Boozy Poolside Lunches

December 15, 2009

Brightlight Pictures is located at the Bridge Studio

Roadshow stop: Film Executive
Roadshow mentor: Liz Levine, Brightlight Pictures Inc.

It’s pretty obvious from some of my previous posts that I watch too many movies. Or, more accurately, I’m prone to conjure unrealistic fantasies about particular professions based on their on-screen depictions. (See News Reporter or Stockbroker.) I know I’m doing it. And I know it’s wrong. But I can’t help it. Movies often create such a romanticized or ridiculous version of reality that it’s sometimes just hard to resist.

It is because of my willingness to succumb to these film fantasies, that I approached the Roadshow’s next stop with some apprehension. I was going to be a film executive. I wondered if seeing the behind-the-scenes action of this position, which in itself is a behind-the-scenes kind of role, was going to dispel or perpetuate my unrealistic notion of this job. Was I going to wine and dine actors and attend fabulous Hollywood parties? Would I get to zip around the studio lot in a golf cart? Might I discover the next big hit? Would I sacrifice a budding young director’s artistic vision for the sake of making a box office blockbuster? Or was this all just purely the media portrayal that I had bought into?

Just like in the movies--the studio's gated security entrance

I was going to find out while spending a day at Brightlight Pictures, which is located at the Bridge Studio. Before I even stepped foot in the Brightlight office, my film fantasies were reinforced. I pulled up on my scooter to a gated security booth, (just like you see in the movies) and gave the security guard my name. She looked it up on a clipboard, and after verifying my identity, directed me to a parking spot–which had apparently been reserved for my scooter. (I suppose in my film fantasy of this, I would be in a more luxurious vehicle, like a Volkswagon Golf or something.)

Reserved just for my scooter

Brightlight is a Vancouver-based production company that makes independent movies and TV series. They’re probably best known for shows like The Guard and movies such as White Noise, 88 minutes, and The Wicker Man. My mentor for the day was Liz Levine, the Executive Director of Development. Liz has been in the business for more than a decade, and started with Brightlight eight months ago. Her job at Brightlight is to find new concepts and scripts, assess them, and push them forward to production. For some projects she sees them from concept to completed and released product.

Liz’s office was filled with stacks of scripts–all potential projects awaiting their fate. The bound pages representing the heart and soul, and talent, of the author. The number of scripts Liz receives is overwhelming. They are sent in by agents and from people connected to individuals at Brightlight. There’s no way she can read them all on her own, so she’s helped out by a team of creative executives. They write “coverage”, which includes an overview of the story, the reader’s opinion of the script, and a recommendation to Liz on whether or not the project has any potential at Brightlight.

Executive Director of Development Liz Levine

After setting up my laptop on Liz’s leather sofa (which she assured me was not a casting couch), I was given my first script and asked to write the coverage. I had never read scripts before but I know from personal experience that writing dialogue is tough. In fact, I would say it’s one of the hardest things to write well. People tend to write exactly as they speak, and that doesn’t always translate. In a script, so much of the story has to be conveyed in conversation–the plot, the character development, the tension, the themes. This is not an easy feat.

My first script was a TV show–a fast-paced political intrigue drama. And it was pretty good. As I flipped through the pages, I could hear the dialogue, see the characters, and was pulled into the plot. I wanted to know what happened next. So I wrote a coverage that said as much.

My next script was the complete opposite. It was a poor attempt at a TV comedy. I found this genre harder to evaluate, since so much depends on the timing and delivery of the actor. But even the most talented of comedians would have trouble making the lines of this script entertaining, or anything more than shockingly offensive. I wrote a scathing coverage that indicated as much. But as I jotted down words like infantile, cliche, unoriginal, I couldn’t help but think about the editor who passed on Harry Potter. And how quick he was to dismiss the manuscript. It made me second-guess my decision to so easily write off the script as crap. Just because it didn’t appeal to me, didn’t necessarily mean it was a flop. I wondered, was I fulfilling one of my preconceived stereotypes? Was I the ruthless film executive who couldn’t see the artistic vision in front of me?

