The Old Guard (3)

(here was part 2)

He’d been at XXQ for a week, and every day things had gotten worse. The sobbing engineer in the cubical next to him had turned out to be XXQ’s Chief Software Architect. On the second day Zeke met the marketing team, and he had come away shaking in frustrated rage. On Wednesday his project was cancelled and he’d been told to start writing code for Spoon-T. On Wednesay afternoon his manager quit.

The microcomputer revolution had come and gone while Zeke had been in that midwest skyscraper. But despite hope and hype to the contrary, the software revolution had never come. Twenty years earlier, software projects were nearly always late, often stillborn, mostly unmaintainable, and always very, very buggy. Nothing had changed. The buzzword of the 70s had been Structured Programming, the death of the GO-TO statement; it was going to save the industry, and hadn’t. The buzzword of the 90s had been objects and the death of procedures, and it had similarly failed to deliver on salvation. The current buzz was web services and distributed applications, and things were looking just as crufty, slow, buggy and un-saved as ever before.

Zeke’s apartment-mate was a fourty-year-old geek named Hassan “Chop” Smith. He had gone to MIT twice; once as a teen-age “ninth floor computer groupie,” who simply hung out and hacked away on the free mainframe accounts, and the second time as a janitor who spent most of his time helping out grad students with their projects at night. He knew more about computers than a lot of the people who left MIT with degrees. Hassan had bookshelf upon packed bookshelf stacked two and three rows deep with computer textbooks and bad science fiction; Zeke wanted to read them all.

Hassan was a fount of wisdom about Silicon Valley. If he didn’t know the back-story behind a particular start-up, he knew someone who did; if he didn’t have friends in the right places he he could still read a company accurately given thirty seconds on a web site. “These guys are loser dope-smoking freaks with too little code and too much funding,” he’d remark, or “This company has shit-hot technology, but their idiotic marketing is going to kill them.”

Hassan didn’t *need* to share his apartment, but he was a loner who liked to talk. He’d been in the same apartment for fifteen years. Former roommates had gone on to found some of the Valley’s most successful software companies. He was connected.

On Wednesday evening over a shared spaghetti dinner Hassan remarked “There are going to be layoffs at XXQ tomorrow. Get your stuff out of there the first thing when you go in.”

“Layoffs on a Thursday? I thought they always did those on Fridays?”

“No way. You can’t lay anyone off on a Friday, everyone expects that. And you can’t do it on a Monday because you have to arrange for the rent-a-cops the prior business day, and the news would leak. So you’ve gotta do it in the middle of the week. This year the fad is for Thursdays.”

On Thursday morning he’d gone into work and surreptitiously moved his few personal effects (a CD player, some music, and some books) to his Rabbit. He noticed half a dozen other people also carrying small boxes of things to their cars; no one looked at each other. He pretended to type code until lunch, then went to a local deli. When he returned, there was a young, fat rent-a-cop at the door checking badges against a clipboard.

“Zeke Hamming? Okay, you can go in,” said the youth.

“I thought I was laid off,” said Zeke.

“Naw. You’re just not that lucky.”

Zeke slunk back to his cubical, feeling depressed. The soft sobbing in the cubical next to his was still going on; Zeke felt like chiming in. He started typing where he’d left off.

* * *

That evening he and Hassan went out drinking in the yuppie-laden bars of downtown Palo Alto. The nominal excuse was to pick up girls, but neither of them was really trying.

“Why’d you have me move my stuff to my car?” he asked Hassan.

“So you’d get to keep your job.”


“Not everyone in that company is a moron. They watch people. The people who were putting their stuff in their cars were the ones who were connected enough to know that there were going to be layoffs; those are the ones that you want to keep. Connected people are the ones you want working for you.”

“Jesus H.”

“Stick with XXQ. They’re idiots now, but they’ve got some decent heavies coming on board in a few weeks, and it’ll be worth the wait.”


“Just wait. When the guy next to you stops crying and starts typing and playing Christian Rock at full-crank at all hours of the day, things are going to happen fast. When they ask if you want to buy some options, just fucking get your checkbook out.”

Zeke raised his beer.

“Of course, they’re going to have to change their God damned name.”

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