The fun twist: Easter eggs. Easter eggs are secret messages or jokes intentionally hidden within software code. The name borrows from the holiday ritual of Easter egg hunts, where children hunt for eggs that often contain surprises and treasures.
This is the story of the wise guy who made them, the nurses who made them something more, and the clinicians and patients whose lives they made (and continue to make) a little easier.
Arun Mirchandani: How Easter Eggs Started
Dr. Rob Shostak, one of the founders of Vocera, had (and likely still has) the best sense of humor of anybody I’ve ever met. He was not only brilliant, but he was funny. And his puns were legendary.
Back in 2001 when we were building the first version of Vocera software, he would put these little Easter eggs into the code to surprise the newer QA engineers.
The way the Vocera Badge works, you press the Call button to invoke the Vocera Genie and speak a command. The Vocera Genie then says something in response as it acts on your command. The Genie is a speech-recognition engine that responds to more than 100 voice commands.
The first Easter eggs were inspired by Star Trek. The first few were statements like “beam me up,” with responses that were very typical Rob Shostak. It was his way of having fun.
The Easter eggs were not initially designed to go out as a product feature. But when we were bringing the first release to market, we forgot to shut them off. Nurses discovered them and people liked them, so we kept adding more and more. That's how this whole thing started.
We learned how popular our Easter eggs were in 2007 or 2008, when social media took off. We discovered that people were talking about them in nursing blogs and in chat rooms. Nurses, we learned, were using the Easter eggs to relieve their stress.
What started as Rob Shostak inserting these Easter eggs into the code without telling anybody became folklore in some circles. It’s become a unique and special Vocera signature.
Lori Dickinson: How Easter Eggs Help Nurses, Doctors, and Patients Alike
Our customers find so many different ways to use our technology. A big part of my job is helping them solve challenges and get more value from what they already have.
A satisfying part of my job is supporting customers with practical things like how to use our technology for faster room turnaround and quicker discharges, or to get information faster, or to summon help instantly in an emergency.
A fun part of my job is when I tell customers about the Easter eggs.
At one of our hospitals that is a level one trauma center, the OR charge nurse was having a rough day. At one point two surgeons literally backed her into a corner and were arguing with her about the surgery schedule. She pushed the call button on her Vocera Badge and said, “Beam me up!” This invoked a sound emulating the Star Trek transporter. It completely broke the tension and made all three of them start laughing. (That sound has since been replaced with a spoken reply from the Genie.)
At another hospital, one nurse told me she uses the Easter eggs to keep children entertained and distracted while she starts peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) lines. I also witnessed a different nurse playing the Easter eggs for a child who was having a fit of crying. The Easter eggs completely distracted the little guy and calmed him down.