Just one of the many stacks of scripts in Liz's office

Just one of the many stacks of scripts in Liz's office

I expressed this to Liz, in between her countless phone calls, and she explained that’s why scripts are all read and vetted by at least two people. But even then, it’s sometimes difficult to determine what’s going to be a hit and what’s going to be a bust. Because it’s not just about the script–there is so much more involved in making something a success–the timing, the actors, the director, the producers, the current market, the intended audience. But according to Liz, one thing can be guaranteed:

“If you start with shit, you end up with shit.”

That’s why she advises people to “read, read, read–the more you see the easier it is to identify quality when you see it.”

I decided to trust my gut and give my honest opinion on script #2–that it was “shit”. And hope that I wasn’t passing on the next Arrested Development. (I found out afterward that the second reader also found the script to be an insult to the written word.)

The Bridge Studio's alternative to a fleet of golf carts--a fleet of cruisers

For the rest of the day, I sat in on Liz’s countless meetings. There are so many pieces to putting together a film or TV series–schedules, budgets, talent, marketing–just one film is a huge operation. And Liz and her colleagues work on multiple projects at once. In one breath Liz was trying to fix historical inaccuracies in a dramatic period piece’s script, in the next she was figuring out how to cut millions from an over-budget production plan. And while it wasn’t exactly the Hollywood glamour that I had conjured in my mind (there were no boozy poolside lunches with the talent), it was still exciting. (I especially liked that Liz and all her co-workers referred to actors on a first name basis–dropping names like “Dustin”, “Jamie-Lee” and “Robin”.) The day’s activity didn’t pander to my fantastical notions, nor did it really do anything to dispel them. It just made them a bit more realistic. A film executive has a fast-paced, enthralling job–but it’s not all parties and premieres. They actually have to work, and work hard, in order to get their schmoozing, cutthroat movie and TV counterparts up on the screen.

The Bridge Studio's sole golf cart

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Last week I asked readers for submissions to the Roadshow Readers’ Choice. I figured you, the reader, would come up with a bunch of great ideas for a stop on the Roadshow. And I was right — the suggestions have been funny, interesting, terrifying, and weird. Here are some of the jobs that have been proposed for me to do so far:

Flight Attendant
Overnight Security Guard at a half-built condo complex
Dog trainer
Cell Company Customer Service Rep
Engineer
Skytrain Employee
Braille Translator
Boom Operator
Embalmer
Pageant Judge
Adult Store Attendant
Union Rep
Childcare Assistant
Zookeeper
Stand Up Comic (this one scares me the most)
Oyster Floater
Parade Float Dismantler
Logger
Carney
Taxi Driver
IMAX Screen Cleaner
Mascot
Chicken Sexer
Organic Farm Inspector
Port-o-Potty Empty-er

Keep the suggestions coming! If you haven’t played guidance counselor yet, be sure to think up a job for me. (Visit the rules before making your suggestions.) You can email me your ideas or comment below. Send them in by December 16th. To recap what jobs I’ve done so far, visit my resume. Once all the submissions are in, I’ll compile a shortlist of the most popular and most interesting (and possibly the most terrifying) and have readers vote on what job they want to see me do for the Roadshow.

Your Choice

December 1, 2009

I’ve been on the Roadshow for just over two months and I’ve done a total of 14 different jobs. While I haven’t yet surmised where I want my career path to go next, I have gleaned an inside look at many interesting professions. So far, most of the Roadshow stops have been through referrals or people contacting me. Now I’ve decided to put my fate in the hands of my readers. Yup, that’s right: you. I want you to pick where I go next. Because I believe you will come up with jobs that I never would. (Think of it as a chance to act out your secret desire to be a high school guidance counselor.) So if you have suggestions on what type of work I should do, or a particular organization or company that you think I should work for, send me an email or leave a comment.

I’ll take the most frequently suggested and best ideas, put it to a reader’s vote, and then try to arrange a Roadshow stop doing that job. Please send me your ideas by Dec. 16th.

