From “Quiet Quitting” to Loud Layoffs

One of the more loathsome inventions of the business press in this pandemic-impacted era of work is the term “quiet quitting”. Ed Zitron is far more eloquent than I in expressing his fury regarding the term. But here is my own response to an article about a CEO complaining about the backlash he received to a LinkedIn post about firing 2 engineers who were working multiple full-time jobs:

“The Business Insider piece is kinda trash because they let the CEO posture and moralize. There’s an obvious double standard for what CEOs are allowed to do versus regular workers and they didn’t interrogate that at all. Perhaps some people work parallel jobs to make ends meet, but there are definitely folks taking advantage as well. The collusion of the press with business to invent this concept of “quiet quitting” still makes me angry. Having seen and been subject to layoffs [myself], stingy benefits, and being underpaid relative to my experience and skillset for a good chunk of my career, it’s laughable to me that these companies expect loyalty for how little they offer in return. Even though I wouldn’t do the parallel jobs thing myself, I can see how people rationalize it. They’re just being as transactional with employers as employers have been with workers for decades now.

me in an online chat with friends from October 2022

Fast-forward to today and the news is filled with layoff announcements. PagerDuty literally quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr as part of a blog post laying off some 7% of their workforce. Friends of mine at 2 other companies regularly in the news are now out of work. My own employer laid off a little over 2% of the workforce. While I am still employed, a number of people I’ve done great work with over the past 5 years are now out of jobs. As far as I can see, these layoffs do not have a thing to do with performance. And given the profit numbers some of the most prominent companies in layoff news have posted over the past couple of years, these are not cuts needed to ensure the survival of these companies.

Ed Zitron’s take on what should happen to the CEOs laying off all these people seems extreme at first, but is it really? Microsoft posted record results for fiscal 2022, but they’re still laying off thousands. Is it really the fault of all those workers Google, Facebook, and others hired during the depths of the pandemic (as if consumer habits were going to remain that way forever) that the pandemic loosened its grip and consumer behavior moved back toward pre-pandemic norms? Perhaps we aren’t being skeptical enough, or critical enough of cuts of this size and scale. As often as we’ve heard about and/or read about “the business cycle”, CEOs who make the kind of money they do ought to know better than to assume that

I survived more than a few layoffs back when the internet bubble burst (leaving an internet consulting firm for a new role just months before it declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy). The company I joined, a telecom equipment manufacturer, turned out to be at the height of its headcount. Over the 4 years I was there, they shed well over half their workforce (even as they acquired failing competitors). The friends of mine at those companies that lost jobs never seemed to lose them because of performance. The RIFs I would be on the wrong side of in later years never seemed to be either. In a world of work that long ago replaced pensions with 401(k)s, we are just numbers when push comes to shove.

Not every company is as honest as Netflix in modeling themselves after a professional sports team, and all that entails about the short shelf life of the average player. I’ve been working more than long enough to know that any company that refers to itself as a “family” is a company not to be trusted. This season of layoffs is just the latest reminder that what matters most in life are the people who matter to you and the people who treat you like you matter in return–regardless of the work you do for a living, be they family or friends. When it comes to work, we should enjoy it and do it well, but not at the expense of what matters most. If we’re going to give loyalty, let it be to people who have earned it and reciprocate it, not to institutions. Moves to Amazon Lightsail

Before last year ended, I moved this blog off its EC2 instance running a too-old version of PHP to an Amazon Lightsail instance in a new region. The original rationale for hosting on EC2 was to have a project and a reason to do things in AWS other than whatever a certification course might teach. But having finally earned that AWS Certified Solution Architect Associate certification last spring (and paid more in hosting fees than a blog as small as this really merits), the switch to a simpler user experience and lower cost for hosting was overdue.

