Imx Fix in my experience
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April 9, 2002 9:40 AM

I just started a new job at AOL yesterday. Up until last week, the job search was utterly depressing, which only got worse as time went on. Back in August of '01 we all knew that the poor financials were going to catch up with us soon. Accounts receivable was not outpacing liabilities and no new work was starting. On September 9th an all hands meeting was called to take place on the 11th. Having seen two rounds of layoffs occur at these 'all hands' meetings, we knew what was going to happen. Obviously, the day was much worse than we anticipated.

The consensus in August was that any new work would have to come ASAP because payment always comes long after the project starts. If something didn't come quick, there was going to be hell to pay (or rather, all hell and no pay). Throughout 2001 we kept laying people off and nothing significant had come in the door since the TMC deal was confirmed, which is a day I still remember vividly.

In the summer of 2000, the BookAdventure team was on its way to Baltimore for a launch party after finishing a 3 month redesign. On the way to Baltimore, we got a phone call with the good news, and it felt like we were firing on all cylinders. Just few months previous, we had moved into our new offices, which was a huge improvement to the one room temp space we had, which wasn't an improvement from the days where everyone was working from home. We now had 30+ employees, a multi-million dollar project, and a corporate culture that was great. Everyone was friends, the work was interesting, and the money was getting better and better.

Not since then has a large project come to pass. In fact, nothing even close has come around, but we have had several smaller jobs to keep the company going. At the height, we were up to 60 employees with Y2K Christmas bonuses reaching the 25% range. A year later, the bonus was not getting laid off. Seriously.

On December 15, 2001, we had our 4th round of layoffs, and almost everyone got the ax. We were still reeling from the layoffs of September 11th when we watched the smoke rising from the Pentagon as we heard about 30% cut in staff. At this most recent round of layoffs, it was also announced that Senior Management, all 5 of them, began working for no pay (which I admired and benefitted from). A list of names was read off and I heard my name. These names were those of billable employees and thus would remain on the payroll until their projects ended. I thought I was saved, and so did everyone else, but I found out in a private meeting afterwards that I was only billable for the next 4 days, and then I was done.

Thankfully, I had three weeks of vacation saved up (the maximum allowed) and was able to 'take my vacation' and get paid for the time. The next day, I came to work, and there was only a few people there; the billable people. The culture had always been based on lots of social interaction, and the lack of people to be social with was a kick in the teeth.

Back in the glory days, ever other week or so, a large group of us would head down to a bar in the next building. Most of us had been there many times before, and thought of it as the usual place to go. We ate and drank and the bill was usually paid for by one of the company Partners, and everything was great. That was then, this is now.

Today, just a few people are billable, and 5 others remain unpaid for the their efforts, which have been fruitless in spite of constant efforts. The e-business climate has been horrible for so long. They are attempting to keep the company going, but it's like a desert hiker trying to find his way to an oasis. Which is a metaphor for the job search.

Anyway, after my 3 weeks of 'vacation', the other person at the company who does what I do, quit because she was lucky enough to find a job elsewhere. She had been the person to orient me when I joined the company, and was always gregarious and helpful. But, her exit opened up a billable position for me, and is what kept me working until I found my new job at AOL.

Ironically, if I hadn't lived through this I would have felt that I had missed something.