San Francisco, Run for the Hills (Part 1)
"Like all cocky nerds, they wanted me because I didn’t want them."
When the first job I’d ever liked ended, I was forced to make a move.
Having been taught content marketing—when blogging was as cool as a Pizza Lunchable in 1998—I had job options for the first time.
In the mid 2010’s, when I was back on the auction-block, start-ups were flush. Investors weren’t just throwing dollars at “unicorns”—even the shetland ponies were getting their fill. Investors had cheap cash to park and we got to ride that wave.
Even if the start-up was described as, “Uber, but for clip-in bangs made from 100% golden retriever trimmings”, they were ripe for a few shekels.
Note: One thing about startups is that they’re incestuous. Start-ups love to pick up shiny objects from the rubble of someone else’s failure—or in my case, the dismantling of the Montreal office.
Given the climate, I wanted to take advantage of the situation and gain more distance in my rearview.
But as much cash as there was floating around, there were equal parts unchecked ego. A lot of these tech founders were especially young, rich, and inflated. And many of them fell into my least favourite bucket of humanity: the cocky nerd.
Typically, the cocky nerd is a man with enough intelligence, commitment, and know-how to pursue their dreams. These are not the low self-esteem underdogs with transition lenses that we must protect at all cost. Oh no. While the cocky nerd has the same transition lenses, interests, and attention-seeking behaviours as all nerds, they’ve gained clout. And with mainstream recognition, the cocky nerd is born.
Over-compensating for the adolescence they spent in solitary while the rest of us made friends and drank malt liquor, the cocky nerd has much to prove. They want us (*especially women*) to feel as excluded as they once did.
The cocky nerd retains all of the abrasive, off-beat tendencies that outcasted them in the first place. Only now, they’re in a position where they pay people to listen to them. But having failed to cultivate normal social responses, they are publicly unpredictable. They are workplace feral. They will demean, put down, and “other”, all while sporting a fedora, stringy bangs, and an early-onset hunchback.
The cocky nerd thrives on belittlement and is intoxicated with power. They are to be feared.
While I try to avoid the cocky nerd, in start-up land, it’s nearly impossible. Luckily, I intuitively knew how to play their game. It’s critical to boost the cocky nerd’s fragile ego, highlight our unique value, and most importantly, to avoid too much eye contact.
This anthropological understanding shortlisted me for a couple of solid job options.
The most bullish prospect was a mobile ad network based in San Francisco. While I didn’t understand a single thing they did, I was able to fake it. Plus, my intermediate fluency in “cocky nerd” and “start-up”, led these founders to believe that I could be one of them: someone that knew what a Software Development Kit is, played World of Warcraft, and owned a puffy vest.
While I knew the job wasn’t “me”, they were offering an inordinate amount of money. They would also sponsor my visa, cover moving costs, and had catered lunch.
And like all cocky nerds, they wanted me because I didn’t want them.
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Note: As it turns out, catered lunch is just a shiny ploy to keep you in the office. With delivered lunch, a fancy espresso machine, and a kegerator, these start-ups trap you inside their walls. Stripped of all go-to excuses to get a bikini wax or simply be without your colleagues for a nanosecond, you are indoctrinated quickly. As a result, there are only two ways to hide: a prolonged bathroom break or to take-up smoking.
To close on the job offer, the company flew me out to spend a week in the office. For the trial, rather than opt for real accommodation, I agreed to stay in a hacker house.
Note: A hacker house is a regular apartment with an infestation of cocky nerds. There are developer geeks crawling out of every crevasse. They can be found underneath the sink, sleeping in a toilet tank, or coding in an old boot (if the wifi signal is strong enough).
This hacker house was a two-bedroom apartment inside the Avalon at Mission Bay condo building in central San Francisco. My assigned bedroom was stuffed with 3 sets of bunk beds and a mattress on the floor. There was even a lucky troll that had lived in there long enough that he’d earned the fantasy suite: a windowless closet.
The bedroom that I was assigned slept 11 people, one robot. And yes, the bedroom—and frankly, the entire place—smelled like gerbils and wet dishcloth.
The grounds of the apartment were littered with cords, external hard drives, and aluminum thin-framed glasses. While most nerds have bad eyesight, this crew managed to traverse the tech-rich terrain without a loggable trip and fall incident.
Needless to say, I was, and likely continue to be, the only girl who’s ever stayed there.
Fortunately, I was assigned a top bunk—the safest place to hide from near-sighted dweebs. I found a small spot in the hallway closet to hang the floral printed blazer I planned to wear on my first day in the office.
Note: The floral blazer was “as seen” on The Marilyn Denis Show. I should specify, this blazer was worn by *the* Marilyn Denis—a woman 35 years my senior. I bought it prior to airing, but upon seeing it on Marilyn, I knew it was the perfect selection to dazzle without intimidating.
In the morning, I woke up early to barricade myself in one of the two bathrooms used to service 47 people. There were intermittent door knocks, but I didn’t rush.
I used my straightening iron to loosely curl my hair, and crusted it over with too much hairspray (when in doubt, spray it out—amirite?).
I methodically put on just the right amount of make-up. I painted on a face that suggested I could be interviewing at Seventeen Magazine, but not American Cheerleader. It was enough make-up to say, “I have my finger on the pulse of Reality TV”, but less than “I have a virginity pledge and my Daddy’s the assistant football coach at Bayshore High in Fairhope, Alabama. Mama’s my best friend and she’s real heavy-fisted with the eyeshaddy too! Go Gators!”.
Rather than attempt public transit, I left myself enough time to walk the two miles into the office. I had scribbled the walking directions on a piece of paper (this was when it cost $197 to use data in the land of the 60 oz soda pour).
I dipped and dodged down the busy sidewalks, taking in the mix of Patagonia, suits, and hustlers. I pretended not to hear the “Miss, Miss, Miss!” hollers and clutched my laptop bag tightly.
Note: The image we’ve been served of San Francisco is much too cartoony and optimistic. As Canadians, when we think of San Francisco, we envision rolling vistas, free love, and shoreline seals wearing bow ties and top hats. Nary is there a portrayal of the sidewalk shits or most unsettling, the overuse of the bread bowl on the wharf.
When I arrived at the hand-written address, I was met with a seven-storey Art Deco building. Passing through the brass revolving doors, I felt I was walking onto an ol’ timey movie set, Little Gracie Takes On the Big American City.
I got into the elevator and rode up to the fourth floor. I was nervous, but knew that this was the final test.
I had come to San Francisco to prove my worth, but mostly to convince myself that in the name of prestige, money, and levelling-up, that I could make it work.
Reaching the office doors, I took a deep breath then burst in. Innately, I landed on high-energy showmanship. I showed teeth, gave waves, and cooed with my full vocal range.
I was met with nothing. The townspeople were totally flat.
The office manager slowly slinked across the floor, showing me to my desk.
“I put you across from the boss. He likes for the new people to sit nearby,” she said quietly.
“Great”, I said, feeling a pinch in my stomach.
Luckily, he wasn’t there yet.
At my seat, I desperately looked around for someone to invite me in. The office’s introvert count hovered in the 97th percentile. The chisel-jawed sales guy appeared to be the only notable exception. I glanced in his direction, but he didn’t take the bait.
Just as I pondered if I was going to have to start working (WTF!), there was a fateful intervention.
A Paul McCartney impersonator walked into the room…
To be continued in San Francisco, Run for the Hills (Part 2).