Domesticating Dragons – Snippet 02
The Waiting Game
I left Reptilian with a good impression and a handful of vague promises. Evelyn said that they’d proceed with a license for my simulator. If it did as I promised for their genetic engineering team, she might even be able to bring me on.
My car stuck out like a fresh pimple among the glittering sedans in Reptilian’s parking lot. It was technically a sedan, too, but the previous owner had welded the back doors shut for reasons that remained unclear. I’d bought it in a police auction with the little cash I scrounged together in my last year of graduate school. I never even bothered locking it. Replacing a broken window would probably cost more than the jalopy was worth. I climbed in, whispered a prayer, and hit the start button. It sputtered into life, thank goodness. If I left it here much longer, I’m sure the company would have had it towed.
I drove away, watching Reptilian’s shining building shrink in the rearview mirror. Picturing my foot in the door — because it was. If they licensed my simulator through ASU, I’d have to send them the source code. All of it could have been done through electronic channels, but they’d asked me to come in. That meant something. Even if Reptilian claimed they weren’t hiring now, even if we didn’t talk any specifics about a job, this was an audition. All I had to do now was nail the call-back.
But here’s the ugly truth about academic software. There are few of the strict programming rules like those you’d find at a commercial shop. In other words, we don’t have to write perfectly clean code, even to get published in journals like JCB. I stood behind my simulator’s functionality, but the code that ran it might have gotten a little sloppy in some places. I spent the next week polishing it up.
In that time, Reptilian signed their license through ASU and paid the fee, which told me that they wanted it pretty badly. That was good. There was something I wanted badly, too, and they were the only place to get it.
I could have sent Evelyn the code when I’d finished, but 3 a.m. e-mails didn’t seem like the best approach for a hopeful job applicant. So I set a timer-delay, and the message kicked off at the far more respectable time of 9:30 in the morning. Let her think I was a responsible early riser, when in truth I was dead to the world, sleeping off the effects of the necessary caffeine binge. I finally roused myself at around 10:45, got dressed, and put my phone on maximum volume. Evelyn might need to peruse the code and run some tests, but it shouldn’t take too long.
At any moment, I’d get the call. The official word that Evelyn wanted to bring me on. I kept my phone beside me at every moment. I couldn’t even shower, for fear it would ring right after I put the shampoo in.
But the day came and went, and no phone call. No e-mail reply. I started to panic a little. Maybe Reptilian Corporation’s servers flagged my e-mail, so she never got it. That happened sometimes when you sent programming code around. And like a moron, I’d forgotten to switch on message tracking, which would have told me when she opened it.
I started another e-mail to her, asking if she’d gotten the code, but forced myself to delete it. Be patient. I didn’t dare let her glimpse how much I wanted the job. How I needed to get in there and see what those servers could do.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. My brain concocted all kinds of scenarios in which Evelyn didn’t get my simulator code, or couldn’t open it, or read through it and changed her mind about me. When I finally did fall asleep, I had nothing but self-doubt nightmares in which I showed my incompetence to the entire scientific community.
The next morning, I awoke groggily to the soft chime of an incoming message. She’d replied to my e-mail with a single sentence:
Thanks for sending this; I’ll be in touch soon.
This response reassured me–she’d gotten my message, and now could review the code–but my confidence fled in about ten seconds. First, why did she take an entire day to get back to me? Her message implied that she hadn’t even looked at my code yet. How long was that going to take? I knew, intellectually, that she had a regular job to do on top of recruiting people like me, but the vagueness of “soon” rankled. Maybe that meant four hours from now, or maybe it meant a month.
There was nothing to do but wait.
The day slipped away without further word from Evelyn. I started to doubt myself. I replayed the meeting in my head, wondering how I might have blown it. Maybe the code didn’t impress her enough. I pored over it line by line for another day. Sure, some parts were a little rough around the edges, but this was Evelyn Chang. She could connect the dots.
So what the hell was taking her so long?
When I didn’t hear from her the next day, panic set in. I felt a strong and foolish temptation to go down to Reptilian and beg for a job. I’d probably never have made it in the door, and I’d certainly be flagged as a total nutcase. But I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
Thankfully, some of my friends from grad school invited me out for margaritas. Their treat. I drowned my angst in tacos and cheap tequila. Way too much cheap tequila.
The next morning brought too-bright daylight and a lot of regret. My head felt like someone had put a vise on it and kept tightening the damn thing over and over. I wanted to sleep it off, but a persistent buzzing jarred me awake. It was my phone, vibrating against the glass-top nightstand.
I fumbled for it and looked at the screen, wincing at the brightness of it. The blurred figures resolved into a phone number I recognized. “Oh, God.” I scrambled out of bed to my desk. Where the hell are my notes?
On the third ring, I coughed up half a lung and it tasted like tequila-soaked tacos. On the fourth, I hit the answer button. “Hello?”
“It’s Evelyn Chang.”
“Hello.” It took a lot of effort to keep the strain out of my voice. Christ, why couldn’t I have slowed down last night?
“My team and I reviewed your biological simulator. It’s impressive.”
“Uh, thank you.” I held my breath and crossed both fingers.
“This morning, I convinced the board to make an exception to our hiring freeze.”
I pumped my fist in the air. “Really?”
“We can bring you on as a trainee.”
Ugh. That didn’t exactly have the ring of staff scientist like I wanted it to. In the academic world, post-doctoral trainees were glorified graduate students. Cheap labor with no prestige, no authority. I didn’t know what it meant at Reptilian, but I doubt it entailed unfettered access to their lab and equipment. “I see.”
“No, just surprised.” I recentered myself and tried to remember that job within those walls was probably all I needed. I could work my way up. All I need is access. “But hey, I’m ready to learn.”
“Good.” She sounded pleased.
“When would you like me to start?”
“How about today? I’d like to get that simulator code talking to our design software as soon as possible.”
I stifled a groan. I hadn’t shaved in three days, and I needed a shower that I probably couldn’t afford the water for. But the sooner I started, the sooner I might climb my way out of poverty.
I checked my watch. “See you in an hour.”