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Laid off in 2024, part 7: Join me on “Surviving a Layoff” this Wednesday!

Join me this Wednesday at 10 a.m. EST on the Surviving a Layoff LinkedIn audio event, which will be hosted by Suzanne Ricci, founder of Computer Coach!

Most shows and podcasts that do a story about layoffs feature stories, advice, and survival tips and tricks from guest speakers who still have their jobs.

This show will be different. It will feature stories, advice, and survival tips and tricks from a guest speaker who’s actually laid off right now — me! I’m in the thick of it, like Jim Cantore, but for layoffs instead of hurricanes! Hopefully, the podcast equivalent of being hit by a wind-driven tree branch won’t happen to me:

Also, you don’t have to just listen. LinkedIn audio events are like Clubhouse rooms (remember Clubhouse?); you can click the “raise your hand” button and request to be “brought onstage,” where you can join the conversation. So please — join us!

👩🏼‍💻 Click here to register for and join the audio event!

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Laid off in 2024, part 6: The separation agreement / Money, money, money

Last Thursday

For the 400 people who got laid off from Okta on Thursday, February 1 — which includes Yours Truly — last Thursday, February 8 at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (8:00 p.m. in my time zone, Eastern Standard Time) was the deadline to sign our separation agreement with the company.

A few of us were able to get our separation agreements reviewed by a lawyer specializing in employment law, and the consensus was that the terms were pretty good. I planned to sign it on the final day — but not until later that day. I wanted to do other, more pleasant things first.

Always take the meeting

One of those plesant things was meeting up with Ed Martin, a friend I know from a number of local Meetup groups, particularly the “Lean Coffee” and “Lean Beer” events that the local agile development groups hold. He’d been laid off the previous month, and reached out to me and asked if I’d like to join him for breakfast. He suggested Trip’s Diner, which is a quick bike ride for me, but quite a drive for him.

ℹ️ If you know someone who’s been laid off recently, reach out to them! You might have no idea how important and helpful that kind of gesture is — read this post to find out more.

It may be a cliché, but it’s solid advice that I live by: Always take the meeting. Sure, there are exceptions, but as a general rule, when someone asks to meet with me and my schedule and circumstances allow, I meet with them. With Ed, the decision’s a no-brainer, because I know him as a person and for doing good work. But I’ve also taken meetings with people I knew little about, and more often than not, the meeting turned out to be enlightening, beneficial, and rewarding — and on more than one occasion, I got a new friend.

Ed and I talked about some ideas, including plans to retool the Tampa Bay Apple Coders Meetup to expand beyond just Swift/iOS programming (I’d been getting only a handful of attendees recently), potential Meetup presentations, and maybe even recording some videos together.

I also tried Trip’s Breakfast Cuban sandwich for the first time and was impressed. Where has this been all my life?

💡 Always take the meeting.

Engage the body, engage the mind

After breakfast, I went for my daily bike ride around the neighborhood, which is also how I do most of the groceries. Since I no longer had any pressing meetings or deadlines, I made it a ten-mile ride instead of my usual ten kilometers (about 6.2 miles).

The combination of the breakfast meeting and extended bike ride must’ve jostled a few extra brain cells, because I came up with an idea, which later turned into a Zoom call, which turned into the classified Tuesday meeting I mentioned in my last post.

💡 Make daily exercise part of your layoff routine — and when you get back to work, make it part of your work routine.

Docusigning my life away

At around 4:30 p.m., I decided that it was time to “sign” the severance agreement — or more accurately, I clicked a couple of items on a Docusign document. It’s probably the best severance agreement I’ve ever signed, but that’s cold comfort.

Then I did what I sometimes do after doing something unpleasant and stressful: I grabbed an instrument and played some music. With my small “beater” accordion strapped on, I put on The Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary and played along (it’s only three chords: D, C, and G) at maximum volume.

(Yup, I recorded it too. It’s going into a future video.)

And now, I’ll talk about money and other goodies when it comes to separation agreements.

