Monday being a holiday, the bad news about our parent company came without warning the next day. The president announced that the parent company was in big trouble for advertising discounts to firms but not paying the full discount. The "oversight" went on for more a year before being discovered. It was a huge embarrassment all around.
Our president gave us three options:
Morale dropped to zero. Nearly all software development stopped. I found resumes at the printer. People came in at odd times, most likely following interviews.
Yan began interviewing immediately. Warren was going to wait for awhile. Liping's husband lost his job so her life got really stressful. Some people couldn't afford to wait around with hefty mortgage payments or if they were the sole wage earner. Good thing Bob and I had bought a townhouse instead of a house; we could live off one income.
March 2 arrived. "Alex, are you coming? It's time." I got up to leave.
"Yes. Yes." He exited his email.
We went where every other employee was going, to hear our president speak. When we got a look at him, I made an observation: "It doesn't look good." Alex nodded. the president waited for more people to arrive. His secretary began taking roll.
Originally a start-up and bought in 1994, our company had a working product, a reasonable software architecture, a good code base, and a good team of people. Last year the company almost doubled in size as it ramped up to meet it's growth potential. Many people like myself were only hired last year.
"I'm going to tell it to you straight," the president began. "They're shutting us down."
I had seen this coming for two months. In January, there seemed to be hope. By February, only a flicker of hope. I really should have been interviewing in February yet I simply couldn't. I was still getting over the death of a co-worker. She was the first person I knew who had died. I took it pretty hard.
Carol, the head of Human Resources, fought for and won a monthlong career counseling package for employees. I half-heartedly signed up, wondering if going would be worth my time. Now was the perfect time to ask my nagging question.
"Carol, you're on the other side of the hiring table. I'm four months pregnant. Would you tell the interviewer? I'd feel dishonest if I didn't."
Carol paused for a moment. "First of all," she began, "legally you don't have to tell them. If this was ten years ago, I'd tell you not to say anything. Things are changing. Companies are more willing to address these issues. Plus if they have a problem with pregnant women, you wouldn't want to work for them anyway."
I had been working since college, almost ten years. I didn't see why pregnancy should stop me now.
My last work day was Friday, March 13. For luck. The following Monday I applied for unemployment. I posted my resume and went to two interviews.
I called Lisa, my nutritionist-in-training, with a vitamin question.
"How's it going?" Lisa asked.
"The evening sickness is getting better. My footies get tired and I'm getting more tired."
"Did you tell the interviewer?"
"Legally, I didn't have to. Yes, I told them. I can work until July. Four months."
"I wouldn't bother working."
"Neither would I," Bob chimed in over the speaker phone. "I'd stay at home and write hash functions."
Yes, the thought of not working had occurred to me.
First impressions of the career consulting company were not promising. It took them almost two weeks to get some paperwork from their Cupertino office to their San Francisco office.
"Bob, I've been thinking. I don't want to work until three or four months after the baby comes."
"That's what I would have done."
"Exposing myself to all that stress for only four months of work doesn't seem worthwhile. Plus I'm getting more pregnancy symptoms. I've paid up my part of the mortgage and household expenses until December. This will be my version of a sabbatical."
It mattered that Bob didn't mind.
I told the two interviewing companies of my decision. I canceled my unemployment benefits. Taking career classes proved very worthwhile. I rewrote my resume, brushed up on interviewing techniques, and now have a clue when it comes to negotiating salary. I'm also in the right career field.
Many people in the classes were like me, axed in one way or another. When we introduced ourselves, one theme was common--Oh my gosh, I have all this free time now! Most people seemed in no particular hurry to start working again, especially those with generous severance packages. One guy went sailing every day. A woman cleaned her entire house and took the kids to Marine World.
It's the new Silicon Valley sabbatical. When your company lays you off, take a couple months vacation or more. People can hop off the express train and thoroughly enjoy the experience. I know I do!