Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sleep makes you successful

A few days ago I had lunch with one of my ex-employees who escaped the Midwest a couple of years before I did in Berkeley. It brought back a lot of memories about the company and the people that were my colleagues for about a decade, so I decided I'd take a shot at writing up things I remember. Since I am not very good at following through, lets see how long the series goes.

Episode 1: Sleep makes you successful

This whole thing started in 1996 when I was about to graduate with a degree in nuclear physics at a time when the end of the cold war really put a damper on job options for people who can explain how to build a nuclear bomb or how to write pulse trains for MRI scanners in excruciating detail.

After a few rejections, I wrote a really weird application to a company who's software I've been using extensively for my thesis--only to have my faculty advisor make me re-implement everything in C so he could understand it. Ok, his argument was that since I was leaving, they needed the code in something "free". Obviously nobody ever needed the C code I wrote, because it most definitely didn't work correctly. (A big THANK YOU to Numerical Recipes, the scrounge of generations of technical students. If anyone has ever found a non-trivial algorithm that worked reliably in this opus, let me know )

Anyway, as IIRC, the application included a few lines of Macbeth, fleeting references to computers eloping together, and something like: "Since I've been bugging your tech support for years, I think it's only fair if I see the other side of things."

Mailed it and forgot about it until a twenty-something who turned out to be the director of European operations called me out of the blue to set up an interview.

We talked about 30 minutes, only interrupted by the frantic barking of my 100 pound Rottweiler Alsatian Spaniard mix who was upset at having his evening walk delayed. Apparently this convinced the interviewer that I was too valuable for Europe and I was offered an interview at the corporate headquarters in a town in the Midwest I had never heard off.

So, after explaining to my faculty advisor that I had to take a 3 day trip to the US and would hand in my thesis late, I ended up--jet lagged and not having had much sleep in what turned out the flattest county in the US. Since I only had 36 hours before my flight back, and also because of the frantic pace in software in '96, I went on the accelerated program. After the relocation agent picked up at the airport and proudly showed me around town ("Here is where the tornado hit three days ago! See how it took out all the homes on that side of the street!"), I spent the rest of the day being interviewed by what felt like everyone in the company--finishing with the founder, owner, chief scientists, and CEO.

At that time, he was on a 6pm-6am live schedule (no, that's not a typo), so he was fresh as a daisy while jet lag and lack of sleep were catching up with me. Apparently, I impressed the hell out of him by nodding off repeatedly during the interview.

So, I was offered a job as the go between the technical and marketing departments on the spot and sent to bed. All under the condition that I would start ASAP--which translated to remotely within a week and on site two weeks after that.

Little did I know at the time what the relations between the tech nerds and the marketing droids at a software company are like.

The next day, I got back on a plane, slept 22 hours and proceeded to hand in my thesis, giving my advisor the good news that he would be one unpaid laborer short and asked if he could fit my defense in between packing and flying back to the US two weeks later. At least he took it better than my flabbergasted parents.


JayRay said...

And then a few years after that you got to hang out with me and my BFF and it was just duckie :)

me said...

This is totally Wolfram...