Why Developers Get Fired

There are many reasons developers get fired. So take off the ear buds, close down your 20 Skype threads and take some time to think about what you can do to prevent this from happening to you.


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Posted September 20, 2009

Eric Spiegel

Eric Spiegel

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“You’re fired!”

Those are words that no developer wants to hear, especially with an exclamation point. Perhaps you are thinking it could never happen to you.


Do the following comforting thoughts cross your mind when you think about the possibility of getting fired someday?

“I’m smarter than everyone else here.”

“Everyone likes me too much.”

“I’m the only expert on the system.”

“I have incriminating pictures of my boss from that last happy hour.”

Well, maybe that last one would work, except you might end up incarcerated for extortion – you’re fired anyway.

I have learned the hard way over the years that it doesn’t matter how clever you think you are or how much everyone loves you on your team. The fact is, there are always potential circumstances that can come to a head, resulting in the ax coming down on your valuable head.

Sometimes these doomsday series of events are in your control. Sometimes it’s like being blindsided by a bus.

So why do developers get fired?

Let me first state that I speak from experience. I have fired developers and been fired (although it was spun as a reorganization casualty).

It sucks on both ends.

As a manager, having to fire someone is an awful experience. I know, you are thinking “cry me a river.” Keep in mind there are two sides to every story.

Even if a manager feels all options have been exhausted, it still is a nerve racking experience. You don’t know how the person will react. You think about their family. You think, is there something else I could have done better as a manager so we didn’t reach this point?

From the being fired side of the table, your feelings depend if you see it coming or not. Those who see it coming usually take it stone faced or with a smirk (which helps reduce the awful feelings on the other side of the table).

For those who don’t see it coming – well I have seen train wrecks. Depending on what else is going on in that person’s life, the magnification of stress caused by a firing can be overwhelming, resulting in outburst, tears or even laughter. (The laughter is the scariest reaction because you know the suppression of fear and hurt can explode anytime.) The truth is, if management follows the typical rules of providing warnings before letting someone go, then no one should be surprised. However, some people truly have their heads buried in the sand (or their code).

They believe it just won’t happen to them – especially younger developers who haven’t been around the block.

How to Avoid Being Let Go (The Three Reasons)

Let’s review three reasons and what you can do to avoid being let go.

We might as well start with the obvious. If your job consistently isn’t getting done, then you will eventually be toast. All it takes is a few missed deadlines and your manager will have no choice because “you know what” rolls downhill. A manager can only absorb so many blows from unhappy end users or their own boss.

Why wouldn’t you see this one coming? Well, you might be thinking the missed deadlines are not your fault. Your excuses may include “the design was bad” or “the deadlines are not realistic” or “they are making me code in Java and I am a .NET expert.”

Guess what? Excuses don’t matter. Results matter.

If your deliverables are always late, then you need to sit down with your manager and look for solutions. Don’t assume conditions will change on their own. You have to not only be a change agent, but you have to document every action you take to improve adverse conditions.

I recommend having an email folder called CYA (Cover Your …). This folder might save you from having to face C-YA (Can Your …) before you’re ready to go. Save everything – disk space is cheap.

Next Page: Developers Need to Brag

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Tags: management, developers, developer salary, programmer salary

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