Aug 14

Other news

I attended another job fair today, my third since being laid off. Like the first, this one was held at the IBM Recreation Center in RTP and admission was restricted to former IBM employees. I had planned to be there when the doors opened at 10:00 this morning, but car trouble intervened; our minivan developed a faulty starter and had to be repaired. I ended up arriving half an hour before the job fair ended at 2:00, and found that some of the participating companies had already packed up and left. But a printed list was available, so I can always e-mail a resume to the firms that weren’t there.
No word from SAS yet. It’s been a week now since my interview, but I’m going to wait until next Monday before I call them and ask.
As Ben recently reported, our family is being “sucked in” by the Raleigh Little Theater‘s production of Once Upon a Mattress. Tonight was Crew Watch, meaning that the entire crew assembled to watch the cast rehearse the play. Ruth, Marie, and I were all there, because we’re all involved in the production — I’m part of the light crew, Marie is doing costumes and props, and Ruth is on the running crew (the backstage people who handle technical tasks during the show). So far, my involvement has been limited to (1) helping take down lights from a previous play, (2) hanging lights for Mattress, and (3) showing up for a focus session that didn’t get around to actually focusing (aiming lights and setting the beam spread) until after I had to leave. And at Crew Watch, I just sat back and enjoyed the show. But the next time I go to RLT, it will be for a “wet tech” rehearsal at which I will be learning to run the light board. Everyone tells me this is easy, but since I know absolutely nothing about it, I won’t really relax until I find out for myself whether I can handle it. I’m scheduled to run the board on opening night(!), which is August 23.

Aug 07

The brass ring

I didn’t sleep very much last night; I was too anxious about today’s job interview at SAS. Interviews don’t usually affect me that way, but this one was different. SAS is at the top of everyone’s list of the best places to work in the Triangle, perhaps in the entire country. I’ve been applying for jobs there since I arrived in this area fifteen years ago, and this was the first time I had actually been selected for an interview. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I did not want to screw it up.
The interview was scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. I left home at 8:20. I knew I would encounter slow traffic along the way and had allowed extra time for that, but there was always the possibility that something completely beyond my control, like a wreck or a flat tire, would prevent me from getting there on time. (At least I didn’t have to worry about getting lost; after having driven past the SAS campus on my way to work for nine years, I knew exactly how to get there.) I didn’t really stop worrying until my car eased into a parking space in front of SAS Building B.
After signing in at the front desk and obtaining a temporary badge, I was greeted by a Human Resources person. She spent the next hour reviewing the pre-interview paperwork I had brought with me (a background check form and a work history), explaining SAS compensation policies, and quizzing me on my work history. She asked me a few tough questions, such as “How do you think your references see you?”, and watched me try to respond without sounding inane or obviously insincere.
Eventually, she let me go, and I drove to Building J for part 2 of the interview: meeting the manager. I took an immediate liking to him, and we discussed my history and the state of the technical writing field. After about half an hour, he took me to a conference room where the rest of the writing team was gathered, and left me with them. Being interviewed by half a dozen people at once sounds scary, but it was actually quite enjoyable — they were a friendly and likable bunch, and it seemed to me that I had a lot in common with them. I did my best to answer their questions about my experience and knowledge, and asked a few of my own about their procedures and tools. After an hour, the manager reappeared and took me back to his office to find out my impressions of the team and see what additional questions I had for him. With that, the interview was over and he led me back to the lobby to sign out.
By this point it was past noon, so I called Virgil to let him know I was finished, and he and Denise treated me to an excellent lunch in one of the SAS cafeteria. How did it go? they asked. On the whole, I thought it had gone very well; I had managed to avoid saying anything stupid or spilling coffee on anyone. But I was the first of six candidates to be interviewed for this position, and my chances depend as much on their merits as on my own. The manager says that he is “moving aggressively” to fill the position, and that I should hear from them by the middle of next week. I will keep looking, of course — but it’s going to be a nerve-wracking wait.

