John Got Fired

Welcome to episode 220 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_) – two technology professionals with backgrounds in IT Operations and Sales Engineering on a mission to help others accelerate career progression and increase job satisfaction by bringing listeners the advice we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss John’s experience being laid off in January 2023 and how he managed to get through it.

Original Recording Date: 04-02-2023

Topics – Context for This Episode, Financial Preparation, Professional Skills, Processing Emotions, Thinking of Options, Resume Updates, Leverage Your Professional Network

1:12 – Context for This Episode

  • Did you notice we changed the intro a little?
  • John was part of the 12,000 person layoff at Google back on January 20, 2023. We’re going to talk about this.
    • This was the first time something like this had happened to John. While it certainly caused some anxiety, John feels he got through it pretty successfully.
    • Whether part of a layoff or fired for a specific situation, we’re never going to come out of something like that feeling great.
    • John wanted to take the time to lay out (objectively) why he got through it relatively unscathed for the benefit of others.
    • Some of the things we will discuss were done in the moment. Others were done in advance, and the way it is presented may not necessarily be the exact order in which things were done.
    • If you’ve been part of a downsizing or in a tough situation, we would love to hear feedback on what is helpful and what is not from what we share.

3:57 – Financial Preparation

  • The first thing that was really helpful to John in de-stressing was the financial preparedness.
    • We shared Episode 57 on unexpected opportunities and spoke to personal finance. John wrote some of the advice in that episode and had taken it.
    • John and his wife had built up an emergency fund to cover their bills and expenses for 9-12 months or more. The severance package from Google extended it even further.
      • John felt like they had a good buffer despite paying for health insurance out of pocket (which they were able to do no problem).
      • Despite this John feels like there are some things they could have done better. For example, in households where both spouses work, one might have the option to get healthcare through the other spouse’s employer in this kind of situation. John and his wife were not in a position to do this.

5:44 – Professional Skills

  • John was prepared with professional skills.
    • From late 2022 to 2023 when we’re recording this there have been a lot of software engineers on the market, for example.
    • The sales engineering role is always pretty difficult to fill because hiring managers are looking for a specific mix of skills in which people have experience. It can be a struggle to fill these roles even in the best of times, and because of these things, John felt he was going to be ok.
    • John received the e-mail from Google at 2 AM Pacific time (which woke him up), and the first thing he did was search LinkedIn for sales engineering / sales engineer roles. In the US there was somewhere between 2500 and 3500 open positions.
      • Obviously not all of these roles were going to be directly applicable to John, but that was enough to help him stop thinking about it (the situation).
      • John logged into his work laptop, said goodbye to some people, gave out his contact information, and went back to sleep.
      • John didn’t wake his wife up to tell her about the layoff. He waited until the next day.
      • It could have been ego or denial, but John felt secure in his ability to find another job. There were not 2500 people seeking sales engineering roles. It’s just not that easy to hire sales engineers, and that role suffers from talent shortages.
    • Nick had not thought as much about the sales engineering talent shortage but can appreciate keeping your skills sharp and your connections hot / at least warm, and using LinkedIn to your advantage. Nick calls out the Louise Bunyan episode series:
    • Nick would also highly endorse the emergency fund and its ability to de-stress many situations.
      • When John mentors people he always councils them to live within their means and even below. He suggests cutting out major spending in your life if you can until you have built up the emergency fund or until you are tracking toward it.
      • There is a constant urge when you get a promotion or some extra money to spend it on things you’ve always wanted (taking a special trip or making a big purchase, for example) rather than saving it.
      • John wants to do all those things too but prioritized the financial safety net first. John and his wife took a vacation to Hawaii a few years ago but didn’t spend safety net money to go on that vacation.
      • Any kind of lifestyle inflation will affect the safety net you need. When John and his family bought a new car they needed to increase the safety net to be able to pay off the car or at least have a year of car payments in the safety net.
      • When moving from renting a house to purchasing one the monthly cost increased, which meant they needed to increase the safety net to account for it.
      • The things you add to your life also have to be added to the safety net to account for it. John cites having a child as another reason he and his wife needed to consider when planning to have a safety net covering 9 months to a year of income.

