Crash and Brass

This evening, Rosa and I had tickets to see Canadian Brass at the National Arts Centre. We thought we should have a date night, so we went out for dinner before the performance.

We chose Milestones (as if I don’t already have enough milestones at work). As we were driving north on Greenbank in a light snow, the traffic light at Baseline turned yellow. The SUV in front of us stopped, and I stopped with quite a gap, although I did have to pump the brakes because of the slippery conditions. However, the car behind us didn’t stop and they hit us from behind with a huge whallop.

I turned off the car, which is normal procedure for a car accident to prevent fire, and checked that Rosa was ok. I checked the mirror to see if there were any other cars coming and got out to check on the other car. Everyone was ok.

Despite the big hit, there did not appear to be very much damage to Rosa’s car. The bumper cover was pulled out about 8-10cm on the drivers side, and there were two wide grooves gouged in the bumper cover; the licence plate was crumpled. After exchanging our details, we pulled off to the nearby Petro-Canada station. As it was too cold to write, we used our phones to take pictures of each others drivers license and insurance.

I looked over Rosa’s car and could not see any safety issues, so we decided to continue with our evening.

After a noisy dinner (we had to sit in the bar area as all the tables were full), we drove (slowly) to the NAC.

Canadian Brass was backed by the NAC Orchestra. I was not expecting that, as I had assumed it would be just the five brass players. Having the full orchestra actually detracted from the headliners. In some of the pieces, the orchestra drowned out the brass instruments.

The highlight for me was when they brought out a piccolo trumpet and played “Penny Lane” by The Beatles. It was awesome.

They followed up with two other Beatles songs. “Blackbird“, the simplest Beatles song, was just Paul on acoustic guitar and a metronome for the beat. This didn’t translate well into a full orchestra. The french horn lead could hardly be heard, which is a shame as the french horn can be one of the richest, melodious sounding instruments. The last Beatles song was “Come Together“. Come Together (ironically, once used by Nortel in TV ads) also doesn’t work with an orchestra and brass ensemble. An orchestra lacks that driving buzzy guitar for the chorus, the insistent beat from Ringo and the poetry from Lennon.

I was surprised that “All You Need Is Love” wasn’t used. It would have been perfect the evening. It already opens with trumpets blaring “La Marseillaise” and is already scored for strings and brass. It would have been a great, upbeat song with rich musical textures for the NAC Orchestra and plenty of opportunities to highlight Canadian Brass.

Carling Place

There is a new sign at the Carling Campus, which was installed last week. It replaces the old Nortel signage, which is understandable due to the divestiture.

Carling Place
Horrible Carling Place Sign

But the sign is really hideous. The former Nortel Carling Campus is a beautiful location, with interesting architecture, surrounded by forests with wonderful walking paths. I like working at this location because of all of these reasons.

First, I don’t like the name. It’s too similar to “Carleton Place”, the town just outside of Ottawa. It is a non-descript, meaningless name. The name could have been more apt, like “Carling Campus”, which sounds like a place of higher learning. Or perhaps “Technology Park”, which echos places like RTP and includes the nature around the campus, even if the actual name is a little boring.

And finally, the font. I can’t believe the height of design for the sign was an Arial font. Arial is the most boring font in the world. It is completely without character (no pun intended). It is the font of last resort when there are no other fonts available. It is classless and boring to look at. A 6-year old could have designed the sign. I could have designed the sign better than what we got. Instead of spending $100 to hire some Algonquin College Graphic Arts student to do a nice sign (and support the local schools, which is a good news story for the papers), someone decided it was more important to give hundreds of millions of dollars on executive bonuses.

I am so incredibly disappointed in what Nortel will come to represent in the future. It’s a horrible misrepresentation of Nortel that more people will remember the bonuses to executives instead of to pensioners than for the technology that made the company as important as it was a decade ago.

Last Work Day of the Decade

Today is the last work day of the decade for me. I’m still working in the office in Lab 9, as I have some work to complete before I leave on vacation. I end the decade only feet from the exact point where I started the decade.

Jan 1, 2000, at 12:00:01, I was here at work, in Lab 6, as part of Nortel’s Y2K task force. We were all carrying pagers, waiting by the phone and basically doing nothing. For me, it was a non-event, as our software had been updated in the months before, and patches sent out to all of our customers. At the exact moment of the new millennia, I was in the cafeteria, where Nortel had brought in some light snacks and (secretly) handed out glasses of champagne to anyone working to celebrate. I did wish I was downtown though – I’m sure it would have been quite a party.

