Corporate culture, as seen on TV

Popular media offers a vivid portrayal of modern corporate culture, but I didn’t expect it to translate so literally to my experience at my first tech internship this previous summer.  It was nothing short of jarring to recognize so many phrases I had previously only heard from the mouth of Jared on HBO’s Silicon Valley. Still, my introduction to corporate culture was positive, if bizarre.

The office I worked in implemented an ‘Agile’ methodology. Agile, a term coined in the unironically-titled Manifesto for Agile Software Development, is an approach to software development that emphasizes individual interaction over processes and tools. In practice, this meant that every morning at 9:30 a.m. my coworkers and I engaged in ‘Scrum,’ a meeting for team updates that takes place in front of a Scrum board—a visual organization of all of a team’s tasks to track their progress. The Scrum board my office used was nearly identical to the one featured in Silicon Valley.  As I moved my completed ‘stories’ from the ‘in progress’ column to ‘peer review,’ I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was participating in some religious ritual. I felt as though those around me, who seemingly found the entire affair completely normal, were brainwashed by some Agile god whose influence I had somehow escaped. The whole experience was made even more peculiar by the requisite card game that followed. I quite enjoyed this part, though, I almost always won the little plastic giraffe offered as a prize.

Scrum has been proven effective by countless performance metrics, so, undoubtedly, my secret theory that it was all some tedious exercise meant only to please the powers that be was misguided. This was, however, hard to keep in mind as I sat through my umteenth ‘Q4 Fun-times’ celebration. My tenure overlapped with the fourth fiscal quarter, so, every Friday, we would sign out 15 minutes early and go down to the concert hall, a magnificent old stage complete with crown mouldings and intricately-crafted pillars, to celebrate the week’s sales of abstract corporate research. The powerpoint presentation that followed was almost always painfully boring for a young software-developer intern such as myself. But, in keeping with the company’s emphasis on competition, it was followed by a thoroughly entertaining game invented weekly by the ‘Committee of Fun.’

As I became more comfortable at my internship, Scrum actually became my favourite part of the day. As embarrassing as it was to mumble “I’m still working on the failing tests” fourteen mornings in a row in front of coworkers I admired, by July or so we had developed a rapport. Eventually, I even looked forward to miming the phrase ‘Hannah Montana’ for my puzzled superiors to try and guess—by this point, we had graduated from simple cards to ‘Heads Up.’

One of the strangest parts of working in a company like this was that no one ever acknowledged how peculiar the environment really was. When you’ve never heard the phrase ‘backlog grooming’ before, it can be easy to assume everyone around you is brainwashed and chalk the vernacular up to doublespeak. But, eventually, I realized that my coworkers weren’t brainwashed: They were just adults going to work every day. Scrum didn’t exist at my company to impose arbitrary rituals—it existed because it works. And, as peculiar as the mandatory company ‘Fun Day’ still felt to me in the final weeks of my internship, it did serve its purpose. The softball tournament was a fun and welcome break from the day-to-day monotony, even if it was at the expense of half of the IT department’s ability to walk for the next week.

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