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I hope that by now you’ve all had a chance to read and digest the announcement and the blog post about today’s layoff.

This was not an easy decision to make, nor is this an easy conversation to have. At the end, if you squint, I hope you’ll see the faint glimmer of a silver lining. But we have work to do before we get to that point.

On October 16th, 2023, Stack Exchange laid off roughly 28% of its workforce. This follows a previous lay-off of 10% in May.

Among those impacted this time were two highly valued members of the Community team.

While we are respecting the privacy of those impacted, I want to take a moment to say that the folks we laid off were not let go on the basis of poor performance. On the contrary, they are some of the best folks I have ever had the chance to work with. These are attractive hires, solid candidates, and affable, talented people. We’re grateful to have had the chance to work with them. They have our respect, and they deserve yours as well. I hope that we can count on you to do everything possible to ease their transition, beginning by not speculating as to who was cut and ‘why’. They deserve some privacy as they get focused on their next moves.

It is impossible to ignore the fact this action will have impacts on the community. Now that you have a better sense for what took place, it’s time to talk about the effects that this change will have on the community itself, and your participation here.

Our commitment to the community remains unchanged.

I want to start by dispelling any concerns that our plan involves contractions in the community, closing any site, or ramping down participation. The community isn’t going anywhere.

Community is among the most reliable cornerstones of the place – the essence of what makes this company what it is. Our intent to support the community using whatever resources we have available is unwavering.

Our commitment to ensuring the community is maintained, however, does not mean the community will be unaffected by today’s changes. It will be affected, and you deserve to know exactly how.

Our responses to you will be temporarily disrupted.

Everyone in the company will be involved in managing this transition. Because every team in the company was impacted by these cuts, every single team’s workflow is going to change. You can reasonably expect some delays as we adjust.

Projects undergoing active work may change scope or be canceled.

Stack Exchange has many projects in the oven at any given time, ranging from days to months in length. The scope of many of these short-term projects will change.

Longer-term projects that are more piecemeal in nature, such as time spent servicing requests for new tools, may also be impacted and responsiveness may slow down. My commitments during the recent moderator action negotiations remain intact, and we will continue to honor them.

At the same time, there may be a couple of very exciting product features to announce - including the potential return of one or two that were previously sunset that you might feel strongly about. We’re seeing some positive signs around uptake for our new OverflowAI features, and today’s actions will allow us to be more strategic and to narrow our focus as we move forward. Expect to see a continued focus on OverflowAI as we build it toward commercial viability.

Short-term priorities may shift towards reliability and maintenance.

It’s important to us that the sites continue to function as designed. Like I said, the community isn’t going anywhere. That means we’ll still prioritize bug-fixes as usual, and maintain our uptime. Any reduction in our work throughput will come from other areas of product development.

If you’ve got questions, put ‘em in answers. One question per answer, please.

I’m expecting this post to spark many questions, and we’ll do our best to answer as many as we can. If we answer that something is confidential, please don’t take that as an opportunity to speculate. Again, out of respect for anyone impacted, we are not able to answer any questions about individual employees. We may remove content that violates the privacy of people impacted here.

To make this easier to manage, please ask only one question per answer. In terms of answering questions here, the following are designated as official company spokespersons. Any other person answering or discussing below is not working with or answerable to them and those answers should probably be regarded as unofficial and not authoritative. Our designated spokespeople are:

Others may be designated if needed but they will be introduced and added to this list by one of these people, if so.

Final thoughts

Today is a pretty sucky day for all of us, but particularly for those who are leaving us. I wouldn’t presume to imagine how they’re feeling, but I know it can’t feel good. We’re all going to miss our colleagues, and we’re asking for your understanding as we sort out how we move forward. But one of the most important things that we do now is to honor our impacted teammates and the gifts they brought with them, and we do that by letting them know that their work and contributions will live on, and they will forever be a part of the story of this place. We were honored to work with them. We owe them a debt of gratitude, and we wish them the very best.