At the start of the decade, the US elections were in full swing. I told anyone who would listen that Bush would set the US back by decades. Never did I expect that his performance after becoming president without winning the election would have been worse than I anticipated. Of course, no one could have expected 9/11, except for the US agents who specifically told Bush 4 weeks before that an attack against the US was being prepared. And who would have guessed that the US would have invaded a country who had nothing to do with the 9/11 tragedy, other than Donald Rumsfeld who said on 9/12 that the US should attack Iraq because “there aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan“.

The year 2000 was also the start of the layoffs at Nortel. The earliest reference I can find is that they started in October 2000. This was my life for the next 9.5 years. I made it through the first year of layoffs before my entire team was cut 2 months after 9/11. I returned and worked for CDMA, dodging more than a dozen layoff rounds before being picked up in the Ericsson purchase a few months ago.

The time at Nortel was good in one respect. I was introduced to the love of my life at Nortel: a blind date over lunch in the Lab 6 cafeteria. Rosa and I talked for 2 hours that day, and we knew immediately that we had found who we were both looking for. Seven months later we got engaged in Paris, and on Jan 3, 2007, we married in Rome.

I’ve traveled more in the last 5 years than I had in my entire life. Rosa and I have visited Halifax, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Naples, Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, Istanbul, Ankara, Athens, Warsaw, Krakow, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Jerusalem, Amman and London. In 2 days, we leave for our next trip: Berlin, Prague, Budapest and Vienna. Before Rosa and I met, I had also visited New YorkToronto, Montreal, Dallas. 2 years ago I had a business trip to Bangalore.

I seems like I have been racing for so long, but it was only in 2001 that I became a licensed marshal and 2003 before I received my race licence. I have raced in a 1971 Datsun 510 (“The Pumpkin”), 1991 Nissan NX2000, Nissan Sentra, Honda Civic, Formula-1600 and this year multiple Acura Integra Type-R’s. I also became a Secretary of the meet for 5 MCO Race Schools and 5 Ted Powell Memorial Race Weekends, including the first full race weekend at the new Calabogie Motorsports Park.

I’ve starting learning French, so I may become a bi-lingual Canadian. And I started to kayak.

I wonder what December 2019 will bring?

My Last Day at Nortel

Exit this wayToday is my last day as a Nortel employee.

In late 1996, I was just finishing up my 2-year contract working in the Computer Center at Acadia University. But the longer I stayed at Acadia after my graduation, I knew fewer and fewer people, as my friends graduated and moved away for work, mostly to Ottawa. So I decided not to renew my contract and that I would move to Ottawa.

I moved in January 1997. I borrowed my dad’s Chevy Tahoe and loaded my life into the back. Driving through the Maritimes was ok, but once I entered Quebec, the snow started falling. Driving from Quebec City to Montreal was the hardest because the snow was so heavy and the highway had not been plowed.

Once in Ottawa, I started looking for work. I hand-delivered my resumes to Nortel, Newbridge, SGI, Cray, Apple, Corel, and a bunch of smaller companies. None of which lead to any interviews. In February, a friend from Acadia got me an interview with his group at Nortel. The interview went well and by March 1997, I was working for Nortel.

I’ve spent my entire career at Nortel in OAM software – meaning Network Management and Configuration Management.

I started with network management of the Passport-6400 (now MSS-6400). We built a software package (called OMS-P) to integrate the Passport into HP Openview and IBM Netview. There was another group that also did network management of the Passport, which used a proprietary interface that did not work with other software like Openview. Eventually the senior managers decided to only fund one of the two products, and OMS-P development was halted.

Most of the team moved to a new project to integrate the Passport-15000 (now MSS-15000) into the new Optivity Network Management System (ONMS), which came from our purchase of Bay Networks in 1998. I worked on the development for about a year before insurmountable issues caused the cancelation of that project before we could ship the product. Basically, the Passport used software-allocated MAC addresses; by default all Ethernet ports on all Passports had the same MAC address. ONMS needed unique MAC addresses for discovery, which is the correct implementation of the Ethernet standard. The ONMS team would not change their discovery for Passport, and Passport would not change their flawed Ethernet implementation. So the project was cancelled.

Next, our much smaller team moved to Optivity Network Configuration System (O-NCS), which was a configuration manager instead of a network manager. This used a plug-in architecture to manage the new Alteon Layer-7 switches that Nortel had also acquired. We made good progress and were heading towards delivery when the team that was building the O-NCS framework was laid off. Without a framework, our plug-in was useless and in November 2001, our entire team was terminated.

Most of the team went to CDMA, although I briefly left the company to try something new. I didn’t find a new job before I started getting calls from CDMA asking me to come back to Nortel.

