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Published on October 15, 2017

Short story

Hey, this post is vintage content. It dates back more than 6 years ago: it may contain outdated and inaccurate information.

A couple of years ago I enrolled in a course in creative writing. This is the story that came out at the end. I'm in it at times.

1. master and slave

'We are opening in Cagliari and London. In September also Hong Kong," he says looking at me. "I wonder what Conway would think of that," I say, but he does not catch the reference. Then I continue: "He said many years ago that software architectures always resemble the organisation that creates them. He remains on that short-range inquisitive expression that-I think-during interviews one might avoid wearing. The office is all white, except for the Landskröna couch, brown, punched and albeit non-committal, which looks at me from the back wall. I can tell that the office has recently been renovated and, as soon as I register the information, I notice a faint smell of paint in the air. The floor must be the original: a coarse grit of no colour.

I notice that the whiteness I am surrounded by is largely, it seems to me, due to the total absence of paintings. There is only the gigantic Stratag logo, obvious and insignificant: it takes up almost the entire wall above the sofa. This morning I had breakfast lulled by the thought that I, of real interviews to find a job, have never had one. I remember the first ones: I carried in my backpack a certain degree of uncertainty typical of those starting out and travelled perpetually out of my comfort-zone, but the feedback I received was always over the top and gave me a muffled and distorted perception of myself and my abilities.

I latch onto one of his reflections and "Yes," I say, "there are interesting cases. I remember a very long discussion: it was a group of developers looking for an alternative to the words master and slave'. It had become a case: it was even discussed in the work chat. Days of overwhelming flame, but they had come to nothing: 'Let's keep using master and slave, without thinking too much about it. We also carry around a vaguely militaristic vocabulary that sometimes I think annoys.

2. deploy

I walk out of his office escorted by a formal, energetic handshake and cross the sunny square: done, I catch my breath as my hands and feet lighten. I head straight for the Lair. "Hello, welcome back!", Laura greets me, who knows whether by nature or business.

The desk where I work is tidy: I open the aluminium laptop and, at the same time, switch on the external monitor. I must have read somewhere that large monitors increase productivity: it's reasonable, I think.

There are about thirty of us, evenly distributed in the large room: a whisper of thoughts rises from the desks. I've been coworking for a while now, and it only adds to Mum's doubts about what I do for a living. It is partly a generational issue. Sometimes I've thought about taking her to a pitch, but I've never done it: a four-minute explanation split, interrupted by a siren blast, wouldn't help clear her head.

"Mom, I'll try to explain it like this. It's a bit like writing books. I mean: not alone, I don't work on it alone. I do it together with others, because it's like writing very long books, with very complicated plots and, most importantly, very detailed. And no detail has to be wrong. We cannot count on the indulgence of readers: our readers are machines that do not admit mistakes and, as soon as they find something that does not fit in the story, they immediately stop reading'. It had seemed a convincing analogy and her reaction had confirmed it for me; and although it clarified one aspect of the matter, she certainly still wondered what the relationship was between these metaphorical books and the black screens full of coloured characters she had seen several times on my monitor when I was still living at my parents' house.

The light is right: the Covo is post-industrial architecture and you can also tell by the colour of the early afternoon sun coming straight in through the large windows. They must have built mattresses here once upon a time. Better this light, I think, than that dizzying whiteness. And then - I also think - I would have to stop coming here, if I accepted.

It is difficult to work after this morning's interview: it takes a certain level of concentration to go through all the layers that have been deposited over time, to go deep, abstraction after abstraction. There are five of us working on it now, but the project has passed from one group to another and I recognise many more hands. Sometimes, between the lines of the programme, as well as the style, of those who worked on it before us, I also distinguish the mood: the bad days and the good days.

The buzz of my post-interview doubts is a confused but clearly distinguishable background noise that I manage to silence with difficulty; he knocks several times: I do not let him bribe me and lock the door. I set the chat to 'Do not disturb', choose the soundtrack and change the status to 'Down into the zone': I get a handful of smiley faces from the guys.

I spend the rest of the afternoon chasing a plot flaw: it's tiny, it takes me hours to find it. When there's a plot flaw, a bug comes up. And this one today is really sneaky: it only takes effect on a Wednesday, and it was weeks before I realised it was a problem and not a feature of the system, and before they could tell me about it.

I lose all sense of time.

Some people pass me by and I notice them out of the corner of my eye. Someone has started to get up, having collected his things: almost everything that was needed for work goes home in bags, in backpacks: spreadsheets and invoices during the day, TV series in the evening. I have the feeling of waking up and starting to breathe, even though I am already awake and, almost certainly, breathing must never have stopped.

Solution found, problem solved. I put the result of the afternoon's work into production. Usual procedure: I chat to the guys. It is a kind of coded message that I send them, a sort of request for approval. I have a brief exchange, again in chat, but the process is well established and it doesn't take long to conclude. Click: deploy.

If I accept (if I accept), there won't be much left of this multi-handed writing and thinking.

3. commit

I glide alongside the queue of queued cars on my way home: the air in my face takes me out of the bubble and shuts up that ticking that the afternoon's work has left in my head.

Julia arrives shortly after me. "Hi!" She greets me excitedly, while hopping on one leg and slipping off a shoe. She takes a step: kisses me with a big smile, switches legs and drops the other shoe. 'Scarlett put me in the front row, you know? And if she put me in the front row, imagine how we look! I lost my rhythm, I even missed a few attacks! And... but... how did the interview go?"

I tell her. "London! Hong Kong!", I say at the end.

"What about the kids?" she says. She always does this, when there is an argument involved: no hesitation, straight to the point. Even when I-think-I can't even see the point with binoculars.

"Eh...", I reply eloquently.

"'Eh...' what?", Julia urges with a smile made on purpose.

"You know: I fix things that don't work. My job has always been to pick up scattered threads and put them in order. If I accept, everything changes. I could make up the stories myself, instead of trying every time to fix other people's when it's already too late. But if I accept, I will almost completely stop writing with several hands: I will have to make, he said, 'dozens of teams' work'.

"Is that what you want?" He knows the answer. He also knows that 'I'm trying to figure it out'.

"And when would you start?" Suddenly I feel the physical weight of the decision: he pushes on the calendar to occupy every day from a certain point onwards. "As soon as I can," I say, but it means almost nothing-I think.

"I need some time, to figure it out."

The course I took part in is organised by those very good people at Zandegù and taught by Marco Lazzarotto: this year the same course is starting up again these very days. #know it

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Leonard Cohen

November 11, 2016

I am Silvano Stralla. I am a developer, I like taking photos and riding bikes.
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