The Last Dot Com Job
It was July 1999. I stepped off the red line at Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was 25, and I needed a job. I’d just been fired from a very short stint at an online furniture retailer and getting a new job was pretty easy in the Dot Com days in Boston in 1999. It was sweltering hot as I made my way from the air conditioned subway stop a few blocks away to the tall building near the Charles River where my interview was to be held. I didn’t know the shortcuts yet, and walked all the way around a parking lot encircled with a chain link fence. I didn’t cut through the lot because I didn’t know whether there was an opening on the other side. I wasn’t keen on scaling a chain link fence in a suit.
I took off my jacket hoping that my skin would breathe in the July heat. It was the middle of the day, and the sun beat down on me. I began to sweat, and worrying about the impression I’d make showing up to my interview all sweaty just made me feel more sweaty. I got into the lobby and located the ladies room where I managed to swab the sweat off of me, touched up my lipstick and tried to make myself as presentable as I had been when I’d left our apartment in Norwood.
I took the elevator to the 11th floor where I’d meet with Adam at an online magazine. The job was something very descriptive like Technical Project Manager. Later when people would ask what I did I would say “Well, technically, I manage projects.” That was the thing about the Dot Com days. We all had these bullshit titles that didn’t mean anything. I swear I met someone who was the Vice President of Business Motivation. Just what in the hell does that even mean? What did they even do?
At any rate, Adam lead me into his office and closed the door. He had a window which looked out on the rooftops of the other buildings around this one. It also overlooked a chain link fence that had every manner of debris stuck to the links like wallpaper. Adam was British, and very soft spoken. Once he closed the door to his office, the air become stifling. There was no ventilation, and the July heat seemed to have penetrated through the permanently closed windows. I could feel drops of sweat trail town from the back of my neck, between my shoulder blades and pool in the small of my back. I fought the urge to take off my jacket. It was so damn hot in there.
And then I realized he was talking. I was so distracted by the heat of the room, and the fact that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. He was talking talking talking. Blah blah blah blah blah blah he droned on in his soft spoken monotone. I had no idea what he was saying, but he kept saying it. It was the kind of early afternoon heat that makes you sleepy and need a nap. It was hypnotic. All he needed to do was to wave a pocket watch in front of my face. Sleeeeepy. You are getting sleeeeeepy.
I was getting sleepy. I bullshitted my way through the interview. Anything to get the hell out of that office where the air felt so thick and sticky it was like I’d aspirated maple syrup. I shook his hand and he showed me out.
“OK, totally bombed that one,” I thought to myself. In the elevator, when I was out of his view, I peeled off the jacket, and fanned my shirt. I went back to that ladies room off the lobby, moistened a paper towel with cold water and tried to cool down my skin. I felt slick with sweat, sticky and stinky. I made my way back to the red line, skirting that parking lot again. “Oh well, I won’t need to learn the shortcut to the office from the T. I’m never getting this job.”
I got back home, got back on the computer and fired out resumes with an added fervor. Then Todd came home from work, and I moped about being unemployed. After all, it had been a total of three days since I got fired from the furniture place, and my feelings of self worth were plummeting by the minute.
The next day the phone in the apartment rang, I answered it, and I had gotten a job offer from the online magazine where I’d interviewed the day before. I accepted the offer; the salary was the same as what the furniture place was paying me. I was excited about commuting on the train. Imagine all the reading I’d get to do! And my cousin also rode the same train. How much fun would that be?
The problem was, in all the blah blah blahing that Adam did the day before in the interview, I kind of had no idea what the hell the job even was. I pulled up the web site of the company, but the posting had already been taken down. Thankfully I had thought to print it, and looked in my bag and found it from the day before. Technical Project Manager. Hmmm…
I was due to start the next Monday. I spent the last few days of unemployment cleaning our apartment and shopping for a few outfits to wear in my first week. Then on Monday I boarded the 8 AM train from Norwood Central, then I changed trains at South Station to the red line, then I got out at Kendall Square. And I needed to figure out the best way to walk to the office. I went around the parking lot again, thought I knew it wasn’t the best route. I’d look at a map. I’d find my way.