Money, money, money (and other goodies)

A separation agreement may entitle you to some of the following:

  • Severance payment
  • PTO payment
  • Health insurance [US-specific]
  • Outplacement services

See what’s in your severance package, and make note of how much payment you’ll get — that, plus whatever you have in the bank (and if you’re lucky, whatever your spouse/partner brings in) is what you’ll be living on.

Severance

If you’re new to the workforce, you might not be familiar with the concept of a severance package. It’s money and/or benefits that your now ex-employer might give you when they fire you or lay you off. Your now ex-employer offers the severance package (or “severance” for short) which comes with a contract. If you agree to the terms in the contract, you sign it and collect the severance. If not, you walk away without the severance.

From an employer’s point of view, they’re doing you a favor by offering severance. Nowhere in the Fair Labor Standards Act does it say an employer has to pay severance to fired or laid-off employees. It’s like tipping: a generally-expected, but not legally required action, and you look bad if you don’t do it.

It’s supposed to help you get by while you look for your next job, and the amount often depends on how long you’ve worked for the company. I’ve seen severance payments equivalent to one week’s worth of pay for each year the employee has been at the company; some people have been lucky enough to get two weeks’ worth for each year. Remember that severance is income, and subject to income tax. If you get it all at once, it might put you in a higher tax bracket — see if you can get it in installments.

If you’ve been laid off, get the details about your severance package ASAP. Your severance package, plus whatever money you have in the bank, will determine how much “runway” you have.

Now that I’ve given you the cold, rational explanation of what severance is, allow me to provide a hotter perspective…

“A severance package is blood money.”

Blood Money by Damian Gadal.
Creative Commons — click to see the source.

Ethan Evans, a retired Amazon VP, wrote the best, harshest summary of severance that I’ve ever seen. Here it is, lifted straight off a LinkedIn post he wrote last week:

The second time I was laid off, my severance package paid our rent while I hunted for a job in the terrible economy of 2003. Almost all companies offer a severance package when they perform a layoff, but what you may not know is that they are negotiable.

Companies offer a severance package to try to avoid getting sued. The essence of a package is a bribe to sign a bunch of documents that control your behavior after you leave. The company knows they have a lot of leverage at this point, because they just took away your job, and thus your paycheck. They know that for most people an offer of money in exchange for some signatures will be a good deal.

Often what you are being asked to sign does not matter much. A reminder to honor your confidentiality agreement for example, and if you have one, a non-solicitation (don’t poach talent or clients) agreement.

They will also ask you to give up any right to sue them over being laid off. And again, for most people, this is a reasonable thing to do. Unless you have really strong grounds, you will rarely get much in a lawsuit over a layoff.

But, the important part is that HR has a job, which is to get you to sign. What they offer you is their initial offer.

If you ask for more, you can probably get more.

If you give them a plausible reason to give you more, you can likely raise the offer.

Reasons like having just relocated, or being on a visa, or basically anything that makes them feel like bad people for having fired you.

You see, a severance package is blood money. It is a cash apology for screwing you over. It is a way for both the people and the company to tell themselves that they “did right” by you.

So if you can up their sense of guilt, the sense that you in particular were harmed and vulnerable, they will generally up the offer.

To the HR person or the manager, giving you another month of pay and healthcare doesn’t come out of their pockets. They can buy down their guilt and your anger or tears with someone else’s dollars. That is an emotional deal for them to make with themselves. So they can sleep easily at night that they “did the right thing.”

If you’re feeling hesitant about negotiating your severance payment, read the passage above a couple of times.

PTO payment

You may or may not get payment for unused paid time off (vacation time and sick days). If you’re in the US, see if your state requires payment for leftover PTO days.

Health insurance [US-specific]

Since you no longer have an employer, you no longer have employer-provided health insurance. That’s where COBRA — the Consolidate OmniBus Reconciliation Act (you know some policy wonk spent a lot of time and brain cells coming up with that acronym) — comes in. It lets you continue your employer-provided healthcare for 18 or 36 months after you lose your job, depending on the circumstances.

Outplacement services

Many companies, because doing so makes for nice optics, will cover the costs of career counseling/coaching, resume-writing assistance, and other services of this ilk. This is a nicety, but it can be helpful.

