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They always say it's better to do it fast. Like ripping off a band-aid. A brief shock and a moment of pain and then life goes on.

But it's not like that. More like cutting of a finger, maybe. You can cauterize the wound, but you're going to miss that digit for a long time. And you're going to wonder if you couldn't have made another choice.


I lived through the mini tech recession of the late 80s and early 90s. Just out of school, I'd graduated full of pompous certainty that my university degree would let me write my own ticket. When the industry layoffs started it seemed remote ... until it happened to us.

I was at a moderately large services firm, making COBOL business software for Canadian banks. Banks have lots of money, right? No worries, eh? Well, as it turns out they guard those pennies as carefully as anyone in hard times. A lot of projects were deferred or cancelled. Not that we knew anything about that down in the cubicle farms.

The ugly tan sound-baffle walls that made up our cubicle quads were 6 feet high back then, and we couldn't see over them. We could raise our voices to talk over them, but you couldn't normally tell what was going on. I can still remember that day clearly, sitting in front of my 3270, working on some sort of TSO ISPF task. There were three of us in the quad, with the fourth seat taken up with some POS test equipment.

Lunchtime came and we trooped down to the lunch room with our sandwiches. And started to wonder where everybody was. It turned out they'd been taking people aside all morning, and then walking them out right from the boardroom. We hadn't heard or seen anything. The Grim Reaper had been stalking the halls, and we'd never heard his hollow tread on the dingy carpets.

When it was over, a quarter of the company was gone, walked out of the building without so much as a goodbye. We had a survivor's meeting to explain things. I can't remember a single thing they said.

After that came a series of reorganizations and downsizing, one of which saw my group sold to another firm. In my later career, I went through a spate of name changes, transactions, mergers and so on. I saw two more big layoffs, and many small ones, and developed an uncanny ability to sense them coming. Much as dogs can apparently sense an earthquake coming, my colleagues came to rely on my spider sense tingling in advance of the scythe.

But in the last 5 years I was fortunate to work at a small and prosperous firm, moving without conscious volition into the ranks of middle management. Time and lack of practice dulled my danger sense. When the industry layoffs started it seemed remote ... until it happened to us.

It was different in that today I have an office, with four glass walls. The cube farm walls are shorter today, and everyone has at least one Plexiglass wall panel. This keeps people from doing nasty things at their desks, I guess. So I could see the HR people moving through the halls. I could imagine their dark cloaks billowing around them as they checked their lists and stopped at individual cubicles to reap the security ID badges of their victims.

When it was over, ten percent of the company was gone, walked out of the building without so much as a goodbye. We had a survivor's meeting to explain things. I can't remember a single thing they said.

As a middle manager, I didn't have to decide who stayed and who left. But I did have one new job. I walked my friend, the person who had hired me five years ago, to his car. I helped him carry his plastic bags of miscellaneous personal possessions. We stood in the parking lot and talked. We shook hands, and I watched him drive away.


Back when I was a drone, it was a shock, but I still went home and slept the sleep of the just. Now, I lie awake and wonder how I could have made a difference. My product shipped its latest version later than planned, due to some technical issues. It cost us some revenue. Much needed revenue, as it turns out. If I'd foreseen the problem, maybe it wouldn't have been like this. Maybe I wouldn't look through my office wall each day at that empty desk.

Nobody died. They'll all find new jobs. Life will go on. But at night, in my dreams, they ask me "Why?" and I don't know how to answer.

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