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Fired (zachholman.com)
1039 points by rdegges 1012 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 389 comments



There are people who were at OpenDNS in the early days who were incredible, and as we grew, became less and less incredible, largely because the things that made them incredible actually started to be really frustrating as the company grew and they didn't want to change those things. So they had to leave. Usually it was a series of conversations about how the person, their peers, and the company were all unhappy, and why should we perpetuate the pain. We'd do our best to have them leave in a way that made them feel dignified and like they controlled their destiny, and but once in a while, there wasn't a meeting of the minds and we had to say "well, it's not gonna be fixed and it's time to go do something else." Even in those cases, I always thought so highly of the work I did with those people over the long haul, even if it was painful at the end.

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.


In his classic book Accidental Empires (http://www.amazon.com/Accidental-Empires-Silicon-Millions-Co...), Robert X. Cringely wrote that if you think of a market as an invasion beach you can think of three kinds of employees at tech companies: commandos, infantry, and police.

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.


Simon Wardley has an alternative terminology for the same idea: Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners (http://blog.gardeviance.org/2012/06/pioneers-settlers-and-to...).

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.


Harlan Mills has a much better metaphor that captures how different roles match with different personality types and doesn't insist that people be fired as if the company "out grows" certain engineers. (http://javatroopers.com/Mythical_Man_Month.html#Chapter_3)

If companies outgrow anyone it's executive leadership that for whatever reason can no longer motivate and inspire their workforce.


The early stage, unless they have control, wonder why on earth they should listen to the newly hired management layer when it was them who build the damn business.

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.


That seems simplistic. What I've seen is the jack-of-all-trades is necessary at the start. As things progress, another person - or multiple people - are assigned to each of those "trades".

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.


I have seen both sides of this. In a company run by "police" interns are often asked to do the "Commando" type work. ie: Proof of concept with no need to scale, work in other languages, etc. Well that's 99% of the real work so anyone can bang that out.

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.


I think that what this really misses is that companies aren't necessarily monolithic entities. You need different groups of people doing different things. "Commandos" are useful as skunkworks groups, trying out completely out-of-band ideas to see what sticks. "Infantry" to take the things that do stick and develop them into something stable. "Police" to receive the hand-off and maintain oversight.

In other words, if you swap out "company" for "product", then you can use this as a lifecycle without ever actually losing the employee.


I think it really misses that business isn't actually war.

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.


The enemies are entropy and your competitors. And if you fail to overcome them, you will cease to exist. The pervasive war metaphors didn't come about for no reason.


In my first write of that post, I automatically substituted "trailblazers" for "commandos". Then I realized I didn't want to figure out another metaphor.

Some sibling comment mentioned "settlers" as a metaphor, which I can get behind.


I really like this idea, and I think its generally right. However, I think its worth recognizing that people can change roles - commandos can become infantry, which can become police.

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.


Well, in that case I'm a commando and I hate everyone.


I feel like this story ignores something important, something about the market being the same in spite of changes in the company.


Exactly. There are quotes about this, maybe they seem familiar:

    Stay hungry, stay foolish
and

    Only the paranoid survive.
If your commandos are all gone, so has your competitive edge.


Off the cuff, doesn't a company being in a market change the market? Especially if they're doing well, i.e. Apple changed the smartphone market...


Just because you changed the market doesn't mean you'll stay in the market forever.


> 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.

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


That is the one thing I really don't like about the whole fire fast mentality that is starting to pop up, particularly the extreme examples of "fire for any reason as soon as the person isn't a perfect fit, regardless of overall quality".

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.


> I'm fine with that, but make sure that I know it's likely coming well in advance

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?


And, on the other hand, when managers are flexible they can be rewarded with loyalty worth many times the value of any lost productivity:

> 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.”


This. I know someone in a similar situation. The company said 'Get better as soon as you can - we'll wait.'

So she did, and they did.

Guess how committed she is to working there now.


If you are terminating employment seemingly for minor things or if you are even sending that message when you fire someone you have no business being in a position to fire someone.

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.


It's certainly important to make sure your employees understand the real message. At a previous company, lots of folks were fired or "resigned" and a lot of us in the engineering side would comment on it from time to time, and of course worry a little. One day we had a frank conversation with our boss about it, and the thing we didn't quit grok when seeing these firings were that it was sales/marketing - where you can't as easily check out someone's GitHub or have them solve some programming assignments.


YES. Everybody deserves this. As a manager, I try extremely hard to make sure this happens.

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.


The new fire fast mentality being pushed is not for performance though. It is you are a rockstar at X, but now we need X+1, you're fired. Basically companies are starting to treat full time employees as contract employees without paying the increased contract rates.


Exactly my point, and I'm ok with that if they're up front about it and they give me some lead time on when X+1 is happening.

