Career What I’m Up To

Laid off in 2024, part 20: One of the upsides of being laid off (electronics and IoT)

Joey de Villa’s “IoT box” — a clear plastic storage container containing Pimoroni Badger 2040W, Elegoo UNO R3 Super Starter Kit, Rasberry Pi 3 Model B, Adafruit Circuit Playground Express, 2 Raspberry Pi 4 Model Bs, Elecrow 5" HDMI screen, Elegoo 37 sensor module kit, and Raspberry Pi Pico.

One of the upsides of being laid off is that you get a couple extra hours a day — and only a couple, because getting a new job is your new job — to pick up some things that have fallen by the wayside. For me, one of those things was playing around with electronics and IoT (Internet of Things) devices, and I’d been waiting for a chance to pull out my “IoT box,” pictured above.

Clockwise from the top:

I also have a basic electrical/electronics kit:

Joey de Villa’s electronic kit, a plastic container containing soldering iron, digital multimeter, and various electronics tools.

I’ve used it for all sorts of little repairs, including the time I fixed a manufacturing defect in one of our emergency lights.

Fix-It Felix: "I can fix it!"

There are big payoffs to being able to tinker with and fix physical things: it helps build a “can do” mindset that will serve you well, especially during a long post-layoff job search during a time when the jobs market is tough. It’ll take you far in work, life, and play.

I’ll write more about my IoT/electronics projects as I complete them.

Recommended reading/viewing

Additional notes for “Beyond the Circuit: The Everlasting Role of Hardware Skills”

This article features follow-up notes for Computer Coach’s LinkedIn audio event, Beyond the Circuit: The Everlasting Role of Hardware Skills, which took place on Friday, March 8, 2024.

Would you be able to perform this simple household repair?

One of our emergency battery-powered lights had a relatively simple defect that could be fixed with a relatively simple repair. Luckily, I had my soldering iron handy…

ℹ️ Oddly enough, this happened two layoffs ago.

Also in this series…

Career What I’m Up To

Laid off in 2024, part 19: Why I’m relying on connections and referrals

There are two main reasons why I’m relying on connections and referrals to land my next job:

  1. With one notable exception*, every job I’ve ever had came via a connection or referral, and
  2. Applying “cold” means filling out asinine applications like the one pictured above — and hoping to get noticed among the hundreds of others filling out the same form.

At the very least, they could’ve posed the question in a cool way…

🚨 Content warning: Samuel L. Mother-effing Jackson!

The “years of experience” field for English is probably the result of the application form software or the person who set up the form. They probably wanted a fluent English speaker and entered “English” into the “required skills” section. The software simply asks for years of experience for any required skill.

It should be noted that if your primary language is English, filling out the “years of experience” field for it gives away your age.

✳️ That exception? Auth0, which was later acquired by Okta. I saw the job on LinkedIn and filled out the application form.

In case you haven’t read it, here’s how I landed that job.

Also in this series…

What I’m Up To

Laid off in 2024, part 18: Timing is everything

They could’ve asked this two months ago,
but NOOOO…

Also in this series…

Career Humor

Laid off in 2024, part 17: The only social network that matters

Tuesday’s Facebook outage didn’t bother me in the slightest — in fact, I hadn’t visited it for most of that day. However, as someone who’s been recently laid off and looking for their next gig and as the force behind Tampa Bay’s tech blog, I most certainly was concerned by LinkedIn’s outage.

Also in this series…


Laid off in 2024, part 16: Signs that you’re about to be laid off

Here’s an image that’s been making the internet rounds for the past couple of days:

It’s the most poignant scene from the 1990s mobster film Goodfellas, when Tommy (played by Joe Pesci), believes that he’s being taken to the ceremony where he’ll become a “made man” in the mob. In truth, he’s being taken to a quiet execution as punishment for his many, many transgressions, including killing a “made man.” At the last second — and only for a second — he realizes the true purpose of the meeting, after which he takes a bullet to the head.

