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IBM Fired as Many as 100k in Recent Years, Lawsuit Shows (bloomberg.com)
135 points by thmslee on Aug 1, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 87 comments

Of course, the explanation is BS, everybody sees that.

But I want to comment that as a young mainframer (I started 14 years ago at the age of 26, with a big IBM competitor), I really enjoyed working with older people.

They work quite hard (they have survived lots of changes in the organization, and that - in majority of cases - means that their contribution was appreciated somewhere), often are less crazy (they are set in life, don't have to "compete" anymore), don't panic or get overexcited too much (they have seen lot of stuff and that moderates their emotions), have good stories from life (they lived through one already), and you can learn from them a lot (they often have weird experience in areas that you would never expect).

And a youngster can complement them nicely - trying out new things, implementing new technology, experiment, bring new viewpoints; often they will appreciate your energy to do that.

When I worked at Boeing (my first real job) I learned an awful lot from the older engineers. But when I switched to the software biz, older ones didn't exist and I had to pretty much learn everything the hard way.

I've noticed this also. I'm originally an EE, so during my first job the department was basically made up of a bunch of wizards from the days of Electronics magazine who all were in to HAM radio and custom guitar amps. I learnt a phenomenal amount in a short amount of time, even though I probably annoyed them with my incessant questions. I'm currently in the process of transitioning to software and I don't have nearly as much support now. I enjoy it more, but the learning curve is much more daunting.

I'm curious, how many real competitors are there to IBM in the mainframe space? From what I've seen the majority of the products in use are basically IBM only.

The main competitor isn't other mainframes, but PCs.

A lot of mainframe users never needed a mainframe, they just didn't want to get fired for not buying IBM. Other users need some sort of mainframe reliability, but that's also achievable on a distributed system running on unreliable PCs.

There are some users whose use is genuinely deeply entwined with features mainframes provide, but those are dying out.

> Other users need some sort of mainframe reliability, but that's also achievable on a distributed system running on unreliable PCs.

I don't buy this. Many of our critical systems are on PC architectures. Mainframes don't have some magic sauce, well designed distributed architectures should offer enough reliability.

Edit: reading comprehension fail, please ignore my comment :-)

Even with your edit this is worth replying to:

Why waste your money on a single rack-mounted PC when you can buy 40 cheap cellphones running Android and network them together. That'll probably provide greater reliability.

The obvious answer is the same as why some use mainframes over PCs. You can't easily convert all workloads running on a rack-mounted PC to a network of cellphones. Similarly, you can't easily convert all programs running on mainframes to running on PCs.

Which is what I was alluding to with the last paragraph in my upthread comment. There are mainframe use-cases that are genuinely entwined with those hardware platforms. A mainframe isn't just a fridge-sized PC.

The obvious answer is that a stack of cheap cellphones running Android is a pain to develop for, deploy and manage compared to something actually designed for server use. These are probably not areas where mainframes have the upper hand this century.

You seem to be saying the same thing as the line you quoted: both of you are pointing out that distributed PCs can achieve comparable reliability.

Yeah, you're right, it's too early in the morning for comments. I'll leave my comment up so that others can make fun of it :-p

Back in the day, it was "IBM and the seven dwarfs", Digital Equipment, Control Data, General Electric, RCA, Univac, Burroughs, and Honeywell. Later, Amdahl offered fully-IBM-mainframe compatible systems. Tandem's specialty was fully redundant, fault-tolerant systems.


By the 1990s, "big iron" referred not only to mainframe (S360 descendants -- now S390 / zOS), but big Unix vendors: Sun (now Oracle), HP, Data General, SGI, etc.

Some of these still survive in some form:


I didn't want to explicitly reveal the name, but perhaps I should clarify that it was a software company and it was big relatively to other software companies in mainframe space, not to IBM.

In mainframe hardware, IBM doesn't have much direct competitors. In mainframe software, there are many but most of the are much smaller than IBM, so it is often more symbiotic than competitive relationship.

There used to be quite a few different mainframes on the market. HP/Tandem had their Non-stop systems which was perhaps the most distinct competitor - but there were quite a few companies competing in the space.

However, IBM has dominated this market for as long as I can remember and today I believe they are the only ones making mainframe computers.

Amdahl was notable for having a clone that could run IBM mainframe code.

I think Fujitsu still makes mainframes. That might be it... Hitachi was another one, but they quit the mainframe business in 2017 or so.

