Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Monday, February 16, 2009

Preparing for Your Impending Layoff From AOL

Welcome! You've got layoffs: A preparation guide for AOL employees.

joetux2005Welcome, soon-to-be-former AOL employee! I'm Joe Loong, graduate of the AOL Layoff Class of October, 2007, and I'm here to offer you a few bits of advice gleaned from my own personal layoff experience.

I hope that these items will help you prepare for your own imminent layoff, and ease your transition into the job market during this worst economic climate since the Great Depression.

This guide is primarily written for Northern Virginia worker bees. Employees from other locations and pay grades are welcome to add their advice in the comments, which I will integrate to the guide.

Things You Should Do Now
Hey, it's not personal. It's just business. Except when it's not. Regardless, whether you volunteer or are "asked" to leave, whether the layoff happens on the 24-25th of February or March or any other damn time, here are a few things you should do ahead of time:

* Update your resume and online profiles: Hopefully, you've been doing this all along, but if not, now's the time. Especially important these days is your LinkedIn account.

* Detach from your corporate e-mail address: Speaking of LinkedIn, Carles, an AOL alum now over there adds, "Add your personal email account to your LinkedIn account, and then make it your primary LinkedIn email. It is heartbreaking when people are laid off and lose access to their email, and then can't recover their LinkedIn passwords. Don't let this happen to you."

Good tip: If you were silly enough to register for any accounts or profiles using your corp.aol.com address (which you don't get to keep), make sure you update them with a personal e-mail address that you control. The same thing goes for any snail mail you got at work that you cared about. (I admit I still give my old cube address and phone extension whenever I don't want to hand out my real info, like for supermarket club cards and such.)

* Search for yourself: Google your own name -- if people are searching for you, will they be able to find you? If not, take steps to improve your own search results.

Doing a vanity search will also let you know if you need to sanitize your Facebook profile to make yourself appear more employable. (And if you're still using your Myspace page -- come on now, you're a grown-up.)

* Find your old performance evaluation forms (whatever it is they're using now, formerly GOALign, FPR, etc.), because this is the one and only time they'll come in handy -- they're useful for figuring out what the hell you did (if anything) during your career.

Thanks to the guidance of your manager, your annual evaluations should be chock-full of impressive-sounding numbers and metrics. So what if they're meaningless, or even completely made up -- you can still use them to spice up your resume. ("Programmed the AOL.com home page, where my promotions were ignored by literally billions of impression eyeballs.")

* Take screenshots. Sure, maybe not every one of the products you ever touched has been sunset. You might still want to screenshot or sitesuck some examples of things you worked on.

* Use your employee discounts. Now's the time to take advantage of your employee discounts -- the Apple store, the Philips store, etc. But, don't go too crazy -- after all, you may be losing your job.

* Take advantage of your health benefits: Make appointments for checkups and any needed health, dental and vision procedures. Sure, you've got 18 months of COBRA, but you might as well use your benefits while you still have them.

Also, regarding your
Health Care Flexible Spending Account [suggested by anonymous]: I never participated, though my paperwork said you could continue files claims against your HCFSA balance under COBRA through the end of the current calendar year (there are some costs associated with it).

reports that employees laid off in 2008 had a day to use or lose their remaining balance, though I have no additional information about that -- you're going to have to find a member of the Class of 2008 to confirm or deny that, to figure out if you're going to want to draw down what's in your account before the big day.

* On making a copy of your ID.
I'm not saying you should do this. But if you did, it should be only for sentimental reasons.

* Stock up on office supplies. I'm not advocating wholesale theft. But some of those pens are nice. Also the ubiquitous Ampad Project Planner notebooks.

* Make a copy of your Fitness Center workout chart. This will help you track your descent into sloth and give you a sense of all the ground you need to make up when you start caring about working out again.

* Backup any personal files on your work machines. This includes anything that you have on share drives (not that you should have personal files on share drives). A portable or luggable hard drive is good for this.

IMG_0667* Have a plan for your swag. You've probably accumulated a lot of AOL-branded swag over the years. Like, say, commemorative leather and brass Circuit City coasters. (Oh, the irony.)

You're going to have enough to deal with, and packing up your things on layoff day is going to be stressful enough. And you really don't want to have to take multiple trips out to your car. So have a plan for what you're going to take with you, and what you're going to leave behind. This includes consumables, like food, sodas, beers, etc. -- either consume them beforehand, or plan on leaving them behind for whoever's left.

* Planning on leaving on your own accord? [suggested by Kevin Lawver]: "...if you're planning on leaving, wait a couple months and see if they'll take volunteers. I missed out on the whole severance, outplacement stuff by about a month..." (He has more to say about upper management in his comment.)

