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Ask HN: Boss fired me. How to warn former employer about him?
37 points by cap10morgan on Sept 5, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 29 comments
I just got fired by my manager of 6 months at a Rails dev job I had had for 1.5 years.

For background, the person who managed me for the first year gave me nothing but glowing reviews. The former department head gave me a raise and approval to work remotely when I said I was having trouble making ends meet where I was living at the time. So I'm pretty sure I wasn't the problem. I was, however, the only employee working for the manager who fired me. So it was my word against his. He admitted that he was resentful of the fact that I had gotten approval to work remotely, and he and I routinely disagreed about the technical aspects of the work. In spite of that, I did everything he asked me to do to the best of my ability.

The organization (which shall remain nameless) is doing great work that I truly wish to see succeed. But the manager who fired me is a toxic individual who should not be in charge of anyone or anything. How do I effectively warn the organization about him now that he has fired me?

They have obviously already decided to take my former manager's word over mine in authorizing my termination. And if I go into the exit interview railing against him, the HR folks who will interview me probably won't take that very seriously.

So what would you do to convince this organization that the manager is the problem?

I'm guessing if asked, your former manager would have a very different story to tell.

Effectively you are asking "how can I get the person who fired me in trouble?" I would step back and analyze your own motivations. Odds are, the situation is more complex than you would like to admit, even to yourself.

As for advice, try to figure out what lessons you can learn from the entire situation. Try to understand what really happened. Try to put yourself in your former managers shoes. Don't keep living in the past, and stop entertaining impotent revenge fantasies about 'warning the organization' about your former manager.

Effectively you are asking "how can I get the person who fired me in trouble?"

I did get more the impression that he was worried about the problematic boss causing more unnecessary trouble at the company. He seemed to wish his ex-employer the best and was trying to find a way to raise the issue with them that he thinks he was unfairly laid off by this individual boss.

That's true, but the grandparent's point is important also - most people seldom fully understand their own motivations, and most people have trouble seeing themselves as outsiders see them. It's a pain to fire someone, and then you have to go find a replacement, so even if the manager didn't like him, the manager probably thought there was a real reason to fire him. Even if the manager was wrong.

OK, so you have been fired. Being fired is a traumatic experience, and you want someone to blame.

Playing the devi's advocate, maybe the manager and you just didn't mesh well? Maybe he was miffed at having 1 report, who wasn't even in the building? There's lots of reasons that aren't really the fault of some satanic manager, or the employee.

I'd make that case in the exit interview - you and the manager just clashed. He should have worked out a transfer for you, as you had proven to be an asset for the org (with your technical skills - which had been shown to be good, and ability to work with your old manager). I'd just keep going back this point - it was a team problem (between you and the manager), which the manager should have escalated. Since he was obviously partly to blame (two people don't clash just because one of them is wrong), he should have gotten his boss in to deal with it, or gone to another third party. He clearly wasn't competent to sort out the team, and resorted to sacking you, rather doing what any employee should do in such a situation - calling in his boss to sort things out.

> So what would you do to convince this organization that the manager is the problem?

If you could do that you would still be working there. They are going to have to find out for themselves.

The best thing you can do is not burn your bridges. Depart and remain on friendly terms with the company. This is one of those times when there is nothing more you can do. It may be painful because you want the company to succeed but you have to accept this and move on.

Also, anything you say about your former manager can be written off as sour grapes. So yeah, they had to choose and they did. : shrug :

I dunno where you live, but if you're near SF, Scribd is always hiring good rails devs. So are a ton of places in the valley; start with http://yclist.com/ and you should do pretty well for yourself.

It is usually better to post these using a throwaway account. You say you have been a Rails dev at a nameless organization for 1.5 years. Your account is 1.3 years old, and you list your employer in your profile. So I can reasonably assume that the employer your profile is the organization in question?

I'd tell HR the reason you think you're being fired and why it's wrong. Be very specific about it (name the project, circumstances, dates if possible). Try not be angry. Be as reasonable and fair-minded as possible but don't sell yourself short. Then go out for a nice dinner, sleep in late, and find more interesting work.

If you stay in the industry, you'll probably run across your old colleagues at other companies. And if you want to work for that company again, you can check back in a year or so. That manager will probably be gone.

Were you laid off, or were you terminated with cause? If you were just laid off, then the number one thing I would do is ensure that your performance reviews are all good and that nothing has been changed, or that he didn't add something improper to your reviews.

Contact HR and ask for a copy of your performance reviews, and then leave it at that. If you can leave with severance, collect unemployment, and have a good performance review, I guess that's about all you can do.

If you are being terminated with cause, then in many states, including CA, they need to have given you warnings about your performance, otherwise they can't terminate you with cause. You can probably approach HR about this, and if they don't give you severance, you could probably approach a lawyer.

Bottom line though, as someone else said, he lost and you won. It sucks, but there's nothing you can do about it. It's a hard lesson but probably something you'll learn in the future, which is don't bicker with your boss. Have professional discussions, but if you find yourself constantly disagreeing with him, you need to have more common sense about it and find yourself a new position, either in a different group or a different company.