Just in case you haven’t, be sure to visit the Roadshow Rules before making your suggestion. And in particular, pay attention to Rule #1. And as a recap, I’ve so far done the following:

Jewelry Designer (upcoming post)
Carbon Project Developer (upcoming post)
Film Executive (upcoming post)
Dog Walker
Personal Trainer
Software Developer
Acquisitions Editor
Film Swing
Sous Chef for an Underground Supper Club
Stockbroker
Transportation Planner
Business Reporter
Graphic Designer
Line Cook

Looking forward to your suggestions! Send them here by Dec. 16th.

Roadshow Stop: Dog Walker
Roadshow Mentor: Laura Davies, Creature Comforts

You only need walk a few blocks on Vancouver’s 4th Ave or in Yaletown to see evidence of our society’s dog devotion–bakeries, spas, stylists, couture–all dedicated to the canine. Dog’s have their own magazines, therapists, accessory lines, portrait artists, gourmet foods, hotels–there’s no shortage of puppy paraphernalia and canine-centric services. Honestly, I find this abundance of doggy swag and pooch pampering all a bit mind-boggling. I understand that people love their pets and want to spoil them. And I get that there’s an element of showboating involved. But I think there’s more to it than that. I think that some dog owners who indulge themselves and their pets in this doggy decadence really believe their dogs need this stuff to be happy. (My cynicism may stem from the fact that I have seen perfectly healthy dogs being pushed in baby prams, sans baby, one too many times.)

Don’t get me wrong, I do love a dog in a sweater, and I have what some would describe as puppy fever. I’m known to stop strangers on the street to pet their pooch. I do want, and have always wanted, a dog. (Growing up we were a cat family.) But I refrain from getting myself a “man’s best friend” for a few reasons, the biggest being: commitment. Adopting a dog means (ideally) a minimum ten years together. That’s a long time (especially in dog years). I worry that I’m not responsible enough to provide a stable home for a furry little friend. I especially worry that once I have a job, I would have to leave my dog alone for 8-9 hours a day. That seems like a cruel thing to do.

Our group: Pacey, a black lab mix; Robi, a black lab; Mickey, a sloughi; Kiwi, a duck trolling retriever; Skye, a golden retriever; and Cody, a chocolate lab

Many pet owners find themselves in this dilemma. Some are lucky enough to bring their dogs to work. Others, if they can afford it, hire the services of a dog walker. I always assumed that a dog walker was the neighbourhood kid you paid $20 a week to take your dog around the block after school. Apparently, I still live in the 1980s, because:

1. No one trusts neighbourhood kids anymore.
2. Dog walking is a big, and competitive, business. The Google business directory lists more than 1500 dog walking companies in the greater Vancouver area.

For this stop on the Roadshow, I joined Laura Davies, a dog walker for Creature Comforts. Laura’s relatively new to the dog walking business and had only been at it for two weeks when I joined up with her. But she’s no stranger to animals–she rides horses and has had pets all her life. Like me, Laura is part of the recent economy’s wake of under-employed. She moved to Vancouver just over a year ago from Toronto, where she was an audio engineer for eight years. Unable to find full-time regular work in her field, Laura set up her own company, In Ear Audio, but business is slow. She needs other employment to supplement In Ear Audio’s income.

“I gave retail a try. But I discovered I’m not much of a people person,” she says with a laugh. “So dogs seemed like a better fit.”

I met Laura at the start of her one-hour group hike. She had already done her collection–gone around and picked up six pooches–and brought them to Pacific Spirit Park. When I arrived, the dogs were anxiously awaiting release from the back of the little red pick up truck that caged them. Once each dog’s leash was securely clipped on to Laura’s cross-chest harness, she lowered the tailgate and out they hopped. They were excited to get going and they knew the way. The rushed towards the path entrance with Laura in tow.