Things You Should Do on Layoff Day (Etiquette and More):

* Assuming you know what day things are gonna get real, dress in a manner appropriate to the occasion:

Layoff day, October 2007.

* Sequester Your Laptop: Bill Kocik suggests leaving your laptop in your trunk until you know you're safe -- this is to buy yourself more time in case you were slack and didn't back up your personal files. (Also, Verisign is looking for Java devs.)

* Twittering your layoff: I wasn't on Twitter for my layoff, but a lot has changed in the intervening time. Instead of giving exclusives to bottom feeders who justify gawking at mass layoffs as an "interesting sociological event," consider using the hashtag #AOLLayoffs09 for your layoff-related tweets and mobile updates. (You can also tag your subsequent blog entries, photos, and other associated media with "AOLLayoffs09")

If you aren't yet on Twitter... well, that wouldn't surprise me. Now would be a good time to start.

* Try not to toss your cookies:

Remnants from the Dec 2006 Layoffs

* For Blackberry users [from anonymous]: If you were issued a Blackberry and ported over your personal cellphone number instead of getting a new one, see if they can do a reverse port (so you can keep your cellphone number.)

* Take your time leaving. You're not being run out of town on a rail. Take your time and make sure you have everything you need. Check your mailslot, even if you've never seen it before. Say goodbye to the people you want to say goodbye to.

* Send your farewell e-mail. Now is not the time to settle scores. Don't burn your bridges. Thank people you need to thank, and make sure they have your contact information. I offer my own valedictory e-mail as an example.

Oh, and you get to keep your screenname (unless it has something that identifies it as an AOL business screen name).

* Look behind you at least once on the way out.

* The afterparty:
First, let me know where it is. I recommend Clyde's in Ashburn. That place is huge, so don't listen to any nonsense rumors about it being closed by the Fire Marshall due to overcrowding.

If you're going to hit up your former cow-orkers for sympathy nookie, or otherwise get toasted and sloppy... hey, what are they going to do, fire you? Just try not to burn any bridges, and make sure you have a ride home -- getting a DUI is not what you need at this point.

* Call your parents. Tell them not to worry. You'll be fine.

DSCF3405.JPGSo, You've Been Laid Off -- Things to Do Afterwards:

* Read your paperwork: There are some things you'll need to sign, and dates you won't want to miss. If you need to talk to an employment lawyer, talk to a lawyer.

* Transition/Outplacement: Whatever transition assistance they offer (if they do), take it. Maybe you want to open your own consulting shop, or need resume help, or just want to get out of the house and touch base with other members of your graduating class. At least see what they have to offer.

* File for unemployment [suggested by anonymous]: I didn't try to collect unemployment. Pride, stubbornness, stupidity, something. Don't let that stop you: Virginia | Maryland | DC

* Keeping in touch: You will lose touch with your work friends. At least a little bit. That's to be expected. The question is, do you want to be the aging alumni who hangs out at the old school way too much and too long, Wooderson? ("Awright, awright, awright.")

The thing about the DC Metro area is that you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a former AOL person. And some of us aren't completely useless. You're probably networked better than you know, just by being a cog in a big machine that's lost a lot of parts.

- On Facebook, join the AOL Reunion - DC Metro Area (they just had a reunion last week), and the other AOL groups and networks.

- There's also an AOL Alumni Association group. And of course, don't forget LinkedIn, Google Groups, etc.

- If you're staying in the area, network and participate in local events, like events listed in Upcoming.org, Meetup.com, DCTechEvents.com, and GarysGuide.org.

* Join a gym: The perk I miss most was the convenient onsite fitness centers. I really let myself slide after my layoff. If you have a home setup that you actually use, or can come up with a bodyweight, biking or running routine that doesn't require a gym (and that you'll stick to), you can skip this, but for everyone else, don't wait too long -- join a gym. (Here are the Reston options I looked at -- I never considered Gold's.)

* On boomeranging: I wouldn't. I know plenty of people who have. Hey, a job's a job, right? Especially these days.

* Go have some fun: I didn't, really. Again, you might not be able to go on an around-the-world trip, but do something. You've got a window -- use it.


That's all I've got right now. I know I'm missing things. Really, I'm still in post-layoff mode myself, even though I've been out for 14 months and am half-assing it around as a social media/online community consultant, just like every other asshole out there.

If you've got tips to contribute to dealing with your AOL layoff, please leave a comment, or send me an e-mail, IM, Twitter, Facebook message or whatever and I'll add it to the appropriate spot.

