Duck, Duck, Google

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

What after-work activity will unify a team of Google employees? A trip to the nearby, great outdoors proves more adventure than anticipated.

May 1, 2022 – Mountain View, California, USA

Prashant Ram’s parents drove 400 miles for the weekend visit.  Prashant’s aunt and uncle tagged along in the car.  They were all eager to finally see where Prashant worked, so he saved a tour of Google’s headquarters, the Googleplex, as the culmination of their time together.  As they walked through the glass and brick buildings, Prashant’s mom and aunt chattered about how new everything looked.  Prashant bragged about the constant construction and the massive, soon-to-be-completed dome with a dragon skin solar roof, located on the far side of an enormous lawn.

“When we’re on campus, the company makes everything convenient.  Free food in the cafeteria.  Bus rides anywhere.  Sleeping pods.”

“What do you mean on campus?  It sounds like you are still at the university,” said Prashant’s uncle.

“That’s what they call it.  All the company buildings and property.  That’s ‘on campus’,” explained Prashant.

“Where do your employees work?  Are they in a different building?” asked Prashant’s dad.

Prashant dropped his head to his chest.  He had told the family about being promoted as a team leader.  Now all his dad could think about was Prashant as a manager.  “You shouldn’t think of them as my employees.  I’m more of a project coordinator,” Prashant tried to explain.

“Tell us again about the project,” said his dad.

“It’s kind of secret, so I can’t say very much.  But we’re using machine learning to find the highest value clients for customers.  We concentrate on location tracking.”

“And the name?  What was the name?” asked Prashant’s uncle.

“Project Goose.”

“Why Goose?  Tell us why Goose,” said his dad.

“Someone else came up with it.  Maybe it has to do with a wild goose chase or the goose that laid the golden egg.”

“So, you’re only a little boss now, but if you do a good job with Goose, you’ll be a big boss,” said Prashant’s dad.

“I don’t know about that,” replied Prashant.

“It’s true.  If you can get the most out of your employees, you will get promoted.”

“Like I said, they’re not really my employees.  Everyone on my team is my age.  They don’t look at me as the boss.”

“Then you aren’t thinking like a boss.  How are you ever going to have a big office and a big house on the hill?”

Prashant’s mom and aunt talked about the office and house he would soon have and how smart he was.  They speculated that when Google took over more and more of the world, Prashant would be very important and bossing around loads of people.

Prashant nodded and did not bother to argue.  He walked faster, and to speed up the tour, he told his family the rest of the buildings were locked and they might as well begin the long drive back home.

As much as Prashant wanted to discount what his relatives had to say, he kept replaying their words in his head.  His dad had dreamed of Prashant being a doctor, not a software engineer.  His dad would never appreciate coding skills.  His aspirations for Prashant went beyond him being the smartest kid in his class and were always bigger than Prashant’s aspirations for himself.  And while his dad did not entirely understand the situation, something about his view of Prashant’s position rang true.  Prashant wanted to do great work and have great skills, but he also wanted to get ahead.  He wanted some independence and authority.  That only came with being a boss.  The bigger the boss, the more you got to pick and choose your projects.  A Vice President could do almost anything they wanted.

None of Prashant’s college classes taught him about leadership or how to achieve Vice President status.  Google offered webinars and seminars for people who had been thrown into management roles, but he had not paid much attention.  His instinct was simply to mimic his own boss whenever he checked in with his team and made assignments.

The boss Prashant knew best was someone named Stefan.  Stefan knew absolutely nothing about Prashant’s personal life and vice versa.  Prashant had never seen Stefan eat or drink.  He spoke with an accent, but Prashant could not say whether he was from Europe, Asia, or Mars.  Prashant felt numb when reporting to Stefan and could not tell if his boss was pleased or disappointed.  Prashant realized there must be a better way and that, somehow, he could and should be motivating when the people on his team reported to him.

Fortunately for Prashant, he easily found endless websites, blogs, and podcasts dedicated to forming strong teams and getting the most out of your teammates.  Prashant especially liked finding lists which condensed all the leadership advice into a handful of tips.  One tip he kept reading was that a team needed to bond outside of their natural environment.  For a work team, that meant getting outside the office and doing something completely unrelated to the usual job.  Outdoor settings were best, and team members needed to feel challenged and out of their comfort zone.  Skydiving and white-water rafting were ideal team-building activities.

