Word's GA for a Day

I promised the Word Development team that I would write up an account of Meredyth's first (and last) day as our group assistant. So many outsiders have asked for more info, I've written this up for the benefit of those who don't know any of the story...

It all really started with Pam, the Word Development team's beloved group assistant. She was absolutely wonderful. She brought us great snacks on workaholic days, made sure everyone's birthday was celebrated, and kept the whole team pleasantly isolated from the corporate bureaucracy. So when Edf, our manager, left the group in February for gamier pastures in the consumer division, it's fair to say that many in the group were most sad that Ed took Pam with him.

The new development manager, Antoine, had been interviewing group assistant candidates for weeks. It’s a tough job to interview for (e.g. "what kind of snacks would you suggest for sixty weary developers?), and none of the candidates were panning out. Meanwhile, the administrivial void left by Pam was threatening to consume the department. We were hacking together our own expense reports, bartering for our equipment, skirting toward critical mass in the storeroom, and Antoine himself was providing late night snacks (oriental rice crackers?). In short, havoc reigned.

Then, on march 28th, Antoine interviewed a great candidate. She was experienced, bright, articulate, funny, and she had some knockout snack ideas. Antoine made her an offer the next day, she accepted it, and they agreed she should start as soon as possible. Antoine sent mail to the group announcing that their new group assistant would start on Monday. Her name was Meredyth hunt.

The group could smell immediately that Meredyth was no Pam. This was due to the incense Meredyth burned in her office. After an amazingly brief bit of HR orientation on Monday morning, Meredyth made short order of personalizing her office with affirmations of the wall ("Be the best Meredyth you can be! - Meredyth" and "I deserve to succeed! Yes I do!"), the aforementioned incense, and a bright pink nameplate (with matching "Please stop in and say hi!" sign) on her door. Antoine took her around the halls, and Meredyth made a great first impression on everyone. She was chipper and focused, although she would alternate between demanding and cowering very quickly. Several people thought to themselves that Meredyth had some serious self-image problems. But she seemed nice, and the heart shaped stickers she put on everyone's doors were a cute touch (Markwal got special treatment - she put a sticker on his shirt).

On the way back from being introduced to the Rittle's team, Meredyth met Petero and Johnpil outside of Nobuyah's office, where Johnpil showing off a rotting/fermented bottle of Odwalla juice that had been left in the fridge for two weeks. The juice was a nasty bright green; the bottle was bloated and distended from internal pressure. Peter noted (while laughing) that Jimw had just shaken up a similar abandoned bottle and it had blown up in his hands. Meredyth asked for (and got) the remaining bottle and took it back to her office. Petero and Johnpil exchanged nervous glances. They didn't know why she wanted it... surely she wasn't going to drink it they thought. Or perhaps she was?

At 11 A.M., Willk stopped by Meredyth's office and half jokingly demanded a new Windows machine to do his testing on. Meredyth said "of course!" and promised one as soon as possible (Pam never made such promises). Meredyth then made her way around the group taking inventory. Some people asked that she come back later and she agreed (Pam had never backed off when doing this). Some people tried to look at Meredyth's notebook during the inventory, and she jealously guarded it (Pam had always been very open about this kind of stuff). Later, several people also noticed that Meredyth was playing a bunch of Sprint, a free video game in the developer's hall (Pam had always found real work to do). Obviously, Meredyth was going to run our ship a little differently than Pam had done.

Meredyth joined the group for lunch, and confessed to Rlittle in the cafeteria kitchen that she didn't have any cash. He gave her four dollars, then, thinking that wouldn't be enough for the sushi and bowl of hot water that Meredyth had picked up, he gave her his meal card. She never returned it. At lunch, Meredyth joked with everyone, and after finishing her meal, she asked if anyone wanted anything from the kitchen. The group was a little surprised by this waitress-like behavior, and no one asked for anything. Meredyth returned from the kitchen with two huge deserts, strawberry cheesecake and pumpkin pie. Several people were amazed as she wolfed these down in quick order. Here was a woman who knew her snacks!

Just after lunch, Meredyth wandered around carrying some old clothes and a pair of big leather boots. She asked several people who they belonged to and where she could put them. Jamesnh showed her the group's storeroom. Once there, she pulled out an office/seating chart marked the spot with a big black X. "I think I can find my way back here" she said. She then mentioned something about getting more stuff from here office, but turned and walked in the wrong direction.

