Memories of layoffs

Bob (of Bob's Top 5) has a nice post about layoffs. Here's my story (well, one of my stories - maybe I'll tell the second one some other time).

Near the end of the 80's, I worked for MicroRIM (of R:Base fame). Trivia fact: R:Base grew out of software that was developed to track the heat-resistant tiles on the shuttle.

R:Base was a very popular DOS program, and customers were clamoring for a Windows version (well, some for Windows, and some for OS/2...). Unfortunately, that request got a bit garbled on the way to management. Customers said, "Make R:Base run on Windows", and management heard, "You know what we really want? You should build a next-generation database product that runs on Macintosh and OS/2, and while you're at it, you should create your own database server and make sure you can interop with Oracle, Sybase, DB2, and all the other mini and mainframe databases".

If ever there was a project that had delusions of grandeur, it was this project.

They finally ended up naming it "Vanguard". (The irony of picking the same name as a rocket that only orbited 3 satellites in 11 attempts was not lost on any of us...)

But the project was planned, millions of VC cash was raised, and groups staffed up - one to build the DB server, one to build the GUI layer, one to build connectors to other databases, and my group, to build the UI that sat on top of everything.

Things went poorly for the first couple of years. Nobody had any experience building anything that big, and the groups weren't exactly tasked to help other groups out. After about 18 months, my group got called into a conference room one morning, and my manager Tom said, "Okay, is everybody here?", and somebody said, "Mike and Tim aren't here", and then Tom said, "Yeah, that's what I need to tell you guys...". That was the first layoff.

The second layoff came about 3 months later, and I was putting together my resume. I survived the third one, and got moved to the database connector team, working on the connector to one of the VMS databases (and, IIRC, the only piece of software that ever shipped out of that project).

Then one day, I got up from my desk to get something to drink, and noticed that everybody on my team was in a conference room. Except me. I got a drink, went back to my desk, and started packing...

So what's your story?

Comments (11)

  1. Matthew says:

    So they told everyone else you were leaving before they told YOU?

  2. Josh J says:

    And now look at ya Eric…You’re a ‘softie bad ass. I’ve never met an engineer worth their salt that hasn’t gone through at least one layoff.

    I’m fairly young, but i’ve gone through one and seen one….

    I was in my sophomore year of college, it was early 2000. Times were booming and i worked as an IT intern and later a part-time IT guy at a company called Hurco in Indianapolis, they are a manufacuring company. Then the bubble popped in late 2001.

    Round #1: We got wind of them (being in IT) and we knew none of us were getting laid off. The HR director actually paged people over the intercom to her office. One i’ll never forget is they made a manager lay off most of his people, then they axed him. The manager would actually stand in their cube and escort them out.

    Round #2: More of the same…except we didn’t know.

    Round #3: More of the same…some of our own got the ax.

    Round #4: In the meantime they made me a contractor to get my head off the books (gotta love accounting tricks). Then because a lot of employers were firing their employees and bringing them back as contractors (saves benefits), COngress passed some kind of law saying any contractor either has to be part of a company or incorporated. I was a Junior in college, i wasn’t going to create company so i could work parttime. So i got a notice that in 30 days i was going to be "project complete", AKA Layed Off. Best thing that ever happened to me.

    Second one is shorter…I graduated college and worked at a company formerly known as RDS. The owner sold in July 2004. The purchasing company needed to get rid of people. We were called into a meeting and told if we were present we weren’t getting the ax. I know how these things go, i wasn’t about to stick around to see how it all "panned out". I joined a company on the floor below (me = "you guys hiring? here’s a resume.").

    i LOVE the company i work for now…it all works out in the end 🙂

  3. Jack Bond says:

    I worked for HighGround Systems which actually wrote some of the removeable storage components for Windows 2000. HighGround’s main product SRM was a storage management solution written almost entirely based on Microsoft technologies, SQL/IIS/COM/etc. Well back in 2000 Sun Microsystems decided they wanted into the storage market, so they dropped $450 million to buy Highground, which was absolute insanity as Highground probably would have been bankrupt in under a year.

