Paper Bullet

Work has me visit lots of software teams around the world. This past week I visited a particularly fun team. They worked in a large open work area with desk space for pairing and wall space for BVC.

Anyhow, there was one member in particular, I’ll call him Dan, that was notorious for his mischief. Most notably, he’d start paper bullet wars.

Paper bullet is not the term they used but that’s what I’m gonna call it. What you do is tear off a piece of paper and roll it lengthwise. Then fold it fold it in half so you’ve got a wedge shaped paper bullet.

Then take a rubber band and stretch it between your thumb and index finger. Slide the wedge onto the center of the rubber band, stretch, aim, and release.

Dan had apparently surprised everyone on the team with a paper bullet in the face or neck at one point or another. They held a friendly grudge against him.

Early in the week I was unaware of the paper bullet wars and I found it peculiar that there were all these bit of paper on the floors and desks. Apparently wars were taking place all week but, being the guest, no one wanted to hit me and so who ever was pairing with me had immunity.

In the final hours of the last day they confessed at how nice they were and how lucky I was that I didn’t get shot all week. Frankly I was disappointed that I didn’t get to play all week so I spat out some fighting words…

“You’re lucky you never got me involved!” It began. I could hear them whistle past my ears as I was writing unit tests or bounce off the wall behind me as I pass the keyboard to my pair, but I never got hit.

Thankfully, other team member armed me a rubber band and a hand full of paper bullets. At a quiet moment, I figured I’ve give this game a try. Grabbing the rubber band and paper wedge, I loaded and aimed right at Dan’s head. The rubber band was surprisingly flexible.

Not knowing how hard to stretch it, I just kept pulling. As I looked down the trajectory, I was sure the projectile would curve. When I released I was shocked and horrified.

The bullet screamed across the room, straight as an arrow, pegging Dan right in the side of the head. It made a loud smacking noise upon impact. The whole team heard it and the room went silent. I was terrified. This was no way to treat your clients, I thought.

The poor guy never even hit me so he didn’t deserve it. Apparently I was wrong. Everyone else thought he deserved it. The room broke out in laughter. Team members (not Dan) gave me a thumbs up, telling me “Thanks” or “Good job”.

I apologized to Dan later, trying not to stare at the red welt just below his temple. Dan, the sportsman that he is, congratulated me on my marksmanship. He’s a good guy.

So what’s the moral of the story? None really. But I will note that many of the development environments I visit are much more sterile and “professional” than this team…and much less productive as well.

Micah Martin, Co-founder and Software Craftsman

Micah Martin is co-founder of 8th Light and is known for his open source work such as FitNesse, Limelight, Joodo, and Speclj.