Good luck with your layoff!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I'm Not Unemployed -- I'm Merely Underemployed

I'm working on a small project right now -- have a signed consulting agreement and everything -- so I'm not technically unemployed right now. It's not a lot of hours, though, so I'm underemployed. But it's something to do.

I'm easing back into things.

Actually, I don't have to worry at all; not only do I have a comfortable savings cushion (that is, a big sofa cushion stuffed with cash), but according to my e-mail inbox:

* I've won at least two separate European lotteries.

* A US soldier deployed to Iraq e-mailed me, offering me a finder's fee to help him move some of Saddam Hussein's ill-gotten millions, which turns out to be, like, two million dollars. Hey, I support the troops.

Then again, if I'm looking for an honest, 9-to-5 gig, I got an unsolicited offer from a reputable company operating in Latvia. It seems pretty lucrative -- a $5000 USD guaranteed monthly income, and all I have to do is comply with all reasonable and lawful instructions given by the company.

Hey, they say upfront that they are reasonable and lawful.

So I got that going for me.

In other news, I'm apparently getting sick again. I blame a party I went to on Saturday... though in retrospect, I almost didn't go to that party because I'd had this massive headache. So maybe the other party-goers have something to blame me for.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

On Consuming TV Series on DVDs

I had a Chipotle burrito for dinner tonight. It pretty much put me out of commission for the rest of the evening (heartburn), which is why I'm staying in and watching a Firefly mini-marathon on Sci-Fi channel. Which is kind of dumb, since I already own the series on DVD.

I also received the Band of Brothers boxed set this week (Amazon, $25), even though it basically runs on the History Channel in a continuous loop. So I have new additions to the evergrowing-pile of unwatched DVDs -- the one that you might think I would have whittled down during my enforced downtime. But no.

(Incidentally, I'm now fully and officially unemployed -- Friday was my official separation date from AOL -- up to this point, I've been technically on the payroll, without actually having to go to work. It was pretty sweet. I will be talking more about it and my AOL career. Eventually.)

Anyway, unless you're one of those people who've ripped their entire DVD collection to a gigantic media center hard drive, you've probably encountered this little problem with TV series DVD boxed sets -- namely, how do you go about choosing which episode to watch?

(Actually, even if you're ripped your DVD collection, it just makes consumption a little more convenient -- it doesn't solve the whole choosing side of things. I'm sure someone [Corey] will tell me about this great Linux/Open Source/Media PC/Ginormous Hard Drive solution, though there's also the problem of bonus features and such. And do they even make DVD jukeboxes that actually, you know, use the actual physical media? I'm old-fashioned that way.)

For something like Firefly, it's relatively easy, since the series tops out at 14 episodes that mostly stand alone (despite having an underlying story arc). But what about something that was actually, you know, successful, like Friends, Star Trek, Seinfeld, whatever, that ran many seasons and had hundreds of episodes? Or something where episode order really matters, and you can't just snack on individual episodes (24 being the ultimate example of this)?

Unless you're going to do your own mini-marathon, or you're actually disciplined/OCD enough to keep track and watch the episodes in order, how do you keep from just cherry-picking the best-known episodes? Especially for a series that you, say, liked well enough to buy the boxed set when it was on sale for really cheap at Best Buy, but you don't have the episode list memorized?

I guess what I'm looking for is some sort of media management system -- something like a Netflix (with a little bit of iTunes) for your personal collection, to keep track of your personal viewing to show you how many times you've viewed an episode, and what's next in the queue. Which would pretty much mean ripping the DVD and forgetting the physical media -- wouldn't really be workable any other way.

My own DVD player is a now-ancient Apex player which doesn't have many features, save for one of the least intuitive remotes ever made. It also occasionally tries to die on me. However, its saving grace is that it's a 3-disc carousel, which I find helps with serendipity and flow -- I can pre-load it with 3 discs and get around to watching them (or not) when I feel like it.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

It Started With the Blackwater Wife and the World Gold Cabal

It's been an up and down day today (which, despite whatever time stamp shows, is still Thursday).

I woke up in the middle of a dream confrontation with a blonde cafeteria worker (who I think I'd seen recently guest starring on CSI) who was married to a Blackwater contractor and who was trying to add a $1.75 surcharge to my meal to offset the global conspiracy that's trying to corner the world gold supply.

(Maybe I should send that in as a Ficlet.)

Up and down. Call it a wash.

I was a few minutes late to my session at the outplacement center, which was basically "So You Wanna Set Up a Consulting Business?" I saw a few familiar faces, and it was actually pretty useful. I don't know that I want to go the full-time consulting/contracting racket, but I'm looking at my options. It's been a month since the layoff -- I'm starting to get bored, so I'm trying to actually, you know, look for a job now.


