I always thought the reward for doing a good job was that you got to keep the job

Another thing happened while I was on my blog hiatus last month. I was fired.

I was Director of Engineering at a startup software company. I had led the building of “version 1.0” of our product. I doubled the engineering staff to an even dozen, put in the practices and processes they used to do their work, and collaborated with the product-idea people to make sure the engineers had solid backlogs of work to build from. In short order we turned a chicken-wire-and-chewing-gum prototype into a real software product that sold well and provided real value to customers. I’m proud of what my team and I accomplished.

Those accomplishments apparently didn’t matter in the end.

To tell you the whole story would probably violate the confidentiality agreement I signed. I’m left to guess at much of it anyway, as they wouldn’t tell me why they were letting me go. Financial considerations could have played a role. My boss and I had lately been at serious loggerheads over some matters and I feel sure that hurt me considerably.

I saw some classic signs that it was coming: of my boss canceling meetings with me, of some of the successes for which I had once been praised being reframed as not so successful after all, and of me being left out of tactical and strategic discussions. My boss even suggested strongly that she was losing confidence in me. I was dead man walking.

I’m astonished by how fast things turned. I had been praised as a key player through about the end of the summer. My performance had netted me an off-cycle pay raise, and there was talk of promoting me to Senior Director.

When my boss messaged me late one afternoon to ask me to meet with her at 8 am the next day, I knew the axe was falling. (The office would have been deserted at 8 — in the software startup world most people reach the office well after 9.) There was no way I was going to toss and turn all night in stress and worry and then make the 45-minute commute just to get fired. So I made her do it that night at a nearby Starbucks.

My exit left me feeling played, brutalized, and ultimately humiliated. I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy since then processing what happened and my feelings about it so I can be at peace. I’m not quite there yet but I am close.

Those of us who work in software must simply accept its volatility, especially in young companies trying to find their way. Fortunes turn for the worse and layoffs follow. Strategies change and people who were once key players suddenly find that they are no longer the right person for their role, or that their role is no longer needed. This involuntary exit isn’t my first — in 30 years I’ve been laid off twice (I wrote extensively about the last time, here) and fired one other time (and then un-fired; read that oh-so-hilarious story here).

Of course, I have only so much financial runway. If I don’t take off in another job before about the end of the year, my family will be in challenging circumstances.

I remain well known in the central-Indiana software community, so I immediately started reaching out to colleagues to reconnect with them. I always asked them for introductions to people I don’t know in the local industry. It’s remarkable to me how willing people who don’t know me are to meet me for coffee on the recommendation of a shared colleague. It has been interesting and fun to make those connections. Some of them revealed opportunities that haven’t been made public yet.

I also applied for a couple jobs that were available. One of those applications led to a solid interview. The title is Engineering Manager, so I’d be stepping back a level from my last job. But they’ve given me an idea of the salary and it’s not much less than I was making before. It’s a well-established company, and those generally pay better, job to job, than startups. They like me and tell me they want to offer me the job, but as of today my candidacy is held up in some corporate red tape and I feel like it’s a coin toss whether it will come out in my favor.

I remain charmed by the startup world and would love to hold out for a leadership role at another young company. But landing one of those jobs — any job, really — takes patience and serendipity and I need to support my family right now. Wish me luck. If you’re a person of faith, my family will be grateful for your prayers.


77 thoughts on “I always thought the reward for doing a good job was that you got to keep the job

  1. Whoa, I’m really shocked and so sorry to hear that Jim. I know you’ve been through a lot. But once again, I’m impressed by your honesty, pragmatism and resilience. I’m not someone who prays, but my thoughts and best wishes are with you, which I think is more or less the same thing.

    I have a feeling things will quickly come good for you.

    • I sure hope so Gerald. I’m well liked in my industry and that helps a lot — plenty of colleagues have been willing to help me. It’s led to some possibilities. Nothing firm, but lukewarm possibilities are far better than no possibilities.

      My middle name should be “pragmatist.”

  2. Boy oh boy. It sounds like a story in a novel (and not a very good one)!
    Stick with it Jim – things will work out – there are good companies out there its just that we always seem to find the less ethical ones.

    • Margaret and I talked the other day about all the things that have happened to our family since May of 2017 when she seriously injured her back at work. It’s shocking how much we’ve been through. We’re amazed we’re not crushed by it all. We keep standing somehow.

  3. Best of luck Jim, I know you’ll find something soon because of the way you’ve got straight back out and starting making enquiries and connections. An example to us all when we’re in unexpected circumstances to look at what we can control and take action, rather than worry and dwell on what’s beyond our influence.