10:22 – Processing Emotions

  • It really helped John to try and move forward instead of looking backward.
  • There were times where he felt low, anxious, and angry at times. But there were some things he found were not helpful.
    • The question of why this happened was irrelevant. It happened, and answering the why behind it would not help John move forward. Any time spent thinking about that would not help him in his goal of getting a new position.
    • The question "why did this happen to me" seems more relevant but really isn’t in a mass layoff situation. John’s name was on a list based on a metric somewhere, and figuring out that metric would not help with the next position (i.e. no help in the short term).
      • John was intentional about not spending time on this. It was not denial or that he did not care. It did not help to put effort in to figure it out.
    • John had been with the company for nearly 4 years / a little over 3.5 years and feels that probably wasn’t long enough to say his identity was tied to being a Google employee (as may have been the case for others in this situation who had worked at Google for many years).
    • John looked at what he did at Google as a position, a job, a part of his career that he was super passionate about doing. If they did not want him there he could be super passionate about helping a different organization.
      • And he was fine with this fact. He could move on to the next exciting thing.
    • None of this was easy. It was just something he found himself being a little more even keeled about.
      • Things like "what did I do wrong" did not make sense to think about. It does not mean he didn’t think about it, but it was not a major focus on John’s time and efforts.
  • Nick imagines feeling angry is quite common in these situations and mentioned Brendon Burchard (author of High Performance Habits and founder of GrowthDay) recently did a podcast on anger for people who subscribe to GrowthDay.
    • Burchard highlights that anger is an emotion that is also very physical.
    • He recommends taking a break to do some kind of exercise to help get the anger out physically before we react.
    • Then think about what you really want from the situation. Design a request for what you want, and try to step into your best self when you do it (having the intention of doing no harm).
    • John has a document he wrote that details why he was upset at what happened, why it was an unjust situation, etc.
    • When John was upset he would open the document and check to see if he had written down the things he was upset about, and 95% of the time they already existed in the document. Thing like…
      • This was a stock price move from the Google side, but it didn’t affect stock price enough.
      • There was a bobble with Google’s artificial intelligence demo day that negatively impacted the stock price more than laying off 12,000 people positively impacted it.
    • Once all those things went into a document, and then it was about 80% cleansed from John’s system.
      • If someone asked why the layoffs happened, John could open the document and read from it. But he didn’t have to think about those things any longer.
    • John didn’t feel angry enough to seek out help from other people. If something like this was consuming you, get help.
      • Seek out a spiritual leader, a professional therapist, a friend or family member, etc. (many options).
      • Get some exercise to help with the stress.
    • You do not want to get to the point where the anger at the organization who let you go is dominating your life because it will not help you.
      • Do no harm to yourself.
      • Focus on the things that will help you like what your next position is going to be.

17:41 – Thinking of Options

  • John consciously set aside time to think about what he wanted to do next. He had several options.
    • Going into sales engineering for another company would require determining the company where that would be. John thought about interesting competition he’s had over the years, interesting news and press, etc.
      • John also did a brainstorming session on the types of pain companies are experiencing and the solutions in the marketplace that address these, etc.
      • John feels he could have done better over time by leveraging a living document to record companies and people he might be interested in working for some day.
    • Another option was being a manager on a sales engineering team.
      • John has been considering this since before he event went to Google Cloud (for a period of about 5 years).
      • While at Google Cloud, John started acquiring some of the skills necessary to become a manager (but not necessarily at Google Cloud).
      • It seemed overwhelming what front line managers were doing at Google. It seemed difficult with a lot of split attention.
      • John wanted to acquire the skills of helping someone to get better, how to onboard someone effectively, how to interview people to best understand whether they could do the job expected for the company.
      • These were all skills John could work on that made him a valuable employee at Google and that were portable, tying back to the tenant of adding professional skills.
    • John looked at tech marketing and developer relations and pretty quickly discarded them (but not because he didn’t find them interesting).
      • These are very front line roles and you represent the company more and more and could become the face for a product or an entire suite of products, for example.
      • We’ve talked to many people where that is the job.
      • John says he just hadn’t prepared for that job. He had not put in the time and effort to be front of mind for a role like this.
      • John didn’t have his finger in those kinds of activates so he could easily point to them and say he’s had one foot into tech marketing for a while (the proof of work that would show someone he had been doing it).
      • This was part of the reason for discarding this option as a strong one. Recruiters were not reaching out to him to discuss tech marketing roles and his interest in them. They were reaching out to discuss interest in sales engineering roles.
      • "If that was something that I wanted to do in the future, then I would need to change how I prepared in the present." – John White, on not being prepared for a shift into tech marketing
      • Nick says John would have needed to gain expertise for this area while he was working on something else just like the people interviewing.

