Chapter 5: Addressed for success

Silicon Follies: By Thomas Scoville. Chapter 5: Addressed for success

Published March 29, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

Once Liz decided to compromise her principles and join the infotech juggernaut, it wasn't long before she was working.

Flashy, hyperbole-packed high-tech recruitment ads devoured page upon page of the Sunday Mercury. She faxed resumes to a dozen of them.

Only days later the interviews began in earnest.

Liz wore her designated power suit. It was an Armani number her mother had given her for graduation. Sometime thereafter -- to Liz's sartorial chagrin -- this particular design became the official dress of the Heidi Fleiss Hollywood madam trial. Now it struck her as ironically appropriate: a liberal arts major interviewing at a slew of high-tech companies might well be construed as an act of pandering, albeit of a more obscure and cerebral sort.

But it felt good to be in demand. Her newly expanded prospects visibly buoyed her spirits. Her roommate Laurel had begun referring to her as "New Attitude."

The attitude waned after the first round of interviews, when it dawned on her that she was nobody special aside from being a Stanford grad, willing to work in technology, attractive and female. In that order. The god of high tech needed bodies to stoke the engines of innovation.

With her own qualifications so established, Liz surveyed her potential employers' corporate personality traits. She noticed some peculiar similarities.

First was that they weren't interested so much in the particulars of her education or experience as in her willingness to subordinate every aspect of her life to the care and feeding of the corporation's digital agenda.

Next was ubiquitous, reverential reference to the company "mission." Initially, Liz had found this charming; it had an appealing ring of high-minded earnestness. She soon learned it wasn't high-mindedness, at least not in the "it's our mission to end world hunger" sense. It was more like tunnel vision, as in "it's our mission to establish MegaCyberCo as the premier vendor of PCM/CIA-based thin-client solutions for the nomadic computing user base."

This industry habit of cloaking the business in heroic rhetoric was something of an encouragement to Liz. Her background in literature might come in handy crafting these flights of corporate marketing fancy; if there was a Homeric angle to the quest for a faster network interface or cheaper postscript printer, she'd find it.

In the end, she had accepted a job as junior marketing associate at TeraMemory. Not because "Tera" -- as insiders called it -- stood out in any way, but because of the commute. Liz quickly learned you could spend your non-working life gridlocked on 101 if the drive-time geography was against you.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The rest had happened way too quickly, and here she was in her third week already, in a conference room at TeraMemory headquarters, talking with her fellow marketing associate, Barbara.

"You joined at a crazy, crazy time," Barbara said. "Things are really starting to jump around here. There's a rumor that WHIP has been moved up by three months. There's supposed to be a company-wide memo this afternoon."

"What does that mean for us?" Liz asked, trying her best to sound like the team player.

"Mostly more deadlines. We were already way behind on this marketing push, and now we're way, way, way behind. We'll really be able to use you around here."

"Well, I really haven't had much of an orientation so far ..."

"You'll figure it out. Straight into the fire, babe."

Barbara picked up a thick stack of papers and set them down in front of Liz.

"We've got a mountain of techie-speak to fluff up for the trade shows. And you won't believe the communication problems with engineering -- from getting a clear statement of priorities all the way down to the grade school grammar."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Later, sitting in her cubicle surrounded by marked-up drafts of white papers and spec sheets, she read an e-mail. It was from the president of TeraMemory, Barry Dominic.



Subject: WHIP initiative

She scanned the memo. It was exactly as Barbara had anticipated. But as she read more closely, Liz's apprehension of the increased workload was eclipsed by her morbid fascination with the structure of the prose.

For that reason, it was decided to accelarate the WHIP initiative by three months. I know this means someextended hours and indeed a few all-nighters during the holidays, but for all intensive purposes it will all most certainly be reflected in employee equity participation - your's and mine.

This is a criticle time in the development of our business flow, and I know your all going to pull together to get Tera where we need to get to.

"Oh, my God," Liz thought as she tried to digest the message. "Our CEO writes like a 12-year-old -- a 12-year-old weaned on Tom Peters instead of Marvel Comics."

Still reeling, Liz composed an e-mail by clicking the "reply to" button. She replaced the recipient with Barbara's address.



Subject: Re: WHIP initiative


> This is a criticle time in the development of our

> business flow, and I know your all going to pull

> together to get Tera where we need to get to.


You were right -- on all counts. Forced march has been decreed by the King of the Dangling Preposition.

We are driven before the WHIP.

Liz clicked "send" at the very same instant she glanced at the message header and noticed the extra line. She'd cc'ed the entire company.

"Oh, God, this can't be happening," she whispered. As the reality sunk in, she turned as white as a turnip. She stared at the screen for minutes, paralyzed with fear, adrenalin coursing through her veins.

Then the e-mails began to arrive from all over headquarters, "Re: Re: WHIP initiative."

She wanted to disappear.

By Thomas Scoville

Thomas Scoville is either an Information Age savant or an ex-Silicon Valley programmer with a bad attitude. He is the author of the Silicon Valley Tarot.

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