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"


The problem is, these companies are being run by people who can't tell the difference between X and X/10, let alone X and X+1.

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.


Absolutely agree, it's just that it doesn't always happen. I tell every new boss that I'll be completely upfront w/ them regarding my thoughts on how things are going, if I'm thinking of jumping ship, etc - but in return I expect them to do the same.

Ideally both sides are on the same page at any point of time as to what the situation is.


Wow. I would never say I was going to jump ship until I had my plans set out. In the past I've given 6 weeks notice when it was asked for but I just wouldn't put myself in a situation where they might fire me before I fund my next gig.


There's a difference between saying "I'm jumping ship" and "I'm thinking about looking around in the next few months". The former is implying it's definitely going to happen, the latter is saying that it's a fungible situation.

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.


It still sounds sketchy to me. Threatening to leave is giving your employer an ultimatum. Personally, I think the rational response to this is to placate you, find your replacement, then fire you. If you actually have issues with your work environment, you should address those head on without the threat of leaving the company.


Honestly, if the fired employees manager hasn't been giving them feedback that pretty clearly spells out where the current path is heading, that is a major failure of the manager.

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.


Not that major management failure is ever punished, is it?


Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. If a manager has to fire a lot of people under them, and there is consistent feedback that it is a surprise, etc. that signals two things to that manager's bosses:

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.


IMO Fire fast is a mistake, even from a purely green-eye shades perspective. It takes time to bring a new employee up to speed, and while they're coming up to speed they need attention from other people who are supposed to be working on their own projects.

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 probably shouldn't have said "the one thing" - I totally agree that I think it is a silly policy and not the right to be doing at all.

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.


Why would anyone work at a place like that? Even if you were somehow special in that they couldn't fire you, the whole thing would be inefficient and depressing.


I guess that's the other side of labour laws, firing someone who's been employeed more than six months in Sweden requires talking to the union (if you have one), given a valid reason, if it's "lack of work" they have to offer the position back to you if it changes.

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 more and more companies start going to the fire fast as soon as you're not a fit, then expect salary requests to start going up. Taking a new job is a risk, and a fire fast mentality adds to that risk that must be compensated with a salary premium.


A hiring bonus would be a better impedance match - both sides are taking a significant risk. A candidate quitting a job is a significant, generally irreversible, risky step, while handing a new hire a 5 figure sum on day one is similar.


If the risk of getting fired after a couple of weeks is high, I think the balance of risk is such that the employee should get a bonus or big severance for risking all his income. The company takes a much smaller risk comparatively.


It seems to stand in stark conflict with the difficulty of finding good people. If you have to let someone go for other than cash flow or pivot reasons, it seems to me like an admission that you made a mistake hiring them. Obviously this happens, but every time it does you probably ought to self-examine and ask why you hired them to begin with and tweak your interview/recruiting process accordingly. Firing should not be a drop of the hat common thing unless something is wrong, unless I am missing something or not sufficiently ValleyTrendy.


This is a great rule of thumb for employees and managers both: neither side should ever be too surprised. Whether it's performance evaluations or firing/quitting decisions, let the other side know if you're unhappy, and talk about it regularly (at least, one-on-one). Every time I haven't talked to managers about this sort of thing, I've regretted it.

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.


> 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 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.


> the whole fire fast mentality

Zach was there for five years. Why are we talking about "fire fast"?


I think in Germany there is less of a problem with firing because there are less laws around it and more support structures for those who are let go. Makes companies more likely to hire as well knowing they aren't as locked in.


The opposite is true. It is very hard to fire someone in Germany, at least compared to the US. When you compare the situation in Germany with that in Italy however - yeah, then you're right.


> the whole fire fast mentality that is starting to pop up

I am going to hug my country's employment law. "Fire fast" sounds inherently abusive towards employees.


> you can do everything right and still get fired

And that's why much of the world has a social safety net.


We have mandatory unemployment insurance which pays pretty well.

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.


Uh, have you been on unemployment? There's a max. In Massachusetts it's $698 / week (with no taxes taken out). That would only barely cover my mortgage, let alone car payment, food, health insurance, etc.

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.


...why should the taxpayers cover your mortgage? I don't think "debt service on assets" is a universal human right. And why would someone have a mortgage just out of college if they can't even save 3 months first? Either way, $698/week is a lot. Do you know how much these European countries and Canada pay under their "safety net?" It's probably closer to $1500 per month. They certainly don't give a shit about anyone covering their mortgage. Basic shelter and food, that's it.


>...why should the taxpayers cover your mortgage?

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.


That's obviously true, the question was why should you have to cover someone else's mortgage?