Oracle :-|

Fujitsu and Sun/Oracle

One day I have to take the time to write a blog post on how I started my engineering career at IBM working on mainframe at 21, then freaked out 6 years later in one of the biggest bank in the world where most of those older people where incompetent and judgemental. Everything was dinosaurs in constant politics and lies on both side, vendors and clients.

Worst IT practices and work ethics you could imagine. Lost source code, no comments/documentation, no tests, no monitoring, no benchmarks ... most of the work was done by people without a degree in anything and stayed around for decades. It's not well thought engineering.

I enjoyed working on mainframes, I still think it's amazing technology. Some of my colleagues where the nicest people I ever met, where very skilled and taught me a lot.

But I am now a DevOps working with open source, cloud computing & containerization, everything is nicer and a lot more interesting. And I don't have to fight everyone anymore because I am the one who will have to maintain the crap of retired people (most of the time I would hit a brick wall trying to explain what is IT in the 21st century).

> in one of the biggest bank in the world where most of those older people where incompetent and judgemental. Everything was dinosaurs in constant politics and lies on both side, vendors and clients.

This is true in most large orgs. That statement was true in the military, tech companies, and the non-tech companies I've worked for. The amount of politics and the size of egos grows exponentially the larger you get.

I agree with your general sentiment, but I'd like to add one observation.

You don't have to be "young" (however one defines that) to try out new things, implement new technology, experiment, bring new viewpoints and the like. Unless you simply define "young" as people who do those very things, which divorces the notion of "youth" from calendar age... which is probably the correct way to look at it. There's no particular reason, for example, to think that someone who's 60 is not interesting in "trying out new things", "experimenting", etc. OTOH, you could have someone who's 26 who is very stuck in their ways and not interested in doing anything new.

I don't disagree but it seems to me that these things require, more than young age, a certain "naivete".

The more expertise you get the more nuanced view of things you get, and it really complicates the problem analysis and the decision of how should you proceed. Basically, as you learn, you become overfitted to the current solution - you see so many problems with other approaches that they seem unfeasible. But people with less experience do not have this "problem". They will happily proceed and experiment. This would by itself end in a disaster, but with the proper guidance of expert, worst ideas can be avoided and the result is often beneficial.

When I went to the multi-day IBM recruiting event for new grads about 2 years ago, there were red flags ALL OVER the place. It was frankly ridiculous. Talking with some employees they were basically saying "don't work here" as plainly as they could while being watched over by IBM recruiters.

You just knew you were walking into a failing company defined solely by bureaucracy and politics with employees that don't really want to be there.

On top of this the total compensation was downright insulting even at the upper end of the range.

Nope'd out of there pretty quickly, even though I was rather desperate for a position at the time.

Edit: Did I mention how horrible the interview process was? You needed to install software with admin permissions on your computer alongside having your webcam active the whole time. Throughout the interview you needed to record 2-minute skits with random prompts given to you. Have you ever tried talking into a webcam with no one on the other end, unprepared? What nonsense. Not sure what anyone at IBM was thinking with this.

I just left IBM recently myself. I was involved in a lot of recruiting work and I know exactly what you mean. I too found the whole process completely cringeworthy. Suitable for the FellowKids subreddit:-)

I doubt IBM lays off its older workers solely to appeal to Millenials.

It's more likely that older workers are laid off because they are more expensive due to higher higher pay, have more paid time off, use more healthcare and are more politically calibrated to their organizations than younger workers.

It feels like something that IBM regularly does, similar to Cisco's revolving lay-off cycles. Microserfs by Douglas Coupland has a part where the protagonist's father is fired from IBM after being there for years.

Well, Microserfs was written in 1994, just after IBM's 1993 cataclysm where Lou Gerstner was hired to save the company and immediately fired 160,000 people. That was very much a one-off event.

A one off event because of scale. but part of a continuation of downsizing. So only one off in one sense not in others.

Cisco's one off downsizing has been threefold.

It's more likely that older workers are laid off because..

This is just a list of rationalizations that you would prefer to believe. That doesn't make them true. If those reasons were actually correct then IBM wouldn't need to fire people. They could solve all of them in other, less (potentially) very expensive ways.

