OOO can mean any variety of things: I’m not in the office occupying my usual cubicle space and sitting in a chair with my feet raised on a two-drawer file cabinet, or I’m at home in my jammies, sitting on the couch with some music or obnoxious TV program playing in the background while I hop-scotch from one screen on my computer to the next. Or OOO could simply mean that I’m in another location and I am not telling anyone except to advise that I can’t be found and won’t answer email. I’m being professional. Live with it.

Today I am none of those things. I am in the office working late. It is a special evening, the hour when new product enhancements are scheduled for release. Out from the darkness of engineering and staging sandboxes, new services are born into the light of a store. Covers go up to give teams time to validate, which means commercial business on these pages screeches to a halt. Blogs identify the sudden pulling down of tent poles and wonder what’s happening. There’s a buzz on the Web. Could this mean a new phone, more magic?

Before the main event, work groups gather one last time for dinner. It’s a feast for the long hours ahead ranging from gourmet pizzas, or for larger work groups, a meal with delicious curries, lentils, and vegetables preferred by the predominantly Indian software engineering crowd.

Tonight the word is Chinese. I’m expecting two tables with offerings of vegetarian and meat options. I’m hoping for garlic eggplant and tofu with egg-rollish things, stuffed spiced munchies and different dipping sauces joined by a selection of waters and sodas sitting in ice-cube baths. All plastics are recyclable. Welcome to the future.

After we eat, my group walks past lime green walls to locate an empty conference room. In this part of the building, rooms are named after lakes. A project manager enters wearing shorts and a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a resort in Napa Valley. He removes a pair of ear buds and says, “With everything that happened today, I’m keeping on my happy face.”

Someone in the know responds. “I told him we’re not going to roll-out anything until we validate in staging.” In the hours proceeding launch we relive the drama, meetings and phone calls and work-arounds to make up for the fact that one service is incompatible with another and how engineers on the project tried to reassure everyone that everything would be okay despite the fact that they had blown process out of the water. “And don’t forget, this wasn’t your normal got-cha.”

A small group passes through our doorway and says, “Have you read my email?” followed by a tirade in another language. This is a global company where we join hands and fall down together.

Close to time, we dial into a chat that binds all conference rooms and participants. We are quality assurance, business and content owners and engineers who monitor the site as each service with its code and new content is blessed and flies out an electronic door. We plug computers inside table outlets. If someone is without an extension, people promise to swap during the long night.

The chat goes down. Something is wrong. We’re greyed out. Okay. A conference call number gets circulated via email. Each room can listen in on the play-by-play. In short order, the chat comes back online, each ping another voice. The place is filthy with engineering genuis.

“Can we start testing?”

“Go for it!”

“GOB is back up.”

“Sami, do you still see issue number 4?” followed by a “No,” and a happy face.

It’s not time to be OOO, away from floating hierarchies of data that meet inside an arena. The stands are packed with crowds of people watching a lion-tamer circled by a ballerina on horseback.

I’m in Staging, the sandbox where we are hoping for a minimum of static before a new enhancement goes live.
“How is issue 3?”

“Fine is a long story.”

“Can we have a full list?”

“ETA from SPM is about 10 minutes away.”

“Randy, are we restarting shipping?”

The night passes with a variety of pings. People roam from one room to another with questions, clarifications.

“BR PHS looks funny.”

“Lorenzo, funny is not part of the QA vocabulary. Try harder.”

Almost there. Most issues are no longer reproducible. Once again, I’m almost OOO. It seems digital but it’s not. I’m almost home where trees are bloated with rain, like a dinner party after a great meal where everyone leans back.

All the rain we’ve been having, white petals on the ground confusing the seasons. Almost home where tomorrow if I’m lucky I’ll see a red-tailed hawk splice the sky into blue film strips. I’ll want to run that movie. Almost OOO. Hi-ya, Robert Frost.