Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ennui.com

Random House swept in and bought a digital bookstore start-up that I worked for in order to kill it off before it became competitive. Two days later, nearly broke, I was snapped up by Eufemizm, a multinational web consulting firm opening an office in the heart of Silicon Valley. This was the era when Stanford minted technology degrees as quickly as the Bush Administration printed money. Twentysomethings were CEOs, leading the charge of consulting companies that took your idea and converted it into a concept for millions of dollars.

I was interviewed in the San Francisco office by Monkeyboy, a pathological liar who could sell famine to India. He danced about, speed-clicking through a presentation about the company, weaving fast chat around the notion that I had "the perfect skill set" to become the senior content strategist at the new office the firm was opening in San Jose. When I told him I had no experience in writing business briefs, organizing a web site in concert with information architects, designers, brainy technologists, and C-level executives, Monkeyboy reassured me I would have comprehensive "on-boarding"--not to worry.

To wit: he sent me down to Silicon Valley with a fat paycheck and marching orders to lead the editorial and content role in a multi-million-dollar project designing a new website for a major player in the software field. I had "deliverables" due immediately, writing a strategy for the new website, understanding the kinds of visitors (users) it served, the kinds of products and services the company sold (circuit board testing and design equipment), and the best way to write their "brand message across the entire user experience".

My training? To visit the internal repository at Eufemizm where documents that were prepared for previous clients could be cannibalized into fresh "deliverables" for the software maker. I'll be down soon to help you get going, Monkeyboy promised, but in the nine months I worked for Eufemizm, he never showed.

In principle, we were a team of writers, digital designers, technologists (back-end code writers), and over-caffeinated business managers that created websites for Fortune 500 companies, cataloging so-called business and technical requirements, producing reams of paperwork and reports, creating sample designs, and handing over the finished product in record time. I was entreated to handle every aspect that involved nouns and verbs, while the rest of the staff handled dots and dashes, ones and zeros.

In the office, the Twentysomethings zipped around the floor on Razr scooters, yakking all the while on cell phones, dressed in the customary black slacks, black shirts, and Eufemizm caps. The fridge was stocked with junk food, beer, and soft drinks, and you were encouraged to work late into the night, napping in any number of beanbag chairs piled into cubicles.

I lived in a 250 square-foot studio apartment near the San Jose Airport. You entered the door, tripped over the couch, and passed out from exhaustion after one of Eufemizm's 16 hour days. I heard every 737 that coasted to the airfield, its engines roaring in reverse thrust to slow to a taxi. The Eufemizm office was scarcely three miles away, but it took 45 minutes every morning and eve to join the lemming dance of sports utility vehicles and little black sedans that choked the city streets.

Toward the end of the year, I had somehow cloned myself into my own version of a Twentysomething, extending the contract with the software maker by handing in my deliverables on time and parroting the sophisticated lingo of the Valley. I was a thundering success. My champion had been right: I had the precise skill set to do this work. I came in late and left early.

But the Twentysomethings had miscalculated their reach. Overseas offices began to fall off the email menu. A new manager was hired to butcher the staff and sell off furniture. One day I came into Eufemizm and found myself alone in a corner wing. We were downsizing. We were consolidating our assets. We were taking the lead in slenderizing operations. My friends were cutting and pasting themselves into the offices of new employers.

Eufemizm had nearly failed by the time I left to take my new-found talents to the web team in the California governor's office. But that's another story--of sloth and greed and payoffs. This ends as suddenly as it began. I emailed my resignation to San Francisco. Monkeyboy--who still works for Eufemizm--was very, very busy that day and had no time to reply.

10 comments:

robin bird said...

wow. tb is right you do have away with words :)
i'm afraid i could get lost in the phrases, descriptors and metaphors while missing the point all together of the content. but that is just the way i like it.
cheers

dutchbaby said...

Your story is a familiar one, but no one in Silicone Valley told it as well as you.

Char said...

I had lunch with former co-workers today, the ones that I was told were also being laid off. The world is a crazy place but I don't have a viable alternative at the moment.

Gabby said...

I, too, am running low on choices. I am looking into work for pay and blog for love alternatives. sheesh. what a life!

tangobaby said...

Oh my GOD, just reliving that world a little gives me the shivers. Blechh.

I honestly can't even remember what I worked on during those days in Mountain View. But I remember the bean bags, the pizza Fridays and the dry cleaning pickups.

And why in this post does the word "on-boarding" make me think of waterboarding. Has Silicon Valley scarred me as much as Dick Cheney?

Poor as you might be, at least you're not selling your soul wholesale anymore. I can't wait to get your signed book someday. Remember me.

Annabelle said...

Thanks for your comment re: Israeli female prime minister. I didn't realise it had been so long since their last female - and to think my country (Aus) hasn't even had ONE yet!! Disappointing.

Brent said...

Ha!!! Gabby! I laughed SO hard--my side aches. Not sure if the tears streaming down my face were from the laughing or the memory of all the pain. Share water, brother. You capture the dot com bubble and burst to perfection.

Bill Stankus said...

I was so preoccupied I missed the entire dot com boom and bust. I've even asked others, "When did it happen, who were the players?"

French Fancy said...

I bet you are glad all that madness finished - I hope you have a better work/life balance now.

Wendy said...

That was so amusing it made me want to see a video of it in super fast-forward. Twentysomethings on scooters... what a riot. Do those things have cupholders?