Monday, June 16, 2008

Cats and Software Engineers

Today we have a post by a guest who's worked as a software engineer in Silicon Valley for more than two decades. (He's seen it all!) As a long-time cat lover and observer, he's long noticed a certain affinity between felines and software engineers.

What do cats and software engineers have in common?

Strange question, you might think. Sounds like the set-up line for a bad joke.
But over the years, in my career as a software engineer here in the Silicon Valley, I've seen some interesting parallels between cats and software engineers. There are definitely some common threads that tie them together.

Like what?

The first one that comes to mind is: cats and software engineers both love freely available, and preferably unresisting, food. A recent incident of chicken thievery brought that common thread forcefully to mind.

Mittens, the cat residing at Cheryl's place, has been getting much healthier and happier recently. As Mittens' health improves, her stealth improves too. Not to mention her confidence, her demanding nature, and – yes – even her apparent greed.

Case in point: Cheryl had cooked some chicken and set it aside for no more than a moment or two. Quick as the proverbial flash, Mittens had jumped up on the table, started lickin' the chicken, and promptly ran off with a piece in her mouth!

And this was very soon after Mittens had just been fed!

Mittens needed yet another food fix. Like so many desperate addicts, she resorted to larceny to support her habit.

Clearly Mittens feels much safer and more secure these days. I don't think she would have tried to pull that kind of a stunt previously. And obviously, she would not have done so when she had dangerously lost interest in food.

Little Mitt’s appetite seems quite ferocious these days. It seems to grow by leaps and bounds. In this case, it grew with a leap onto the table and a bound into the next room to devour her ill-gotten gains.

And Mittens seems to be channeling Cheryl’s previous cat, Saki, in the increasingly daring and brazen nature of her attempts to become more and more well-fed.
So what's the connection?

Over the years, I've seen many software engineers ravenously trolling for free food among any and all company events. They stalk it much the same way that Mittens stalks a helpless, defenseless piece of cooked chicken.

"There's a pot luck in HR!" someone will say, whether by email or cubicle visit, and off we'll go to see what's on offer.

It doesn't matter whether or not anyone in the raiding party has actually contributed any dish to the potluck. It's a classic predator-prey relationship.

There are no ethics. Only the eaters and the eaten. “Have lunch or be lunch,” as a Silicon Valley executive and so many others have so memorably put it.

Other times, someone will pass the word: "There's a barbecue in shipping and receiving!"

Or one of us will spy some pizza in a conference room, or in the company lunch area, and word will spread like wildfire.

Unattended food – and sometimes, even attended food! – does not last long in the digital workplace. Certainly no longer than it would with a ravenous kitty like Mittens in the neighborhood.

It’s a jungle out there. And sometimes in here too.

by John Hartsell,

Software Engineer

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