> what would you do to convince this organization that the manager is the problem

Nothing. It's over. Move on. They'll eventually figure it out on their own, and there's little you can and nothing you should do to expedite that process.

As people are saying, "it's over here."

On the other hand, are you in an at-will employment state? Did the company properly document non-performance? You may wish to talk to an employment attorney about the circumstances of leaving.

It's possible you could preserve some rep in the company if you have strong allies and a memorable story, but it's unlikely. You're gone, the guy/gal who fired you is still around, and has unlimited airtime.

Get revenge by making more money in a better situation. Or, go punch out a better competitor for a product you've been working on, (provided you're legally allowed.)

During the exit interview, don't take the charges against you too personally. Find out whether there is anything at all that is actually your fault and resolve to do better at it next time. Prove to HR that they were wrong because you came across as a most reasonable person. Obviously, tell them you are shocked and dismayed and you disagreed with their overall assessment. But you see the futility of trying to convince them they may have a bigger problem with your boss, and you wish them good luck and the very best.

Exit interviews are effective if they are correlated over time. If you really care, send a letter to the chairman of the board. However, unless you have significant stock in the company, it is no longer your concern. Move on. I would use the previous manager as you reference, btw ;-)

You got laid off/fired. It's over. He won; you lost.

Trying to get even with him at this stage is not worth the effort. You don't owe the company anything; just take your severance and move on. Doing anything negative at this stage will only serve to burn bridges and make you appear as a disgruntled employee.

Right now you're probably pissed, and rightfully so. But once you've had the perspective of time, you will realize that it's best to just close the door on this chapter of your life and move on to bigger, better things.

I can understand your frustration. I've been there and from my experience; anger is a wasted emotion thats worth channeling towards developing new skills, building new projects or just getting fit. Don't waste your time, it's not worth it. Learn to roll with the punches, you'll be happier. If nothing else, go out a class act. re: exit interview.

The dominant advice in this thread is absolutely correct, assuming you worked for a typical company. No longer your problem, move on without burning your bridges.

That said, 'the organization (which shall remain nameless) is doing great work that I truly wish to see succeed' doesn't sound like a regular business. I'd bet money you worked for a non-profit or some other cause-based organization, and the work itself was personally meaningful to you.

In this case I'd politely state my concerns to the people in your exit interview - not railing against the man, but just stating that you believe your termination wasn't the correct decision, was a setback for your organization's goals, and for the sake of the organization you hope they'll pay close attention to your former manager's performance in the future. You should also state that you don't have any ill will for the organization and that you'd be happy to work with them in the future should the situation be different. Don't get emotional - you're an experienced Rails developer, you're not going to suffer any economic hardship here. Just express regret about the damage to the organization and its potential.

Unless your firing's going to kill babies or something, I wouldn't do anything further than that by going outside regular procedures, despite your inclinations. We live in a litigious society and cause-driven people (no offense to you personally) are usually pretty touchy. You don't need the hassle.

The HR folk are there to do the exit interview, summarize the information, and provide a report to senior management. It's senior management that will evaluate and take action, if any. How you can help is to provide a written statement, in advance. This will be forwarded with the HR department's summary. If there is concern raised, your prior boss's supervisor will be notified and will have both the HR department's assessment and your written statement.

Just walk away from this. Focus your energies on getting another gig right now. Whatever happens at your earlier place of work is not your concern anymore. as long as you are happy and your conscience tells you that you put your heart to it, you are good. Sure, there is the feeling of hurt, and of being done in, but it's an opportunity as well.

Remember, the talent-less are political, by nature. Also remember, karma usually comes full circle.

Same thing happened to me, my employer terminated my contract although he stated that the quality of my work was excellent. The official reason was that I forgot to add an item to the Outlook agenda. Pure BS.

At first, I was angry, confused, wanting revenge. Maybe if I'd tell the BoD about what happened, they could help me. Then I realized that this would not get me anywhere. Yes, life is unfair sometimes, but I'm absolutely certain that everybody gets what he deserves in life. The A-holes will get their share.

Then, it suddenly dawned on me. Terminating my contract is not just another problem, it's a huge opportunity. The Dalai Lama once said 'Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck'. I've been working on my startup for a little over a year now, always working on it besides my full time job and family life. With the severance pay from my job I will be able to work on it full-time! Sure, money is going to be a bit tight for a while, but we'll find a way to make it work.

As far as your question goes: it's not your task to convince them they hired a lemon. It's the task of the organization to constantly evaluate their employees, including your boss.

Do absolutely nothing. Move on. It's like an auto accident. Plenty of reasons to feel anger. No reasons to act on those feelings.

That's a pretty tough question to answer. I agree with some of the comments below (well the ones I read) that anything you say about your manager that's sour will look poorly on you. My opinion would be to express that you loved the company and former head dev manager. Don't leave a sour taste in their mouth and be the "bigger" person about this. If you are truly an awesome dev, you will find great work and they'll respect you more than your previous company. Good luck to you.