After that, I picked up a few groceries, got home around 1pm, and then... hit the wall. I just could not stay awake. I guess I should have stopped in and got that cup of coffee. I was fading in and out until about an hour ago.


In an update, after being balky yesterday, my new printer seems to be working again. On the one hand, that's good, and on the other hand, it makes me a little nervous -- hardware problems generally don't spontaneously fix themselves. So I'll need to keep an eye on it and decide if I'm going to return it or not.


Lastly, I see that Apple released its last Tiger update. As I still have the Leopard DVD sitting on my desk, I was debating installing it, since I was waiting for the first Tiger update, but lo and behold, it's out today. So no more excuses -- I guess I'll back up my drive and install it tomorrow.


Oh, and my credit card statement arrived yesterday -- I saw a 5 dollar charge from AOL. I'd had AOLbyPhone since forever (hey, freebie for internals) and forgot about it until I saw the charge. So I called to cancel. I think I got the Philippines call center -- the rep was very competent and courteous, and it went smoothly once I spelled my screen name using the military phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, etc). I guess I could have tried to get a refund of the last charge, but I decided not to push it.


A few folks are meeting out tonight, and I basically slept through Refresh DC, so I think I'll just stay in and keep a little bit ahead of the game today.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

No, I said I wanted to get LAID

I'm sitting in the Apple Store in Clarendon right now, waiting to find out about a bump (on the trackpad of my new MacBook -- it's shiny), so I figured I would do some catching up.

Yeah, I got laid off from AOL on Tuesday. I was prepared, but I wasn't expecting it. I hadn't gotten an ominious e-mail by the time I left the office Monday night, so when I got in at around 10am, I still wasn't too worried for myself, even though I saw that our team got whacked pretty hard.

Checking my mail, I skimmed past a subject line about a mandatory meeting at 11am. I just figured it was the usual post-layoff survivors' meeting and went about IMing other folks. "You okay? Yeah, I'm okay." I also did a call with one of the folks over at Mapquest to talk about some blogging stuff.

Eventually, I talked to my boss, who suggested that maybe I should read my e-mail.

Okay, so I got whacked.

The rest of the day was pretty non-extraordinary. I did spend my own sweet time packing up my stuff -- just about my only regret was that I didn't get a chance to make sure my last e-mail got to everyone I wanted. So I will include it here:

Subject: They Finally Got Me
Hi folks -- apologies for multiple recipients and anyone I missed -- some folks never made it in to the new address book, and I'm in a rush, since I still have to pack 11.5 years worth of crap.

Speaking of 11.5 years of crap:

I had a Web page. Someone liked it. I came in for an interview. There was a marching band on Westwood Center Drive. I started on April Fools' Day, 1996, went through Internet Connection and AOL.com. There was a bubble. I went to Community. Somehow along the way, they started paying me to blog. It was a pretty good gig.

That's about it. (Special to AOL.com and IC alumni -- looks like you'll need to find someone else to turn out the lights.)

Anyway, it was great working with you all -- you can find me just about everywhere as Joelogon (though sure I'll keep jmloong@aol.com, why not?)




Best of luck, everyone!

-- Joe

Other concrete impacts of the layoff:

* The AOL Journalers have found me. (Welcome.) Since my personal stuff comes up directly after my (former) work stuff in Google, I never tried to hide it, but I (almost) never called it out (and I didn't mention it in my farewell post).

You'll find here that, while I'm basically the same person, I'm not the same blogger, so I suspect that many of my former readers will probably stay my former readers. Which is fine.

* I still have to get this laptop up to speed, restore a bunch of my files, and do a lot of housekeeping stuff. Most tellingly, since I don't have Photoshop right now, you'll get to see just what a hack photographer I am.

* I'm going from being Windows-primary, Mac for messing around, to Mac-exclusive. (For now, anyway, I'll probably need to get a Windows system to mess with.) So I'll have to re-acquaint myself with the Mac way. For my penance, I'll have to figure out how to get my old, old legacy files off my PowerCenter 120 (featuring the very first generation of the PowerPC chip).

I'll talk more about the post-layoff drinking at Clyde's in Ashburn, as well as things I can potentially do with my enforced downtime later on.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

This Is Going to Be the BESTEST Boss's Day Ever!

Actually, Tuesday is going to suck pretty hard. But everything I know about the expected layoffs, I get from Valleywag. And Alley Insider. And paidContent.org. And NYT. And WaPo. And USA Today. Hell, it's probably in the City Paper by now.