With a pack of six large dogs, I expected far more chaos. But Laura somehow managed to keep order. Even though she had only worked with them for a couple of weeks, the dogs knew her and obeyed her. When she commanded they all move to her left, they did it. And it was obvious that although she had only known these dogs a short while, some just a few days, she was already attached to them. She interacted with each dog as we made our way along the path. Mickey, the timid one, she spoke to softly. Cody, Skye, and Robi–the playful dogs who were allowed off leash–she would call to and they would come bounding through the woods at the sound of her voice. Pacey and Kiwi, the mellow and complacent dogs who trotted on-leash beside her, she would murmur to almost subconsciously, as she reached down to stroke their faces.

For the most part, it was a pleasant walk through the woods. We had to occasionally call for the off-leash dogs who had strayed a touch too far. And there was a lot of poo to pick up. It was pouring rain, but the rain forest canopy provided enough shelter that it was barely a drizzle. About halfway through the walk, it was my turn to take the dogs. Laura held the leashes of Pacey, Kiwi, and Mickey and wiggled out of the chest strap. Still keeping a good grip on the leashes, she threw the harness over my head like a lasso. Once I had it snugly secured across my chest, she let go. I wasn’t expecting the dogs to have quite the force that they did. I felt like I had a team of small horses strapped to me and I was simultaneously the stagecoach and driver.

CBC Associate Producer Rob Easton, the dogs, and me

I worried the dogs might realize they had an amateur in control of them, but they continued on their walk as though they were oblivious to the changeover. Until about five minutes into it.

“Uh-oh,” Laura said. “Hold on tight to their leashes. Try to keep them close to you.” Following Laura’s instruction, I saw in the distance what caused her concern. It was another dog walker–her colleague, in fact. And apparently, of the seven dogs he had with him, one of them had the potential to be aggressive. Because he, unlike the five male dogs we had care of, still had his balls.

For about thirty seconds, it was a big mess of humans, leashes, and dogs. And then it was over. Following the loud and firm instruction of Laura and her colleague, the dogs separated themselves from the big dog pile, with not even a growl, and continued on their way–panting, sniffing, running, and chewing.

Before I knew it, the walk was almost done. Laura and I had chatted the whole way (you would never know she’s not a people person from her pleasant and friendly demeanour) and the hour flew by. I gave Laura back the reins, and started the next round of poo pick up. (The dogs knew it was almost time to go home so they made sure to do their business.)

Once the dogs were back in the truck, I gave each one a treat and let them nuzzle my face as I said good bye. I spent only an hour with them, but they nonetheless each doled out a generous amount of love. (It could have been the treats.) There was something so precious about their uncomplicated and unwavering affection. It made me want to take every one of them home. They were so content from the hour walk–and it was hard not to interpret it as gratitude. As they panted happily, and nosed my hand, I realized that there was a big difference between dog walking and the more frivolous dog services. Because dogs need to walk. They may not need their portrait done. And they might not need a designer sweater to be happy (although they look pretty darned cute in them), but they do need to walk. Laura was fulfilling this intrinsically dogly need. And the dogs relied on her and loved her for it.

As Laura unhooked the leashes and gave each dog a pat before closing the tailgate, it was clear she was also content from the hour walk. She was wet, muddy, and cold, but from the big smile on her face as she cooed to each dog, it was clear that a need of hers was also being fulfilled. Although unable to find full time employment as an audio engineer, she had found interim work that engaged her. Dog walking was a long way from manipulating and editing sound, but she had managed to find the enjoyment in spending a few simple hours a day with her six new best friends.

To invite me to work with you, or just say hello, send me an email at helen@unemploymentroadshow.

Intentional Exercise

November 23, 2009

Roadshow stop: Personal Trainer
Roadshow mentor: Steve McMinn

Irv’s pull-ups. He barely needs my assistance.

My pull-ups. Steve is doing most of the ‘heavy’ lifting here.

Pull-ups are harder for women than men. It’s how we’re built. However, I am not 64-years-old and diabetic. Nor have I had eight coronary by-passes or high blood pressure. Irv has. You would think this might even out the playing field a little. But I got schooled.