When I got in I asked the receptionist for Adam. He came down to greet me. “We don’t have a cube for you yet, because my office is moving too. We’re getting some space on the 18th, and some of the people from 11 will move up there in a few weeks. So the only place you have for you is this,” he gestured into an enormous corner office. “It used to belong to our President, but he resigned. So it’s vacant. You might have to share it with someone, but for now it’s all yours.” It was enormous. It had windows all the way around the corner overlooking the Charles River. “OK, so have a good day.” Adam turned on his heel and left. There was a laptop computer on the desk, my name was on it on a post it note. I opened it and entered the password that was also on that same sticky note. I got into my email. And then I waited.
And I waited.
And I waited.
I had new hire orientation at 2, I saw the email invite. I saved it to my calendar. I got up and explored a bit, there was two rows of cubes with an aisle on either side, and the windows were all blocked by offices. I walked the perimeter until I found the kitchen area where my new co-workers were making coffee. I poured myself a cup of water and said hello. They didn’t introduce themselves, I didn’t either. Then I threw out my empty cup and kept walking. I found Adam behind his closed door. He was in a meeting with someone, I didn’t know him—obviously. I didn’t find the ladies room and decided I wouldn’t drink anymore water until I figured out where that was. It was actually outside by the elevators, I would need my security badge to get back in after using the bathroom.
Then I went back to my office. I browsed my employer’s web site, and read. I read until lunch time. I literally read this web site for three hours. Adam never came back to check in on me. Adam never came back to explain what my duties would be, or give me tasks. Adam just plain never came back. I debated on whether I should go out for lunch. It was my first day, would I go with Adam? Would he finally take me around and introduce me to people? He didn’t. I went to my new hire orientation and met two other new people who anxiously glanced at their watches while HR told us about all the benefits of working there. They had desks to get back to, they had work to do.
After the orientation I called Todd at work. He asked me what time I’d be home. I explained that I could take the 5:40 train or the 6:15. He suggested I take the 6:15 because on my first day it wouldn’t look good to leave at 5 to get the 5:40. So I stayed. I screwed around on the web a bit. I discovered a site called iVillage and read a few things on there.
Just after 5 Adam came back to ask me how my day went. What was I supposed to say? That I was bored and that he completely neglected me on my first day and I didn’t know anyone and didn’t have any work to do? How could I diplomatically say all that?
“Can we please put some time on the calendar tomorrow? I’d like to learn more about the daily expectations in this position as well as get some tasks to work on?” I suggested.
“Oh, yes, I think that’s a good idea,” he agreed. Gee, ya think?
I left to go catch the 6:15. I worked in that office for a few months until there was room in a cube for me. I moved my desk, which involved moving nothing, as I didn’t bother to make myself at home in the presidential suite. And then I finally met my co-worker Jim. Jim was also a Technical Project Manager. At that time I was given a project to work on. This company wanted to be the next Yahoo—remember, back in 1999 Yahoo was a big deal, guys. Yahoo had email, and a calendar feature, and games, and all kinds of things back then. So in addition to being a search engine, there were all sorts of other things that their users could engage with to get them to come back to the site frequently. My employer wanted to do that too. So I was in charge of overseeing the vendors that would make all those things that our viewers would use to interact on the site more. My first project was an online calendar that we’d brand to look like our site, but it was really content from a vendor. So I was in charge of making sure it all resembled the brand and functioned. See? A few months on the job and someone finally told me what I’d be doing. I knew that if I paid my dues, someone would actually tell me what the job was. Patience!
We had morning status meetings, me, Jim and Adam. Jim always seemed to have these amazingly insightful things to say about his projects. He sounded so busy, so active. His fingers always flew on his keyboard. Whereas in my job I waited for responses from the people involved in the project. While Jim’s fingers flew, mine tapped impatiently.
Then Jim and I went out to lunch. He asked me how my projects were going. I confessed that I was bored to pieces.
“How are you bored? You sound like you have so much going on,” he said.
“Me? Do you realize how much shit I make up in the status meetings?”
“Oh my God,” he replied. “I thought that I was the only one who did that.”
added on 10.09.17