Getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to me

Recently blogger Evil HR Lady asked for stories of spectacular comebacks – career hard times that spawned spectacular success. I had just such an experience and shared my story with her. She liked it so much that she published it, along with six other stories of rising from the ashes. She condensed my story to its bare essence, so I thought I’d share with you what I submitted to her.

Several years ago my employer couldn’t afford to pay me anymore. My savings were paltry, my severance only lasted so long, and the software industry was in a slump so jobs in my field were hard to come by. So I took the first full-time permanent position I was offered, with the government services division of a major insurance company. I was to test a customer-service application they were developing.

After about a year I was promoted to manager over all the testers on that contract, which surprised me because the company was never a good fit for me culturally. I was used to freewheeling entrepreneurial companies; this was an old-line top-down environment. My ways of operating rubbed people wrong, and I struggled to adapt.  Moreover, our relationship with the government agency we served was contentious, with both sides always suspicious of each other. I always felt that this was driven by the company vice president to which my boss reported; it seemed to be his style. I was not comfortable playing the game that way, so my dealings with my government contacts were always honest and friendly. Consequently, I developed good relationships with the government’s project leadership. Nobody at my company could figure out why I was so effective! But I ran afoul of my VP on a few occasions because I wasn’t playing his game.

One day, all managers were required to take a battery of intelligence and personality tests. There was no explanation, but they were compulsory. I’m plenty bright and play well with others, so I gave the tests my best but didn’t worry about them too much. I should not have been surprised several weeks later when my boss called me into his office to say that I “didn’t fit the profile” they were looking for their managers to have and would be terminated, along with about 20 other managers in the organization. As I began to find out which other managers were also let go, a pattern emerged — the managers who remained played well with the VP. Strangely, we were all allowed to stay on the job for 30 more days. I was offered reasonable severance. I was told that my government contacts would be notified.

I was gobsmacked, and wondered if what they did was even legal. But my wife and I were headed for divorce and I had just signed the lease on a tiny apartment. I didn’t have the energy to fight, so I decided to accept my firing and move on. But as my end date approached, my government contacts were scheduling me for conference calls that fell after my last day. When the government’s project leader called me one day to ask about more things I wouldn’t be a part of, I decided to let her know that as part of a restructuring I would no longer be the test manager, and that she would need to ask my boss about those matters. Yes, I hedged on the full story – I didn’t want to come off as bitter, and I didn’t figure telling it all would do any good anyway.

My office
My office today. Bask in its beigeness.

When she called me, I didn’t know she and other key project leaders were at my company’s out-of-state data center with the VP. She told the other project leaders what was happening – and they made a beeline for that VP. She called me later and said, “We cornered him and read him the riot act, demanding to know why he was demoting his best manager!” At once, I felt a rush from the compliment they paid me, but also dread, because I knew that as soon as the VP came back to town I’d be hearing from him. And sure enough, I did, and he was hopping mad. “Why the blankety blank did you tell them? Why didn’t you follow protocol? What were you thinking?” Not having anything to lose, I said, “Protocol? I wasn’t aware there was one. They didn’t know I’d been let go, and they were scheduling me for meetings after my last day. They needed to know.”

Then the VP changed his tune a bit, smiling a fake smile while he said, “Well, Jim, you’re good people. We want to take care of people we like. Don’t worry, there will be a job for you here.”

My main government contact explained to me later that, unbeknownst to me, during a contract modification I and several other managers had been written in as “key players,” and, unbelievably, as such the company could not reassign us off the project or terminate us except for cause. I’m sure the VP was trying to do an end run around that clause. I’m sure that his plan was to wait until I was gone and then just tell our government contacts that I’d decided to pursue other opportunities.

Even though any love I had for the company had been trampled upon, torched, napalmed, and nuked through all this, I accepted the job they offered me – a technical advisor role at my manager’s salary – because I had enough instability in my life and was grateful not to add a job search to it.

And in that role, I learned two new skills – software test automation and performance testing. And after about a year in that role, my personal issues having calmed down somewhat, I took a management job in a small software company where I built a test automation practice. (The entire government project leadership team came to my desk on my last day to wish me well.)  I was just beginning to build a performance testing practice there when a colleague called to tell me about a great opening at a highly regarded local software company. I now manage a large team of testers and test automation engineers there. I’m at the top of my career today, and I would never have been able to do it unless I’d been fired.

Then there was the time I worked for a company led by a man who got his whole executive team to lie for him about a sexual harassment charge. Read the story.


23 responses to “Getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to me”

  1. Scott Palmer Avatar

    That’s a great story, Jim. I’m glad that it worked out so well for you.