A social security net which doesn't cover mortgages is by definition useless for everyone who has a mortgage. That's a significant part of society. So, a social security net which doesn't include this is more of a social security black hole with a few ropes, only useful for people who have some weird "model life" (e.g. a student without anyone who depends on him) and not for normal people. Usually this goes against the stated goals of social security nets which are introduced to allow people to take risks which could be useful for society without ruining their lifes in case of a failure.


Encouraging labor mobility is a general social good. Whether or not the government does this, it is definitely something we want in the economy. People moving to the jobs for which they are best suited, which changes with the individuals and the firms as they change, is a huge benefit to everyone.


The point isn't that the taxpayers should cover his mortgage, but that the unemployment benefits should be more commensurate with how much one has paid in.

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.


>If he shouldn't be able to profit off of the state, then the state shouldn't be able to profit off of him

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.


No, I get that, but at the same time, everybody's paying in to unemployment, and even in a down economy, where we have something like 10-12% unemployment, that means that 88% are paying in.

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".


> The point isn't that the taxpayers should cover his mortgage, but that the unemployment benefits should be more commensurate with how much one has paid in. ... If he shouldn't be able to profit off of the state, then the state shouldn't be able to profit off of him.

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.


That's not entirely correct, at least for Germany.

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.


"The taxpayers" don't fund your unemployment insurance. You and your employer do. That's why it's called unemployment "insurance," not welfare.


As others have said, part of your paycheck goes to "unemployment insurance". It's not a handout. You're paying for it.


I don't think the "social safety net" was intended to keep wealthy people wealthy.

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.


And in Belgium, you are wrong about that. If you take home 1500€ net each month, and lose your job, social security first gives you around the same 1450 - 1500. After a few months (I think 3 or so) it goes down to 1300 or so, until you get a maximum of X where X is around the minimum living wage.

This is to ensure that people don't have to sell or move immediately after being fired. Which makes sense.


This example is flawed. What is the max take home pay of someone on unemployment benefits in Belgium? In Canada under EI (employment insurance) it's about $500 per week (~$2000 CAD per month).


I think your definition of wealthy needs some serious, serious readjustment.


Maybe you should consider adjusting your understanding of poor too.


3-6 months of salary is not the measurement. You need an emergency fund of 3-6 months of expenses. That amount is easily achievable for someone who is a few years out of college which is generally someone who is young, no mortgage, and no dependents.

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.


>but when you were a few years out of college, did you have 3-6 months of salary saved up?

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.


> but when you were a few years out of college, did you have 3-6 months of salary saved up? I certainly didn't.

Actually, I did and it was a top-priority for me.


Don't you have reserve money to get a mortgage in the first place? My bank was hesitant to loan without 3 months of mortgage payments in reserve.


Yes, the health insurance one is the big issue in the US. Even with emergency funds after the COBRA period ends you simply cannot buy the same health plan individually, no matter what you were willing to pay. Many people are surprised by this.


Yes, and pre-ACA, if were diagnosed with anything during a coverage gap, it would fall into the dreaded "pre-existing condition" category.


Post-ACA there are plenty of good plans to purchase beyond COBRA so this is now really only an issue of affordability. They are rather expensive, especially for one who doesn't have a job and getting on Medicaid Expansion can take many months, if one is even eligible (which one is likely not to be if he's worked at all that year). Likewise, other ACA discount will not apply if one has made any decent amount of money that calendar year, I believe.


I don't disagree. As a US citizen, I pine for the social safety nets in Canada and Europe. I'm playing the hand I was dealt.


I can't speak to what Europeans have, but as a Canadian I can. It's not all it's cracked up to be. In BC MSP (Medical Services Plan) is $54/Month for an individual and it's mandatory whether you're employed or not. The amount is probably different in other provinces as medical is a provincial concern (and indeed, coverage varies from province to province). Employers usually offer extended medical, covering things like dental, eyewear, prescriptions etc. This all goes away when you're let go.

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.


The MSP side of what you've described sounds to me like _all it's cracked up to be_.

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.


This is on top of a 46% marginal income tax rate and 12% sales tax.

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.


Manitoba Pharmacare exists for prescription plans and is income adjusted. Similar story in Ontario with the Trillium drug plan. I'm certain other provinces are similar.

People with true emergent cases are seen quickly. You may not, but it's probably because it's not an emergency.


Coverage/participation is mandatory - they send collections after you if you stop paying in BC


Sure, my only point is it's not universal nor free (so many pundits in the US seem to think it is). Family of 2-4 is 104/month in BC.

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).


I'm paying $600/month in the states for two people, and my old coworker is paying $1200/month for a family of 5.


MSP is mandatory - but its tied to how much money you make. Most people here are probably making enough that they are paying the maximum amount (which is $72 for an individual these days), but as a university student I had the same coverage for free.

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... .


Oh and I forgot, if you're fired with cause, you don't qualify for EI. You only get EI if you're laid off for lack of work.


