The end of an era
7 years and 2 months ago I began work as an intern with AVAYA. My internship assignment was to document the existing budget/operation procedures and create an internal website. The website assignment was quite comical as I had no web design experience. My first day on the job I opened up a massive Front Page text book and began on page 1. I also recall being dressed in a ridiculous women's business suit while everyone else was walking around in shorts and tevas.
I convinced AVAYA to keep paying me through my last semester of college so I could "maintain" my newly created web site. It was a perfect gig - I could work from home as few (or as many) hours as I wanted, get AVAYA to pay for my apartment's Internet connection (a real novelty in 2000), and use the company lap top for school. The only glitch was when my roommate stepped on my company laptop which created a massive looking spider web on the screen. I was really stressed out about getting in trouble and worried I would have to buy a new lap top - so I worked with the broken screen for months. Little did I know the IT guy would simply send the lap top back to IBM and they would replace the screen for free.
During this time AVAYA paid me full time for part time work all semester on accident. Since part of my job was to "track the budget" I felt it my duty to get this corrected. I called every week for 4 months regarding my paycheck being too large. It took 5 months for them to figure out how to stop paying me full time (just at the very moment I actually went back to work full time - go figure.) And at the end of those 5 months they asked for the overpayment back. I think in the back of my mind I thought I would end up being able to keep the overpayment as a reward for my honestly. No dice. Clearly I had read too many New Era stories in my life time.
During the course of my tenure I found one other guy who had been collecting full time pay checks for 4 years after being "let-go." Somehow he slipped through the cracks. When I brought this to the attention of payroll they went after him with a vengeance. Poor guy. He had to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars, all of which he had spent. I still feel sort of bad about that.
After graduation my boss offered me a full time position doing budget, financial modeling, operations and web work. I was brought on board during a "hiring freeze" and after several months of working with "intern status" it didn't look promising that the official job offer would actually go through. Since I had moved back to Colorado in anticipation of the job offer being "real" this was a bit stressful. Finally my boss got the VP to sign the special exception hire.
From that day forward for the next 7 years I somehow managed to dodge lay-off after lay-off as AVAYA tried to recover from the telecom "bubble burst." I have probably survived upwards of 30 lay-offs. There was one year in particular where I remember getting a call at the beginning of each month from my boss and she would say "you're retained" (meaning some other poor chap was getting a call saying "we have to let you go.") As a budget person I watched the severance packages slowly drop each round from 6 months, to 4 months, to 6 weeks, to 4 weeks, to 2 weeks!
I felt like such an impostor as the only finance person in a research and development software organization. Everyone I worked with had a masters degree in electrical engineering or computer science, and 25+ years with the company. I was the only 22 year old and enjoyed watching and talking about "THE BACHELOR." When the HR lady came to administer my "Myers Briggs Personality Test" she was shocked to learn I was an ENFP (apparently 90% of AVAYA staff are ISTJs - the exact polar opposite of my personality.) She closed the door to my office and essentially told me to RUN away as fast as I could. "Your personality type will never thrive in this environment!" The guy who was always nicest to me had an office across from mine. He must have eaten at McDonalds every day b/c his desk and filing cabinet was lined with THOUSANDS of happy meal toys. Yes, the people I worked with could be a bit...eccentric.
I lived in Denver but commuted out of the city to this office everyday.
It would take me 20 minutes to get to work, and 40+ minutes to get home depending on traffic. I remember getting SO MAD when there was an accident and I was stuck on the freeway for an hour plus. This was the only time in my life that I actually came close to using my monthly cell phone minutes. I remember thinking "Who can I call now?" My dad would pick up the phone when I called home every day around 4:30pm and say "Hello AVAYA - are you bored?"
In the first 3 years of my time with AVAYA I dated and ended up marrying this cutie.
Dave was still in school and had a pretty flexible schedule which often didn't start until noon the next day. As a result, we would end up staying up WAY too late and then he would get to sleep in, and I would have to haul myself into work at 7am. The thing I remember most about those 3 years is being exhausted. Since I had my own office and locking door, one day it dawned on me I could take a quick little nap under my desk and no one would ever know. Slowly but surely the nap became a routine - and I even snuck into my office a blanket and pillow from home. I remember the day someone came by to ask me a question. I was sitting at my desk, but had forgotten to put away the mini bed set up under my desk. My co-workers eyes definitely landed on the make-shift bed and took in the whole scenario, but mercifully he didn't say anything about it. I work with introverts remember?
