That was the week (and job) that was

It started very innocently.

It was Monday morning, about 9:20am; I’d been in the office about 30 minutes, after my usual weekly trip to the chiropractor. I’d been unable to connect to the intranet all weekend because of a fiber cut in Westchester County, so I was busily processing my Lotus Notes inbox (reading email, in English). And I was awaiting the arrival of a colleague (let’s call him J) who was driving in from Fresno to work with me, at our manager’s request — there were two goals: better defining a project we were planning and making sure that J saw other IBMers occasionally. So I wasn’t surprised when my manager (M) popped up on IM to ask if he could call me — I assumed he was going to offer some suggestions for our meeting.

I was wrong.

“Hello, David. There is a resource action today and your job has been eliminated. If you cannot find another position within IBM by March 31st, your employment will terminate on that date. I am sending you the official information by email – please read it.”

I’m probably not quoting exactly, but that was the gist of it. I’m sure M was reading from a script, because the words weren’t in his style, and he delivered them almost in a single breath.

I was stunned. Not just because of the news, but because I hadn’t heard any rumors of a resource action, unlike 2009, where I think there must have been ads on TV telling IBMers to watch for it, it was so widely expected.

After the scripted part of the call, M and I talked a bit longer; he told me to concentrate on myself and not worry about the work in progress and apologized for this having happened.

Almost as soon as we hung up, another IM window popped up; it was another colleague on the East Coast who was going to call when J arrived so we could work together. I told him that I’d been resourced, and that I might need to cancel our sessions, but would let him know.

Of course, I called Diane immediately and gave her the news — she says I sounded pretty shaken. I don’t remember.

I decided that since J had already driven two hours, it didn’t make any sense to tell him to turn around — I did phone him and warn him that I might be distracted and told him why.

When he arrived, we called our East Coast colleague and had a good technical session — I told them where the things I’d been working on would fit into their project (that’s not how I’d been planning to phrase it originally), and we talked about where they were going to go with the project.

In the meantime, I’d told my assistant (who was probably more shocked than I had been) and asked her to start setting up meetings with people who might be able to help me, starting with my HR Partner, who I met right after lunch (with J, where the discussion was not very technical).

The discussion with my HR Partner was just what I needed; she was empathetic, sympathetic, and knowledgeable about the resources that IBM was making available to me (including an outplacement firm, financial advice, and, of course, a severance package). She was also straightforward about my chances of finding a new position in the 30 days I had left (not good, but it had happened in previous cycles).

When I left her office, I felt a lot better — I wasn’t thrilled about what had happened, but I realized that how I reacted to it was in my hands (as a senior IBM executive once said, “You own your own morale”).

So I started reaching out to people in my network and asking for pointers to opportunities, whether inside or outside IBM. And I started declining some of the standing meetings on my calendar (especially the ones at 6am Pacific!), while keeping the ones where I thought I could make a contribution.

I could go on in endless detail, but I suspect it would be boring, and wouldn’t actually help anyone reading this. Suffice it to say that I haven’t been nearly as busy for quite a while, and that it is wonderful to have so many friends and colleagues (both those still at IBM and those who have made the transition) who have been willing to listen to me and offer support of one form or another.

I would have been quite happy not to have gotten that phone call on Monday, but I’m very fortunate because I’m in a good position to use this to move forward.

  • I have the luxury of time to figure out what “forward” means (not everyone does).
  • IBM is providing various forms of assistance (I meet with the placement firm on Monday — since I’ve never had to write a résumé, I know what one of my first tasks will be).
  • I know lots of people who want to see me succeed and are willing to help.
  • And I don’t have to write a PBC for this year! (Well, probably…I am looking internally, and my management team is helping me in that quest.)

Stay tuned.

Special note for IBMers

Frank Jania was included in last year’s layoffs; he wrote “Lessons From A Layoff” during his last month at IBM. I read it at the time, little suspecting that I’d find it so pertinent a year later. It’s on BlogCentral, which will be replaced by Lotus Connections blogs sometime in the not-so-distant future; I recommend you read the series (8 postings) while the URL is still good!

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48 Responses to That was the week (and job) that was

  1. Sadat Shami says:

    Wow… that just seem so random! I’ve always wondered how these decisions get made. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they are not based on merit.

  2. David says:

    Hi, Sadat — I am willing to bet that the one word which does _not_ apply here is “random”. Arbitrary, perhaps, at least in some respects (and I’m not focused on myself here), but I am confident that HR and Legal make sure it’s not random!