I live in east Europe, and there is an IBM branch here, and this may sound harsh, but most of their staff complain about support from their indian colleagues (low quality support and poor communication skills). They are hiring "young" staff here as well, which frankly wouldn't pass a junior level interview - wouldn't be an issue if they wouldn't advertise them as experienced. My take is that IBM is a dying company, cutting costs, and dealing mostly with clients in a similar position. I'd stay away from working there.

I'm an early millennial and ex IBMer. We know this is bullcrap. What sets IBM apart from Google isn't older workers, but things that don't appeal to millennial sensibilities: deep management hierarchies, focus in sales and marketing instead of tech, a hellscape cubicled office out of the 50s... IBM convinced me that Office Space is a documentary.

I would be hard pressed to find anything cool I did on my time there; quite the opposite, everything was 'uncool': uncool offices, uncool projects, uncool tech, uncool processes.

And to add to all that, they offer salaries and perks below market rate compared to their direct competitors. Remember when recently IBM rescinded all remote work arrangement for employees? Good luck attracting talent like that.

I don't think IBM is doomed just yet. Their sheer size and inertia will keep them moving for quite a while. But if they want to keep up with the competition they will need to pivot really really hard. Also they should we aware of their strengths and weaknesses and not compete with Google. Just don't.

From all the horror stories I hear about IBM it makes me wonder whether we are talking about the same company.

I work at IBM in europe. We have open office spaces, I will work remotely for the entirety of next year. I guess the work I'm doing would be considered 'uncool' by most people my age (Internal Devops engineering).

I'm always surprised whenever I read just how bad it's supposed to be as it doesn't remotely match my experience.

Firing talent because of age is not so smart I think. Of course I don't know who they fire, etc.

But I'm young, yeah, and I want to distance myself from IBM products.

Why? I'v been setting IBM Tivoli/Spectrum protect to backup client computers and, ugh, is it ugly, unfriendly and complex piece of software. I'v also touched the server part. Maybe it's just me, the windows guy (but who loves scripting) and it is more appealing to linux-type guys. Then I got feedback from Linux team that they also don't love that product.

They should do something about their products or product managers to be more appealing.

After 1hr they will present IBM QRadar to us. Perhaps it will be a pretty presentation and so. I just wonder what's it under the hood, when sysadmins put their hands on it - any experiences someone can share?

The simple fact, that IBM stuff is never used by big sites (fb, spotify, google, etc..) despite their solutions being available for ages should lead anyone to the conclusion that they are salesware.

QRadar is a glorified syslog server with a query interface (bought by IBM in 2011, formerly developed by Q1 Labs, est 2001), and ... again the fact that Splunk is available (started 2 years after Q1 Labs), that the ELK stack is even mentioned in SIEM circles, that OSSIM an open source alternative is seen as more usable all just point to the conclusion that QRadar too is just salesware :/

> The simple fact, that IBM stuff is never used by big sites (fb, spotify, google, etc..) despite their solutions being available for ages should lead anyone to the conclusion that they are salesware.

They are used by big sites, governments are the biggest sites you can get.

Gov systems are orders of magnitude smaller then Facebook & friends.

I don't think QRadar is Salesware, we use it in our SOC and it's not bad. It's serviceable at least.

What does serviceable means for QRadar?

What's salesware?

Sales people pitch it to executives, shows some fancy demo and then sign a contract that's "appealing" in cost and "savings".

Ugly, unfriendly and complex is par for the course with enterprise software in my experience :)

Having said that, TSM (what they called it before the rebranding) was the only commercial offering we found that would reliably back up and recover our systems...

IBM Global Services in particular have left a bad taste in my mouth and many others. That sort of bad blood is going to be hard to overcome. But the kids are for the most part unfamiliar with their... exploits.

IBM QRadar is not different, just like anything else IBM sells nowdays. For example, to send custom logs from application you need to read bunch of confusing PDF's while at the same time most FOSS systems have single curl call to do so (or something equally trivial).

The only IBM product I recall that I am really happy with is their Model M, and my first IBM thinkpad (still happy with the thinkpads, but they sold to lenovo).

I was fond of IBM (I still have their centennial book, which I find very interesting).

I was fond of IBM... Until I had the change of being interviewed by one of their HR people in the local branch (nothern Italy).

That was the worst interview experience ever.

This woman called me as soon as I emailed her some details about me, including my phone number, without any kind of prior agreement or scheduling, and puth me through an enormous amount of questions, all while being extremely rude, until we reached the compensation topic, to which she replied that they were looking for someone with double my experience but for less money.


