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The reverse brain drain

Bonnie Loo 36, Daly City, CA

Last Updated: February 3, 2009: 7:52 AM ET

(Fortune Magazine) -- Silicon Valley may have a reputation as a place where people change jobs as easily as they change clothes. But that was never the case for Bonnie Loo, who started as a software tester for Macromedia in 1999 and survived the dot-com crash, a merger with Adobe Systems, and a move into project management.

So when Loo heard rumors of coming layoffs last December, she wasn't too concerned. She'd already survived so much. But even Loo couldn't make it through this recession. "When it did happen," she says, "it was something of a shock. I had been there so long I wasn't worried." Yet when she thought about it, Loo understood why it happened; though she'd had good performance reviews, there were two people working with the same engineering team, and it could be managed by one.

She also realized that this unexpected jolt may actually have been the kind of push she'd needed all along to rethink what she really wanted out of life. "One of my biggest fears was becoming too complacent," she says. "And this forces me to not be that way."

As a first-generation American (her parents are from Hong Kong and Southern China,) Loo and her family have always valued economic security. Her mother ran a dry cleaning store on the ground floor of the San Francisco house she grew up in and also taught Chinese school, and her father was a lithographer. So Loo worried about telling her family what had happened, deciding to wait until after the holidays to break the news. "I thought [my mother] would pressure me right away to find something," she says. As it turned out, her mom saw the news of the Adobe layoffs on television, and rather than getting upset, was "very supportive and encouraging. She said don't worry, you're a smart girl, and if at anytime you run into problems, just let us know. It was a huge relief."

Financially, Loo is in good shape; single, with a small mortgage and no credit card debt, she'll collect a few months' severance. She has decided to take a two-week trip to Asia with a friend to clear her head before starting her job search in earnest and getting a project manager certification, an optional credential that she thinks will help her chances.

Yet Loo is also realistic; at the one interview she's had, the recruiter said he'd received hundreds of resumes. She thinks that it will take at least four to six months to get a new job in her field. And if that doesn't work, Loo has a Plan B; get a job teaching English for a year, preferably in Japan, where she's studied the language. It's something she's always wanted to do-and now, she thinks it might be a great time to get out of town. "I've told myself that if by the end of the summer I don't find something here I might go ahead, and hopefully come back with a new perspective," she says. Getting laid off could lead to the best experience of her life.

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