  3. Lauren Wood says:

    Very surprising! If I have any advice to give, having been in a similar situation last year, it’s this: try not to make any big decisions too quickly. The way you look at lots of things may change over the next while.

  4. Luis Suarez says:

    Hi David! My goodness! When you mentioned last week you were one of the folks affected by the RA, I just couldn’t believe it! What a story! Really really sorry to hear about this and, like I said internally, I will surely keep an eye on things and my both ears open for anything that may be coming across that may be worth while for you; I am 100% sure you will be landing safely somewhere, whether internal or external, soon! And reading your blog post I’ve confirmed that suspicion even more! Hang in there, my friend! I’m sure that we will work something out! Wherever!

    It’s interesting to see how you have quoted Frank’s blog series, which is also one of my favourites, but one other amazing read on the whole thing of the RAs is the one from Denilson Nastacio, which he blogged both internally and externally and, which to date, is one of those articles I have felt very identified with. Here is the link, if you are interested in reading further up: http://rtpscrolls.blogspot.com/2009/03/layoffs-sheep-shepherds-and-wolves.html

    Like I said, hang in there and best of luck! Will be in touch! :-D

  5. Karyn says:

    If there is anybody who has the connections to find another job inside IBM, it would be you. I’m sorry that you’ve been through this shocker. Let me know if I can help in any way. As you know, been there, done that.

  6. Remember. You own all that is between your ears and the passion with which you apply them to the world around you, and more importantly – no one, but no one can ever take that away from you. Ever.

  7. David says:

    @Lauren – Thanks. I’m retirement-eligible, which gives me a lot of flexibility and the chance to let things mature. About the only quick decision I have to make is whether I want to pursue a job inside IBM or not, because that clock _is_ ticking!

  8. David says:

    @Luis – thanks for the pointer to Denilson’s posting; I’m pretty sure I read it internally last year. I’ve just subscribed to his external blog, too.

    I am honestly convinced that, whether I stay at IBM or go elsewhere, getting this kick in the butt will turn out to be a good thing (painful though the initial jolt has been). One reason I’m blogging about it (besides alerting my network) is to help others learn from my experiences. And I’m blogging about it externally rather than internally for three reasons:

    1) Survivability of the content (especially for my own access!)

    2) Broader audience — IBMers are not the only ones faced with this kind of situation

    3) Maybe some of my audience will click on the ads or follow my Amazon link (a guy’s gotta eat, y’know!)

    I’m glad to say that #3 is not as important as the others.

    Thanks, Luis, for the support!

  9. David says:

    @Karyn – thanks. I’ll ping you sometime when I see you online in FB chat, if that’s ok. Or vice versa. Or we could even schedule something!

  10. David says:

    @Chuck – Amen. And thanks.

  11. Thanks for sharing this, David. I’m really worried about IBM. If they keep laying off all the big-picture, out-of-the-box visionaries they’ll be no different than Dell. I hope you can find a place within IBM to keep applying your unique skills.

    On the other hand, I can attest to the fact that there is life–a good, interesting and fun life–after IBM. Feel free to call if you want to brainstorm.

    And never forget Nelson’s Law: “Nothing improves unless it changes.” Which of course does not mean that all changes ARE improvements . . . .

  12. Brian Olore says:

    Hi David, shocking news indeed! I wish you all the best in whatever it is that comes next. Take care, be well & keep blogging!

  13. Julian Cerruti says:

    Hi David, really shocking news. I would have never thought this was the reason when I saw your tweets about an unusual week.
    I truly hope only better comes out of this. Like they say: when a door is closed, another one is opened. I fully trust you will find yourself enjoying your new situation – whichever it turns out to be – sooner than you expect.

  14. Frank Jania says:

    David – first off, I’m really sorry to hear that they “selected” you. But at the same time, I think that IBM is defining itself with these kinds of cuts and that good people need to leave and make a difference somewhere else now.

    I’m really glad that I left. There is so much more outside of IBM. Whatever you end up deciding to do, it will be the right choice.

    Thanks so much for pointing to my LfaL series. I’ve got a copy of it on my personal machine and I plan on putting it up on my personal blog some time soon. I think I’ll need to preface some of the IBM specific material.

    Good luck.

  15. David says:

    @Mike – Thanks…expect a call sometime soon. Brainstorming with you is always fun!

