Voice Card  -  Volume 29  -  John Card Number 2  -  Sat, Sep 25, 1993 1:00 AM

This is a response to VC 28 John 15 ("Job Hell - Canto Four")...

This is part five of the job hell saga.

One lazy June day at the lab, shortly after publishing my last report from job hell, I had lunch with the usual gang of malcontents. The decline and fall of the evil lab empire was in full swing and our conversation was typical for those days: full of ennui and gallows humor and irredeemable cynicism. We were all working on challenging projects that were now doomed with good people who were now doomed in a once-wonderful place that was now doomed. Our numbers could be up at any moment, we were all entirely used to it, and we didn't really care much any more.

In fact, we were restless. After a spring of bloody power struggles, the sinister "Manager A" had climbed a hill of bodies and now sat brooding on the throne. For weeks now there had been a deadly calm. We knew there was more madness and mayhem in the offing, we just didn't know when the axe would fall and who the next victim would be. We were ready for more blood, even our own, just to break up the monotony. As we got out of the car one of us observed "it's been WEEKS since anyone was fired."

On the entrance to the lab was a notice: "Town Meeting Today 2:00!" We exchanged knowing glances and headed off to our various cubicles to await the next turn of the screw.

We were not disappointed. Manager A announced a complete reorganization of the lab. Two of the three people I went to lunch with were fired and my entire department was abolished. I was not fired, but transferred to another department.

The people who got axed were all members of the last humane working group, essentially some writers and a librarian. Manager A proclaimed that the new emphasis was on more writing and less number-crunching, so naturally the first step was to fire the writers and train the number crunchers to write (because "anyone can write"). It was an open secret that Manager A disliked the manager of this group, a nice guy who tried to play by the rules and had no stomach for dirty political games. The librarian was another nice guy who had an expensive terminal illness and the bad habit of pointing out blatant statistical errors in the lab's testing results. Manager A was mopping up the last embers of resistance.

Everyone in the lab was affected, but the only other person actually axed was a very nice, hard-working woman in our department whom Manager A did not like for some reason. Everyone in the group but her was transferred to another part of the corporation; leaving her out of the life raft was a completely unnecessary piece of malice.

The reorganization, in essence, began the process of dividing the lab staff among the various magazines; it was the beginning of the end. I was relatively unscathed except for the fact that I now had no one to go to lunch with. My old boss, Gene, immediately sought, and soon found, another job. As the odor of decay began to fill the hallways the exodus began and every week fewer and fewer people showed up for work.

The I.S. department, as I said, was abolished and its staff scattered off-site. The Oracle development team, me and Muhi and Dino, remained behind, working for the same boss, doing precisely the same work, but now wearing different hats. The project I had been designing for the last month was done at the behest of the now-decapitated manager of the writing group. Thus, although Manager A never did have the guts to officially kill this project, it was effectively dead and, once again, months of my work went into the dumpster.

Our focus now was on August 1st, the date Beelzebub had set for his return inspection. We were supposed to have the entire building up and running on Oracle with a timecard application in place. This proved quite challenging and all three of us had to come in on a weekend to make it happen. Once again we had to put on a presentation, this time not just for Beelzebub, but for all the big wigs from corporate I.S., including the CIO himself.

The presentation was a success. Beelzebub, rather ominously, kept his mouth shut, but the I.S. people were VERY impressed. They came out of the meeting talking about how they could transfer our applications to the rest of the corporation. For the next two weeks were heard nothing but rave reviews. Pilot projects were underway. Oracle support would be added to the corporate I.S. budget in 1994. Well done, boys! Full speed ahead!

It was therefore something of a surprise when Mike called us into his office to give us our two weeks notice. Mike was sorry, there was nothing he could do, his hands were tied. The money situation was now growing desperate; the lab was a million dollars over budget for the year and Beelzebub had determined that they could no longer afford us.

We all trooped in to the director's office to confront Manager A. I told him that in my professional opinion, trying to run a database operation of this size and complexity without any support staff endangered the entire two-year multi-million dollar investment the lab overlords had made. Mike said that it would take at least six months to assemble a new team and bring them up to speed. Key applications were still in the pipeline. When things started to break who would fix them? Where could the building full of newly installed Oracle users turn for technical support?

Manager A's plan was that all users in need of assistance would be referred to corporate I.S. He was fully aware that corporate I.S. did not have a single person on staff with any Oracle expertise; by formenting a crisis he was hoping to force them into hiring us four months sooner than they had planned, thereby saving the lab a few thousand dollars.

Corporate I.S., however, would not be blackmailed. When Mike informed the director of I.S. for the West Coast of the scheme Manager A and Beelzebub had hatched, she exploded. Memos flew all the way to the top and the CIO refused to budge. Crisis or no crisis we would not be rescued by corporate I.S. Muhi and Dino and I were pawns in yet another dreary power game, and this particular game would end in stalemate.

I was not particularly upset by this turn of events. The idiocy of it all, the short-sightedness, the carelessness with which we pawns were treated, were all par for the course. Frankly, I was surprised we had lasted as long as we did. I put in my two weeks, said my goodbyes, and hit the job trail. On my way out I sent building-wide e-mail which included the final lines of Dante's Inferno: his quiet ascent to the surface after a long journey through hell.

There was one extra twist to my departure that caused me some small consternation. Fifteen minutes before the surprise announcement of our termination I got a call from none other than the evil Baluster. Although I had spent the last six months wading through the mess he had left behind, I had not heard a peep out of him since the events of a year ago. For him to call at precisely that moment was a strange coincidence, if coincidence it was.

Baluster was his usual cheerful, slimy self. He said he had more work than he could handle and wondered if I would be willing to take on a job. He promised it would be very lucrative and that he would not profit from it himself; he just wanted to make sure his client was taken care of.

This was a dilemma. On the one hand, I suspected a trap and didn't want anything to do with him, but on the other hand it seemed unwise to burn bridges. I had no doubt that in spite of his assurances he would be making a fat referral fee, but so what? OracleCard work is hard to come by and, as I soon discovered, I was about to be unemployed. At first I remained noncommital, cold but polite. And I pondered what to do.

A week or so later he called again, this time with a job in hand. I would be making an obscene hourly rate; all he needed was my permission to float my resume and close the deal. I pressed him to reveal the exact nature of our working relationship and he finally admitted that I would be working through his company. That was all I need to hear.

I told him that I did not wish to be associated with him in any way and to please remove my name from his rolodex. When he asked me why, I told him that after cleaning up the mess he left behind I had no respect for his work and that, in my opinion, he was dishonest. And that was that. He hung up on me and, although I am all too familiar with the hunger pangs of unemployment, I have no doubt whatsoever that I did the right thing.

And so I am now, once again, vomited up from the mouth of the beast: a free man again. My departure last year was violent and painful; this time around it was almost serene. I am older now than I was, and perhaps a little wiser, but wearier as well.

The work I did was honored not by my own company, but by the Oracle corporation. A woman who criss-crossed the country looking for "OracleCard Success Stories" pronounced my work the best she had seen anywhere in the country and I was featured in several Oracle promos. Even better, I managed to strengthen the friendships I made in my first tour of duty and gained many new friends as well. When I left this time I was deeply touched by the number of my co-workers who were genuinely sorry to see me go. Dino and Muhi and I undid the damage Baluster caused and I made enough money in the process to buy a Centris. So I count this infernal expedition a success.

It is even possible that I may return to the evil empire a third time - who knows? This Fall I have found a sense of closure and am content. And now: Purgatorio awaits! Onward and upward!