About the only amusing thing I can get out of this is watching Valleywag and SAI trying to scoop each other. As long as you define "scoop" as "republish the executive memos that get forwarded the instant they arrive." Or outright begging for exclusive content ("We have heard, for example, that some of you will be fired en masse, in auditoriums. Digital pictures would be wonderful!"). No payment, please, we're bloggers. And mass layoffs are an interesting sociological event.

Stay classy, guys.

Am I defending the company, the strategy (-ies), management, or this round of layoffs, considering I don't know my own status (though honestly, I'll be fine either way -- and frankly, getting laid off would probably be the only way I would possibly get to cash in all my vacation this year)? Of course not. But there's plenty of disgusting behavior to go around. (Including the voluntarily and involuntarily departed from years past -- folks, you're supposed to move on. What you're doing -- it's just not healthy.)

One thing I know, though -- whatever or whoever you blame this on, I'm pretty sure that AOL's Slingo missteps (egregious as they may be, I have no idea) are not directly responsible for these layoffs [see the comments].

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Precarious Cheese Curls

I'd been wondering why so many people had been pounding on the vending machine on Friday:


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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Am I Ceiling Cat or Serious Blogger?

The Which Lolcat Are You? Test says I'm Ceiling Cat -- 27% Affectionate, 36% Excitable, 40% Hungry:
You are a master of stealth. They never see you coming. But you always see them coming. HEY-O!

But personally, I think I'm more of a Serious Blogger:

I are serious blogger. This is serious blog.

From an entry I did for the new work blog.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

A Fox at the Gym Stole Someone's Wegmans

At best, that headline is speculative; at worst, it's pure fiction.

I was going over to the office gym at around 9pm tonight -- it was the lawn area in front of the gym, and it's not particularly well lit. I saw a white shape darting across the lawn, stopping at a tree.

At first I thought it was a trick of the light, but as I got closer, I saw the bushes just past the tree were still rustling. The white shape was a Wegman's plastic bag with a takeout container inside, presumably trash from a nearby garbage can. So I'm guessing a fox, raccoon or possibly a badger of some sort had grabbed the trash, and ditched it at the tree and bolted for the bushes as I got close.

That was probably the highlight of my workout, which was light legs and shoulder, finishing up with about 10 minutes of jump rope. (13 minutes of rope time, minus about 3 minutes of pausing, gasping and panting.)

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Happy Hour First

Just got back from an on-campus work happy hour, from 3-5pm. (So it's essentially pre-gaming for our kickball playoff game. We won last night. And we weren't involved in any fights, unlike the other game that went on. Yes, people were throwing hands over kickball.)

It was somewhat odd timing, though it did include a few product demos.

I have to say -- this is the first happy hour that I've come away with actual action items.

I must not be doing it right.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Viewing Pornography at the Office

Last Friday, as I was wandering around the cubicles, I stopped by the pod of a fellow who does some metrics dashboards for the group. A few days before, there'd been a particularly relevant Dilbert comic about the use and abuse of key metrics that I wanted to share with him. I started telling him about it.

He wasn't sure if he'd seen it yet, so I told him to look at the online archives at Dilbert.com.

"Dilber.com?" he asked.

"Yeah, Dilbert.com," I said, not quite grasping the enormity of the mistake I'd just made.

He typed in the URL, and as the page began to load, I saw that he'd left the "t" off.

The page started rendering, and I started to say, "Wait, that's not the right URL," when what I should have done was:
  1. Reach over.
  2. Hit the escape key.
  3. Physically interpose myself in front of the screen.
  4. Turn off the monitor.
I should have done this, because a second later, we were staring at four pairs of tits (and their respective owners) on a porn site.

Of course, it couldn't have be one of those porn sites with a legally disclaimed, "Click here if you're over 18 and this content isn't obscene under your community standards" text-only splash screen. Oh, no. This was the real deal.

Though I guess I should be happy the models were only half-nude. I guess you have to apply some restraint when you're typosquatting such a popular site.

Here is a re-creation, with the relevant Dilbert panels strategically superimposed over the naughty bits:

Dilbert and Dilber
It was even worse than this screenshot indicates, since the monitor we were using was a 17" LCD flatscreen with a higher vertical viewing area. Which meant more breasts.

Being a staid, slightly older, reserved, buttoned-down, family-oriented man (basically, the kind of guy you want doing a dashboard of key metrics), he made an "Oh my" kind of exclamation and closed the browser window, as I made my own futile apologies.

It was kind of awkward.

It also greatly diminished the comedic impact of the comic, which was unfortunate, since it was a pretty good one (if you've ever dealt with any kind of metrics dashboards).

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Employee Not Terminated

Cow-orker's cubicle, towards the end of December:


The sign reads:

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