BruceO's Prank


Microsoft is a great place to work, even if you are a Mad Mac Maven. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the best is that you get to work with some pretty cool people. I’ve already mentioned Ed Fries (which is pronounced “Freeze,” by the way). Another is Bruce Oberg.


Bruce is currently the head of Sucker Punch Productions, a software company that writes games for Nintendo and Sony PlayStation. Before starting up Sucker Punch, he was my boss on Mac Word 98. Bruce’s Purple Team is the only two-time winner of The Game. Bruce was the Special Guest Host at the infamous MacHack ‘94, where the Wednesday night opening session with Andy Hertzfeld extended well into the wee hours of Thursday morning aided by 75 pizzas delivered from Dominos. Bruce’s vanity license plate reads “OTTFFSS.” I guess you could say that he makes it count.


Bruce also orchestrated one of the best pranks ever pulled off at Microsoft.


A little background is necessary. Every business unit at Microsoft has at least one person who acts as the administrative glue that holds the whole unit together. At one time, they were called Group Assistants, but they’re now known as Administrative Assistants or Admins. They are indispensable to Microsoft’s overall functioning. If you really want to deal Microsoft a blow, hire away all the admins.


Admins report to specific unit managers. When managers move around, the admins go with them. So, when Ed Fries left the Word group, he took Pam Wagner with him. Pam was greatly loved in the Word group. She was friendly, efficient, and was good at doing things like finding snacks for 30 developers who work pulling a late-night Workaholic Wednesday. I still remember her spending months returning all the “Ship-it” awards to people in buildings 16, 17 and 18 after a group of Word developers had collected them all and stacked them in Ed’s office. Not once did she complain about the task.


Ed’s replacement, Antoine Leblond, had the unenviable task of hiring a replacement for Pam, and it was taking for ever. Dev leads were filing their own expense reports, we were bartering for the equipment we needed, and the storeroom was packed to the gills with stuff that wasn’t being offloaded to some other group that might need our surplus. Things were getting desperate.


On Friday, March 29th, 1996, Antoine announced that he’d found a new group assistant. Her name was Meredyth, and she’d be starting the following Monday. At last, relief was in sight.


By mid-morning Monday, it was pretty clear that Meredyth was no Pam. Part of that had to do with the incense she burned in her office, the affirmations she put up on the wall (“I deserve to succeed! Yes, I do!”) and the bright pink name-tag on the door along with the note she put beneath it inviting everyone to, “Please stop in and say hi.” Another had to do with the heart-shaped stickers she put on everyone’s door—well everyone except Mark Walker who got one on his shirt.


By early afternoon, things were starting to really look amiss. Meredyth went to everyone’s office to schedule a fire drill. Notification of that sort of thing came from facilities, and you received it via e-mail. Later, Pam showed up to help Meredyth get acclimated, and that resulted in a number of indignant outbursts from Meredyth directed at Pam. The latter was enough to have several Word developers ready to show Meredyth the door regardless of what Antoine wanted. Whatever way Pam did anything, large or small, Meredyth did it in exactly the opposite way.


By the weekly 3:00 pm team meeting, mutiny was in the air. Antoine introduced Meredyth, at which point Meredyth delivered a teary tale about people not being nice to her saying that while this was her first day at Microsoft, it would also be her last. The outburst ended when she stormed out of the room. A minute latter, she came back into the room still teary-eyed, and said, ‘I forgot my purse.” She picked up her purse, headed back to the door, and, just before exiting, said, “And, by the way, April Fools!”


A minute later, she came back into the room to thunderous applause. “Meredyth” was a Seattle actress whom Bruce had hired for the day. At the time, she worked for Anything Entertainment, but I don’t know if she still does.


On Tuesday, we got e-mail from facilities saying that we’d be having a fire inspection and alarm test on Thursday.


You can read Bruce’s account here.