I did a 6 month internship in IBM 2 years ago and I'm glad I didn't get an offer at the end of it. The culture, the politics and the fear was too much for me.

Every week there would be some sort of a "commotion" or "going away" party as people were let go. It mostly DBA's and Unix Support guys that were clearly over 40 years old.

My manager was straight up implying "if you don't get the work done, you won't get a good reference for me and you'll be on the next list". I'm in my 20s and that was the first time someone in a professional setting threatened me in such manner.

I needed a reference after I left, but from my team the manager was let go, 3 out 5 team members were let go and the others and the remaining 2 left. The manager of the manager was forced to a sabbatical and just like that poof, my old team was gone.

I will never go back to IBM, no matter how cool and hip they make it for my generation.

The submitted title was "IBM fired 100,000 employees to be more appealing to Millenials". Unless that was Bloomberg's original title and subsequently changed, this was a case of editorializing and making a title more baity, which breaks the site guidelines: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html. We take away submission privileges from accounts who do that, so please don't do that.

> International Business Machines Corp. has fired as many as 100,000 employees in the last few years in an effort to boost its appeal to millennials

> “The company hires 50,000 employees each year.”

> The number of IBM employees has fallen to its lowest point in six years, with 350,600 global workers at the end of 2018 -- a 19% reduction since 2013.

The fact that a company can have such high turnover and still function says something about how much work each of those people were doing. While an impressive effort at potentially reinvesting the culture, I bet many of those jobs weren't necessary from the beginning.

My ex used to work there. It was an older building where everyone had their own office. There would be hallways and hallways of offices and she had no idea who anyone was or what they did all day. Everyone just sat in their office with the doors closed.

She should have recorded this with a camera and do some live private office walk-ins saying she is from HR here to do the interview.

Haven't they gotten headlines for this almost every year for the past three decades?

Pretty much. They've been scything employees for as long as I've been working. They've also been in court many times over age discrimination...at least for as long as I can remember.

They had their own decently sized building where I used to live, now there isn't a single employee in the entire state.

IBM is far past the point where they can appeal to younger folks. They have no headspace in anyone under 40, and certainly not with anyone with any talent.

What large company isn't in court over age discrimination? Google just settled a class action where one job applicant was literally asked to put his graduation year on his CV "so the engineers can see your age".

I was curious what IBM still makes that people use since they sold their Thinkpad division to Lenovo years ago, so I googled it:

> IBM produces and sells computer hardware, middleware and software, and provides hosting and consulting services in areas ranging from mainframe computers to nanotechnology. IBM is also a major research organization, holding the record for most U.S. patents generated by a business (as of 2019) for 26 consecutive years.

What on Earth are all of those patents for?

As an ex-IBMer with a few dozen patents, I can explain this. The company offer a big cash bonus for filing patents. But I do have to mention that it's not very easy to get an a patent idea through the internal review process. These patents are mostly for enabling horse trading with other big tech companies. For example, Google bought a big batch of patents from IBM when they got hit by the first wave of lawsuits about 9 years ago.

Something that can be listed as (intangible) assets on their balance sheet as well as for use as defensive/offensive weapons against other companies. The majority of them likely have very little actual value.

I had someone from IBM service my Lenovo P50 Thinkpad last week so they still do that apparently.

I was also recently surprised when I made a service call for one of our lenovos and the replies to it came from an ibm.com address.

they have patents on a ton of stuff, I'm sure some of those make sense. As they say, "9,100 patents granted in 2018" [0]

[0] https://www.research.ibm.com/patents/

More like replace 100k workers that expect work life balance for underpaid millennial that you can exploit at submarket wages for long hours.

They won't be replacing anyone in the US, despite what they say. They are in a decades long quest to get rid of jobs in the USA and give them to people elsewhere.

I interned at IBM a decade ago. I was studying computer science in Tucson, AZ and was super excited to get picked up by such a well-known company. I never wrote a line of code for them. I decommissioned assets. That is, I scoured massive labs for ancient pieces of hardware, traversed the rat's nest of fiber optic cabling holding them in place, extricated them from their racks, and ultimately placed them in storage closets. The campus was massive, but largely deserted. Senior people that I interacted with indicated that it was a cool place in the late eighties and into the nineties. It's a boneyard now.

