ALSO SEE: Why Developers Get Fired
My stomach turned as I stared at Marissa, the third developer our company let go that very unpleasant day. Our firm was laying off 13 developers out of a total of 30 almost half the team.
The first two had taken the news in stride, but there were more difficult questions to come.
My queasiness was driven by the fact that I didnt have a really good answer for these tough questions. How an employee like Marissa, who did nothing obvious to land her in this unfortunate position, was now being shown the door was a fair question.
She was well liked, a pretty good coder and had received positive remarks from her clients. The journey to making the final list was not easy and not perfect.
The personnel reduction action edict had come down from corporate about a week in advance. It was no secret the company was struggling. The rumor mill was swirling and my team was asking uncomfortable questions that week.
It was obvious I was spending more time in closed-door meeting with my boss than usual. We rarely had a closed door in the office, which meant some serious conversation was taking place. On its own, not a huge red flag, but half the team was on the bench and the company had released dismal results the prior quarter.
It was easy to jump to conclusions which in this case were dead on.
I was extremely uncomfortable with the questioning because I wanted to respond honestly, yet upper management had made it clear in the edict that total secrecy was required and leaks would be fully investigated.
So I danced around the questions while trying to drop hints like read the news many technology companies are experiencing layoffs so anything is possible. When pressed further on what I knew, my response was something like they dont tell me everything.
This was technically true, but I knew enough to have trouble sleeping every night that week.
My manager Steve, the director of the office, had asked if I would help him with selecting who to add to the termination list. I didnt have a choice and it made me sick.
Not that I hadnt terminated employees before. But it is different to fire someone for due cause, after prior warning and after attempts to help them improve. If that employee didnt shape up, then it was not as difficult to ship them out.
But to build a list of developers to let go, who were mostly very good performers and know that you were sending them out into a terrible market, was disconcerting in ways I couldnt have imagined.
There were the tangible reasons for this, such as how much it cost in time and money to hire and train each of these developers. And there were the intangible reasons, mainly that relationships had been built over time and we wouldnt be letting anyone go if we hadnt been forced to.
Sure, in retrospect, we second guessed some of our hiring decisions. We had aggressively staffed up to meet the deceivingly insatiable market. And then, one by one our projects dried up, as did our sales pipeline. Our local market had dried up faster than anyone anticipated.
So now we had to aggressively let go those same people. We came up with unbiased weighting criteria to evaluate each developer and rank them from most valuable to least valuable.
As a consulting firm, the main driver for this was how likely we would be able to keep that person billable. We also took into consideration factors such as seniority, salary, past reviews and if they were willing to travel because other offices were doing better and had positions to fill on projects.
We had to be dispassionate about our approach and leave personal feelings outside the closed office door.
As the two of us determined the fate of each developer, my mind wandered to how much I enjoyed managing people. I liked helping people grow in their careers and playing the role of fair mediator when difficult project related decisions had to be made.
But when I moved into management from being a developer, it just never occurred to me that Id have to let go some of those same people I nurtured in their careers.