Google Provides Servants for Staff (& Pepsi Memories)

That’s how Gawker puts it.

Googlers are being provided with credits on TaskRabbit, an online service that brokers odd jobs in five major cities. Recent job listings on the site include “Fold Laundry and Put it Away,” “Cook dinner for 2,” “assemble four items from Ikea,” “standard wash and fold: 3 loads,” “dispose of Ikea bead,” “Pick up and deliver cake,” and “walk a dog.

(Thanks to YG for sending me the link – this tale’s for you.)

This brings back a flood of memories because in 1993, I was a consultant working on a massive project at Pepsi Cola HQ in upstate New York.  Pepsi provided a concierge service to their staff that would arrange car rentals and baby sitters, even send people to wait on line to pick up Grateful Dead tickets.

By massive project, I mean they were migrating their entire beverage sales, inventory and delivery application from mainframe to client/server.  There were more than 600 consultants there – most of them came from two huge companies that spent most of their time battling each other over how many people they could get on site.  (I was there from a third company.  We were neutral in all this, the Switzerland of consultants.)

To give you an idea of how things can go wrong on a project, they needed to provide new handheld computers to every truck driver.  Rather than ordering just a handful and trying them out, they ordered hundreds of them.  And only then did someone think to show them to the drivers.  “These have no lights,” the drivers said.  “We do our deliveries at 5 AM when it’s dark out, how are we supposed to see the screens?”  Hundreds of HHC’s were junked.

Pepsi’s offices were somewhat remote, outside of town in a 250 acre campus that included a massive garden stocked with a global variety of floral and fauna and over 50 major works of outdoor sculpture.  We’d be sitting in there toiling away and look out the window and see people strolling through the garden or having picnics.  Pepsi quite rightly realized that in order to keep people focused on their work and at their desks longer, they’d need to bring essential services to the staff.  So once a week someone came to the employee parking lot to do oil changes for cars.  Shops from town were allowed to set up tables in the employee cafeteria to sell stuff during lunch time.

Of course we got all the soda we wanted for free – being programmers, we went for Mountain Dew, which had double the caffeine of Pepsi.  There were soda vending machines in every hallway and none of them required money – just push a button and a can would pop out.  People would line up at these machines at 5 PM, filling up their bags with a supply to take home.  Yeah, management wasn’t too crazy about this and offered to sell use cases at a discount, but how can you compete with free?

At the time, Pepsi owned Tricon.  And that meant that the food in the employee cafeteria included KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.  Not to forget every product made by Frito Lay, all at tremendous discount.  It was not the healthiest place to work.

They also had the U.S. distribution rights for Stolichnaya at the time.  And that tells you about how the world has changed.  Back then, you couldn’t get money out of Russia.  Pepsi wanted to sell there but couldn’t take out any hard currency.  So they worked out this exchange deal, Stoli for Pepsi.  Stoli was the one product we couldn’t get free or at a discount and it was the one we needed the most.  (Later, when they could get their cash out, they were happy to give up the Stoli deal, reportedly because the product didn’t fit in with their otherwise “family-friendly” line-up.)

We were not allowed to mention Coca Cola, much less bring any to work.  It was always referred to as “the C word.”   I still remember the one time a dozen of us went for lunch to the one restaurant outside of Pepsi grounds.  “Can I get you all something to drink?” the waitress sweetly asked.  “I’ll have a Coke,” I said.  My 11 friends all said the same, one after another.  The waitress quite properly said to us, “I’m sorry, we don’t serve Coca Cola here, would Pepsi be okay?”  “I’ll just have water,” I replied.  And then each of my 11 friends said the same.  The waitress lost her patience.  “Do you know where you are?”  “Do you know where we work?” I asked and we simultaneously held up our Pepsi employee IDs.   Okay, it was a tough project and we were easily amused.

What did I do on that project?  Oy vey.  I had just been hired by Sybase Professional Services but had no experience with any Sybase products.  My first week, just when I was about to head out for a month of training, I instead got sent to this project.  I knew nothing about Sybase!  The client would say stuff to me, I’d nod my head, and my Sybase co-workers frantically covered for me until I got up to speed (which, I must say, I did fast).  My job was to review all the code written by all the programmers – I’d go through about 1,000 pages of printouts a day, looking for the SQL code embedded within the programs, and look for ways to make it run faster.

Sometimes I regret my decision to “migrate” my career from technical to managerial.  By the time I left Sybase in 1996, I was considered one of the company’s top experts in several of their products.  But in my next job, I gradually became “just” a manager.  I still have days where I think to myself, “If only I’d stayed the course and became Super DBA.”

The other thing about consulting is that it was the only time in my career where I was a profit center instead of a cost center.  I’d generally manage to bill out an entire year’s salary within the first four months of the year which meant that I could have as much down time as I needed in the remaining 8 months.  It was pretty sweet.  My last gig with Sybase in the US, before they moved me to HK, I was project manager of what turned out to be the consulting division’s most profitable project ever.  Those were the days, my friend.

Okay, enough of this aimless rambling, off to bed (and back to Keith Richards’ Life).