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On Being An Opinionated Employee In (Big) Tech

Obvious disclaimer: what you are about to read is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer, my management chain, my family, or my friends.

Despite having already posted a take somewhat related to layoffs, following the layoffs performed by my own employer (Meta), and not believing I have much to add in the analysis of the current economic and labour market situation, since it definitely isn’t my area of expertise, I realized I do have something to say about the discourse I see happening in my own sphere of existence.

See, a number of people who have been laid off became “suddenly” (from the point of view of the wider public) very critical of their former employer, and I have seen at least a couple of horrible takes suggesting that these people are hypocrites, since they worked for a big tech company and now complain about said company’s layoffs — which made me think that this is another aspect that is very obvious within the Bubble, but not really known outside of it, and it is something that I could try write up and explain to others.

Let’s start with a pre-read: I already went into the details of why so many open source developers turn to Big Tech paychecks, so I’m not going to repeat back here why the compromise of working for a proprietary services’ vendor might well be the only option for at least a number of people, particularly when they have a family (extended or not) to support. We’re not going to be on the same page if you want to insist that everyone has always the option of dropping their day job in favour of doing something that suits their personal ethics better. While personal sacrifices are obviously an option, when it comes to supporting other people, the decision is not just yours anymore — I know a couple of people who would be happy to go back in a more FLOSS friendly line of work, but they are saving up money for their kids’ future, so they don’t feel empowered to do, and since the kids themselves are still young, it’s not like they can provide their input on the choice.

What I’m trying to say, is that personal circumstances are a thing, and even for the most open tech influencer, you should not assume you know much of their personal life — which means you shouldn’t be judging their individual choices.

But while this may explains why people are working in Big Tech, why did they (apparently) become opinionated and vocal all of a sudden? Well, the answer is relatively easy if you think about it: all these people abruptly lost their feedback channels. When you work for a company, any company, you find ways to provide feedback where it can make a difference, and those channels are never public, for quite obvious reasons. If you’re on the outside, often the best thing you can do is to make as many people aware of the feedback as to convince them to bring this up themselves internally — this is why, before working at Meta, I voiced my concerns about some misleading ads in public, and when I left Google I had no other place to report the amount of spam on Maps.

Big tech employees can bring up their concerns with their colleagues, their managers, the product managers who look after a product that they don’t like, and even straight to leadership if they feel particularly strong about something — and when they were laid off, all those channels got closed on them, so even if they hadn’t just been subjected to a leadership decision without any warning, they would still need a new place to express their feedback on their ex-employer, thus the explosion of opinions and complaints.

There are a number of different ways to see this, some people would take the view that the employers are buying people’s silence, or that the employees are not acting on their self-interest by staying quiet, and a few would just call these people “corporate shills”. Personally, I think it’s a matter of professionalism: when I accept a position at a company I enter into an agreement to take my money home, and that agreement includes the requirement of following the due protocols to provide feedback and to not bring the company to disrepute (which, to the best of my understanding, is an actual fireable offense as per British labor law, but I’m not a lawyer so take that as an understanding.)

This is not the same as to say that the moment you’re working for a company you need to turn into their mouthpiece — if anything it’s the opposite, since every conduct training I received pointed out very clearly that you’re neither expected nor invited to defend the company publicly, leaving it to the appropriate press channels to discuss with the press and any external inquiry. You may a few people sharing everything that their employer announces, no matter which area it came from, with a “royal we”, this is their prerogative, but that is definitely no requirement — I personally don’t ever do that, if you see me share a company announcement, it’s usually because I was personally involved, if ever so slightly, to make it possible.

What happens, if you’re an opinionated individual working in big tech, is that you end up finding a suitable venue for your rants feedback — both because it is a lot more effective than just throwing it out there in the void, and because it is what is expected of you: taking the feedback into account usually builds better products, even when your feedback may not seem at first to be listened to. Which is why I didn’t really get any softer on my criticism of Google when I worked there, I just took it to channels where I could make a difference and improve things, when at all possible.

And yes, you can take professionalism to the wrong extreme, and not see how the company you’re looking for does not compare favourably with other peers, and suffer for it. This is why I have attempted to work with a manager that made me cry for about a year before just finding a new job — until I talked about my experience with a friend, and realized it was past overdue for me to explore alternative. I’m very happy to have changed jobs, and find myself a lot happier in my current position.

One thing that I can find myself at least understanding the criticism of, is to make your employer almost a critical part of your persona: not only this turned out to be a critical problem for a number of people laid off after many years of service, but it also feels… off. While I have referred to myself as a Xoogler for a few months after leaving Google – if nothing else as an introduction for those who knew me and hadn’t hard I left yet – this is not the first label I would use for myself. Nor, honestly, I consider “Metamate” a valid label for myself outside of work.

While I do understand that for some people their resume is a significant part of their identity, I don’t feel like I would be happy for mine to be — I’m more likely to identify as a blogger than as any of the companies I worked for, and you would never see my title on LinkedIn being ex-, ex-, ex-. While I don’t shy away from accepting my job title as a role to play, it is but a temporary mantle, and a description of what I’m being hired to do, rather than a definition of myself.

Anyway to close this up, the one suggestion I have for everyone is the same as always: don’t assume you know everything that is going on just by looking from the outside, and leave yourself open to change your opinion when you do get more facts.

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