    Sun was in one of their phases(which usually last a few weeks) where they wanted to work with Microsoft more, so during the takeover they spouted a bunch of nonsense about continuing to use Microsoft technologies. In only took about a couple months after the takeover for Microsoft to be the evil empire again, and then things went downhill real fast. At this point, Sun had a Microsoft shop under their wings, but no matter, we were all Java/Oracle programmers now.

    So between engineers trying to retrain themselves, Highground execs and upper managers sticking around for their mandatory year, but doing nothing, and absolutely incompetent Sun management, nothing got done for 2.5 years. No exaggeration, absolutely nothing. Finally about 3 years after the buyout, they closed the Highground facility, and laid off most of the staff.

    When my boss finally approached me with the rather generous, yet moronically designed, severance package, I was absolutely delighted. Net result for Sun: around $500 million down the drain.

  4. Paul Litwin says:

    Wow, Eric, I didn’t realize you were at Microrim. I was a big R:Base user, developer, and writer of lots of articles on R:Base and Vanguard back then. I remember the CEO at the time (name escapes me) doing a demo for me in some back room at Comdex in the early 90’s (I think). Microrim really did run themselves into the ground. But that made for a lot of talented people to help staff the Jet, Access, SQL Server, etc. teams at Microsoft.

    I remember how Microrim had their building on the corner of the Microsoft campus too.

    Ahh, the memories.


  5. Eran Kampf says:

    I was working as a part time .NET consultantdeveloper for the IDF. One day I got called to an office an told my services are not required anymore (I’ve actually seen it coming because was just hanging there doing nothing for quite some time).

    When I got out to the free market I found out the pay is moer than 3 times higher and the work conditions are much better than in the army.

    Two weeks later I signed at SAP where I currently work. Getting laid off is one of the best things that ever happend to me 🙂

  6. ericgu says:


    Yes, they told everyone else before they told you.

    That was an improvement. In the first layout, they brought in security people who gathered all the people who were being laid off, took them to the lobby, and then made them stand in line to turn in their badges.

  7. Hasani says:

    I was laid of on valentine’s day =]

    it was also a monday.

  8. Sean Chase says:

    I’ve been layed-off one time in my life and it was rather comical. It was a couple of years ago at a "software company." Not the kind run by a Joel Spolsky – it was founded and run by former salespeople. They were not entirely stupid, but they did not know how to run a software company and that became obvious after a few days there. How it all happened…One of my good friends was the development manager at this company. After a year or so of him trying to convince me to come aboard, I accepted an SDE position working for him. It was a nightmare from day one. The company was small, but was anticipating a lot of growth, so they hired business consultants for "process improvement." Everyone called them "the two Bobs" because the situation seemed very similar to the movie Office Space. There was a lot of "passive-agressive backlash" and morale was starting to plummet. Being new, I starting asking the "wrong" questions such as "why are we changing to process Y when X was working better for everyone and Y doesn’t make any sense?" It was pointed out to me by a long-time employee that asking those kinds of questions in company meetings with upper managers attending was not a good idea. At that point I was already considering quitting after the product release (still 6 months out). My friend, the development manager started arguing with the rest of upper management about how the new processes were undermining his ability (and authority in some cases) to manage his team. One Friday evening, I was asked to come upstairs for a quick meeting. Somehow, I know it was coming. The CEO, HR manager, and the company’s attorney were in the upstairs conference room waiting for me. The CEO did all of the talking, "…this part of my job sucks…I’m cancelling the XYZ project…We’re offering you a month’s pay if you sign this agreement (not to sue)." I think I said something to the effect of, "Wow, OK. Well, I wish you the best of luck in the future." I was given two boxes and walked out the door and along the way, my buddy (the dev manager) was cleaning out his office. Our theory was that I was collateral damage to his being canned. Either way, it worked our REALLY well because I hated it there anyway, I took the month’s pay to take a 3 week vacation, pocketed the other week’s pay and went back to consulting. I now make close to 2x the money and have a lot more fun. Probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

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