Laid off? Share the pain

Laid off? Share the pain

The Web is now a place to seek sympathy and a new start

By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 19, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — When Ryan Kuder lost his job last week, everyone knew
it. That’s because he chronicled the experience of his last hours at
Yahoo Inc. through a stream of electronic dispatches laced with gallows
humor.

Using
Twitter, a service popular in Silicon Valley that allows users to
broadcast short messages to an unlimited number of people, Kuder posted
periodic updates of his final, caffeine-fueled day as a senior
marketing manager at the Internet company, starting with his last
commute to the Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters and ending with
margaritas at Chevy’s.

Laid off

Dave Getzschman / For the Times
Ryan Kuder talks with an outplacement agency while his son, Jack, plays at their San Jose, Calif. home Monday.

"Ironic that I just got my PC repaired yesterday. Won’t be needing that anymore."

"This is a serious downer. Trying to drown it in free lattes. Which I will miss."

"Dear
BlackBerry, What great times we had. I’ll miss you. At least until
tonight when I stop on my way home and buy an iPhone. Love, Me."

Like
so many other personal experiences transformed by the Internet, getting
canned need no longer be endured in quiet, isolating shame. Technology
is allowing people to turn a traditionally private trauma into a
quasi-public event, drawing quick moral support and even job referrals.
"This is something that used to be shared over the dinner table. Now
the whole world can watch and participate," technology forecaster Paul
Saffo said.

As the pioneering Internet portal wrestled with an
unsolicited takeover bid from software giant Microsoft Corp., Yahoo
proceeded with previously planned cutbacks. It’s saying goodbye to
1,100 employees, including 236 at its headquarters, 91 in Santa Clara,
Calif., 111 in Burbank and 52 in Santa Monica, according to a notice
the company filed with the state.

The event transfixed the
high-tech community. Most people who work in Silicon Valley, with its
booms and busts, have experienced a mass layoff.

"The appeal of
this is that some people are watching with morbid curiosity, and all
sorts of other people are wondering whether they will be next," Saffo
said. "In the Internet business at times, there seems to be only two
kinds of employees, those who have been laid off and those who haven’t
yet."

Twitter is a service that notifies your friends, by mobile
phone, instant message, e-mail or on the Twitter website, what you are
doing at any given moment. These messages of 140 characters or less,
called tweets, are sent to anyone who subscribes to or "follows" your
Twitter stream. Though it hasn’t broken into the mainstream, Twitter is
popular among the technorati: Nearly 1.2 million users visited
Twitter.com in December, according to ComScore Inc. But Twitter, which
is owned by San Francisco-based start-up Obvious Corp., doesn’t
disclose how many subscribers it has.

Kuder, one of the laid-off Yahoos, began the fateful Feb. 12 as just a regular tech guy with 87 people tracking his tweets.
Soon word spread of his brief but entertaining updates on meeting with
human resources in a conference room called Lucy, bidding friends
farewell and handing over his security badge ("Will I be able to get a
latte for the road. . . . ?") By the end of the next day, he had become
a minor celebrity, with a following of more than 400.

Self-broadcasting
what is usually a private experience gave Kuder more than 15 minutes of
Internet fame. It gave him solace, and, more important, job leads. The
San Jose husband and father of two was flooded with "positive tweets"
offering support as well as connections via social networking services
such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

"I thought the reaction would be
a couple of ‘Hey, good luck’ messages, and ‘Let me know if I can help’
from people already following me," Kuder said. "Instead, it got picked
up around the world. There were even blogs written in Chinese,
Japanese, Dutch and Spanish. It was fascinating to watch how things
spread like that. My wife keeps saying I planned this. I wish."

That
sense of online community has become pervasive as more people venture
online and the technology advances, said Vanessa Fox, features editor
for SearchEngineLand.com and an entrepreneur-in-residence with Ignition
Partners, a venture capital firm.

"The Web has given us a way to
connect with others. So we put our thoughts out there so others can
read and identify with them, but also for the possibility of response,"
Fox said. "With a place as large as the Web, we’re bound to find others
who have gone through and who understand exactly what we’re going
through, and many deem it worth the trade-off of putting ourselves on
public display to become part of that."

No one knows that better
than Susan Mernit, who was a product team leader at Yahoo Personals
with a strong background in social media. One hour after she was laid
off on the same day as Kuder, she decided to test the power of such
tools. She posted the news on her blog, added a tweet to her Twitter
stream and updated her Facebook status. In five hours, her experiment
delivered immediate proof: 100 responses from friends, colleagues and
strangers who, as readers of her blog, felt connected to her.

"I
had no idea that it would be communicated as broadly or quite as
publicly as it was," said Mernit, who lives in Palo Alto. "Social media
accelerated the reach and the speed with which I could communicate what
happened to me."

The outpouring moved Mernit. It differed
starkly from the isolation she felt after being laid off by AOL four
years ago. At the time, she lived on the East Coast, had fewer ties to
the tech community and did not blog. But shared values and interests
and her popular blog have united her with a broad community that closed
ranks around her when she needed it.

"It was a very positive
affirmation of my standing . . . of the support of the work I have done
and of my reputation," she said. "It definitely helped me feel better
about the layoff."

Like Mernit, Kuder is treating the job loss
as an opportunity to start over, perhaps in brand marketing for a
start-up instead of an Internet giant. Recording observations of his
final day at Yahoo helped him cope and move on, he said.

"I have
gone back a couple of times to look at my tweets from that day to
remember what happened," he said. "When you read coverage of layoffs,
you don’t recognize these are people with kids, families, who are going
through a big change. This puts a human face on it."

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