Here’s the relevant bit [content advisory: swearing, a guy taking a bullet to the head]…

At this point, you may be wondering: What are the signs that I’m about to be laid off? Here they are, broken down into three categories for your convenience:

  1. Signs you’re about to be laid off in the next hour
  2. Signs you’re about to be laid off in the next 24 hours
  3. Signs layoffs are coming in days or weeks

1. Signs you’re about to be laid off in the next hour

The last-minute high-priority meeting

Back in April 2020, when COVID-19 was picking up steam and the shutdowns were extending beyond the initially promised two weeks, I got an email with these particular qualities:

  • It was a last-minute invitation to a Zoom meeting…
  • …and it was scheduled very shortly after the start of the working day
  • It had vague name — “Special meeting”
  • There was no agenda
  • The guest list was hidden

My first thought was “that seems ominous.” At the time, I’d been laid off three times before, and my “Shenanigans Sense” was tingling.

If you’re suddenly invited to a meeting like this, the odds are pretty good that you’re about to be laid off.

The general consensus among HR people whom I’ve talked to on the topic is that layoff meetings should be scheduled with as little advance notice as possible. They’re typically held as early in the day as scheduling and other issues will allow, and preferably not before a weekend or holiday.

Why are layoff meetings announced only at the last minute? It’s to harness the element of surprise, which helps blunt any angry or resentful reaction from employees, and the shock tends to make some people a little more pliant.

To return to my story, I joined the meeting at the appointed time and was greeted with this (even then, I had the presence of mind to take a screenshot):

The actual screenshot from that meeting.

I decided to test a theory and click the “Start Video” button. My video came on for a couple of seconds, after which it was quickly deactivated by the meeting moderator, who sheepishly said “Uh…we’re going to hold this meeting without video. And everyone but the organizers will be on mute.”

That’s when I knew we were getting laid off.

This was the general layoff announcement. During this meeting, we were told that each of us was scheduled for a fifteen-minute meeting sometime that day. We’d get more details about our layoffs on a one-on-one basis.

Speaking of those fifteen-minute meetings…

Your manager’s calendar for the day is a series of fifteen-minute meetings

If you have access to your manager’s calendar, see if there’s a day full of fifteen-minute one-on-one meetings with members of your team. The odds are better than even that they’re layoff meetings.

If you’re invited to one of those meetings, start working on your resume.

2. Signs you’re about to be laid off in the next 24 hours

Certain subscription services that you use for work are suddenly unavailable

The night before my most recent layoff, I was taking the initiative and editing a tech article that a coworker had asked me to review as a last-minute request. It could’ve waited until morning, especially since I was still jet-lagged from a recent trip, but I was going the extra mile to support the team, for what little good it would do me.

That’s when I noticed that one of our mainstay tools, Grammarly, wasn’t available. I tried re-logging into Grammarly, but my account wasn’t working. I quickly filed a ticket with Support and called it a night.

The next day, I experienced the 15 worst minutes of 2024 (…so far!) and was laid off.

While a company can quickly cut off employees from systems that they administer, it takes longer to cut off employees from third-party systems and subscription services. This means that they have to cut off your accounts some time in advance, which can give you a little heads-up that you’re about to be laid off.

Your manager suddenly cancels a regular one-on-one meeting or suddenly becomes quite unavailable or eerily silent

If this happens, it may be because you’re about to be laid off, and the standard HR guidance for layoffs is to minimize contact with those about to be laid off.

I’ve seen a variation on this theme where managers have more frequent one-on-one or team meetings, and then suddenly stop.

Watch for other signs that layoffery is afoot.

A seemingly low-priority task suddenly becomes high-priority and has to be completed in the next couple of days

You’ve heard of the expression “shaving the yak,” haven’t you?

This happened to me a while back. A manager asked me to update some documentation that while useful, could’ve gone without an update for a couple of months without anyone really caring. It was on my list, and I could have done the update in a day or two, but there were a dozen or more higher-priority items.

“But it really needs to be done by the end of the week!” my manager said.

I said “Sure. I can finish it by end of day Friday.”

“Could you do it sooner?”

“Friday is the end of the week, which is when it needs to be ready.” I replied.

“Could you do it by say, Wednesday?”

That’s when I knew.

