Today I am pleased to share a guest post from author and fellow tea drinker, Rook Winters. He published The Branch Office on January 15, 2018, which offers a humorous and heartfelt exploration of that office and tech life so many of us are familiar with!
The Branch Office
By Rook Winters
Genre: Humor & Satire
There’s a story in every cubicle.
A novel that is part tribute and part lampoon of office life. You’ll nosedive into absurd behavior, quirky personalities, Silicon Valley excess, 80s nostalgia, personal loss, frustration, unrequited infatuation, company softball, and, of course, doughnuts.
Luke is young and stuck at the bottom of the career ladder but he doesn’t intend to stay there. The grizzled programmer in the next cubicle has been working on the same software for decades and just wants to stay off the radar of the executives.
Unfortunately, the corporate agenda is at odds with their hopes and dreams.
You’ll love the perfect mix of humor, despair, and satire. Get your copy of The Branch Office today!
This guest post was written by Rook Winters, author of The Branch Office, a novel that is part tribute and part lampoon of office life. After seven years working for a tech company, he’s more than a little familiar with the absurdities of corporate life.
I used to be an IT consultant. (How’s that for the start of a riveting tale?) Back in my consulting days, I visited a client site where factory workers on their lunch break were subjected to video loops of the CEO hobnobbing with celebrities. Nothing helps a plate of cafeteria chicken fingers go down in the middle of a Canadian winter like seeing the boss on a tropical island with his arms draped around scantily-clad fashion models…
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ken_tokyo/3306399552
When people say things like “Don’t tell anyone but I’d do this job even if they didn’t pay me,” I mostly think they’re full of bovine dung. There are exceptions, of course, but people work because they need the money. The lucky ones experience some level of fulfillment in the process. The unlucky ones are miserable sacks of flesh dragging their feet through the aisles of big box stores or down the hallways of corporate offices wondering how bad the consequences would really be if they had a full-blown meltdown right then and there.
A surefire way to beat that workaday humdrum feeling is a free low-fat mocha frappuccino from the onsite barista then a quick company-sponsored massage in the relaxation space, am I right?
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gotovan/10377839723
If you’re laughing at the preposterousness of that suggestion, you’re not alone, but it’s very real if you land the right job. And by the right job, I mostly mean in tech. And by tech, I mostly mean Silicon Valley.
After joining a California-based tech company, I was introduced to office snack programs with gourmet tea blends, all-natural energy drinks, and more food options than I can remember, including seaweed crackers. Interesting fact: in employee surveys, the most requested snack was always Doritos, never seaweed crackers. Shocking but true. Remember, you heard it here first.
I was fascinated (and disturbed) by how quickly people would become indignant about changes to the snack program. A perk became an expectation and then morphed into an entitlement. The baby carrots are being replaced with crackers and hummus? That calls for an angry email. No more coconut water? Outrage in the hallways. The sparkling water machine is broken again? How can we be expected to work in these inhumane conditions?
This passage from my novel, The Branch Office, references a number of perks that are common in tech companies. None of them are made up.
A foam football lands in Luke’s cubicle and a contrite-looking support agent arrives a moment later to retrieve it. He apologizes quietly before hurrying away.
The interruption reminds Luke to check the time. His 7pm deadline looms and he decides he can’t spare the time for Beer 30 today.
Each programmer, tester, and documentation writer makes commitments for the week and they take those commitments seriously so they’re usually heads down on Friday afternoons as penance for overly optimistic estimates. Today is no exception, although Luke’s deadline was imposed on him because of the upcoming release of Doxtronix upgrades that Connie and Fish coded.
In contrast to the dev teams, the customer support team gets very few phone calls in the dwindling hours of the week. Fish once compared it to ants that perform complex tasks when each colony member makes decisions based on its instincts. All these workers in many different companies unwittingly collude through individual choices based on self-interest and ensure that each and every worker gets out the door by 5pm on Friday. Better to wait until Monday than risk being in the office when the week ends. And so the customer support folks are usually tossing Nerf balls and watching YouTube videos on Bill’s oversized computer monitor by mid-afternoon. Until Beer 30.