    Nelson’s Law reminds me of Donofrio’s Law: “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” It’s generally cited to support an unpleasant (but necessary) change.

  16. David says:

    @Brian – Thanks. I must say that this has really revived my blog — just when I thought Facebook and Twitter had eaten it completely, too!

  17. David says:

    @Julian – Thanks. Believe it or not, I’m enjoying at least _parts_ of this process — I am certainly enjoying all the support and positive vibes I’ve been receiving from friends like you! And I am learning a lot about myself, too.

  18. David says:

    @Frank – I was hoping you’d kept a copy of Lfal! As I said when you were posting it, it’s worth expanding and building on for a broader audience.

    Being able to make a difference is a very important factor in my decision process. More later.

  19. As I said on twitter David http://twitter.com/cathcam/status/10016490091 “it’s a brave new world, and I’d say in retrospect, one well worth exploring”

    As for Mike Nelsons comparison between IBM and Dell, out of the box thinkers are thriving at Dell, and making much more progress on good ideas than they would at IBM. Unfortunately, remote working is a not-so-much, let me know if I can help…

  20. Greg Pfister says:

    Sad and shocking news. You’re one of the two people I have continuing contact with inside IBM — and the other guy just told me his position was eliminated, too. Certainly, do due diligence on where else in IBM you might find a roost, but the other person’s take was that positions have been dried up, deliberately, in order to “make the numbers” for this resource action.

    I was in a similar state when I left: Retirement eligible, severence package. No formal resource action, but my entire group was eliminated. I’d been planning for several years to retire soon anyway, though, and the package bridged me to that point, so things were OK with me. (I also checked within IBM, though, and found a dry hole.)

    As I said to my other friend, the criteria for staying now seems to be that you are heads down working to push product out the door; nothing else counts.

  21. David says:

    @Mark — I suspect one factor (among many) which led to my current status is having been remote for several years and not travelling often enough to really stay connected (sometimes due to my choice, sometimes due to other factors), so I’m interested in finding a local position. And even though I’ve enjoyed my visits to Austin, we aren’t moving.

    Cupertino might be interesting….

  22. David says:

    @Greg — I’m not sure that positions have been _deliberately_ dried up, but there are a lot of people looking for a very few spots, which gives a very similar effect.

    My path is becoming clearer all the time.

  23. Hal B. Rager says:

    Hi David!

    Wow, what news! I know you’ll land on your feet.

    Hal

  24. Terribly sorry to hear it…in so many ways. That it has happened to you, that it has happened to someone as important to IBM as you, that IBM faces the actual prospect of losing your leadership, that a competitor will benefit from it (if you so choose) . Really disturbing news.

    You already have in hands the best material anyone can read on the subject (Frank’s series) , so nothing to add on that front.

    I hope you find the inner peace to go through this process with certainty, not hope, that everything will turn out right.

  25. David says:

    Denilson, thanks for your support. One thing I will say, though, is that no one is indispensable (not even me) — Charles De Gaulle said it best, I think.

    I’m continuing to blog the process — and every day, I’m feeling better about where I’m going. Stay tuned.

  26. David says:

    Thanks, Hal — it’s going to be an adventure!

  27. Hi David, I’ve always followed most of the posts you created in BlogCentral, I think you do an awesome and interesting job, you’re respected by everyone in the field and surely think that you won’t have a problem getting something inside or outside of IBM.

    Agree with those who say it’ll be a huge loss for IBM. No doubt about it.

    Wish you the best!

  28. David says:

    Cesar,

    Thank you very much! I will miss seeing your internal postings, as well, so I’m glad the outside world is well-connected.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve moved my internal posts (well, so far the total is one, but it’s got some technical meat to it) to Lotus Connections Blogs. :-)

  29. Andy Piper says:

    Arg.

    Enjoyed meeting you at TLE 08 and following all of your many postings. Best of luck on the hunt for leads. No doubt our paths will cross in some way regardless of the turns you may have to make along the way.

  30. David says:

    Thanks, Andy. Maybe you can revive WebAhead and invite me to Hursley as a guest speaker!

  31. Tom Erickson says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this. Best of luck. If I can help in anyway, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  32. David says:

    Thanks, Tom. And the same is true on my end!

  33. Duke says:

    David, I don’t know you but I can tell from your blog and the comments that you are a fantastic person. Best of luck to you and thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts.

