NOTE: NOT MY CURRENT JOB!!! I AM STILL HAPPILLY EMPLOYED!!
December 7th marked the anniversary of my termination from a past job. After much deliberation, I have decided to share the culmination of circumstances that led up to this major event in my life as I learned so much from it.
When Tara and I moved to Utah, I was scared shitless. In the midst of a crappy economy, I had left a good job and moved to a new state with no leads whatsoever. Knowing what I know now, I should not have been so concerned. We had a fair amount of money saved between us, and my previous employer was generous enough to allow me to do a month’s worth of contract work for them writing a product instruction manual.
The Monday following our arrival in Salt Lake, amazingly, I interviewed and got an offer to work for a consultant. The offer was a slap in the face: the pay, which was hourly was only a fraction of what I had made prior, no benefits, and no vacation. The job description was lackluster as well, and I being the social guy that I am, I certainly wasn’t all that interested in working in a 2 person company. Yet I was scared, and taking this job meant money coming in, so I accepted on the grounds that I may only be there temporarily, which my employer said he was fine with.
One thing they don’t particularly make clear in school is that accepting a job offer in the professional world is far more significant than hiring on at Wendy’s. A professional job search is not unlike shopping for a house. Time and care should be taken to “shop around” and make a good decision. Working at place for a year or less is typically frowned upon. Not fully aware of this, I continued my job search while working my crap job, and made the mistake of actually putting the crap job on my resume. The hope had been to bolster the document, but in reality it meant that I would spend 25-50% of the time during interviews explaining why I was trying to leave a company that I had only been with for only 2 weeks.
After 2 months, my job search had not made any headway, so I began trying to like the work I was doing at the crap job more and accept that I may be in it for longer than I had hoped. This proved to be difficult. To enjoy an adult job, you need to be treated like an adult. To be treated like an adult, you need to be allowed to work on your own and you need to be granted some responsibility. I was given neither of these. My employer (lets call him John), did try hard to give me design projects that I would enjoy, but failed to pass over the reigns. He was constantly butting in, trying to check on my progress. If I had written a piece of code that worked, but was not exactly the way he would have written it, he had the nerve to change it right front of my face. He threw me into projects that he had 75% completed, which meant there was only one way to complete them: his way. He also failed to understand that no engineer, no matter how talented, can be thrust into a mostly completed project and immediately start churning away. Especially in software, there is a time period in which the project must be learned. John would check up on me a mere few hours after dumping a project on me, and appear disappointed when I would report that I was still trying to figure out what the hell was going on in the code.
And so it continued for another month. My morale couldn’t have been worse. I spent 50% of my time doing assembly work: Dremeling the part number off the chip he was using (he didn’t want anyone to steal his design, which was ironic since his design was partially stolen), snapping plastic casing on, and worst of all: potting. For those not familiar with manufacturing processes, potting is the act of water-proofing electronics by filling the case with a potting compound (liquid) which then cures into a consistency similar to a bouncy ball. Most larger companies have machines that mix the proper proportions of the compound for you, and then you just dispense the stuff by pulling a trigger on something that looks like a beefed up hot glue gun. Naturally John didn’t have any of that fancy stuff, so I got to mix the crap in yogurt cups and then suck it into a plastic syringe, hurrying, as the stuff only took 5 min to cure after being mixed.
All of the crappiness reached a boiling point one fateful Friday in early December, 3 months into my employment. John was away attempting to sell his product at a trade show in Texas, and so I was working by myself. He would have much liked to have me stay home those days due to his chronic distrust in anything that breathes, but forced himself to allow me to come in on the condition that I email him daily updates of my progress that day. That Friday, I was working on a PCB that John had built up before he left. In my troubleshooting, I discovered that solder had bridged over a few of the pins on one of the chips thus shorting them together. In my efforts to reflow the solder with his shitty shitty equipment, I melted the PCB. This is the second time that this had happened to me, and it was infuriating. In an effort to blow off steam, I put everything down and browsed the internet for a little while. No, this was not the first time I browsed the internet. In fact, John had caught me once before and given me a warning. But the internet is something you turn to at any professional job when your brain needs a break. After the break, I turned to the software side of the project, and spent the rest of the day chasing a bug which I did manage to get fixed. Spending 4+ hours trying to fix a code bug is also commonplace in engineering.
At the end of the day, I sent John my sorry report and went home frustrated. John read the email, got pissed off that I had destroyed the PCB, and could not believe that I hadn’t gotten further on the software front. He therefore came in that Saturday, logged on to my computer, and looked into my browser history in search of an explanation for my lack of productivity. Naturally, being an adult, I had not deleted my history, and John did discover that I had in fact browsed the web during work. He made the decision then and there that he must fire me.
I arrived the following Monday at 8 AM, which was unusual, as I had been snowboarding Monday mornings and typically came in around noon and worked late. Yet, due to lack of snow, I had decided against hitting the slopes that day. When I got there, I immediately knew John was there because his truck was out front and the light was on. When I tried the door, I found it locked. Intrigued, I entered my door code. Nothing. A sense of dread coming over me, I frantically tried the code again. Still nothing. Humiliated, I knocked on the door. A solid 3 minutes passed before John sheepishly cracked the door to see me standing there. “Why don’t you come have a seat?” He told me, and I could already see the box with all my stuff in it, and knew.
He removed from the top of the box a stack of 10 or so pages stapled together. The top sheet was the letter of termination. All the other sheets comprised my browser history, which he had printed out. 75% of the list was work related or browsing I had done off the clock, either over lunch or before or after work. No matter. His mind was set, and that was that. He tried to tell me how hard this was for him, that he liked me, and even wanted to call me “son”—this was particularly disturbing. Worst of all, I am fairly certain that had I showed up at noon instead of 8, I would have found the box and the letter sitting on the doorstep, and never would have seen John again.
As I drove away, I made one of the most difficult phone calls of my life: to Tara to confess that I had been fired. Being the amazing person that she is, she was understanding. I started a full time job search immediately, following, what turned out to be, the best advice John ever gave me: “Don’t put this job on your resume”. 2 days later, I received a call from my current employer. I still don’t know if I hit them in my resume sending frenzy, or they happened to stumble upon me, but after an hour phone interview, they asked me to come in for a face-to-face later that day. Both interviews went exceptionally well, but I was doubtful as the position they were hiring for was to replace the head hardware engineer who was leaving. As it turns out, I so impressed them with my knowledge and enthusiasm, and was cheap enough that they decided to create a new position for me. 3 long weeks after the interview, they called me with an offer, which I accepted immediately.
Let it be clear that I’m not trying to claim innocence at all here. Most of what occurred here is due to mistakes I made. Getting fired sticks with you, probably forever. Although the feelings of humiliation and worthlessness have long passed, I will always have the utmost gratitude for being employed, and realize now that termination can happen at any time for any or no reason.
But, this story has a very happy ending. The number of miracles that materialized in order for this to all happen is absolutely unbelievable. It is safe to say that, had I not been fired, I would not have the job I have today. I realize that many people are out there, still waiting for their happy endings, and my month-long unemployment doesn’t even come close. This most definitely sucks. A previous coworker once told me something that ended up sticking with me my entire ordeal: “It all works out eventually”.