(It’s also when I decided I wasn’t going to start that task until Thursday, just in case.)

Coworkers mention an upcoming all-hands and you haven’t been invited to it

I don’t have to explain this one, do I?

3. Signs layoffs are coming in days or weeks

“The Bobs” from Office Space.

Here’s a list of fairly reliable indicators that layoffs are happening in days or weeks. One of these alone might not be enough of a sign, but if you see three or more of these, keep your guard up…

  • The company issues the dreaded “Return to Office” mandate for anyone within “reasonable distance” of an office (typically 30 – 50 miles).
  • You are asked to write up a definition of your role and explain just what it is you do at the company. Doubly so if you’re asked to do so by consultants like “The Bobs” from the film Office Space.
  • Upcoming expenses or travel that have already been approved are suddenly un-approved.
  • An executive somewhere in your chain of command suddenly departs with little fanfare.
  • The following phrases were mentioned more than once in the most recent all-hands meeting:
    • cost-cutting
    • finding efficiencies
    • headwinds
    • challenges
    • investor pressure
  • When someone says “there are no plans for layoffs” at the most recent all-hands meeting.
  • The company recently underwent a merger or acquisition, and as a result, one of the companies was “saved.”
  • The company has put a freeze on hiring, and its “Careers” page is suddenly empty.
  • There’s also a freeze on promotions.
  • Constant reorganization of teams.
  • You notice that some departments are absorbing other departments.
  • More than a few people are PIPped or let go “for performance reasons.”
  • One or more big products or programs has been recently canceled.
  • Projects are handed over from full-time employees to contractors.
  • The company posted big losses in the most recent quarter, or has been consistently losing for 3 or more quarters.
  • Contractors aren’t renewed.
  • 401(k) contributions are reduced or removed entirely [US-specific].
  • The company cuts some minor perk or benefit “so they don’t have to lay people off.”
  • A wave of senior people retire.
  • You are asked to adopt some kind of automation of AI and adapt to its regular use.
  • The company opens a branch in a country that is known for offshore work.
  • The CTO departs because they want to “get back to their roots,” get into “the next phase of their career,” or “spend more time with their family.”
  • If you work at an office: you start seeing extra security staff.
  • A team that you interact with is outsourced completely.
  • Health insurance/vision/dental/prescription medication plans are changed to cheaper, worse ones [US-specific].
  • You were once “in the loop,” but lately, you have little idea of what’s going on in the organization.
  • Outside consultants start popping up. Even worse if they’re MBAs.
  • Payroll is more than one-third the size of gross revenue (this will take a little research).
  • A private equity firm has invested in your company.

What to do if you realize that you’re about to be laid off

ℹ️ I wrote about this in the first article in this series, but it’s worth repeating for those of you who are new.

Do whatever it takes to steel yourself for the bad news. 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.

You’re about to be in the second most important meeting you’ll ever have at this job. (In case you were wondering, the most important one is the job interview.)

If you work for a decent company, there’ll be one or more follow-up calls, and they’ll be face-to-face. Depending on the size of the company, it might be just your manager or your manager, some other management people, and HR.

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 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.

If you can remember these questions through the stress of the meeting, you should ask questions like:

  • When is my last day?
  • What is my severance package?
  • What about my bonuses, ESPPRSUs, 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 arrangements are being made so I can collect my stuff from the office?
  • 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?

Don’t worry about memorizing these questions — just remember that you should leave the meeting with a clear idea of what they expect from you and what you can expect from them.

When they send you papers to sign, do not sign them immediately. You’ll be given time to look them over. Don’t look them over just yet.

Walk it off

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.

As for the next steps? I’ll cover them in the next article in this series.

Also in this series…


Laid off in 2024, part 15: Q-TIP, or Quit Taking It Personally

Being laid off feels like this.

If you’ve been laid off, there will come a moment — or many moments — where the feelings of failure, rejection, and despair will press on you with seemingly unbearable weight.

Image generated with Canva Pro.

