More reactive than flourine. Funnier than boron.
Transitioning from ‘jaded’ to ‘grizzled’…
Categories: in the news, marketing

Depression Era TechnologistsI’ve been in tech marketing (i.e. the marketing of technology thingamabobs and doohickies) for a very long time. Decades, I think. The first product I worked on was a Difference Engine for Mr Babbage’s start-up. OK, not really. I started marketing high tech stuff sometime after Alan Turing, but it seems like forever. (Experience in the tech world is akin to dog years: multiply your tenure by seven.)

In that time I have seen vast sums of money spent on bad ideas, watched enormous quantities of shareholder value dissipate and participated in more than a few Whacking Days. (No, not this kind.) I know the ups and downs that come with working for a technology company. You wear your experiences like badges of honor. When you start at a new company, you and your new co-workers share your histories.

“You were with Synegistix? I worked for Ingeniko Corp before they acquired them.”
“No kidding. I was a part of the transition team on that.”
“Really? Yeah, I took the package right after.”
“Yeah, I got laid off during the next round.”

You start a job knowing that your tenure will likely end one of two ways: move on or get whacked. Retirement is not a part of the picture. The people I know who have been with a job longer than 10 years is very short indeed. The people I know intending to stay with a company longer than 10 years is even shorter. It’s not that anyone wants to leave a company, but no one believes that to be possible. No one.

To the grizzled IT veteran, a layoff isn’t the end of the world. It comes with the territory. But there’s something a little different to me about the recent economic troubles and the rise in unemployment numbers. This time, it isn’t just us (or is that “we?”). When Internet companies began to implode around 2000, technology companies contributed mightily to the rolls of the unemployed. Then the recession following 9/11 hit sending more companies into “restructurement.” It happened so frequently that even when times began to get better, tech companies still shed jobs on a regular basis. Again, to those of us who had been through it a few times, we never considered that the companies we worked for wouldn’t have layoffs. (There’s a post in there somewhere that I’ll have to tease out sometime. Something along the lines of technology companies and the poor managers who ran them using the Q4 layoff as a means to fill a budget gap.) You pack up your necessities, leave the company t-shirts, tchotchkes and awards (MARKETING EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH) in your cube and drive to the after-layoff party. It’s the way it’s done.

On this go-round, even though there are people from tech companies being kicked to the curb, for the first time in my career they are being joined at the curb by a lot of people with surprised looks on their faces. There are some layoff newbies who are coming from companies and departments that have been relatively untouched in past cycles; people who seemed to think that they were untouchable.

To those poor folks I say this: Welcome!

Welcome to the world of the newly unemployed. You’ll have a couple of weeks of telling everyone you’re fine and that you’re actually glad to have been let go. It was a good thing, you’ll say. The company was on its way out, you’ll contend. Then you’ll tell yourself how glad you are that you were let go while there was still some money for a package. Then you’ll begin the process of rewriting your resume a couple hundred times trying to make the last few years of your life sound like you were curing cancer. (“Hmmm….Did I ‘interface’ or ‘liaise’ with the project budget operating unit? And was I ‘crucial’ or ‘imperative’ to the success of the Q4 Logistical Re-engineering Process?”) Oh, and just wait until you see the typo you missed before you sent it out to 200 prospective employers. Sometime after the third or fourth week you’ll discover that one of your cable channels in the upper 150’s (Is there an 80’s Channel?) runs Magnum P.I. marathons on Thursdays. At that point, you’re nearing the bottom.

But don’t worry…

Just like that “friendly” break-up you once had after college that sent you into a tailspin where you gained 25 pounds and became addicted to the original Duke Nukem, you will survive. After all, if nothing else there’s 75% of the stimulus package still waiting to be spent putting you to work on our nation’s infrastructure.

Good luck, my friend!

1 Comment to “Transitioning from ‘jaded’ to ‘grizzled’…”

  1. This reminds me of a story I did about 40 years ago, when I worked at the Detroit Free Press as a reporter. I grew up in Washington, DC, the land of the lifetime job. When I moved to Detroit,of course, I rented an apartment and my landlady asked me a very weird question when I told her my employer. “Do they have layoffs very often?” she wondered. I had to ask her, “What’s a layoff?” A while later, I retold that anecdote in an op-ed piece to try to explain to Detroit readers how the mentality of a federal civil servant gets formed. I’m still not sure anyone in Detroit can comprehend a city there are never any layoffs (except at AOL, of course).

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