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Megha Bangalore, Software Engineer

Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the Sumos of war

06.19.2012 | Posted by Megha Bangalore, Software Engineer

While there is no outward sign of it, Sumo Towers (605 Castro) is not a building for the faint of heart.

The ground floor is where we devs have relegated all our ‘evil, as they can pull off wearing a suit without looking like poseurs’ salespeople and marketing staff. It lulls you into a false sense of security – surely, you tell yourself, this is just an office like any other. The door to Amnesty is closed, after all, so how are you to know that it is our own version of Las Vegas? What happens in Amnesty…

The stairwell leading up to the second floor – The Realm of the Devs – does not have any signs saying “Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here” or even “Beware the leopard,” but just the gentle admonishment, “Employees Only.”

It opens onto a bright and open area, with many desks, each covered in monitors – where there had initially been dark twisty passages, and poor lighting, there is now a large room, with delicate (and in fact slightly load-bearing) pillars, painted with strips of steel blue, grey and white. The result of an intense period of bashing through walls, which this particular sumo is saddened to have missed – after all, when is swinging around a sledgehammer not fun?

There is an almost overwhelming feeling of ‘quiet.’ The soft sounds of the clacking of keyboard keys, the hum of music seeping through oversized headphones.

This quiet has misled many a visitor - after all, it is only occasionally punctuated with violent thrashings as the writer is either struck by a blinding flash of inspiration or finally, woefully, temporarily beaten down, expressing a wordless Hulk-ism with the well-known and recognized Keyboard SMASH.

But of course, all in the room know that the keyboard smash is a call to arms! Foam bats are produced, from their easily accessible but very discrete spots, lined up against innocent-seeming shelves and desk frames.

The artillery units have been gathering their ammo since the last battle – in the form of railing angry birds or squirrels, or soft squishy sumos – and their eyes dart around, arms launching missiles with barely a pause and which, after a few years of practice, often strike true.

The rubber band guns, bought on a whim at a crafts festival on Castro, have devolved into diversions versus actual weapons – the rubber bands long since lost to the chaos of previous wars, they still cause the rampaging hordes to pause in their slaughter, which is often enough to turn the tide of any war.

As with any hands on battle, there are the berserkers – huge hulking wielders of destruction. Fortunately for sumo, and for the monitors and coffee mugs, there is only one Panda. Sumo Towers quite literally trembles at his commands (and jumps) and none are safe when he is released – friend and foe alike are subject to his violent whims, and allegiances last no longer than the time it takes to acknowledge them.

The battle rages on – has it really only been a few minutes?? – and the few remaining innocent bystanders get to a half-crouch out of their seats, and indecision flows over their faces… To enter the fray, or hope that the collateral damage will exclude them. Too late, they discover what all the combatants already knew – When Sumos War, Nowhere is Safe.

This battle is made safer in the knowledge that David, our Platform team manager, has left his sigil of authority at home – as is appropriate for wrangling such a motley crew, on his promotion he was presented with a bright pink riding crop – its purpose  (either punishment or motivation) truly depends on the particular quirks of developer it’s wielded against.

True personalities are revealed – the quiet and gentle Yan shows his inner not-so-secret maniacal genius; Krimy is normally a quiet and gentle UI dev – but when the battle heats she is the first to jump right into the thick of it, releasing angry birds with equally angry battle cries; Joan attacks with an aggressive rapier-like bat style, squawking to punctuate each successful hit; Yong plays the puppet master, the devil on a shoulder, whispering evil suggestions to all who are weak to his words. This author herself, who is obviously of a generally delicate and shy character, will rally to defend herself against the injustices of the ‘evil jerks’ that cannot resist taunting her with their longer reach.Stealthily Hidden Bat

And all at once, with a synchronization that belies the close familiarity of these particular warriors, weapons are lowered. A few manic giggles escape, and there is a brief pause as everyone silently acknowledges that ‘I just won,’ and compares battle scars.

The quiet that follows is similar to that from before the fight in only the most superficial ways – the focus which had been slowly drifting returns, and the programmers-turned-warriors revert to their more usual selves, and all that can be heard is the soft clacking of keyboard keys, with renewed purpose and enthusiasm.