Thursday, February 07, 2008

Trimming the fat

So I promised to tell you what I did the first day I lost my job. But first let me tell you what I've been doing these past few years.

When I started at the Enterprise I was told it would be a very steady job. Before that I was working for a pre-IPO. It was fine as far as it lasted but when the Internet bubble burst and then 9/11 hit, my world became chaotic. (Great read about Business greed and the Internet: dot.bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath.)

Mind you, I was the eighth hired into the pre-IPO company and we increased our employees to 130 within a year. One of the guys they hired was a big wig from one of the Telephony companies. I guess they figured that with his contacts we could get into one of the Baby Bells and we'd be on easy street. While he crisscrossed the country meeting with all the major telephony companies we were back in a California office furiously working to meet a deadline.

He'd come back from his meetings flushed with success and say: "They will buy our software IF it will run on UNIX." Since our software didn't currently run on UNIX but on NT this was a major IF. It was like saying: "The customer will buy the car as long as you put a diesel engine in it."

And so we'd all go out and buy SUN Solaris boxes, crack open the manuals, and start converting our NT COM/DCOM software to UNIX and CORBA. This is not something you do over a weekend. He said: "I promised them something in two months." Two months later we had a working prototype but with crippled functionality.

This kind of craziness happened every week.

When it looked like we might get funded by SUN, I was called into his office and asked if I could get the High Availability modules up and running for a demo by next week. The following week we (my team) had the software built and running in the lab. SUN's business agents came in to watch the demo. We ran the demo, showed fail-over by pulling wires out of the back of the machines. The idea was to show the systems still carried VOIP (voice over IP) when part of the modules failed. We got two million that year.

But then things started deteriorating. People started leaving. People started getting laid off. We went from 130 employees to just 30. I made plans to exit.

When I landed the Enterprise job, which would require a move, my friend told me: "Look, no one wants VOIP but they'll always need toilet seats." Well that did it for me. I thought 'Yeah, why not join a big company and never worry about this kind of craziness again." But it was just the start of real craziness.

The first project I was assigned to was huge. Millions of dollars were allocated to the project. (It's what my old pre-IPO might see in a year.) But then there were back room negotiations. I didn't know what was happening. The project was on and then off again. Finally they decided to give the contract to some outside firm. Soon after that my friend, like a pirate, jumped ship and joined another company. I was chained to the galley so I kept rowing.

I did work on several other projects after that. They were all the same, huge budgets, unbelievable complexity, inept management, and ambivalent support from the top.

So eventually I decided to start cutting my overhead. I sold my big house and moved into a smaller, older one. I fixed it up myself and eventually cut my overhead by half. I'd been in enough roller-coasters to know that eventually they come to a stop. I wanted to have enough left over for another ride.

So when the call came to meet with my boss' boss that ominous January day, I was prepared. When I left the Enterprise I began to calculate how I can make further cuts. Several things came to mind:

1) Do my own shirts
2) Cut the cable
3) Return the flat panel HDTV we had just purchased
4) Make a list of more cuts

So on my way home, instead of stopping at the dry cleaners to drop off my dress shirts, I took them home and washed them myself. I was ironing them when the rest of the family came home.

And now I had to break the news to them.

What to say? Stay tuned and I'll tell you. It really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

Don’t ask for it to be easy, ask for it to be worth it. -Dan Kuschell