Another Layoff [redux]

[note: this is fiction. i have not been laid off… work is going great]

So, another layoff has passed you by, and you’re packing up in the middle of a sea of empty cubicals. This is where you and your co-workers worked together well into the night, seven days a week, doing amazing stuff with computers. You let off steam by playing Quake 3 together and went to lunch together and shared cold dinners brought in by Waiters on Wheels, and you all generally swore at Microsoft and knew that you could do better than the other schmucks just across the street. That is, until this morning, when most of you went into meeting room A, and some of you went into meeting room B, and you found out ten minutes later that the lucky ones were the “A” folks who got layed off and had to cart their stuff into the parking lot and couldn’t come back into the building, not even to say goodbye.

Not that too many of them wanted to — they were all sick of the place, too.

You few, unlucky “B” folks had to stay with the sinking ship and guide it into its grave. The funding didn’t come through, so you’re stuck haunting the wreckage of a company with about two weeks left on the fuse. Those shit-hot Gateway machines that were so whizzy six months ago are now just flaky pieces of beige junk that you have to box up for the movers to take away to some surplus house that’s paying five cents on the dollar. You’d like to kick one of those 21″ color monitors down the stairs, just to hear the sound. People leave unbelievable crap behind when they’re fired without notice. The monitor would bounce down the first couple of steps, then take flight and land about halfway down with a CRUNCH and a nice, solid WHOMP-JINGLE of shattered glass; it would dent the wall at the bottom and come to rest surrounded by bits of plastic. One guy left a drawer full of scientology literature. Yup, that explains everything. Of course, you’d just say the monitor thing was an accident. Jesus Christ, boxing the computers isn’t so bad, it’s all the fucking cables…

Oh, holy cow. You close that drawer in a hurry.

The company never had a technology. It had a pile of buggy code and megatons of hype; you had a market direction that wavered like a weathervane in Kansas, there were sales leads that turned into fairy gold (once you realized that the potential customers were depending on you to be a success and buy their stuff), there were some good write-ups in publications just as desperate to justify their existence as you were (they gave you two or three of the dreaded “Cool Product” awards). Despite all the positive spins and partnership deals and schmooze-reports from the field, there was no actual money. You had bugs to fix; bad, evil nasty bugs that you stayed up until 3am chasing down and whacking soundly upside the head, but ultimately it didn’t matter. You could have shipped the product without killing yourself on those bugs. Hell, you could have shipped blank CDROMs and made just as much market penetration. The hurtful thing is: Nobody cared. You poured your soul into a product that no one gave a shit about. Most of the reviewers never even opened the box.

Six million bucks in financing burned up in how many months? It seems unbelievable. It seems crazy that anyone would have plonked that much money down for your company’s product (you tried to explain it to Mom at Thanksgiving, and it sounded so lame that you were embarrassed and tried to backfill, you said “You’re right, no one would pay for that — it will be way more cool in the next release.” You sounded like one of the marketing droids for about five minutes. Dad just sat there, because he knew. Mom’s great pie tasted like ashes.)

It seems incredible that all the money, all the hours and meetings and the pieces of life that you missed, boil down about half of a shiny CDROM.

When you look into that CDROM, the person it reflects is distorted, warped and a bit fuzzy, kind of like the way you feel now, boxing up the stuff that they didn’t care enough to take with them.

You’ve reached the conclusion that being cool sucks. You’d rather make money.

As you box up about the tenth computer, the lights go out. “Hey!”

“Sorry!” The lights flicker back on. It’s the CTO. He used to be a friend of yours, which is why you’re still employed. Thanks for the job. He ambles over, kicking at junk left on the floor.

“Harry’s machine?” he asks.

“Yeah.” You cram the monitor cables, the mouse and the keyboard into the box, which bulges slightly. No one is going to use this machine again. It used to be top of the line, but now it’s worse than a kid’s machine. The surplus house is going to have to rip out its guts and melt it down for the gold in the connectors, that’s what it’s worth. Mousepad, speakers, and just enough room for —

“You want it?”

“What?”

“I shouldn’t tell you, but things are obviously fucked, and Phil Farmer said we’re going to have trouble getting the next payroll out. So, do you want some machines instead?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Uh…”

“What am I going to do with a bunch of old computers?”

You can tell what’s going through your friend’s mind: I can give the guy these stupid things and save some money, or I can tell him to just get out.

“Never mind. We can work out something.”

You wonder about maybe starting a writing career. There’s got to be something here for subject matter.

You came to the valley to work for a big name tech company in 1982, and six months later the layoffs started. The company you worked for then had 12,000 people, and when you finally jumped ship it was down to 150.

The next one: margins slumped soon after you joined. Hiring freezes and layoffs. After several respectable years you bailed before your number came up.

The next: three years. Then it wasn’t fun any more, and leaping again, you landed in another train wreck, but you were never actually layed-off. Finally you found this place. And it looks like you’re finally going to ride one all the way down. It might actually be fun. Like Slim Pickins, riding the H-bomb down to fiery doom. Yee ha. Yeah, it sounds hollow.

You’ve got this idea in the back of your head. It’s an idea for a revolutionary kind of … never mind what. But it would take three or four people maybe four months to get a prototype together. And you know how you’d sell it, and who you’d sell it to — it’s almost a no-brainer.

You just need a little time. And some hardware. And some friends. So you know what you’re going to say.

They’re not going to pay you anyway.

“Uh, on second thought, sure, I’ll take them.”

You pack the next half dozen machines a little more carefully. They just about fit in the pickup truck. You drive home in the glare of the headlights of losers and winners. Who can tell which is which? The Mercedes next to you? The guy in the beat-up pickup? Everyone looks anonymous on the freeway.

Traffic used to be lots worse. You know that’s a bad sign, all those layed-off ex-commuters are staying home, surfing the web for jobs that don’t exist, or playing MMORPGs that add small increments to bulging Visa balances. You did that for a while; sleep until noon, flush email, go to a coffee shop, buy some books, do some recreational programming, repeat until bored stiff. Some people can take doing nothing; you’re not one of them. The last real vacation you took was to Europe, and you brought along a textbook on software engineering. You get the sense that you missed something, but maybe it was worth it anyway.

Later that night, panic sets in and you spend four hours updating your resume. Where does resolve and vision flee to at three in the morning? You scribble some boxes and arrows on that green engineering paper you’ve been using for thirty years. At first they seem completely inadequate. Who else hasn’t done this better? A couple hours later you’re surrounded by books and papers and you realize that everyone else has been a chump and wimped out, the real problem to solve is…

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0 Responses to Another Layoff [redux]

  1. Steve says:

    Did something happen, or are you just feeling nostalgic?