Why does every group have a gremlin?

Right now, I am doing a correspondence course in Agile Project Management with Scrum. It’s the same as most IT training courses, managing to be both obvious and a bit complicated to implement in practice. There are about twelve people attending in person, and three people sitting around in the countryside somewhere, who are required to collaborate remotely on the various group exercises. I’ve never met these people, and just hear disembodied voices. I just know that Peter works for the Isle of Man sewage authority, and has a nice Welsh lilt to his voice, and Luke is a Unix developer. I of course am a “project manager currently between jobs”. There is also a random coordinator who just seems to control the screens we use to watch the class. I switched on my webcam at some point while I was waiting for the class to start, and coordinator man has since been using every break to strike up some conversation about my background, which is quite amusing.

“So Freya, I love your name. Where are you from?”

I told him the name was originally Swedish, but I was German, so he asked me if I’d ever been to Sweden;

“Yes, I went to Lund to visit a friend once”.

“Oh really, wow, well I used to teach in Lund. It’s a university city”.

“Err, yes, that’s why my friend was there”.

“So do you speak Swedish?”

“No, not a word, which was quite embarrassing, because I look quite Swedish, so I kept being asked questions.”

“Yes, you do, don’t you. Hehe”

When we were supposed to come up with a team name, I think it was also him who suggested it should be called Freya’s hammer. I wasn’t quite sure what to think of that.

Ironically, he’s not even really the gremlin in the group. That would be Luke the Unix dude, who takes control of every discussion, unprompted, and then pretends he’s only doing so because we don’t.

“Does anyone want to be scrum master on this one? No? Ok then, I’ll do it”. “What do you guys think? [tiny 1 second pause] I think we should…”

He seems to be somewhere on the spectrum; focuses solely on anything with a number in it, and endlessly checks back with the instructor on what the rules of any exercise are, so we never actually finish any of them. He seems completely foxed by any element of ambiguity, which I suppose is why he is a developer. At one point, I said,

“In a real world scenario, I would just be consulting with the customers to see whether the success of the previous release has changed their prioritization of the other features”.

So Luke says, all irritable,

“Yes, obviously, so would I, but this is a simulation and that’s not what it says in the rules. We have to release all the stories, not satisfy the customers”.

Right, because obviously shipping a great product without additional spend is not the key objective of any technology development.

Poor Peter the sewage guy seems to have given up as much as I have. I have an image in my head of a red-faced guy in his 50s with a friendly smile. Today he said “well, I’m not really contributing anything useful, so I’ll go make myself a coffee.” Luke carried right on talking to no one, because I had long since put myself on mute, swearing to myself about irritating developers.

It’s funny really. I’ve never been on a course, group holiday or in any other situation where random strangers are thrown together, and not come up with one weirdo. When we did Kilimanjaro, it was James, who used one walking pole extended so high that he looked like Gandalf, and told us endless stories about his real estate empire, and his wife who stayed at home. We all decided that was because she was inflatable, and his real estate empire was a corner shop. When I went on a random tour of West Australia with a bunch of 20-year olds, it was Michael, a German guy who kept going on about how every moment counted and he just wanted to have fun. He kept getting really drunk, doing dumb and annoying things like jumping head first into rock pools. Rather tragically, he got septicaemia from an innocuous cut on his foot, which was the result of the aformentioned idiocy. I was shocked at how it could have got so infected, and went with him to the pharmacy to pick up the antibiotics he got from an out of hours doctor. He wanted someone to translate for him, which I thought was odd. It turns out that he had leukaemia, which kind of explained everything. It taught me not to judge the weirdos too quickly.

Luke however, is just a master of the universe with a really small shoe size.


2 thoughts on “Why does every group have a gremlin?

Add yours

  1. Ha! Ha! “He’s on the spectrum…” I think you nailed it with that comment. That’s just IT for you though – our industry is full of that type of character. At least when you work with them there’s a structure in place & you can manage their personality (somewhat). You’re screwed with this online course though!
    Keep persevering!


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