No one really liked Martin P. This is not to say that Martin was unlikeable per se, it’s just that everyone seemed to have a hard time getting over his unofficial title: the CEO’s sycophant.

In all fairness to Martin, he never really aspired to become the CEO’s sycophant. Or anyone’s sycophant for that matter. He simply saw a job advertisement – Windows Software Engineer – applied for it, interviewed, and accepted the offer. Little did he know that he’d be the company’s first non-UNIX developer. Or that he’d report directly to the Head of Research & Development instead of one of the several development managers. Or that the Head of Research & Development also happened to be the CEO.

Martin’s workspace certainly didn’t help, either. While most of the company’s employees worked in moderately-sized cubicles, Martin had a sprawling 25' x 25' office all to himself. Of course, the six-hundred and twenty-five square feet was technically for the entire Windows development team, but the company wasn’t in any rush to expand the team beyond him.

For nearly eight months, Martin did his best to put up with the collective disdain. He ignored the snide remarks and Windows-based pejoratives like softie, IDE-boy, and short-stuff (which referred to, of course, the DOS filename limit of 8+3 characters). The CEO certainly helped Martin throughout all this, reassuring him that “people hate change” and that “it was all temporary until the Windows group was established.” And just when Martin felt like he couldn’t take it anymore, he got some good news: they were planning on doubling size of the Windows development team.

After a few rounds of interviews, Jim was hired as the company’s second Windows Software Engineer. He had a bit more experience than Martin, especially in low-level, protocol development. The software that the Window’s group was developing communicated with all sorts of different hardware devices, so Jim seemed to be a great fit. Plus, Martin figured, at least there’d be someone else who the other developers could despise.

As the months passed, Martin and Jim developed a pretty solid working relationship. They shared the large office, but stayed in their respective corners as not to distract one another. Although Jim tended to deliver his code much slower, he did have to talk with a lot of hardware device vendors and would often spend three-quarters of his days on one conference call or another. In fact, he chatted so much that they decided to leave the shared phone on his desk instead of the shared table in the middle of the room. It seemed the only person who ever called Martin was his wife.

It didn’t take too long for the other benefit of having Jim around kick in: people actually started to respect Martin. So much so that he only heard “that little sycophant” once in an entire week. It was a far cry from actually being liked, but Martin appreciated it nonetheless. The only person who seemed to like Martin even less, however, was the receptionist.

Over the past several weeks, the receptionist’s dirty looks degraded from the Stink Eye to the Crook Eye, all the way down to the Evil Eye. Martin had no idea why, was a bit afraid to find out, and did his best to smile and walk past without making eye contact.

One day, as Martin was leaving for lunch, he saw the Human Resources Director chatting with the receptionist and gave the usual courtesy nod and smile. The pair returned his gesture in unison with furled lips and the Angry Eye. Unable to hold herself back, the Human Resources Director grumbled at Martin, “that’s it! You and I really have to talk.”

Shortly thereafter, Martin found himself in the HR director’s office, sitting across from a very annoyed woman. “You know,” she opened with, “we all have a serious problem with you. You have no supervisor and you clearly can’t handle not being supervised.”

Martin felt like he stepped in the wrong employee’s lecture. “I’m sorry,” he softly responded.

“Is the pay not good enough?” she snapped back, “don’t you feel it’s kinda time for you to move on to another company?”

“I don’t,” Martin paused, totally confused, “wait, what?”

“We know you receive half a dozen personal phone calls per day,” she scowled, “and these easily take up four-to-six hours of your day. Do you have any idea how much time of the company’s time you’re stealing?”

Martin just stared blankly.

“You’re lucky that you’re the CEO’s little sycophant,” the HR director scoffed, “he refuses to let us officially act on this matter. So, I’m asking you: please resign. And if you insist upon sticking around, at least stop abusing the company’s resources!”

“Look,” Martin responded. He thought of the two or three times each week that his wife would call, but that certainly didn’t even add up to four-to-six minutes. “I don’t really use the phones here – maybe a few times a week, tops. That’s it.”

“The log certainly says different,” she snidely responded, dropping down a stack of papers with call dates, times, and duration, “thanks to Caller-ID, we can tell what’s personal and what’s business. And from what I can see—”

The HR director’s ringing phone cut her off. She briefly took the call, muttering one “uh huh” after another. She hung the phone up and glared back at Martin. “Looks like one of the ‘personal calls’ you don’t ‘really’ receive is on the line. How about we take that in here, on speaker phone?”

“Hello,” Martin slowly answered.

“Heya Jimbo!” the voice on the line said, “so I’ve got the RS-232 interface that you sent over, but I can’t seem to get a DCD.”

“Err,” Martin said, “this is Martin.”

“Oh,” the voice responded, “oh…. ohhhhhh. Okay, I’ll, uh, call back. See ya!”

The line dropped shortly after that. Moments later, Martin had an “ah-ha” moment: Jim had never left his consulting business. He simply decided to move his calls to their office and take a second paycheck, working on the Windows software between the calls from his clients.

To avoid getting caught, Jim told his clients to simply “ask for Martin” at the receptionist desk. Since the phone was shared between the two Windows software engineers at Jim’s desk, Jim was guaranteed to be the one who would answer.  

The HR director profusely apologized to Martin (being the CEO’s sycophant does have some advantages) and soon thereafter went to Jim for an explanation. Within a couple weeks, Jim was fired, leaving Martin as the sole member of the Windows team.

While that certainly meant that he’d have to put up with a whole new round of disparaging remarks form the other developers, at least the receptionist seemed to no longer hate him. She even starting giving him the Cute Eye.