Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The workspace tables are turned (GIGO part two)

Part one of this story appeared previously.

It was the middle of Sara's second week at the GatoForte startup. Other than one minor incident with one of her bosses during her first week, she had consistently impressed everyone with her hard work, and her eagerness to learn. A few co-workers even noticed that Sara had perceptive insight into a lot of things.

So it was no surprise when Pablo came up to Sara's workspace and told her that Martin wanted to see her. Martin was the CEO at GatoForte, and he rarely met with anyone, much less second-week hires.

A few people even heard the words that Pablo whispered to Sara. "Martin wants to meet you in the data analysis center," Pablo said. Scott, who overheard the remark, was so smitten with jealousy that he missed Pablo's next comment: "There will be company."

Sara was a little disappointed when she actually entered the data analysis center for the first time. Even though she knew it was a crock, part of her wanted to believe that there was at least some super technical secret in the room. But there was nothing except for a bare table, the four GatoForte employees authorized to be in the room...and a few guests.

Now the guests were pretty impressive. Robert Scoble was there, as was Louis Gray. Sara didn't recognize the others, but saw words such as "Huffington Post" and "Mashable" emblazoned on their t-shirts.

"Have a seat, Sara," said Martin. He was smiling, but Sara was not. She knew that this conversation could turn really sour very quickly. As she was walking from her workspace to the data analysis center, she had resolved to be truthful, whatever may result. At least her dad would be proud of her.

"Sara," continued Martin, "I think you know why you're here, but for the benefit of these people, could you identify this?" Martin placed a small pink bag on the table, and opened it so that the contents could be seen.

"That," replied Sara, unable to suppress a smile, "is crap from my dog."

"I wasn't talking about that, Sara," continued Martin. "I was talking about the other thing in the bag. Would you care to examine it?"

Sara took a deep breath. "I don't need to examine it, sir," she replied in a slightly shaky voice. "The other thing in the bag appears to be a Motorola iPhone X."

The guests gasped, then looked at Sara.

"So," replied Martin, "who do you know at Apple or Google who could have given you a Motorola iPhone X?"

Sara took a deep breath again. "My ex-boyfriend owns an Apple," she replied, "and I read the blog of Louis here, who works at Google."

Robert Scoble looked like he had just been punked by his friend Ashton Kutcher.

Sara continued. "And to answer your next question, sir, the branding and lettering for the phone was created on my Sizzix machine." Some of the single men in the room looked confused. "It's a die cutting machine used by crafters for scrapbook projects." She paused. "And other things."

One of the reporters shook his head. "So it's all just a startup prank."

"Yes," Martin replied. "Now remember our deal. You cannot reveal the name of the employee who pulled the prank on me - and on you. We agreed on this, right?"

All of the guests nodded their heads. Sara's name would not appear in print. Well, not for a few weeks, anyway. And by that time it wouldn't matter, based upon Martin's answer to Robert Scoble's follow-up question:

"You're not going to fire her, are you?"

Martin smiled. "No, I can assure you that she won't be fired."

After Pablo had escorted the guests and the other employees out of the data analysis center, Martin and Sara were alone at the table.

"OK," Martin said, still smiling. "Fess up."

"Well," Sara began, "it started on my second day of work, when Scott made a major deal about my going to take out my trash. He then talked about this data analysis center, and it all sounded like a load of crap to me."

"Which reminds me," interrupted Martin as he turned to Pablo, who had just returned. "Pablo, of course we want to save the Motorola iPhone X, but I don't think we need to save the dog crap any more. Take it out to the dumpster when no one's looking."

Sara grinned. "Well, Martin, I know something that you probably don't know. If you're in the right-most stall of the women's bathroom, there's a pipe there that lets you hear all of the conversations that go on in this room."

Martin was stunned. "I did not know that." He sat there for a moment. "That explains why Tina resigned her position so suddenly a few weeks ago."

"Well," Sara continued, "even if I hadn't heard your conversations, I probably would have spotted Pablo or Fernando at the dumpster anyway. But it became clear to me that everyone else in the office was enamored with this data analysis center idea. Last Friday, when Scott secretly showed me the analytics report, you would have thought that he was carrying the Holy Grail. I didn't have the heart to tell him that much of it was lifted from a Dungeons and Dragons manual."

"People believe what they want to believe," explained Martin. "One time the so-called analytics report was composed entirely of quotes from Hitler's diaries. Pretty meta, when you think about it."

"Well, everyone in the office believed in it," continued Sara. "But I wanted to find out if you believed it, even though you knew it was a crock. So I dummied up the fake phone, stuck it in the bag with my dog crap, and waited to see what happened."

There was silence around the table.

Martin turned to Pablo. "Well, Pablo," Martin asked, "what did happen?"

Pablo paused for a brief second. "Well, sir," he began, "that was the day that you had your meeting with the new VC people, so you didn't get into work until late in the afternoon. Fernando and I emptied the trash at lunchtime, and that's when we found the phone. I got a little excited, and I owed a journalist a favor, so I took the picture and mailed it to him at about 2:00. I figured that I'd tell you about it when you came in and that we could quash the story if we had to, but by the time you got in a couple of hours later-"

Martin interrupted. "Robert Scoble was being interviewed on CNBC about the Apple-Google partnership. And that's when I went out and hired a private investigator to figure out how a recent college graduate could have access to such company secrets-"

Sara then interrupted. "And that's when my dad's golfing buddy got the weird phone call in the middle of the night, asking why he had purchased Google stock the previous day."

Sara then chose her words carefully. "In my defense," she began. "While I had no idea that the story would have exploded this quickly, all of you - and all of these so-called reporters - should have known better. Every one of you rushed out this story without doing the slightest bit of fact checking. Not that I'm pointing fingers, but I'm not the only one at fault here."

To Sara's relief, Martin's smile seemed genuine. "You're right, Sara. And I was serious when I said that you wouldn't be fired. In fact, you're one of the few clear-headed people around here, and I'm thinking about giving you some special assignments."

"I appreciate that, sir," Sara replied. "But could I ask you a private question?" She looked at Pablo. "Alone?"

"Sure," Martin replied. "Pablo, if you could step out of the room for a minute. And don't go to the right stall of the women's bathroom, please."

Pablo closed the door behind him.

"Your question?" asked Martin.

"Sir, this whole GPS tracking to find piano-playing cats. That's all a crock too, isn't it?"

Sara was referring to the GatoForte application, the one that was the sole project of the company, the one that had resulted in $20 million in startup funding so far.

Martin chose his words carefully. "I expected the question," he said, "and am prepared to offer you the position of Senior Vice President of New Product Development. I'm getting sick of talking about cats all the time."

Sara smiled. "We haven't tackled bacon yet."
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