The point being, if I started a new company tomorrow, I would, without a doubt, go and try to hire some of those same people to help me start it. And maybe now, as a more capable manager than I was then, maybe some would make it longer, or maybe some would realize as the company goes from 10 to 100, that they are just much more satisfied at really early stages. Maybe we'd even define their comp and equity to reflect the fact that they might not be on board for the long haul, but might be key for the early innings.
The same thing is true for hiring bigger company people too early... without structure and process, some folks go crazy too and have to leave. You need the right people at the right time. This is hard to do. I messed up a bunch of times. Some people grow with the company through stages, and some don't. I think it's a responsibility of the company to help people grow if they want, or to end the misery and let them go back to what they love if they don't want to change.
Finally -- For what it's worth, people are fired all the time ( as I have been ) for all kinds of reasons, and so it's not a reason not to hire someone. Professional hiring managers know this.
Commandos are people who love challenges and hate structure. They'll happily take on missions that other people think are crazy or impossible, because doing things other people think are crazy or impossible is what turns them on. They get you your critical early beachhead by swimming in at midnight with a knife in their teeth and slitting throats till morning.
Infantry are what most people are. Most people are not Rambo; crazy suicide missions don't turn them on. But at this point you have your foothold on the beach, so suicide missions are few; what you need now is lots of people to take that foothold and widen it into a big enough space to sustain yourself on indefinitely. This work is kind of a grind, so it doesn't appeal to the commandos, who start falling away looking for a new beach to storm. But it's critical for turning the company from a proof-of-concept into a real, going concern.
Eventually the fight for the beach ends, and the battle moves inland. But you still need to have some people there to maintain order, which is where the police come in. Police are even more risk-averse than infantry; they're caretakers who see their job less as expanding the market the commandos and infantry have won then as making sure it doesn't fall apart. Commandos and infantry fight to win; police fight to not lose.
All of these personality types are important at varying stages in a company's life, he writes, but the big challenge is making sure you have the right ones at the right stages, and that you manage the transitions between those stages well. A mostly-commandos startup that takes off but tries to still keep itself mostly commandos will choke on its own success. A larger company that still has growth opportunities but phases out its infantry in favor of police too early will miss those opportunities and get ground down by more aggressive competitors. A company that's grown as much as it can grow but resists bringing on police will run itself down launching futile new products that the market isn't asking for. Etc.
He also posits that as organisations evolve from left to right, they still need teams in the previous states for the business to work effectively. Sometimes these are outsourced, sometimes they're not done at all.
If companies outgrow anyone it's executive leadership that for whatever reason can no longer motivate and inspire their workforce.
I've been in this situation before. I couldn't take direction from anyone who thought they knew what we did better than me, since I had been there from day one and saw the thing through. Also there's resentment that they're jumping on late and riding coat tails when you've already done the hard yards.
I don't think executive leadership is actually about motivating staff per-se and more about building little fortresses to further their career ends.
But it's not just that it's specializing, it's that there's more accountability. If you're supposed to be adding function X to module Y, that's much different than "fight the hottest fire".
Sometimes people get fired because they insist on acting the way that things that started. From their viewpoint it's even reasonable: they haven't change, the position has.
Sometimes people recognize the situation and quit.
Being employee number 40 is quite a bit different than 400 or 40,000. Or number 4. Some people are able to negotiate the changes. Some bosses or CEOs can. A lot can't.
Startups on the other hand tend to think profitability and scale as some sort of fairy land they might get to after all their problems are solved, but right now they need X.
In other words, if you swap out "company" for "product", then you can use this as a lifecycle without ever actually losing the employee.
If you have a culture where everyone thinks they're either commandos, infantry, or police, it's possible you're going to have some customer relationship issues.
Who's the enemy in this model? If people don't fit, do they become traitors?
Language and metaphor matter, and IMO this is a dangerous and rather dumb metaphor.
I can understand why it's going to be popular with certain kinds of business people, especially the kind who like simple stories that make them feel more important than they really are.
But over time I think it's as likely to cause as many problems as it solves.
Some sibling comment mentioned "settlers" as a metaphor, which I can get behind.
But for sure, Its important to recognize that this is what the growth pattern looks like, and does highlight that needs and roles change; if you can't or won't, you gotta go - not because you're a horrible commando, but because they only need infantry now.
Stay hungry, stay foolish
Only the paranoid survive.
What terrifies me about being fired is:
* I have a family to support, and even though we're well off enough to have a 6-12 month cushion, I've seen job markets where it takes longer than that you get hired
* The number of unprofessional or biased hiring managers is vastly greater than the number of professional ones (I was disqualified for a sysadmin position based on a background check showing a city ordinance violation from tenants I had who left garbage on the front lawn when I attempted to be a landlord in my early 20s in a small Illinois farming community)
* Just like in personal romantic relationships, you can do everything right and still get fired
I'm fine with that, but make sure that I know it's likely coming well in advance. Make sure I understand that I'm not pulling my weight. Make sure I understand that the company is moving in a different direction and you'd rather part ways with me than let me retool. It's all good, just don't drop a bomb on me one day.
What's missing from the equation is what it does to others. Sure one person got fired, bam! easy peasy.
Well not so easy because everyone else in the company witnessed that. It becomes a message to everyone else. "As soon you hit the first bump, or maybe you are sick, or have a family emergency we'll throw you under a bus". Everyone pays attention to that message.
Actions speak louder than words is a cliche, but it is true. Especially because management is used to talk in superlatives and in market-speak. "We are doing great! We are a people's company. We value our employees. We are a meritocracy. We are here to help you grow, blah, blah,...", but then they fire Steve because his code hit a segfault in production twice that week.
Which message will people listen to?
> Erik Wolpaw, a writer at Valve fell ill (diagnosed with ulcerative colitis) in 2004. He knew he couldn’t fulfil his duties at work and made the choice to leave Valve. Erik tried to quit, Gabe refused to accept his resignation and said “Your job is to get better. That is your job description at Valve. So go home to your wife and come back when you are better.” On leaving Erik turned to fellow Valver Chet and said “Well, I guess we know where we’re working for the rest of our lives.”
So she did, and they did.
Guess how committed she is to working there now.
If you work at a company where you believe this is the case, you should leave so you are leaving on your terms and on your timeline.
The way I think of it is this. On the day you are fired, when you get called in a room, if I ask you, "why do you think you're here?", you'd reply: "I think I'm getting fired". Because I want us to have had so many conversations about it, and been so direct, that the actual firing is incredibly unsurprising.
I think any manager owes this to their employees, as a matter of basic human decency.
Personally I'd prefer a place where I could do X and X+1 so it'd be a bit of a negative in choosing where to go, but I can live with it. OTOH I'd be extremely pissed if I walked in one day and was told "we think you're awesome, but you don't konw X+1 so see ya later"
But they think they can because they got VC money and they are high on their own fumes.
Fire fast if someone is clearly not a right fit, but "Fast" should be after giving them plenty of warning.
Ideally both sides are on the same page at any point of time as to what the situation is.
I'd like to think (and try to only work for) people would be professional enough on both sides to realize that not everyone (either side) is going to be happy 100% of the time but a) both sides can work on it to make it better and b) if it doesn't work out, try to be supportive of each other so that both come out stronger overall.
But some companies aren't great at feedback, particularly young ones where the mechanisms for regular, structured feedback aren't really in place yet.
That said, I was laid off once at a company that was not doing well and had to make cuts across the board. They were very sad to have to let me go, but did one of the classiest things I've seen a company do in my entire career...as part of my 2 weeks severance, they let me continue telling companies I was currently employed there still. I had three competitive offers in a week, and I feel I was in a much stronger position because of how they handled that.
1. This person is having to fire a lot of people, something is up that needs to be investigated.
2. People are surprised, this person may not be the best manager.
The specific details are everything in this case, so it really depends. It can definitely come back and screw the manager though if it is indeed their own fault. Often times it may not be theirs alone though.
Beyond that it creates a morale problem. People who work together form social attachments and get upset when a coworker disappears. People who are in no actual danger of being fired will assume they're next. People who make mistakes or miss deadlines will start looking for new jobs because job-hunting is easier when you have a job. And good people will start to leave because it's just not a fun place to work with the black cloud hanging over the office.
That is not to say you should never fire someone. Sometimes it's unavoidable. But it's not something you should do lightly.
I guess I meant "the one thing that bothers me from the perspective of someone who might be fired at any moment" :) - I could survive in a fire fast iff they were open about everything, although I probably wouldn't choose to work there in the first place, if that makes sense.
The amount of months's notice you get changes with your age and years of employement as well. Sometimes you have to sack entire departments just to defeat the LIFO policy.
Now I think Sweden's laws can be a bit too strict, companies are deathly afraid to hire the wrong people (after the six month trial period) since they can't get rid of them, and companies should be able to get rid of underperformers, but living in a country where your boss can go Donald Trump on your ass on a whim isn't exactly ideal either...
