I know far too much about the mechanics of corporate layoffs. Acquired through bitter experience working at executive level in DEC, Compaq, HP, and EDS, I know that all layoffs are horribly painful exercises, even if some of those who are laid off end up with better positions at other companies. There’s just something dreadful about informing someone that their work at a company has come to a sudden end and that they are about to be detached from the corporate body.
Which brings me to last week’s news that Microsoft had laid off several prominent Exchange technical writers among the 2,100 who received pink slips in the second round of reductions since the Nokia acquisition. Writers who worked in the areas of high availability, information protection (retention policies, eDiscovery, and so on), and hybrid connectivity were affected. From the reports that I have received, It seems like the cuts descended on writers who work remotely more so than those based in Redmond.
One particular layoff came as a complete shock as it concerned a high-profile individual who has done more than most to evangelize the cause of native Exchange high availability to the customer base through presentations at many conferences around the world.
Layoffs theoretically allow companies to pay off those who are no longer contributing. At least, that’s the common wisdom. The idea is that companies will become more efficient by discarding low performers, the 5-10% of the workforce who cannot be convinced to up their game and must therefore be moved on to allow the true potential of those who remain to be liberated and so drive company performance to greater heights.
The truth is often different. Humans are imperfect creatures at the best of times. Those who assess people for redeployment, to be let go, to seek other opportunities, or whatever HR euphemism is concocted to disguise the true nature of the exercise make mistakes in their selections. Sometimes the errors are due to a lack of awareness of those being considered. Sometimes it’s a case of office politics where favorites are protected and others penalized. And sometimes it’s simply a matter of selecting a victim to meet a goal set by senior management.
I know that Microsoft let other writers associated with Exchange go last week too and that saddens me as well. I am pained not only for the individuals concerned but also for the message that appears to be conveyed in these actions. Don’t expect any more deep technical content to be created for Exchange 2013 or any future version. Everything will be in the cloud anyway and you don’t need to worry your little heads about the details because Office 365 will take care of everything. And so on.
It’s not as if Exchange remains a technology with nothing more to explain. For example, Managed Availability remains a black box that is impenetrable to many who cannot understand the influence the subsystem exerts on their servers. In addition, we have a new major version of Exchange coming next year and I’m sure that a few details will need to be documented about co-existence, migration, deployment, and changes made to the DAG. You know, topics that need to be covered in-depth.
Any reasonable writer can generate content to order and that content can be generated by writers anywhere in the world. But writers who generate accurate, literate, insightful, and coherent content make a difference to the technologists who consume the content found in TechNet and the EHLO blog. Laying off the people who can help customers understand and utilize technology might save a few dollars but it seems like a tacky and tawdry approach for a very profitable company to take.
Eliminating some technical writing jobs is not the point. What’s really upsetting is that subliminal message that Microsoft is no longer interested in providing the very best technical information to its customers. That’s something that all of us should be worried about – unless of course, you really are due to be absorbed by the cloud and can therefore rely on the Kool-Aid. You’ll need it.
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