    • I have a deep-seated drive to make sure my family is fed and housed. I will deliver pizzas if I have to, to bring money in.

      There remains plenty of time to worry and dwell, however. I’m an anxious person by nature and I’m on edge pretty much all the time through this.

  4. Have you ever looked into government work? It seems like with your skill set you would fit easily into many government sectors. There are a lot of openings at the moment at higher levels connected to recent electoral results. Here is the application site connected to New Mexico’s new governor ( Of course, those kind of jobs have a definite shelf life, but I thought it was interesting to just read the long list of State government departments and think about how a guy with excellent technical , management and communication skills might fit into all of them.
    Then also there are civil service jobs at all levels of government, and they tend to offer a lot in regard to benefits and job security. Civil service jobs rank applicants based on test scores, and I’m guessing you are a good test taker.

    • I’ve considered it. I do adore the software industry despite its volatility. I have looked at roles on the technology side with the state of Indiana. Nothing so far looks like a great match for me — lots of low-level individual contributor roles and an opening for Chief Technology Officer, for which I’m not remotely qualified. But I keep checking.

  5. Jim, Adding my reaction to others of surprise and dismay at your recent dismissal. Being on my fourth career in four decades, I get your reactions. And knowing Indiana employment laws favor employers over workers, I am not surprised by the company’s unwillingness to provide a cause for your removal. We Hoosiers can be fired at any time for any reason without so much as a “Don’t let the door hit you…”. Your resilience and focus on keeping moving forward are exemplary job skills that will definitely be of benefit to your soon-to-be new employer. I will certainly keep positive thoughts directed your way in the coming days.

    • Thank you so much! Yes, “at will” employment does have this dark side. But even without that, you know an employer can simply start giving you performance criticism and put you on an improvement plan and ease you out that way. There’s always a way to get rid of someone you don’t want around anymore. Unfortunately.

  6. Sorry to hear this, Jim. What a lousy way to let someone go. If there’s something at Red Hat that strikes your fancy, I’d be happy to put in an internal referral for you.

    • Oh hey, wow, what a generous offer. I’ll have a look!

      You might know my friend Brian Proffitt. We’ve been buds since … well, the seventies. Man alive.

      • I can’t remember if I’ve met him in person (I think I did at a conference a few years ago), but Brian and I have known each other digitally for a few years. It’s a small world after all.

  7. analogphotobug says:

    WOW, Sorry about this. I’m in the tech industry also. Lot’s of volatility here. I enjoy your blog. Keep us informed of your journey.

  8. DougD says:

    Jim, you’re already in the CC prayer chain. I guess knowing it was coming made it worse.
    I got fired once after I’d transferred departments in my current company. I had never gotten along with my manager because I was from a rival branch of the organization. When he asked me into his office, handed me a letter and told me I was no longer needed I was initially shocked, but then thought “Hmm, never been fired before so I may as well enjoy the experience”. After he was done I was wondering if he actually had the authority to do this, so I went to the VP of my former department and he said “Yeah, no he can’t do that”. I got transferred to the service & spare parts department for a couple of years which was an interesting & fun assignment. By that point the manager who had tried to fire me had himself been fired, so I went back to my former job.
    Anyway best of luck, I can’t speak for your technical or managerial skills but if they’re anything like your personal skills you’ll be just fine. Always welcome to stop by for a wee dram, we are just around the corner :)

    • I’m a pretty anxious person by nature. If I notice I’m not worried about something, I worry about not worrying. This is just a constant companion in my life, something I have to push against constantly.

      Got word today from the company I mentioned in the article that the job is confirmed, but now everyone needed to sign the offer is on PTO until next week. Patience, patience.

  9. Heide says:

    I’m so sorry to read your news, Jim. It boggles the mind how you could be a key player one day and get the axe the next day — but sadly that has been my experience with startups too. Startups play by different rules, which means they don’t always value very smart, skilled, hard-working people like you. In reading the follow-up comments it sounds like you’ve already found some new possibilities, though, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed it/they will fall into place. My very best to you, as always. Please keep us posted!

    • I think I’m a pretty talented leader. Everywhere I work, things run well because of me. But a pattern I’m detecting is that my outdated technical skills are hurting me. I need to learn some modern technology and be able to participate more at that level. It should insulate me a little better from layoff.

      • Heide says:

        At least you do have the people skills, Jim — because, unlike technical knowledge, people skills can’t always be learned or taught.