If you're leaving a company, you might not have told the manager that you were interviewing around, but you certainly should have talked to them about being unhappy.
If you're firing an employee, they should have known (almost as long as you've known) that there was some culture mismatch, or that their performance wasn't meeting expectations, or whatever.
There are of course always exceptions, where you think someone is crazy or an asshole, but most people are reasonable and can handle hearing that things aren't great.
>> there was some culture mismatch, or that their performance wasn't meeting expectations
I had trouble reading this: culture, or performance. If their performance was good, but they didn't match the 'culture' then it is arbitrary in the greatest order. If 'culture; is important, as I agree it is but in qualifiable ways, so culture is qualifiable, and if an organization cannot put 'culture; into its performance expections, it is likely doomed or very very young, but likely doomed.
Zach was there for five years. Why are we talking about "fire fast"?
I am going to hug my country's employment law. "Fire fast" sounds inherently abusive towards employees.
And that's why much of the world has a social safety net.
These are well-paid white collar professionals, they should be saving up emergency funds.
I'm more worried about the safety net for low- and mid-income workers, as well as the fact that health insurance is tied to your employment.
And yes, people should have emergency funds... but when you were a few years out of college, did you have 3-6 months of salary saved up? I certainly didn't.
because as a taxpayer i have been covering mortgage of somebody unemployed. So i expect (due to social contract of safety net) that if i happen to be unemployed than some other taxpayer(s) will cover my mortgage.
Anecdotal, but one of my older buddies was laid off. He's been earning north of $250k for over 30 years. He had savings, but assuming he didn't, his max withdrawal would be $698 a week, and only for 6 months, which is a max withdrawal of ~$18k, which is right around what he paid in to unemployment in a year. Ignoring that he'd been paying in ~$15k for years (or, I guess, half of that for awhile, as the pay-in percentage used to be lower), then he's not taking taxpayer dollars, he's taking his own money back. Or at least, a fraction of it, because the state made a lot more off of him than he made off of the state.
If he shouldn't be able to profit off of the state, then the state shouldn't be able to profit off of him.
Otherwise though, the compelling reason that unemployment should be enough to cover one's mortgage is because it is specifically designed to prevent homelessness, as the taxpayer cost of allowing him to go homeless because he had a few week lapse between employment and unemployment benefits is substantially higher than simply giving him more of his own money back.
That's not how "social safety nets" work. They tend towards being zero-sum in monetary terms, which means that some people will "win" (those worse off, hopefully) and some will "lose". The idea is that such devices help balance and stabilize society, which means we all actually win.
If the caps are so short and arbitrary, unless I'm missing something, the state is pocketing a ton. Perhaps that's okay, because it does definitely defend against the "everybody's out of work" scanario that we haven't really had in awhile, despite the recession. Or maybe it just means that there are more people who need it more than I'm envisioning, or that it disproportionately favors the lower incomes, or any other number of factors.
The point though, which I've perhaps done a poor job of illustrating, is that it still behooves the state to ensure that earners with high wage potential aren't made homeless as a result of those caps.
If the higher wage earners get less benefit from the system, then so be it, but that means that the system needs them more than they need it, and as a result, should probably not be bankrupting those with high income potential, just because "we shouldn't be debt servicing their assets".
FUTA is only paid on the first $7,000 of an employee's income. The state portion of unemployment insurance is generally similarly capped, just like FICA (Social Security/Medicare) tax.
So your point is invalid.
ALG1 comes out of the mandatory unemployment insurance (that you and your employer have paid for every month) and they will pay you 60% of your previous take-home salary + health insurance for half of the timespan that you'd been employed. That comes out to 1500-2000€/m in your pocket and insurance taken care of, which is really not so bad (a lot of people working full time make less than that). Can be more if you made north of 50K a year. Unless you have a crazy mortgage, you can make things work for a while. Also, if you hadn't had a pretty solid job for years, you wouldn't have gotten a mortgage anyway.
After 24 months max and still no job you would fall back to ALGII though. That's is taxpayers' money and essentially rent for a cheap place, health insurance and 400 € in your pocket, which sucks. Plus you have to liquidate any assets you may have left (including life insurance) first and they will make you take a shitty job.
It's to ensure basic needs are met.
If you want to remain wealthy, you should probably not count on unemployment to play a role in that.
This is to ensure that people don't have to sell or move immediately after being fired.
Which makes sense.
If someone wants to make the commitments of mortgages or dependents, then that's on them and they still need to have that 3-6 month emergency fund, except the amount will be higher because of the added responsibilities.
Absolutely. This was my first priority. This is personal finance 101 (though I'd replace 'salary' with 'expenses'). I realize not everybody is able to do it, but for many in this forum it would be an issue of prioritization.
Actually, I did and it was a top-priority for me.
We have employment insurance, which is also mandatory (mostly) to pay into, but it only pays about 1700/month and payments only last 15 weeks (after a 3 week waiting period). Yes, it's nice to have some money coming in, but it's nowhere near enough for more than a month or two.
And lastly Welfare only pays about $650/Month not even enough for rent anywhere Metro Vancouver or the Fraser Valley.
I live in the U.S. and recently enrolled my family of two in the cheapest healthcare plan available (high deductible, no dental, no vision) through the Freelancers Union - which I'm required to do as part of the Affordable Healthcare Act - and it's going to cost me USD $814 per month ... for the next 35 years. In today's dollars, that's nearly $350K and doesn't cover any of the out-of-pocket costs that we'll incur should we decide to actually use the damn plan.
I don't know what the BC plan is like, but in Manitoba if I didn't have any coverage through my employer I'd be paying for almost everything except visiting a doctor or ER. And you're still stuck in a line to see specialists. It's not unheard of to schedule an appointment with a specialist a year out.
People with true emergent cases are seen quickly. You may not, but it's probably because it's not an emergency.
Note, this does not include anything beyond medical, ie not ambulances, not vision, no private rooms, no dental, no physio and not prescriptions and in BC does NOT cover things like IVF (Ontario does cover up to 3 attempts).
Those are all extra (to the tune of 200-300/month for a family - usually paid by your employer - there are plans for solo/self employed http://www.coverme.com/ for instance).
EI coverage last significantly longer than 15 weeks if you've been working full time in the last year. It depends on the regional unemployment rate - for BC its probably around 36 weeks: http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/ei/types/regular.shtml#lo... .
I won't repost the list, but you can find the definition and the most common list on their website here:
Do you have anything to say that might help people who happen to agree with you but are powerless to change it, and in need of income? Because while it really feels good to find things that confirm that your opinions are correct, being correct doesn't put food on the table and it doesn't help unemployed people find a job.
All I had to do was publicize the fact that the so-called CEO was selling weed on a NASA installation as a side business, which is an extremely stupid thing to do and an even stupider thing to tell your so-called subordinate about (Dude, if I am older than you, bigger than you, developed the tech, and put more money into the business than you - I am not your subordinate. I am your equal, and even that because I am magnanimous).
> (Dude, if I am older than you, bigger than you, developed the tech, and put more money into the business than you - I am not your subordinate. I am your equal, and even that because I am magnanimous).
And so humble!
And yes, if someone just sort of declares themselves CEO in interviews just because they have a famous relative and have an easier time getting invited to talks, me insisting that we are equal partner is humble. This person contributed little else to the business.
I don't have a problem with marijuana (don't want any, but it should be legal), I have a problem with people who steal credit for my work.
I am well on track to pay the mortage in 4 years instead of the standard 20, have probably 6 months of expenses in the bank, plus another 2-3 months of expenses in a different account because the wife has begin to have funny ideas about what to do with the extra cash. (I have already threaten that I will rather quit before she goes and blows up the war chest in some stupid vacation or something, but still so much for constant vigilance). While I am nowhere near as ready to be let go as of today, I know I will be landing on my two feet if that were to happen.
Right now I am counting on her being smarter than I am.
I am Mexican, living and working in Mexico. Interest rates for a house are in the ballpark of 10%. This can be either very bad (on a 30 year mortage, you end up paying back about 3 times as much as you originally borrowed), or very good (early payments go straight to capital and have a disproportionate effect on the total amount paid, specially during the first few years). We also have a government mandatory housing fund, paid by your employer, at 5% of your salary (meaning everybody's salary is 5% less than what otherwise would be, but still).
So, we did the rational thing. We rented while we were young and our careers were taking off, we tried to avoid lifestyle inflation when we got raises, and when we finally bought a house we threw every spare cash we could afford until the monthly interest came out of our employers fully. That happened last December (after sinking Christmas bonuses into the mortage).
So, while it requires discipline, it's not that impressive. In this country, paying your mortage using the plan designed by the bank is the same as making minium payments to your credit card. You just keep paying interests without making much of a dent on the capital.
(How is he able to do that? By working like a maniac, I guess.)