At 4:30pm (give or take fifteen minutes), faithful adherents respond to the call to worship of the tech industry’s popular religious sect of Drinking at Work. In Silicon Valley, the war for talent compels companies to offer an embarrassing array of perks and creature comforts. There are micro-kitchens with free snacks; full-service cafeterias with made-to-order grill stations; onsite massage therapy; laundry service with at-work pickup; game rooms; meditation rooms; napping pods; full-service barista bars; in-building daycare; and even in-building doggy daycare. Everyone has their favorite perk but it’s the company-sponsored booze fridges and craft beer kegerators that draw both introvert and extrovert alike from their desks for an end of week happy hour.
Middlesworth does not have a corporate cafeteria, onsite massage therapy, daycare, laundry service, or most other perks used to keep the company’s hook sunk deep into the flesh of corporate carp in the Valley. It does, however, have Beer 30. At 3pm every Friday, Sirine accepts delivery of two small kegs of craft beer and taps them in the office kitchen. The customer support folks are tipping up red Solo cups by 4:15pm and within thirty minutes, everyone is lined up at the taps.
Connie slams his laptop shut at 4:41pm, gives his hands a clap, and proclaims, “Beer 30 time.”
Luke stands and they meet eye-to-eye over the cubicle wall.
“Hey, you know how you promised Polly earlier in the week that we’d review the support case data for Doxtronix? We haven’t really done that.”
“We did a bit.”
“But not enough to make any conclusions. That was Tuesday and it’s Friday now.”
“I know it’s Friday, that’s why I just said ‘Beer 30 time.’ ”
“I’m serious, Connie. I feel like we made a commitment to have answers this week.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was going to work in the evenings but I kind of felt guilty doing that with my parents just sitting around the house doing nothing.”
“What’s that? Did the impermeable Connie Sherlock just admit to feeling guilt about his parents?”
Connie gives him the finger. “They leave tomorrow. I’ll work on it on Sunday and we’ll talk to Polly on Monday.”
“Fine. If Polly asks, I’m blaming you.”
“I would expect nothing less.”
“What time on Sunday? I can come in for a while. I’m behind on Vortex stuff anyway. I had to spend all day finishing Doxtronix 49 edits.”
Connie makes a noise somewhere between a grunt and a snarl. “Come in? Seriously, why don’t you have a laptop?”
“Dunno. Over my pay grade.”
“Which is saying something since the guy who gives out computers barely makes minimum wage.”
“No, of course not. He probably has more stock options than you.”
Luke curls his lip. “Time?”
“Before lunch,” Connie says. “Then we can get out of here early afternoon.”
“OK, Beer 30 time for real. You coming?”
I repeat: none of those perks are made up. That’s right, even doggy daycare in your office building can be found at some companies. People from outside of tech, and even people in tech but outside of Silicon Valley, find it hard to relate to the lavishness heaped upon employees of tech giants and startups alike. When I wrote this passage, I worried that people would think my list was over the top and unbelievable!
These days, I usually write at home. Working from home has its own perks. The tea is always my preferred brand and there’s no competition for the kettle. I can blast orchestra music, 90s alt-rock, or nature sounds at whatever volume suits my mood. I have control over when and how collaborators can interrupt my productive time. My office mate, a miniature Australian Shepherd, is low drama as long as he gets a couple short walks. And I have complete control over the office snack program. You’d probably just call it “getting the groceries.”
Rook Winters has worked as a software developer, corporate trainer, and technical writer so he is well-acquainted with the ups and downs of spending day after day in an office. His first novel, The Branch Office, isn’t autobiographical but it taps into the humor and despair of office life in a way that’s only possible after spending thousands of days in the land of cubicles.
Rook is also the author of several short stories based on the same characters in The Branch Office.
I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Rook for his time and the wonderful post featured today!