You can dispute this, and in most cases you'll get the EI anyways.


Being fired for cause in this case refers to misconduct at the job, which is quite different from just being not good enough at your job.

I won't repost the list, but you can find the definition and the most common list on their website here:

http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/ei/information/misconduct...


Emigration is an option, and an easier one than people treat it as. There are plenty of good reasons to want to stay where you are, but it's worth remembering that you have the option.


Okay, you've made your point that America is backwards and doesn't look out for its workers. Nice one!

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.


You can also get fired FOR doing everything right. It happened to me once. I fired back.

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).


Your story is short and doesn't mention many potentially important facts, but it left me with the impression that you are rather vengeful. Selling marijuana may be illegal and unwise, but it's not very harmful.

> (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!


Being vengeful is sometimes necessary. It's not a virtue, but it's not a vice either. If the market for justice is inelastic or rigged, make your own. The hard part is to not go overboard - being fair to someone who hurt you, once you have them beaten, requires great self-discipline.

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.


Cut expenses, payoff debt, increase savings... on principle. Then when you see the first early warnings, do the same but twice as hard.

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.


Wow. Your marriage sounds awesome.


I know, I am a terrible person. 8 months into a Death March project does that kind of thing to your sanity.

Right now I am counting on her being smarter than I am.


are you saying that you are hiding money in secret accounts from your wife because she wanted to have a vacation?


It appears so!


Not really hiding, since she is aware the money exist. I am just keeping it in an account I alone have access to.


How are you paying off the mortgage in 1/5 of the time?


Ok, this caused lots of discussion, so here it is.

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.


By paying off five times more a month than the bank really wants you to when they gave you the money.

(How is he able to do that? By working like a maniac, I guess.)


He/she would only have to pay 3.28 times his normal payment in order to pay it off in 1/5th of the time. It's paid off more quickly because by paying more, you reduce the amount of interest that accumulates.

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.


Also, by having refinanced recently, when the rates were stupid low. My mortgage interest rate is lower than my student loans interest rate, and on at 15-year mortgage. Along with making extra monthly payments, you're in the 7-year payoff range. All depends on how much of your income you put to the extra payments. I don't make mad bills, but it's still quite feasible.


If you're lucky, you might be able to pay down lump sums of your mortgage every year without penalty.

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.


> people are fired all the time

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.


You're right, it is a very American way of doing business. But you haven't put forward any argument against it, other than basically saying that it makes you feel icky.

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.


> We are the center of the startup world and our big tech companies disproportionately dominate world markets.

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 was actually referring to our culture (see the previous paragraph for context), which leads to both the increased firings and increased business success. Can you have less firings with the same success? It may be possible, but right now in America they are symptoms of the same thing.

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.


The billions of dollars the government spent doing basic research, published in scientific journals, is available to companies worldwide. My work builds on the the work of hundreds of US, UK, German and other govt funded mathematicians, yet I live in India.

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.


It's not just research published in journals. Siri was largely developed by the government, for example. There's a lot of tech transfer. The people who work on these projects with taxpayer funds go on to start U.S. companies or work for them. The U.S. also spends billions on procurement that's only for nascent U.S. companies while they bring tech to market.

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.


You're right, its not always possible to untangle the web of causality. But as a contrast, the American industries where firing is nigh-impossible for performance-related reasons (K-12 education, civil service) by and large perform terribly overall.


Citation please?


I think that we get a really skewed view of things because we're on Hacker News, a site that focuses much more on startups. If we were on Factory Manager News or Corporate Retail News, there would be much, much less talk about firing. The practices of these startups are very different from established companies. I can't imagine IBM, Intel, or Microsoft engaging in this sort of behavior, for better (refraining from firing people for stupid, immature reasons) or for worse (not being able to get rid of shitty people).

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.


> 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.

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).


I have a lot of family in France, and based on what I've heard from them, the flip-side of those kinds of employment protections is that employers become much more reluctant to hire people (especially young people and people considered higher risk based on background, skills, etc.)

Possible that this attitude (along with many other factors) contributes to the far less developed startup cultures of many Western European countries.


Spain has a 15-days notice for termination and Luxembourg 1-month, France 3 months for IT jobs (I'm French) and I guess employee protection laws are proportional to those figures. So I wonder whether it's essntially France which is considers the employment contract as a blood pact.


I am French. The 3 month notice is when employees want to terminate a contract.

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...).


I am French too and I can corroborate that.


"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."

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.


There is a reason the US is also one of the worst places to be a working person, which most people are. In other words, we decided to structure our society to benefit a small elite group of people instead of the vast majority.


> 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,

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?


Yes I think they would work for me again.

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.


I'm not sure how to interpret "I have a lawyer just in case" as part of your answer to that question, but it's nonetheless there and I suppose I should acknowledge it.