On a $100k 20 year loan at at 5.7% (I know, example), interest paid would be around $67k (so total $167k). By paying 3.28 times more per month ($2300 per month versus the $700 normal rate), the interest paid ends up being only around $12k.
I have a mortgage through Tangerine (formerly ING) and can pay down 25% of the original amount during any calendar year - assuming I have the cash, and feel that avoiding that interest is better than the return I could otherwise get investing the cash.
No, they're not. In the Western world, this is mostly an American thing. In most Western countries, there's a major responsibility for the employer to prove there is no other way before getting permission to fire someone.
Now there are all kinds of downsides to that, and it's far from ideal especially for start-ups, but I do like the way it doesn't tolerate the immature, irresponsible and downright immoral behavior towards employees that's regularly on display here on HN and considered "normal".
The cop-out of "this isn't working out, you're fired" borders on infantile behavior on the level of "I don't wanna play with you anymore". Firing people can have a devastating impact on the lives of the people it happens to.
Firing people should not be that easy, and in most civilized countries it isn't.
We have a very individualistic culture in America. It has its positives and negatives. But most of the people here (software developers in America) have greatly benefited from that culture - we have a tremendous amount of opportunity in a field we enjoy and do very well financially. So we have no reason to complain. Even when we are fired most of us will find another job quickly that is still several times the median Western wage.
I would say the results speak volumes as well. We are the center of the startup world and our big tech companies disproportionately dominate world markets.
But there's one thing that I imagine has to be universal, which makes me wonder how much industry experience you've had. I think almost all of us have had the experience of working with someone who is a drag on their team. A bad developer does not result in 0 productivity, but huge productivity losses for the team. Sometimes people do just not work out, although maybe in Europe instead of firing them you rubber room them.
You're making a logical leap that this is because of firing people.
Other small factors might include, for example, billions of dollars of U.S. government funding in high tech research, sustained over many decades, the fruits of which are directly transferred to Silicon Valley companies to bring to market.
Incidentally, lots of that core research happens in the academic sector where the tenure system is common. Which makes firing really hard.
I also disagree with your assessment of our academic sector, which at the institutions that are leaders in research, is as cutthroat and competitive as anywhere in industry... actually, much more so.
You make it seem like tenure is the same thing as European employment protections, which couldn't be further from reality. At the research universities you are talking about, it is very hard to get hired, easy to get fired, and once there, tenure is only granted after years of high stress, intense work, and proven success.
Some govt research is directly given to a particular valley company and no one else, but quite a lot of it is published and free for anyone in the world to use.
As for the tenure system, firing is hard and as a result getting hired is also extremely hard.
The claim wasn't that SV tech is successful because hiring is easy. The tenure system shows that easy firing isn't essential to successful tech innovation.
Startups are the Wild West when it comes to employment. Their nature means that many of the people running the show have never actually hired and managed employees before, and they have no good role models for doing so. Sometimes it works out well, and sometimes it works out atrociously.
Which is exactly why there are very few successful tech startups outside of the US.
> But I do like the way it doesn't tolerate the immature, irresponsible and downright immoral behavior towards employees that's regularly on display here on HN and considered "normal".
Don't cry for SV programmers making $130k+ who get fired, they will get a new job within a week. Fire fast also means hire fast (at least while the VC money keeps flowing).
Possible that this attitude (along with many other factors) contributes to the far less developed startup cultures of many Western European countries.
The way the usual contract in IT (CDI) works is: you can have a 4-month trial period, which you can renew once. Then the employer cannot fire you without "serious cause" (and "bad performance" does not qualify).
Some side-effects of that are:
- Employers are afraid to hire, leading to long-term unemployment.
- IT is dominated by huge consultancies (because companies prefer to contract out than hire).
- As an employee, it is almost impossible to rent a flat in Paris during a trial period (because we also have laws that make it impossible to expell people who don't pay their rent).
- Acquisitions are complicated because the acquirer needs to keep the whole team. An exception is companies that go broke (in which case they can fire part of the team and then be acquired).
I understand why we have those laws, they are useful to protect some categories of people. But for higher revenue professions, we would be better off with a contract that is more flexible. More and more people are trying to work around this by creating single-person companies instead of being employed directly, but it is a mess (and the state is doing all it can to make it illegal...).
It's basically a court case to fire someone, which makes it very easy for employees that should be fired to keep their jobs.
"The cop-out of "this isn't working out, you're fired" borders on infantile behavior on the level of "I don't wanna play with you anymore". Firing people can have a devastating impact on the lives of the people it happens to."
Sometimes it isn't working out and that person needs to be let go.
"Firing people should not be that easy, and in most civilized countries it isn't."
There is a reason why the US has the most innovation as well as the best place to start a new company and one of the reasons is because it doesn't require a court case to let someone (that isn't working out) go.
These kind of regulations prevent smaller companies from even starting and will create an environment with mostly large companies. It will eventually kill the startup scene that HN loves so much.
I don't get this. Are you saying part of the reason you fired them was because you weren't a capable manager, and didn't identify ways to keep a valuable asset as the company changed during growth? And you think these folks would consider working for you again, after you fired them when the company "went another direction," as those conversations always go? I've never worked for you and this comment would give me pause.
I can't imagine what this entails. "Thanks for all your work getting us to where we are. The company has gotten a bit bigger, so some of your habits don't fit in your role any more and it's time to let you go." Can you elaborate? Because honestly, that doesn't sound good without further context. I don't believe in union-style loyalty where the first five years entitles someone to the next thirty, but I do believe someone who helped shape the company and generated a lot of value for you deserves more than "well, we've changed, and you don't fit any more."
It's par for the course that you can write introspection like this and reflect on your shortcomings as a manager, after culling those with similar shortcomings who have now been asked to leave the company they helped build from early days. Meanwhile, your company is wildly successful and you continue to be rewarded despite your shortcomings while someone else has to start over somewhere else. Where's the accountability for your management?
And yes, I am saying I was not a capable manager. Not that I have nothing left to learn, but I think I am more or less at the point of being able to diplomatically handle and resolve 99% of the issues that come up in a way where all parties feel like they are being considered thoughtfully and treated fairly. I have a good mentor network and corporate counsel who help me with the remaining 1% since rarely does a situation come up that they haven't encountered before.
Thanks for your answer, at any rate, though I'm left with more questions than I had when we started.
What I meant is that I have a really good lawyer who has seen a ton of situations before, and usually when something is new and unique to me, it's not new to him or his partners, and I can lean on their decades of experience to help me navigate what represents a new situation for me. It's not about CYA, or "lawyering up" (quite the opposite). It's about having them tell me how they've handled things in the past. Just like a mentor. Good corporate counsel is all about conflict resolution and avoidance. :-)
Mature professionals understand this and if you're fired simply because you are very competent, but don't work well with the new business behavior, it's not surprising that the person who fired you would hire you for a different role. It is just not always possible to find a good role for someone in a particular business.
I'm sure it's rare, but I can certainly understand how it can happen.
I've been laid off a couple times when the company I was working for shifted directions and my skill set no longer met their needs; with smaller/younger companies (especially in our industry) it's to be expected from time to time. To me, though, being fired is what happens when an employee fails to perform their job satisfactorily.
This, in turn, creates a perverse incentive for employers to fabricate a cause, or even to provoke the employee. Fortunately not at my present employer, but I have seen this happen and have also seen managers brag about it.
I'm not a lawyer, but as I understand it, the legal distinction is whether you're terminated "with cause." That's what most people refer to as "fired." The implication is that you can't collect unemployment or severance. At a professionally managed company, termination "with cause" will be the culmination of a "progressive discipline" process unless you do something so egregious that they must walk you straight out the door.
In common parlance, "laid off" means that you are not given "cause," and are eligible for those benefits.
Under some conditions, a company that is planning to lay off more than a certain number of people must announce it in advance. This is a "mass layoff." Also, a laid off person is potentially eligible for re-hiring, and the details are often written into union contracts.
I suspect due to the legal implications of mass layoffs, companies will use some other term such as "reduction of force" for routine business-downturn layoffs.
Naturally, if a company needs to reduce its workforce, they will sack the weakest employees, but it will typically be done without "cause" in order to avoid a potential lawsuit for false termination, and because letting people have their unemployment benefit is the decent thing to do.
Laid off. Done en masse. I could do this for every company and it is exactly the same. No, they don't say "your performance sucks! You're fired!" In fact that would be a legal quagmire because "cause" is somewhat capricious when the reasoning is "doesn't fall in the top 90%". Which is why they settle with nice departure agreements.
Are there some people around here who were laid off and are trying to feel good about it? The reality of lay offs in most situations is that someone intentionally put you in a situation where you would be laid off. It wasn't just accident.
