Full Circle Moment – A Redemptive Story of a Long Ago Lay Off

As I see more and more folks tweeting and posting about experiencing the sting of being laid off, I share this story to give you hope.

Returning to the scene of the crime

I walked into the lobby this morning past the 201 sculpture and rode the elevators up — but the open desk space, concrete columns, and views of Moscone and MoMA were the things that really brought it all flooding back after 22 years… 

Déjà vu all over again

In March 2000, I had been traveling Monday through Thursday for about 2-1/2 years straight, consulting, road-warrior style. I was at the airport again, Denver, Boise, John Wayne, Dallas, I forget which. My flight home to San Francisco was delayed, and as I tiredly scavenged around for a power outlet, a fellow business traveler walked up to me. “You work at PeopleSoft?” He’d seen my luggage tag. A couple hours spent chatting in the United lounge about Accenture and telecom, and I had a job offer to come work for a telecom startup as a technology marketing manager under their CMO. This was the first dotcom boom, and all the cool kids were on rocket ships, so it seemed. I knew telecom, I knew some web dev, and the manager seemed likable, someone I could learn from. I could get off the road, work in San Francisco, start a family. 

Over the next year I worked at 201 Third Street while the company, Cygent, surged to 200 people. Our marketing and sales engineering team had great, fun people. We had foosball tables, bean bag chairs, a kitchen full of snacks – all new amenities in 2000. We were living the dream. That is, until reality hit, customers and funding dried up, and in the second of three rounds of layoffs that would bring the staff down to 30, I got laid off. It was my one year anniversary, to the day – also, the day my worthless stock vested (which in those pre-RSU days meant you had to pay for it). My husband and I had just bought our first home, and I was newly pregnant with our first child. Half of SF got laid off, so no one was hiring, and especially not a pregnant, female technologist (I’m happy to say things have changed – I’ve now hired multiple people taking imminent parental leave). 

Little did I know then that being laid off would be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It sure didn’t feel that way at the time. LinkedIn tells the rest of the story, but I’ll summarize by saying that the subsequent years included lots of learning through technical challenges, risk taking, and stretch roles. I was forced to be creative and began to believe in my own resourcefulness and resilience. Though I find myself sitting again at 201 Third Street, I’m in a very different place in my career now, three weeks into my new role as a VP of Engineering at Capital One. And while I’m still living in SF, still living in the same (significantly remodeled) house, now that baby girl (and her brother) are off to college. 

Fast forward back to this morning. It was surreal, walking around the floors – so different but also the same. There are still foosball tables, cushy seating, and plenty of snacks. But now I have a chance to create new memories in this building – working on a modern tech stack, with a new group of kind, fun people, on a mission to help customers experiencing financial hardship. 

So for those finding themselves in the middle of this particular form of “character building” experience, my hope for you is that being laid off frees you to experience a bigger and better future. Keep learning, and stay open to new possibilities.

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