That being said, I was glad to get to work with some experienced people. All of the other college-aged people that I knew there were stuck mindlessly writing tests.

I am so glad they own RedHat now... IBM will not destroy everything good about RedHat, no no /s

s/Millennials/Generation Z/ at this point.

Millennials are all in their 30s and older now.

> s/Millennials/Generation Z/ at this point.

I don't think that works either, Gen Z are either really early in their career and only making up a tiny fraction of the industry or not in any career at all yet, it's hardly the demographic IBM needs to appeal to.

As an older millennial my hair is starting to take on a grayish tinge and ageism in the industry is becoming a direct concern, so this can only lower my opinion of IBM.

Ageism in our industry should be a concern to everyone, regardless of the amount of grey hair they have.

We all get old, after all. And more importantly, even if we didn't all get old, it's still wrong to discriminate (we don't all become black over time, but it's still wrong to discriminate in the basis of race).

Not sure the comparison to race is either fitting or appropriate here. Becoming more old undoubtedly has a negative effect on performance/productivity at some point, I don’t think the same can ever be said for becoming more black.

Getting “old” often increases performance and productivity though...

People under 30 are the major demographic in tech.

It really depends on the definition of millennial that is used. I'm in my early 30s but I have a couple friends that are 24/25/26 and personally they align as millennials rather than Gen Z. Very tail end of course but definitely millennial.

Makes me sad that anyone chooses to self identify into marketing buckets like this.

Generational groups aren't exclusively marketing buckets. They're a useful (if rough) description of a set of people within an age group, that's more useful than solely marketing.

We're talking about IBM here. It's "System Z."

There is no evidence of this article mixing that up

No need to copy and paste your canned generation label response just because millennial was mentioned, useful for linkedin clickbait but not really this article

This article just gets a mild chuckle about a company catering to a nearly middle aged experienced workforce because even they find IBM uncool

When companies can't invent because they lost their graymatter to bureaucracy they go into an even more self destructing spiral. By cutting costs and squeezing themselves. With open source, patent regime in end game i.e. rent seeking. How a company like IBM can remain relevant? Their AI offering was a major marketing campaign. Just sad but some great lessons

Isn't this simply suppy-demand economics?

Have you ever seen a comment on HN to the effect of "yeah, if you are in the US and not already working for one of the big tech companies, at this point that just means you are not good enough to be working for them" (implying they should have been interviewing there as frequently as possible until they land in one of them, and also that every other software job falls well short in terms of compensation - implying some kind of additional stupidity on your part if you don't aspire to work for big tech).

Today it is IBM - tomorrow, it is going to be every other company whose coolness falls short of the big tech companies. I wonder what alternative IBM really had?

Good for all those immortal millenials... Seriously, if that isn't just a specious ground to justify firings, I think management at IBM is just completely incompetent.

> [...] much more innovative and receptive to technology than baby boomers.

Not sure whose head has accumulated chalk, but I doubt they will find anyone creative that doesn't immediately recognize the downsides of these perspectives.

I don't think IBM is badly positioned in general, but their lacking competition to bigger tech corps are due to strategic failings, which should be attributed to management. If that cannot take responsibility, I don't know why I should want to work for them.

To be fair, I did see quite a few people who probably "officially" retired 25 years ago walking around with canes last time I visited an IBM campus. I actually thought it was very cool and really wanted to hear their stories.

Maybe you were lucky enough to spot IBM Master Inventor John Wilson testing his smart cane that gathers data to help doctors and physical therapists understand how well you’re recovering from an injury.



They should freeze them for later, instead!


As a youngish person this would rather scare me away..

"The number of IBM employees has fallen to its lowest point in six years, with 350,600 global workers at the end of 2018 -- a 19% reduction since 2013."

Why do they still have such huge numbers? Can't they make the company work with just 10% of those?

As an older millennial, staring down the barrel of my late thirties, I can't think of a move that would appeal to me less.

It's IBM. They're retarded enough to think this will work.


Parent is spam.

Thanks to Robinsonbuckler@ hotmail. com! He brought my wife back! I am very grateful!

Why do people still up-vote bloomberg's clickbait garbage exactly?

earliest millenials are pushing 40s and younger are at least well experienced and aware of the job market shenanigans, I don't think firing older people as a policy would really be attractive to them. unless this was written by some old stooge that thinks everything under 50s is young and hip, I don't see a correlation here.

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