The social skills of a thermonuclear device, part 4


Last summer, one of my colleagues thought it would be fun to have an informal "lunch chat with Raymond" as a special treat for our summer interns. One of the interns reacted to the invitation a bit unexpectedly, asking meekly, "Is he going to yell at us?"

Comments (27)
  1. Cody says:

    Did you?  (Seriously though, how did it go?  Interesting topic for future stories?)

  2. richard says:

    Is this a reflection of your interpersonal skills? Or is it a reflection of the intern’s past experiences with other such informal meetings?

    [Why are you asking me? Only the intern knows. (I can’t believe I had to write that.) -Raymond]
  3. DavidE says:

    Maybe you’ll grow out of it. I was an intolerable jerk to work with for years until I heard that people were "scared" of me. So, I decided to quit judging people by my own standards.

    One thing I’ve learned is that it only takes a couple of minutes to tease the real question out of people. There’s no reason to be impatient just because the person who comes to you doesn’t know all of the right jargon.

  4. Nice! On the flip-side, it’s perhaps good that interns know who you are. Unless you’d prefer to avoid that sort of notoriety.

    Nice to see that there’s that sort of "let’s hook up for lunch" culture going on, too. Friendly.

  5. JamesNT says:

    Mr. Chen,

    I hate to admit this, but I’m right there with you.  I’ve been accused of having the personality of a cinder-block.  But in our defense, there are days when putting up with other people’s snarkiness and down-right stupidity is all we can do.

    It’s amazing how people expect us to remain professional all the time yet be able to waste our time endlessly by doing things such as asking us what’s causing an error message they didn’t write down and don’t remember the wording of.

    Or including us in emails without asking a question we can answer or stating why they included us in that email.

    Or writing code that we have to fix for them later on.

    Or expect us to have psychic powers, be able to read their minds to determine what they want, or be clarvoyant.

    Sigh.

    JamesNT

  6. richard says:

    Asking the intern would be the best thing to do, but since we have no contact info for said intern that is not possible. So we play archaeologist and guess.

    Possible preconditions leading to the intern’s reaction are:

    (1) you have met them before and yelled at them

    (2) you have not met them before but have a reputation of yelling at interns

    (3) you have not met them before and they have no knowledge of you, but previous experience leads them to suspect some yelling might accompany an informal lunch

  7. Tim says:

    As one of the interns in question, I remember the occasion. I think most of us were just a little intimidated by Mr. Chen’s reputation as being a brilliant programmer. It really isn’t that hard to intimidate the interns. I don’t remember who asked that question, but I highly doubt they were totally serious.

    The lunch was actually a lot of fun for us. Contrary to popular belief, Mr. Chen is actually quite a nice guy, and we all enjoyed talking with him.

  8. Aidan says:

    On the flip side, I thought it was pretty funny when my intern wanted your autograph.

  9. Intern Abuser says:

    Possible preconditions leading to the intern’s reaction are:

    You forgot:

    (4) Interns get yelled at all the time by everybody. They were wondering if they were going to get a break from that during lunch.

  10. Chris says:

    "Mr. Chen" sounds like a Bond villain. Do you have a secret lair from which you unleash your themonuclear social skills?

  11. I was told by somebody at church that I reminded them of House from the FOX series of the same name, which, at the time, I had not seen. Then a couple of weeks later somebody at work told me the same thing again. I thought “this House guy must be a really great person. I need to see that show.”

    I watch it all the time now, and I was right. He’s really nice.

  12. schwiet says:

    I remember being an intern and finding a really odd behavior in some code.  I had asked around to figure out what was going on, no luck eventually I was referred to Raymond.  Whoever would refer me to you though would always warn me to be prepared, prompt and ready to ask the right question.  I was not just warned to be prepared but warned in general.  So yes you had a reputation even then haha.

    I have no recollection what the question was, this was maybe 7 years ago.  I think it may have been the time I mistakenly redeclared a variable, overwriting the expected result of a return code.

  13. Ollie says:

    I can confirm you have ‘The social skills of a thermonuclear device’, I tried to ask you a question about a possible miss print in your book and got the ‘verbal **** off’.

    I got told to go see you at a some future book seminar or group meeting – some people don’t live in Redmond, in fact some don’t even live on the same continent.

    Still a good book…

    [I remember you. You said you wanted to discuss something, not merely report a misprint. For that, you’ll have to catch me at a conference or similar event where consulting is part of my duties. -Raymond]
  14. Never Been an Intern says:

    Speaking of interns: are MS interns expected to fetch coffee and do other non-job-related work for others? Is that just stereotypical intern abuse at old-establishment corporations?

  15. Cooney says:

    Nah, at MS, interns are expected to write real code and do real work – the bar is set just below what a fulltime SDE is expected to do, as I recall.

    This is somewhat common, and is part of the reason software interns are usually paid.

