How I went from being laid off to employed in a week in a half.
Matt Trask • August 10, 2019
Read Time: 11 minswork community pushing yourself
It's never a good feeling to see people from other offices show up unannouced. It definitely isn't good if they show up a little doom and gloom with a stack of papers. If you haven't been through this, use this post as a guideline to take the steps you need before this happens. If you have, or you are in an unfulfilling job, by all means please use my experiences here to help you get to a job that is fulfilling and meaningful. Life is too short to do work that is mindless and not inspiring to you. As I talked previously, I spent the first half of this year doing a lot of rediscovery about myself, what makes me happy. What I realized was while there were a lot of good challenges at my old job, I never felt fulfilled by it. I yearned for something more. I wanted to make a difference. However, when you have a consistent paycheck coming in, it is hard to break the cycle. When your bills are paid, you are saving and investing (Buy all the VTSAX you can. Ask me more about this!) and you are able to do things like travel, eat out, and not worry about losing anything, you can easily get stuck. This happened at my old job. When they came to tell us the office was closing, I was a mix of emotions. I was sad I was losing my job, sad I was losing my main income stream, but also indifferent. I knew I would land on my feet, that wasn't a problem. The problem was where would I, how long would it take, and what can I do in the intermediary stages.
I did what any good, mildly depressed person would do: I went home, bought Avengers Endgame, put it on, cuddled with my dog and just chilled. I told myself 24 hours to feel like a failure was good enough. I dont even know if I took the full 24 hours because later that night I was out in the group riding as hard as I could. In fact I feel bad because no one I was riding with knew what was happening, but the group I led ended up getting dragged across the route because I had energy to burn and I made the road and hills in Nashville my bitch.
Now here I am, 11 days later, offer signed and a job starting in a few weeks. How did I do it? More importantly, how can you do it too? Quick thanks to my really good friend Michael Moussa for inspiring this post.
Step One - The Community
Right after the announcement, but prior to leaving the office for the last time, I sent a quick tweet out.
Well, all good things come to an end.— matt trask (@matthewtrask) July 30, 2019
Im now looking for my next challenge. Got something fun? Send it my way. Nashville or remote. Could relocate for the right challenge!
RT Please? :)
The tweet above went gangbusters! I never expected it. However, I can tell you this: ever since I got involved with programming, and the PHP community, I have put my heart into this community to try and help it get better and more awesome for people coming up behind me. From organizing user groups to conferences, speaking, mentoring, podcasting and OSS, I spend hours a week working on this thing. I try my hardest to support everyone in our community when they need help. I don't have the biggest network, but every retweet helps someone get to where they need to be. And I think part of my success is that while I can be an asshole, I can be grumpy, I can be overly sarcastic, I also have empathy, I have understanding and I will use my voice to help others. Because of that, I have cultivated a community that is willing to help me when I need it.
First tip: grow your community, and keep tending to it. It will die without work. And don't be a raging dickbag to others.
Step Two - Be open
What is funny about that is that I just started dating someone, so I was hoping not to relocate but here is my second tip: Don't be picky, cast a wide net.
The thing about layoffs is you will usually get a severance. That is great, until you realize the money will dry up eventually. You may get a few weeks at most, never more than 2 months in an office layoff. This could be different with optional layoffs before they become a cost saving measure. That combined with whatever money you have affords you some pickiness but that pickiness could cost you up front. I wanted the widest possible net to catch jobs, so I opened myself to everything. Laravel, Symfony, no framework, Typescript, Rails, I took it all. Do I want to do Rails work? No, but its good interview practice. People would ask me if I preferred an office or being remote. Personally, I love an office. I love being around coworkers, grabbing lunch and getting out of my apartment. Im a homebody, and so its typical of me to stay in once Im in. Going to an office gets me out. But when asked I have no preference. I can work remote, I can work in an office. Im not picky. I live in a great area where I have a few coffee shops and a cool brewery that I can work from if Im working from home. I have a spare room in my apartment that is an office/bike room.
The same can be said about frameworks. I got asked about my preference for Laravel or Symfony. I don't care. I've used both, I like both. I can write code with both. My personal preference is Laravel only because at this point I have a few BASH scripts that spin up projects with packages I like easily. When it comes to a job I can't be bothered to care. I keep up with all the major frameworks, I watch their twitter accounts to see what is coming out. You can have a personal favorite, and still get a job by having strong opinions that are loosely held. Who knows, maybe as a Laravel developer you will look at Symfony and have new ideas.
