Silicon Follies

Chapter 9: Liz faces the wrath of the Nerd King.

Published April 14, 1999 12:37PM (EDT)

Liz sipped her mocha and absent-mindedly turned over the pages of Le Figaro. In 12 hours she'd be standing in the personal office of Barry Dominic, the valley's own Great and Powerful Oz. But there would be no ruby slippers for her; she would be humiliated, terminated and thrown from the top of TeraMemory headquarters by flying monkeys. Or escorted out by security, at the very least.

Laurel scrutinized the coffeehouse's belle ipoque-inspired mural and wrinkled her nose. "You could call in sick. Or you could just quit by phone -- or e-mail, even. You don't have to go back just to get slapped around by some nerd with a bank account. Even if he is a famous nerd."

"But I said I'd be there," Liz countered.

"So change your mind. It's a woman's prerogative, right?"

"That's not my style. And what's the worst that could happen, anyway? He's just going to fire me, that's all. I'll say thank you, collect my paycheck and leave. Then I'll be in the same place I was three weeks ago. It's not the end of the world."

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

At 8:28 a.m. Liz stood in the main elevator at TeraMemory headquarters. She pushed the button for the 21st floor softly, as if it might explode.

Of course it stopped 17 times on the way up. A parade of serious-looking Silicon Valley careerists circulated through the elevator at almost every floor. It was excruciating. Liz was positive that every one of them knew who she was and where she was going. Her infamy must surely be visible.

The receptionist in the executive suite was friendly in a perfunctory way. She offered Liz a seat and advised her to wait.

At 9:19 the receptionist announced, "Mr. Dominic will see you now." She exaggerated her words in a hushed voice, gums a-crackling, as if Liz were an avid lip-reader.

Liz entered the inner sanctum of the Nerd King. He sat at an enormous wooden desk in what looked like a Barcalounger with postmodern pretensions. She approached the throne.

"Don't sit down, Ms. Toulouse," he began curtly, "this shouldn't take long. First, I want you to know that your insubordination has hurt this organization deeply. In a dynamic, cutting-edge operation like Tera, it's critical for all of us to be team players. It's clear you haven't read the Five Habits of Effective Market Leaders ... "

The mounting cadence of Barry's speech put Liz in the grip of a sudden panic. She had been expecting a quick reprimand followed by termination. She could handle that. What she had not anticipated was a slow professional death by trendy management rhetoric. Anything but that! She felt a wave of desperation. She searched her mind for a plan of escape. And, barely believing her own brass, she interrupted.

"Look, Mr. Dominic, I made a mistake. I never intended for you to see that e-mail, and I'm honestly, truly sorry for any disruption it may have caused. I'm not a techie, and I obviously don't belong here. I'd like to do us both a favor here and -- respectfully -- resign. So if you'll excuse me ... " Liz turned to walk out.

Barry was not accustomed to back-talk from women. Especially not young, attractive women. And nothing prodded his interest more than a preemptive rejection. Especially from a young, attractive woman. He quickly recalculated his agenda.

"You don't understand, Ms. Toulouse. Please come back. I didn't bring you here to fire you."

"You didn't?" Liz asked incredulously from the door.

"Oh, no, not at all," he offered in his best management-seminar dynamism. "I value your point of view, even if it did somehow slip out in a way that embarrassed me. Diversity of opinion is more important than ego. And you're right -- we do need better communication here at Tera.

"I'd like you to work for me. Up here on 21. As my administrative assistant. You can make sure that my clunky memos never escape without a coat of polish again."

Liz stood speechless. Something about his offer made her suspicious.

Barry moved to consolidate his gains. "You'll sit in the front office of the executive suite. Be my personal writing coach." Then he twinkled. "The pay's a lot better than the school system."

After a brief skirmish between her corporate compliance reflex and her better judgment, Liz agreed. "I'd be willing to try."

"Good. Starting today. Let's go over a few things after lunch."

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

Liz returned to her cubicle to prepare for her move to the executive suite. She passed Barbara's cubicle on the way.

"How's it going, spam-queen? Still have a job?"

"Apparently," Liz returned. Barbara looked surprised.

"Really. Well then, let's get back to work. I have some more feedback from engineering to fold into the WHIP venture-capital pitch."

"Can't," Liz shot over her shoulder, turning to leave. "I've been transferred. I'm working on 21 now. For Mr. Dominic."

Barbara raised her eyebrows. "Lambs to the slaughter," she sighed -- then giggled, "Pearls before swine."

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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