March 16, 2023

Navigating My First Layoff After 20+ Years In Tech

This article was first published by Priyanka Jain on Medium.

What a weight off my shoulders!! I opened my to-do list and scratched off all the items tagged work.

After 20+ years in the tech industry, I experienced a first last week. I was unceremoniously let go from my position as Director of Engineering on a Zoom call that lasted 5 minutes at the end of my workday.

I’ve witnessed and been indirectly affected by tech layoffs before. As we weather this latest round of shake-ups in the tech industry, I find myself reflecting on a few I recall quite clearly.

The first one was at Yahoo! in early 2008, where I was shocked to see how brutally and conclusively the axe falls. There was no chance for those affected to get their personal data off their laptops before handing them in. I still remember the somber mood of that day and the tears of my co-workers as they left the building, with the rest of us following them in goodbyes quite like a “Vidaai” at an Indian wedding. Honestly, I hadn’t grown into quite the empathetic person I am today. Though I felt terrible for my co-workers, I felt some alignment with the company’s decision to eliminate the least performant of its workers who weren’t entirely pulling their weight.

By the next layoff at Yahoo! ~Dec 2008, my situation had changed. I had a well-established reputation as an engineering lead but was also known for speaking up against poor practices and culture within our organization. I had surfaced to the senior VP at the time that teams were often creating code for internal demos instead of creating a sturdy product for customers. The VP’s reaction was the equivalent of a shrug emoji. I was also a pain in the ass for my manager as I’d question poor decisions at Sprint meetings and demos, frequently leaving him in a problematic situation (again, I have grown more empathy in the 15 years since).

I was anxious when word of the next round of layoffs arrived. I was on H1-B too, and would be in hot water if I lost employment back then.

Consequently, I was anxious when word of the next round of layoffs arrived. I was on H1-B too, and would be in hot water if I lost employment back then. Fortunately, that VP and some of his practices were the ones to go with that next round, and I felt relief more than sadness.

Both layoffs at eBay were brutal. I was a manager by this time and had to think beyond my own concerns. I truly cared for the well-being of my team, and eBay’s culture was so friendly and akin to a big happy family, it was hard to see the separations. At the first layoff in early 2014, the hardest bit was losing one of my product managers, who I had closely partnered with over the previous year. The decision seemed to be due to a personal dislike rather than ability and contribution, and I started to understand the dark side of these decisions.

Moreover, my colleague was my work buddy — we hung out in a trio multiple times during the day, discussing philosophy, team culture, industry trends, etc., over lunch and coffee. Our trio was down to two, and my team’s morale was similarly fractured. I gained some new skills in leading teams through difficult times that year.

The second major layoff I experienced at eBay in June 2018 was the bloodiest. My network was much broader, and I bid farewell to countless colleagues I had worked with in my 6-ish years at eBay. I was also at a higher management level and had a decent understanding of the, often, self-serving political motivations behind many of the decisions.

This shake-up affected my own situation adversely too. The restructuring dissolved my VP’s org and dispersed my newly built team across the company. My charter was grown significantly with a larger group and critical work but under a completely new management chain. Talk about managing change — I had to rally around my original team, my new team, the colleagues that were let go, and myself. This one also showed me some interesting human behaviors — one in my employee who refused to accept the layoff or sign the agreement in the stipulated timeline. The other was of my manager, who, despite the circumstances, took the time to advise and mentor me on the path forward — some good leadership learnings.

Is this what they mean by being born again? Today is the first day of the rest of my life…

At my most recent job, though I had not reached the “my purpose here is done” moment, I had lost the spark due to a couple of issues. So, I continued showing up every day but more out of duty than enthusiasm.

And so, last Thursday, a wave of relief washed over me. I felt like I had died and let go of all my worries, but I was still alive and around to enjoy the rest of my experience! Is this what they mean by being born again? Today is the first day of the rest of my life…

In reflecting on these experiences, I’ve understood that while layoffs are never easy, they are necessary for companies, but the decisions may not always be sound. For the individual, they present opportunities for growth and change. Every person I know that was affected by layoffs landed on their feet eventually, and many of them saw it as a blessing afterward. Each person’s situation and temperament are different; some do handle it better than others. I am grateful that my situation allows me to accept this experience with grace and dignity.

I am also happy that I had a chance to recuperate peacefully during the holidays, and I am ready to start anew. I genuinely appreciate the severance payment that takes care of my financial needs for a brief while. It helps a lot to postpone the need for worry.

Hand outstretched towards sunset mountain landscape with hot air balloons
Photo by Oziel Gómez on Unsplash

That first day after clearing my list and sending an optimistic note to my team, I went for a short hike and felt excited about the possibilities ahead of me. For a moment, I relived the anticipation I felt when I graduated and stepped off the final train ride home and into the world.

It’s too early to say what I want to do next. I have been itching to work on a few small projects and am ready to start. I hope to find solid ground again soon, but until then, I will enjoy floating freely, and see where the wind takes me.

This article was first published by Priyanka Jain on Medium.
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Priyanka Jain

Entrepreneur and Engineering Leader with nearly 20 years of experience spanning software development, leadership, and project management roles on web and mobile products, consumed by millions of users.