April 17, 2009
April 15 apparently saw a fairly good-sized layoff at Oracle; on LayoffBlog.com, the usual background chatter suddenly swelled to a roar.
I’ve been canned once or twice, and I once quit in advance of a layoff, so I know how bad it feels. For anybody who’s experienced this, I’m sorry.
It makes me wonder, though, what is a person’s useful life in this industry? We all know technology changes, and we all know that an existing technology can only be pushed so far. But for people who have trained as programmers or salespeople or application consultants (or analysts, for heavens’ sake), the feeling was that you had something–but what?–that transcended the technology, so that you could grow and adapt even as things changed.
Is that really true, though? Maybe, once you spend 5 years putting in Oracle EBS 11i v6-12 Accounts Receivable, the need for you in the next 5 years is not going to be all that great. The installations that are out there are settling in and working, so they don’t need as many consultants. The number of people out there who are buying and installing the product is going down. And really, what is it you know that’s worth $120,000/year (or $240,000 or whatever)?
I don’t mean to be mean when I ask that. I’m serious. I don’t know for sure now, but it used to be there were all sorts of date problems created by the way Oracle handled multi-geographies and accounting periods (two separate issues). Let’s say you’re an expert at writing reports that cover up those problems. Sorry, this is not expertise that will be valuable into the 22nd century. On the other hand, let’s say your expertise is in something far more general and transferable, like ways to raise cash on invoices. Yes, you can get a job somewhere else. But it will take a long time for you to learn the new systems and the new businesses, and at your high salary, that’s a lot of investment for people to make in you.
In my world, the place this really hits home is in marketing. I have any number of friends who had senior marketing positions at some application company or other and are now out with the trout. They’re talented people. But I wonder whether much of what they’ve learned in the past 10 years isn’t now outdated? It used to be that you were marketing innovation, so you had to teach people about your app and persuade them that buying this innovation would make a huge difference to them. But these days, apps are mostly a commodity, and the job in commodity selling is different.
So maybe, what you think is that you’ll hold a job in this industry for an entire working life, advancing from post to post and area to area, as you learn more and more, and eventually retiring with a big nest egg from those stock options. But maybe that’s just now how the technology business works. Maybe you get in and what you know is only worth what you’re paid for 10 years.
After that, you’re out.