“Just give me a damn status!” growled Murray, the aging IT project manager who everyone thought would have been retired by now. In fairness, the fifty-nine year old’s job performance hadn’t waned one bit through his decades-long tenure at Bell Labs. In fact, some would even say that in his later years, he traded some of his trademarked ferocity for geniality. “Dammit,” Murry barked two seconds later at Tom Limoncelli, one of the developers sitting around the conference table, “I don’t have all day! Give me a status!”
“Okay, okay,” Tom nervously responded, flipping through some papers, “we’re… uh, 30% through AMQ, 60% percent towards AMA-2, and… err… 100% for DBD.” Murray frowned and gruffly murmured something unintelligible. That was his way of saying “thank you.”
If a project was progressing on time and on budget, Murray’s mood would be best described as a grumpy indifference. But if things went awry, his demeanor became more threatening than rabid pack of wolves. With firearms. And laserguns. Murray wouldn’t hesitate to publically lambast a colleague simply for knowing someone that knew someone who was holding up the project. And unfortunately for everyone at the weekly meeting, someone was holding up the project.
Although Tom’s rapidly-delivered, precise status report spared him from Murray’s wrath, someone else sat squarely on his warpath. “And you,” he seethed, pointing at the junior developers, “you didn’t give me a status! I asked for status yesterday, where is it? I need a status from you, now!”
The junior grimaced. “We’re… not yet at,” he uncomfortably swallowed, “at… 30% of AMA-3.”
Murray’s face turned a bright red. He closed his eyes and tightly clenched his fists, forcibly and calmly saying “that status is unacceptable. This will put us behind.”
“I know,” he nervously responded, “we’ll stay late, come in on the–”
Murray cut him off, responding with a crescendo of anger. “You should have come in LAST WEEKEND! I NEEDED A BETTER STATUS FROM YOU!” By the time he got to his last words, his fist was pounding on the table.
As Murray continued to berate the developer who had fallen behind, Tom noticed that Chris, one of the other developers attending the meeting, was uncomfortably biting his lip. He couldn’t quite tell if he was holding out for the restroom or holding back a lionesque roar of laughter.
“This status is meaningless to me now,” Murray shouted, apparently trying to make the junior cry, “I needed this status three days ago! What can I do with this status now? Go back in time and assign more resources to get me a better status for today?”
This time, someone let out a rather loud snort. Murray was far too engaged too notice, but Tom’s eyes shifted towards Chris. He was definitely holding back laughter, as evidenced by the uncontrollable shakes and the rather ineffective attempts at covering it up with a series of “cough-ha’s”.
Thirty minutes later, after Murray had thoroughly chewed out the junior and picked each and every bone clean, the meeting ended with a somber reminder to all, “the sooner you get me a status, the better it is for everyone.”
Later that day, Tom’s curiosity got the better of him and he walked towards Chris’s cube to see what he was laughing at during the meeting. After a bit of cajoling, he finally agreed to let Tom in on the joke.
“Okay,” he explained, “so, you know how Murray is always demanding the status? Well, whenever he says the word ‘status’, just replace it with…”
Chris looked over his shoulders and then leaned into Tom, whispering something in his ear.
“Glow job?” Tom questioned, envisioning the brightly-colored neon lights that some people put on the underside of their car.
His response was met with a blank stare.
“Ooooh,” Tom realized, slapping his palm against his forehead. “You mean bl—” he quickly moved his hand to his lips, stopping mid-syllable as not to utter the not-safe-for-work word.
Chris subtly nodded and smiled.
“Uuuuhhh,” cringed Tom as he tried to repress any thoughts of that particular activity, especially as it related to Murray.
Tom didn’t think much of the joke until the following week, at their weekly meeting. Generally speaking, the meetings with Murray were painfully difficult to sit through. Even when Murray wasn’t furious, listening to everyone say, “I’m blah-blah percent complete on some-blah-task” was almost unbearable.
That week, however, the meeting was difficult to survive for an entirely different matter. As Murray went around the room with his usual criticisms – “why can’t you give me a better status than that?” and “again, this problem is caused by a lack of status!” – it became painful to hold back the laughter.
When it came time to once again lash-out at the junior developer, Tom was afraid he wouldn’t make it. “If you don’t give me a good status right now,” Murray fumed at the junior, “I swear… I’m going to explode!”
Try as he might, Tom couldn’t bite his lip hard enough to hold back a few snort-filled laughs. Almost instantly, Murray shot his head towards Tom and stared daggers through him. “What’s so funny?” he shouted, “you’re still at 30% AMQ! Your status was terrible!”
This time, Chris couldn’t help himself. His laughter made Murray even more upset, and he just kept harking on about how everyone’s status was behind.
It didn’t take too long after that for the word to spread across the team and then across the floor. Eventually, it made its way to other projects and teams throughout Bell Labs.
Although Murray has long since retired, to this day, Tom still avoids the word “status” in his meetings.