Just so you get the idea of the type of company this was, it is worth noting that
only about 20 people worked there. We had a one-man IS department. The CEO had
plush VeggieTales characters perched atop his monitor. The company handbook stated that
"taking the Lord's name in vain" was grounds for termination.
So when this rumor started going around that the company might be working on
a sex toy, I and my co-workers were surprised, to say the least. I personally
couldn't believe that the CEO would even consider such a project. He was so...conservative.
But anyhow, at the next company meeting, the marketing lady (whom I shall refer to as M)
walked in with a big silly grin.
The CEO cleared his throat. "Guys, we're thinking of branching out into a new market." He motioned
to M, who looked like she was about to start giggling any second.
"Sex toys!" she exclaimed. "And I have samples!"
There was no whispering or giggling. We all stared at the CEO, waiting for his reaction, but
he was utterly expressionless. He spoke in a flat voice.
"We're all adults here, and this is a Legitimate Product that there is a demand for." (duh)
"We haven't decided if we're going to accept the project or not, but if we do accept it, would
anyone here have a problem working on it? I will be calling each of you into my office individually
in case you have private concerns you'd like to discuss with me."
Oh, THAT sounds...fun. I thought. I have to sit there staring at Larry Boy and explain
to my boss that no, I don't have a problem working on a voice activated vibrator?
The company was a small engineering consulting firm. We were paid by various clients to do
electronic design, proof of concept demonstrations, and testing. Most of our clients were toy
companies...that made children's toys. Like many small companies, we were experiencing
financial problems, and we hadn't had a new contract proposal for months. Layoffs were looming.
Despite the potential awkwardness of working on the Sex Toy (how in the world were we going to test it?),
I personally thought that we should take whatever project we could get. The other employees agreed, and
most seemed to think it would be highly...intriguing.
After the meeting, we didn't hear any more about the project for several weeks. Employees were
pulled out one by one, as the CEO had said they would be, to discuss their feelings regarding the
little speech recognition based pleasure machine.
By the time they reached me on the list, the CEO was not conducting the interviews himself...he
sent one of the project managers into my work area. The project manager called me into an empty
office. An uneventful conversation:
"Anne, do you have any objections to working on the, uh, sex toy?"
"None at all. It's a project."
And that was that.
After all the interviews had been conducted, the office manager (who I'll call D) came into
the main work area, where I and about 4 other people were seated. She was / is a really cool
person who always wanted the best for the company, but she didn't take any managerial bullshit
from the higher-ups and often acted as an advocate for the engineering minions.
D brought up the concern that toy companies (the kind that made kid's toys) might be scared off
if they found out we had worked on an "adult" toy. This seemed a bit silly but in a way legitimate;
we wouldn't want the toy companies thinking we were a bunch of perverts who were going to try to
instill sexual overtones into their toys for 5 year olds! Clients aren't supposed to know who our
other clients are, but if the sex toy company decided that we were great, they might want to issue
a press release (which they'd need our permission for). Or, (more likely) industry gossip would
let our kid's-toy-making clients know we'd ventured into the red light district of electronic design.
I believe that this fear of effects on our reputation that killed the possibility of our working
on the infamous Sex Toy Project. A few days after D's conversation with the employees, we all received
an e-mail memo something to the effect of:
Recently, we received an offer to do a project for a potential new client. Due to various
concerns, we have decided not to accept this offer or any other projects of that type.
And that was that.
The economy didn't get any better, and the company went a few more months with no contracts.
Eventually, all the engineers (including me) were laid off, and as far as I know, they have received
no new project proposals. I can't help thinking that maybe if we'd taken the Sex Toy Project, the
company might have been able to stay on its feet. I mean, we were all adults, weren't we?