Silence Is Golden At The Urinal

A recent Penny Arcade webcomic strip featured a fan complimenting Tycho on his work while they’re both using the urinal inside the men restroom, which Tycho assumes the fan meant the fine work that was happening in the urinal bowl, and Gabe, when later told about the incident that there should be no talking at the urinal, replies that why he uses the women restroom. This has always been one of my pet peeves. When I’m using the urinal, I’m usually thinking about something very profound—the nature of God, what’s for lunch, five minutes and still counting—during that brief moment I’m relieving myself. I don’t expect people to strike up a conversation with me.

When I was doing a one-month contract at Sony in 2005 to test the English-language software on the Japanese hardware that would eventually become the Sony Reader in the United States, I was still talking to recruiters about my next contract job. One day I answered my cellphone while still standing in front of the urinal and stepped away when the woman recruiter was introducing herself. Naturally, the urinal automatically flush. The recruiter asked if this was a good time to talk and I told it her was as my voice echoed off the restroom walls. I ended up talking to three different recruiters about five open positions at the Microsoft campus in Mountain View.

For the remainder of that contract at Sony, I ducked into the men restroom to return phone calls to recruiters and have interviews with hiring managements, ignoring all the strange looks from the Indian engineers who shuffle in and out, the continuing auto-flush the toilets and urinals, and the water faucets turning on and off automatically. I didn’t get hired. Not because all our conversations took place inside a restroom. Microsoft requires five candidates to be interviewed for every position. If a hiring manager decides to hire his beer-drinking buddy, he still needs to do four interviews before he can make his final selection for the position. Each time the beer-drinking buddy got hired. Since then I loathed talking to Microsoft recruiters. I don’t like wasting my time on a position that is already filled.

When I was at the old San Jose building for Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises), the men outnumbered the women by four to one. From time to time, the men restroom would run out of supplies faster than expected. Management decreed that the downstairs women restroom would be a unisex restroom. No prudent man would step into the women restroom unannounced, management decree or not. But, this being a video game company, there were no shortage of little boys who haven’t grown up yet. Several guys would deliberately walk into the women restroom when they knew when one of the marketing girls was in there, hoping to catch a glimpse or maybe get a date. Management rescinded their decree after three girls with baseball bats sent the guys fleeing back to the urinals in the men restrooms.

For a more humous story about talking at the urinal, read “Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure” by Jerry Kaplan, where the management team for Go Corporation that created the first handheld computer had an impromptu team huddle before their company imploded. There’s a reason why one urinal is always set lower than the other urinals.