Thanks for your answer, at any rate, though I'm left with more questions than I had when we started.


I had another paragraph explaining the mentor/lawyer comment that I deleted. Oops. :-)

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. :-)


This this this, and this. A great lawyer advises you on how to resolve conflict and is an invaluable asset.


The reality is that people and businesses change and sometimes those changes don't align.

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.


This may be a matter of semantics, but aren't you describing being laid off and not being fired?

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.


In most of the US, "employment-at-will" eliminates the distinction. A company doesn't need to show a cause in order to fire someone. Where it becomes important is that if someone is fired "with cause," then they are not eligible for the company's typical severance benefits or unemployment compensation.

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.


Can you elaborate a bit more about the things that made them awesome and the things that they did not want to change?


Getting fired and getting laid off are totally different things. These days there is no stigma attached to the latter.


I agree completely. When your skills are no longer needed (or the company can no longer afford you), you're laid off; when you perform your job poorly you're fired. There's a significant difference, and it has nothing to do with the number of people who are let go at once.


I think you're expressing the common terminology, and I agree for the most part.

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.


Aside from the fact that many people use the term interchangeably, getting "laid off" often means "you got fired at a company that doesn't actively fire individually, but rather fires en masse". Being "laid off" from a company like Microsoft is equivalent to being outright fired at many other shops.


This simply isn't true. People who are terminated at Microsoft or Amazon or Google or others for poor performance (either during annual performance review or other times) are not laid off - they are terminated for poor performance.


Everyone who is "laid off" is terminated.

http://www.businessinsider.com/microsofts-employee-review-sy...

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.


I am guessing you are very young and this hasn't happened to you yet. But when the CEO decides that we aren't in that business anymore, or we don't operate in that country anymore, or we just need to impress Wall Street with what a decisive manager I am, your performance as an individual contributor isn't even on the radar. You are just a number.

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.


Despite your absurd lead in and desperate moderation, I'll repeat that you are simply wrong, and seem to be trying really, really hard to justify something. Something fairly obvious.

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.


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?

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.


Yes, layoffs are often when "deadwood" is let go.

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.


No, thats not even remotely true. Look at their mobile division.


Most organizational "lay offs" start by identifying the most expendable, the least valuable, the people with the worst performance reviews, etc. This is especially true in the technology industry. I'm not saying this as an objective "it is thus justified", but rather a simple reality that the same criteria by which some shops might say "you're not working out, so I'm sorry I'm canning you" is the same criteria that companies like Microsoft use to chop the "bottom" 10% or so.

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.


Not at all. You get fired when you do something wrong. You get laid off when management does something wrong.


"There are people who were at X in the early days who were incredible, and as we grew, became less and less incredible, largely because the things that made them incredible actually started to be really frustrating as the company grew and they didn't want to change those things. So they had to leave."

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.


If you fire your commandos, that means that you've settled on your one business and are no longer needing the people to innovate.

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 world needs steady businesses that generate steady returns. Indeed the only reason innovative businesses attract so much attention and investment is the idea that they will eventually become them.


Greenfield innovation is not the only kind of innovation, so I don't think this necessarily follows.


This is really great - thanks for contributing your perspective.


I’ve been fired three times.

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.


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.

Can you elaborate on this a bit? I could sometimes use some lessons in diplomacy...


These two Career Tools podcasts cover several aspects of getting fired, including a very good answer to your question:

https://www.manager-tools.com/2011/03/getting-fired-part-1 https://www.manager-tools.com/2011/03/getting-fired-part-2


Sure. I’m only able to answer in the case where you’ve been fired without cause. Depending on the “cause”, it may be easy to apply these rules, too—but if you have been dismissed because of something that you did that put the company in a bad legal situation (for example), there won’t be much help with this. The fundamental rule of interviewing is not to lie. You don’t have to tell all of the truth about getting fired (nor should you—more in a moment), but you shouldn’t hide anything major. Lying—even by omission—will often lose you the job.

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”.


This is really on-point. You echo a lot of how I think about interviewing: always tell the truth, but highlight pieces of the truth to craft the narrative you want. Be fallible. Don't speculate, and pay close attention to whether a line of discussion is fact-based or speculative. Don't disparage your previous (or current) employer.

Your comment is the sort of nuanced experience that makes reading through this thread worth the time.


Not sure why you started at a company where getting fired is "no great loss" to you. Why did you start there in the first place? How was your due diligence?

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.


I’m not amazed, but I also do a fair amount of due diligence on jobs before I take them. As a development manager, I also clearly talk about my philosophy of teams to people who are interviewing with me so they know exactly what they are getting with me. That said, you cannot always predict things that will be mistakes until they’ve passed—and sometimes you have no clue how good the dog and pony show was until you’re in it. Well, probably not you, but pretty much everyone else in the world.

