Stuart read the project document for Stark Portal, his new assignment from Michael, the department project manager. At first glance he thought Michael had forgotten the requirements entirely. That wasn’t the case.

There was only one requirement listed: LIKE LANNISTERNET BUT GREY

He was about to storm Michael’s office when coworker Jaimie grabbed his wrist. “No, Stuart, you never interrupt him in a meeting!” Jaimie pulled Stuart away into a conference room, shutting the door behind them.

“It’s not even a proper sentence!” Stuart explained. “At my last job we would take months to hammer out all the deliverables. How is ‘like LannisterNet but Grey a deliverable?”

Jaimie shook her head. “You just do the best you can. Michael will tell you if it’s right or not. You don’t ever ask him to clarify. We lost a good project lead that way.” She shuddered. “It was on Christmas Eve…”

“Fine,” Stuart said. “I’ll keep my head down. But he’s going to screw up one day. I mean, just how short can he make the requirements?”

Too Short

For Stark Portal, Stuart forked LannisterNet’s codebase and changed the background color. A few minutes after checking in his code for Stark Portal, Michael assigned him to a new project: Baratheon Boards. Does Michael come up with the project names, too? Stuart wondered, before his eyes fell on the sole requirement: LANNISTERNET PLUS

“Plus what?” Stuart was seeing red, and it wasn’t because of LannisterNet’s color scheme. “What could he mean by ‘plus’? Do I just pick a feature I like and tack it on?”

Jaimie heard Stuart’s lamentations and stepped into his cubicle. “Oh, he probably means the forum code from DragonRider Forum.”

“How could you possibly know that?” Stuart asked.

“Well, it’s in the name,” Jaimie said, smiling. “It’s just a guess.”

A Thousand Words

Baratheon Boards shipped a week later. Michael, who was on a plane flying to the other coast, sent Stuart an email later: “GREAT JOB MAN” Stuart wondered if this was Michael’s equivalent of a detailed commendation.

“Eventually you learn to read Michael’s mind,” Jaimie said, as she and Stuart ate lunch in the breakroom.

“Or lucky enough to guess right every time. I mean, how long--” Stuart stopped mid-sentence when his phone buzzed. “Another project assignment. How could Michael even assign it from the plane?”

“I heard you can use electronics on flights now. Maybe he got an email from a client.”

Stuart’s new assignment was Martell Pharmaceuticals. There wasn’t a single word, even a single character in the project requirements. Instead, Michael had attacked an image.

“I can’t even read that,” Jaimie said, looking over Stuart’s shoulder. “What does it say next to those fields?”

“I’ll just have to guess,” Stuart said, glaring at her.

New Media

Stuart spent almost forty-eight hours scouring the codebase for that form in the screenshot. He found it at 3 AM -- an old project called Dance Time Inventory -- modified a few text fields, and checked it in.

“Outstanding job!” Michael shouted. He had returned to the office a few days after assigning Stuart the Martell project. He held a latte in his left hand and a tablet in his right. The ear closest to Stuart held an earbud.

“Thanks,” Stuart mumbled.

Michael hardly seemed to notice Stuart’s fatigue. “Keep it up!” Michael sprinted across the room back to his office, as if life were a literal marathon.

A moment later, he burst back out, carrying a napkin. “Almost forgot!” He handed Stuart the napkin. “Wildling Investments. Need this by Tuesday.”

Stuart unfolded the napkin. It was a form, drawn in red pen, with illegible labels and inputs. Stuart shut his eyes, wondering how to read Michael’s mind this time.