I worked at Microsoft a number of years ago, and at one point, changed jobs and moved from one group to another. By that time, I knew not only how to do my job well, but how to get things like moving done, who to call, etc., so when it was time to move, I didn’t think much about emailing Facilities and telling them I had some boxes, computers, and phones I needed to have moved from one office in one building to another office in another building, I just did it.
Before that, I’d gone over to the other building, done the interview, got the tour – and was led to an office and told, “Here’s your officemate, Jae.”
Jae, hunched over his keyboard, doing some web development stuff, was in a ratty tank top, old shorts, and a pair of flip flops.
It was a little more casual than the typical Microsoft dress code of the day, but not by much.
Most of the skin that was visible was covered in Tattoos.
What wasn’t covered in tattoos was pierced.
Now understand, this was not how I’d been raised, so it was just a touch foreign to me. Jae had been concentrating pretty heavily on some code, and also had some kind of piercing between his eyebrows, so when he turned around as I was introduced, he just looked livid.
I was terrified.
Had I met him on the street, I would have crossed to the other side.
That was the first impression on my end.
On Jae’s end, it was a little different.
When I was sure I’d be taking the new job, like I said, I’d contacted facilities to move my stuff, and they’d come and done just that. In my mind, they were gone. I didn’t think about them anymore.
On the other end, Jae was busy hunched over his keyboard, and all of a sudden these guys, without saying anything to him, came in with boxes of stuff, hooked up the telephone, brought in computers, hooked them up, brought in a chair, and in general, prepared the place for me.
Jae’s jaw hit the floor.
His first impression, he told me later, was 5 short words:
“This guy knows his s**t”
So when I got there, the office was ready for me, I had an interesting kind of respect for Jae, and though I didn’t know it, he had the same for me.
He worked on the web front end of an internal web site, I worked on the SQL back end of it, and we would often go to meetings where we’d be tasked with some level of work that, given the environment, we just said “Yes” to…
We’d get back to our office, kind of collapse into our chairs, and ponder for a bit.
Invariably, Jae would ask, “You know how to do this?”
“IIIII don’t know how to do this…”
“Alright. Let’s do it then!”
And we did.
Over time, we got to know each other pretty well, and we talked as only office mates can talk. We talked about our children and our wishes for their future. Jae came to see my son’s soccer games and we stood on the sidelines, two proud dads.
It was a neat time, going to work having a good friend to share the day with, having a good colleague to – well, be friends with.
At one point, he said something that startled me. “You know, Tom, this isn’t going to last forever.” – and Jae – having gone through the school of hard knocks like few people have, was right.
We did move on.
Jae’d been in the navy, and as such, had the language of, well – a sailor. He would use words that, in my life, were the equivalent of habaneros like other folks use salt and pepper. It took a little getting used to, but underneath that capcaisin coated exterior was a heart of gold.
He moved on to another company, and encouraged me to join him. I did just that, and we stayed there for some time, and then it was time to move again, which we did, and will likely repeat at some unknown interval in the future.
I thought about that first meeting many times – clearly am thinking about it as I write this, and wonder what would have happened had I allowed my initial fear to get in the way of a relationship that I treasure to this day.
Take care Jae, wherever you are.