The After

As you may have read in the news, Microsoft decided to lay off several hundred people from Strategic Missions and Technologies and reorganize the Azure for Operators unit.

Life right now.

I , but as someone who’s been nine years at the company I can certainly describe what the fallout from this looks like at a personal level:

  • I was, miraculously, not impacted (yet).
  • Hundreds of people with extremely rare industry expertise (some with over 35 years in telco) are now looking for new jobs across the US, EMEA and APAC.
  • Psychologically, everyone who remained is still very much in shock–this was the third round of layoffs we went through in the past few years, and the others were rough, but this one was particularly brutal.

So, to ground myself a bit and put things into perspective, I decided to tally all the previous catastrophes and career-defining moments I “survived”:

  • My decision to leave Andersen Consulting (where I was stuck doing SAP and brain-damaging, primitive intranet stuff) to join an upstart ISP that went on to become Novis (and subsumed by what is, today, NOS).
  • My decision to leave that ISP and join Telecel (which would later become Vodafone Portugal) and build a few iterations of their ISP services, e-commerce stuff, etc, all of which went through various reorgs and shutdowns.
  • in that ISP, which was a seemingly unending political struggle.
  • The shutdown of various internal projects as a slow, protracted part of the Vodafone “transition”–which caused no end of fear, uncertainty and doubt.
  • The stupefyingly bad decision by Vodafone Group to, in the early 2000s, outsource most of the IT functions to EDS and IBM and move all knowledgeable people to those companies, therefore paralyzing most service launches and causing us years of protracted pain.
  • The folly of Vodafone Live! and the insane way in which telcos tried to stem the tide of mobile internet access while racing after the next thing in order to avoid becoming “bit pipes”–which inspired .
  • My first heart surgery, weeks before one of my kids was born.
  • The , in which Vodafone first tried to compete with the iPhone, and that I had to do a fair chunk of damage control on.
  • The even worse decision to spend billions on to, again, compete with the iPhone, which meant I slogged for two years to try to build something I never believed in only to see Samsung sideline the custom hardware they’d built for us and launch the Galaxy brand.
  • My move to SAPO and various culture clashes between the Portuguese approach of overpromising and generally winging it and my attempts at a degree of method and practicality.
  • The sacking of my entire C-suite as Altice bought Portugal Telecom and began years of quiet corruption that only recently came to light.
  • A particularly career-defining moment in my early years at Microsoft (when the transition to Azure and cloud-first was upending the status quo) during which one of my fundamentally incompetent managers told me I would not last the year–I went on to not only prove them wrong but to work on several key projects that paved the way for my move to an EMEA role.
  • My second heart surgery, the year before the pandemic.
  • And, after some of the best years of my career at Microsoft Consulting in EMEA and the opportunity to follow someone (whom I still very much respect to this day) to Azure for Operators to help structure their professional services, that eventually resulted in what happened this week.

All of these have one thing in common: I had, at best, the illusion of control, but, most often, no ability whatsoever to change the outcome.

And as someone who’s profoundly self-driven and hyper-focused on constantly figuring out the next steps to fix things, being bereft of control and facing a completely unhinged situation (or having agency but being unable to focus it), is the kind of thing that really doesn’t let me sleep at night.

But I’m also writing this to remind me that all of those situations had a before and an after.

And that I shouldn’t really blame myself to be too close to the before to anticipate what could go wrong (well, , but I can’t write about that…), or (most importantly) forget that there is always an after.

I’m guessing that for the people who have been let go the after currently looks like a blank. Or a turmoil of uncertainty. Or, if you’re the eternally optimistic type (I’m not, but I acknowledge such people statistically have to exist), a bundle of unexplored possibility.

One of the things that keeps going through my mind is that in a job market that is ripe with ageism, where the 5G hype is visibly dying and telcos are left trying to figure out how to recoup the massive spectrum licensing investments, things seem insurmountable1.

But, again, there is always an after, and that very much depends on finding your sense of purpose.

Even though I technically still have a job, I’m also struggling with that–in all the previous reorgs and shutdowns I went through, finding my purpose again was, unequivocally, the hardest part, so I’m starting small:

  • I’m trying to ground myself on “real life” and my hobbies, so that I have a constant reminder that life will go on.
  • I’m trying to help those impacted as best I can (wading into the quagmire of LinkedIn “open to work” posts is depressing, but re-posting them or doing referrals to folk I know might help).
  • I’m taking calls from other “survivors” and commiserating (of course) but also trying to instill a sense of immediate purpose so that people have some sort of short-term goals while the org reforms–if that means skipping rank and pinging a VP to get some immediate clarity on what we can do, so be it.

And, of course, like any sane person in the technology industry, I am pondering what to do myself. The past few years have demonstrated that job security is no longer a matter of proven technical acumen or delivering consistently good impact, but rather the luck to survive pivots–almost as if big tech was going startup again (with all that implies).

But my key point with this post is the following: the various crisis and setbacks I went through during my career (and life, although I wish I could disentangle them more easily sometimes) taught me that there are always hidden opportunities somewhere, as long as you keep your wits about you and leverage your agency and sense of purpose to rooting them out.

So go out, touch grass, talk to people, form a plan, and get to it.

  1. For me there’s the added complication that I live in Portugal and that remote jobs for principals (or anything equivalent in terms of local executive technology management) are pretty much non-existent, so yes, I am really glad I wasn’t impacted–yet. ↩︎

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