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    The affected CMs have been in the Tavern to talk about what happened and have been conspicuously removed from the Meta list of CMs (as well as the more subtle effects like disappearing staff/mod badges), so it's not exactly a secret (and, given their public-facing role, it couldn't be). But, I do think it is difficult not to speculate about how these particular individuals were chosen and what it means for company strategy, given the kind things you have to say about them and their intimate connections to the community as users and former moderators prior to their staff roles. Oct 16, 2023 at 17:46
  • 285
    "The community isn’t going anywhere." Well, they might go somewhere else if you keep firing all their beloved community managers and other Q&A teams... everyone left on the Community team now has, what, 3 years of experience with this community or less?
    – TylerH
    Oct 16, 2023 at 18:08
  • 42
    @java-addict301 That's... not really relevant; 99% of the "tech layoffs of 2022/2023" are from FAANG or FAANG-adjacent companies who over-hired during the pandemic to build capacity for remote working. Stack Overflow already worked fine w/ remote workers and also does not offer cloud products that are impacted by significantly more users stuck at home.
    – TylerH
    Oct 16, 2023 at 18:17
  • 25
    TylerH, no..... we have more than that... Slate, Jnat, Cesar.... and that's right off the top of my head. Not to mention the community knowledge entrenched in other teams (Yaakov, for isntance).
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 16, 2023 at 18:23
  • 61
    Practical effect: The good years are over. SO is sliding since many years and the company together with the community didn't find the right answers while the resources were still there. Now resources are dwindling but acceptance for change might be higher (on both sides). It may get better or even worse. Oct 17, 2023 at 7:23
  • 25
    @Randal'Thor and of those spokespeople, other than philippe, which has posted to meta in the last 6 months? Oct 17, 2023 at 8:55
  • 110
    as a company, you decide which member of the community team leaves or stays, but you don't get to decide what the community does. Your "The community isn’t going anywhere" seems quite a bold statement to make
    – Lamak
    Oct 17, 2023 at 12:58
  • 33
    How did you spend $85 million in three years? This company used to make $70 million a year. Oct 17, 2023 at 14:05
  • 14
    @Philippe Yesterday there were some amazingly quick responses to questions asked here in the answers. Thank you so much for the quick responses on those. I assume you'll be messenger for most answers, and there's a lot to answer-- But can you set expectations for when folks might expect responses on other questions that have been asked?
    – AMtwo
    Oct 17, 2023 at 19:36
  • 71
    Designated spokesperson Prashanth Chandrasekar, last seen more than a month ago. Hmm... Oct 18, 2023 at 2:14
  • 22
    @RebeccaJ.Stones That's not a big problem for me. I never understood what the CEO wants to say anyway. With Philippe I feel like I might be able to have a meaningful conversation. With "...it's to better meet the demands of our users, customers, and partners as part of this commitment to product innovation and the continued momentum of OverflowAI both for Stack Overflow for Teams and on our public platform" for example I cannot really interact. Oct 18, 2023 at 5:58
  • 42
    @RebeccaJ.Stones - Last heard from, nearly 3 years ago
    – Sayse
    Oct 18, 2023 at 10:25
  • 38
    @Philippe this question is up for a couple days, now, and so far there is no sign of Mr. Prashanth Chandrasekar showing up to address the community's questions.
    – T. Sar
    Oct 19, 2023 at 11:16
  • 74
    What really pisses me off is that one day you have massive layoffs, the next day you launch some "new colors" initiative which literally achieved nothing but making all sites less readable. So you have a whole team engaged in a project for the sole purpose of actively making the sites worse, essentially just digging pits and filling them up again. And then you wonder why the company is doing poorly.
    – Lundin
    Oct 20, 2023 at 8:13
  • 25
    @T.Sar quick look here clearly showing the CEO has no interest in the sites. That is fine, he is a very busy person. What strikes me odd is why there is list of four spokespeople when it's beyond obvious there is actually only one. Can't see the goal in listing more people, who won't engage. (one of them doesn't even have account in Stack Exchange) Oct 21, 2023 at 11:14

54 Answers 54

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Community is among the most reliable cornerstones of the place – the essence of what makes this company what it is. Our intent to support the community using whatever resources we have available is unwavering.

Then why, over the past two firings (and previous rounds), have you eliminated the CMs and other employees who were among the largest advocates for the community and who, in some of the worse periods, were the only communication channel with the company?

