Sunday, September 22, 2013

Feeling sorry for myself: what might have been

A recent tickle from a former colleague on LinkedIn dredged up something from my distant past and sent me on a short tailspin into the Land of What Might Have Been. I'm going to feel sorry for myself, then go to bed and sleep it off. In the morning I'll go to my new job, where I am happy and content and working hard.

This former colleague "endorsed" me for a skill on LinkedIn. She hasn't seen me for about 15 years, so the endorsement doesn't mean much. So I ignored it. Then I fell into my tailspin.

In the late 1990s, I was an extremely competent engineer in my department at Hewlett-Packard. In fact, one year I was the top-rated engineer out of a peer group of about 80 engineers. I was sought after for my technical expertise, my problem-solving skills, and my communication skills. Engineers and non-engineers from other departments came to consult with me.

Our department had three engineering groups. One of the engineering group managers got a promotion, leaving his position vacant. My manager suggested I apply for the position. So did his manager.

I hadn't even considered such a move. I was happy being an engineer. But people had told me over the years that I would make a good manager, and many people had even said, "I would work for you if you were a manager." So I did some research, mainly sounding it out with other engineers and managers, even on the production/operations side, all people whose opinion I valued and trusted. I got unequivocal encouragement from all of them, including votes of confidence from all of the managers, and more "I would work for you" responses from my peers.

The managers' opinions were important to me, because some of them would be on the interview team.

So I applied for the job. I prepped for the interviews. And I did a great job in the interviews. And they gave the job to someone else - one of my fellow engineers was promoted.

Well, she turned out not to be a very good manager. In fact, seeing some of what she did as a manager, I wondered how she had ever gotten the job. I ended up sitting in meetings and on committees with her as the years went by, and - really, this is not  sour grapes - she just wasn't very good at management or leadership.

Then HP and Agilent split. We endured wave after wave of layoffs. I never saw any managers get laid off, or any executives. You would think that the Powers That Be would do the math and figure out that they could save more money by firing one incompetent executive than by laying off ten innocent production workers. Or five hard-working engineers. F#$&ing idiots.

Here's the sorry-for-myself "What Might Have Been" part:

Ten years after leaving Agilent, I am still an engineer, but I am making $10,000 a year less than I was back then, and after ten years of struggle, my personal and family financial situation is precarious.

If I had gotten that promotion, I would now be high up in the management ranks at HP or Agilent. I would be a highly respected manager and leader. I would be making $150,000 a year - or more. We would still be living in that big brick house. And my wife would still have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom, with all the benefits that go with that. My daughters would not have had to scrimp on their weddings. My musical daughter could have gone to Ithaca College instead of the University of Northern Colorado. We would be living free of debt or other financial worries. And we could be using our time and our wealth to help our children and other people, something we have always wanted to do. Instead, we struggle.

That other engineer that got the job? She has changed employers. At least twice. She has changed careers. She has changed husbands. She has changed her last name. She has even changed her first name. And  she has changed her appearance so drastically that I don't even recognize her photo on LinkedIn. And she has parlayed that promotion into a Chief Technology Officer position in another state. I don't really know her anymore.

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