    I don’t know why some people in responsible corporate jobs can’t just play fair. They often treat their best people like yesterday’s pizza, and the company loses as a result of it. It makes more sense to treat people fairly, honestly, and to be a decent human being. But some people can’t seem to manage it. Not most people, thank goodness, but some.

    1. Jim Avatar

      The reality is that you can’t get through a lifetime without having to remove a knife from your back a few times. I can wish it were different all I want, but success in life generally demands accepting reality.

      1. Scott Palmer Avatar

        I think that reality is vastly over-rated. :-)

  2. Janet Chlebek Avatar
    Janet Chlebek

    I’m so glad all this worked out for you in the end.
    At one of my past jobs, I was a blind-sided by my manager that was having an affair with a man that I went to High School with. As soon as she found out I knew him, she conveinently found a way to get rid of me, even though I was the top sales rep for that company at the time.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Lovely. Like I said so Scott, it’s impossible to get through life without having to remove a knife from your back a couple of times.

  3. reneedavies Avatar

    I love this story.I love that people of integrity (and who obviously work hard)eventually end up being blessed! No matter how they tell us that doing the right thing will gain you nothing, I beg to differ. Congratulations.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks Renee! I have learned to make the best of a bad situation and leverage to the hilt what good luck finds me.

  4. Todd Pack Avatar

    That’s a very encouraging story, Jim! I’m glad things worked out so well (eventually).

    I gotta know, though: Whatever became of the the [expletive deleted] VP who tried to push you out? Karma ever catch up to him?

    1. Jim Avatar

      Todd, I haven’t kept up with that VP except to know that he’s still at that company. In my opinion, that’s karma right there.

      1. Todd Pack Avatar

        P.S. Liked the earlier post about the boss who harrassed his employees, and I liked the essay by the business guru who trashed your old boss. Well played.

        1. Jim Avatar

          The guru’s article brought a whole lot about that situation into focus for me. It actually helped me heal from that bad situation!

  5. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Wow, Jim, I’m glad that worked out for you! I would have been scared to stick around with a VP gunning for me, but I guess you really didn’t have a choice. On the other hand, you moved on in about a year and I’m old enough know to see how realistic that is in terms of timelines. I don’t have any doubts you’ve earned and deserve the success you have. :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      I was protected by that contract or this certainly wouldn’t have worked out in my favor! I shudder to think about how things would have gone if I had actually lost my job. My stress levels were already off the charts because of my pending divorce.

  6. ryoko861 Avatar

    Wow, good for you!! There’s always some cocky ahole at the top always trying to make himself look better because he knows damn well he sucks at what he does. I wonder how many people he, um….got to know to get to the position he was in.

    How long did it take you to clean off your desk? NO WAY IN HELL is a guy’s desk that clean!

    1. Jim Avatar

      There are aholes everywhere. Life’s a virtual minefield full of them. And so it goes.

      Yes, my desk is this clean. Usually. I have an anal rententive streak.

  7. Rama Sarma Avatar
    Rama Sarma

    Glad that you came out unscathed through your ordeal.
    I have had my own quota of backbiters, backstabbers and aholes (to borrow your term) during the course of my work, but fortunately it has not affected me much in tne longer run.
    By the way, I have also dabbled a bit in sw testing. I used Selenium in my work. My desk is pretty much like yours, but pity it lacks the pretty view.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Rama, my team uses Watin and NUnit for our test automation! My last direct automation work was in Empirix eTester.

  8. Tori Nelson Avatar

    It makes me really happy when things turn out well for deserving people! My dad recently experienced a similar situation, being laid off from an Int. Executive job with AT&T. He moved to a smaller town, took a huge pay cut, but is truly HAPPY to work in an entirely different and more fulfilling job everyday. Great Post, really glad this got published!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Tori, it amazes me how often adversity really does work out in the long run!

  9. kadja2 Avatar

    This encourages me, although I wasn’t fired. I worked in a place full of liars, backbiters and hypocrites. I don’t function well in such a place and left. I have a degree and I do not need that job.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I think it’s important to learn to recognize when you’ve landed in a spot that doesn’t fit you, and get out of it asap. Some people will just stay in a bad situation for years!

  10. Suzanne Lucas (Evil HR Lady) Avatar

    I’m so glad I was able to publish your story. It was a good one. I love that the client saw how awful the senior team was and wanted to make sure they kept the good people on board. Aweseome.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’m thrilled you stopped by! Our client was smarter than the senior team gave them credit for, if I do say so myself.

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