughter
3) Gleaning knowledge about Sridevi and her movies

Came the week and arrived the manager. For the most part my preparation paid off. The manager was quite pleased with our dedication and progress. He even joked with the heat we were working under we should have no problem finding a job in a crematorium 😀 My timing did go awry at times. I blame it for being overprepared. A few times I would start laughing the moment he opened his mouth to crack a joke and he would cast a glance at me suggesting “Why can’t this dickhead wait for me to finish my joke before he starts laughing” 🙂 But by and large I managed to curb my enthusiasm to crack jokes and maintain a serious look. The movie Chandni had released around that time. Towards the end of the week we reserved tickets for viewing the movie in Metro. He had already watched the movie but we insisted he watch again (to get him in good mood to send glowing report about the team to management). He quite enjoyed the movie but every few minutes he would say they did not show a particular scene in the other theater he had watched. After a few times, unable to contain myself, I asked whether he had watched the movie or its trailer 😀 Immediately he shot back “Yeh dhimaag tu programming mein lagayega toh kitna achcha rahega” (You would do better to apply your thinking to coding rather than cracking jokes) 😀 Overall the week was peaceful and I did not do my cause any further damage. We went back to slaving for a few more months and developed the product with our sanity intact!