In March 2002, I did come back. Nortel bridged my service (after I paid back the severance package).

I’ve been in CDMA since then. I was the first person hired for upgrade/installation, and I wrote the first installation tool for the CDMA network management project that was just starting up. The first delivery of that new tool (C-EMS – CDMA Element Management System) took a very difficult 24 months. The project was almost cancelled a number of times. We all worked long hours, most weekends, and many holidays. It has been a horrible experience for everyone to go through all the layoffs of the last 7-9 years.

After the first release of C-EMS, the work still demanded long, long hours, but it was less likely that the entire project would be terminated. We still lost a lot of people from the layoffs (typically 5-20% per layoff) though.

Trailer for sale - cheapI’ve given all I could to Nortel, and in the end it didn’t really make much difference. Nortel still went down the toilet.

I’ve had nights where I worked 24-hours straight. I’ve worked over the Y2K switch over. I’ve been wined-and-dined and nickeled-and-dimed. I’ve worked through the bubble, got laid-off and worked under uncertainty for years now.

And today, it’s all over. Today is my last Nortel day.

The Big Picture

Yesterday I participated in an exciting (and scary for an amateur like myself) photographic session at work. It was the final site-wide BBQ. The Nortel Photography Club was approached to get some pictures of the event, culminating in a group photo of all the remaining employees. After this, most will be going to different companies, although many are still being laid off (100 received notice yesterday).

I was assigned to take the official group photo. I was given access to the roof of the Service building (about 2-3 stories tall), under a number of work-place safety constraints (no closer than 2 meters from the roof edge). The only direction I was given was to include the iconic Tower of Lab 5.

I was very nervous. I really wanted to get a good shot. And this was the first time working with a large group. I did not want to hold the group there very long, so I thought through what I should do. First, I wanted to try with my 420EX flash with brand new batteries, cranked up to +2EV to push out the most amount of photons as a fill flash. I’m not sure how effective it was in the sunlight from 2 stories away, but I figured I only wanted to highlight all the faces, which are highly reflective anyways. Then, because I knew the flash would take time to recycle, I took other pictures knowing that the flash would not be ready, so they would be available light only. I tried wide and tall images.

The final one was to get everyone to cheer or raised their hands or shout or something. I wanted enthusiasm. I was not sure how I would accomplish that considering that the mood was still very sour because of the layoffs over the last decade. It’s been hard on people. And I didn’t know who in the crowd may have had layoff notices or were part of the company that has not been sold yet.

Then it hit me. A number of people had beers or other drinks from the cash bar. So when the time came for the final shot, I asked everyone with a beer or drink to raised their drinks. And that was the best shot. The group showed remarkable restraint that only one person flipped the bird when the shutter clicked.

Group photo at Nortel
Group photo at Nortel

The photo I took will be sent out in the ‘thank you’ email to all Ottawa employees this morning.

From Nortel to Ericsson

disposition_inline-ericsson-nortel_logoOn Thursday I signed my offer letter from Ericsson. Starting in October, I will be working for Ericsson, although my benefits and salary will still say ‘Nortel’, Ericsson will reimburse Nortel for those expenses.

Starting Jan 1, 2010, I will be part of the Ericsson benefits and salary systems. It’s been too long living with the stress of a declining and very troubled company. I am so looking forward to a new work environment.

I was the highest paid Nortel employee in history

Nortel Networks
Nortel Networks

Well, with the NSN bid for Nortel CDMA, within 2 months I won’t technically be a Nortel employee anymore. So I thought I would share the story of how, for a brief period of time, I was the highest paid employee in Nortel’s history.

Mike Z? Peanuts. John Roth? Getting close. Me? I win.

In November 2001, my department was using a framework from a team in RTP to develop Alteon (now owned by Radware) element management software. The RTP team was shut down, leaving us without the framework, and thus our department was next on the chopping block.

Most of the team went to CDMA, but I wanted to take the opportunity to travel the world, so I asked for a package. I intended to buy a one-way ticket to Europe and start back-packing or something – my plans were not really firm.

Within a few weeks, while still working through the final severance and resume building courses, one of my old managers started calling me to come in for an interview.

Things were delayed for various reasons, so it wasn’t until February that I was able to come in, and soon enough CDMA made an offer.

I was asked to come in and sign the offer, and I would start in another week. No problem, I came in and signed and I was looking forward to starting with the team again.

Later in the afternoon, I got a frantic call from my new boss, saying there was a problem with the letter I signed, and that I had to come in and sign another. Ok, I laughed a bit and made plans to come in the next day to sign the new letter.

