What happened? Did that just happen? Hello?

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“Boom, headshot!”

{Something the gang at EAC IT used to yell out whenever someone was terminated that we didn’t particularly care for.  Something I was tempted to yell out when I was laid off last year.  Given what’s been going on in the gaming industry of late, you’ll forgive me a little gallows humour.}

So… been an interesting couple of weeks.  Heading into the Christmas break, I was asked a question I’ve been asked in the past about where I wanted to go in my career.  The last time was at Electronic Arts Blackbox, and I was a “Team Lead,” which roughly translated into “We can’t seem to find a decent Desktop Support Manager, so you and a few of your peers need to take control for a bit until we figure this out.”  I had three people working under me as direct reports, and would train new co-ops as they arrived.  A good number of those co-ops were later hired fulltime (and are still there, which is good).

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.  Here’s what happened.

I got laid off a week ago.  Not like last year, when it was a “Reduction In Force,” at EA, and I was one of three people let go in my department of 20.  This time it’s because the entire HumaNature Studio was closed with very little notice.  Something about exchange rates between Korea/Japan and “The Current Economic Environment.”  There were signs here and there.  Odd rumblings in the ether.  Weird requests about “What sorts of big ticket items do we have to buy this quarter?  Can we do without them?”  Execs going to Korea and getting odd responses from their parent-company counterparts “Oh, you’re uh… you’re here…  We weren’t really expecting you after… y’know…”

Last Tuesday we had a meeting in which our CEO had the terrible task of telling a room full of people that it’s not SOME or even MOST of us that were being laid off, but ALL of us.

We all stood there for a shocked moment, and then someone piped up with “Well this has been the best two years of my life,” followed by someone else with some non-worksafe and heartfelt anti-EA stuff, and some sort of weird Klingon battle cry thing happened.  It was good.  No, it was great.  It was awesome.  We were all fired, and we were cheering.  It was still sad, but since it was everyone, they didn’t have to frogmarch anyone out the door.

Well, except maybe for the one guy who tried to steal a freakin’ BATTERY CHARGER 15 minutes later, after taking pictures of IP-content on whiteboards (which he posted on Facebook, maybe Nexon might wanna have a word with his parents?), and his co-workers lining up in from the HR office – I mean, c’mon, really?  Really?  Oh, and the same guy used his digital camera to film our CEO starting his speech until Alex told him to turn it off, and that it was offensive, and that it had better not show up on YouTube.  Way to go, there, Sparky.  Way to blow the last 15 minutes of your first real job.  I yelled and swore at him when I took the battery charger off him, and he didn’t seem to understand exactly how close he came to being leveraged into a little team-building ass-kicking exercise.)  There goes any good references he might have had coming, I bet.

ANYHOO

As everyone went into the meeting, two timed scripts kicked in: One logged out all of the workstations, and the other disabled all but a select few user accounts.  By the time everyone got back to their desks, they couldn’t log back in again.  Anyone who’s ever worked on a sizeable AD server should know the gutpunched feeling you get seeing your entire Users OU filled with little red Xs.  It was just surreal.  Two years to create, and two minutes to pull the trigger.

So then what happens?  I’m in IT, so what does an IT person do when the place is closing up?  You figure out how to quickly erase every workstation in the building, WITHOUT hitting the execs, HR, finance, and IT machines.  Happily, we had a central network-bootable thing (PXE, pronounced “Pixie”) that was normally used to roll out the operating system to new machines (nice to put a patched XP on a system in 4mins by network instead of 40+ by disc), and all I had to do was enable the additional “Drive Erase” menu option during boot.  The PXE that was previously the magic elf that installed operating systems was now Ah Pook, the Destroyer.

Doing this, I felt a switch go off in my head.  Something deep in my brain started saying “Wait, wait, you’re going to intentionally ERASE stuff?  We doesn’t erase things, Precious, we keeps them safe.  It’s what we does.”  That voice didn’t go away for the next three days.  Every time I booted a machine into the Drive Erase menu, my poor data-recovery muscles started twitching, and when I pulled the trigger on the first 10-20 machines, I could feel it in my knees.  Like the feeling you get watching your toddler do a faceplant you can’t stop, putting your tongue on a brand new 9v battery, realizing that the water coming out of that tap isn’t freezing cold – you’re actually being scalded.

Over the next two days, there was a fire sale in the studio.  40% of whatever the studio had paid for it.  People got grabby.  Stuff got weird.  I think there’s a part of our poor Head of Finance’s brain that’s never coming back from there.  I kept my head down and destroyed gigs and gigs of data, and moved machines into the piles where the general public would ask things like “You’ve just erased the programs and the documents, not the Windows parts, right?” and I tried my best not to yell at them.  I could see in their eyes that they were eyeing me like some Future Shop guy who was about to try to sell them an extended warranty (but they’d still expect ME to support them for the lifetime of the machine, because I touched it last).  I hope they got some good deals (well, no – I know they did), but I hope the understand that they did that while standing hip deep in me losing a job.  Sorry if customer satisfaction wasn’t exactly job #1 for those three days.  Sorry if I was curt with any of my recently-ex co-workers.  Sorry if I snapped at you for taking cables off of machines I hadn’t nuked yet.

