Tech Careers: The Perils of Office Romances

Monday Sep 17th 2012 by Eric Spiegel
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When developers get involved with developers, what happens to the code?

My office mate Jerry was admiring the newest software developer hired into our merry band of techies. She was the second female in the group, but the first was married with kids. This young lady was our age and had no ring on the finger.

And I had to admit, Jerry was right. She was easy on the eyes.

We were having our Monday morning stand-up meeting where the team leads had to kick off the week with a status update. When a new team member was hired, they had to play a game our manager Chuck was fond of – two truths and a lie.

It involved sharing three supposed facts about themselves while everyone voted on which two were true and which one was false. If the newbie fooled everyone, Chuck would buy them lunch.

The object of Jerry’s affection’s stood up in front of the group and started the game.

“Hi my name is Suzanne and I’ve been writing software since high school. I’m excited to be on your team!”

Jerry leaned over and whispered, “Not as excited as me.” I gave an affirmative chuckle. But I had a fleeting thought of trepidation over Jerry’s enthusiasm.

Suzanne continued with the game.

“Here are three things about me. First, I was a cheerleader in college. Second, I have done modeling for magazines. And third, I was valedictorian of my high school.”

Chuck asked everyone to vote for which one was the lie. It wasn’t close. The majority voted that the valedictorian claim was a falsehood.

It was clear Suzanne had the looks to be a model and she exuded the perkiness of a cheerleader. But I thought she was playing off her good looks, so I was one of the few who voted for modeling as the lie.

And I was right.

“I was offered a modeling job, but it wasn’t something my dad would have approved of,” she said with a coy smile, getting a laugh out of the group.

Jerry was eating it all up. She was smart, funny and good-looking. Yet, something about her still bugged me.

As an award for outwitting most of us, Chuck had to take her to lunch. And he invited me to come along.

Jerry was not happy.

But he wanted to know more about her, so he said, “make sure you find out if she has a boyfriend and any other interesting stuff.”

“Okay, Jerry, I’ll be sure to find out.”

Jerry was an admitted late bloomer. He took to writing software at an early age and in high school he was the star of the math club, chess club, etc.

He was tall and lanky and not bad looking I guess. Most important: Jerry was a good guy and could be naive about the opposite sex. I felt protective of him and Suzanne seemed out of his league.

So as we were sitting at lunch, Chuck was going on about how Microsoft was going to change the world and Suzanne sat in rapt attention. But every once in while she would glance at me and smile.

Let me tell you, she had a seriously enchanting smile.

As promised, I asked, “I understand you recently moved to town. Do you have a lot of friends here or a boyfriend?”

She looked at me with a disarming look, brushed her brunette bangs out of her eyes and said “Why? Do you want to be my boyfriend?”

Chuck laughed like it was the funniest joke he ever heard. I must have turned several shades of red.

“Ha. Um no, just curious.”

She went on to say she had friends but no serious boyfriend.

When we returned to the office, I filled Jerry in. He was thrilled. Although I did leave out how she made me blush.

Over the next few weeks, Jerry would take every chance he could to work with and hang around Suzanne. He would offer to review her code and give her ideas. She would gush with thanks.

She not only didn’t seem to mind this attention, she ate it up.

We all went out to a Friday happy hour and the two of them got tipsy. It turned out her apartment was only a few blocks from Jerry’s, so they both shared a taxi.

As he was getting in, I said “Be careful man.” He was oblivious to my concern as he practically danced into the cab’s back seat.

I tried contacting Jerry over the weekend, but never heard back. On Monday morning, he was already in the office when I walked in.

“Where were you all weekend?” I asked. Jerry leaned back in his chair and said, “I’m in love.”

Oh boy. This was happening fast.

He went on to say how they ended up spending the whole weekend together, ordering in take-out and playing video games.

“And she is really good! She kicked my butt – which only made me like her more. And get this: she is a huge fan of Woz and isn’t impressed with Jobs – just like me!”

