They say that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. This is sometimes the case, but more often than not I've found that what doesn't kill me does succeed in irritating me beyond belief. Such has been the case with my job until this past week - it arguably wasn't killing me but God did it bug the crap outta me. So it was with intense relief that I met the news that I was being laid off on Tuesday.
All in all it's probably safe to say I wasn't suited to the work in the first place. Until two years ago I was a software test manager and I think I was pretty good at it. Good test practices were second nature to me and I liked teaching my employees new things. Plus, I learned a lot from the people who worked in my group. My employees liked me and I liked them.
But, as is so often the case, company restructuring forced my group into a new shape, one that broke it into several pieces and proposed putting me in charge of activity that I didn't think was long for this world (and in fact I was right. Within 8 months of the restructuring, the initiative had failed, we were going through our first round of layoffs and the dark days were beginning). Instead of taking a position in an area in which I saw no future and had no interest I proposed that Dave and I work in the French office and the rest, they say, is history.
Except for the fact that the story doesn't stop there. Stories like this never do. In the movies Dave and I would have boarded our Air France flight to Paris, you would have seen me cry as the plane took off, watched me gaze at the San Francisco bay area until it was lost in the clouds, heard me think to myself that I didn't know when I would see my home again. And then there would have been a long shot of the plane disappearing east - our heroine heading into the next chapter of her life. Fade to black, credits.
But the heroine always does keep going, whether you see it or not, and as I said the dark days for the company were only just beginning. Within 6 months of setting off on our French adventure hiring freezes were in place, the US economy was tanking, and my boss was driving me crazy with his incompetence and empire building. Though I was good at testing, I'd been doing it in one form or another for eight years and was starting to burn out. A change was in order and so I transferred to the program management department.
A program manager is ostensibly the person running the show on a project. They own the schedule, they run the meetings, and they make sure the issues get resolved. They are held ultimately responsible for delivery of projects. It's a tough job in the best of companies but in a company that is being badly mismanaged and is slowly drowning it's a thankless, frustrating, soul-killing job. Though it's possible I exaggerate, I highly doubt it.
A series of bad management ensued, including Oblivious Man, Do-You-Take-Your-Job-Personally Guy (so named because he actually asked me that question once. I think my answer, "No, I definitely don't" wasn't what he was looking for), and The Hamster.
Ah, The Hamster. This is a man at whose staff meetings I kept running tallies of how many times he smacked his lips together while he talked. The record was 96 times in 35 minutes. It was incredibly grating. Like a used car salesman, he would make sure to use your name a lot when he was trying to convince you of things. You could always tell when he was getting irritated with your "opinions" because he'd start using your name a lot. "Well, Kristin, I don't think you really understand why I'm saying this." I'd always respond with something like, "No, I understand just fine. I simply disagree for all the reasons I just told you."
The Hamster stayed true to form until the last, remaining the stiff company man throughout my layoff meeting. I knew layoffs were coming - everyone did by the time I got my notice. They did it over two days, the better to completely freak people out, I guess. We'd all figured out on what days the bloodbath would come because the most private conference rooms in the building were booked solid by the executive administrative assistant on Monday and Tuesday. That's the kiss of death right there - strike one.
I usually had my one on one with The Hamster every other Monday, an excruciating 30 minutes of tongue biting and digging my nails into my palm while being condescended to and lectured. But The Hamster took a personal day on Monday and promised, via email, to reschedule later in the week. I can't say I cared one way or the other if he ever rescheduled, as I never liked the one on ones, very rarely got anything out of them, and mostly dreaded them.
On Tuesday morning I got an email scheduling me for a one on one with The Hamster at noon - and, significantly, there was no room indicated on the invitation. I sent an email back asking where the meeting was to be but got no response back. Strike two.
When noon rolled around, The Hamster came by my office and told me he'd scheduled a room on the third floor. Strike three and you're out - there's no reason to schedule a meeting on the third floor when we work on the second and there are absolutely no meetings happening at noon in any of the rooms on the second floor. Time to get laid off.
While he escorted me up to the third floor he jabbered on about meetings with key partners and asking me if I'd attended scheduling meetings that I was never invited to. It was surreal. I knew I was being led like a lamb to the slaughter and that this chitchat about mundane company business was designed in some bizarre way to make me feel like I was still part of the company and thus keep me calm. Nothing to worry about - we're talking about all the things we'd talk about in a normal one on one. Just walk this way... to the room with the shades closed... yup, we'll be reworking that schedule... oh, don't mind that box of Kleenex on the table...
I took in the leatherette folder on the table, the stack of asset tags, the manila folder, and said, "Looks like someone's left their stuff." If Hamster wanted to play it like nothing was wrong I could keep up the charade. Though I'm rather sorry now that I didn't start bawling and fall to my knees, crying out to heaven to smite the company and moaning about the loss of funds for the critical operation that my fish needed. I would have loved to have seen his face.
But I kept my dignity as The Hamster stood awkwardly at the door and glanced nervously down the hallway. "Yeah... they're not here yet..."
Through Herculean effort I resisted the temptation to begin cursing him in old Italian (which, translated, would have consisted of something like, "Eat rigatoni and die, jerk!" because I don't know very much Italian) and instead said, "Oh. So it's that kind of one on one. With three people."
Mustering all the regret he could, he said yes, it was. I almost laughed out loud, but kept cool. When the HR rep came in and sat down, The Hamster began a very forced litany regarding the financial state of the company and how through reduction of headcount they were saving their own asses. Or something like that, I honestly wasn't listening. I didn't walk away with the feeling that I was making a sacrifice that would be remembered with awe or anything, and the last thing I needed at the moment was a rah-rah speech to drag the meeting out any longer, so I stayed quiet.
The disclosure of the severance package didn't take much time, although at one point The Hamster got stuck on the exact timeline of eligibility for outplacement services and the HR rep had to review it about three times for him. I remember staring straight ahead at the white board and thinking, "I get it, and it's my severance... why do I have to sit here and wait for Short-Bus Boy to get with the program?"
When I got back to my office I packed up what remained to be packed quickly (I'd already cleaned off my machines and packed what I could pack without looking too hopeful). The Hamster hovered uncomfortably, disappearing to give me privacy but then showing up again within 5 minutes to see if I was ready yet. Here's your hat, what's your hurry? indeed.
He did help me out to my car with my boxes which was nice of him, though I think he had to do it because he had to escort me out of the office - that's just the way it works. You get laid off, somebody has to watch you pack and has to make sure you get out of the building. I understand, though it's weird. 6 years at a company and a week's lead time knowing there's going to be layoffs - does anybody believe that if there was something I wanted to sneak out of the building I wouldn't have already done it? Strange industry.
In any case, we got down to my car and slid my boxes into the back, at which point there was the obligatory shaking of hands and wishing of good luck, which I suspect was just form on both sides. As a send-off, The Hamster took a deep breath and said, "Well, I guess you can go to Disneyland now."
I looked him right in the eye, and, grinning, said, "I can go anywhere I want now."
- KNP Feb 10, '03