Stroll through the cubicles in Nimble Storage’s engineering department, and amidst the family photos, trade show swag, and greeting cards that decorate most work spaces, you’ll come across a few more exotic points of interest like:

  • A wading pool filled with sand and shaded by a giant beach umbrella,
  • A cubicle with its contents carefully wrapped in aluminum foil, and
  • A work cube transformed into a cardboard shed complete with front door and skylight, tastefully appointed with glamor shots of Bollywood hunks.

Pranking, a tradition in Silicon Valley startups, is something of an art form ­for the clever engineers at Nimble Storage, who are masters of the practical joke.

Vanco Buca, a voluble software architect and Nimble’s eighth hire, kicked off what’s become something of a tradition for the six-year-old startup. His first prank: Telling colleague Lavina Jain, just back from vacation, that she would be sharing her cramped cube with a new hire – Svetlana Promayeva.

Engineering Pranks at Nimble Storage

When Alagu returned from vacation, her cubicle had been transformed into a cardboard play fort.

For two days, Buca and his co-conspirators littered Jain’s cubicle with half-eaten candy bars and warm cups of coffee, moved furniture and made excuses for the never-seen Promayeva. The jig was up when Jain realized her so-called colleague had never plugged in the computer.

“After that, the pranks started happening spontaneously,” Buca says. “They’re never mean. They’re meant as signs of affection.”

If Buca is the father of Nimble pranking, then engineer Pradeep Shetty, who’s been known to jump out at colleagues garbed in a modified Ninja costume, is prankster-in-chief. Shetty and engineering colleague Brian Rowe were part of a team that wrapped the entire contents of Steve Rodrigues’ cubicle – minus a used toothpick – in aluminum foil while he was on vacation.

As for the beach scene, it was created for Massimo Francato, who was in Italy visiting family when a new Nimble product, code-named Cabo, was launched complete with celebration party in Half Moon Bay. “Since he couldn’t go to the beach with us we brought the beach to him,” Buca says. “We didn’t want him to miss out.” The beach scene was even relocated when we moved to our new campus last November  – minus about 125 pounds of sand.

The cardboard digs, built by members Nimble’s quality assurance team, is Buca’s pick for best prank. “They thought of everything – the door has a cardboard handle and a lock,” Buca says, his voice tinged with admiration. The “office” was so appreciated by its recipient, Alagu Nirupa, that she continues to work in it.

Shetty was behind a prank that still leaves Buca shaking his head. Buca is one of programmers behind Nimble’s Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout (CASL™) architecture, which is central to Nimble’s flash-optimized hybrid storage solution and a key competitive differentiator.

Buca’s whiteboard, crammed with symbols and phrases written in neat and tiny script, is a physical representation of how he solves thorny technical problems. After returning from a ski trip, Buca found his beloved white board wiped clean – and panicked. “I’m normally pretty mild mannered, but when I saw all my work gone I started screaming,” he remembers.

The pranksters quickly handed over the real whiteboard – complete with notations ­– much to Buca’s relief. They had unscrewed it from his cubicle wall and replaced it with a new and pristine version.

“That was a good one,” Buca says, smiling. “They really got me that time.”