Building Software Together

Chapter 25: How to Handle Being Fired

I hope you're never fired, or if you are, that the company handles it professionally. In case they don't, these rules are based on my experience being fired by DataCamp and on what friends and colleagues went through there and at other companies. Remember: however much you like your job, it won't love you back [Jaffe2021]

Insist on a record of all conversations.
The biggest mistake you can make is to assume good faith on the part of those who fired you. In most jurisdictions you have a right to record any phone calls you are part of, and if that feels too confrontational, insist on communicating by email. If they insist on communicating by phone or video call, follow up immediately with an email summary and make sure you send a copy to your personal account.
Pause before speaking, posting, or tweeting.
If possible, have someone you trust look everything over before you say it or send it. Don't use someone who still works for the company, even if they are your closest friend: it puts them in a legally and morally difficult position.
Keep your public statements brief.
People may care, but most won't care as much as you do. A simple recitation of facts is usually damning enough.
If you want to correct something online, add a timestamped amendment.
Don't just take it down or edit it: if you do, you will be accused of rewriting history, and muddied waters only help whoever fired you. Also, be prepared for them to dig through everything you've ever said online and re-post parts selectively to discredit you.
Speak directly to all the issues rather than omitting or ignoring things you'd rather not discuss.
Your honesty is your greatest asset, and it's hypocritical to criticize your opponents for spin or selective reporting if you're doing it too,
Don't sign any agreement that might prevent you from speaking about moral or legal concerns.
Or if you do, make sure the agreement explicitly excludes your concerns before signing it. And yes, it's very privileged of me to be able to say this: someone whose immigration status, essential health benefits, or family income is being threatened may not have a choice. That is why I think people who do have a choice also have an obligation to fight.
Don't cite the law unless a lawyer tells you to.
The law probably doesn't mean what you think it means, and the company almost certainly has lawyers on their side who will seize on any misstatement or mistake you make.
Don't try to get them to acknowledge that they were wrong.
Their lawyers probably won't let them say anything that would acknowledge wrongdoing or liability, and whatever happened probably wouldn't have if they were the sort of people who could admit mistakes.
Go for long walks.
Or cook some healthy meals, or pick up the guitar you haven't touched in years—anything that requires you to focus on something else for a while. This isn't just for your mental health: exhausted people make poor decisions, and you need to be at the top of your game.
Remember that it's OK to cry.
And that other people do care about you.

Have an Exit Strategy

We'll end this section with some advice from a former student:

One final thing I would have loved if someone told me when I was in fourth year: Have an exit strategy

Your employer is not beholden to you… Whoever owns/manages the project can toss your work when you leave (or before) and have it rewritten five times by different teams…and if you're not careful then there is nothing you can do about it. This kind of existential loss of many months of genuine effort is a big component of burnout, too.

My favourite way to mitigate this, which I thankfully learned before my first job: spend more time designing reusable components outside of the core task—bonus points if they're open source. Even if your project gets cancelled…you'll always have those reusable components to support your other projects and ambitions.

I built [redacted] to solve a larger problem at [redacted], and my effort continued to provide disproportional value to myself and society long after I left. I've always been hedging my efforts this way since, and I'm always glad I did.