Friday, 6 May 2011

Revenge of Shinobi

A replacement for Lester Gould, the head of our department, was eventually found. Gavin Ramsay was a former military man who had previously worked at the company and who was rehired to pick up where Gould left off.  Ramsay flew out to address us. He was terse, and he didn't seem to think we were a particularly valuable acquisition for the company. I couldn't help but agree. After his talk, when I went up to introduce myself, he looked at me and my proffered handshake as if I had tried to give him  a dogshit sandwich and turned away.

My job hunt was going badly. Pickings were slim: there was still a post-Y2K recession on, and all of the programmers I knew outside of my present employment were out of work, or had been during the past year. It was tough for permanent residents to find work, let alone somebody like me who needed an expensie and time-consuming visa transfer. (I would later discover that Verizon had screwed up my phone line when I moved house and, in addition to billing problems, it turned out that although I could make calls on the line I could not receive any. Any callbacks I might have received from those applications were lost in the ether).

In the meantime, things were getting worse, and it wasn't just the development group that was in trouble.

Donna and I kept our relationship quiet, but rumours began to circulate. Nobody took them up with me, but the office manager, Claude, had a number of conversations with Donna in which he claimed that I was a strange and disturbed individual. Who would want to date somebody like that? he asked. She offered no comment.

I had had a rocky time with Claude since my first day at work, when he had inducted me and the other new employees. During the induction Claude gave each of us a sling bag, a polo shirt and a mug blazoned with the company logo. The cups were a strange shape, and, upon receipt of mine, I asked Claude if it was a mug or a vase. He took this personally.

Claude loved to pay people out, and I have never been one to hesitate in this regard. During a lunch room bullshit session during which he decided it was my turn to cop some flack (he started, I swear), I said: "So, Claude... how are your walls this week?" I had heard him complaining bitterly about marks on the walls during the week and thought he was joking about it, but Claude apparently took the cleanliness of the paintwork very seriously. After work that evening he came to my office. I had already forgotten about the incident, so I was quite surprised when he  asked if I had a problem with him. When I said "No" he was visibly relieved.

"I was worried that you wanted to fight me," he said.

Claude was probably six inches taller than me and I think outweighed me by close to twenty kilograms. I didn't know it then, but I later learned that some people in the office thought that I had been in the Special Forces before I a became a geek programmer.

You can't make this shit up, folks.

Aside from dodging Claude's surveillance like the special forces ninja  I wasn't, (he was determined to catch me and Donna leaving the office together), Donna was discovering that life in a big company's sales organization was hard. She had received a substantial salary increase with the transition, despite the  official line was that times were tough, and that nobody was getting anything.

Just prior to the acquisition Donna had closed a major and toughly-fought sale by massively underbidding the competition. The directive to do this came from well above her head in the old organization. Once we had been acquired, it turned out that the competitor she beat was, in fact, our new owners, and the whole thing had been an exercise in gamesmanship (or stupidity, depending on which way you want to look at it).

Donna was soon shipped off to a corporation-wide sales conference, and she found that she was notorious. People all throughout her group knew about the sale, and learned that the woman responsible was now in the building. And they were angry, and they wanted to know who she was.

Meanwhile, during the conference, her boss, got up on stage and took credit for closing the deal that Donna had become so notorious for. That's right: he took all the glory while letting Donna get hammered for undercutting her new colleagues.

Every year our company would stage out own user conference, during which all of our important customers came up to spend a week discussing the future directions of the product.. but mostly to participate in  fishing cruises and volleyball competitions and golf days. After being acquired some bigwigs down from our Silicon Valley HQ to join in the fun: Ramsay and his own boss.  Despite giving the appearance of open access, none of them would even make idle chitchat with me... but the two sales engineers they brought along were friendly and loquacious.

I took them to lunch, although they wound up paying for me on their expense accounts. In addition to learning about these expense accounts and other perks that sales staff were granted (like all-expenses paid holidays to Hawaii), I learned that the 'Tarzan' project was not just an ad hoc attempt to hack our software into some some complementary product: it was actually going to replace our system entirely.

We had been acquired for our market share and for a small piece of our technology that, by some fluke, actually worked pretty well. Our task was now to take that piece and redevelop it for Tarzan. That and a few relationships that the people-facing employees maintained were all that was of value. The rest of our business was surplus to requirements.

Soon this new reality began to manifest. Before long Donna was the only internal salesperson we had, and her new (albeit lucrative) job was to build a 'sales channel' for the broader organization. In other words, to eliminate her own position.

Donna's boss kept telling her that he would look after her, he would get her a raise, he would find her a new place within the company. I told her that he was a liar, and he wasted little time in proving me correct: what he found her was a redundancy package.

But non of this information filtered down to the development group through official channels. It was business as usual for us... but there was blood in the water, even if we couldn't see the ninja assassins who had spilled it.

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