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Is there a ghost in my computer?!

At Indix, our engineering and product team is based in Chennai, India, while sales, marketing and business operations are based in Seattle, San Francisco and other cities in the US. A few weeks ago, I took some time off to go visit family and friends in India. I also made a trip to charming Chennai as I’ve been working at Indix for almost a year now, and I was looking forward to meeting all the people who make the magic happen.

The Chennai office is a bustling, young, vibrant space full of super talented engineers and product managers (over 40 of them). Colorful code adorns every monitor across the sprawling space, as the team works day and night to build a strong and robust product.

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From the beginning, our founders have placed a strong emphasis on team culture. As a startup, the four pillars sustaining our company culture are Trust, Support, Challenge, and Fun. I got a good taste of the Fun during my visit.

I got to Chennai on a Monday afternoon and was visiting with two other team members from the US, so there was a lot of food and fun on the agenda. On Tuesday evening however, a rather unusual problem cropped up. The cursor on my laptop suddenly developed a mind of its own. Its movements were irregular and not in sync with what my fingers were doing on the keypad and mouse.

Wednesday morning, my cursor situation got progressively worse. In addition to dancing around on its own volition, it was now clicking at random places, and even selecting and moving text. I was surrounded by engineers – it was the perfect time to be dealing with a computer related problem! I went up to Praveen, our design engineering guru. He presented me with a bunch of really compelling reasons for why this was happening:

–        If the surface that your mouse is on is too smooth, it will cause the signal to be disrupted, hence making your cursor move in an abnormal manner.

–        You’ve just traveled from Seattle to Mumbai to Chennai. The constant temperature and humidity fluctuations could have caused condensation and a resultant short circuit in the system. Another engineer Bharath walked by and agreed with this hypothesis. I was convinced.

I tried restarting my laptop several times. I unplugged my computer from the wall, a move that my mentor Sridhar (who was sitting next to me) encouraged saying that there could possibly be a power surge and I should try running it on just the battery.

This went on all morning. Finally, calm and quiet Pradeep came to my rescue. He examined my machine and earnestly said, “Oh, there’s a ghost in your computer! Do you want me to get rid of it?” Of course I did! At which point, he presented me with the Foreign Visitor De-Ghosting Form.

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Yes, it was a prank! I filled out the form and handed it to Pradeep who then showed me how they had installed another mouse on my system. Friendly and ever-smiling Sriram was operating it… sitting on the same desk, two feet away, witness to my frustration the whole time! Genius. The previous night, Sriram even made it a point to praise my touchscreen. I was using it then to make life easier since my cursor was misbehaving. Sneaky!

Playing a prank on new team members is part of the initiation process at the Chennai office. I thoroughly enjoyed this super fun prank even though I was at the receiving end. It established a few things:

–        Fun is important! As a startup, we all work hard. Taking time out to indulge like this helps in many ways. For me, it helped to break the ice with a large group of people and make friends in a really short period of time. It made my trip memorable and gave me memories (and a de-ghosting form) to cherish forever.

–        It endeared me to the team given that they went through so much trouble to set up an elaborate prank for me.

–        I learned that everyone in our company is a gifted actor. The sincerity with which everyone played along was highly impressive.

Such moments help you recognize that you chose the right workplace. A team that makes the effort to welcome you like this will always provide a nurturing and supportive work environment. Thanks again, folks!

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2 thoughts on “Is there a ghost in my computer?!”

  1. Nivas says:

    I’ve also been in the receiving end of this once. It was a saturday evening; the lights were mostly off and I was the only one in my office as far as I could see. Then suddenly the mouse pointer in the locked linux workstation at the nearby desk started to move randomly and erratically. I was petrified, but trying hard to employ my mind to bring about a rational cause. I noticed the guy online on office IM and only after typing halfway explaining what I have seen did I realize… He must have installed Synergy (Synergy is a program some people use here so that they can share the same mouse, keyboard and clipboard between their linux workstation and windows laptop. It uses the LAN to communicate between the computers).

    1) If that guy is currently online on office IM, that means he is currently connected to VPN from home.
    2) If he is connected to VPN means, it is like being connected to the office LAN.
    3) If he is connected to the office LAN, then everytime his pointer moves out of the edge of his laptop at home, it moves on his linux workstation at office.
    4) If the pointer at my next desk moves randomly when no one’s around, it would scare the shit outta me until I figure all this out and restore my calm.

    LHS=RHS. Hence proved.
    Peace.

    1. Anu Hastings says:

      Wow! That’s really elaborate. Sounds like fun though.

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