Extending your runway

Wikimedia commons photo by “Paullymac.”
Click to see the source.

You may be out of work for a while, which means you’ll be out of income for a while. One of your assignments will be to stretch your dollar.

Save your home (homeowner’s version)

If you’re a homeowner and your layoff puts you in danger of missing a mortgage payment, you have a couple of options.

Mortgage forbearance is a short-term solution. It’s an agreement that you make with your lender to temporarily make smaller monthly mortgage payments or suspend those payments entirely. It’s not a discount or a freebie! You still have to pay what you owe, including accrued interest, but you’ll avoid missing a payment and the associated late fees, and more importantly, your lender won’t foreclose on your home.

Loan modification is a long-term solution. Like forbearance, it’s an agreement that you make with your lender, but the agreement is to do something like lowering the interest rate or extending the term of the loan.

ℹ️ For more, see the Nerdwallet article What to Do If You Can’t Pay Your Mortgage.

Save your home (renter’s version)

If you’re a renter and your layoff puts you in danger of missing a rent payment, let your landlord know — in writing. You’ll need to come up with an agreement with them to temporarily reduce the amount you’re paying, such as:

  • Making smaller payments each month
  • Deferring payment (but not for long)
  • Covering rent with your security deposit

ℹ️ For more, see the Apartmentguide article How to Talk to Your Property Manager if You Get Laid Off. It’s from April 2020 — about a month into the pandemic lockdowns — but its advice still applies.

General spending

Look at your monthly spending and see where you can reduce it:

  • Look at your credit card statements for the last six months and find out what your monthly average is.
  • Look at the items on those statements — which are essential, and which are discretionary? What can you cut or at least reduce?
  • Look again for subscriptions and subscription services, keeping in mind that you may be paying for things on autopilot that you’ve completely forgotten about or are ignoring (gym memberships are a notable culprit). You should be able to find things you can cancel.
  • Stop (or at least cut back on) eating out or ordering in.

Find all the people or organizations that bill you regularly and negotiate with them:

  • Call your credit card companies and ask if you’re eligible for a lower rate.
  • Call your cable, phone, and internet providers and ask to speak to the cancellation team — say you’ll cancel or switch to a competitor if they can’t offer a better rate.

Investments

[US-specific] You have four options with your 401(k):

  • You can leave it where it is. You can’t make any more contributions to it, and you might pay higher fees because you’re no longer an employee.
  • You can eventually roll it into your next employer’s 401(k) plan.
  • You can also roll it into an IRA (Individual Retirement Account). If you roll it into a Roth IRA, you’ll owe taxes on the amount; if you roll it into a traditional IRA, you’ll pay those taxes later.
  • You could also cash it out — but unless your financial situation is dire, do not do this.

If they’re worth it — and you can afford to do so — exercise your vested stock options. Forget any unvested options; they disappeared the moment your job ended. As for the vested ones, the clock is ticking — you’ll have a limited time (typically 30 – 90 days) in which to exercise them. Once that period’s gone, so is your opportunity to exercise.

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Laid off in 2024, part 5: The next two weeks

Collage of the other images from this article.

I can tell you how I plan to go from laid off to employed in four words:

I wish that I came up with that pithy, four-word summary, but I didn’t; Carl Lange did. It’s the title of his blog post from the early 2010s, where he describes that line as “the only things you need to do to be successful.”

(And in the same blog post, he defines successful as “‘taking advantage of personally interesting opportunities,’ but I think that this mantra works for success in terms of money also.”)

So let me tell you about the more interesting things I’m doing over the next two weeks…

Monday, February 12: Interview with Tampa Bay Business Journal

Tampa Bay Business Journal logo

On Monday, I’ve got a video interview with Stephen Pastis of the Tampa Bay Business Journal about the experience of tech layoffs and what I’m doing now.

Tuesday, February 13: A meeting that I can’t talk about yet

“Classified” stamp

It’s about an interesting opportunity — the kind that I wouldn’t be able to take under normal circumstances but is feasible because I got laid off.

