September 27th, 2005

Wedding day

Freetime vs. downtime

"We'll never replace you with a computer."
-- John Bear on how to assure somebody
that they're not getting fired in his book,
Computer Wimp (Hutchinson, 1983).

Two of my coworkers were "let go" this afternoon.

"Let go."

That's a Collapse )

We'd known about the staffing cut for a long time, but it got postponed when my boss' boss quit unexpectedly, and her replacement wanted to get a feel for the department before making any major changes. The company did a bunch of hiring during the aftermath of September 11th. It took quite some time for things to slow down, but eventually they did. On top of that, Visa has been bringing a lot of their process up to date. Systems that had once been handled via paper correspondence are now handled over the Internet. Incidentally, MasterCard did this like, five years before Visa did. The point is that things are changing, and thanks to automation, a few humans had to be cut out of the picture.

If our department were a homogeneous group, I would have been the first logical person to go. I was the newest hire. I don't do grunt work (peons in my department have some degree of job security because the repetitive, boring tasks they do require a great deal of training), but I lack the knowledge and experience most of my coworkers have. The department is split between specialists who handle merchant disputes and specialists who handle cardholder disputes. I guess I got lucky by choosing to switch over to the merchant side of things back in 2002. Our tasks are such that we have just enough work to keep four people occupied. Gaining or losing an employee wouldn't be a good idea. The cardholder side has been "sorta kinda overstaffed" for awhile, though, hence the cuts.

My boss says that deciding who to cut was a tough decision -- that's why she "makes the big bucks." I don't envy her position. Choosing two people to cut would have been difficult, and considering the two who got cut (not that I have any better ideas), I think her primary criteria must have been "is ___________ happy here?" I can't speak for both, but at least one of them was miserable and couldn't admit it to herself. I think -- I hope -- that this will be the catalyst she needs to begin work on all of the major life changes (things like "move to Seattle") that have been piling up on her to-do list.

Myself, I'm just trying to look worthwhile. I entered the job market right after September 11th, and it's not like anybody was looking to hire untested programming talent. I ended up going into a different field entirely. It's really too bad since I'm so good with COBOL. Everybody needs COBOL programmers because everybody designed their first mainframe system with it. COBOL programs are cumbersomely huge and hulkingly convoluted, but the prospect of migrating from your IBM 390 to a Windows or Linux or Mac (scratch that last one -- let's be serious) network is expensive and daunting and fraught with opportunities for failure. COBOL isn't a well-liked language, but it's a stable one that isn't going away. Nothing says job security like designing a vital system which nobody else can maintain.
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