The reality is, companies don't hire for fun, they have a plan, and they need people to execute that plan. If the plan fails, then the people get laid off, but it is the management that failed by hiring people they didn't actually need. Or it is unpredictable market conditions. A lot of people did everything right but still lost their jobs when the NASDAQ crashed, for example. People who did everything right are losing their jobs right now because of the oil price crash. That is part of growing up, to understand that you can do everything right, you can go above and beyond the call of duty, you can even be brilliant - and still lose.
Firstly, to repeat, in most cases in this industry it is performance based. Arbitrary or oddball examples are irrelevant.
When you are laid off, even if it was because the project you were on got axed, take a look around -- did you notice the superstars on the team all got pulled to other parts of the company? Strange, isn't it? Did you notice, in fact, that as things started to look ugly that dregs got transferred to the project?
That's the reality of layoffs. That's how performance based layoffs work. I mean, you're arguing with me despite every single tech example absolutely confirming what I'm saying. People who are valuable to a company will be placed internally, and those who aren't will be jettisoned like unnecessary cargo.
You're trying desperately hard to try to load the word fired and laid off, but the majority of people who are laid off (in this industry) were evaluated and considered not worth keeping.
But talk about steel workers or something.
Nope. Because you are just talking complete nonsense. It just doesn't work like that.
I'll tell you a story, I was laid off about a decade ago, along with about 6000 others. The CEO had decided that offshoring was clearly the future of software development. Only it wasn't, many of my cow-orkers got called back as consultants, for way more money, because that company found itself completely unable to ship any working software with its "CMM level 5" offshore operation. Not me tho', because I can't remember if it took me 1 week or 2 to find a new job and start it, with a nice bump in salary too. I'm neither a "superstar" nor a "dreg". No-one got pulled into other parts of the company in this process as you imagine happens, because those parts of the company didn't exist anymore either.
Another good example is SGI, superstars or dregs (I can guess which one you think you are), they all lost their jobs when the CEO bet the farm on Itanium. Google occupies their campus now. One day, they'll lay people off too. Did their fabled interview process suddenly start letting "dregs" in?
That's the reality of layoffs, they can happen to anyone, and they are decided far, far above the level that anyone knows or cares if you are a "superstar" or a "dreg". When it happens to you - and in a 40-50 year career it is a matter of when not if - try to remember my words and not feel all, ermm, dreggy about it. In the meantime, try to curtail your arrogance a little.
However, it is import to realize that just being excellent at your job will not protect you from being laid off. Just because you want to believe that it will, doesn't make it true.
It's actually a little ironic that this conversation is happening because you're trying to load the term "fired". Fired never meant "because you stole" or "because you sabotaged the PCs". It just means you had your employment terminated, often if not usually for banal reasons of lack of fit or suitability. Life goes on.
This this and this. I'm one of those people (didn't work at OpenDNS, but have had similar experiences). The problem is that there's no way to get yourself an exit that gives you a fair amount of money if your brain makes you great for starting a company but mediocre for continuing it.
That doesn't reflect well on you.
Your company should always be innovating-- and the people who got you there should be rewarded, not fired for it.
The first time was early in my career. A site manager decided to impose working hours that (a) were in opposition to how I was recruited and (b) not what the client wanted, but (c) didn’t matter anyway because the site manager had the power to do that. This was no great loss. I was better off out of there than working under those circumstances. I had a new job a month later paying 50% more.‡
The second time was a few years ago. Another employee screwed over the entire team. He did something really stupid that caused him to be fired, the executive sponsor to be fired, and then a week later, me to be fired—just three weeks after I had started. Again, this was no great loss, but the company handled the whole situation very badly (they were one of two options I had when being recruited; they won, but they treated me like crap when I was fired). I was far better of out of there because it turned out that the management team without that executive sponsor was pretty stupid when it came to technology.
The third time was last fall. A new head of engineering had come in and he decided that (a) he was the only person who could be bombastic about technology opinions, (b) he didn’t like my technology opinions and (c) he didn’t like me. I wasn’t better off out of there—this was one of the best teams I had ever worked with. I was better off not working for him, for sure. In the end, what he did was truly stupid: he isn’t there anymore and neither are the three other senior software engineers that were there when I was there. Those departures probably wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t done that.•
At the same time, I had a job doing something more clearly two months later. Less pay, but much more opportunity to learn, grown, and shape a team the way that I want to shape the team.
Being fired hurts. Each of those times was depressing, because either I had just wound down a job search and didn’t want to spin it up again or I wasn’t ready for a job search. It sounds like Zach is doing the right thing—he’s got the tools and a bit of time to pull himself together, and he’s figuring out what he wants to do with the next phase of his career. Best of luck.
‡ More importantly, during that job search, I came to Canada the first time and met the woman who encouraged me to immigrate to Canada and whom I would eventually marry.
• This last job search was interesting because the middle one was so short that it could clearly be seen as Not My Fault. This one…I had to address why I was no longer at the company clearly, directly, and without evasion or disparagement. I handled it very well, I think. I also figured out that I didn’t want to just be the “seniormost” person; I wanted to be the acknowledged team lead/dev manager. That changed the job search substantially.
Can you elaborate on this a bit? I could sometimes use some lessons in diplomacy...
The most common way I was asked this was “why did you move on from COMPANY?” Of course, the truth is that you didn’t move on. Someone else decided to move you on. Say that, without rancor. In my case, it was easy. I usually said something like “I didn’t really choose to move on; COMPANY decided to let me go.” Let’s be clear: you cannot avoid saying this in some form.
You’ll probably be asked why, and there are a couple of choices here. Most companies—especially startups—want to avoid any legal entanglement and so will give you the “changing needs of the business” line. It may even be true, but depending on the quality of your interviewer, that may not be sufficient and you may be asked to speculate on why you were let go. It’s a dangerous line of questioning, because it can sound like an opportunity to be bitter about being let go and letting that bitterness show. Avoid the temptation.
In my case, I generally followed on with something like: “The official reason was because of the changing needs of the business. I personally think that it was because the new MANAGER and I disagreed on the way that a development team should work.” This was perfect for me, because I could expand on my thoughts about how a development team should work and how an extremely senior member of that team (if not the team lead/development manager) should interact with the more junior members of the team.
Depending on the nature of the discussion that I was having, I might be asked a bit more about the situation. In my case, I was able to express my regret for not being with one of the best teams that I had ever worked with and I was able to get into just how differently the MANAGER wanted to run development and how much that showed he didn’t understand the high-performing team.
In that discussion, I never named names and I also expressed some level of uncertainty as to how much my own style could have affected how MANAGER and I interacted leading to my untimely departure. This was important because it helped the interviewer realize that I don’t think myself infallible.
If you have friends from the old job, talk with them to exhaust your bitterness over the departure. Work with people on how you can figure out how to say you regret having been let go because of the lost opportunities, but how you’re moving forward and learning from the experience. Me, I learned that I absolutely don’t want to work for that type of MANAGER ever again and want to make sure that I never turn into that type of manager as I get back into running a team. So far, I’m succeeding.
Note: I have also been laid off once due to a cash crunch—which I didn’t include on my original post. It’s just as much of a gut punch, but I was able to leave that place on good terms, and much easier to explain. People just nod their heads and go “ah”.
Your comment is the sort of nuanced experience that makes reading through this thread worth the time.
When hiring I'm always amazed how little candidates ask real questions about their work, workplace, how people are rated, what 'excellent' means, who there boss is, who there colleagues are, etc.
When you lose a job, there is always a gut punch. Hell, even if I’ve decided to move on, there’s always a gut punch. These are people you’ve worked with and have come to respect to some degree (sometimes greatly).
I called out the loss of two of the three jobs as “no great loss”. I’m not going to pretend that I wasn’t hurt by it, or that I wasn’t panicked. In both cases, I had started the jobs relatively recently (about six weeks in the first case and three weeks in the second), so yeah—the reality is that at the time I was panicked.
In the first case, it was for a relatively large consulting firm (no, I’m not naming them or the client I was at) with a number of work sites. The people who did the recruiting for consultants were not the people who ran the work sites. The recruiters made a number of statements about the way that the company worked that the site manager contradicted. I also had a friend from a previous job start with the same consulting firm and provide me a positive review of the place. He ended up at a good work site with a good manager. I ended up at a good work site with a micromanager. It was the (bad) luck of the draw—and I was far better off not working for a company that would make promises with one hand and let other people take them away (and yes, the site manager “warned” me about my behaviour and did not appreciate it when I pointed out that these were conditions that I had been recruited under and that the client was ecstatic about my working arrangement—but then again, the site manager just cared about his power over others and not the work or the quality of work for the client). It was “no great loss” to not work with those people anymore. Especially since I was able to “fall up”.
