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Ask HN: Mass department walkout
14 points by putsjoe 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 10 comments
It's looking like our very small development department will soon be just 1 person from 5.

Just wondering if anybody has any interesting stories of how a company carried on after the majority of their technical talent left.




I worked at a small company that laid off everyone in dev and project management that had worked there for longer than a year (they had decided to do a full rewrite and outsource it to a vendor with industry knowledge. That hasn't turned out well, but that's a different story). The only benefit is that because you have so much less capacity, the dev(s) get the ability to cut scope and concentrate only on the things that matter. In particular, work should be concentrated on automating day to day work. Anything that interrupts that one dev will be expensive by nature


The fact that 4 out of 5 choose to leave ... makes me wonder why they left. Also makes me wonder why one person stayed. When people leave in big numbers like that it says something.

The impact is determined by what lifecycle stage the product was in and how well it was documented. If it was poorly documented then it was doomed from the start.


That is how I got my first job. I was at the tail end of hiring entirely new people.

It clearly did a lot of good. The only documentation left by the original team was a bug database where things were resolved with descriptions like "fixed", and no way to trace what files were modified. Not sure why they bothered.

In retrospect, I should have started up some technical documentation effort after joining. At the time, I wasn't exposed to that idea, and I checked in a dozen or so "WhatIsThis.txt" files into source control to explain what some things were after we figured it out.


This was my first programming job.

I was 18 and Windows 95 had been out for 6-7 months when I started working for a company that made Total Quality Management software. At its peak, there were 6-7 VC++/MFC developers working on on something I would describe as blend of Visio/Excel.

It was a great first job. We had a few senior developers who were consultants. They gave me some direction and answered questions, but they really didn't have a lot of skin in the game, so the supervision was minimal. While they mostly worked on the statistical part of the software, I got a lot of freedom to work on the diagramming part. Imagine a stripped down Visio where the diagrams automatically lay themselves out.

Six months into the job, the senior consultants left and the company started laying people off. They had budgeted 6 months development time with 5 developers and the project had been going on for at least 9 months to 1 year. The owners/investors were wondering when 2.0 was going to be ready and our timelines kept slipping. Soon after, they laid off 2 other people leaving me and another guy who was 4-5 years older. I'm pretty sure they kept me because I was the cheapest full-time employee who also happened to be moderately productive.

The first thing that happened was the scope of work dramatically changed. We spent less time actively developing new features and more time fixing bugs & doing tech support. Not long after that, the other developer left and I was the only developer. The guy running the company was a TQM domain expert who focused on the admin/sales/project management side. With me being the only developer, I mustered up the courage to ask for the "Lead Developer" title and a small raise.

Not too long after, we hired a friend of mine to help me with the development work so we could create version 1.5. The first version was written in 16-bit VB, so the plan was to upgrade it to 32-bit VB. After we did that, the thinking was we could take some of my diagramming code from 2.0, turn it into a set of ActiveX components and embed those components into the VB app.

Like other struggling companies, we lurched a bit with creative ideas. The guy running our company (he wasn't the owner) started looking for creative ways to partner with other companies. For example, I remember us approaching SmartDraw to see if we could embed their application into ours. It was a good idea. SmartDraw had an excellent product that was very reasonably priced. We charged 5x for our software, so we could easily cover the cost of a license. At first, the owner of SmartDraw liked the idea of selling additional licenses, but that soon fizzled out when he realized how niche our product was and the level of effort it was going to take on his part to turn his application into something that could be embedded into a VB app.

I left when the company decided to move out west. My salary was low, and I knew I would struggle living in a west coast city. However, my friend and the marketing girl both moved out west leaving them with one developer again.

My friend worked for them a few years, then moved back east. I think the company kept going for 5-6 years after that.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had moved out with the company. Part of me thinks I could have finished up the 2.0 version if I had a year.


> Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had moved out with the company

You might be reminiscing years later about what if you hadn't moved.

Good story, thank you for sharing it.


No stories, but perhaps you should reflect on how you got there. Will probably be hard to hold on to future talent without addressing the issues.


This sounds like a huge opportunity.

Chaos is what brings changes. Change is the only way something can be improved.

Chaos = Improvement opportunity

The company will move on no matter what happens (unless the mass departure is because the company is closing) and whoever stays has the chance to define how the company will move forward and profit from it.

Everybody I worked with always dreaded changes and chaos.

I long for that.


It's usually a very painful 3-6 months and then business as usual for companies where the number of developers is <20% of the total employee head count.


In my experience the hemorrhaging will continue. When people see this they start looking for jobs and continue their time with that company limited.


Start taking long lunches.




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