As other people have probably mentioned here and there, there is a very nice health club near Microsoft and a membership to that club is one of the options in our benefits plan. Therefore, it isn’t all that surprising that most of the folks in the gym at any particular time are Microsoft employees. This can lead to an interesting occurance that has left me wondering (on more than one occasion), what is the ‘right’ thing to do in this situation?

Let’s pretend for a moment that you are me, a mid to low level Microsoft guy who just happens to be in the locker room at the gym before work… and along comes Steve Ballmer… and you end up standing around near this guy who is your great-great-great (and so on) grand boss… and a celebrity to boot. What do you do? Personally my approach has always been (and believe it or not this is not an extremely rare occurance) that since he (whoever it is, Steve being just one example) doesn’t know me, that I should treat him like any other guy at the gym that I don’t know… make friendly conversation about the fact that he is standing on my towel/foot/etc or whatever else needs to be said, but in general silence shall prevail.

This approach seems the most polite and proper, since I don’t know the guy already… versus the alternative, which in my mind (I only picture the extremes) is walking up to him and saying:

"um, hi... I work for you... I guess most people here work for you... that must be cool... um, anyway ... you seem busy ... name's Duncan... I'll probably blog this...  um, yeah this is a camera phone... pictures? no, of course I didn't..."

After that, it doesn’t go well in my mental walkthrough of this scenario…

Of course, if I know the guy, then none of this applies. Althought I do notice that when I talk to people from work, even when they have work issues they want to bring up with me, work doesn’t come up. There seems to be an unspoken agreement to ignore the fact that I have 5 to-dos outstanding for Eric Gunnerson when he runs into me at the gym, which I find quite a relief as it means I don’t have to hide in the steam room and wait for him to leave (anymore).

Today though I ran into a situation that seemed rather borderline, and I didn’t have any handy reference manual to guide me, so I was lost. Eric Rudder was using the locker next to me, and while I’ve never met him, I’ve always thought of him as having a developer focus and therefore being at least one or two steps closer to my world. He knows a lot about what MSDN is doing and might have even visited the VB or C# developer centers once or twice… maybe I should say something, introduce myself… hey, if he’ll pick up random guys on campus and let them attach a camera to his dash, then I’m sure he’d be a great guy to talk to about a number of the big work issues that I am focused on (Developer Community, .NET Adoption, etc.).

Sadly though, my own worries about being rude or inappropriate took precedence… I said the expected ’excuse me’ and whatever else the situation required, but nothing beyond that. Of course, if I ever had the need, I’d have no hesitation to email him about something at work… but in general that situation is not likely to occur… it isn’t that Microsoft is big on the hierarchy thing, but it does exist and there is little cause for me to be skipping 4 or 5 (or more?) layers by adding his name to an email. Maybe I need to put my picture on more developer centers, then people will recognize me and they can be the one to start the conversation? 🙂