I’m Old, Part XVI: Lunchtime Camraderie

One of the things that was nice about Adobe in the 90’s was that it had a wonderful cafeteria. The chefs that worked there were imaginative and worked with some pretty nice ingredients. I remember the time that Chef Rob pulled me aside to show me the whole swordfish that had just been delivered which was going to be the next day’s special.


On the Acrobat team, there was a group of us who frequently had lunch together: Alan Wootton, Mike Pell, Nathan Graham, Mike Diamond, and me. There were sometimes other people who drifted in and out: Mark Sonnes, Rob Heiser, or Dina Sakahara from QA; or people from other teams.

We walked from our building to the building with the cafeteria, which was all of 50 yards along a sidewalk that was lined with jasmine. In the winter, there was an occasional patch of rain. I used to tease the people on my team because they would go running for coats and umbrellas. I just walked. I went to college in Ohio and saw rain that came down sideways where your umbrella made no difference at all.

For whatever reason, we tended to sit at a round table in the corner if it was open, and spent the next 45 minutes or so bullshitting about geek stuff. At the time, Star Trek: The Next Generation was still in first run, so we gabbed about the previous episode of that or the Simpsons or whatever was new and exciting.

One of my favorite things was something we called “Alan On”. This was when Alan Wootton would start talking, nay, sermonizing about a subject. Alan on Dating. Alan on Science Fiction. Alan on Los Angeles. Alan on Losing Weight. Alan on Management. He took our ribbing in a good-natured way and I’m glad it didn’t deter him from the process.

While we were working on Acrobat 1.0, we had an interesting problem that happened very often at lunch. It seemed that the time that we slated for eating lunch was just a little bit earlier than the time that John Warnock, the CEO picked for his.

John was very excited about the potential of Acrobat and was quick to tell us that and talk about whatever feature he had tried from the build that week. John had a top of the line Macintosh Quadra on his desk and he was always checking the builds for something new. If he saw something that sparked an idea, he would stop one of us (usually Alan) and tell him about it.

Because of this we invented a verb (and trust me, John, this was kind-hearted):

war•nock – v. to interrupt an engineer and give them a out-of-band task or feature to implement.

All of us at some point, on the way out from lunch, got warnocked and sat back down with John to find out what was next on our plate.

Alan got warnocked when we were in the Golden Master phase of Acrobat 1.0. This is the point when the software engineers waited on pins and needles to see if a particular build passed QA and when the QA engineers were working their butts off checking on fixed bugs, looking for recidivation on older bugs, and searching for new ones. Engineers aren’t supposed to change code during this time. Well, when the CEO pulls you aside and gives you a feature, you have to a certain calculus to figure out which is going to get you in more trouble, doing what the CEO says (and pissing off your manager) or towing the department line and pissing off the CEO. Alan chose to acquiesce to John, and it would’ve been all well and good if QA hadn’t found a bug in the feature and it was the first that QA or management had heard about this feature which had appeared during Golden Master.

Alan ultimately suffered for this. He was seen by his boss as a bit of cowboy coder and unmanageable. When we started on 2.0, Alan was given task after task that were either well beneath him or a waste of time or both. I know that in reality, it was probably not that bad, but Alan took the hint and decided to move on and start doing research for a company that he intended to found later.

But that’s a story for another day.

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