Those feelings are an instinctive response that served us well from an earlier time when being exiled from the tribe meant certain death. Being laid off is just similar enough to trigger our “exile” instincts, which remain encoded deep in the ancient kernel of our brains’ “operating systems.” Just as the tribe was a source of support and survival, our former jobs were:

  • definitely a source of income,
  • possibly one of purpose and meaning, and
  • if you’re based in the United States, they made it easier to get medical care and put away money for retirement.

Just as you shouldn’t feel stigma or shame for being laid off, you’re not wrong for having those feelings of doom and gloom after a layoff. We’re wired that way.

But just as we’ve overcome the instinct to club the terrible people in our lives to death with a rock, we also have to manage the instinctive despair that results from being laid off.

Luckily for all of us, there’s some good advice that Mythbusters co-host Adam Savage shared in a recent video in his Tested series on YouTube, where he answered this question:

Do you have any tips for dealing with the aftermath that you didn’t have that much influence over?

I worked on a project (at a company as someone in a junior position) that I predicted that would go bad if approach A was chosen, but nobody listened to me. Approach A was chosen and my predictions came true, however later at a performance review, I caught flack that the project flopped.

The situation described in the question isn’t exactly the same as being laid off, but Adam’s reply still applies.

He cited an example from what he called “the lowest point in his professional life,” where his advice was to follow his Dad’s advice:

You can take a look into yourself and see the things that led to this, and resolve to pay attention to that so that the next time the situation arises, it doesn’t go the same way.

Later in the video, Adam talks about a mnemonic used at a school where his son did some teaching over Zoom during the pandemic shutdown: Q-TIP, which was short for Quit Taking It Personally.

“5 million” might seem arbitrary, but that’s what you save every month
when you lay off 400 people with an average salary of 150K.

“Quit taking it personally” should become your mantra if you’ve been laid off. Chances are that the decision-maker who put your name on the layoff list was looking at a spreadsheet or similar document and had the task of selecting who would be “RIFfed,” with the goal of removing enough people to reduce monthly expenditures by a set amount. It wasn’t personal, and you shouldn’t take it as such.

Near the end of the video, Adam describes a situation where he was working for his then-boss and future co-star Jamie Hyneman. They were working on props for a commercial shoot and a key prop failed. Rather than chew out the crew with blistering recriminations, Hyneman approached the director and presented options for what they could do with the prop given their limited time, and what the outcome of each option would be. There was no blame; just an acceptance of the situation, and proposals for what could be done to resolve it.

This is the approach you should take to a layoff (or, if you’re working for yourself, this is the approach you should take to being “fired” by a client):

  • Quit taking it personally,
  • accept the situation,
  • propose solutions,
  • and take measures to either prevent this kind of thing from happening again, or if that’s not possible, take measures so that when this kind of thing happens again, you’re ready for it.

Once again, if you’re feeling layoff despair, watch Adam Savage’s video, listen to his stories, and benefit from the experience he’s sharing. Watch it twice if you have to.

Also in this series…


Laid off in 2024, part 14: No stigma, no shame

There used to be an unwritten, implicitly-understood rule that you should never mention that you were laid off, but treat it like a dirty secret. That may have been good advice for the previous century, when layoffs were viewed as rare events where low performers were fired all at once, but it’s woefully out of date now.

If you think there’s a stigma attached to being laid off or are feeling shame for having been laid off, this article is for you! Here are five reasons why there’s no stigma nor shame in being laid off.

Reason 1: Big Tech overhired

The theme of the past few years has been “growth, growth, growth,” which was driven by:

  1. An amazing bull run in the market that followed the financial crisis of 2007-8,
  2. the end of the Zero Interest Rate Period of 2009 – 2022, where the central banks of G7 countries were lending money at rates so low they were practically zero, and
  3. the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown.

These market conditions made it possible for a lot of tech companies to hire like crazy — especially the big players:

Tap to view at full size.

The problem came when those conditions changed. We now have:

  1. Higher interest rates,
  2. inflation (especially with food and housing), and
  3. some analysts predicting a recession,

all of which are leading people and corporations to spend less. Suddenly, the people from those big hiring sprees became big liabilities.