Prashant thought about the five other people on his team and what they might be willing to try.  He decided it was best to start small.  There were plenty of great outdoor locations right next to the Google campus and a first activity might as well be convenient.  Prashant sent a message to his team that on Friday no one was allowed to work from home and at 4 pm they would carpool to the boathouse on Shoreline Lake.  The lake sat among the marshes at the south end of San Francisco Bay and was home to all kinds of wildlife.

The initial response to Prashant’s message was the question, “Is this required?”

Prashant wrote back that while it was not required, it was highly encouraged.

All five of his teammates showed up on Friday.  Prashant volunteered to drive his Prius down to the lake.  Two teammates, Gopi and Mira, rode with him.  The three others, Nafiz, Roy, and Junsang, rode in a Kia, driven by Nafiz.  The two cars navigated newly constructed roads cut through gentle hills covered in dry, wild grass.  They passed double-decker buses delivering Google employees to and from work and followed a long, slow curve though the marshlands.  They reached the lake in less than five minutes.

“They have paddle boats.  I thought we could all go out on the lake,” announced Prashant after parking.

“What’s the purpose?  Do we have to?” asked Gopi.

“It’s supposed to be fun,” said Prashant.

“I’m not very good with swimming,” said Nafiz.

“You’ll have a life jacket.  It’s almost impossible to flip over the boats,” replied Prashant.

Prashant led his team to the boathouse and then the docks.  He paid for all of them to ride paddleboats.  He considered it an investment in his future.  Mira and Roy complained about being cold.  They returned to the cars for their Stanford and Cornell sweatshirts before putting on their lifejackets.  Everyone on the team crept gingerly up to the colorful boats and then Prashant divided them into pairs.

“I’ll take Gopi with me in the red boat.  Mira and Roy, you get the green one.  Nafiz and Jungsang, you get yellow.”

As the paddleboaters took their seats, they joked about each person’s probability for falling in the water.  Prashant was glad to hear them loosen up and talk about something other than work.  He and Gopi launched their boat first and headed toward the middle of the small lake.  The green and yellow boats followed closely behind and a competition quickly developed over who could paddle the fastest.  Prashant and Gopi stayed in the lead and steered around the perimeter of the lake and back to the dock.

“We win!” called Gopi as everyone tumbled out of their boats and onto the floating walkway which took them back to shore.  Prashant was glad to hear the back-and-forth arguments about the pedals not being equal and one of the boats developing a small leak.

“Now what?” asked Nafiz as he removed his lifejacket.

“People usually hike around,” said Prashant.  “You can look at birds and the water.  Maybe we can walk close to the bay.”

Everyone on the team grabbed their phone and pulled up a map of the area.

“How about the Pelican Nesting Site?” asked Mira.

“It’s a 30-minute walk from here.  Do we have to go that far?” asked Nafiz.

“Don’t you want to see a pelican?” asked Mira.

“I can already see one here,” said Nafiz, holding up his phone, showing a picture of the nesting site.

“Then maybe a shorter hike,” said Prashant.  “How about the Bay Trail?”

The group was divided about how long they were willing to walk and what kinds of birds were worth seeing.  Prashant felt like it was a healthy discussion which would ultimately lead to better team communication.  As they talked, the team wandered toward a grassy knoll on the opposite side of the boathouse.  Standing in the grass were families of large birds.

“If you want to see birds, look right there,” said Nafiz.

“Are those pelicans?” asked Gopi.

“Pelicans have big mouths.  Those don’t have big mouths,” said Jungsang.  “Roy, you’re from here, you should know what they are.”

“I grew up 1000 miles away from here,” said Roy, “but if you ask me, I think they look like big ducks.”

Mira took a picture of one of the birds and then pulled up an image recognition app.  “Guys, my phone says it’s a goose.  Canada goose.”  Mira held out her screen so the others could see the result of the image match.