Lightsail made it simple to launch a single self-contained instance running the latest version of WordPress. The real work was getting that new instance to look like the old one. Getting my posts moved over wasn’t hard, since I make a regular habit of using Tools > Export > All Content from the dashboard to ensure I have a WordPress-compatible copy of my posts available. The theme I use however (Tropicana) recommends far more plugins than I remember when I first chose it. The Site Health widget nags you about using a persistent object cache, so I tried getting the W3 Total Cache plugin working. I kept seeing an error about FTP permissions that I couldn’t resolve so I got rid of the plugin and Site Health said the server response time was ok without it. Another plugin I got rid of was AMP. Something about how I had AMP configured was seemed to prevent the header image from loading properly. With AMP gone, everything worked as before. Akismet Anti-Spam and JetPack are probably the most important plugins of any WordPress install so I made sure to get those configured and running as soon as possible.

The last change I needed to make was the SSL certificate. The Lightsail blueprint for WordPress (the official image from Bitnami and Automattic) has a script which automatically generates certs using Let’s Encrypt. When the script didn’t work the first time (because I’d neglected to update my domain’s A record first), I went back and made that change then shut down the (now) old EC2 instance.

GenXJamerican 2.0 still needs some more changes. I used to have a separate blog just for photos, years ago when one of my best friends was hosting WordPress instances. The Social Slider Feed plugin lets you pull in content from Instagram and other social media sites, so I’ve added those to a Photos page. Once I figure out the photo gallery plugin, that should be the next update. I’ll also be looking into the ActivityPub and WebFinger plugins as part of my growing interest in Mastodon.

Insurrection Anniversary

On this day, the second anniversary of the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, I took a look back through what I posted on Facebook on that day, as well as some of what my friends posted in response.

I shared the following from my friend Brian:
“I just heard that the police are slowly, peacefully, and methodically dispersing these insurrections that breached our capitol, vandalized it, and desecrated it. Now compare that to how the police acted when they were dispersing BLM supporters in front of Lafayette Square so Trump could get a photo opp in front of a church while holding a bible upside down. Do not tell me that there is no such thing as white privilege. It cannot be more vividly illustrated than it has today.”

I appreciated Brian’s comment a lot because he’s white, but especially because he’s written at length about just how conservative he used to be. The two years that have elapsed since Brian posted this comment have only reinforced his point. Police in the U.S. set a record for the number of people they killed last year. Two years after the murder of George Floyd by 4 Minneapolis police officers and all the talk of racial reckoning, the police are just as unreformed as before and black and brown people remain in just as much danger.

I posted the following myself:
“Right after they finish certifying Biden’s Electoral College victory, Congress should impeach Trump again.”

This sentiment found a fair amount of agreement among my friends (as well as some whataboutism from a former classmate who also works in tech).

My last post on January 6, 2021:
“By the way, Ted Cruz is still going to object to the certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory after all this. On behalf of a man who called his wife ugly, and called his father a murderer. To call this man spineless is an insult to actual invertebrates.”

As it turned out, Ted Cruz had a lot of company–5 other senators and 121 House members (all Republicans) challenged the electoral results in Arizona (a state first called for Biden–correctly–by Fox News). Additional GOP senators and House members also challenged the Pennsylvania results.

Fast-forward to the current day, and as I write this the House has started the 12th round of voting for the next Speaker of the House. All three GOP nominees for speaker (Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, and Kevin Hern) are among the 147 Republicans who voted in favor of overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election–the very objective of the insurrectionists who invaded the U.S. Capitol and sent them running and hiding for their lives. In the wake of a 2022 election which gave the GOP control of the US House of Representatives, twice-impeached Donald Trump is once again running for president (an outcome which would have been avoided had he been removed from office and disqualified from holding future office).

The continued absence of accountability for any elected officials who gave rhetorical aid and comfort to the insurrectionists 2 years after it took place is sad, but unsurprising unfortunately. Also unsurprising is accountability (when it has landed) landing most heavily on the foot-soldiers of the insurrection. Particularly for former members of the military who participated in this attempted coup, the punishments meted out have not been sufficiently severe from my perspective.

Also lost in the coverage of the U.S. Capitol insurrection is a similar incident at another state capitol–Olympia, Washington. Even if there weren’t other such incidents at state capitols 2 years ago, the comfort level on the political right with threatening and/or enacting anti-government violence, whether by those who plotted to kidnap the governor of Michigan over COVID restrictions, or the Bundy clan and their abuses of federal land is far too high.