Irv’s physical prowess for a man his age with his health record can be attributed to the twice weekly exercise he does with personal trainer Steve McMinn. They’ve been at it for two years. And it’s made a huge difference. Before training with Steve, Irv could hardly walk up a flight of stairs without the assistance of a hand rail. Now he can kick a 33-year-old (moderately) fit woman’s ass in pull-ups.

Irv pressing a kettlebell

But ever the gentleman, Irv assured me with a big smile, barely discernible beneath his giant strongman-style mustache, that with practice and training, I could easily match him pull-up for pull-up in no time. Still breathless from trying, I rolled my eyes and laughed. He winked at me and in his soft voice said, “It’s true.”

“He’s right,” Steve said. “With practice you could do it. Anyone can.”

Steve had just done most of the work pushing me up to the pull-up bar five times. But he seemed unfazed and not the least bit breathless from hefting all 175 cm, 70(+)kgs of my squirming, flailing form to the bar. After demonstrating five unassisted pull-ups of his own, he explained in technical detail what muscles were involved, why it is such a difficult exercise to do, and how I could train for it. From the simple plan he laid out, I believed I might be able to do it.

Or, even more surprising, would want to do it.

I have mixed feelings about exercise. As a kid, I skipped school the days we had to do our fitness challenges, which included things like the dreaded pull-up. As an adult, I like it best when I don’t realize I’m doing it (like skiing or biking). But I need to exercise five times a week to stay in shape and keep the stress pit bulls at bay. So I force myself to run, swim, and go to the gym. But I’m most happy the moment it’s over–because this means it’s the longest period of time before having to do it again. (Probably not the healthiest attitude for my day as a personal trainer.)

Struggling (and failing) to do an unassisted pull up

I figured to be a personal trainer, you have to possess a blind addiction to exercise, replete with saccharine enthusiasm or testosterone-fueled pumping iron zeal. But after my day with Steve, I discovered that personal training (a least successful personal training) is more about relationships than being a gym nut. You have to be apt at reading people and sussing out what motivators will work for them. Because I’m not alone in my aversion to intentional exercise.

Steve’s been a personal trainer for the past seven years. And he’s not a gym bunny or a meat head. In fact, he’s really normal. He’s ebullient and sometimes a bit of a goof. (Like when he described to one of his clients the best way to defend herself in a knife fight–from his enthusiasm it was hard to tell if he was being earnest–as though this young, middle class Realtor would ever realistically find herself in this situation. The answer, by the way, is run like hell). But somehow this, along with his unruly mop of brown curls, makes him even more approachable. I always associate trainers with making me feel bad about myself because I drink too much wine, or inadequate because I’m not fit enough. But Steve doesn’t dole out the judgment. Instead, he motivates his clients with genuine encouragement. And probably most appealing for me, he’s not infallible. He occasionally eats junk food (he had McDonald’s for lunch that day) and skips work outs when he’s feeling lazy.

Irv and Steve doing a timed circuit with a kettlebell

Steve believes being a successful trainer is about having the right personality. But he also believes it’s crucial to keep abreast of the latest developments in physical fitness. The best practices in exercise are constantly evolving, and he feels an obligation to his clients that he be on top of the most recent research–not the most recent fads, but effective techniques to safely improve fitness levels. It was through this kind of study that he came across his principle mode of training: kettlebells.

A kettlebell

Kettlebells are an ancient form of Russian weight training. They look like cannonballs with handles. Although old, they fit with proven modern techniques of safe and effective weight lifting. According to all of Steven’s clients, hefting and swinging these cannonballs around is fun. And having fun is integral to Steve’s method of training. He believes it’s essential for people to actually enjoy their work out, or they won’t keep up with it long term.

Irv and Steve

After saying our goodbyes to Irv, we packed Steve’s kettlebells into the trunk of his silver Volkswagon beetle and headed off to meet the next client. Through the course of the day, we met with five personal training clients, and then did an evening group kettlebell class. (Personal training is not cheap, so to make it more accessible, Steve offers a variety of different programs, from individual training to group classes.) The day started at 7:00 am and finished at 7:30 pm. (We were supposed to start at 6:00 am, but thankfully for me, that client cancelled.) There were breaks between clients, but it was still a long day. Steve didn’t seem at all tired–or if he did, he was really good at hiding it. He maintained the same energy for his 6:30 pm class as he did for his 7:00 am client.

