By Victoria Gao
Taking Our Place in History means making contributions to solve societal problems and being accountable for one’s actions.
Sunlight shines through the reflective windows of Helen’s workspace in the late afternoon. A group of software engineers separated by gray cubicles is coding on their computers, hoping to finish the tasks allotted to them by their manager, Mr. Bob Monaine. Helen sighs as she runs her code: error messages in small, red font keep popping up. When she shares her progress with Monaine, he listens half-heartedly. Without looking up from his computer, he reminds her of her assignment: write code that creates animations that will feature the latest products and applications on a pharmaceutical company’s new website. All the features must work before they present to potential clients in three days.
As the late afternoon darkens to early dusk, Helen writes code for a tree that expands outward when users click the node at the end of each branch. Afterward, she adjusts the size of the branches and the color scheme so the text is easier to read. When it’s time for the daily standup, Helen shows the team her tree and says, “I finally got the tree’s data structure to work, and the next step is to upload the text for each branch.” The other engineers nod, and they move on to what they’ve accomplished for the day. Monaine compliments the men for their work but pulls Helen aside.
He asks, “Can you stay later to add text and create the webpages your tree will link to?”
“But I finished my tasks for the day and have a …”
“The presentation is in three days. It’s your choice to stay or leave the office, but the webpages better be made by tomorrow morning.
Helen keeps a straight face as she nods and barely gets out the words “See you tomorrow” before he walks away. She can feel the weight piling up on her shoulders with the assignment of more busywork. For the first time that day, Helen leaves the office. A light breeze wafts through the cool summer evening, keeping Helen’s mind off of her menial tasks and upcoming deadlines. The refreshing smell of pine trees brings Helen back to when she hiked the Adirondack Region with her college classmates. They collected plant samples and analyzed data to measure the effect of pollution on the environment. She enjoyed contributing to the greater good and working with people who shared her interest in ecology.
Back then, she would often spend time dreaming of her life after college. Would she be a doctor, engineer, or teacher? The uncertainty of the future thrilled her younger self because the possibilities felt endless. As she approached the end of college, she spent grueling hours applying to job after job with few prospects. Her heart sank every time she saw emails starting with “Thank you” instead of “Congratulations.”
Finally, Mr. Monaine from Western Pharmaceuticals got back to her. The luxurious office building and Mr. Monaine’s mentorship reeled her in, but the facade wore off quickly. After the first week, she found out that her job was to create websites selling expensive products she’d never heard of. The descriptions portrayed the products as supplements to maintain good health, but none of them had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
She promised to stay at Western Pharmaceuticals until she found her dream job. That was three years ago, and she’s still hesitant to quit before her student loans are paid off. Her disappointed younger self would think she had sold out.
That’s when Helen realizes what she truly wants: a job where she can actually make a positive impact on people’s lives, learn as she works on more complicated projects, and even have time for hobbies and socializing. She vows to look for job opportunities tomorrow, and reluctantly completes her assignment.
The next morning, Helen scours the internet for any job that might fit her criteria. She notices an advertisement from a company, The Environmentalist Foundation, that works toward reducing waste and manufacturing eco-friendly products: “Looking for full-time Senior Software Developers.” As Helen scrolls, her heart beats faster as she checks off the requirements she meets: bachelor’s degree in computer science, 3-5 years of experience in software engineering, and a deep understanding of databases. It sounds almost too good to be true—she rushes to complete the application and submits it with fingers crossed.
Two days later, Monaine presents the work that his team created for their clients. It’s a hit. But none of the software engineers are credited. Clients rush to shake Monaine’s hand, bid on products, and place huge orders. Helen’s phone buzzes with an email notification. The director of The Environmentalist Foundation, Dr. Ada Kent, has written, “I’m really impressed by your experience and passion for protecting the environment. I hope to speak with you about your interests and projects my lab is working on. Do you have time to meet tomorrow?” Helen is giddy with excitement and can’t stop smiling. As she stands up to leave the auditorium, she feels a sense of freedom. She knows leaving the profit-oriented corporation is just the beginning of a new career path.
Victoria Gao is a passionate writer and high school student. As a Girls Write Now mentee, she enjoys exploring different writing and multimedia genres such as science fiction and erasure poetry. She is also a writer for her high school newspaper and enjoys informing others about current events.