22:20 – Resume Updates

  • John says updating his resume was fairly easy because he had been keeping it up to date. As he accomplished things with metrics (activities that he could point to, sales campaigns he had had a technical role in or that even originated from having a technical idea, etc.) he could showcase the major job skill these led to over time.
    • John had been keeping his eye on SE roles and the requirements people wanted in this type of role. He looked at more of the senior positions open out there as part of this research.
    • On LinkedIn John didn’t make a big post about being laid off, but he did flip the setting saying he is open to work and actively looking (to increase chances of being found by recruiters).
  • John wrote a resume that was specific to each job type he was targeting (sales engineering and sales engineering management).
    • In order to do this John needed to make sure all of the experience at each of the roles he’s had were up to date.
    • Then he made a job skills area like we talk about in Episode 203 on his different resume versions for a sales engineer on one and a sales engineering manager position on the other.
  • Some people may wonder why John considered both an individual contributor and a manager position.
    • The natural progression of someone who is a sales engineering role is not sales engineering manager. It’s a senior version of the sales engineering role.
    • John says there’s roughly 40% overlap between sales engineer and sales engineering manager (knowing the technology, knowing the skills, etc.)
      • You have to know (as a sales engineering manager) the skills needed to be a sales engineer and what good looks like in the role. But that’s not all there is to the position.
    • John also looked at what a major sales engineering role would look like, which branched out to things like maybe an early sales engineering hire at a startup or a high level sales engineer at a company out of the startup phase and into the growth phase with a possible transition into an upper level manager in line with organizational growth.
  • For the sales engineering manager resume, John added performance management.
    • John had a person report to him for a quarter who was just out of Google’s recent college graduate academy.
    • Large organizations who recognize talent shortages in sales engineering try to grow their own sales engineering talent by hiring new college graduates and training them in the discipline.
    • Part of that program at Google was rotating through field assignments.
      • John was basically the manager who was overseeing day to day work for the person in question.
    • John said it was an extremely positive experience that really helped cement some of the advice he had been given about being a manager like not doing the person’s job for them, not holding their hand for longer than a couple weeks, etc.
      • You can help the person begin to see different ways of doing things and start to pattern match across their experiences.
    • These kinds of things were very much on John’s mind when he wrote the sales engineering manager resume.
  • For the sales engineering resume, John emphasized coming up with a whitespace campaign.
    • The majority of John’s customers at Google Cloud were not Google Cloud customers.
    • John kept track of how he matched (from a technical standpoint) solutions from Google to the industry vertical / horizontal pain point the organization that was his customer might have. He helped find the people at those organizations who might be interested in learning more about how the solutions from Google address those pain points.
      • John tracked the statistics of these activities over time and adjustments made to campaigns.
    • John was adding the new activities and their statistics since working with this type of customer (new to Google) was not something he had previously done before his time at Google.
  • When John applied for jobs, he customized his resume even further to address specific requirements and skills from job descriptions for a specific company.
    • This involved sometimes adjusting words to use the same terminology or say something in the same way the job description he saw would say it.

30:19 – Leverage Your Professional Network

  • John went to his professional network. This means he first took the time to create that network.
  • John uses LinkedIn quite frequently to connect with people.
    • It’s helpful to keep up with people at his employer, especially after they move on to other roles.
    • John also makes it a point to keep up with people in the channel partner community as well.
  • John also thought about where the people in his network have worked and where they are now. That gave him an idea of the variety of organizations to which he might be able to get a recommendation.
  • Every time a recruiter had reached out to John in the past and the person had done their research, he tracked them in a list.
    • In the initial interaction he had told these people the position was interesting but that he was not on the market at present and happy where he was.
    • John reached back out to those recruiters and let them know his situation had changed and what he was targeting in a next job.
      • This ended up producing a number of interesting interactions and interviews.
  • John took the list of companies from his brainstorming session and reached out to people he knows who work for those companies to see what it’s like there. And if it sounded interesting he would ask that person for a referral.
    • This avenue also produced a number of interesting interviews.
  • You have to create that network ahead of time, and you have to keep it active over the years.
    • Reach out to people you know who switch jobs. Ask if you can help them in some way and to learn about what they are doing and how it is going.
    • You may be able to introduce that person to someone who can help them down the road.
    • Growing and maintaining your professional network may seem challenging, but it’s important, especially if you need to call on it to get help in an unexpected employment situation.
  • John feels maybe he should have made a LinkedIn announcement post but never felt stressed enough to need people’s sympathy at the time. He was looking for active help.
    • He was getting a little bit overwhelmed with active help in some ways.
    • There were a number of people reaching out to John who noticed he changed his profile to turn on the open to work flag, offering to help.
    • John considered making an announcement post but was too overwhelmed by already getting help.
    • Apart from this, people who knew John was at Google reached out to him about news of the layoff.
  • Many people were notified about the layoff at 2 AM. By 6 AM, everyone was frozen out of their accounts (no access to contact list, calendars, e-mail).
    • John managed to get into some teams group chats after seeing the notification between 2 and 2:30 AM about the layoff to say goodbye.
    • He doesn’t remember if he put his personal contact info in there for people to get in touch with him later.
    • It wasn’t like he had put in his two weeks notice and could send everyone his contact info on the last day. John found out unexpectedly, and it was too late to think of everything.
    • This event impacted people negatively in different ways. John still thinks of himself as fairly fortunate.
  • John did find a new position and was about 4-5 weeks into it as of this recording. You’ll have to wait for a future episode to hear the remainder of the story.

Contact us if you need help on the journey, and be sure to check out the Nerd Journey Podcast Knowledge Graph.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *