Two weeks later I got a text from Adam Barton. I read it. I read it again. Then, almost without thinking, I did something I had been avoiding. I called Allie.
“Howdy, stranger. What’s up?”
“I have a job interview with a tech company.”
“It’s in Boston, the day after tomorrow. I’m terrified.”
“That doesn’t sound like you.”
“I really, really want this job.”
“What’s it about?”
“I don’t even know. The message I got just asked me to a meeting.”
“So it’s not, like, you saw a job ad and applied?”
“No. I just got a text from the CEO. Here’s what it says.” I opened my messages and read it out to her: “‘Would you be interested in working with us? If so, come to my office at HQ this Thursday 2pm so we can talk.”
“Wow. How did… I mean, did you contact them or something?”
“Robbie works there.”
“He must have given him my number. I talked to him. The CEO. At a party that Robbie took me to. He shook my hand and we talked. I don’t remember what I said. It was weird, like meeting Sergei Brin or Steve Jobs. How do I prepare for this? I don’t know what he’s going to ask.”
“You must have made a good impression, though, enough that he’s inviting you to an interview. Maybe you just need to be yourself. Tell him about your interests. Do some research on the company ahead of time and be prepared to ask questions.”
“Right. That makes sense.” I had looked Eventive up when Robbie got his interview. I could reread the handful of short articles I’d found. I could even poke around the IRC channels I used to spend time on to see if there was any chatter.
“The library here has a bunch of databases. I’ll see what I can find. What’s the company?”
“Eventive. They do data analytics.”
“I’m not sure. Oh god, Allie, what am I going to do? I don’t even have clothes to wear, except a dress, but I wore that to the party. I can’t wear it again, can I?”
“Do you still have those classy black jeans? The ones you got at the consignment shop? Those look good on you and they should be formal enough. That and a nice button-down shirt or a silk top.”
“I have a cowlneck blouse that might work.” If it didn’t have any stains on it, or holes. I had nice boots from the same consignment shop, I’d just have to polish them and make sure I avoided showing the worn-out soles. I would have to take time off from my jobs. Coming so soon after my last request for time off, I’d probably get canned, even if I called in sick. It all began to feel overwhelming. “I don’t have a resume or anything. What would I put on it? I didn’t even finish high school.”
“Do you still have that website?”
“My GitHub profile?”
“I don’t know what that means, but you showed me some programs you put online.”
“Yes, but ugh, I’d better clean my repos up. Some of those projects were seriously bad.” Some of them weren’t embarrassing, though, and my profile showed a solid record of contributing to other people’s code. “Thanks, that’s a good idea. I’ll work on that tonight. And I’d better get my tickets ordered. I don’t know if I can get it all done in time, though, and I really need this job. Allie, I’ve been so messed up lately. Robbie moved to Boston and I had to find another place to live and I’m working all the time at jobs that suck and trying to take classes at the community college and I can’t… keep… doing this.”
“It’s okay, Emily. Breathe.”
“Sorry, sorry.” I wiped my face. Nice mixture of tears and snot transferred to my sleeve. “I didn’t mean to fall apart on you. I just… you think those jeans would be okay to wear?”
“They look great on you. Do you have the same email address? I’ll send you anything I find about the company. Look, there’s a speaker tonight and I’ll get extra credit if I attend the lecture, which is about to start. But if you—”
“No. Sure. You should go. Sorry to—”
“Stop saying you’re sorry. It’s great to hear from you. I’ll send that stuff as soon as I can. And the day after tomorrow—two pm is it? I will light a candle for you.”
I laughed. It was a long-standing joke between us. She had an elderly Franco-American neighbor who practiced a superstitious kind of Catholicism. Whenever Allie told her she had a big test coming up or a doctor’s appointment, the woman would tap her wrist with a wrinkled finger and say in her trembly heavily-accented voice “I will light a candle for you.” In high school, when Allie got a scented candle as a gift, she put it on her windowsill and lit it every time we had something big coming up. It made the room stink of fake apple-cinnamon scent, but it was somehow comforting.