Sorry.  We were busy.    On the end of the 2nd day, an auction house bought “everything that was left” for enough money to bail out our execs from having to go into debt to pay off final bills and stuff, so any pressure to help sell equipment was gone.  No more working behind the scenes: this time, we were burning down the theatre.  We were sinking the ship.  Collapsing the EA escape tunnels.  I got to feel the hull hit the bottom of the ocean.  I was there until my services were literally no-longer required.  Briggs was taking down the servers he’d spent so long building and tweaking.  All the VMs (Virtual Machines) he’d learned how to build and safely house were gone.  One last big backup and he was out of there, too.

I think Joe, having been through this before in Seattle with EA, was the least shocked, but the most checked out.  I can’t imagine having built that place from the ground up (he was the 8th employee at that studio), and having taken over the additional floor and done it by the seat of his pants, only to watch it all crumble to the ground in the space of 72 hours.

So now I’m looking for work again.  There was a very humane severance package (especially considering I only worked there six months), so we’re okay for a while, but it’s pretty scary.  Michelle (my “kid-sister” buddy in IT) had her baby over the weekend, which is some badly-needed good news, considering last time I got laid off, the person I worked closest to in the department freakin’ DIED less than a month later.

Oh, the “Career Direction” question at the top of this post?  My point was that I was being asked if I wanted to be some kinda uber-technician, or if I wanted to Manage.  At EA, being a low-level manager was nearly impossible, because there were always WAY more layers of hierarchy above you to override anything you wanted to do, but at Humanature, there was room to actually make policy decisions, and make changes that were necessary.  At EA I’d been made a Team Lead, and eventually I asked to back off, and become “Just a Tech” again (even though *most* of the folks who reported to me said they were happy working for me).  With my boss becoming a “Director of IT” for the studio, there would be a gap for single-studio-centric management.  The question I was asked was if I wanted to “go management path” or not.  This time ’round, I was going to say yes.

Makes things sort of interesting as I look at job postings for IT departments around Vancouver.  I’ll take what’ll pay the bills, but given the chance to work with/for the execs at Humanature again, in whatever incarnation they form, I’ll be there for them.  It’s where I want to be.  It took me five years to get back to work with them again (I worked with them at another company before being head-hunted by EA), and I felt like I was home, y’know?

Okay, off to bed.  I have to work (at finding work) in the morning.

Miss you, HuNas.

Posted on February 3rd 2009 in Friends, General, Hardware, People, Places, Sad

9 Responses to “What happened? Did that just happen? Hello?”

  1. Curtis Lassam » Blog Archive » Humanature: What Happened? Says:

    […] I wasn’t sure what more to say, but fortunately, somebody else has already said it for me: http://www.geckotemple.com/blog/?p=87614440 […]

  2. Dan Says:

    (Found you via Curtis’ blog)

    I heard about Humanature soon after it happened. Quite a shock, to say the least. I work at a studio within the viscinity, Threewave.

    I’m still reeling after hearing of all the failed companies, the piles of lay offs, and the murmurs of more to come. I want to say good luck and keep up hope to those who have lost their positions but my conscious thought focuses on the now thousands of laid-off gaming professionals looking for work in Vancouver.

    Aiee, it is not a good time to be in Software.

    Regarding the idiot with the phone: maybe try to hold off, likely they’re a cocky young person who just dropped a brick as a metric shit-tonne of reality slammed into their job. Hiding behind a camera may have been the only power they felt they could wield.

    Still an incredibly rude move to make, however.

  3. Zen Render Says:

    Hi Dan (are YOU guys hiring for IT positions?). Good point about the young buck who thought it was smirk-worthy to take pictures of whiteboards and the rest of his department lining up in front of HR to get their last cheques. It’s easy to forget I was young once, too. Perhaps it’s that young ME that I want to yell at, the shake the stupid out of, y’know?

  4. Wendy Says:

    Thank you for finding the words to express what so many experience but can’t explain. “I got to feel the hull hit the bottom of the ocean.”

    And thank you for saying it out loud …

  5. Joe Says:

    Great post man. You nailed it.

    “Two years to create, and two minutes to pull the trigger.”

    That sums it up.

  6. Andrew Says:

    Briggs here.

    Nice post John, you summed it up nicely. I must say I was back at NPNA this past Monday. I wiped a few more PC’s and backup up some files for legal purposes on the request of the EXEC’s.

    Then and only then, once I checked and doubled checked everything, did I pull the final trigger on the destruction of the reamining data. It took me less than 5 minutes to remove all mailboxes, AD accounts, and destroy the 3TB of data left on the Network. It’s amazing what can happen with a keystrokes and the click of a mouse.

    After that, I nuked the only PC left that could actually do something, mine. And that was that. I grabbed my bag, said goodbye to Brian Meaken and walked out.

    So long NPNA, it has been fun…

  7. Ny Fangers Are Spre. | Gecko Bloggle Says:

    […] wrote about the closing of Nexon Vancouver before, so I won’t go into that, but I’m not sure I can fully capture how mind-boggling […]

  8. Gecko Bloggle » Blog Archive » Nevimbor Nenth Thoo Nousand and Tine Says:

    […] who worked right next to me for a year died two weeks later.  2009 brought the very sad closing of Nexon/Humanature Studio in Yaletown, which is possibly the shortest job I’ve ever […]

  9. NaBloPoMovember: Day 1 « Gecko Bloggle Says:

    […] tears, blame-storming, etc…  You get the idea.  I know what that can be like, I’ve been on that end of the stick.  Some of those folks came back to help reboot.  Some of them are in the wings, helping out, and […]

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