Of course he was referring to Steve Wozniak, the engineering wizard behind Steve Job’s initial success at Apple.

“Okay, great. She is a Woz fan. But don’t go overboard – you hardly know her.”

This was true, but Jerry was head over heels for Suzanne, which was painfully obvious over the next few days. The public displays of affection were over the top.

You know how in high school the teachers would break up kids kissing in the halls? Well, there were no teachers to do the job, so I’d walk past them being all affectionate in the break room and say “get a room” – only half-jokingly.

Jerry’s work started to slip. It was like he was rushing, making stupid mistakes in his code. I figured out why he was rushing. Whenever Suzanne would call in sick (which was a lot), I’d find Jerry doing her work for her, and would call him on it.

“Get off my back! I’m only helping her out while she’s sick.”

I’m still not sure if she was ever really sick, but I was sick of seeing Jerry be manipulated. And he was becoming snippy with me, which wasn’t like him at all.

Worse, I noticed when Jerry wasn’t around she would flirt with other guys in the office – including me. I did my best to avoid her.

The avoidance strategy failed one day when Jerry was away at a conference. I was working late and felt a presence behind me (or maybe I smelled perfume). I glanced over my shoulder and there was Suzanne standing in the doorway.

She sat in Jerry’s chair as I typed away. I was annoyed to be bothered because we had a code drop due in the morning.

“What can I do for you?” I said, still looking at my screen. Maybe I didn’t want to look at her because I knew she had that disarming charm I first experienced at the lunch.

“I hear you are a big Steve Jobs fan. Me too.”

Wow. The love for Woz was short-lived. I was about to protest, when she continued.

“Don’t you like me?”

I stopped typing and looked at her. She had deep blue eyes - bluer than you’d expect from a brunette.

“What makes you say that?” I said, already knowing the answer.

Without responding, she pulled the chair closer to me and put her hands on my chair’s armrests.

“Well, I liked you from the first day, but you never pay any attention to me.”

My heart was racing for many reasons. I managed to stammer, “I am, I mean, you are Jerry’s girlfriend.”

She moved even closer and for some reason I was paralyzed with fear, or maybe something else.

“Come on, we are just having fun.” Then she leaned in and kissed me.

Before I could even react, there was a knock at the door. Chuck walked in and started to ask me a question – then he saw what was happening.

Suzanne, pushed me away and quickly exited, giving a swift “Hey Chuck” as she moved past him out the door.

Chuck gave me a disapproving look and proceeded to ask his question. I tried to compose myself, which was useless and told Chuck I’d get back to him. He shook his head as he left.

I said out loud to an empty office “What the hell just happened?” This was bad, bad, bad.

When Jerry returned the next day, I was doing my best not to talk to him. I was embarrassed and ticked off – at myself and at Suzanne.

Jerry seemed unconcerned with me. But after lunch, he came into the office and shut the door.

He stared daggers at me and said, “You have something to tell me?”

What was I supposed to say? Numerous possibilities crowded my mind, but I simply said, “I swear I didn’t kiss her back!”

Not the brightest move.

“You are a liar. She told me you came on to her. You are not my friend.”

With that, he stormed out of the office.

And things went downhill from there. Chuck actually moved Jerry into an office with Suzanne. Predictably, that arrangement didn’t last. One evening Jerry walked in on Suzanne and Chuck – and they weren’t writing code.

Jerry and I eventually made up and Suzanne left the company. He even joked, “I bet she told Chuck she loved Bill Gates.”

In retrospect, I don’t think any in-office romance is a great idea. The risks are larger than the rewards. And that is no lie.

Also see:

Boy Developers: Is "Brogrammer" Culture Really So Bad?

Are Odd Developers Just Misunderstood?

That Developer's Salary is Bigger than Mine!

Eric Spiegel has been working as a software developer and manager for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @EricSpiegs

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