Please, sir take a seat, sit anywhere you like, but oh, no, not there, rats

Here's a joke:

Question: Where does Bill Gates sit?

Answer: Anywhere he wants.

(Naturally, substitute the chairman of your company for Bill Gates.)

I was told this story by a manager who was preparing a demo for Bill Gates. Bill was going to pay a visit to the offices of one particular project which was still under development and be taken on a tour, stopping by offices to see how things are going and get demos of different parts of the project. This manager was in charge of one of the features and naturally was called upon to prepare a little demo.

Chance favors the prepared, and our manager took great care to make sure the demo would go off without a hitch.

Before Bill came, I spent some time figuring out the agenda and wrote a list of bullet points on a notepad. I 'cleaned' my desk and left the notepad on the desk to my right so I easily take a quick peek if needed. Ran the demos a couple of times to make sure they were still working. Everything was ready.

A few hours later, it was demo time. Bill came to my office, and after some introductions, he decided to sit down.

At my desk.

On my right.

Right on top of my notepad.

I screamed inside my head. This is the sort of thing that happens only in the movies.

Fortunately, the demo went well and there was no need to consult the notepad.

But still.

Comments (16)
  1. keith says:

    You simply say "you might be more comfortable if I pick that up" and move on.  

  2. Karellen says:

    That is quite improbable.

    Knowing how smart and wily BillG is reputed to be, it’s possible he could have sat on the notepad on purpose just to see how prepared the manager was.

    Is that more or less likely than accidentally happening to sit on the only thing on an otherwise empty desk?

  3. GWO says:

    Or even "Excuse me sir, I may need to refer to that notepad."  I refuse to believe that billg is such a tyrant that such a polite request would result in anything other than politeness in return.

  4. Neil (SM) says:

    I would like to think I’d have no problem making such a polite request.   But I’m fairly certain giving such a presentation to such an audience qualifies as an extremely high-stressful situation — one might not be thinking as clearly and objectively as we all are right now.

  5. Sunil Joshi says:

    He should have pre-designated a seat for Mr Gates, saying that you will be able to best see the demo from this location. This would have prevented this difficulty.

  6. John says:

    Well, at least it wasn’t Balmer.  He might have taken the phrase "take a seat" literally.

  7. luke says:

    Why would he have needed to sit down?  Isn’t Bill just carried round the Microsoft campus on a sedan chair by ex-Microsoft Works developers?

  8. J says:

    I usually take special care not to sit on other peoples’ stuff because I figure they probably don’t want my butt all over it.

  9. Aaron G says:

    Statistically speaking, most people’s butts are cleaner than their hands – and their faces.  I’d rather somebody park their butt on my desk than their hands on my mouse, keyboard, or screen.

  10. Michael Mol says:


    I read a post by a former manager at Microsoft where the manager was recounting a his giving a presentation on Excel’s development to Bill Gates.  Prior to the presentation, he’d sent a massive stack of documentation, but hadn’t expected it really to be read.  It was.  And it was newly annotated.  And the manager was asked a question on an obscure point (date conversions, IIRC) to test the manager’s familiarity with his project.

    (And I’m beginning too many sentences with "And")

    So I think you’re right on the money there; That was the first thing that popped into my head, too.

  11. steveg says:

    S/he should have felt Bill up — might have got the notepad and a date. :-)

  12. joel8360 says:

    @Michael Mol, Karellen

    That was one of Joel Spolsky’s blogs.

  13. Liam says:

    Could have been worse… Bill could have sat in the demo chair and wanted to drive the demo himself. That would test how prepared things were. :)

  14. Kevin Eshbach says:

    The manager should have sold that notebook on eBay.  On a serious note this sounds like Bill was testing the manager.

  15. Leo Davidson says:

    Even worse when the date is in the announced name of the product and it slips beyond that year.

    Can also be funny, though, like the "C++0x …we never said it wasn’t a hexadecimal year!" :-D

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