Bob Billington was upset. Bob worked for KillerWattSoftware. His job title was "senior designer," although he thought of himself as a really good programmer. He was good at his job, and he liked his job, but right now it looked like he might lose his job. At least, that's what Bob's boss, Sam, had said when she called Bob and the rest of the team into the conference room earlier that day.
"MegaCorp's management have given us formal notice that they are likely to cancel the Flitzerboing-Ultra project," Sam said. "Consumers are tightening their belts, global demand for Flitzerboings is down, down, down, and MegaCorp says that the Flitzerboing-Ultra project is no longer commercially viable."
She explained that the loss of this important project meant that KillerWattSoftware suddenly didn't have enough money coming in, and it risked financial ruin. Nothing was certain, she said, but it looked like they may have to "let some of you go." She then handed everyone an envelope, noting that the envelope was only a formality and no final decision had been made yet. She said she was sorry to be the bearer of such bad news and uncertainty and then terminated the meeting.
Bob felt sorry for Sam. He knew it wasn't nice to have to give such bad news, so he waited until everyone else had left the room. Then, when he and Sam were alone, he said, "Tough day."
"Yeah. Not much we can do about it, though, is there?" She opened her jacket and pointed to an envelope sticking out of the inside pocket. She shrugged. "We're all in the same boat."
Bob was disappointed by the news, but his two boys were adults now and they had left home, he had paid off his mortgage, and even though his retirement savings were invested in the stock market, he knew he had enough money to see him through any rough times, if he was careful. He knew that Sam had two young kids at home. He knew that she and her husband had just moved into a fancy new house. He also knew without being told that someone upstairs in the HR department had already started preparing a spreadsheet, which would be used to objectively figure out who would be the most expensive to "let go." Bob had worked here for fifteen years, got paid a lot, and was, he thought, irreplaceable—he knew the products, the code, where the skeletons were buried. Sam had worked here for three years, she didn't get paid nearly as much as Bob, and—not to put too fine a point on it—project managers were a dime a dozen. The math wasn't hard. Bob felt sorry for Sam.
Bob didn't know what to say, so he just said, "Yeah," and they walked out of the room together.
Sam went upstairs, and Bob went back to his desk, where he opened the envelope. It contained a letter from Eugene "Killer" Watt on formal letterhead, which told Bob nothing he hadn't already figured out: Expect that a formal announcement will be made in two weeks time.
Bob shrugged, but rather than turning to the job Web sites like he knew many of his younger colleagues were now doing, he fired up Google News. He sat there for half an hour, watching the headlines change as the Web site automatically refreshed every few minutes. He hoped a new headline would pop up saying that this whole recession thing was over. Nothing changed. Bob didn't expect it to.
He had been around long enough to recognize the pattern. There were always a number of good, prosperous years when the stock market slowly rose up, up, and away, until suddenly, out of the blue, it crashed back down. Everyone expressed surprise, shock, and horror. The media talked about little else. House prices dropped, unemployment went up. Then, slowly, things got better. The stock market slowly rose up, up, and away. This went on for a few more years, the world got prosperous again, and then suddenly, out of the blue …