Aug 06

Job fair

I attended a job fair today at the Raleigh Convention Center. This one wasn’t particularly useful to someone in my line of work; there were no representatives there from any employer in the computer or telecom fields, which are the ones I primarily focus on. I did give resumes to Progress Energy and Bayer, and stood in line at the Glaxo SmithKline booth to learn that they were only recruiting sales people. Most of the other recruiters were representing employers like Eckerd, Burlington Coat Factory, O’Charley’s, Starbucks, and FootStar (a shoe store chain).
The online announcement of this job fair included a recommendation to “dress in business attire,” but I’m not sure anyone knows what that means any more. I went with my standard IBM uniform: polo shirt, khaki slacks, and boat shoes. This fit in well with what the Progress Energy representatives were wearing (matching company-logo polos and navy slacks), but not with the folks at the Glaxo SmithKline booth (pin-stripe suits and wing-tip shoes). The attire of the other job seekers was equally varied; some people were wearing suits and dresses, while others wore shorts. I saw one woman there in a sleeveless top with the word “Bootylicious” emblazoned on the front, sweat pants, sneakers, and a straw hat.
I don’t really expect any job offers to result from my visit to the Convention Center, but no job fair is ever a complete loss; you can at least get some free stuff while you’re there. I picked up two rather nice pens, a note pad, some Post-It notes, and a cup of free coffee from the Starbucks booth. On the other hand, I had to pay two dollars for parking, which is probably more than that small cup of coffee would have cost me if I had skipped the job fair and just gone directly to Starbucks.

Jun 21

Exit strategies

This was my last week as an IBM employee. With my termination date just days away, it was time to wrap up my affairs and leave.
I had started cleaning out my desk late last week by going through my file folders and discarding most of the material there, with just a few documents set aside to take home. There were several plastic shopping bags in one drawer, so I began taking my stuff home one bag at a time. By Wednesday of this week, the shopping bags were all gone, so I used the paper box that I saved back in April to take home the last load, which included a couple of larger items (such as my Star Wars wall calendar and the sweater that had hung on the back of my office door). By Thursday morning, there was nothing left in my drawers but IBM’s office supplies, and nothing on the desktop except the computer hardware and my thermal mug, which would stay until the bitter end.
On Thursday, I took a shopping bag to work containing the duplicate docking station and power supply for my ThinkPad that I had used to work from home. These were IBM property, and I returned them. I spent the morning deleting my files from the ThinkPad and uninstalling applications, leaving it in as generic a state as possible for the next user. I also logged on to IBM’s asset management system and did an official asset transfer of the ThinkPad to my manager — he would be responsible for it after my departure.
Friday was my last day. (It was also the summer solstice, suggesting that the layoff was actually a ritual sacrifice of some sort.) I dressed for the occasion: black shoes and crew socks, black slacks with a black leather belt, and a black IBM E-Business logo polo shirt, topped off with a black IBM baseball cap with blue trim. At the office, I spent an hour or so doing a final cleanup of the ThinkPad, deleting all my e-mail and browser bookmarks, and uninstalling AOL Instant Messenger (the simplest way to remove my Buddy List from the machine). While I still had access to IBM’s internal employee directory, I wrote down the e-mail and phone numbers of anyone at IBM I might conceivably want to get in touch with. (Prior to last May, if I needed to contact an IBM employee, I just called Bob and had him look up the information. Can’t do that any more.)
The other members of my team had taken the day off or were working from home, and I had already said my goodbyes over the last several days anyway. There was nothing left to do but meet with Cliff (my manager) to complete the exit process. I locked my desk, locked (but left open) my office door, and went to Cliff’s office. I turned over my ThinkPad to him, along with my desk and office keys, the Diners Club card IBM had issued me (which I never used), and my badge. He had me sign a few documents, gave me copies, and then handed me checks for my severance pay and unused vacation pay. I went back to my office to pick up my briefcase and thermal mug, closed the door for the last time, and rejoined Cliff so that he could escort me out.
In the parking lot, he wished me luck, asked me to keep in touch, and shook my hand before we parted company. Cliff returned to his office to continue his day at work, and I drove away to begin the next phase of my career: unemployed ex-IBMer.

