Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Someone’s Always Listening

Things I Learned the Hard WayIn this series, I’m exploring workplace stories as a way to learn from my own bad behavior. I call them Things I Learned the Hard Way.

I was working for a tech company that will go unnamed a few years ago, and I had a bad day. A really bad day. So that night, I went out to a favorite restaurant with a couple of friends and got a bottle of wine.

When a friend asked me how my day was, I let loose a torrent of complaint. I ranted, I raved. I called the leaders of the company “visionless hacks that wouldn’t know an opportunity if it fell on their heads” and much, much worse. I swore I was going to quit.

Just as I reached the apex of my spew, one of the chief executives of the company walked in the front door of the restaurant, smiled, and waved. I sat there with my jaw dropped as he walked right for me.

When he got to our table, he took one more step and then warmly embraced the woman sitting at the next table, three feet from me. When he saw me, he said, “Oh hi, Derek! Have you met my wife?”

I said hello, turned back to my table, and quickly changed the subject.

San Francisco’s a small town, and I’ve long understood that the people I encounter in my work life will also be in my social life. But every town’s a small town in some ways, and technology had connected us all. Every email you send can be forwarded, every IM conversation can be repeated, every drunken Twitter will be seen, every Flickr photo can be printed. Someone’s always listening, and all those listeners are connected to each other, always.

As for this story, amazingly, nothing bad happened. I’m sure the executive’s wife heard my rant, and I’m sure she told him later (who wouldn’t?). But to his credit, he never brought it up with me, and we both went on to bigger and better things.


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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.