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Episode 14: Community Outreach

Pam, from HR, is smiling at me hopefully. She's trying hard to be persuasive. I'm doing my best to resist.

'Come on, Joe,' she says, 'it's part of our corporate community outreach scheme. It'll make you look good upstairs.'

'Nothing can make me look good upstairs,' I mumble.

'This will,' she promises. 'What can go wrong? You get a bright school-kid in the team for a week. He's happy, the school is happy, the Boss will be happy…'

The pleading look in her eyes suggests that she'll be happy too. 'Alright,' I say, finally relenting. 'Go on, let's get somebody in on work experience. One week only. No more. Not one day.'

'Of course not,' Pam promises. 'The interview's lined up for tomorrow morning…'


She gets up to go. 'Thanks, Joe,' she beams. 'I owe you for this.'

On paper this kid is perfect. Into technology, keen to learn, eager to spend a week with a top-flight enterprise development team, or failing that a week with me and my team.

'Now remember,' she tells me sternly, 'he's here to learn about the world of work. That means you can't get him to make tea or coffee for everybody else.'


'He's a kid, so we'll forget about any dress-code issues,' she adds.


'And he's only a kid, so go easy on the technical questions.'

'So what can I ask him?' I ask, feeling even more like I've let her trample all over me.

'Ask him about school, computers, games that kind of thing.'

'He's already thirty minutes late,' I point out.

'Never mind,' Pam says. 'Let's not mention it, OK?'

I don't get a chance to respond because there's a knock at the door and then the boy walks in. Actually walk is not the right word, it sounds too active. He kind of slinks in, feet dragging, shapeless jeans with the crutch dangling at knee-height, Simpsons boxer shorts well on display, a bandanna on his head, fake gold around his neck, wrists and fingers. He looks like a 5-year old dressing up as a gangsta.

Pam is stunned into silence. He looks around the room vacantly for a moment.

'Yo,' he announces finally, 'like this room for de interview, right?'

'Yes, that's right,' Pam remembers. Her face is smiling but her eyes are still wearing a surprised look.

'That's right, Nathaniel,' I say calmly. 'Please take a seat.'

'No no no no,' he chides me. 'You don't call me dat. See, my homies call me Nate.'

'I see, Nathaniel,' I smile. 'Sorry, I mean Nate. Bad day for public transport?'

He slumps heavily into his seat and then sprawls all over it. I suspect that the poor child's suffering from some bone-wasting disease. 'Huh?'

'The bus,' I suggest, 'running late was it? Or perhaps you had to visit the doctor first?'

He looks confused. 'Dis is about dat work experience, right? Cos I ain't here to chat about doctors an' shit.'

Pam looks alarmed. She smiles. 'I think Joe was just making a joke about the time,' she explains hurriedly.

'What, cos I was like, late?'

'Only thirty minutes,' I say. 'Now then, Nathaniel, tells us why you're interested in computers.'

'Nate. You call me Nate.'

'Of course we will, Nate,' Pam assures him. 'Right, shall we begin?'

'I thought we have already begin,' Nathaniel tells her.

'Yes we have,' I agree. 'You were talking about computers.'

He shakes his head. 'Don't try an' catch me out an' all,' he tells me, grinning. 'You was talking about computers. I was talking about my name.'

'So you were, Nathaniel, my mistake. OK, tell me about computers and why you're interested in them.'

He gives me the evil eye for a second and then decides he'll deign to answer. 'It's like this, see. When Bill Gates invented computers, like when he discovered Microsoft and Xbox an' shit, he got me thinking about things, see? I mean he's like the richest man in the world, right. Like he's earning about a million dollars a year or something, innit. I mean, that's cool and you know, like, I want summa dat. Know what I'm saying?'

Pam nods as though she's following the stream of dribble. 'I understand,' she tells him reassuringly.

'I see. And what about programming,' I ask, 'what makes you interested in that?'

He shrugs. 'I dunno, man. It's like, it's hacking an' shit like that. It's like so cool when my man tap away at the keyboard and breakin' into stuff an' shit. Like in Matrix an' dat.'

'And have you ever hacked into anything?'

Another expressive shrug. 'Like I'm gonna tell you. Yeah, right.'

Pam's grin is starting to look dangerous. Any minute she'll be getting hysterical. Again.

'OK, do you have any programming experience?' I ask.

'I program my mum's phone and she always get's me to sort out the video when dere's a film she wants to record.'

Pam decides to change tack. All of this technical stuff is obviously going nowhere. 'What do you intend to bring to this job, Nate?'

He looks perplexed again. 'Myself, innit.'

'No,' I say, 'I think Pam is asking what you'll be offering us.'

He looks even more confused. 'My work?'

In desperation she reaches for one last question. 'Well Nate, what would you say are your strongest points?'

'My trainers.'

I look into his vacant blue eyes and blame MTV.

Pam gets up, reaches across the table and shakes his hand. 'That's fine, Nate,' she tells him. 'We'll be in touch with your school later today.'

The boy slouches out of the room.

'Goodbye, Nathaniel,' I call after him.

Pam shuts the door before his cussing gets too loud.

'What the…'

'I'm sorry, Joe. But we have to take him.'

'Why?' I demand. There's something deeply dodgy going on.

'Because his father is CFO of Blenkinsop Mouldings, a prospective client.'

'But the boy's a moron.'

She shakes her head. 'A wannabe moron who watches too much TV. Do you really think his parents would pay a fortune getting him to a private school if he was a dumb as he pretends to be?'

I sigh. I guess I'm old and old-fashioned. 'How exactly is this community out-reach?' I ask.

Pam looks at me pityingly. 'Oh Joe,' she sighs, 'we're reaching out to the community of prospective clients. I suggest that you set him something interesting to do next week. Something that can't cause any damage if he does make an attempt at hacking.'

'Fine,' I agree. 'He can work on your HR database…'

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