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.


Very long answer.

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’re right: you don’t know who I am and you don’t have enough information at hand to make any judgements. You don’t sound harsh, you sound as if you jump to conclusions without enough information. (It would be as accurate if I were to judge your management ability as poor because of your abrasive tone. I wouldn’t do that; I would assume that English is your second language and that my perception of your abrasiveness is entirely because of that.) Remember—you’re the person who jumped in with the comment “Not sure why you started at a company where getting fired is "no great loss" to you. Why did you start there in the first place? How was your due diligence?”

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.


If that anecdote about the owner thinking he was playing a game is not a complete fabrication, then I would guess that he (?) is correct in his assessment. Sometimes the boss just really is stupid, and you know it, and there's no point beating around the bush being "introspective" about it, except to wonder how you keep getting caught up with people like that.


Thanks. I don’t mind outlining that particular anecdote a bit further. It was around a U.S. election when a fairly popular site had published an article with illustrations about “if the candidates were Dungeons & Dragons characters”, which I had loaded, but not read, about two hours before the incident. He happened to come in—with no knowledge of what the team was working on or how the team worked—when I was reading it.

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. :)


I have often said that companies rarely take it personally when you decide to leave them, so don't take it personally when they decide to leave you. Easy to say and hard to do, like a lot of things in life.

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.


>>I have often said that companies rarely take it personally when you decide to leave them, so don't take it personally when they decide to leave you. Easy to say and hard to do, like a lot of things in life.

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.
I agree with this statement, and I believe it to be wrong. Not incorrect, which would say that I thought it was false, but wrong in that it does people a disservice to themselves when they construct their self-identity in this way.

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.


I agree that it is wrong for people to construct their self-identity based on their job. Unfortunately though, that's what society teaches us: that one must work to earn their living, and if they are unemployed then there is something wrong with them.

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.


It also often means "we think you suck and you're not worthy of working here". So yes, if someone told me that I was a disgrace, it'd sting a bit. I realize that not everyone fires for that reason these days, particularly in tech, double particularly in SV, but hey.

And yes, also companies can take it personally when you leave, or at least people in one's immediate periphery can.


Speaking of my own experience as a manager I've never thought that about anyone I have fired.


I think it's less common in the tech world, and as I mentioned it's even less common in the current SV scene. However I'd wager if you asked 100 people what would cause someone to be fired, generally it's that the person was incompetent.


This seems to be another case of the "identification-with-job" problem. And while I agree with Chuck's point that humans should not identify so strongly with their employment, it's clearly the norm. Both self-identification and other-identification: cf. the popular cocktail party question "what do you do?"


Agreed. Whatever one spends one's time on, the effort seems somehow less than optimally spent if it truly doesn't matter to one's self-identity.


While I agree with your advice to not take it personally, I disagree with your reasoning.

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.


> even Steve Jobs was successfully replaced

Some would argue about that :)


Well, not the stock market.


When I first read replaced, I was thinking Sculley not Cook. Clearly one has been more successful so far than the other :)




I had a similar experience working with a company not quite as famous as Sun.

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.


That is totally false, as far as your career within a company goes. Your manager holds the reigns to your career trajectory 99% of the time. The other 1% of the time someone else with more power takes you on as their pet project. What this means practically is that you are limited by your manager's skills, reputation, and ambition.

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".

http://www.amazon.com/Corporate-Confidential-Secrets-Company...


I don't really understand your notion of "career within a company" unless you think getting a promotion every three years is standard fare? I'm not willing to read that book to find out.


> I have often said that companies rarely take it personally when you decide to leave them, so don't take it personally when they decide to leave you. Easy to say and hard to do, like a lot of things in life.

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.


Great point and a really good way to look at this.


If nothing else, I'm thankful to Zach for a lot of the guidance he's provided on his blog over the years. When we did a "field trip" to Github thanks to Scott, I shared Zach's quote with the engineers here:

"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!


Just to add a similar sentiment, I've also seen Zach speak at conferences and his talks are excellent. If nothing else, someone should hire him to represent them at various tech conferences to improve their reputation and attract better talent. And given how insightful his talks are, I'd bet he's at least a decent developer too. I have no doubt that the offers will roll in, despite any stigma over being fired. As someone who hires developers, I'd have no qualms about hiring him.


How is Kiva after the Amazon acquisition?


Different Kiva, http://www.kiva.org :)


Re: Zach's COBRA question.

For those who don't know, COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) is a law passed in 1985 [1] 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 [2]. 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.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consolidated_Omnibus_Budget_Rec...

[2] http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq-consumer-cobra.html


Just to clarify.... it's retroactive for 60 days. That means you don't really have to do anything for the first 45-ish, and if you don't need insurance in that time, and you get a new job, you're done.