First thing that afternoon, Meredyth went around to everyone's office to schedule a fire drill for the group. Davidlu noted to her that in 12 years at Microsoft, he had never heard of such a thing. "Well there's no time like now to start" she replied. A couple people pointed out that the fire alarm had gone off last winter, so we didn't really need the practice. Meredyth was undaunted. Despite all the resistance, she got everyone to sign up for Friday at 2 P.M. After scheduling everyone, Meredyth ran up and down the hallways with a stopwatch. She said she was doing some pre timings for the big fire drill. No one pointed out to her that she had a big piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe.

A little while later, the shit hit the fan. Our beloved Pam came by to help Meredyth get acclimated. This did not go well. Meredyth initially was very angry that Pam left her office so messy - the clothes and boots from earlier that afternoon had been left there by Pam. Meredyth was heard shouting "THIS IS MY OFFICE!" in an angry voice. Antoine tried to intervene, but Meredyth got angrier and angrier. Pam retreated to Maryma's office around the corner. Pam was heard choking back tears, saying "That new girl's something else... she doesn't want any of my help... I wonder if Antoine really knows how to hire a GA.". Pam started toward the elevators with a livid Meredyth trailing right behind, shouting, "YOU'RE JUST TRYING TO RUIN THINGS BETWEEN ME AND ANTOINE!" Pam finally got on an elevator, there was some more shouting, and Meredyth stormed back to her office.

At this point, the entire Word hallway was atwitter with rumors. "Did you hear the big fight?" "What happened?" "Pam was crying?"... were all repeated in hushed voices. Jayb and Jamesnh came into my office, closed the door, and suggested I go to Antoine and tell him that the new GA was not working out. Everyone shared Jayb's sentiment: "I don't know what the fight was about, but I do know one thing: it wasn't Pam's fault". Several developers called Pam to make sure she was ok.

Meredyth had suddenly become much more sullen. She kept her door closed and the "please stop in and say hi" was crossed out with a big black X. Around 4:15, she gave out small "performance review" forms to everyone. They were written in fat black magic marker: "how am I doing?" and they had check boxes marked "great, we love you", and "we're sure you'll improve", and "we'll get used to you eventually". Some people balked at the form, saying it was way to early for that kind of thing. But Meredyth insisted that they be filled out and turned in by the 4:30 group meeting. Jamesnh stopped by my office with a frightened look on his face: "I am not touching this" he said, holding up the form away from his body and shaking his head.

Most of Word's fifty developers were there for our group meeting that afternoon. Everyone chatted and joked as usual, while Meredyth sat in the back of the meeting room with a somber look on her face and her purse plopped on the desk in front of her. Antoine started the meeting by introducing Meredyth again and asking her how her first day went. Meredyth stood up. Her voice was shaky... "Well, this is hard for me to say, because I was so looking forward to working at Microsoft, but I have to say that I haven't felt very welcome here"... The room was frozen while she spoke. "I mean no one came to my office to say hello", she continued, "I had to go around to everyone's office myself"... most of the developers were staring at the ground or at their desks. "And I was just looking at the feedback forms and they've all been really negative"... tears were running down here cheeks. Antoine and I held our faces in our hands. Meredyth became sterner. "Well, I thought Microsoft would be a friendlier place to work. This was my first day.... It’s also my last." And she stormed out of the room.

The group sat in stunned silence for maybe fifteen seconds, and then the door opened and Meredyth came back in... "Uh, I forgot my purse" she said sniffling, "...and by the way... April fools!" She walked out again and everyone was confused. What was that April fools thing about? Was she really not quitting? Antoine and I were forced to spell it out; Meredyth was not our new GA - she was an actress we had hired for the day. Moans of grief filled the room and several people swore revenge right then and there. Meredyth returned a few seconds later to a round of applause from everyone.

Epilog

Only two people admitted to suspecting that Meredyth was a fake. Several people thought something was up during Meredyth's group meeting tirade, but when they saw her crying they were convinced it was real. Most everyone thought she was really really weird, but that it was due to overzealousness and/or self-image problems.

Johnpil and I cooked up the idea for the "GA from hell" and sold it to Antoine the week before. Our original plan was to dupe Antoine, but consultations with Maryma showed that this would be nearly impossible. Our beloved Pam was a willing participant in the big "fight". Williaml is a deaf developer in our group; before the group meeting, Meredyth let him in on the secret so he would know what was going on during the finale.

Meredyth is a Seattle area actress who I knew had done this kind of impersonation prank before (she works for Anything Entertainment, 283-9913).

On Tuesday, Facilities sent mail to our building, notifying us of a fire inspection and alarm test to be held on Thursday. No joke.

1996-1997 Bruce Oberg