The point being: the more picky you are in all of this, the more limiting you are. It's up to you to define how picky you want to be, but that pickiness comes with limits. Mainly, how long can you last on your money after the last paycheck comes in.
Step Three - Take your time at first (I didn't)
The byproduct of that tweet above is the amount of people reaching out offering me some time to talk about their teams, and why I should consider it. It worked out really well because I had a lot of people vouch for me which helped me out. In retrospect though, I should have taken the rest of the week to relax. I have money stored away, I was going be ok for a few days. Instead, I decided to hit it hard on Wednesday with 6 interviews I think. I did another 6 or so on Thursday too. By the end of Thursday I was tired. Talking to people physically hurt me. I went to a conference the next day, which was more effort but a different kind. I made it clear to companies that yea Im interviewing now, but Im not in a rush to find something. Im making sure I get the best amount of coverage and getting the best possible options for my next step. Im fortunate the place I landed doesnt have me starting til the end of the month so I have two weeks to work out, cycle, and do OSS.
What happened though, is that I came into the next week of funemployement with options. Really, it's a double edged sword. Move at your own speed and pace. I have seen developers, some really good developers, linger in unemployement for so long, that it kind of scared me and made me want to get things moving. Its a little bit of a confidence booster to see so many places work to line up interviews with you. However I burned myself out to the point where I ended up telling one company that. I was already getting offers when I had a request for a video chat so they could get an offer. I was so tired and out of it that I basically declined and told them Im so burned out that I couldn't talk. Since I had offers, I was ok doing it, but Im sure had I paced myself a bit more I could have heard more and had even more to consider.
Tip three: if time permits, take a few days to recenter yourself.
Step Four - It's not all about the money
The last piece of advice I want to give is that while money is great and lets me live a lavish lifestyle of the rich and hipsterish, it's not everything. The spread of salaries I had in my offers was about $35k, not including benefits, options, and more. When I told one person I took the lowest paying one they were kind of taken back. They brought up how fast the highest salary gets to my main goal: early retirement. And they are absolutely right. However, as I see it with a lot of FIRE devotees: getting to FIRE quickly without a meaningful life built up, or arriving stressed and burned out is not worht it at all. I am aiming to retire in my 40's. I love what I do, but I would prefer to do exactly what I want to do: OSS and not have to worry about deadlines, stand ups or anything else. During the time I do have to work though I want to make sure I am at a company that values me, and wants me to take care of myself mentally and physically. Being prone to burn out, this was huge to hear from a company that they track PTO in order to make sure people take time off. They have a gym reimbursement program as well. Trading a large salary for a gym membership may seem silly, but what is the point of retiring early and being in terrible shape, miserable and depressed because I was overworking myself and not taking care of what needs to be tended too. This isn't to say I would be overworked in the other jobs, but taking care of myself is a big thing and this was a huge selling point to me. This is a decision only you can make. Take the highest salary if you want, take the lowest, but do what is best for you. To me though, money isn't everything and I prefer to see how a job will let me be my best self. That can't be measured in dollars in any way at all.
Tip four: money doesnt mean everything, sometimes the culture is worth its weight in gold.
Step Five - Stay Humble
One thing I did after every interview I acquired via my tweet was thank them profusely for taking the time to talk to me. They were under no obligation to talk to me, so I wanted to make sure they time was well spent and they felt appreciated. I tried to thank every single person who quote tweeted my original tweet with kind words to make sure they knew they were appreciated in this hard time. When I turned down offers, I tried my hardest to start with just how grateful I was they would even consider offering me a job. It takes just a few seconds, but it goes a long, long way. So long that a few of the jobs I turned down told me if things don't work out I have a spot on their team. They don't have to do that, they will find other great developers, but because I did my best to stay humble and be appreciative, I have created lasting impressions and relationships now.
Tip five: stay humble, and thank everyone.
I think these five tips will help anyone. Whether you are just starting out ohave r been a developer for a while, taking care of your community connections, taking time for yourself and weighing your options will get you the best result.
I can't tell you how much I struggled and agonized over the decision of what team to join. It's a position that is incredibly hard. It took a lot of thought, a lot of personal intraspection and a lot of pros/cons lists. I had my dream job offered to me, more money than I've ever made, and opportunities to create amazing things. In the end Im confident I made the right decision for myself and I look forward to what it brings.
Have questions? Feel free to message me here or on twitter!