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Surviving Tech Layoffs
Time to take stock of your situation and create a plan
It’s no secret that growth era of tech is coming to an end for now. The last decade-plus has allowed tech companies to run it fast and loose, where revenue, Daily Active Users, and subscriptions are all that mattered. Headcounts exploded to deploy VC capital to show that things were being done, regardless of the actual output of those employees. No one really kept a close eye on the money since it kept pouring it at unprecedented rates.
Now that we are officially in a recession and the money has stopped flowing in, tough times are ahead. It’s time to understand that your employer will start laying off people in order to clean up budgets to survive until we exit this current period. Even name brand companies with massive bankrolls like Microsoft and Google have slowed their hiring down. If your company was aggressive the last few years in employment it is wise to start running the calculus of where your stand at your job and start making plans if the math does not work out in your favor. Not to worry friend, as this article will provide guidance on how to minimize your chances of being laid off.
Who do layoffs target?
Layoffs typically target two groups of people:
New hires (last in, first out), and junior members
Employees who are not delivering value relative to their salary. Then, people who are “problems”.
New hires is fairly obvious, the company managed to get by without you for now and they will continue to do so by offloading working onto the rest of the remaining workers. Employers don’t want to waste time training new hires and juniors when it is more important to keep revenue up when budgets are tight. As quick as a new hire joins they can also be removed without a fuss, since they have minimal political power in the company. This also goes for interns and people currently in the hiring process also. Don’t be surprised if your recruiter “forgets” to reach out to you after a round of interviews, or that your offer letter suddenly gets rescinded.
As a note on switching jobs right now, if you do have an offer letter currently it would be best to start that job immediately rather than take breaks between jobs. In fact, it might be better to stay at your current employer where you have built a brand that could withstand layoffs verses starting at a new company with no allies. This is a tough decision to make and I don’t envy you.
As for the second group of employees it is more diverse as to why one would be let go. A better way to group them would be people who are known and have undesirable qualities to your employer. They know the value (or lack thereof) you deliver and where your career path is heading. They also know who you pissed off, who you can’t work with, and who won/lost a office political battle with. Finally, they know if HR, your boss, bosses’ boss, or a influential college does not like you.
Often employers are given a quota of members to get rid to managers and this is where the game of musical chairs is played. Low performers relative to their salary are picked off first, but often this won’t get your manager to the finish line. This is where all the undesirable traits come into play. If you’re known as hard to work with, disagreeable, standoffish, or quite simply made the wrong person angry from talking trash, you can be on this list. This is why is it important to play the office politics game correctly. Our Jungle friend @BowTiedFox has a great article on this:
Now that you have a good idea if you are being targeted, its time to go on the offense and minimize your chances of being laid off.
Evaluate your current delivered value
Right now it is time to understand what exactly you provide to your employer in tangible details. Your value is what you deliver and how key stakeholder’s (boss, VP, PMs, etc…) perceive the value of that deliverable. You could build the best application ever but if a stakeholder doesn’t need it then it doesn’t really matter.
Here is a list of questions to ask yourself as a gauge:
If I was hit by a bus, how in trouble would the team be?
What was the last major project I delivered, and how was it received?
Do I frequently complete my work on time?
Is the work I am doing affecting the bottom line? Directly (better), or indirectly (worse)?
Is the project I am working on high value and high visibility (strategic initiative) to important stakeholders (CTO, VP, etc..)?
Do I follow the team’s guidance and best practices when completing work?
Do you provide useful feedback and questions in planning and implementing the team’s projects/work?
Do I have a unique expertise/experience that I bring to the team?
Do I listen to my boss and follow through on his asks? (minor to major asks)
When was the last time my boss complimented or celebrated my work?
Is my boss aware of what I work on and what the goal is?
Do you go through the motions or do you go above and beyond?
What does my github/gitlab contribution activity tracker looks like?
How often do you receive positive recognition outside your immediate team and your boss is aware of it?
Use these questions to honestly ask yourself what your status is of delivering value back to your employer. It should become fairly evident of what you do for your company. If you are not fully aware of what you are doing then the people who oversee your job are probably in the same position, and that will be used against you when the chopping block comes.
It’s important to note that you also need to sell the work you complete even though you have delivered it to the important decision makers. Your boss (and their boss) might not have all the context of what you are working on, especially if you are in a highly technical role, or Product managers drive the priorities. Your manager needs be to fully aware of what you work on and what you deliver in order to correctly judge you. By selling your work to your boss you can influence him to think you are a key player on the team, even if you are not. The same concept applies on building a good résumé. You don’t say, ”Can write python APIs”, you say ,”Implemented a python API to track metrics that scaled to 100,000 request a minute to guide business decisions”. In your weekly syncs always recap what you worked on, what you learned, and why what you worked on was important. If you don’t have weekly or bi weekly syncs with your boss, then you are flying fairly blind and you need to change that to gain an information advantage.
Techniques for improving your stock
As BowTiedBull says, the quarterly budgets are being set in a month of two, which means you have time to do a short term rise in your stock to pass the bar before it becomes common knowledge. Your goal right now is to look as valuable as possible. Whether that means actually doing the work or just selling yourself, that is up to you. Using the previously listed questions is a great guide for how to improve, but here are some others you can use going forward:
Ask your boss for more responsibilities, ideally on key projects
Talk to your boss about a skill you want to learn (and provide back to the company) and create a plan of action and share it. Don’t mention areas you are lacking in, as they will then use that against you.
If you work primarily backend or frontend, suggest you start to double dip. Two workers for the price of one is a great deal!
Pitch an idea to project stake holders that would provide revenue back to the company.
Go above and beyond your current tasks, such as creating quality code or test cases, or extremely detailed documentation.
Build proof of concepts for future features without being asked, and share with the team.
Go out of your way to help fellow team members and unblock them.
Be available when it is important. If you are always AFK or taking long time to respond to messages, it will be noticed. Manager is #1 priority.
If your boss asks the team for help, step up immediately.
Be present and ask useful questions and responses in meetings where your boss attends.
Follow up on past projects you worked on and how customers are using them successfully and disseminate that info.
Assist key customers in troubleshooting issues and drive to completion.
Most of you are probably doing this already if you made it to this blog, but it is worth it in this short time to increase your value before cuts become known, as that is when the knives will come out and opinions will start to solidify. This advice is fairly generalized towards knowledge workers rather than specific skill sets, so it should apply to people outside of tech organizations additionally.
Best of luck to you all!
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