  10. It sounds from reading through the comments here that your situation is resolving. That’s good news! I’ll continue to send good thoughts and prayers until the ink is dry on a new employment agreement.

    • The company I mentioned in the post called today to say the position has been approved, and that an offer is coming next week. Why they posted the position and interviewed me for it if they weren’t sure they’d fill the role is beyond me.

      • Michael Ray says:

        I suspect because they weren’t sure they would find someone as awesome as you to fit what they wanted. ;) I knew it would come through. Hopefully, you liked them as much as they do you.

  11. Keith Walker says:

    Do you not have employment tribunals in your neck of the woods? Here in New Zealand you would have a good case for wrongful dismissal and the business could be made to give you your job back or pay heavy fines and compensation (or both).
    And you can;t be forced to sign a ‘confidentiality agreement’ If it is written into something they want you to sign, cross it out and initial the crossing out. You need to make waves!

    • Ah, unfortunately it works all different in the United States. Most states here have what is called “at will employment,” in which either party (the employer or employee) may end the employment arrangement without reason or notice. Here’s more:

      I believe this goes back to the American mythos of rugged individualism. We Americans stand firmly on our own two feet and take care of ourselves. Nobody owes us anything. At least, that’s how the mythos goes. The reality is that a job loss can be enormously, enormously disruptive and even damaging to a family.

      Alas, there are no waves to be made in my case. My former employer did not terminate me for any illegal reason (e.g., discrimination).

  12. Greg Clawson says:

    Jim, congratulations on your new position, my family will pray for yours during this trial, and that the offer will meet your needs. Sometimes God moves us around according to his will.

    • I’m experienced enough to know not to celebrate a new job until you’ve completed your first day, as so many things can go wrong. But I agree: sometimes God moves us to where he wants us. I’m trying to trust that.

  13. I’m sorry to hear this – it sounds to me like they were lucky to have you. I’m sending prayers and good vibrations that another company will snap you up!

  14. Dan Cluley says:

    I’ve got my fingers crossed for you. Haven’t been fired, but the two jobs before my current one ended with little warning when the companies shut down. Things do seen to work out, just not as soon as we’d like.

      • My sister has been made redundant twice but I’ve been lucky.. kind of. My current employer just sold off a huge chunk of our company. Lots of employees transferred to the new company and there have been some redundancies this year. I was hoping to be one of them because I’m ready to move on… Unfortunately it looks like it may not happen until next year now which I am not happy about!

        • Job hunting is too much effort for me right now because I’m back at university, so I just don’t have the energy or motivation for it. I want them to make me redundant because I would get a little payout, and then I would just go into temping.

  15. Carmen Marro says:

    It’s been my experience in life that everything works out as it should. I also suffer from constant worry, but am incredibly pleased with the eventual outcome. My prayers for peace for you and your family moving forward.

  16. TBM3FAN says:

    Sorry to hear in the original story but in the ongoing replies it seems there may be strong light at the end of a short tunnel. All I can say is thank god I am self-employed for 37 years.

  17. susanJOY Hosken says:

    Jim, I just did some extensive praying for you and your getting a great new job and to be on track with God. Hoping all goes well regards from susanJOY

  18. Tom in Phoenix says:

    Jim, sorry to hear of your termination but hopeful that the potential job will be great for you. I was only fired once. The job was not really a good fit, and it turned out to be the best thing that happened to me, as I moved to an industry in which I spent 35 years. Best of luck to you!

  19. I wish you the best of luck, Jim. Unfortunately corporations don’t really care about their employees, and in my experience, if you’re mediocre at your job but good at following orders and not challenging people, you will go far! I might be a tad bitter lol

    • Sometimes it’s all about the balance sheet and cash flow.

      Ironically, I worked for a company that made a product that and helped companies improve the engagement of their employees.

  20. I’m so sorry. Yes it is a very volatile field. I prayed for God to take care of you and your family, and also get you to the job He wants for you. God bless you and keep you and your family near to Him.

  21. OliverK says:

    Sorry to hear your news.
    I recommend to you to read the small book ‘Who moved my cheese?’.

    For me, it was a great motivation in similar feeling down situations.

  22. Jim, it was great to see you a couple of weeks ago, and I pray you will have a good outcome from the position you’re pursuing. Though we did not get to work together long, I’ve enjoyed keeping up with your adventures via your blog, and just now going back to your views the reduction from 2015, some of what you said is still resonating with me today.

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