Life After Carly

A reader writes: "Say, hypothetically, a person was to work at Hewlett-Packard -- here's how I'd imagine people would be feeling right now: Everyone at HP is so demoralized that after all these cost cuts, stealth layoffs, expense and travel reductions, no raises for years, no bonuses, here Carly walks away with all this money after basically running HP into the ground. It's hard to stay motivated under these conditions. Oh well, I'm thinking, tap me on the shoulder for that workforce reduction -- I'll take the severance, the unemployment, and have a nice rest."

Y'know, friend, your hypothetical severance package is not going to be quite as good as Carly Fiorina's US$21.4 million, plus financial counseling, legal and outplacement services, six months of secretarial services, a year of home security -- and she gets to keep her PC, too. That hypothetical tap on your shoulder may not be all it's cracked up to be.

So what should you do, whether you work at HP or not? Hypothetically, I mean?

First, forget Carly (and all the other overpaid, underperforming CEOs out there). OK, damn her for a day and then forget about it. Tell yourself that US$21 million is a microscopic fraction of HP's annual revenue. Calculate how many engineers that golden parachute would pay for (maybe 200 for a year, another drop in the bucket). Figure out what you'd do with the US$140 that would be your share if they just gave it to the employees instead of to her.

Then forget her. She's gone. At least she won't do any more damage.

Next? Update your resume. Not just because you might get laid off, not because you might quit. The best part of rebuilding your resume is to remind yourself where you've come from, what you've accomplished and what your goals are. However miserable things feel now, this is stuff no one can take away from you.

Besides, it's an excuse to revisit both the best and worst jobs you've had -- to remember the atrocities and the good times. That's always good for perspective.

Then ask some hard questions. What do you want to do? Can you do it in your current job? Never mind whether other people think you have a great job, whether the job market stinks or how the numbers add up. If you can't accomplish what you want to do where you are, you're a short timer, and you should start looking for a place where you can accomplish it.

You probably won't find that place tomorrow. Maybe not before you're laid off. But now's the time to start looking.

On the other hand, if you can see yourself reaching some of those goals where you are now, how can you make that happen? Can you make it happen?

It might be unlikely. Trying to make it a reality might turn you into a prime candidate for the next round of layoffs as a boat-rocking troublemaker. But in that case, you get the package and the unemployment and the hypothetical nice rest, right? And if things come together instead, you get the job you wanted.

For the next few months, HP is going to be in limbo, waiting for a new CEO. You don't want to spend months in limbo. Start asking questions and making plans.

Finally, think about this: HP people -- like most IT people -- are engineering people. Engineers hate uncertainty. They want to be able to calculate the maximum stresses and then overdesign by 50% so they can stop worrying about things collapsing and get on with the next project.

But right now, HP is underengineered. It really does have stress points that may not be able to handle a sudden change. And it won't be out of danger from unexpected overstressing anytime soon.

I know, that's no comfort. But it may explain why you'll continue to be so uncomfortable if you stay.

And maybe even if you go.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Frank Hayes, Computerworld's senior news columnist, has covered IT for more than 20 years. Contact him at

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