After a heavy year with multiple waves of layoffs across the tech industry, Chris Jimenez talks about how engineers can learn from their personal experience and better navigate the current landscape.
Significant waves of layoffs have been a near constant across the tech industry this year. Although these have been difficult for everyone involved, there are at least some lessons to be learned when going through this process.
Ahead of his talk at LeadDev Berlin, director of platform engineering at Zenjob, Chris Jimenez (CJ), talked to LeadDev's Scott Carey (SC) about how to deal with layoffs in your team. The below conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. Chris’s full talk will be delivered at LeadDev Berlin on December 6.
SC: Hi Chris, what will you be speaking about at LeadDev Berlin?
CJ: I’ll be speaking about layoffs, which has been an unfortunate “trending” topic in the last year or so.
I’ve learned a lot about layoffs through my experiences, whether that was being part of one, or running a round of redundancies. So my talk will try to help others who have been through layoffs by covering different incidents I’ve been through, my involvement in them, and what I took away from them.
SC: What's one of the biggest lessons you've learned throughout your career about how to manage a period of widespread layoffs?
CJ: As a manager who is handling layoffs in their team, I think it's definitely your responsibility to demand clarity from those senior to you. It’s also important to provide clarity to your team, even if it's hard.
Ensure that you have enough information to handle any questions from your direct reports and that you are able to help them understand the most important aspects. This is also useful when it comes to figuring out what comes next, so you can work with your team to manage that.
If you’re someone who has been laid off – and this is something that I struggled with when this happened to me – understanding the “why” can be difficult. I think it's really important to emphasize that maybe there's not a good answer to that “why”. Coming to the realization that this isn’t a personal attack on you and that a company doesn’t define you – that you will continue on – is important, but may take a while to come to terms with.
For me, I think my personal experience of having lived through a layoff has really helped me to manage these situations for my own reports. Especially because I had a really, really bad experience of being laid off 10 years ago. I was able to use that lived understanding to subsequently manage those same elements that negatively affected me and stop them from happening to people in my own team.
It's a complicated topic and I think most managers aren’t trained for a lot of it. It can just feel like a huge bomb exploded in the company and everyone is running around. For these reasons, I think it's definitely worth trying to talk about it a bit more.
SC: Do you have a framework for managing during times of mass layoffs?
CJ: I think clarity is the main thing. Try to reach for the most clarity at the earliest point possible. If you’re an engineering manager, reflect on yourself. Ask where this situation puts you. Have the layoffs changed your degree of involvement in the company? Do you even still believe in this company?
Once you’ve become clear on where you stand, you need to work with others to help them arrive at the same point of clarity as you. A lot of people will be looking to you for answers on why the team was affected, or perhaps why they weren’t affected. Extending that support to others is super important.
Try to re-establish team dynamics as quickly as you can. There’ll always be bumps in the road, but getting the team to a better state is important. Continue your 1:1s, try to get back on top of your “business-as-usual” projects, and endeavor to bring back the sense of a working team. If you can, after a month or a couple of weeks, offer a longer-term vision for the team.
Another thing I think is super important is making room for the team to deliver. Make sure that there’s some sort of movement or wins along the way.
SC: What do you hope the audience will take away after your talk?
CJ: I hope they’ll come away from the talk a tiny bit more ready for the situation if it does happen to them. If there is someone who is going through the same thing right now, I hope that they are able to learn more about what this means for them and how to manage the influx of feelings they must have. They’ll have a bit more technical knowledge, but also a deeper understanding of the motions of what happens afterward.