Tuesday, March 1, 2016

You've been made redundant!

Let's start with the big pink elephant in my life: the redundancy.

As someone who has had their career solely in tech, layoffs are not a new concept to me. The technology innovation market is volatile and at the whim of rather picky and illogical customers. So perhaps it is no surprise that there are usually ongoing drastic changes to the companies that compete in these arenas.

Before I start my most recent story of the layoff that grounded me for almost a year, I thought I would go through the history of my previous experience with layoffs, so there's some background to what happened. Okay then.

Straight out of uni I was incredibly lucky. I had scored a free internship with Digitaria at the end of my senior year, which allowed me to still have something to write on my resume before I was introduced to S, my future boss at Qualcomm. Going to a good school with good networking opportunities really is key to getting a job straight out of college, and I was lucky to have made a favorable impression on one of my professors who had a professional relationship with a big tech company. I was in, and without much of an interview. I was working with another student from my class who graduated at the same time as me, and together we formed a team of contractors that did background research on our users.

I was working with them for perhaps 8-9 months when we were told the company was having mass restructuring. Though I may not have loved the job due to my status as contractor (they really do treat you differently), it was still a very nasty shock being told that all the contractors, including me and half my team, were being let go.

I remember the very clear sick feeling in my stomach that formed, the tears that I shed. But it wasn't really the job I was upset about, it was the instability. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find another job. As an adult, I now realize that of course it had nothing to do with me or even the function of my department, but it was simply a repercussion of what happened following the 2008 financial crisis. Lots of people lost their jobs. And I was simply one of them.

Naturally being the newly-out-of-college-studious-type, I immediately went job hunting, wasting no time. I met some recruiters and made friends with one of them enough to get hired at my next company, Hands on Mobile.

Hands on Mobile
Hands on Mobile, crazily, is the only company I haven't been laid off from. I was a contractor again (though in a much friendlier way where I was allowed into the office like everyone else) and have stayed friends with many of the people I met there. They are a good group of people. I'm sure it helped that I was one of three women at the office (of more than 200), and I was the only one working in engineering (the other two were either admins or part of logistics). I was young, ambitious, and nerdy. All the things that small companies full of men enjoy. It was a good time and I learned to code in PHP. Overall winning.

But the contract I had with them was only for three months and two months into that, I got a call back for a job I'd applied to nearly a year previous. It was Nokia, calling me up and seeing if I was still available, 9 months after I'd applied for the job.

Naturally the pay was better as a full-time employee for a large tech company than as a contractor for a smaller company, and it was what I wanted to do professionally, so I left. My boss, SA, was completely understanding and very nice about me leaving before my contract or project were finished. He held no grudges and to this day, remains very nice to me. As I have worked longer, I find people like him harder and harder to find.

Ah, Nokia. The start of my career began with me as a user interface designer for the low-end phone sector, then called S40 Phones.

I absolutely loved it.

My team was great and my mentor especially took me under her wing. She was pleased to have another woman on the team from the same program at UCSD (we all graduated with pretty much the same degrees, so were all familiar with the same professors and classes, trials and tribulations). We became fast and very good friends.

Two years or so into my working with Nokia, she decided to transfer to Copenhagen following a very nasty divorce from her bipolar and slightly abusive husband. We all agreed it was the right thing for her to do, and our company had already begun its pattern of restructuring regularly, though we didn't know it yet. The only reorgs we'd heard of until that point had been places we didn't know existed. I remember receiving an email about six months in, informing me that the Jyväskylä offices were closing down. We didn't even know where that was (it's in Finland, we had to look it up). It was a relatively small site closure, only 200 people or so, and since we didn't even know they existed or what their function was, it passed without much conversation.

The falling bombs of reorganization began to increase and get slowly and slowly closer to home. Suddenly there was restructuring on the east coast, and then within our own site. But no one was really being laid off, merely shuffled. So we didn't think much of it.

Our products continued to thrive, our programs continued without much change, though we did notice that more and more of them seemed to be cancelled before launch. We moved offices from two large buildings on the top of Scripps Ranch to a brand new single building in Rancho Bernardo. We assumed things were looking up, being moved into a shiny new building and being put all together. We were wrong.

Perhaps I should have known something was wrong when there was a decision from the top to remove all middle managers. My manager, beloved G, was basically demoted during this phase. I didn't understand it at the time, just that I had a new boss, R, who didn't understand design or its function. He was very much a project manager and not a people manager. He has since earned a rather surprising notoriety amongst the Nokians.

Anyway we continued along, though my team, the design team, was not particularly happy. We implemented agile ways of working, which at the time worked great for development but was fairly crippling to design. I continued working there because I loved my team and the people I worked with. We all continued our happy sunny lives in San Diego.

And suddenly we weren't. Our entire division, S40, was being reorged. Since my team dealt directly with operator-specific phones rather than worldwide editions, we were cut. I had been working there for three and a half years when this happened.

Since Nokia in Finland was still at the helm, we were given very generous severance terms. Six months of a "bridge" program that helped us get to our next step in life - whether that be seed funding to start our own businesses, money or application help to get back to school and further our education and training, or simply resume and interview workshops to help us to our next jobs. The six months were paid, we didn't need to come to work anymore, and we were still considered active employees. Meaning we could apply internally for jobs at other sites.