The second one was a little more nuanced, and again was a “hindsight” situation. I interviewed with the team and with the executive sponsor in the company. I knew exactly what I was going to be doing, what would be expected of me, and the role I was going to play. There was exactly one warning sign that the owner of the company (it is privately held) was a total moron, but I wasn’t going to be working with him or even be affected by the policy (no working from home) because the workplace was fifteen minutes from my house. The project was also really interesting. The dog and pony show—and all of the answers—were really good and I figured it would be good for at least a year of work.
What happened next was completely beyond my control. The team lead/architect had special privileges that he had negotiated in the job related to that aforementioned policy—he lived 90 minutes away by car and there was no effective transit for him. He abused those privileges in the three weeks between when I accepted the job and when I started. He was caught• the week after I started and fired pretty much immediately. The executive sponsor was fired the very next day. This is when I finally met the owner of the company and he demonstrated that he was a control freak, a micro manager, and an utter moron (he thought that, just because a webpage I was reading had art on it, I was playing a game and slowing down the entire network—which couldn’t have happened with our team anyway because we were all behind a single access point with limited bandwidth).
In the end? Losing that job early was better for me than it would have been if I had lost it later, or felt that I had to leave because the owner’s idiocy would have shown up sooner or later. I was ultimately able to go back to the other firm that I had negotiated with and start there with only a little lost time.
In both cases, the job losses were “no great loss” because the short term pain was far less than the long term pain of staying at the job would have been, but that long term pain was not visible during the recruitment process. In the case of the second job, if the team lead had not been stupid, there’s a chance the long term pain never would have been present at all because the executive sponsor was the one in ultimate charge of the project and he was doing everything right—keeping the owner out of the details of the project.
• Rule 1: if you have special privileges, don’t abuse them. Rule 2: if you are going to abuse them, don’t do something stupid that will get you caught, like having the company pay for your cellphone service so that they can see that you are not, in fact, in town when you said you would be.
I have no clue who you are. So my impression is just from your words.
I would not hire you. It seems you had problems with several managers, then call a former employer a 'total moron' on a discussion board and a teamlead 'stupid'. "Losing that job early was better for me" - a lot of the comments is about you.
Two long comments and everyone was wrong but you. To me this signals no introspection and being a finger pointer. Sorry to sound harsh.
You passed petty judgement without paying attention and asking yourself why I would have abbreviated the stories. I expanded on that to try to explain (politely) why your judgement was wrong, and you come back with more abrasiveness and further petty judgement.
I know lots of people who have quit jobs or been fired from jobs because of incompetent, petty, micromanagers. But my story wasn’t about them, it was about me. Even in those stories, I am explicitly leaving out lots of information that could identify the companies or people in question (but people who know me or care to look could probably figure most of them out). I’m doing this because outing those people is unnecessary and mean, yet my experience is still worth talking about.
The reality is that people can be fired for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with them or their performance on the job. It can be as simple as a personality clash.
Did I do anything wrong in the three cases I mentioned? Possibly. In one case, I’m certain I could have approached some things better, but it would not have changed the final equation—the manager in question proposed a substantial technology change (with specious reasoning) not long after he fired me, and that would have been a signal that I was no longer interested in working there.
As to the case where the owner of the company is a total moron and the team lead doing something phenomenally stupid–judgements I would still hold now? The team lead was smart, but did a stupid thing by abusing privileges he had been granted. It became phenomenally stupid because the outcome of his actions cost three people their jobs and the cancellation of the entire project. If that isn’t stupid, I really don’t know what is.
1. He comes in to the team’s work room and says that the call centre is complaining that the network is slow, could it be our team doing it? (No, it couldn’t. We were all wirelessly connected to a single AP with a gigabit connection that was not connected to the call centre network, where all of the call centre computers were gigabit wired to the call centre network.)
2. He sees me reading the aforementioned article.
3. He comes back later when the “crisis” is over and accuses me of having played a game and then walks out.
He was purely a micromanager. Someone complained about something, and because he had fired his main executive (who would have dealt with the network problem with appropriate delegation), he had to be seen doing something about that something. In doing so, he ran around doing things that made no sense, and then made even dumber accusations.
Yeah, the owner was a moron. He had work policies that were draconian and applied to everyone equally regardless of the nature of work you did (meaning, that is, to people who weren’t explicitly in his favour).
For the most part, I’ve been fortunate in my career. I’ve had great bosses I’ve learned from and learned good management skills from. Yet…most people don’t leave jobs because they aren’t happy with the work they’re doing, even programmers. They leave because of management failure—sometimes introduced by change.
I left one job after the sixth development manager during my tenure quit. I was enjoying the work still, but was tired of breaking in new management. The job after that was the one that had the spectacular explosion. The job after that was good, but there was a cash crunch and they couldn’t afford 80% of the dev team anymore. The job after that was awesome, then they fired the dev manager and hired the guy who decided he didn’t like me and decided to fire me—my performance didn’t change over that period, just management. The job I’m in now is also awesome and I have an explicit mandate from management to bring in more engineering discipline and a strong team focus. I’m doing all right without bobofettfett’s offer of employment. :)
Mostly it is the illusion of control, you don't have it, you only have choices you can make in the face of unfolding events. At Zach points out, companies change as they grow, they are some weird strange attractor function that emerges from the collective personality of everyone working there. When I joined Sun for example it was the coolest place I could ever imagine being, when I left it was a enterprise focused sales engine. Same company but different places.
I will say though that when I meet someone who has been fired or "let go" repeatedly from job after job, then it is a different situation entirely. Something I doubt Zach will experience.
People take getting fired personally because, at least in America, a person's job is a huge part of not just their self-identity, but also their social image. So when they lose that job, it's like they lose a part of themselves.
> at least in America, a person's job is a huge part of
> not just their self-identity, but also their
> social image.
My wife is a software engineering manager, my wife is a home maker. Both true (not simultaneously) and both interpreted wildly differently externally. We were fortunate that when we had kids, either one of us could choose to stay home while the other continued to work, she opted to be that person. And she took some external heat for it from her peers, but it wasn't part of her self-identity. Looking back on that choice, pretty much everyone who knew us then and now understands that it was a better choice than that of continuing to work, however they are split nearly evenly on whether or not I could have done as well being the primary interface to the kids during their most formative years :-).
It sounded from reading Zach's essay that he didn't know if he should take it personally or not, but came around to realizing that he should not. That is a good thing and it will serve him well going forward. I think that is a great message. I hope that others reading it can avoid feeling like they lost a part of themselves when they are fired, and instead come to understand that they are all still there, just as they were before they were fired.
Still, there's a big difference between voluntary and involuntary unemployment. Your wife's situation was the former: she quit her job voluntarily, and she had you (versus, e.g. the government) to lean on financially. Furthermore, she didn't have to quit. She had the power to choose, and she chose being a home-maker. Whatever external heat she got from her peers probably paled in comparison to the stigma she would have faced if she were fired instead. And she would probably have felt differently about herself as well, at least for a while.
And yes, also companies can take it personally when you leave, or at least people in one's immediate periphery can.
For a company you are just a small gear that can be replaced, relatively easily most of the time (even Steve Jobs was successfully replaced). But for you, your job is 30%-60% of your conscious time. While replacing a worker will barely ever disrupt the operations of a company, losing a job will certainly destabilize you.
Some would argue about that :)
The most important thing an engineer can do is recognize that "manager" and "person who influences/guides your career" are not the same thing at all. The best managers are usually good mentors, but conversely bad mentors are not necessarily bad managers.
Obviously other people can influence your (bigger, life-long) career, but as far as one company goes, this is the truth.
This concept is explored wonderfully in "Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know".
Yeah, but companies are full of people - and I do care about them (hopefully vice-versa).
It's never easy leaving a job, even if it's a managed transition. When it's sudden, it's even harder.
"We’re currently at 35 employees and growing, and this approach still works great. But managers love to assign hours for a reason: it gives them the illusion that hours can measure performance.
If you don’t go hard on hours, you do have to look at different metrics. How good is their code? Are they fixing bugs? Are they involved in work, or is the greater flexibility not motivating them?
It’s difficult to make these qualitative judgements, but they’re still going to be more valuable than “did this guy put in his ten hours of work today”. Because as soon as you make it about hours, their job becomes less about code and more about hours."
4 years ago a lot of us had just come to Kiva from corporate gigs and such and were building a culture of meritocracy rather than bureaucracy and even though this advice seems obvious now, they were truly inspiring words at the time. Thanks Zach for all the writing!
For those who don't know, COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) is a law passed in 1985  that compels companies to offer "continuing health insurance" to employees that leave the company for any reason other than "gross misconduct".
Basically it means that you can pay the company directly for your employer's health plan for a period of time, typically 18 months. The out-of-pocket will be more expensive, because your employer probably covered some of the premium cost. However, the premium as a whole is often cheaper than "individual coverage", since the company negotiates lower premiums with the insurance company.
The company will typically mail you the form to fill out. It's pretty short, basically just a "opt-in" box to continue getting health insurance through the company's plan.