I texted Robbie to see if I could crash at his place for a couple of nights, then spent hours cleaning up my GitHub presence, deleting stupid projects, reviewing code to get rid of cruft, and cleaning up readme files. Then I wasted hours making a cover website for all my repos using Jekyll, which was new to me. It suddenly seemed more important to choose the right layout and fonts than deciding what I was going to wear. I barely had time to find my interview outfit and throw it into my bag, grab a toothbrush, and make it to the bus station for a mid-morning departure. I didn’t sleep at all until I was on the bus, halfway to Boston, my brain churning with anxiety.
In the morning I made our breakfast and walked Robbie to work so I was absolutely sure I knew how to find the place. Returning to the condo, I chugged coffee and studied up on everything Allie and I had found about the company. It wasn’t much.
Eventive was mentioned in business publications as a hot startup when it was founded five years earlier. It popped up in articles about data-driven marketing, described as a next-generation approach, and was mentioned in three papers presented at computer science conferences that were posted to arXiv. Aurora Bello was the lead author for all three, and Eventive had funded the research. I tried to read them, but they were technically way over my head.
Adam Barton was pictured in local news at a handful of Boston charity events and had a four-sentence bio in a Wired article about up-and-coming tech leaders. It mentioned his time in the Marines but didn’t say anything about intelligence work. He didn’t appear to have any social media accounts or a website of his own, and there was no Wikipedia entry for him and only a stub for the company. The company’s website was stylish but not very informative. For a business that Robbie described as an emerging powerhouse, there surprisingly little info out there. It had to be deliberate. Most startups tried to get as much publicity as they could, hoping to use hype in the tech press as a lure for venture capital.
It all reminded me that I knew a tech journalist from my IRC communities. I sent a direct message to Brian Friedman: what can you tell me about Eventive? He replied instantly that he didn’t know anything, really, except that it was a newish data analytics corporation based in Boston that had hired an MIT star researcher who had been hotly recruited by several Silicon Valley giants. Why was I asking? When I told him I was interviewing for a job there he sent a string of exclamation points and some random emojis (he never really got the hang of emojis) along with a request that I keep in touch.
As I walked to Eventive HQ, insecurity sneaked up and grabbed me around the throat, stealing my breath. I didn’t have a high school degree, much less college credentials. All the code I’d posted to GitHub was trivial, something a kid would write. Eventive hired people like Robbie, whose brain was the size of a planet. But I needed the job. I wanted it more than I ever wanted anything. It would kill me to blow this chance.
My phone vibrated as I reached the building. Allie had texted me a photo of the candle she’d lit. I laughed and took a breath.
Be yourself, I thought. Not the warehouse employee or counter clerk, not the high school dropout, be the self you want to be. The self you’ve always been online. Be that person.
The security guard lounging in the building’s foyer made a call and a bespectacled, owlish man with a tablet in his hand and a posh British accent came to take me upstairs and show me into the CEO’s office. Adam waved me in as he wrapped up a phone conversation. “You made it.”
“I’m very interested in working at Eventive.”
“Good. I’m interested in you.” He studied me, tapping a pen against his desk. “Tell me how you got started writing code.”
I talked and he gave every appearance of listening closely. He prompted me with questions, some of them seeming to come out left field, but all of them related, somehow, to my work with computers. When I offered to send him a link to my GitHub page he waved it away. “Seen it,” he said, and moved on to something else. He didn’t ask about my education or my work experience or the usual interview questions like what my greatest weakness was. I didn’t even get a chance to ask the questions I’d prepared, which was probably just as well; they weren’t very sophisticated and they might have reflected badly on Robbie.
He put me at ease and let me talk, and it was a fast and fun hour, over when the Englishman with the tablet showed up to escort me out. It wasn’t until I was on the street, headed for South Station and my bus ride home, that I wondered whether chatting so informally was a strategy to show my weaknesses without asking directly. I went over it in my head again and again. Had he seen my GitHub page and thought it was amateurish? Was he giving me an interview just to humor Robbie? Did he get me talking just to fill up the time? I tortured myself all the way home, until the bus was on the outskirts of Lewiston. Then I checked my email and yelped. Passengers turned to look at me.
“I just got a job,” I explained, feeling dizzy.
“Awwright.” The man across the aisle from me said, reaching out to slap my palm.
A week later, I moved in with Robbie and started my new role at Eventive as a Client Solutions Analyst.