  34. David says:

    Thanks, Duke — I hope what I’m writing helps others some day (as well as helping me process and digest!). I have gained from what others have written, and I’m trying to pay it forward now that it’s my turn.

  35. Karen Keeter says:

    David- As I said to you today- we have not spent a lot of time together, but I have greatly enjoyed our interactions together. OK, well except maybe the first one. I am sure you remember it well- when you showed up at the first AoT conference (in Second Life) for your orientation session. As I recall it, before I could even say hello, you asked me what the process for uninstalling the SL Viewer was… as you fully intended to do that IMMEDIATELY following the event.

    Everything was uphill from there, and I remember (with some satisfaction) when you pinged me with your blog entry about your experience. It ended with something like “So far, I have not uninstalled Second Life, and that surprises me”. I wish you the best in your next new adventure, and I look forward to reading about it right here on your blog.

  36. Sarah Siegel says:

    Oh, David. I remember first meeting you during John Patrick’s and Carol Moore’s ibm.com/Get Connected meeting in Thornwood.

    Every time I’ve ever spoken with you, I’ve been enriched. You are among the most interesting, most sympatico colleagues I’ve known at IBM.

    I think I’ve been so quiet since first seeing your recent tweet, since it was: a) shocking b) disorienting c) disheartening, that someone so creative and so collaborative could have his job eliminated…and then I remember that jobs can go and new ones can come and then can go and then the cycle can repeat, and it’s not about you as an individual blah blah blah, but still, I’m so disappointed.

    Wishing you the best and am so glad we can continue sending Rosh Hashanah greetings to each other via Facebook. — Sarah

  37. David says:

    Thanks, Sarah. It’s been great being one of your colleagues, and I am very glad we’ll be able to stay in touch, even if on opposite sides of the firewall. There was a time, not that long ago, when that would have been nearly impossible!

  38. David says:

    Karen —

    I still can’t contemplate going to the main grid of Second Life without getting a headache, and I have no intention of installing the viewer on my new computer!

    (Now watch…I’ll wind up working at Linden Labs!)

  39. Luba says:

    David, I keep waiting for you to announce that your new adventure is to start that garden we have discussed and I am looking forward to pictures of sprouts on FB.

  40. David says:

    @Luba — pictures of sprouts on FB are a distinct possibility. But I think I need a bit more adventure in my life than that!

  41. Hugh Varilly says:

    David,

    I am really shocked. IBM sometimes reminds me of George Bernard Shaw’s definition of a cynic “someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” This action is IBM’s loss. A friend of mine once described leaving IBM as like emerging from under a great big umbrella to find it wasn’t raining! Good luck in finding a rewarding job. I’m sure it won’t take long.

  42. David says:

    Thanks, Hugh. I really appreciate it, and I’m looking forward to bright sunny days (speaking of which, it’s absolutely gorgeous here today)!

  43. Simon Phipps says:

    Very sorry to hear this David. Having just been laid off myself after 27 years being continuously employed (although I rather expected it) I know it’s a real change of thinking. I hope you find something awesome – I’ll look out for ideas.

  44. David says:

    I was wondering if you were laid off or simply refused to change hats — I trust the former was more profitable.

    I will be looking for ideas after March 31st. Until then, they’d belong to my employer! :-)

  45. Gennady Y says:

    David, I am shocked!!! Hang in there, something will come up. Also I am more then willing to help, please let me know what youre thinking about and I will try to come up with resourses for you. This could also be a perfect opportunity to take on a new hobby :) or do something that you’ve been meaning to do for a long time. Either way … I am here to help.

    Best,

    -Gennady

  46. David says:

    Thanks, Gennady! At the moment, I’m enjoying a little time off while passively searching — and I am looking at new hobbies, too, including app development.

  47. I stumbled today upon your linked profile and learned that you are not an IBMer anymore. Deeply shocking. I’ve read several of your posts, and I’m happy to learn that your last days there were nice thanks to your gut’s decision on not looking for new things within the firewall.

    I want you to know that you have had a very important impact on my career, and that you have always been a central part of my mental image of a “smart ibm” vs a dumb/slow/bureaucratic one. And that I’ve sent countless times links to your articles on complexity!

    All the best to you (and your heart!).
    -Xavier

  48. David says:

    Thanks, Xavier!

    I really appreciate your telling me about my impact on your career — one of the things I most enjoyed at IBM was the ability to work with great people, and it always feels good to hear that I’ve made a difference to one of them.

    Cheers!