When I went in the next day, I brought my old letter to compare the two offers. The difference was subtle, but significant.

Instead of saying I would be paid my yearly salary of (let’s say for the sake of argument) $85,000 per year, to be paid on an hourly basis, the original offer actually said I would be paid $85,000 on an hourly basis.

Meaning, my paycheck every 2 weeks would have been $6.2 million, and my yearly salary was over $165 Million dollars.

I still have the original offer letter, but let’s be honest, if Nortel really had that kind of money (even back in 2002), they wouldn’t have laid me off in the first place.

But, it’s still a good story.

The Wait is Over

Nortel Networks
Nortel Networks

The long 5 month wait for more information about Nortel and my future has come to an end. This evening it was announced that Nokia Siemens Networks has made a $650M bid for the CDMA and LTE Wireless division.

There is still a chance that there will be layoffs as part of the merge of the two companies, but I also feel that my job performance is good enough that I should not have difficulties finding a role in the Nokia Siemens organization.

Just for fun, I also updated the wikipedia entry on Nortel with this news.

Living with Layoffs

When I started work in Ottawa in 1997, it was during the ramp up of the tech bubble. Something exciting was happening everywhere. I shared an apartment with the founder of Linux Chix. Corel was competing against Microsoft with Linux, and was producing the Sidewinder. You could get a job anywhere. Companies were doing massive hiring. Nortel hired 1000 new grads in one weekend and competing with Cisco. Startups were everywhere.

Soon after I started, our division starting having free pizza on Friday afternoons every quarter, then every month then every 2 weeks. The cafeteria was open 24 hours a day.

We would receive $2000 USD for every resume we could bring that led to a hiring. Filing for a patent was worth $5000 USD and having the patent meant a $7000 USD bonus. Everyone was getting stock options, which was such a thrill even thought they took years to vest. Just like the book “Microserfs”.

Our director had a room created in our building with a large screen TV, DVD player, pool table and a leather couch. The room was badge-locked so only members of our division had access.

In 2000, that all changed. The wireless auction prices were sky-high. Our customers seemed less likely to be able to create enough revenue to pay off the bank loans required to buy the wireless spectrum. The high-speed optical build-outs were slowing as much of the optical bandwidth stayed dark, which led to other cuts.

Banks cut loans, customers cut back on spending, and the layoffs started at work.

In the fall of 2001, already 30,000 had been cut from the payroll. We watched 9/11 on the TV in the room our director had built. Six weeks later, our department was cut, and I was out of a job.

I was lucky and was brought back to work in late winter 2002, this time in CDMA Wireless.

I have been in CDMA Wireless since then.

WiMax equipment
WiMax equipment

Our business has continued to cut every year. We had to re-file our financial results (over and over), and the cuts kept coming. And the penny-pinching kept coming – death by a thousand cuts. They cut the milk for the coffee and then they cut the coffee. The cleaning staff was cut, and now we don’t eat in our office because the food waste is only collected once a week.

Since 2000, over 60,000 have lost their job at work. That’s more than the population of Moncton, NB. Another 3200 people were cut in February; friends I’ve worked with for years were cut.

I’m 38.5 years old. The corporation has been cutting jobs for 8.5 years. I’ve been living with the uncertainty of keeping my job for over 22% of my entire lifetime. Almost a quarter of my life has been living with layoffs.

I spent less time in high school. I spent less time in University, even after changing my major in my third year.

I am so tired of living this way.

Tonight is a good night

Tonight, I feel good.

I studied hard this weekend and I think I passed my French mid-term this evening. It was scheduled for 2 hours, and I finished in 1 hour. I didn’t panic and forget everything as soon as the test was handed out.

I finished creating this web site, and have a working web gallery. It’s secure, and it’s finally set up the way I want it.

I am still employed.

My to-do list is only 6 items long, two of which are repeating tasks (weekly status report to my manager and monthly computer backup reminder).

My in-box at work is empty. I am staying on top of the work-load instead of being swamped like I have been for years.

I had a successful requirements review this morning. I could have done better, but I still had a lot of work to complete over the last few weeks.

I have created a transition plan for one of my four projects at work. I am involved in too many projects and need to cut down my project list. The plan has not been approved yet. One of the other projects is winding down too as the team in Beijing is taking over as we near customer release.

This past weekend, I had enough time to watch a DVD with Rosa. It was the first time in months.

I have transitioned all my MCO organizational work to others so I can focus on my racing this year.

And finally, and most importantly, I am married to the most wonderful woman. She means the world to me.

When I have moments of doubt and low moods, I should remember this evening.