Wednesday, February 14: The Surviving a Layoff LinkedIn audio event with Computer Coach’s Suzanne Ricci

Banner for Computer Coach’s LinkedIn audio event, “Surviving a Layoff”. Let’s have a real conversation about things affecting job seekers, with Suzanne Ricci. Tune in live! Wednesday 2 / 14/ 24, 10 a.m. EST.

Join me and Suzanne Ricci from Computer Coach on Wednesday at 10 a.m. EST on LinkedIn audio (just navigate to this LinkedIn page to join) as we talk about the layoff experience and what you can do to survive and even thrive!

Thursday, February 15: Recording with Jorge Arango for his podcast, The Informed Life

Banner: The Informed Life podcast explores how people organize information to get things done.
Information is key to deciding and acting. Learn how to better design, build, and use information systems.

On Thursday, I’ll be recording a podcast episode with author and information architect Jorge Arango for his podcast, The Informed Life. You get three guesses as to what the topic will be (hint: getting laid off).

Monday, February 19: Flying to Austin, Texas

Sign: Greetings from Austin Texas

On Monday, February 19 at 6:50 a.m., my plane is to board a Southwest Airlines jet, find a window seat somewhere in the last five rows, fall asleep before takeoff, and wake up in Austin, Texas. Then I will find a place to set up my computer and make last-minute updates to a presentation that I will give on the following day…

Tuesday, February 20 – Wednesday, February 21: Speaking at and attending the Civo Navigate conference in Austin

Banner: Civo Navigate North America 2024 - February 20th and 21st - Austin TX

On the morning of Tuesday, February 20 at 10:30 a.m. — a prime speaking slot just after the opening keynote — I will give a presentation at the Civo Navigate North America conference titled You’re Not Too Late to the A.I. Party. It will kick off the conference’s AI/ML track and will feature live code, amusing slides, and an accordion performance.

With my presentation done and out of the way, I will proceed to enjoy the rest of the day and the day after by attending the conference, hitting the after-parties, enjoying bourbon and Shiner Bock, and eating some barbecue.

Thursday, February 22: Hanging out in Austin until my evening flight home

Joey de Villa, wearing a cowboy hat, aloha shirt and shorts in front of a neon light American flag, “playing accordion and “throwing the horns.”
Me at Voodoo Doughnut on 6th Street in Austin,
during StartupBus in July 2022.

My flight home doesn’t take off until 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, February 22, which will give me most of the day to hang out in Austin. I’m sure I’ll be able to find something to do, but if you’re in the area and want to catch up, let me know!

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Career What I’m Up To

Laid off in 2024, part 4: Make the Year of the Blue Dragon YOUR year!

It’s February 10, 2024, the start of a new lunar new year. Happy new year, or as they say in Manadarin: 新年好 (shin nyan how, or “new year goodness”)!

The Chinese calendar system rotates through the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac and separately through what the ancient Chinese called the 5 aspects of qi (life energy) or elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. In this system, the current year’s animal is the dragon and the current year’s element is Wood, making this year the Year of the Wood Dragon.

In 오방색 (Obangsaek), the traditional spectrum of traditional Korean colors — blue, red, yellow, white, and black — are associated with the 5 elements as follows:

ColorElement
BlueWood
RedFire
YellowEarth
WhiteMetal
BlackWater

In the Korean system, this is the Year of the Blue Dragon. Since blue is my favorite color, I prefer to use “Blue Dragon” over “Wood Dragon.”

As the only mythical and magical animal in the Chinese zodiac, the Dragon is considered to be the most auspicious, most powerful of them all. The Dragon is associated with power, leadership, strength, good luck, wisdom, and prosperity. It is considered to be celestial and divine, with the ability to control elements such as wind and water. A Dragon year is one filled with the promise of opportunities and advancements.

The element of Wood is considered to be the most human, and is associated with growth, flourishing, and creativity. It is related to the season of Spring, which associates it with achievement, looking forward, expansion, and decision-making.

According to the South China Morning Post’s “YoungPost…”

You’d read this far, and you might already be asking: “You’re not really into this Chinese horoscope stuff, are you, Joey?”

As a system for predicting what will happen, no.

But as a handy starting point for a new journey, since it’s a new year, the traditional time for new beginnings and new ventures? As the perfect time to write some new resolutions? As an inspiration for a personal theme for the next 12 months? As a way to frame the way I’ll approach things for the next little while? As a lens through which I will see what’s happening around me and respond accordingly?

Damn right I will.

If you’d been laid off recently and are feeling the despair that comes with it (remember, losing a job is one of the top ten most stressful life events), try adopting a “Year of the Wood Dragon / Year of the Blue Dragon” approach to things.

What if you viewed your layoff not as a catastrophe, but as the catalyst for embarking on a new project? A project that required creativity and problem solving in business? An opportunity to pursue a dream, express your ideas, and expand your horizons?

Use this to reframe your situation. Think of it this way:
THIS IS YOUR YEAR.

🐲🐉 Happy New Year! 🐉🐲

I’ll close with a little musical inspiration: This Will Be Our Year, by OK Go:

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Laid off in 2024, part 3: How are you doing?

Comic featuring Elmo hugging the “This is Fine” dog.

A recent Tweet (or X-crement, or whatever they’re calling posts on that platform) from Sesame Street’s Elmo got way more attention than it would have in less stressful times:

It’s not every day that a social media post from a cutesy character from a children’s show sparks a discussion on mental health, but these are the times we live in.

And I “get” it — as I write this, it’s been only a week since I and 400 co-workers were laid off, and I’m still feeling a lingering apprehension. As I’ve written before, this is my fifth layoff, so while the experience is unsettling, I at least have come up with ways to deal with it. I’ve talked with people facing this for the first time, and they’re stunned by the combination of feelings that come with it: shock, sadness, anxiety, fear, and probably worst of all, betrayal.

If you’ve been laid off…

There’s a thing called the Life Events Inventory (LEI), which is a ranked list of stressful life moments devised by the research psychologists Raymond Cochrane and Alex Robertson in a paper they published in the early 1970s. An updated version of the LEI is still used today.

Losing your job is the 7th most stressful item on the LEI. To get a sense of just how stressful it is, it ranks higher than finding out your partner cheated on you (14), a close friend dying (13), an immediate family member going to jail (11), and even divorce (9, but I would disagree, as mine damn near killed me).

Let me drive home the point by listing the LEI top ten:

  1. Death of spouse
  2. Jail sentence
  3. Death of immediate family member
  4. Immediate family member attempts suicide
  5. Getting into debt beyond means of repayment
  6. Period of homelessness (hostel or sleeping rough)
  7. Unemployment (of head of household)
  8. Immediate family member seriously ill
  9. Divorce
  10. Break-up of family

The other thing you should know is that the effects of a layoff linger. Here’s the key paragraph from a 2013 Wall Street Journal article titled After Divorce or Job Loss Comes the Good Identity Crisis (with added emphasis from me):

Experts say most people should give themselves a good two years to recover from an emotional trauma such as a breakup or the loss of a job. And if you were blindsided by the event—your spouse left abruptly, you were fired unexpectedly—it could take longer.

A layoff isn’t something that you can easily shrug off, and you shouldn’t feel shame for feeling the way you do. You need to acknowledge that being laid off is one of modern life’s most stressful situations, and then do the things to help you deal with that stress.

If you haven’t been laid off…

If you haven’t been laid off, but you know someone who’s been laid off, please reach out to them and ask how they’re doing. If you’re in a position to offer help, do so, but even the act of checking in is a great help.

I’ll close with the advice of Florida’s own “Tommy the Tech Recruiter,” who posted this excellent suggestion on LinkedIn:

If you know someone who is on the job search…

No, no they’re not okay. Especially in these times. They are tired. Exhausted. Frustrated. Scared.

Each passing day brings a rollercoaster of emotions.
Each rejection or time they never hear anything back leaves them questioning or doubting themselves.

It’s a soul crushing process.

If you are on a job search… I am here for you and making it my mission to help shorten how long that search takes.

And if you see someone who was just laid off or has that green banner, comment on their posts for visibility. Share it. Leave a kind and uplifting comment or send them a DM of support.

We can help each other through this.

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Laid off in 2024, part 2: First referrals and blue dragons

Joey de Villa smiles in his office, wearing a headband that looks like a blue dragon biting into his head.

I just sent off my first resume and cover letter for a referral, and now it’s time to go get a new inner tube for my bike.

(For the insatiably curious, here’s the resume.)

As for the thing on my head? It’s a blue dragon that I recently bought, and it’ll be quite significant starting this Saturday.

ℹ️ In case you missed my first “Laid off in 2024” post, it’s here.

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Laid off in 2024, part 1: The 15 worst minutes of 2024, followed by 15 more

Man in a suit, drawn old comic-book style, running away from something with a fearful look on his face.

For the curious, here’s a list of all those times:

  1. January 2002, from the peer-to-peer startup OpenCola, as the result of company downsizing in the wake of the Dot-Com Bubble bursting.
  2. September 2008, from the blog publishing network b5media, whose revenues vanished during the Global Financial Crisis of 2007 – 2009.
  3. April 2017 from the RFID chip/label company SMARTRAC, when the project I worked on was canceled.
  4. April 2020 from the mobile CMS company Lilypad, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  5. …and the most recent one — February 1, 2024 from the identity management company Okta, in a 7% reduction of staff.

Because this isn’t my first rodeo — and because there are a lot of people in the same situation — I’m putting together a series of articles that I hope you’ll find helpful and useful.

I knew layoffs were coming

My iPhone in the background, displaying the Blind app. In the foreground is my index finger, which is wearing a red “googly eyes” ring.
Blind, as seen on my iPhone, with my finger and “googly-eyes” ring in the foreground. The ring’s from Flying Tiger Copenhagen.

I knew there was a chance that layoffs would be announced on February 1st. For weeks, there’d been a lot of talk on Blind’s discussion board for my now-former employer on that topic and specifying that date.

The Blind app will kill your soul if you use it too often. It’s an ugly agglomeration of late-stage capitalist cynicism, career despair, envy-inducing discussions of total compensation, and occasionally a place for sexually frustrated tech bros to vent.

But like that lemonade they’ve been serving at Panera, while it’s toxic if you consume the full serving, Blind is useful for keeping you awake and aware if you keep your dosage small. As nasty as its content can get, if you really want to get a sense of what’s going on in the business world or get the inside scoop on what it’s like inside a given company, you should download Blind and peruse it occasionally.

Because I’d been following the discussion about my now-former on Blind, I wasn’t completely (ahem) blindsided by the layoff announcement on Thursday. While some predictions and analyses on Blind turn out to be wrong, most of the posts about my now-former employer have been spot-on. So I took the rumors seriously.

In anticipation of possible upcoming layoffs, I’d been doing a little extra work — writing extra articles (including one that got a lot of praise from the security awareness group), updating old ones, doing additional reviews of my teammates’ articles, writing a “state of mobile development” report, and even recording four videos in a week.

It’s a shame all that extra effort was wasted.

The “first worst” 15 minutes

A bundle of dynamite with a numeric LED display showing the value “14:56:87.”
“Your fate will be determined in the next fifteen minutes.”

On Thursday, February 1st at 8:27 a.m., an ominous email was sent to everyone who worked at my now-former employer. Here’s the key part of the email:

If you work in the US, you will receive an email in the next 15 minutes notifying you if your role is impacted or not. If your role is impacted, your leadership will schedule a meeting this morning to discuss next steps. For employees outside the US, the notification process may be different due to local laws and practices. 

I’ve been in the game long enough to know that the worst possible thing to do would be to sit at the computer and constantly refresh the Gmail screen. I got up from my desk, set a 15-minute timer on my phone, and walked away to get some coffee.

A very nice cappuccino in a glass cup.
My coffee wasn’t this fancy. Mine was two parts Stok cold brew, one part mik.

There was a new email, timestamped 8:37 a.m. — ten minutes after the ominous email. It started with this:

Today, [my now-former employer] made the decision to eliminate a number of positions across multiple organizations. Unfortunately, your position has been eliminated as part of this reduction.

Helluva way to start the month, I thought.

That’s when I noticed that a new appointment had spawned on my calendar. A 15-minute appointment with the VP of Developer Engagement and an HR person scheduled for 9:30. I had 45 minutes to prepare.

The “second worst” 15 minutes

A man in blindfold, standing against a wall with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, as seen from the point of a firing squad.

If you’ve been invited to a meeting to discuss your layoff, do whatever it takes to steel yourself. Whether it’s deep breathing, counting to ten, reciting your personal mantra, or firing up your “poker face”, you want to get ready to conduct yourself at the meeting with as much grace, aplomb, and professionalism as you can muster.

This is because this meeting is the second most important meeting you’ll ever have at this job. (In case you were wondering, the most important one was the interview that landed you the job in the first place.) No matter what you’re feeling at the meeting, you want your termination to be as good a breakup as possible. This means that you must handle it professionally.

The way you behave and your demeanor at this meeting will set the tone for your departure. If it is full of bitterness, acrimony, and the gnashing of teeth, they won’t be inclined to do you any favors. On the other hand, if you conduct yourself with grace and decorum, you may gain some extra concessions and a willingness on their part to do what they can for you.

I’ve written about getting laid off before (here’s the 2008 version, and here’s a version I originally wrote in 2020 but updated to help people getting laid off in 2022), so I already had a “questions to ask when getting laid off” list:

  • When is my last day?
  • What is my severance package?
  • What about my bonuses, ESPP, RSUs, and other non-salary compensation?
  • How long will my insurance coverage last? (This one’s a big deal in the United States, less so in other OECD countries.)
  • When do I have to return the company laptop and other gear?
  • What do you want me to do with my current projects and files?
  • Can I get a letter of recommendation and use you as a reference?

I had enough time to put on a good shirt, straighten out my “bedhead”, and did a quick “camera test,” which I saved for posterity:

Me in my office, as seen from the point of view of my webcam. In the background is a large painting of an octopus, a computer screen showing a “Space Invaders” desktop background, and my collection of rubber ducks.
I call this my “Marcus Aurelius Face.”

Just as regular guitar playing will build calluses on your fingers that enable you to repeatedly press down on those strings without feeling like you’re running them through a wire cheese slicer, having been laid off four times previously gives you the necessary “mental calluses” to handle the meeting with stoic grace. I was mentally prepared when the call started.

I felt bad for the VP and HR person — both were in the Pacific time zone, which meant that it was 6:30 a.m. for them. On instinct, I greeted them by saying “I’m sorry you have to do this so early in the morning. I’ll try and make this easy.”

It wasn’t just the oddest Zoom call I’ve had in a while, but the oddest layoff meeting I’ve ever had. That’s probably because I was prepared and had plenty of rest, while the VP and HR person were sleep-deprived and probably had a full morning of these calls. I met regularly with the VP and have even met the HR person a couple of times, so I knew them as people rather than as randos who happened to work at the same place as me. They were more misty-eyed than I was, which while awkward, showed that they empathized.

At one point, the HR person was tearing up, and I felt for them. I stopped and took a moment to say “Everything will be all right. Don’t worry.” And I meant it.

What I did afterward

As I keep saying, this isn’t my first layoff rodeo, and I’ve written about what to do after the layoff meeting before:

Your first instinct might be to immediately take all the standard job search actions the moment after you’ve been laid off. Fight it. You need a little time to deal with what just happened.

This is going to sound terribly woo-woo new-agey, but I’m going to say it because it’s an important step: at your first opportunity, get away from whatever you’re doing, get out and go for a walk. Physical activity is a key part of this step, so don’t get into a motorized vehicle. You want to get moving, and you want to do it outside, preferably in your own neighborhood.

The walk is important because it gets you away from anything work-like and gives you a chance to clear your head. It gives you a chance to come down from one of the most stressful experiences you’ll ever face in your working life and come to terms with what’s happened. It is not the time for figuring out what your immediate next steps are. It’s the time to collect yourself so that you’re in a better position to figure out what your next steps are.