Even though I worked out of the Denver office, my boss was in Ohio, her boss was in California - and most of the people I worked with were scattered all over the country/world. As a result 95% of the time I worked with people "over the phone" or "via web-conference." I remember thinking to myself - why do I even go into the office?
At the time Dave and I were married - so for Christmas one year he gave me an "Internet connection" and set me up so I could work from home. At first I would just work from home 1 day a week - feeling like a criminal the whole time. But thanks to the fancy & free AVAYA telecom software I have unlimited access too, no one ever knew I was actually at home since all the calls I placed and received were associated with my office telephone number. The 1 day a week at home slowly became 2 days a week, and then rapidly progressed to 3 days, 4 days, etc. I would try to drag myself into the office once a month just to feel like I still had a "real job." During this whole progression - no one at work even knew I was working from home.
6 months of this passed and I was on the phone with my boss working a "priority action item." A pesky magazine salesman rang my doorbell 3 times in a row and my boss said "Is that your doorbell?" I said "Yes." She said "Are you working from home?" I said "Yes." She said "Cool - I work from home every day." And thus began a new era of my life. From that point forward I was lucky to make it into the office once every 4 months. I got to go on runs at lunch-time, avoid the hour+ daily commute, do laundry when work was slow, and avoid getting dressed until 4pm each day. This was hands down the best Christmas gift I ever received.
Somewhere during the course of my 7 years I stopped feeling like an impostor and began to feel like an asset. My job description continued to change/increase, I started to provide some actual value to the company, and I received several promotions along the way. One of the worst projects I ever had was "strike duty coordinator." Our union plant workers were threatening to strike and somehow I got stuck with the "side job" of organizing back-up workers to cover every single shift presuming the strike actually happened. The electrical engineers in my department were NOT thrilled with the notion of having to drive an hour plus each way to the factory, for 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week, to cover the union worker's jobs. Trying to organize that schedule was a nightmare - and people definitely DO try to shoot the messenger. Luckily negotiations were made and the strike was averted. I was given a beautiful, fully loaded I-pod as a thank you gift for picking up that horrible "side-job." Dave quickly commandeered my new Ipod and I haven't seen it since.
Since our India facility is the fastest growing in AVAYA, and many of my peers work in that location - I decided I should be able to finagle a business trip to India. I found a new hire in a field similar to mine and convinced my boss he was in desperate need of my expertise. After putting together a project proposal, I found myself on my one and only business trip in Pune, India.
I convinced Dave to tag along - which didn't take much convincing. Since I still go by my maiden name at work, every hotel and car service waiting for us had signs for "Mr. C Lewis" and presumed Dave was the one on the business trip. They were always very eager to welcome him to their country, offer him a drink and cookie, and whisk away his bags. They were also very confused when I ended up signing the bill and giving out the tips.
I spent 4 days providing financial and business training at the AVAYA facility - and then Dave and I spent 6 days traveling and sight seeing. We had an unforgettable Indian adventure in large part thanks to AVAYA.
Since my first day 7+ years ago my hiring manager has taken a director's position at the India site, my department has been massively re-organized 6+ times, our company was purchased by a private entity and removed from the stock market, and the lay-offs continue to come fast & furiously.
If anyone is actually still reading - you might be wondering what brought this on? Well today is my last day before my vacation/maternity leave kicks in. Today is my last day with AVAYA at least until October, and maybe forever (I'm guessing after 3 months of leave I'll be a likely candidate for a lay-off). Since I work from home there will be no farewell parties or good bye lunches. Just me in my ratty PJs, working via wire-less connection from bed, turning off my computer at the end of the day. So I felt like someone needed to give me some sort of farewell - and who better to do it than me?
The thing I'm most curious about...is how they are going to go about getting back all the fancy computer equipment they have purchased for me over the years? If I've learned one thing in my experience with Corporate America - it's that someday, someone will show up at my front door looking for my computer(s), office chair, and 36 inch monitor.