One important detail: depending on your employer, health coverage probably ends on the last day of employment or the immediate end of the next month. However if something happens between you leaving and you filling out the form, COBRA still covers you because the law states that as long as you sign up within 60 days, it's "retroactive back to the event", the event being you leaving . This covers the case of a catastrophe happening in the gap, e.g., getting hit by a car between the event and you mailing in the form.
Caveat: IANAL, so always check with a legal professional when evaluating these options. But COBRA is generally a useful thing and I typically recommend people take it unless they have another gig lined up already.
If you do need insurance (break a leg or something), then you can apply then, and it'll take effect retroactively to your departure date.
If you get to 45-ish days and still don't have a new job that'll start before the 60 day mark, you'll need to sign up, or you risk getting hurt after the 60 day mark, when you then can't get insurance, and you'll be SOL.
I am not a lawyer, I've just been between jobs many times in my career :)
Don't mess with your health insurance.
I only made 9 dollars a hour at the job so asking 600 a month was kinda bonkers.
In so many businesses, there are "business guys" who end up managing the engineering staff-- at one level or another, but too often it's the direct manager role--and these business guys are incompetent at engineering.
When you don't know whether a direct report is doing good or not because you don't understand what their doing, by definition you cannot manage them. What are you going to do? Listen to the other programmers opinion of their code? It immediately becomes political.
The real tragedy is, learning business is not hard. Any programmer can do it. Biz guys can't learn programming-- despite all the "everyone should be a programmer" initiatives-- even easier is managing development teams. When you've got 10 years experience as a senior engineer, you should be promoted, and working on becoming an engineering manager.
Engineering managers can develop code. Right now this role is called "lead engineer" but they have no people management responsibilities.
This is something we, as engineers need to change.
So long as the "people managers" are biz guys who don't understand engineering (and naturally are often hostile to it) good engineers are going to get fired, and our entire profession will continue to slip lower and lower in status.
That is a good heuristic for future pain and frustration.
Managers who are good engineers don't always manage well. Managers who have never been engineers are usually worse.
> When you don't know whether a direct report is doing good or not because you don't understand what their doing, by definition you cannot manage them
Especially middle managers, if they are not the owner and have their own managers on top of them, who also don't know how engineering works, there will be trouble. Because they are stuck in the middle. They have to please the ones on the top, without understanding how the programming actually works. So they'll make promises then turn around to you and tell you to work 70 hour weeks.
> So long as the "people managers" are biz guys who don't understand engineering
It is hard. The more time they spend managing and coordinating the less time they spend writing code. The less time they spend writing code the further they move from understanding what is involved. They just forget, or practices and tools change.
Besides leadership is the key. That is as much learned as it is just a personality trait. It ties into how they relate socially to others, how they solve social and political problems. It requires empathy, but also harshness and coldness at times. I can be learned by I wouldn't discount it too trivial.
My experience has actually been the exact opposite. Working with an engineering manager and an engineering team can be just as frustrating since they often want to build the "perfect product" instead of getting a working model up and running first or a decent prototype.
It can also mean that we have to use the engineers pet technology instead of something that may work better for the task at hand.
Right now I am in some trouble because I used an alternate and quicker technology(flask) to get a prototype up for some customers. It took weeks instead of the usual months to get stuff up and running. Business is happy and understand this is a prototype. Engineering manager is pissed because we should only have built it with our standard framework and not have had the prototype.
If someone asked that, I would probably consider that a red flag, that they are mistrustful of "business types" and probably difficult to work with.
I would not. I would assume they want to work under people with experience in their field and learn from them.
The thing about your advice (and mine, and most all interview advice) is that it's mostly useless. It's only beneficial to people interviewing you, and if it's beneficial to them, it's bad for you. After all, if they would ask that question, but they know not to, they are still that person you would mistrust.
The reality is, people should ask these types of questions. If you wouldn't hire them because of that question, it's likely the would not enjoy working at your company.
I experienced this personally when I architected a product, the team grew and the product grew and before long there were modules that I had never worked on.
I don't think the manager of engineers needs to be as strong as the other engineers on the team, but they have to understand engineering on a fundamental level, and be able to look at code code and comprehend it, even if they don't know the whole product, or all the details.
Doing a good job as a manager is hard. You need to triangulate between a lot of disparate opinions and viewpoints, negotiate compromises, and help your team develop and advance without hurting the larger group's goals. It takes empathy, good communication, and the ability to squelch your own opinion when circumstances call for it. None of those attributes are universal in engineers.
In fact, just about everything in a startup is hard: sales, recruiting, design, marketing, etc. Pretending otherwise or asserting that only engineers have something special to contribute is IMHO toxic and short-sighted.
Managers not knowing enough about the field they manage can cause problems.
In the same way employees not knowing enough about managing can also cause problems.
Essentially, if either side views itself in some way superior than the other (the manager usually views his job as more important in the grander scheme, and naturally is in a position of control and thus thinks himself superior, the employee views himself as the one who actually knows how/is doing the work and thus views himself as superior) problems can and probably (at some point) will occur.
Respect for all the different fields that go into making a company work is a very necessary thing to keep everything running smoothly--this way the company is only battling what the world throws at it/unavoidable risks and problems that occur--not itself.
Parsing out what each camp feels is the most important thing to do, and translating that to something each camp can understand is one of those critical management skills that is hard to teach.
Every programmer needs to know management- even if to just manage oneself. But the better you can communicate the reality of of your technical requirements, the better the business unit will be able to prioritize their requirements. It shouldn't be us vs. them.
As a person who's switched back and forth between the technical person, the manager, and the business developer - I can tell you that all of the roles in the company take skill to do properly.
Why have I, in the past 5 years, learned a tremendous amount about markets, equity, accounting, law, pricing, and I don't even know what else. But the business masters (all of them) I've been working with still can't update a webpage?
Just one person's experience, I know. But it's still funny to me.
When you're an engineer, the ugly truth is that to increase your salary and opportunities, you normally need to branch out and learn other things like management and sales.
When you're a good salesperson, you can reach great heights financially without worrying about how to update a web page.
This also applies to a lot of other disciplines and professions, really.
I have a lot of respect for good engineers, good managers, and good salespeople. Saying that one discipline is harder than the other is like saying that being a good violin player is any harder than being a good piano player.
I am entirely confident that an engineer who had the desire to learn some business could pick up the basics fairly easily, just as I am confident a business/sales person who had the desire to learn programming could pick it up fairly easily.
But, it is no doubt just as difficult for the engineer to learn how to manage enterprise sized operations as it would be for the Sales guy to learn how to architect a complete system. In both cases a great deal of persistence and time is required--things often seem easy to us when we haven't really delved into them. As you really immerse yourself in a given field you begin to realize how much you don't know and the massive amount of things you can still learn.
However, Zach doesn't appear to say any of these things, so it seems a pretty unfair implication to make.
Forcing engineering people into management roles after they have accrued a certain amount of experience is not the answer.
In my opinion, GitHub was, by Zach's description at least, the "exactly right" sort of organization that I would imagine an employee wanting to work at.
I blatantly stole his PowerPoint tips, right down to the orange-colored Yanone Kaffesatz font.
I learned about how to to unsuck the development environment, that the product was the byproduct, and more about Github than from probably any other source.
This doesn't change that for me, but he was indeed a fantastic ambassador and representative of a company that I would very much love to work for.
This doesn't make me think negatively of Github, or Zach, but without knowing why he was fired, or for what reasons he's no longer a good fit, it does give me the idea that the big tent has shrunk a little bit.
Let's say that Holman did something not so hyperbolically terrible as these silly examples, but still terrible enough to reflect on his character for some people but not others (as in, the reason is controversial), and that's what got him fired (this is for arguments sake; I have no idea who he is or why he got fired). This sentence would then be a very important one to him in this article.
But, the sentence is embedded in the very abstract essay, which is of course a good essay, albeit not particularly novel in its ideas ("people get dealt bad hands or make mistakes and we have social mores that prevent us from rigorously considering this" what else is new?). So we get a sort of intellectual dishonesty we see regularly from politicians: deep philosophical musings to surround a quick sweep-under-the-rug of the actual issue. Or it could just be a philosophical essay. I don't know what it is, but I know what it sounds like.
(Its not just you, but everyone is trying to play internet detective. Just stop. We don't need to dig into this guy's work life....)
People can speculate about the reasons if they can point to relevant historical record. Why not? This man isn't sacred, is he?
You are speculating here that he is pushing the issue under the rug. You also speculated that the reason he was fired was somehow related to the humorous reasons he gave. I think its a bit much....
I did no such thing as the second thing you're saying I did.
For the first thing, I am noting the actual possibility. Whether he is, I don't know, but he in fact could be, and if he were, a lot of people wouldn't catch it unless it was pointed out.
You have a theory that he added a paragraph about embezzlement that might be a rhetorical defence, but you have no firm evidence. You're speculating.