After traveling around for a bit, I applied abroad. I was beginning to feel done with San Diego by that point, my best friends having all moved away to new jobs and deeper relationships, my then relationship with my boyfriend having ended and had no chance of being rekindled past loving friendship (something that it took me a very long time to understand).

I was lucky. I had been able to secure good ties with a team abroad that I had especially liked. Their manager recognized my good work and was more than happy to go the extra mile to get me hired onto his team. And so I was given a choice of Helsinki or London. I said it didn't matter to me, I was just interested in going abroad. Helsinki was easier for visa purposes, so that's where I went. I signed the contract without ever having been to Finland. I met my team for a week two months before moving. The time up until the actual move was spent working two time zones, 10 hours apart. Not the easiest of times. But I did it.

Nokia Finland
Moving to Finland was such an adventure. This blog was started because of that move, so I won't go into detail about it. Needless to say I had an amazing time in Finland, and loved it.

Hilariously the man who hired me decided to move to California and head a different team, so after hiring me he handed me over to a new manager I'd never met before (this all happening before my move). I was a bit hesitant, since it is very important to me, the relationship I have with my manager, but things turned out great. My new manager was wonderful, and likely an even better fit than the original hiring manager would have been. She was great and really respected my work.

Six months in though, once again restructuring reared its ugly head. Half of my team was being made redundant. My half, the Finnish half. Our team in London was being preserved because the head of Phones Design was seated there.

I was devastated. After having made the extremely emotional move abroad, I was going to be sent home again after only six months. I remember calling my parents in the middle of their night (which was our middle afternoon), crying as I told them my adventures abroad were over before they'd really begun.

But I was saved from the fire yet again. My boss was very pleased to have me on the team and one of our team members in London was leaving to join a team in China. If I wanted the job in London, it was mine. So naturally, I took it. The prospects of me getting another job in Finland on my own, without speaking Finnish, were slim. Plus their economy had started to take a turn for the worse, and I could see it was only going to get harder. So I accepted, and 10 months after moving to Finland, I moved to England.

Nokia England
My time moving to London is also well-documented. It was not an easy transition. I did not enjoy living here until over a year in. But eventually things settled and I found a good community. Work was more interesting and a better balance. It was better working at the same site with my team, rather than having us split across the world and time zones.

The first big change happened when we were acquired by Microsoft. Fears of layoffs began immediately. The worst didn't happen though. Pretty much everyone kept their job, but there was a split amongst those who were sold (us) and the ones who stayed behind. Phones was split as a separate entity from the rest of Nokia. We were acquired, everyone else stayed behind. We lost the ability to talk to people we'd worked with for years, but generally speaking they were still there, working on the projects we knew them to be working on. Nothing really changed except who you could email or the projects you had knowledge about. It didn't seem so devastating, and I didn't mind us being acquired by an American company. I thought perhaps this would make me more familiar with what was going on, what would happen.

We moved to a new office as our old one was being renovated to be super high spec and customer-facing. We all took it as a good sign that we were shuttled into one of the hottest Microsoft offices in London - centrally located off of Oxford Street. This in direct comparison to some of our colleagues who were forced to move to Reading, which is about 40 minutes outside of London. We only imagined how people dealt with that commute after having the ease of Paddington for years.

And so we continued doing our work. We settled into our new office, made friends with some of the colleagues on the other side of the securely locked offices (yes, we were working for the same company, but were still siloed into our own securely locked areas).

So when the announcements came down, perhaps we were not so much shocked as expecting it to be like the rest of our Nokia layoffs. Roles would be made redundant and reorganized, but the majority of us would stay doing the work in slightly different roles.

Not to be so. That year Microsoft had its second largest layoffs in history, and we were part of it. Our entire office was shrunken to 14 people. And this only because the new head of design sat at our office and needed to keep a skeleton crew of those who would finish the projects we had already started and committed to. Long after the announcements were made final and we knew what was going to happen, these colleagues, who applied again for their jobs or were appointed to their jobs, told us that they didn't expect to last a year after we all left.

It all happened very fast. Within three months of the announcements everyone was gone except those of us who were forced into an inbetween situation. A few needed to finish projects only they could finish (there were perhaps less than 5 of those), and then there were those like me, who needed our employment to extend further to get to our next steps. Mine was securing another visa, for others it was trying to qualify for maternity leave (we had several who were pregnant...not all of them were lucky enough to go on maternity early to secure future jobs, as per the European requirements to get women back in the workforce after they've had children), or to find jobs internally.

I went to the office a few months after it all happened and the big farewell passed. There were three people in the office. Three. Out of the 70 or so who once sat there. Some of the remaining 14 were traveling...others had stopped coming into the office altogether and worked from home. Everyone I spoke to was updating their resumes, CVs, and interviewing. They did not expect to last long before being laid off themselves. Some even confided that they should not have taken the appointment to their jobs.

And so ended my most current layoff. Whoosh, the speed of life.

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