Jun 16

Never mind

In an earlier entry, I said that I would be posting my job search journal here. I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote that, because it’s not possible. My job search journal is a day-by-day record of phone calls made, e-mails sent and received, resumes submitted online or mailed, and so forth. In other words, it’s full of the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of people I’ve contacted, and I can’t post that information on a Web page without their knowledge or permission. So I’m keeping my journal in a paper notebook, just like in previous job hunts. I’ll certainly post updates here when something significant happens, like an interview, but so far it’s just been networking (contacting acquaintances by phone or e-mail to let them know I’m hunting, and to ask them to keep their ears open for leads) and submitting resumes online or via e-mail. I’ve responded to some specific job postings at the sites listed on the right side of this page, but my main focus right now is getting my resume into the hands of recruiters or managers who might be looking for a technical writer at some point in the future.
Deciding to turn this blog into an online job search journal was a mistake, because it resulted in paralysis. I couldn’t post contact information, and I didn’t want to just document the emotional aspect of the job search on a day-to-day basis, because that would be both tedious and depressing. Consequently, I ended up posting basically nothing for several weeks. So I’m going to go back to writing about other things unless I have some actual job-related news to report.

May 23

Gone with the wind

I started updating my résumé. The only version of it that exists at the moment is a Web page that includes links to the companies I’ve worked for (and some other relevant organizations like the STC chapter I was once president of). This HTML résumé is actually a leftover from my last job search a year ago, but it gives me something to start with. I’ll undoubtedly want to create a PDF version as well.

Since I haven’t looked at it for the last year, I thought I should test all the links to make sure they were still valid. And I discovered that one of them was not: the Web site of Pliant Systems, the company that I worked for from February 1993 to March 1996, is gone. And when I did some digging, I discovered that the company is gone as well. It went bankrupt last July.

When I started work there in ’93, the company was a small startup called BroadBand Technologies. It was located in leased office space at One Park Center on Miami Boulevard, at the edge of RTP. A few months after I joined them, the company (which was expanding rapidly) moved to a much larger office complex on Stirrup Drive (off Miami Boulevard just a short distance away). The One Park Center space that we vacated was taken over by Bell & Howell, and I believe both Virgil and Miles worked there before B&H moved to other quarters. Today that space looks like this; the lack of a permanent sign suggests that it continues to serve as temporary quarters for companies that are making more permanent arrangements elsewhere.

By the time I left for Alcatel in ’96, the company was struggling. BroadBand had a innovative technology for transporting large amounts of data over optic fiber, but they never did figure out exactly how they wanted to market it, or to whom. At first they tried to sell it as a means of providing video-on-demand services to cable TV companies, but trials of that concept never generated much interest. Customers just didn’t want it. Later, the technology was presented as a means of providing broadband Internet connectivity, or distance learning capability, or DSL.

This is a classic management error in high-tech companies dominated by engineering types: they devote a lot of money and time to developing a new technology, assuming (without actually doing any market research) that there will be a demand for it. Eventually, the new technology is ready, the products begin to roll off the assembly line — and the company realizes that it has to find someone to sell them to.

Unfortunately, BroadBand never found the market it needed. After I left the company, it fell on hard times. The stock price plummeted, and after being delisted from NASDAQ, the company changed its name to Pliant Systems. The last time I checked the Web site (in April 2001), it was still operational. When the company imploded, I was no longer in touch with anyone still working there, and I didn’t hear about it.

On my way home, I stopped by the Pliant headquarters to see if I could find any trace. The space formerly occupied by the company stands vacant; the owner is renovating it in the hope of finding a new tenant. A Pliant sign is still visible on the outside of the building that it shared with Marconi.

But the Pliant name has been removed from the parking lot sign. If you look closely, though, you can clearly see where the names “BroadBand Technologies, Inc.” and “Pliant Systems” used to be.

I worked for another small startup company, Millidyne Inc., in 1990. Today that company is also gone without a trace. And while Alcatel is still in business, the Raleigh site where I worked is a mere shadow of what it was in 1996, and I won’t be at all surprised if it closes. I seem to be leaving a trail of devastation behind me as I wander from company to company. Am I the Typhoid Mary of Research Triangle Park?