Here in the UK (especially after you've been employed for over two years and/or you're off "probation") it tends to be the last step in a long process of verbal then written warnings where you're repeatedly doing things you're getting told off for. Relatively few things are actually "bad" enough to get you instantly dismissed on the spot (theft and the woolly term "gross misconduct" jump to mind, but even then there were multiple meetings, investigations and very specific charges).
In the UK if you were fired (rather than being made redundant or being given the chance to quit) it tends to mean that the blame is on you, to the point where the company would be willing to prove this with evidence at a tribunal (-especially if it's a medium to large company).
From what I'm reading, in the US it seems to be a case that you could loose your job, with no notice at any time for any reason?
In many states, US employers can terminate an employee at any time, for (almost) any reason, or for no reason at all. It's often called "At-will employment" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At-will_employment
Note that while it technically works both ways, realistically it only works to the employers benefit. The employer is allowed to fire any employee at any time, for no reason, with no recourse.
But it's considered highly inappropriate for an employee to quit without offering an employer at least two weeks notice (unless the employer has committed some sort of major misconduct, committed a crime, ceased payroll, etc).
I don't agree at all. In this market it benefits technology workers to be at-will. You can get a great job offer and literally leave your job the next day. This drives salaries up overall and means companies need to work harder to keep people.
Compare that to the UK, where it's standard practice for a senior dev to be stuck with a 3 month notice period. I had a hell of a time getting out of a bad situation when I first moved here as a result.
This is anecdotal: I have a little less than 1.5 years of experience and I've had 3 jobs. My first job payed me 46k/year, my current job pays me 78k/year. In all cases outside circumstances forced me to quit, but looking back, I got to work with a ton of incredible people, learned tons, and my salary skyrocketed.
The at-will system if far from ideal, but it definitely doesn't benefit just the employer, I guess it changes a game of chess to a game of blitz chess.
As part of HR, part of my job was to remind managers and employees that that's all bullshit. As at-will, you can "commit" to staying and then quit the very next day. If you're a good manager, you very likely have some sense of your staff's intent to stay without needing passive-aggressive conversations about commitment/engagement. If you do not have a contract and you're under at-will employment, use it to your advantage whenever the fuck you can.
(That said, I do agree with maxsilver that at-will employment is still tilted to the employer's benefit overall.)
Except who would hire someone like that?
The exceptions are when there's a formal employment contract in place -- unions do this, certain professions do this (professors, etc.), and certain executive packages are under contract as well.
But in general, yes, you can quit on a moment's notice and be fired on the same.
NOW - most "smart" companies won't just do this. A good manager wants his/her employees to succeed, and if something isn't going right, they'll do their best to coach, warm, and help the employee improve.
Are there lots of bad managers who keep it all bottled up inside until one day, boom, you're fired? Sure. It stinks.
I'd like to believe there are more good managers than bad ones (at least in terms of coaching employees toward longevity.)
(edited to correct typo)
The company makes up the objectives you have to meet, so could set really hard targets. Its called being "Performance Managed" out.
5 years is long enough as a employee at any tech company that isn't your own (or that you have serious upside in).
Take what've you learned and forge you're own path.
A path with control.
If you're employed by a company you have zero control (though, good managers work hard to make you feel exactly the opposite) and you can be fired/laid off/let go at any moment, without notice - job security is laughable.
Congratulations, now forge ahead with control!
I am a fan of this balance.
Come to think of it, he's one of only a couple of managers I've ever worked for. The rest have been merely bosses.
If you're in management and you can't say this about the relationship you have with your subordinates, you're not doing your job and you should be the one getting fired.
Over the weekend I decided I would act like a zen master. I walked in like I was getting a promotion, acted gracious the entire time, thanked the people and let them know I was sorry they had to do this and then walked out like I just got promoted.
I actually talked to the HR lady at a later day and she confided how the director and her were both impressed with how I handled it.
Since you can't change the outcome at that point anyways, I think it's best to try to go out as a 100% class act.
Without violating anyone's privacy, if that's possible, I would like to know whether these contributed to his firing.
I ask simply because I'd like to better understand whether this is a siren song for startups that doesn't scale well. Would he have benefited from more structure, a performance plan, etc.? Does this degree of freedom lead to chaos and arbitrary decisionmaking as a company scales?
Hope he writes more about it.
Companies and developers evolve, sometimes they aren't as nice a fit after they do. Companies always run off good processes, but when you start hearing about new or needing changes to 'processes' driven by new VPs or Directors, usually that ocean is red and you need to move to blue seas and oceans again.
Zach is probably a startup, product and research and development type of developer. He should stay at smaller companies or start up his own, I am sure he could get funding quickly. I'd even be for an additional github competitor though that could be un-interesting after this for him.
If the economic system keeps requiring people to switch jobs, then society must be more accepting: Employers need to be less weird about it, employees less devastated when it happens, everything smoothened out by a few weeks or months of unemployment benefits if necessary.
I'm sure he will get nicer gigs in the futures and wish the best of luck.
I just wonder - how do you get fired from a no-manager company ? A robot ?
Nearly every company out there has some kind of separation and hierarchy of leadership, even if there are only 2 tiers total.
I'm sure Zach will go on to add significant value elsewhere.
And as others in the thread have mentioned, what makes you a great early employee can sometimes not make you a great bureaucrat as the company grows. Hopefully his options are vested and he's able to have some financial upside in the future.
On the flip side, unless somebody is really fucking things up, I almost always offer people a way to gracefully resign and keep that stigma off their work history.
I've worked in places that also played the "we're not happy with you but we're not going to have a grown-up adult conversation with you". Instead of just firing somebody or asking them to resign, they'll start cutting pay or moving people around offices, taking work or staff away from them and isolating them so they decide to quit on their own. Don't do this. There's lots of reasons why not to, but the ultimate one is that it prolongs the inevitable, and while you're playing this game everybody around that person ends up in a state of perpetual confusion and rumors start flying around like crazy.
As an employee, I also try to pay attention to my impact on the company and evaluate myself. If I'm not living up to my own standards, I'll get rid of myself and find someplace else to work. Quitting is not always about your employer providing a lousy place to work or career progression, if it's just not working for you and you aren't doing your best, you might be the cause of your own leaving.
I thought the issue with admitting it was that people would now question your reliability as an honest contributor to future workplaces.
Now any one of us could end up hiring that rotten apple from github in the future, if we don't know who it is.
Of course you don't want to slander or libel people, but giving them the cover of complete anonymity is not good.
And per https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9158997 the same Julie Ann Horvath was both his ex and wanted him fired.
Has anyone ever seen an actual meritocratic work place? Eight years working and I'm convinced that it's nearly impossible for small organizations to implement and outright impossible for large organizations.
I once worked somewhere where there was a guy who went round the company getting involved in projects, pushing radical new approaches, not thinking things through properly, writing mediocre code, then moving on to something else. I thought he was a hazard . I recently learned that he's been promoted to 'principal engineer'.
 Exaggerating somewhat. I like the guy, i think most of his ideas are great, and i respect him a lot. I just worried about the complexity and speed of change exceeding our ability to execute successfully.
Or if you truly want to help improve Github, you should join them! :-)
"Do you know what happens after you tell them the whole story behind your termination? Virtually everyone I've had drinks with tells a similar story about the time they got fired. Seemingly everyone’s got stories of being stuck under shit managers, or dealing the fallout from things out of their control."
You tell them your story, they tell you their similar story about being stuck under shit managers...
Before I could share the story, he interrupted me & said."its ok. sometimes life throws curveballs at you. don't worry"
It's not like github needs to retrench and is having financial difficulties, nope. They simply fired someone who gave them five years because they weren't feeling it anymore. That's not classy. It's less than heartless, they obviously don't see employees as people they need to nurture and develop. They are just a temporary tool they will dispose when they need to.
Sure, this is prevalent, by things don't have to be this way. They should invest themselves in employees as much as employees invest themselves in the company.
Most of all, show your humanity and do get upset with these kinds of no fault firings. It's not just yeah, well. Not with a company already that size.
This attitude resembles a bit the show trials of the old user. Yes, comrade, I was bad, please punish me, I deserve it.
This is the power employers wield over their employees, and they're right to do it. The boss is giving you their hard-earned money to provide a product, and if you don't deliver you're lower than trash. If at any point you lay your head back you should all but feel a .45 pressed against the back of your skull. No matter how valuable you think you are to your employer, they have earned the right to end your life (in a figurative sense) if you displease them, or they find someone better than you.
I think that's why we have such a good economy in the US, is employees have a healthy fear of their bosses. If anything, getting fired should be even worse than it already is. Why should workers get to underperform without more serious consequences?
Why getting fired is seen as so bad?
What's the difference in your view (in terms of perception) between being fired and being laid off?
How can a company know that someone has been fired from the previous company?
