Gotham Beacon

The ramblings of an aging Bruce Wayne

The Long Halloween

Posted on 23 December 2014 under Personal.

On the eve of Halloween, an early e-mail notified Coriant employees that a town hall meeting would be held at the company’s premisses that same afternoon with one of our German overlords. I was working from home that day and couldn’t attend, but everyone sort of knew that bad news were coming our way. The last financial reports were pretty bad and extreme cost saving measures were on the pipeline.

After the meeting ended, I was contacted by my Line Manager and he explained that, in light of a shift in priorities and the pressing need to cut costs, the company had decided to part ways with several external contractors in the Lisbon site. Some were allocated to other projects, but most were to be let go. I was one of them. So ended my stay at Coriant. A two-and-a-half-year roller coaster with more downs than ups. It was my longest stay at a company. Ever.

Maybe a little background is in order. I joined Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) in June 2012 to work on the TL1 protocol implementation. Work was always rather dull and unrewarding, but the team was pretty stable and performed pretty well. In December 2012 it was announced that Marlin Equity Partners was buying the Optical Networks business unit of NSN, which was where I was working. After months of red tape, a new company was created in May 2013 and it was christened Coriant.

At that time, instability had already begun to creep into the foundations of the company. A new project was started and it represented the future of the company. The ultimate flagship product that would help us conquer the market and leapfrog some of our most fierce competitors. Major organisational changes were done and stable development teams were split in order to allocate resources to the new endeavour. The major project we had (and the only one we were really selling to customers) suddenly had about half the staff and new features were being double-checked before implementation to make sure they were worthwhile. About six months later, the new “best thing since sliced bread” project was scrapped due to the uncertainty surrounding its milestones and the company’s ability to deliver an actual finished product that could be sold to customers.

An older project that had been shelved and hadn’t seen any real development in years was reactivated in an attempt to win a major deal with one of USA’s biggest telecom companies. For about five months, the development teams were totally focused on this goal and deadlines were being met left and right. When everything seemed on track for a successful sale, the customer in question dropped our proposal due to geopolitical reasons and not so much on the lack of merit of our technical solution. Teams were shuffled and what was still the company’s best product was now the main focus again.

In August 2013, the first round of layoffs came. A substantial set of employees (both full-time and contractors) were given the sack because they didn’t meet internal performance metrics that would henceforth become the standard to which each and everyone of us would have to live up to with our daily work. It was a pretty convoluted and delicate process and I’m not going to elaborate on it. I was one of those who stayed on with a strong reference regarding the quality of my work and my future involvement in the team’s activities. The bottom line is that the first warning flag had been raised.

Meanwhile, Marlin bought two other companies (Sycamore Networks and Tellabs) and started merging them with Coriant. The promising financial results we were showing as a single company quickly started to fade with these mergers (no surprise here, I guess). Nevertheless, work was pouring in and we had enough on our plates to keep going without spending too much time thinking about what might happen. Sure, we talked about it on coffee breaks, but major feature development and bug fixing didn’t leave too much time for our imaginations to delve on the subject.

By the middle of 2014, the first alarming financial results were announced and it became clear that things could change by the end of the year. That, and the fact that one of Tellabs products was now the major development driver for the company. Again, the whole “best thing since sliced bread” innuendo that had worked out so well for us in the recent past. After a few months of uncertainty and a lot of backstage manoeuvres between sites (the company has development teams in the USA, Germany, Portugal and China), the downsizing measures began. External contractors were laid off in Germany. Full-time employees were laid off in the US. Both were laid off in China. And then our turn came.

I’m writing this three weeks after I left Coriant. I just needed things to sink in and objectively analyse what happened. Aside from one or two mishaps, the three Line Managers I had during my stay at the company were always forefront with me and we kept very clear and honest lines of communication. People like them are hard to come by in times plagued by poor management figures that resort to corporate lingo in order to slither their way out of actually managing the human beings that look at them for leadership and wisdom.

My team was excellent. It was composed of great people that I loved working with. There was just one obnoxious, patronising, self-centered and poor excuse for a human being that was supposed to be my team mate (although he wasn’t actually part of the team), but we ended up working as a two-headed monster while maintaining the TL1 protocol. There was no communication due to his genetical inability to socialize with other living organisms and things ended up being rather uncomfortable during my stay.

The bottom line is: I did my job. I did it well. Very well, actually. I was let go because, sooner or later, I would leave the company to join ze wife abroad and assigning me to a new project and Line Manager wasn’t feasible with this “restriction”. Financially speaking, the timing couldn’t be worse for me. But maybe it was for the best. I had long stagnated on a technical level and was feeling an increasing urge to look for something else. Maybe something completely different.

There’s so much going on in my life right now and most of it isn’t good. Figuring out what my next move will be while trying to sort everything else is beginning to take its toll. I walk around feeling like the weight of the world is on my shoulders and, without any real progress to hold on to, I’m struggling to find the right path for my short term future.