May 22

Double whammy

I found out that I had been laid off at about 10:00 this morning, when my manager called me into his office to break the news. As readers of this blog know, I had been half expecting it, but finding out was still a shock.
The first thing I did, once I got back to my office, was to try to contact Marie and let her know. But she was working at the front desk, and thus wasn’t reachable by phone or AIM. I left her an instant message to call me on my mobile phone and went to Bob’s office to inform him of what had happened. I’m not sure what I expected him to say, but I had to tell someone. After a few minutes, I decided to go see the outplacement counselors that IBM had brought in for laid-off employees to talk to. They gave me an overview of the services they’re offering (skills assessment, resume development, interviewing tips, that kind of thing) and signed me up for a three-day seminar that starts Friday. While I was talking to the counselor, my phone rang; it was Marie, and I broke the news to her. She was shaken, of course, but recovered quickly. (We’ve been through this before.)
When I got back to my office, I looked through IBM’s internal job posting database. Nothing suitable presented itself. Marie IMed to tell me that Denise had seen a position listed on SAS’s jobs database. As I began looking at the SAS Web site to see if I could find it, Bob appeared in my doorway, looking distraught. He had just been informed by his manager that he was laid off too, and he was in deep shock.
It was lunchtime, and getting away from IBM seemed like a good thing to do. We went to Chick-fil-A in Durham and talked the situation over. At this point we’re both still just coming to grips with the news, so we didn’t do any actual planning or anything like that. (Bob can write about his reactions in his own blog, if he wishes.)
We got back to IBM at 2:00, and I ended up leaving, with my manager’s approval, at 3:00. As luck would have it, one of our regular family counseling sessions with Cheryl (Ruth’s therapist) was scheduled for tonight. Marie and Ben arrived home shortly after I did, and we picked Ruth up from her school and went to dinner at a cafeteria, where I broke the news to Ruth and Ben. They took it amazingly well, saying that they were sure I would find another job because I’m good at that. (I sure hope they’re right.) Then we went to see Cheryl. I won’t go into detail about what we discussed with her, but the subject of my job loss certainly came up.
The tone of this post is very strange: it’s too clinical and detached. I should be describing my emotional reactions here, but I’m not very sure what they are. Some shock and worry, but I feel oddly calm about the whole thing. Either the full significance of the day’s events hasn’t hit me yet, or I’ve been through this routine too many times before.
The last couple of times I was laid off, I started a job hunt journal, as a way of maintaining a record of networking, job leads, resumes sent, interviews, and so forth. I’m going to do the same thing this time, but my journal will be here at this blog. Stay tuned for further developments.

May 22

The axe falls

The rumors are true; IBM announced a resource action today. My position is being eliminated, effective June 21. There is a separation package that, in my case, provides four weeks of pay. So that means I have two months to find a new job.
This will not be easy. I’ve inquired about openings within IBM, and there don’t seem to be any. IBM is providing outplacement services, and I’ve signed up for a three-day workshop that starts Friday.

May 14

Thinking outside the box

I picked up a box in the hallway yesterday. IBM uses a lot of paper, so there are often empty boxes around, of the sort that hold ten reams of paper. Usually I take them home; they have handles and removable tops, and make good storage boxes for all kinds of things. But I didn’t take this one home. I took it back to my office and tucked it between my desk and the storage cabinet. If I have to clean out my desk, I’ll need a good sturdy box.
I’m not saying that’s going to happen. I just want to be prepared. And I like dramatic gestures, so I’ve decided that the box will stay where it is until I have to use it . . . or until I’m sure don’t need it.
I’m also making a mental list of the things I’ll do with all the extra time I do find myself unemployed. (Why should Greg have all the fun?) This is all part of my strategy for turning the whole matter into a no-lose scenario. If I get laid off, I’ll feel smug about having snagged a box before the rush started. And I’ll get to sleep late and spend more time blogging (in between job interviews, of course). If I don’t get laid off, well, I keep my job! Either way, I win.
UPDATE: Perhaps I should write down the URL of this Slashdot thread on a piece of paper and stick it in the box, just in case. And maybe this one, too.