Jamaicans Doing Big Things in America: Susan M. Collins

Susan M. Collins is the new president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Per the bank’s press release, Collins is just the second woman to lead the organization as well as the first person of color. I didn’t know until reading the Bloomberg piece that 1969 was the year Jamaica put their own dollar into circulation, replacing the pound. That’s also the year both my parents left the island to immigrate to the U.S. Another thing that stood out to me in the Bloomberg profile is her parents–particularly her father. His work for the United Nations reminds me of my own father’s work for another international organization–The World Bank. The bit about his challenges winning arguments against economists (his Ph.D. was in social anthropology) also reminds me of my dad, in that I saw (and would later participate in) many a debate on the issues of the day with family members and friends.

Owning My Words, Revisited

A few years ago, I wrote this brief post, after Scott Hanselman re-tweeted one of his blog posts from 2012. In the wake of last year’s takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk, I’ve been pointing people to Hanselman’s decade+ old advice because I’m seeing it repeated in various forms by others (Monique Judge of The Verge is the most recent example I’ve read). In the time since that November 2019 post, I’ve published at least 60 posts (with a couple dozen more still in drafts). But the best-written and fiercest piece I’ve read on the subject is this Substack post by Catherynne M. Valente.

Her piece is well worth reading in full and sharing with friends. I’m just 5 years older than Valente, and reading it gave me a flashback to the very first page I ever put on the web. It was probably back in 1994, since the Mosaic browser had just come out the year before. I was a sophomore computer science major at University of Maryland then, so it would have been wherever they let students host their own pages. It was just some fan page for the team they used to call the Washington Redskins.  I somehow figured out how to take an image of the team’s helmet and make it look debossed under everything else I put on the page.  It was the first time I got compliments from strangers for something I did on the internet (in a Usenet newsgroup for fans of the team).  Usenet is how I joined my first fantasy football league.  Many of the guys I met online in that league back in 1993 are still friends of mine today. I later met a number of them in-person when I visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time (and I’ve been back a couple more times since).  Usenet is how dozens of us Redskins fans ultimately met in-person and attended a Redskins game together in San Diego (LaDainian Tomlinson’s rookie debut in 2001, and Jeff George’s debut as Redskins starting QB).  So much life has happened since then that until I read a post like Valente’s, it’s very easy to forget all the different ways in which much less sophisticated tech than we have today proved to be very, very good at helping us make meaningful, durable connections with each other.

The 12-point plan of how online communities are created and ultimately destroyed is the heart of her piece. A lot of the friends I first made on on Usenet, or even email distros have migrated through a lot of the same sites Valente listed as having fallen victim to that plan. The migrations to Mastodon (or Instagram, or Slack, or Discord, or Reddit, or SMS groupchats, etc) sparked by Twitter turning into $8chan (as some only half-joking call it now) is a reminder of many previous site & app migrations. Personally, I’m splitting the difference–spending a bit more time on Slack with friends, an ongoing chat with my cousins via GroupMe, and more time on Mastodon in favor of a bit less time on Twitter (less doomscrolling at least). Particularly in the depths of the pandemic (which sadly still seems far from over), some of my Twitter mutuals found and formed a real community in a direct message group. There are nearly 20 of us, all black, in business, tech, academia, science, and journalism among other fields. They’ve been some of the most encouraging people regarding my writing beyond my own family. One of them gave me the opportunity to be a panelist on a discussion of diversity in tech. I continue to learn from them through our ongoing conversations and value our connections enough to have shared other contact info with them if Twitter does go down.

Some of us have already learned that the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere when it comes to social media. What’s being done to Twitter by Elon Musk right now–as much value as I still personally gain from using it–has been an opportunity to reconsider how I engage with social media. I’ve been much more selective about who I follow on Mastodon (just 85 people vs over 800 on Twitter) and am seeing a lot more technical content as a result. This change in my social media experience is intriguing enough that by this time next year I may be one of those people who went from having just a basic grasp of how Mastodon worked to self-hosting an instance and writing all about the experience.