I've been working at a small financial firm for about 5 years, here in the state of Maryland. I do development, unix, perl. The man that owns the firm is an accountant. My boss is the I.T. manager here- he asked me to come work with him five years ago. It's great working with him- he knows hardware and network very well- I do software and development for the firm and various clients.

In late May, I was called in by the firm owner for a meeting one on one. I thought it was odd, we never meet without my boss to discuss work- he's the glue between my nerd language and the language of users, god bless them. I just can't help myself from explaining things to clients and the firm owner without getting excited about the details- I try to explain and show much more than these people have interest in- it's fair. I sat down- I was asked about this project- I was told it wasn't going well- and that we should part ways. Today would be the last day- as is company policy (they do something with payroll to pay two weeks ahead or back so they can lay people off without giving notice- it's gruesome, I've seent it happen to a lot of people here- it hurts to "watch").

I basically said that it was fine and I had no grudge or ill feelings. After all, a job is a contract by and employee and an employer- and at any moment either party can terminate the relationship at will- more or less. But- I kind of felt something the matter about what was going on in this room- aside from what would happen after I stood up and walked outside it. I tried talking a little bit about the work itself, the poject mentioned- how I've been waiting for feedback on some of this for days- how I maintain many projects- about how my superior is actually up to date on all of these matters- But to no avail- he was not interested in discussing any of this, and simply left it at 'we dissagree'. I also suggested that maybe he should consider letting me work there for a couple more weeks, to finish up some projects (I maintain a lot of software- some of it is pretty important to the firm and some clients). I mentioned this is probably not the best way to go about getting rid of someone in I.T- that it may not be good for the company- that usually you want someone in my position to close up loose ends- leave things as clean and documented as possible for any potential people who have to deal with what you left. Thankfully- I am always thinking of those things when I deploy. I document, leave trails, comment, make sure variables are named simply, etc etc. I've maintained code left by chimps before, I don't ever want to do that to someone else. Again, no interest in any of this.

I looked at the piece of paper titled 'termination notice'- it said I was being terminated because I had not completed this project to satisfaction/on time etc.

I looked at the company owner and said "This is embarrassing.. I've worked here five years, I've done a lot of work here- How am I going to go find another job with this?" He looked back at me without change of expression and said "Nah... I'll write you a reference letter, it won't say that."

My boss, the man who asked me to come work with him here 5 years ago- was about as surprised as I was. He helped me gather my things in some boxes- drove me home. He said he was feeling ill from this and didn't go back to work- he went home for the rest of the day.

The next day mostly I just scratched my head. After that- I thought about the project discussed in the 'layoff meeting'. This was a website redesign and seo backend check- two projects really- but only the website front end was mentioned. I was actually really looking forward to deploying this- and I was kind of proud of it, I made it to build from simple text source, ran through filters it would output html, etc- nice unixy stuff. I'd also done a bit of research on all company terms and the usage of such against google terms data, etc- a bunch of fun stuff. The website was basically done- we had met weeks earlier- I was asked what else was needed- what we do from there. I said, I need you to basically look at this layout, tell me if there's anything you want to change, different colors, home page, etc, and we can make it live- I'd write a follow up email on this to remind the firm owner and my supervisor of what we had done in this meeting and what I needed feedback on to go live. It seems the firm owner thought it was my responsibility to- after sending out the email- check back with him to (maybe remind him?) revise. I can accept that maybe some people expect that from their employees- that's fine- it's not my style- if I've not been asked to explicitly do that- and we have many many things to work on already. But- still- if, say- my employer thinks part of my job as a software developer is to help scan in documents or answer the phones- and I don't do this or do it poorly and therefore they want to get rid of me- ok- so be it. But telling me I didn't complete the work when I'm waiting for your approval? Strange. (That may be some venting, excuse me.) So- I'm thinking about that project. I thought it was a pity to leave it like that. The current site for the firm was horrible- terrible code- missing titles, alt tags- etc- I'd been asking to be allowed to set time to redesign that site since I began work there five years ago- and here it was- only needing a final approval for- presentation, of all things! Ha! It's like working as a master cheff and getting fired because you misplaced a fork! (Ah.. venting.)

So I resolved to offer something. I talked to my supervisor, and told him to run something by the firm owner. I would offer to finish the project- that is, make it live- close up and loose ends- links- whatever- and that I would offer to do this without any compesation, even. That I just wanted to see the work used- My boss knows me- he understood where I'm coming from- the type of creative passion I have for good work.

I was hoping I would at least part from this place that I had invested so much time and energy into- leaving behind one last "something nice and useful" for the company.

The firm owner had no interest in this.

Days passed- had the first few beers I'd had in maybe a year- smoking up, to two packs a day now. I figured out to file for unemployment- talk to my landlord and mention I don't have any income anymore- contact my ex about how this child support payment is going to be the last of this ammount until I had more information.. Planned out some other worst case scenario stuff- such as having to move out at the turn of a dime- maybe ending up putting most of everything I own but clothes in the trash- including all my art- which I did once, ten years ago.

Today I received a notice from the state of Maryland unemployment office, that my former employee has a 'claimant dispute'- and we will settle this over the phone on Wednesday.

Any suggestions, comments- on.. (?)


Mon Jul  5 06:41:56 EDT 2010

Answers to the questions above..

  • A) Yes, it's becoming normal. Depends who you ask. Some commentary out there suggests employers are becoming increasingly aware of the costs of laying people off.
  • B) As per the guidance I received here;
    • I filed immediately.
    • I was given quite a little run-around, playing phone tag with the state. I received various 'we may or may not call you on x date from now between the hours of y an z'. At first I was taken aback that my former employer was disputing my claim to unemployment benefits.
    • Had a series of phone calls with the state over the last month, maybe 3 or 4, each about 20 minutes. I made sure to listen carefully and not interrupt.
    • Made sure to be honest- careful- say what I needed to say- keep it short- realize that the person at the other end of the line is on the beat (I found it useful to remind myself of this, and pay it some due honors, as least in my head).
    • Almost one month later, I can collect unemployment now. My former employer can still appeal, I won't be surprised- and I won't be resentful etc. As was suggested by the people who took the time and care to comment on this thread- It's not personal- it's a force of nature. When the storm breaks the roof, we patch it up as best we can. We fix it. That's how we roll.
    I have to say- the difference between being able to claim benefits and not- is make or break. If you are honestly entitled to it- and you've got monsters to take care of-( like some of us here-) not doing so is criminal. If you lose your job through no fault of your own, go- get drunk- get it over and done with- and then file immediately the next day.
  • C)Heard nothing since.
  • D)Doing ok with art, it's meaningful. Until I find some ambitious unix hackers to work for- There's an endless and beautiful world we're creating out here- so much to learn.

    However unlikely, I came to the right place. If you go through this weirdness- consider browsing the discussion.