One of the solutions to this problem is laying people off, and the tech industry’s been doing this with gusto — in the US alone, they laid off a quarter million in 2023, and 40,000 in just the first two months of 2024.

When laying off this many people, it’s not enough to simply cut the lowest performers in your ranks. You also have to get rid of your pricier employees, which means a lot of good performers and even people I consider to be superstars in their domain have been laid off. I’ve lost count of the number of times in the past few months I’ve said “No! Not you!” when surprised by an exemplary person in the tech industry announcing on LinkedIn that they were looking for work.

Remember, even this person, after working hard, showing extreme dedication to the job, and telling the world about that extreme dedication, got laid off:

Reason 2: The market is rewarding companies that do big layoffs

Screenshot from a Business Insider article.
Tap to read the article.

In the previous century, companies did layoffs when they were unprofitable. But these days, companies laying people off are showing profits in their quarterly reports, and investors are rewarding them for it.

The reason this is happening is that layoffs are now a form of corporate virtue signaling. They say “See? We’re cutting costs! We’re increasing efficiency!” And as a result, those company’s share prices are going up. For example, Meta’s stock price has nearly tripled, Spotify’s is up by 30%, and even my former employer’s share price is up $20 since the beginning of the week (good thing I exercised those options!).

Now if you were a company and your investors rewarded you for doing something, would you do more of it for as long as you could? Of course you would.

Reason 3: Vanilla CEOs following “Space Karen’s” lead

When Elon Musk took over Twitter/X, he instituted mass dismissals in a spectacular and clown show-like way, including the infamous choice he presented to his employees:

  1. Stay and be “hardcore,” committing to long hours at high intensity, where “only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade,” or
  2. Leave and take three months’ salary.

You might recall how I posed this choice:

Even with a drastic reduction in personnel and egomaniacal mandates given to the remaining staff, Twitter/X still works. It’s a Nazi-plagued hellsite, but it does work, and in late-stage capitalism, the bottom line is all that matters.

As a result, a number of tech company leaders, many of whom are “Vanilla CEOs,” saw Musk’s move and were inspired to do the same.

Don’t believe me? See these articles:

Vanilla CEOs tend to look at what other CEOs are doing, and follow suit. This is driving a lot of layoffs.

Thanks a lot, Space Karen. You are my alma mater’s worst alumnus.

ℹ️ Wondering what a “Vanilla CEO” is? Watch this video.

Reason 4: A.I.

There’s also the temptation of “employees” that you don’t have to pay…

In a recent episode of his No Mercy/No Malice audio series, business professor Scott Galloway describes AI as “Corporate Ozempic” — as in the hot new weight loss drug that works by supressing cravings. Like Ozempic, you’re adopting AI to “trim the fat,” but you’re also doing it in secret.

Galloway writes:

CEOs are being coy about this, at least in public, because there’s a sense of fear surrounding the brave new world of AI. The illusionist’s trick in the Valley right now is getting the media to look over there (trimming fat) while they’re stuffing the rabbit into the hat here (replacing it with AI). In the next several quarters, however, I believe CEOs will come out in  earnings calls and put it bluntly: “We’re going to be a smaller company that does more business thanks to AI.” Pundits will clutch their pearls for a hot minute until the stock explodes, and the secret hiding in plain sight will be visible to everyone. It’s corporate Ozempic. It’s not about less bread, but less craving for bread. Read: hiring people.

Reason 5: You’ll blend in

With a quarter-million U.S. techies laid off since the start of 2023 — Yours Truly included — if you’re laid off, you’re not an outlier or a freak. You’re just one of many.

There is no stigma nor shame in being laid off

As I wrote in an earlier post in this series, Unearned consequences, “If you’re in a layoff-induced moment of despair, remember that you’re probably facing the consequences of someone else’s mistakes.”

Or, as I also wrote in the same article:

The decision-makers at companies making these layoffs sound like Lord Farquaad from Shrek: “Some of you may die, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

Remember this as you go about your job search — there is no stigma nor shame in your being laid off. Just say that you’re part of the ongoing layoff trend.

Coming up next

Job search tips and tricks!

Also in this series…