Irv's (successful) unassisted pull-up

I think his stamina stems from not only a genuine (and non-annoying) love of physical fitness, but more importantly, a real love for inspiring and motivating the people he trains. Because he’s not just helping them shed a few pounds. At least that’s not what it feels like he’s selling. While that may be an end result and a goal for some clients, Steve seems to derive the most pleasure out of seeing the difference it makes in their lives. Irv is the perfect example of this–he claims Steve saved his life, and in many ways he probably did, or at least vastly improved the quality of it. Irv is far more active and mobile in ways he never thought he could be. (Including kicking the butt of a 33-year-old in pull ups.) And admittedly, Steve’s ebullience is infectious. He has a way of making his clients believe they can succeed–and once they believe that, they almost always do.

Post pull-up fatigue

So even for someone like me, who would avoid exercise at all cost if I could, Steve’s somehow convinced me that becoming a pull-up champion (or at least be able to do one on my own) is a possible and even desirable goal.

To learn more about Steve and his kettlebells, visit his website.

My name in lights

November 21, 2009

My name isn't Karen Holness.

Although Rule 4 prevents me from accepting money for the Roadshow’s labour, I am sometimes offered free stuff in turn for my work. Usually food or booze. Or sometimes swag. (The legal swag, not the other kind.) And I happily accept these tokens. Last night, I was invited to the screening of the short film Wood If, which I worked on a few weeks ago. I thought it was very kind of them to include me on the guest list.

It was a good party at Grace Gallery on 3rd and Main. I was given wine and popcorn (two of my favourite things) and got to see some familiar faces from my day as a swing. The film turned out great and is playful and fun as Judson’s furniture. Overall, a pleasant evening. But little did I know, there was another surprise in store for me. As we watched the credits role, I noticed I had been given a shout out–a very sweet gesture by producer Liz Levine and director J.B. Sugar. So it looks like fame and recognition, albeit minor, is also one of the Roadshow’s perks.

The Computer-Inclined

November 18, 2009

Roadshow stop: Nitobi Software

A rudimentary (and homemade) pictorial depiction of my day at Nitobi Software.

The lights were low and the place was filled with the constant accumulative hum of high powered computers. In the entrance way sat a Foosball table, the little plastic men, abandoned from a recent game, pointed all askew. A half assembled soap box derby car was propped up haphazardly in a corner. In the board room were stacks of empty pizza boxes. Desks were littered with jars of salsa and half-drank bottles of Dr. Pepper.

No, I wasn’t in my college boyfriend’s shared apartment. The furniture was too nice and the place too tidy to be mistaken for that. This was my Roadshow stop at Nitobi Software, a software development firm that builds web and mobile applications. Although one of the shortest commutes for me on the Roadshow (they’re located in Gastown), this, so far, was the furthest leap for me professionally. (As may be gleaned from my homemade drawings.) I don’t know the slightest thing about building software. I don’t speak the languages–PHP, Javascript, HTML, to name a few–or understand the jargon–complete UI, open source, wire frames. And, pre-Roadshow, I worked in fundraising and publishing–both predominantly female industries. (What’s the opposite of a sausage party?) So Nitobi’s all male staff of 14 was also a new one for me.

My mentor for the day was Brian LeRoux, a software developer who’s been with Nitobi for four years. (Before that he was ‘playing video games and pumping gas’.) According to him, his responsibilities include coding and client management. As well, he said with a laugh ‘evangelism and general B.S.ing.’ (No, that’s not developer jargon–he meant the universal language of bullshitting). Brian explained to me that software development was more like gardening than manufacturing–it wasn’t just building, but creating something that needed to be tended and maintained because of its ever-evolving nature.

After chastising me for not bringing my laptop (“Who comes to work at a software development company and doesn’t bring their laptop?” he asked) and mocking me for the analog notebook I did bring (spiral bound with ruled sheets), he told me to go check in with the ‘guys’ to see what kind of work they were doing.