I'll say that it as satisfying as it is to know you won't have to work with some asshole again, it really sucks to sit them down and tell them that today is their last day on the project / with the company. Knowing the stress they will be under if they have kids or a spouse... it sucks.
When getting fired, when firing, always important to remember that there are probably plenty of people in the organization who still would like to work with you... so badmouthing and spreading drama is always your least beneficial solution.
Just take it with dignity / try and let them go gracefully.
If the situation is bad but not terrible a lot of times there is a discussion and a resignation instead of a firing. While I've not been party to these discussions my understanding is that a company tell you to resign or they will fire you, that lets you go without the stigma.
Layoff is the expression used when you are let go when your services are no longer needed.
As a UK citizen, I have to ask: Are the employment laws a lot weaker in the US? In general it would be difficult to institute such a policy over here without a half decent lawyer shredding you to pieces. , for ref.
Don't know about the details of the UK specifically, but, yes, employment protection laws in the US are all-but-non-existent, with at-will employment allowing immediate termination for any but specifically-prohibited (e.g., race, sex, religious, etc., discrimination, retaliation for invoking certain other protections, etc.) reasons.
This is a good read: http://www.lzwlaw.co.uk/downloads/LZW%20FACT%20SHEET%20SJ.pd...
"So, let us assume you have passed your probationary period. Is your employment position then safe? Actually it isn’t. Your employer has until the end of the first year of your employment (technically 11 months and 3 weeks) during which time they can still terminate your employment without fear of the employee making a claim for unfair dismissal. This is because employment legislation provides that you need to be employed for this period of time before you are eligible to lodge a claim."
An employee does gain some protection after passing probation - a longer notice period, usually - but it's worth knowing that passing probation isn't the be-all and end-all.
Advantage of negotiating position is usually expressed through compensation rates because it's bad business to make employees hate the company after they already have a job. But, you know, I work in software and can't tell what it's like being a barista or farm worker.
Edit: and please correct my misunderstanding if you mean something else by abuse. That's just the only meaning I can think of.
Is GitHub, the product we've come to like and know so well now run by people with different views to those who started it?
You'll find they say that a lot, actually. Just mostly to women.
Form my experience, if not being part of a 10% cut 80% of the fired people deserved it and should think hard why.
Also from my experience, most people getting fired for legit reasons have not enough self introspection to see the signs and change, also mostly everyone else sees those in them.
I usually try to leave a job before I'm so miserable that I stop doing work and get fired.
People will reject other people.
It should not represent your self worth, and it certainly should not represent your technical performance.
Soldier on Zach.
Details aside, getting fired was best career move I ever made.
@Holman is my ex-partner. He was complicit in the actions of
both Tom and Theresa Preston-Werner and even admitted to
plotting with Theresa Preston-Werner to get women at the
company fired. He should be let go from GitHub and I regret
being kind to him in previous interviews.
> Seemingly everyone’s got stories of being stuck under shit managers, or dealing the fallout from things out of their control.
I don't support "character smearing" or "attacking" in any way, but as a reader of the post, I would like to know more about the reasons for his firing, even in the form of less-than-reliable internet research -- as long as no attacking takes place.
Naturally, I don't know what if any arrangement was made here. But that's a big part of why you hardly ever hear about why someone was fired.
Obligatory: I am not a lawyer, I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
Just FYI, nondisparagement agreements have fallen out of favor in recent years, as they're interpreted very narrowly by courts. Even if your company presents you with one (which they may not), you can usually negotiate it out pretty easily.
Especially in industries or jobs in which reputation and "social capital" are highly valued, companies are tending to leave these out, because they're actually massive liabilities for both parties, and there are already enough restrictions around defamation, sharing of confidential information, etc., that it's usually not worth the risk.
I have no idea what happened in this case, but it's worth mentioning since you bring this up.
 As in, this blog post would almost certainly violate a standard nondisparagement agreement, even though it's relatively innocuous at first glance!
I don't believe it would take a year to fire someone.
If he really was fired for that incident, I'd much prefer GitHub to be open about it and make it clear that was why.
Don't get me wrong, harassment of any kind should be stamped out. But, this whole "scandal" has turned into something more likely to appear as a headline in a tabloid. Right next to the "OMG, Kim K changed her hair color!!!" story.
As an employee, you could be working on a project for 10 years and have it taken away in an instant.
Of course, it doesn't mean much. Different situations, different people. I can't deny that when I saw this I thought about myself and my own company in the context of termination.
Well, I should add this is pure speculation, I have no actual information about it.
If he was anonymous software engineer at <insert unknown company>, I doubt this would've gotten any attention. Maybe I'm being too harsh, but when I read this post, the first thing that popped to my head was "senior employee fired from high-profile tech company uses subliminal social media marketing to reach front page of HN and land next job." But hey, props to him, it seems to be working.
I do agree, though, that he could have elaborated. Not about why he got fired, I think that's too nuanced and is not likely to really help anyone beyond satisfying base desires. What would have been helpful is the hindsight: what can YOU do today to avoid falling into this situation yourself?
I'm willing to bet that it's too recent for him to have these insights.
From my own experience, I've learned that you should prioritize who your manager is over who your company is. Managers have a great power over your advancement and success at a company, both socially and productively. They can empower you to succeed, or they can take credit for your work, while simultaneously making you look like a burden.
Finding a great manager is really hard, and I think that's at the root of why many people end up getting fired, or even end up dissatisfied in their work.
Looking back on my career, I've had many different kinds of managers, but one of my earliest ones stood out. I was 16, running a dial-up ISP and it got completely and totally hacked by an acquaintance. They didn't actually mean to cause data loss, but they did and I had to answer for it.
My manager at the time stood between myself and the owner of the company who was furious, and took the blame, then stayed with me through the night manually re-entering customer data and getting things back on line.
I've had good managers since then, but that's the exact kind of situation that people end up running into in their jobs which can change the course of their employment. You can do a lot of things to make sure you remain productive and to appear to be valuable to a company, but if your manager doesn't want you working there, they can do a lot to diminish all your contributions.
Anyway, thanks for replying, it definitely helped me understand your point of view :)
I've been fired before. Wasn't too happy about it myself.
Breaking taboos is a good way to get noticed. Zach getting noticed is a good way to broadcast the fact that he's available for hire. That, taken with his strong reputation in the community? I'd be shocked if he wasn't sitting on a tidy bundle of offers in the next week.
>The last half-decade meant everything to me. Was a hell of a gig. Thanks, GitHub.
Something about it seemed off-putting. I dunno, maybe it's because i'm not really into twitter, but it just came off, for lack of better words, fake.
However, i read the rest of the post, and it was quite good. I actually enjoyed way more than i thought i would. Which kind of begs the question of what else have i ignored/put off/dismissed from reading too much into these small droplets of text. Usually 'less is more', but i'm beginning to have my doubts.
downvotes? guess twitter is protected territory
This situation reminds me a lot of the time an ex-employee of reddit complained about his firing, on reddit (!!), and was publicly called out for it by reddit's CEO at the time .
I think there's definitely a credible, though not ironclad, case to be made for insinuation.
I don't think he said that in the article. He implied that the reason was out of his control, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a good reason.
From later in the article:
>I still consider it an objective mistake for them to have hired me, back then
>I left on great terms with leadership and the people I worked with
"I still don't know why this awesome company hired my incapable self but I'm glad they did"
I didn't take him to be trash-talking his manager. He left it open. Sure, he implied that he was fired for a non-character-related reason, but that's hardly specific enough to be damning.
It's a dangerous move, not because anything Zach said is harmful or embarrassing to himself or Github, but only because you can't take it back once you put "I was fired" out there. (He's right that even most good people have at least one involuntary job loss. This isn't about that.) Often, when you're job searching after being fired, you want to represent yourself as still employed, because not only does it make it easier to get jobs, but companies are likely to promote you to the next perceived level up, whereas if you're unemployed you're most likely to get a lateral move and, maybe, a slight raise. Many companies will even allow you to do represent yourself as still employed, as part of a severance. Now he can't.
Sounds to me like he had a shit manager.
Zach's move was a risky one that I probably wouldn't have made in that situation, but I don't think that his intention was to smear his manager or Github. That said, it's not clear to me what his intention was. You get some sympathy from being fired, but the impression you want as a reward-optimizing professional is that absolutely everyone desires you (regardless of whether it's true). I don't know what variables are in play that would lead him to depart from (perceived, from my vantage point) optimality.
It really depends if we are conflating "getting fired" with "laid off". The latter is not bad. When I hear that someone got fired it usually means they did something like break a big HR rule or caused the company to lose an important account.
Basically I found out the founder of the company had been lying to me as a early hire, and I asked about it and wanted it fixed. And suddenly performance reviews went extremely negative. Stuff like that is why people get fired.
Always get it written in a contact, don't trust verbal agreements. Companies only argue for "Professional" behaviour, when its in their favour.