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.

Are You Funemployed?

According to the Los Angeles Times, a new word got added to the English language: “funemployment.”

Never heard of funemployment? Here’s Urban Dictionary’s definition: “The condition of a person who takes advantage of being out of a job to have the time of their life. “I spent all day Tuesday at the pool; funemployment rocks!”

I’ve known roommates who took a funemployment while living off their six-month unemployment benefits, enjoying the casual life and not worrying about finding another job until they have to pay bills out of savings. The results weren’t pretty. And that was before the Great Recession.

One roommate tried to find his purpose in life. I told him that would be fine if he upgraded his job skills in preparation to re-enter the job market. He didn’t do that because it wasn’t fun. Six months later, he was unemployable. The computer science degree from 20 years ago carried little weight with obsolete job skills. His purpose became a full-blown mid-life crisis while working as a drug store clerk and living with his parents.

A second roommate was let go from being an assistant stock broker. He cashed out his modest retirement account to become a day trader for six months, easily doubling his money during that time. When he visited his relatives in Florida for six weeks, he left his cash fully invested in high-flying tech stocks and took a vacation from day trading. He came back well rested, tanned and dead broke. The dot com bust sent so many funemployed day traders scurrying back to a real job.

A third roommate was always finding ways to get rich quick without much success. After getting let go from marketing company, he used his funemployment to try many different kinds of multilevel marketing programs. Nothing worked. He eventually moved to the Philippines since the cost of living was lower there, making it easier for him to get rich quicker. His Filipino wife would love for him to return to the United States to get a job here and wire the money back to her.

My approach to unemployment is similar to what this Harvard Business Review blog post advocates: spend a few hours looking for a job and enjoy the rest of the day. My previous job searches always ended after three interviews in six weeks. I spent a lot of time playing “Age of Mythology” on the PC during those six weeks, probably one of the best real-time strategy games that never get old.

Since I was laid off on Friday the 13th this past February, I talked to three recruiters during the first six weeks without getting a new job. (I showed up for one interview to find out that the position was already filled that morning.) The job market went dead after that. Taking a funemployment vacation wasn’t an option for me. As my past roommates have proven, it would be a very stupid thing to do.