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In April 2002, Todd was informed he would lose his job on Nov 8. Here's his diary of adventures and impressions chronicling his sabbatical...


Sep 2002
Ahhh, those heady late 90's! Didn't we all think we were something else? We would throw a dart blindly at the Nasdaq and pick a 30% yearly return investment. With the cold war over and no clear enemies, we had nothing to do but make money- lots of it. Stock options were thrown at us, theme parks were rented out for us, copious raises and bonuses were proferred, all in hopes that maybe, just maybe, we would be too lazy to join the exodus of talent to those etherial engines of commerce, the dot coms.

One of the most popular types of web sites popping up was the job board. These mouse browseable career marts sprang up like mushrooms after a three day rain. All you had to do was post a resume with a few hot skills on it and within hours, you were being woo'ed by upstart start-ups, each of which offered visions of a future of unfettered wealth and mid-life retirement. We watched the fattening of our 401K accounts as they swelled from the infusion of new tech sector wealth. A simple extrapolation of growth, even at a modest (or so we thought) ten percent provided visions of vacation homes, exotic travels and legacy wealth for the great grandchildren.

But that was three years ago.

Somewhere between the boom and the bleakness, the dizzy excitement of the new economy wore off and we noticed that not only was the emperor naked, but he hadn't exactly been taking care of himself in the gym or shower.


I had been a passive participant in much of the tech boom. Looking at a large corporate benefactor in my native area, I had joined the global mega corporate world in the mid 1980's. What I had originally thought would be a dreary life as a corporate cog was actually exciting and in a weird way, empowering. My employer was so fractured and disorganized, that departments could essentially make their own policy and technology decisions. Finding my own little niche of expertise and managing not to offend the wrong people, I ascended a few rungs to find myself in the dreaded realm of
MIDDLE MANAGEMENT.

No sooner had the Y2K threshold passed us, than we started hearing the rumors of IT outsourcing. Would it be the giant world wide behemoth that won the contract? Or would the Wal-Mart of the IT world swoop in and low ball the competition, leveraging its cost-cutting expertise so richly won through years of slim profit defense contracting? Those of us who felt the backs of our IT necks tingling hoped for the behemoth. If nothing else, the name was instantly recognizeable and they had a strong pre-existing presence in the area. The rumors swirled madly, with their typically high degree of accuracy.

The actual hands-on technical folks were to be outsourced, leaving behind the ill-defined roles of Architecture Prime and Vendor Liaison. People were hiding from the grim outsource reaper, defending their positions as defying the outsource criteria. Ironically, they would defend their position as vague and not directly associated with development or support. Cherry picking seemed rampant, as the favored were sheltered from the harsh rays of the body snatchers. Having been recently moved into my new organization, I had little opportunity to distinguish myself as a performer or a slacker.


The behemoth vendor blinked.

...probably on purpose, of course. Maybe they knew something about my then corporate provider, who was still riding high atop the telecom/internet boom. The announcement came in typical corporate happyspeak. It was knew day of corporate cross-leveragement, a partnership in which each of the corporate leviathans would symbiotically supercharge the other. The telecom giant would be able to turn its attention away from the paltry business of widgets that run its business, while the low- balling outsourcee would apply the rigor of its government work toward standardizing the vast array of cottage industry piece parts that had evolved over the years.

In mid summer of 2000, I was called into my manager's office. The script had been delivered to all those who had been charged with creating the two pools, the to be subsumed and the stay-behinds. I was told that I was to be "impacted." All I could think about was my life as a molar, stuck deep in someone's misshaped jaw, unable to grind foodstuffs, awaiting instead, a future of extraction and disposal.

Oh the typical corporate happyspeak was florid, this was an opportunity for growth, this was a chance to be part of the new paradigm, this was a chance to make a positive change and become part of an organization that valued what we provide. The accompanying guilt payments were significant. 30% of your salary to stick around for the first six months, $30,000 to last the year, plus a two year job guarantee- all designed to purchase, or in hindsight, rent loyalty. Of course, we had to exercise all the still lucrative stock options from the telecom giant or forfeit those that had not matured by the cut-over date. At the time, this seemed an outrageous affront, although in hindsight, the guilt payments were hard cash, while the options were altogether different.

Harshly suspicious, I viewed my new plantation owner with a bulging reservoir of disdain. They sent teams in to prepare us for the new culture...


The ignominy

As the economic roller coaster finished the uphill clank of the chain and was gently rolling around that first curve, we mistook the beautiful view as affirmation of our success. Instead, it was merely a gauge of how far we had to fall.

At first it looked like the victims would just be the flakier dot coms. You know, www.cinderblocksbymail.com and www.moldycheeses.com. Smugly, we all watched the crumbling of these houses of cards, content that ours was a real company that made real things.


Three things happened from a single cause. The cause was the drying up of all the dot coms. The things were 1) No new dot coms to buy switching equipment. Ouch. 2) Bankrupt dot coms had bought switching equipment through vendor financing, which was now being defaulted. Ouch Ouch. 3) Bankrupt dot coms flooded the market with freshly liquidated used switching gear. Ouch Ouch Ouch. This meant the market was significantly shrunk, saturated with nearly new product for which our firm was never paid.

The downfall was precipitous. While I had fortuitously liquidated all my available stock options sometime near the apex of their inflated value, I was also among those whose retirement fortunes were quickly rendered irrelevant. Each day we would watch cataclysmic plunges in the stock value and gasp in wonder. Inured by the heady appreciation in value that had characterized the stock over the previous decade, we kept our dwindling fortunes in, assured the correction would reverse soon and our largesse would return.

Didn't happen.


Shortly before the spiral began, my new position was ensconced. I was promoted to head up an organization of some 58 people scattered across the US and Canada. New company, new position, that dazzling aroma of newly shedding petroplastic chemicals!

Sure, I had some misgivings - I suspected the adequacy of the dental coverage as I noticed the teeth of many new colleagues looked like a picket fence after a drunk driver had rammed it. Curiously, it seemed every employee of the new company had one of four different types of eyeglasses (later it turns out the eye care assistance will only pay for one of four different eyeglass selections, reducing costs and creating a kind of levelled fashion playing field). Lastly, there was an overwhelming preponderance of former military and veterans of defense contractors, used to stifling beaurocracy, authoritative reporting structure and getting relocation orders at the drop of a helmet.

Were these my kind of people?


The initiation rites were well rehearsed. They paraded former victims of outsourcing in front of us. "I, too, was in your place just 5 years ago, toiling on the infant napalm dispersal system for EagleDeath Multinational when I got outsourced. I found myself shocked, in disbelief, denial, the whole shebang. Then, as acceptance settled in, I saw there were greater opportunities with my new corporate overlords."

Ahhh, Opportunity, the 90's euphamism for whitewashing dire circumstance. There are no problems, only opportunities. The sickening forced denial of posi-speak has ultimately leached into our corporate mindset in the form of disgruntled gun-toting workers, the corporate Columbines, where the disenfranchised don't have career problems, they have "revenge opportunities."



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© 1999, 2000, 2001 & 2002 Todd E. Jones     
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