Don’t do the walk in a fugue state. Take note of your surroundings. Chances are you’ll see things that you passed by every day but never noticed before. This is good, because it’s preparation for what you’re going to be doing for the next little while: seeing things differently.

I posted a quick announcement on LinkedIn…

Screenshot of my LinkedIn post from Thursday, February 1, 2024. My post reads “Got laid off. This gun for hire! Details forthcoming.” It’s accompanied with a parody of an inspirational poster featuring a dejected looking stormtroop slouched on a seat in a subway car. The caption reads “UNEMPLOYMENT: Sucks when your job gets blow'd up.”
A screenshot of my LinkedIn post.

…and then followed my own advice, but on a bike.

I went on a ride — this time, without a podcast or audiobook playing; just me and the outside world. I made my way to Spaddy’s Coffee to sit and enjoy the scenery:

The courtyard at Spaddy’s Coffee in Seminole Heights, Tampa. It’s an open space sandwiched between two one-storey buildings with picnic and patio tables, and palm trees. The sky is blue and cloudless. There is a line for coffee at the trailer.
The courtyard at Spaddy’s Coffee in Seminole Heights, Tampa. It’s an open space sandwiched between two one-storey buildings with picnic and patio tables, and palm trees. The sky is blue and cloudless.
The courtyard at Spaddy’s Coffee in Seminole Heights, Tampa. It’s an open space sandwiched between two one-storey buildings with picnic and patio tables, and palm trees. The sky is blue and cloudless. There is a rusted-out VW van in the foreground.
The trailer at Spaddy’s Coffee. A customer is at the window ordering a coffee.

I also enjoyed a coffee and checked my messages, which were beginning to come in:

My view of Spaddy’s Coffee from my table. My legs are stretched out and my feet are resting on another chair. A finished coffee, my sunglasses, and  my bike helmet are resting on the table. The courtyard is in the background.

I also found out who else got cut, which included a number of superstars on my team.

It was then that I noticed that because it was a chilly day, I’d put on a fleece that had been shipped to me only the week before — by my now-former employer:

Joey de Villa, smiling. He’s wearing a bike helmet, sunglasses, and an “oatmeal”-colored Patagonia sweater that has the words “Okta Developer” embroidered into it.

As I said, it had arrived only the week before, so this was my first time wearing it. It’s nice and warm, it looks good, and hey, it’s a Patagonia! Maybe I won’t include it in the upcoming “swag purge.” Maybe I can cover the now-former employer’s logo with a patch. Does anyone have a patch they’d like to send me?

I decided to make it a productive evening and make my way to the Tampa Java User Group meetup, where Denis Magda, who leads the Developer Relations team at Yugabyte was doing a presentation on building ChatGPT plugins:

The Tampa Java User Group meetup at Tampa Entrepreneur Collaborative Center. The view is looking at the speaker from the back of a packed room.
Denis Magda gives his presentation at the Tampa Java User Group meeting.
A closeup of Denis Magda’s code as shown on the screen at the Tampa Java User Group.

It was a far more productive way to spend the evening, and far more fun than wallowing in self-pity at home. It also gave me a chance to let some key people know that I was back on the market, which is one of the most important things to do after getting laid off.

A sleepless night

AI-generated anime-style illustration of a man lying in bed awake.

I will confess that after going to bed that evening, I woke up at 4:36 a.m. and was unable to get back to sleep. Even a five-timer isn’t immune to the stress and anxiety that comes with a layoff. I very quietly got out of bed, went to my office and…

  • Did a little housekeeping on my personal computers (a PowerBook, a Wintel gaming laptop, and a couple of Raspberry Pis),
  • Unfollowed the now-former employer on various social media, unsubscribed from their newsletters, and put their swag into a big bag that I’ll drop off at Goodwill next week, and
  • Did a little work on the presentation I’ll be giving at Civo Navigate North America 2024 in a couple of weeks.

It’s going to be an interesting few months. Keep an eye on this blog for updates!

Looking for work and need to chat?

If you’ve been laid off or are looking for work and need someone to talk to, why not me? Drop me a line at joey@joeydevilla.com and let’s chat.