R.I.P. My Job, January 17, 2000 – January 8, 2002

I knew exactly where I was the minute my manager called me into the accountant’s room and sat me in front of what looked like a contract.

I was in Odd Todd Country. Except unlike Todd, I got a severance package.

Today, at the company, half the UI team — a group consisting of myself and a fella I’ll call Robert (after Robert’s Rules of Order, because he loved to debate) — were laid off in favour of two new hires, both white-hot MFC programmers (one of them developed the user interface for at least four versions of Corel Draw) with more C++ experience than I have experience working. They called us into the office individually, starting with me.

I’ll be the first to admit that I took the “have a life” option and have spent a good chunk of my career programming in Visual Basic, the Rodney Dangerfield of Programming Languages. When I was in datapanik, a partnership I shared with my friend Adam Smith (no, not the economist), we used VB rather than C++ because the software we were writing — custom-built productivity applications for businesses — because we could make the software in less time, and such software didn’t need the speed at which apps written in C++ run. These skills served me well until August, when we switched over to C++ development entirely.

While they laid off most of my co-workers, they kept me on as a junior developer on the strength of my prototyping work, my user interface work in VB, and all the good developer relations work I’d done. I took the trouble to try and re-learn C++ programming and learn how to program using MFC (the framework with which Windows programs written in C++ are often built) and was becoming half-decent at it. However, with recent hires who could code circles around me, a need to cut back on spending, no call for prototyping nor developer relations, I had become what Human Resources people call redundant.

Robert was a pretty decent coder. I’d been learning MFC by “reverse-engineering” what he’d written; looking at his source code and taking copious notes. They let him go over non-skill-related issues. He was quite upset about being let go, particularly because he’d just moved into a new house, committed himself to his first mortgage, and probably spent some money on the expenses that go along with moving. To add insult to injury, since he’s from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, he technically got his termination as a Christmas present from the company. Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas, you’re sacked.

As for me, I was more disappointed that I hadn’t become sufficiently skilled in C++ and MFC in the company’s eyes in time. I worked hard at it, and probably could’ve given up my life temporarily to learn faster, but I wasn’t ready to sacrifice it for a company that was a shadow of its former self and appeared on the verge of financial collapse. It’s annoying for a programmer to have to admit “I’m not 1337 enough”, but it’s an honest stance and the first step towards improving oneself.

The decision was made by people who’d been at the company less than half as long as I. Mind you, my manager can simply declare himself alpha geek by saying “hands up all those who have written six versions of Corel Draw and Corel Photo Paint” (we’ll ignore for a moment that real graphic artists use Adobe’s Illustrator and Photoshop and don’t sully their hands with Corel’s less-impressive wares — writing it is still tough). I know when I’m outgunned.

Still, I’m a pretty decent programmer, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done, especially COLAvision (the first app the company actually released), Twitch (a prototype P2P for gamers that wowed ’em at the Microsoft ISV conference last summer), and all the unheralded bug fixes I’ve made to the project we were working on (especially since only a couple of months ago, I couldn’t spell “MFC). They’ve lost a quick study, a very clean coder, a guy who understands users and interfaces, their best team player and the only guy in the company who can play the accordion worth a damn.

My co-workers, bless ’em all, were quite surprised and expressed shock and disappointment. First and foremost, I’ll miss riding to work with Henson and listening to Cory’s crazy ideas (by the way, Cory, thanks for phoning to check up on me. You’re a mensch). I also made it a point to get to know the new guys and got on especially well with Midgely, Sham and Joel (hey, guys). I went up to each of them and told them that I was being let go, to stay in touch and to work hard so that my stock options would be worth something. The company’s goodwill ambassador to developers to the very end, that’s me.

It took me the rest of the day — about an hour or so — to gather my files onto CDs and pack up my books. John gave me a lift home, saying something encouraging, if homophobic: “the gay factor in this company has shot through the roof today.” We listened to classic rock on the radio and laughed when they played The Doors’ The End.

Next: Plan B!
or, What would Shaft Do?

Recommended Reading

The What Color Is Your Parachute? site has a How to Deal With being Fired page.

The job board has an Advice for the Jobless section. They also have an article on how to explain being fired in subsequent job interviews.

Dan O’Day has some advice: What to Do When You’re Fired.

I don’t feel like the title of this magazine, but it does have some interesting stories on what happens when things don’t work out quite the way they were planned.

You know, I never got around to watching Office Space. Maybe I’ll rent it this weekend…

“Terminated” Party!

Friday, January 18th chez moi. Please bring stuff. I’m unemployed, you know.

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