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 :)


Hopefully on day 45 you don't end up in a coma for the next 16 days.

Don't mess with your health insurance.


It's posts like these that make me thankful to be in a country with a free health care system.


In the pre-existing condition days, this could still be an issue, because not being covered at any point would reset the clock.


I don't see how. There is no lapse in coverage at all. That's what retroactive means.


Just for some perspective here. In 2001 I was working in a wafer fab and quit. On my exit the HR lady asked me about COBRA and if I wanted it. I declined since it was 600 dollars a month. And I was a single 21 year old male with no kids.

I only made 9 dollars a hour at the job so asking 600 a month was kinda bonkers.


That $600/month was what the company was paying for your health insurance, not some number they made up. Think of it like you were earning more than $9/hour but some of that money went to pay for your health insurance.


Human nature is really amazing. After the reading the first 4 paragraph I saw his openness and honesty. I felt compassion and trust. And I was already thinking to myself "Zach really looks like a cool guy; if he is skilled I would probably hire him", without attaching any significance whatsoever to the fact he was fired. If you are reading this, Zach, continue to be open, honest, accept your mistakes, show you do learn from them to continuously become a better person, and you will have a good life :)


I agree. I felt the exact same way. Also Zach somehow sounds extremely professional and personal at the same time too. Got to say I'm impressed, and I too know the pain of getting laid off.Reading this article makes me feel alot better about the shame and guilt I felt from being fired.


The graceful and honest way he expresses himself made me think "who the heck fired this guy?" I know, I know.. All about fit at point in time... Still, what a thoughtful guy. Courageous too. Takes a lot to be so open at such a vulnerable time.


Just reading the post not knowing who he was made me follow him on Twitter, follow him on GitHub, and I ended up looking through three of his super popular repos, reading the readme and giving him a few stars. So ya, he's going to go on to do better things without question. I read a lot of blog posts per day and that kind of immediate desire to research [the author] is uncommon.


I felt the same. Started reading and was like "uh..." but by the end I felt he had an enormous amount to show for and to say, with wise words all around.


It would have been stupid to write any other kind of blog post. Some (inadvertent?) self-promotion is a good move.


Incompetent management is a plague on the industry. And the cause of it is that programmers are relatively low status.

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.


When you interview ask how many people with MBAs and no programming experience you'll be working under.

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.


>When you interview ask how many people with MBAs and no programming experience you'll be working under. That is a good heuristic for future pain and frustration.

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.


> When you interview ask how many people with MBAs and no programming experience you'll be working under.

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 probably consider that a red flag

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.


There are other less direct ways to pose the question.


Why even ask it. My method is find the org chart depth with log_1.5(company size). Then divide that number by 1/2 execs, 1/2 managers. Guess the roles then go look at random people on linked-in. You can get a good feel for how the company is internally based on that.


It's easy enough to skip the question altogether and do a quick google search on the people with whom you would be working.


Oh, I think it's ok if the manager, with an engineering background, spends a lot of time managing and not a lot of time writing code. They may be further away from understanding the details of the product, but that's ok.

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.


While I agree with the basic tenet that experienced developers make better direct managers for other developers, I strongly disagree that "any programmer can do it", or that "biz guys can't learn programming", much less the assertion that "business" is somehow trivially easy compared to coding.

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.


Yup. Both you and the op of this thread are correct.

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.


I think this is a really good insight, a lot of the problems people in this thread have complained about can be attributed to bad managers. Balancing business requirements and technical requirements is a difficult thing to do, all the while ensuring everyone feels special/validated/acknowledged.

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.


"toxic" is such a great word in this context. I've seen this kind of disrespect for other parts of the organization take down a small company that was otherwise performing just fine.


The real tragedy is, learning business is not hard. Any programmer can do it.

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.


I agree. All the roles are hard to master.

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.


I'm with you both in the fact that I started from engineering and learned about many other disciplines as I went along. Also, I'd agree that most other disciplines don't bother to learn engineering/programming.

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.


I think it's also the dunning kruger effect - the "I am a person working in a business, thus I'm an expert, qualified to judge business people".

This also applies to a lot of other disciplines and professions, really.


You're right, but it's no doubt much easier for an engineer to learn business and sales than for a business person to become good at programming and write production code daily.


Learning a little programming isn't any harder than learning something about management or sales - it's just that most people don't bother to do it. My mom was 60 when she started learning HTML and javascript. She does just fine updating web pages, forms, etc. for her quilting and singing groups.

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.


Hm. I would say it's easy for either role to learn at the entry level.

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.


