Mixsonian Larry


The Window Office Incident

Julie's Office and the Tempo Testers
Julie and the Tempo Testers in the corner office

Work was going well for Julie and me.  Microsoft released Windows 3.1 in April 1992 and it really helped the Power Windows product. The company was enrolled in Microsoft’s development program, so we had been testing with Windows 3.1 for several months and quickly made it a requirement for Power Windows.  Julie was the manager of the Quality Assurance team, or just QA as it was called, and now had five people.  The QA team performed testing and QA for my Power Windows project as well as new releases of the company’s main product Office Power, which the newest, biggest, and filled with new features, release had the code name “Tempo”.  Julie was very good at motivating her team doing things like buying them all T-shirts with “I survived TEMPO testing” on the front and upon completion of the testing had a party at our house for her team.

ICL occupied the entire fifth floor of the office building which was at the corner of Wiehle Avenue and the Dulles toll road. The offices were arranged along a ringed hallway, with the offices on the outside of the ring having windows, and the offices inside the ring windowless. When I started, I got a window office as there were several available at the time. When Julie started there were no window offices available, so she was assigned an inside, windowless, office. And she hated it.

Something I had learned about Julie over the years was she liked rooms to be bright, preferably with lots of natural sunlight, which is just about the opposite of me, who likes dimmer, darker rooms.  Our townhouse on Lake Audubon was perfect for her, up on a hill with many south-facing windows.  But at work Julie’s office had no windows, only a couple of overhead lights of the worst kind, florescent lights.  Typical of most offices, there was a dropped panel ceiling with two, two by four-foot recessed light panels each with four florescent bulbs behind a plastic light diffuser. The light was bright enough, almost too bright.  I had removed two of the bulbs in the office I was in, but then I had a window.  The florescent bulbs were of the “Bright White” type, which was bright, but had a blueish tint.  Florescent lights also flicker, some people say they never notice it, but it drove me crazy.  It was made worse by the computer monitors which, at the time, were CRT based. Cathode Ray Tubes, or CRT, refreshed the pixels on the screen at a certain rate, usually 60Hz. This is the same rate which the power line and thus the florescent lights used. 60Hz is usually fast enough that people don’t notice it but when the fluorescent light hits a computer screen, both at 60Hz but slightly out of phase with each other, the computer screen appears to flicker which often gave me headaches. I tried to help Julie by replacing the bright white, fluorescent bulbs with “natural” and “plant grow” bulbs, which helped, but Julie still hated the office. At one time she suggested that we trade offices, but I wasn’t going to give up my window office, plus she was told she would get the next available window office.   

Julie and I had the same boss, Cynthia. I had been working for Cynthia a year longer than Julie who moved up to Virginia and started working at ICL later. Cynthia was the first woman I had worked for, and I thought we had a good working relationship, but she was difficult at times.  About the same age as me, she had worked in the computer industry for some time, and was very technical, she knew her stuff, as we would say.  She had moved up from the technical ranks into management at CCI, now ICL.  Coming from a technical background, she wanted to know every detail of my Power Windows project and I would spend hours giving her detailed project updates upon which she would comment and make suggestions.  I think she did this in part to let me know how smart she was, but I didn’t mind, I knew my stuff and had no problem addressing her questions. 

In the two years I that had been there, considerable technical staff were added as they had great ambitions for Office Power.  In addition, they went from a single technical writer who also did QA to a whole team for QA, Julie’s team. With the increase in staff, Cynthia had to spend more time doing management and less on the technical, which was a problem for her as she loved the technical aspects.  Just because someone excels at the technical, doesn’t mean they make a good manager.  This was something I had seen before and would see again; a technical person moves up in the company then moves into management and does poorly.  Heck, I was a just a team leader and could see happening to me.

Julie and Cynthia were alike in some ways, both strong-willed, determined, and stubborn and it was probably inevitable that they would clash.  Cynthia tended to micromanage and want to direct every small detail and she would let you know that, because of her technical knowledge and superior logic, she was always right. This drove Julie crazy. When we got home from work Julie would tell me about their meetings and soon was calling Cynthia, “that woman”.  Of course, they say it takes two to tango, and having lived with Julie for ten years now I knew she had strong opinions on how things should be done.

This all came to a head when a window office became available after someone left the company.  Ever since Julie started working at ICL, a year now, she had been asking for a window office and Cynthia had told Julie that she would get one next time one became available.  Well, the window office that came available wasn’t the typical window office, it was a corner office, it had windows on two sides. Julie loved it, it was perfect for her. The corner offices, also being larger than other window offices, were usually for the upper management, Cynthia of course, the VP of the division and the VP of marketing.  Also, the regular window offices like mine were assigned on seniority and there were employees that had been there longer than Julie. 

As soon as word got out that the person who previously had the office had resigned, Julie assumed it would be hers and immediately talked to Cynthia about when she could move into it.  Well, it didn’t go so well, Cynthia told her she would have to let her know, there were others that had been at the company longer than Julie. That night at home was not pleasant with Julie going on and on about “that woman.”  

This happened mid-week and by Friday Cynthia still hadn’t told Julie she could have the office.  I wasn’t looking forward to Julie complaining about it all weekend, but surprisingly, Julie didn’t say much about it on Saturday but then Sunday morning I found out why, she had a plan, she was going to move into the office that afternoon, that Sunday afternoon when no one would be there.  After all, she reasoned, possession is half the battle so if she moved into the office, Cynthia would consent and let her keep it, or at least Julie reasoned.  Kind of like a sit in protest.  Of course, I was to be part of Julie’s plan and went into the office with her and helped move all her things to the corner office.

Monday morning Julie was all bright, sunny, happy and was looking forward to going to work in her new office. When we arrived, I walked Julie to her new office but then quickly went to mine as I didn’t want to see the fireworks that I knew were coming when Cynthia found out. It wasn’t long before Julie came to my office all depressed and almost in tears, she had talked to Cynthia who was quite angry about what Julie had done. In the end Cynthia said that Julie could stay in the office temporarily, but the office was to go to someone else if they wanted it.  Julie was crushed, it could be months, years, before another office could become available.

Julie was in the office about a week, long enough for the photo above, then the other guy with more seniority said, yes, he wanted the office and Julie had to move out. Julie became more angry, not only at Cynthia, but also at the guy who got the office.  As a concession, Cynthia gave Julie an inside office that, instead of an outside office across the hall, there was a large window. Julie could sit at her desk, look out her office door, across the hall, and through the window.  I installed even more full sunlight bulbs in her office which made it so bright I had to wear sunglasses when I went in, well almost.  What really grated on Julie was that the corner office she almost got was ten feet from the corner office that she almost got so that every time we came and went from her office, she had to see the corner office she so desired.

Tensions between Julie and Cynthia got worse after that, and it started affecting my work relationship with Cynthia.

Updated: 02-29-2024

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