  16. Igor says:

    or:

    (5) Interns already had lunch with Steve Balmer :)

  17. sterbs says:

    "The social skills of a thermonuclear device, part 5"

    [Why are you asking me? Only the intern knows. (I can’t believe I had to write that.) -Raymond]

    :)

  18. Mr. Cranky says:

    I presume they were told that Raymond only yells at people sho ask stupid questions.  Or make snide remarks about limitiations of Microsoftware.

  19. Brycej says:

    I happen to recall an event where that you DID yell at a… dare I say "Guru"… I believe a short plastic golf club was in tow as well… ;)

    But to be honest… it was warranted! ;)

  20. Other thermonuclear device says:

    > "Is he going to yell at us?"

    Surely the answer is that it depends on what kind of code the intern has written, and/or whether the intern has commented on their experiences dealing with Microsoft products or Microsoft.  And/or what kind of knitting they picked.

    Wednesday, March 28, 2007 1:56 PM by richard

    So we play archaeologist and guess.

    Don’t do that.  Use psychic powers.

  21. nks says:

    I was an intern last summer too and I talked to some of the shell interns toward the middle of the program.  As I understood it, you did a review of some code from one of them and yelled at him for it "all being wrong."  Maybe the story was exaggerated or misremembered, but it makes sense why those folks would be scared.

    I also used to eat lunch in your building, and I’d half expect to run into you on the way to the cafeteria and do something stupid against my will, like ask you for an autograph (I doubt you appreciate being accosted by random, fawning blog readers).  Of course, I had no idea at the time what you look like, so maybe you were totally safe.

    I’d like to thank you for writing this blog.  Without your and Larry Osterman’s interesting descriptions of problems and solutions, I would not have been all that interested in programming and I’d never have applied for an MS internship.  I’ll be back again this summer, so I really hope you’ll consider doing an intern program lecture.  If you wish, you could yell at all of us at once, which is more efficient than yelling at only a few interns at a time.

  22. Anon says:

    @DavidE

    "Maybe you’ll grow out of it. I was an intolerable jerk to work with for years until I heard that people were "scared" of me. So, I decided to quit judging people by my own standards.

    One thing I’ve learned is that it only takes a couple of minutes to tease the real question out of people. There’s no reason to be impatient just because the person who comes to you doesn’t know all of the right jargon."

    Must admit I agree. It’s perfectly possible to survive based on technically competency if you’re abrasive but good. But it severely limits how much cash you can make in the long run, no matter how good you are, since the real money is on the outer edges of the organisation, and the abrasive people tend to kept isolated in the basement.

    The more time I spend with sales/support people, the more I realise that being a bit diplomatic pays off, even if it’s often highly frustrating that customers don’t seem to do even the most basic research, or spend a few minutes explaining what they’re trying to do.

    Maybe Microsoft has a different culture of course, where the deep geeks get a bigger share of the pie. But now that the share price has levelled off, I think that may well change.

  23. Xavi says:

    >The more time I spend with sales/support people, the more I realise that being a bit diplomatic pays off

    Some of us learn the hard way.

  24. twit says:

    "Is this a reflection of your interpersonal skills? Or is it a reflection of the intern’s past experiences with other such informal meetings?

    [Why are you asking me? Only the intern knows. (I can’t believe I had to write that.) -Raymond]"

    "Whoever would refer me to you though would always warn me to be prepared, prompt and ready to ask the right question."

    Add to that …

    Thou shalt only ask questions of which you are 100% positive that Mr. Chen should be reasonably expected to know the precise answer to your precise question.

    That is, questions requiring speculation should be avoided at all costs, or have the Q_SPECULATION flag explicitly set.

    It is left as an exercise for the reader to determine how one should establish whether Mr. Chen should be reasonably expected to know the price answer to your precise question.  (HINT: Keep a running tab of any time you see Mr. Chen comment "How should I know?  I’m not a _____ expert." or "Being an expert on _____, …")

    The question above represents the exception thrown when failing to set the speculation flag.  The question either required speculation, or rested on the assumption that the story would have continued with Mr. Chen inquiring as to the root cause of the intern’s question and obtaining that information.  As the story did not contain such a continuation, one should expect that Mr. Chen never determined the root cause of the intern’s question and thus violated the commandments set forth regarding questions.

  25. Michael says:

    I wouldn’t say you lack social skills, per se…  You’re well educated, an excellent speaker, and genuinely bright.  You seem like a generally nice guy in the sense that you don’t appear to wish ill on those around you.

    Having said that, having followed your blog for several years, you’re offensively arrogant to the point that as much as I’d like to read your blog, I rarely can.  You rip on others with regularity for the most inane reasons, and generally come across as a prick.

    Why would I bother posting this?  I suppose I’m a prick, too ;)  But mostly, I just want you to be aware of one particular reader’s feelings.  You’ve got a good bit of experience to share and it’d be nice if I could stand to read it.

  26. B.Y. says:

    Come on, we all felt it, we all suspected it, and deep down in our hearts, we all know it: behind those blogs, behind that book, behind those geeky glasses, is a dangerous raving lunatic wanting to come out.

  27. Zer0mass says:

    See now I would Buy you lunch just to watch you yell at interns.  Beats customers yelling at me about things I can’t change.

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