Steve's Sunday night ritual was the most regular part of his life: take-out pizza from Pontillo's (great pie, no tables) and "The X-Files." Sometimes his puerile curiosity got the better of him, and he switched on the TV a half hour early to catch KTEH's "Silicon Valley Business Report." He wanted to know what the Man was thinking this week.
This week's "SVB" was a predictable pastiche of infotisements about popular Web sites, implausibly exciting tech trends and vaporware hype. Nothing of much interest. His attention drifted as he picked pepperoni from the lid of the pizza box and turned the pages of IEEE Spectrum.
An interview piece on the show caught his attention. It was Barry Dominic, one of infotech's golden boys of the moment. Steve curled his lip in distaste. Jeanne Hammer, "SVB's" principal talking head, floated pandering, cream-puff questions.
"How do you respond to critics who say that TeraMemory has gotten too big for its own good, that a large organization can't be nimble enough to chase the cutting edge?"
Barry pursed his lips into a mediagenic pout and held up a finger. "I know there's this prevailing idea that only 20-something hacker eggheads in small companies, toiling away like mad scientists, can stay on the leading edge. That has a lot to do with people's ideas about computer people."
"The stereotypical nerd maverick, you mean," she paraphrased.
"Exactly. But it's out of date, behind the times. The age of the wild-eyed, independent hacker is over. Computing is a business now. The Wild West has been won. Now that computing is a mainstream commercial activity, there's no more room for the eccentrics. It's a serious business now, and we can't trust business to hobbyists and mad scientists. Not rigorous enough."
"Gee, Dad, I wanna be just like you when I grow up," Steve mocked the TV in an adolescent voice.
Jeanne furrowed her brow, a bargain-basement Diane Sawyer. "So, being big isn't a liability?"
"Individual efforts don't count for much these days. You've got to have a big, well-funded organization that's well integrated into the industry to make a contribution. A couple of pimply teenagers tinkering in their parents' garage just won't cut it anymore. There's too much at stake now. Business is serious."
"Oh, bite me," Steve snarled, growing annoyed.
"Software engineering is a science now, with well-known principles and clear pathways to success. CASE tools, code validators, automatic programming and the like."
"So you can fully automate your artless mediocrity." Steve shifted into high dander. "Give it up, lemming."
Barry did not relent. "The real art is no longer in crafting programs, it's in having the vision to identify the opportunities and cultivate the business relationships necessary to bring technology to market. This industry is mature enough that the real innovators are no longer hunched in front of a terminal."
Steve narrowed his eyes. "What a loser. Go away. Oh, wait a sec ... you haven't given us the product plug yet. Bring it on, monkey-boy. Come to Jesus."
Barry complied. "We all know how Microsoft missed the boat on the Internet, how they're frantically swimming to catch up. TeraMemory has been on board from the very beginning, and we're determined to push the state of the art in networking technology. Over the next few weeks we'll be announcing some revolutionary advancements in that area."
Steve hoisted his arms in field-goal position and spoofed the sound of a roaring crowd. The interview segued into closing questions.
"How do you feel about being in the center of such a competitive industry?"
"Well, Jeanne, I have complete faith in free enterprise. The market rewards innovation, and the best man" -- Barry hesitated, then cleared his throat -- "or woman usually wins. It's a level playing field, for the most part. I believe that character is destiny. Not everybody survives. That's life in the most competitive business on earth."
"Speaking of competition, Barry, I understand you're the man to beat these days in the world of yacht racing."
Jeanne twinkled with the insider's self-satisfaction.
"We play to win. The crew and I are going down to Australia this winter. We've got a good boat, and I think we'll do well."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The program cut to a long shot of Barry and Jeanne as credits scrolled up the screen. Steve scowled at the television. Barry was just the kind of short-sighted, unenlightened, profiteering philistine he despised. He didn't want to live in a world where such a creature could rise to the top of the heap, he told himself.
But there was more to it than that. The specter of Barry, in all his market-capitalized grandeur, inflamed his own doubts about his path in life. Nobody cared about hackers anymore. They cared about market share.
"Somebody needs to keel-haul the Man," Steve said darkly.