Alya hadn’t slept too well. Tossing and turning past dawn, she just gave up and went for a run. Still early for her interview, she had finished her shower, thrown on a comfortable white blouse over yoga pants. She couldn't eat so just sat down on her task chair and logged into her computer. This was the new normal during COVID - applying to new opportunities and waiting for the interviewers to grill her given this wasn’t her background. She knew this wasn’t her first, and she was sure it would not be the last. She just had to keep trying though. Persistence was key, step by step, she would move forward. The boot camp had helped of course, as had the sheer brilliance of the internet and a community of people that the high school version of her would never imagine talking to. But it was mostly the persistence, and practice, and failing and trying, again and again. Day after day, night after night.
She had to wait a few hours before talking to these California people who claimed they did no evil. She thought of her friend Tina, who had become more of a mentor during these times. Alya started to reflect on her journey, wondering how a pretty faced high school dropout ended up here. Her mind flashed back to that one night several months ago as she started to recall vividly.
That night she had been nervously staring at YouTube tutorials while chatting with Tina. The bright LEDs hitting her face created a prickling sensation on her forehead. It came from inside her skin. The coffee and late nights had not been helping. “It took me years to perfect my facial routine for cover page looks.” she muttered to herself. Right in the middle of her forehead, she felt the pimple forming. The sweat on her back was irritating too as she took a sip of her energy drink. Her stomach growled. She popped an antacid. Palming her face, she closed her eyes as a tear rolled down her right cheek. She missed having the spotlight on her as strutted down the catwalk.
Alya had been the Queen in the world of fashion, for her fifteen seconds of fame. With this had come the fancy car, the swanky Manhattan condo and the designer clothes. But her fortunes had since faded. Selling the car had kept her afloat for a short while but she could not even afford to replace the broken air conditioning, let alone pay the mortgage. That night, in sweaty frustration she pulled off the designer top and tossed it to a corner of the room where a rather unsightly pile was already forming. Nobody had told her what it would be like after she walked off the ramp. The party had ended and the buzz had worn off. The comedown from the rush of fame, money and drugs had been brutal. It turned out there were not many options for someone with one hot minute of glamor and no college degree. A series of unsuccessful career attempts had left her nowhere. She had even tried to get a real estate license, but the Pandemic and subsequent housing crash in the city meant nobody was buying.
She saw the chat bubble on the screen blink with the words, “It’s just about putting one little piece out there, then adding a little bit to it. You can do this, just like you modelled at eighteen. Take one small step Alya!” Something about Tina always made her feel less insecure. Alya wiped the tear off her face, tied her hair back and put on her headphones. Loud metal music helped her drown out her distracting thoughts. While smarter than people assumed, she had never done exceptionally well in school. Social stereotyping for her attractive looks had not helped her confidence in math classes. She had assumed that her personality and looks were her best assets. Only her best friend Tina, a rather dorky mathlete, saw her for more than that. Tina had been a bit of an outcast in school, leading to body dysmorphia. Alya had always been popular and confident. Alya had pitied Tina initially but over the years they had become an odd duo. Alya helped Tina come to terms with herself and with high school life. Years later, Tina was a successful professional with a comfortable family and a rather stable rewarding life. She never failed to try and be here for Alya, including mentoring her now, with this latest attempt at a new profession.
“I sucked at classes, at math.” Alya replied as she alt-tabbed over to a new black window with green text on it. The bubble lit up again, a toaster notification, “You didn’t suck. You were great at it. You just never spent enough time trying to do it.” Alya couldn’t articulate the feeling of appreciation for Tina, staying up past midnight when she could be in bed with her husband in their cushy suburban home. “Hehe, thanks!” she replied. “Don’t worry about math classes right now. Just click start, and type what is written. Then change what is written. Then change the color, then make it big and bold, the way you make everything stand out!” Tina replied. Getting started was hardest, but the metal blaring in her ears and the cocktail of the energy drink and the antacid were now doing their magic. Alya started to type.
She didn’t know then that this would be the first of many sleepless nights, staring at a bright screen. She had never imagined she would end up being a caffeine loving, freckly night owl to embrace her second chance at a great life. If she had, she might have never pursued it. She would have never thought that night would remain in her memory, for many nights to come. She would go on to put out just one little phrase, as her friend had said. One note of music, to the right ears. Then she would string together a few more pieces, add a little color and make it bold. This weird new language would eventually make sense. And she would think, and speak, and write it like it was her mother tongue. This new language she would learn was called Java. Alya would go on to use her computer to reach out to people in ways that would change their lives. That night though, all she thought about was making two simple words light up the terminal, “Hello World!”