The rest of the team took their own picture of a goose and confirmed the image with their own phones.  Prashant was happy to see them solving new problems together.

“Guys, we should take a picture with a goose, since we’re working on Project Goose,” said Prashant excitedly.  “We could use it for a logo or like a team avatar.”

The goose picture idea sounded good to everyone, so Prashant found a passerby willing to take a group photo.  Prashant handed the woman his phone and encouraged his teammates to remove their sunglasses.

“Try to get as many birds in the picture as possible,” Prashant called to the volunteer photographer as well as his team.  “Some of the big ones and the baby ones.”

The woman holding Prashant’s phone took several snaps as the team huddled behind a goose family.  When Prashant examined the photos, he was disappointed.  His team was too far away from the geese.  The woman who had held the phone was already gone, so Prashant decided to take over photography duties himself.  Even if he was not pictured in a better shot, they could still use it for a team logo.

“Try again.  Get closer to the birds,” Prashant urged his teammates.  “Gopi and Jungsang, stand to the side of them so they can’t escape.”

Prashant snapped posed and candid photos while the team tried to corral a family of two adult and four adolescent geese.  As the birds honked and squirmed away from them, the teammates laughed and encouraged each other to keep working for the perfect picture.  Prashant was proud of all the team bonding going on.

As the photoshoot progressed, the geese and humans drifted away from the grassy area next to the boathouse and toward the backyard of the Rengstorff Mansion, a restored Victorian home built near the lake.  The house and surrounding gardens were often reserved for wedding parties, and one was going on at the time of the goose photoshoot.  On the other side of the rear fence, dinner tables were arrayed on the lawn, covered in white linen and flower vases.

The goose family grew more agitated as they were herded toward the wedding party.  Caught between Prashant, his teammates, and the backyard fence, the adult geese panicked.  Instead of backing away from the human intruders, they attacked.  Jungsang was closest to the big geese and they both bit him on the leg.  He was shocked to realize geese were capable of biting.  He tripped over his feet trying to back away from them.  The next moment, the geese were on top of him, honking and biting anything that looked soft.

Jungsang staggered to his feet in a whirlwind of wings, beaks, and feathers.  He instinctively leaped toward the nearest escape route, which happened to be a partially open gate in the Rengstorff Mansion’s back fence.  The geese followed a disoriented Jungsang, who ran straight into one of the carefully arranged wedding tables.  Dishes and flowers spilled to the ground.

Across the lawn, the best man of the wedding party spotted the goose induced carnage.  Well lubricated with champagne, he assumed party crashers were attempting to ruin the evening.  He gathered a posse of groomsmen and rushed over to repel the invaders.  The best man considered himself something of a mixed martial artist and he was eager to prove it.

The encounter between Jungsang, the best man, and the geese happened so quickly that no one had time to record it.  Another table went down and plenty of goose feathers were left on the back lawn.  Jungsang closed his eyes through most of it, and while he did end up with a bloody chin, it was probably from being pushed into the edge of a table and not a punch.  Gopi, who ran to help, received a bruised cheek for his trouble.

Team Goose, along with the real geese, stumbled and squawked away from Rengstorff Mansion.  Prashant led the retreat to the cars and broke the speed limit getting Jungsang to the nearest Urgent Care center.  Jungsang earned two stitches under his chin and the admiration of the entire team.

Immediately after Prashant’s white-knuckle drive for medical help, he was convinced team building had been a disaster.  But after a few days listening to his teammates relive the memories, he began to change his mind.  Prashant even called his dad to tell him about it.

“I took my team off campus to make them more productive.”

“Very good.  Where did you go?”

“Out into the wilderness.”

“Did it work?  Do they think you’re a better boss?”

“I think so.  We got out of our comfort zone.  It was dangerous and we fought hard together.”

“Dangerous?  Was it supposed to be dangerous?”

“Yes, if you believe the leadership tips I read.  But next time we’ll probably stay out of the wilderness.  I think Team Goose is built for staying close to home.  We can find all the danger we need on campus.”

“See, now you’re sounding like a big boss.”


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Submitted: September 24, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Aaron Hawkins. All rights reserved.

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