I'm not sure what you mean by "slip lower and lower in status". The software industry has worked pretty much the way you describe as long as I've been a part of it, and I haven't noticed any sort of diminution of status for software engineers. If anything, the trends go the other way: the industry has embraced the idea of a non-management career development track for engineers. Big companies like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon have very well established high-level engineering roles which do not involve people-management, precisely so that they can allow engineers to continue developing as engineers.


I think he means within an organization, not in the industry as a whole. I've noticed this, too. When a company is small and engineer-heavy, the engineers generally have a lot of autonomy and influence over the what and how of the product. As the company grows and layers of management are added, the "leaf node" engineers lose a lot of influence, and their opinions on what the company should be building tend to be less regarded, and often ignored.


"Software engineers are low status" is a thing I've seen start to pop up a lot more recently, the reasoning seems to be, basically, 'field's full of nerds and society is run by jocks', and is often used as an apology for why women don't go into computer science.


It sounds like you're implying that GitHub has "incompetent management" where "people mananger are biz guys who don't understand engineering".

However, Zach doesn't appear to say any of these things, so it seems a pretty unfair implication to make.


I think two things you are overlooking is (1) not all engineers want to manage others, and (2) not everyone who "learns business" can be a good manager.

Forcing engineering people into management roles after they have accrued a certain amount of experience is not the answer.


Zach was a quite visible ambassador for GH, an excellent speaker and spreader of GH love and lore. Would love to hear the story behind this.


The amount of non-technical things that I learned from Zach is a very long list.

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.


For me, he was the face of GH.


""How Github Uses Github To Fire A Github Employee" deck coming soon


> Unless you're embezzling money or using the interns as drug mules or something.

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.


Yes, it's almost as if politicians have reasons for saying the things they say (and not saying the things left unsaid).


Can we just stop speculating about this? He didn't come out and tell us, meaning anyone that isn't close to him will never find out. This over-analyzing of the reason (wasn't even an important point in the article) is just off-topic and more importantly, completely without evidence....

(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....)


My comment explicitly didn't speculate on any particular reason, it pointed to language that could easily be politician-grade rhetorical defense. Did you read my whole comment?

People can speculate about the reasons if they can point to relevant historical record. Why not? This man isn't sacred, is he?


>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.

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....


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.

I did no such thing as the second thing you're saying I did.


speculation: the forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.

You wrote:

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.


The way you're calling the sentence a "very important one" is making a really vague accusation. No surprise if people can't tell what you mean, or think your point is a bad one.


So in other words, you speculated that the language used is a rhetorical defence that he was fired for a criminal offence.


This is probably a stupid question, but could someone explain what it means to be fired in the USA?

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?


> 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?

Yes, exactly.

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).


> 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.

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.


I second this opinion. I know people who have gotten out of really bad jobs really fast thanks to this as well as people who were able to join their dream job without having to wait 3+ months.

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.


I have seen multiple cases where shitty or ill-informed managers tried to pressure salaried employees into "committing"—commit to another project cycle, another quarter, another year, whatever. "We're trying to do strategic planning, I need to know if you intend to stay... yada yada yada."

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.)


> You can get a great job offer and literally leave your job the next day

Except who would hire someone like that?


if someone reads my post, that got heavily downvoted, I'm curious as why? I mean, if I was an employer and I could hire someone who quit his last job after a day just because he could, I wouldn't want to hire him.


Why would you leave your job the next day, though? It seems unlikely that an employment offer would be conditioned on your not giving notice. And giving notice smooths the transition for your colleagues, whom you can use for networking in the future.


Yes, in most cases in the US, you're correct. A vast majority of hiring relationships are "at will" relationships -- which means you can leave at will and be fired at will.

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.)


Exactly right! Every engineering job I've had has been considered "at will employment," [1] meaning that the company can terminate you, or you can walk, at any time, and for any (legal) reason.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At-will_employment

(edited to correct typo)


It's highly dependent by the state in which you work. Github is in California, an "at-will" state [1], which basically means that you can get fired for any reason, including no reason at all. The only exceptions to this rule are if you were fired as a result of discrimination of a certain protected characteristic such as your age, gender, race, etc.

[1] http://www.business.ca.gov/StartaBusiness/AdministeringEmplo...


You seem to forget that's its relatively easy to get around that.

The company makes up the objectives you have to meet, so could set really hard targets. Its called being "Performance Managed" out.


I say Congratulations!

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.

Yes 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 was recently re-reading Clarke's Rendevous with Rama on an airplane and hit this quote: "Myron, like countless NCO’s before him, had discovered the ideal compromise between power and responsibility.”

I am a fan of this balance.


A manager I once worked under told me something. He said, "There should never be any surprises." He meant this for reviews, firings, etc. There should always be an open line of communication and as a manager, if you're doing it right, every person who works under you should know where they stand at all times. They should never have any question or doubt about what's on their review. Period.

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.

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