(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 2 of a two-part series about an expat software developer’s experience in the Great Tech Layoff. You can read Pt. 1 here. These posts are part of our Tech Tuesday series. Dispatches covers the startup and tech scenes because so many highly skilled internationals work as engineers, developers and managers.)
On 30 November 2022, I got this email from my U.S.-based tech company:
Later today, our CEO will announce some major changes to our business. Unfortunately, these include a large number of reductions in our employee headcount globally.
I am sorry that these reductions impact the function you work in Germany, which means your role is being eliminated. We will schedule a meeting with you to go through the impact on your function, and the transition support available to you, early next week. In the meantime, details of the transition support we will make available to you are included in the settlement agreement attached. Please return the signed agreement to x[email protected] by 7 December 2022.
And just like that, I was out of a job.
Here’s what happened next.
Eliminated roles get miraculously resurrected
Several weeks later, my ex-coworker messaged to let me know there was an open position on my former project.
Same tech stack.
Same everything, except for a few small details.
Even though I’d already been thrown deep into the whirlwind of non-stop interviews and take-home tasks and was barely coming up for air, I still found time to feel hurt.
So how come the eliminated position wasn’t eliminated after all?
I went through the anger stage all over again. And again, I tried to talk to a lawyer to understand if that was legal. But another lawyer told me the same thing on the phone: it doesn’t matter. You’ve signed the agreement.
I was too tired to think of any more options.
I guess that’s where a story of a big fight could be, right? If we gathered together, all of us. If we decided to file a class action, to hell with the severance pay. If David went again to get that Goliath because it was the right thing to do.
But I had a family, a mortgage, and several dependent Ukrainian relatives we were still hosting, for almost a year now. And I guess every one of us had something or other because there was no combining of forces, no legal action. We just signed the agreement and moved on, or tried to.
I’ve shared it with some other ex-colleagues, though, and it must have gone up to the management because later, those open positions were edited on the company website. They were no longer located in Germany. Instead, the company was hiring for them in other European offices.
Probably there was fear of legal action after all because generally, one can’t simply announce that a job is being eliminated and then start hiring for the same job after a very short time. At least, not in Germany, though it didn’t help our German employees one bit.
No one cares
It was another lesson I learned: No one cares about your circumstances, and whether you’re equipped to weather the storm. Google managed to lay off a married couple who just had a baby with the mother on parental leave and the father scheduled to take it. Twitter laid off so many people with disabilities and people taking – or intending to take – parental leave that they filed a class action against the company.
I was lucky; I had a supportive husband who was still working. I have a lot of experience being a senior developer, and I’ve already acquired quite a few contacts in Germany who could give me a referral. But what if I was just a lone rookie in my first job?
I don’t really want to know.
It’s not personal, right? It’s business.
Even though layoffs don’t make any business sense (but they do increase suicide rates).
Oh, and remember that “merry Christmas” part? It turns out that December is actually the second-highest month for layoffs (even worse in January). So it wasn’t exactly a super-evil twist; it was just how many companies do it because they want to start the new year with a clean financial spreadsheet, or because December is the last fiscal month of the year in many companies.
This is also a stage people inevitably go through.
What was the reasoning behind it? Was it performance-related? Was I so bad? Did I take too much vacation? Was it something I did?
It must have been me, right? I am just completely useless. I am such a loser.
I had this reaction too until I heard who else on our team got affected. No way were they lousy performers. If anything, the selection seemed completely … random. There was perhaps some kind of reasoning behind this, but if so, we never got an official explanation. And I suppose we couldn’t expect one. Agreement or no agreement, such an explanation could probably have provided a cause for legal action claiming wrongful termination or discrimination.
But the other takeaway is, no one is safe. You can’t protect yourself by being great at your job. You can’t protect yourself by being loyal to the company for years, or by putting in extra hours.
You can be laid off even if you did everything right.
That’s approximately how it feels.
That’s what gets a lot of people, actually. We all hope that bad things happen to other people. Not us; we’ve done everything right. We’re safe.
But ultimately, no one is.
There is a silver lining
The job market still has a lot of open positions. And a lot of laid-off tech workers find new jobs quickly enough, at least according to this article from the Wall Street Journal that is itself based on the survey by ZipRecruiter.
(Spoiler alert: Their definition of “quickly” is within 3 months, which I wouldn’t call quick, but I suppose there are worse outcomes).
Despite the widespread layoffs, hiring freezes, and cost-cutting taking place in tech, many tech workers are finding reemployment remarkably quickly,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter. “They’re still the most sought-after workers with the most in-demand skills.”
But it’s still a lot of stress and heartache, and ups and downs. And, of course, endless job interviews.
Conversely, I am grateful to the company because it was great while it lasted. I learned a lot, the project was interesting and cool and the team was wonderfully friendly and helpful. The corporate culture was something I’ve never experienced before, where the company seemed to really care about us as individuals … well, apart from the layoff, obviously. Also, this employment gave a boost to my CV, because the company name was pretty well-known in tech circles. All in all, it was a good time, and the ending doesn’t change that.
I keep wondering if it should have ended that way though.
Still … when something ends, something new must begin.
From an ex-Googler who had just been laid off, posted by Justin Moore on Linkedin:
One of my dad’s favorite quotes for moments like this was from “The Ballad of Sir Andrew Barton”:
I’ll lay me down and bleed a-while
And then I’ll rise and fight again.
Let’s call this acceptance.
What else can it be?
Maryna Kryvko is a software developer in Germany. Maryna also writes a programming blog to share her knowledge. She sometimes speaks at conferences, though being an introvert, writing comes more naturally. Maryna says she’s not a professional writer but writing is something she likes, “and I think I can do it pretty well.”