I started with the front room, which housed about five developers. Some of the developers eyed me warily, curious as to what the heck I wanted. Others avoided eye contact. Some slipped on their headphones. (I wondered if they were suspicious of my lack of a Y chromosome or if they were just busy.) But these avoidance tactics weren’t going to stop me. I grabbed an ergonomically correct desk chair and rolled up to the first work station. From here, I hopped from desk to desk getting tours from each developer on what they were working on and what kind of projects they had worked on in the past.

I learned all about PhoneGap, which is an open-source tool that lets anyone (well, anyone who knows how) develop mobile apps with javascript. I was given a quick run through of a virtual social forum on Canada’s Arctic created for the Vancouver Aquarium. And a mobile petition application created for tcktcktck.org. I was shown an application that can give virtual tours of museums and art galleries, all on a smart phone. It was all amazing stuff.

Some of the developers were working on what they called their ’20 percent’. Nitobi has an 80/20 policy, meaning 20 percent of developer’s time can be spent working on individual and personal projects. According to Andre Charland, co-founder of Nitobi, product development has proven to be a good source of revenue, and he felt what better place to create these products then with his staff. PhoneGap is an example of a successful product built in-house. So eight hours of an employee’s 40 hour work week can be spent on doing his own thing–and he gets paid for it. Sounds like living the dream.

It was clear that fun was an integral part of this workplace. And not just the appearance of fun you sometimes see in big corporate offices to placate over-worked, over-stressed, and under-appreciated employees. These guys seemed to actually enjoy what they did and enjoy being in the office.

“We take work seriously, but not ourselves,” said Andre.

“Nitobi is the idealized fantasy of what software development is all about,” said Brian. “Other software companies are mostly cubical farms.”

At the end of the day, I was told I would be sitting in on a meeting with Mark Scott, President of D&M Publishing. As I made a few notes and waited for the meeting to start, I noticed a small group gathering around Andre’s computer. They were ogling a girly calendar–the Rad Boob Club Calendar, which was created by female skiers to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. It features photos of (fully dressed) female skiers doing daredevil moves off cliffs, soaring over highways, and plummeting down vertical drops. The guys appreciated it with the same enthusiasm one would expect from a swimsuit calendar.

As they admired ‘Miss December’, Brian proposed cracking a beer. Andre suggested waiting until Mark arrived. I assumed he meant waiting until after Mark had come and gone. Clearly I was new to the world of software development as beers were distributed ten minutes into the meeting. (And everyone, including Mark, took one.) With icy Pilsners in hand, the developers, designers, and Mark went through some of the finishing details of Book Riff, a new publishing website that will allow users to pick and choose from published books, add their own content, and have a book printed, bound, and shipped within 24 hours.

Admittedly, going into a day of software development, I figured I would be immersed in a world of computer geek stereotypes. But I was dead wrong. This office wasn’t filled with socially awkward, ill-dressed, girl-fearing men. What I discovered was quite the contrary–smart, creative, self-assured professionals who love their jobs, make super neat stuff, and work in an almost utopic office environment. Okay, maybe I have a residual soft spot for the computer-inclined because of my college boyfriend, or maybe it was the fact that they gave me free beer, but after a day of hanging out with software developers, I think they are, and what they do, is cool as hell.

Follow-up Thank You Email
Helen:
Thanks for letting me come in and follow you around. It was fun. And will definitely provide me with some good stuff for a post. It will probably take me a week or so to get a story fleshed out.
Thanks again. It was a real pleasure meeting you. Oh, and thanks for the pils.

Nitobi:
eh no worries — glad it worked out for you / let me know if you need any more details. feel free to stop by and drink our beer any time!

Helen:
You may want to reconsider your unconditional offer of free beer to someone who has no gainful employment. You may live to regret it! Will let you know if I have questions/need details. I’m sure I will.

Nitobi:
nah, anytime — fairly certain no guys here are going to complain. shit, bring some friends. =)