>"he and I routinely disagreed about the technical aspects of the work"

When everything is a point of contention between a person and their boss, there are often few pleasant options...and when you are not showing up onsite, it is difficult to have allies [and hard to avoid self documenting the grounds for dismissal].

On the other hand, there is no reason to leap to conclusions about the exit interview.

You could ask HR to explain the difference in feedback. Frame it as "I don't understand how my feedback could've changed so drastically. I didn't do anything different, after all."

If the only variable is a change of manager, logically it's kinda a no-brainer what happened.

Our site "Spottiness.com" may serve you well, in particular the "Blackspot" section. We help people communicate anonymously and allow targets to respond. If your anonymity is paramount, you should be careful with your writing style and other clues.

I'd take most of the advice put forth here and add this- don't do the exit interview. Nothing good will come of it, and it only helps your employer because you are likely to acknowledge some kind of acceptance that you weren't perfect.

Since they've decided to let you go instead of him, it's unlikely they will take anything you have to say seriously, until you back it up with similar reviews by other people he has managed or interacted with.

Although the other comments mention letting it go, I would suggest not to. The only thing needed for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing about it.

If you work hard enough bringing out proofs of his toxicity - even to the employees and the future people who will work under him, I can say for granted something is bound to happen to him. I know this because I have done so with reasonable success in the past. Here's my story, if you're interested.

I joined a startup I was excited as hell about, and had the happiest times of my life for the first 1 year. It was a win-win - they loved me and I loved them. However, once it went profitable, the founders ( 8-10 years our seniors ) began hiring their college buddies as VP this, VP that.

It was around this time that the people I had worked with to build the entire system from scratch had started quitting. I should have taken the hint, but I stayed on.

When they hired a 'CTO' from their college who had dubious credentials at best, I should have known better than to stay. VPs with 0 management chops are still okay, but a CTO with no vision is a suicidal move. To make matters worse, I was put under direct management by him. He had no new ideas, and was quick to shoot down through intimidation any new work I tried working on as 'too optimistic'. Deep down, I knew that was not the problem - deep down he resented the fact that I was the go-to guy for the problems the newer employees faced, and try as he did, he couldn't solve problems to save his life. He resented having to come to me whenever something crashed, and there were instances of crashes he didn't even tell me about, and I only came to know of them through other employees who thought I should know.

I brought this into light at several meetings with the founders, the people who i had worked with since the beginning to build this system almost from scratch, and then rebuild it. However, the founders seemed more interested in reliving their college life than chiding the 'CTO' about his misadventures.

This left a bad taste in my mouth, and I quit - but not before humiliating the 'CTO' at every public gathering with the team that we had, during my notice period - to the point that he stopped organizing these meetings. I was supported by the employees who knew who was to blame.

Soon after I left, two of these 'VP's were let go, and the 'CTO' had to make amends to accomodate several whims of the employees. They perhaps can't let the CTO go because he has had sexual harrassment charges against him, and wouldn't be hired anywhere else. This was probably the reason he went jobless for 2 years before the startup was founded.

I wish the startup succeeds, but I also wish he is not there to reap the benefits of the success he so doesn't deserve.

The point is - I could have just rolled over and taken it, and simply quit - but like I mentioned before - " The only thing needed for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing about it."

So let it go, but not before you've done him enough harm so that he knows better than to mess with anyone else like he messed with you.

A similar thing happened to me twice (though I was never fired, but rather let go with nice severance packages). Glowing reviews for a year / year and a half, then out of nowhere they would let me go.

I learned a few things

1) Every time you are let go, it's an opportunity to find a much better job (whatever that means - more money, better location, startup). And this had been true EVERY SINGLE TIME. Every time I was let go, I increased my salary by 20-40%, and built more and more connections with interesting people.

2) There's no such thing as job security. Nobody owes you anything. You can be fired/let go for any reason, or without any reason, legally in most states.

3) If you're truly good, it's their loss. It's extremely hard to find competent developers within a given budget.

4) After this happened a couple of times, I shifted to contractor work, it's more money, and you expect your project to end. It might feel scary the first time, but don't be afraid, you're in IT, there are TONS of jobs out there.

5) Unless you're climbing the corporate ladder, do not participate in the office politics, or at least make fun of it. Yeah, you will probably not get promoted to a director or a CTO, but who cares? Do you want to develop things, or become a manager? Office politics is usually ugly, I've seen so much backstabbing in the industry among manager types and crappy developers, it's not funny. I've seen one shitty developer taking a code of a much smarter one, showing it off to the clueless director, showering him with gifts, and getting all kinds of raises and promotions. You can't fight it if higher management doesn't understand what's going on. All you can do is move on.

6) Most people are good, don't take it too personally, shit happens.

7) If you ever want to be in charge, start your own company.

+1 well said

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