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    Not just the CMs. And in fact, this time around the CM team was hit much lighter than many other teams, because of the critical role that it plays here. But ultimately, decisions needed to be made to reach a certain target, and there was no way to protect the CM team entirely. Nobody has more respect for the CM team than I do. I'm feeling the cuts very personally today. I was blessed to work with them, and once they're on my team, that's forever, and I will celebrate every time I see them.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 16, 2023 at 17:56
  • 133
    @Philippe You're missing the point (and the "CMs and other employees" bit). The point is that over the past few years, the company has fired many of the outward-facing staff members who actually believed in, and advocated for the community. With this last round of employees being fired, the list of remaining community advocates (that, more importantly, also has the faith of the community) has shrunk. You claim to believe in the community, but we're left with a continuously shrinking list of staff members that both engage with, and more importantly, understand and are willing to discuss Oct 16, 2023 at 18:04
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    how to improve the situation for the community. Oct 16, 2023 at 18:04
  • 72
    @Philippe "and once they're on my team, that's forever" - forever? You mean until they're laid off. I'm really sorry, but your actions (of the company which you're key part of) conflict with the nice words. Oct 17, 2023 at 8:54
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    "Nobody has more respect for the CM team than I do. I'm feeling the cuts very personally today." And yet, they were made, and (by your own admission) not for performance-related reasons. Oct 17, 2023 at 10:17
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    @Philippe We can understand that decisions have been made to reach a certain target. That's a given. What we don't understand is what this "target" was set this way. However, it is the company that sets those targets themselves. Why the target was set in such a manner that it forces CM's to be removed makes one wonder if the target is actually in line with the stuff that is actually needed to make this site work, or is more focused on "profits" here and now.
    – T. Sar
    Oct 17, 2023 at 11:19
  • 13
    We can be angry about this (I sure am), but it's disingenuous and potentially insulting to call it a "firing." Generally, employees at fault get fired; folks who get laid off would probably never describe it as getting fired. Oct 17, 2023 at 20:10
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    @Stuckat1337 You're assuming bad faith here. The dictionary definition of "to fire" does not assign blame: "to remove someone from their job, either because they have done something wrong or badly, or as a way of saving the cost of employing them:", i.e. precisely what happened here. The US quietly assigning legal blame based on which word is used is not something I was aware of. Besides, it has clearly gotten the point across, and that's good enough for me. I don't really care what specific semantics the US attaches to it Oct 17, 2023 at 22:01
  • 3
    @KarlKnechtel Giving the benefit of the doubt, companies can't survive if they aren't making money, so layoffs may (at least sometimes) be necessary to avoid the alternative of the whole company going down and everyone losing their jobs. This, of course, doesn't mean that some layoffs aren't driven by greedy capitalism. But still, it seems better to focus on the choice of who to lay off (or what they're spending money on).
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 18, 2023 at 8:55
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    @Philippe This is the highest voted community question, and deserves a straight answer. In your comment above, you make tangential statements (first two sentences), hand-waving ("no way to protect the CM team entirely" when the question is just about two specific people), and for the rest of it, you change the topic to your personal feelings about losing them. (1/2)
    – gotube
    Oct 21, 2023 at 22:55
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    @Philippe (2/2) Elsewhere you suggest other members of the team CM are up to the challenge, which is also hand-waiving because the question is not about them, but about the trust and rapport slowly built up with incredible effort that's now gone. Please directly address the question of the extent to which the choice of people to be laid took into consideration how close they were to the community.
    – gotube
    Oct 21, 2023 at 23:05
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    @Philippe I think there's the big picture here. In the last rounds of downsizing, we lost Shog9, Nicholas, Robert, Cat and V2blast, all of whom have had a long history with the community. We also lost Salmon - who was a good CM but like most of the current team, didn't quite have the visibility. . Building trust takes time, and it seems the average shelflife of a CM is ... about 5 years before involuntary termination. We've... two CMs left with a history on the network pre-employment - and the company pretty much has made it impossible to get any more. Oct 24, 2023 at 1:52
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    I mean, it pretty much is a hostile workplace if you're basically going to get randomly offered up as tribute. And even if we survive, a lot of folks passionate about the network - are and do remember many of these choices. I don't want particularly to see anyone lose their jobs but whoever made these choices on who had to be cut chose, and consistantly chooses poorly, and in ways that hurt us - which I feel is unacceptable. If the community matters, perhaps in the process of downsizing the impact of staff should be a concern. We've already lost many in the company who were Oct 24, 2023 at 1:55
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    great communicators, and had built up trust over years. I'm taking it personally cause I'd been loudly, if not effectively advocating for more community hires in the company, yet there seems to be just a reversion to the same behaviours we saw before. Promises not kept - key folks getting downsized because "we need to survive". We literally had the exact pattern leading to having only 4 community managers left. We don't trust the company to have our best interests because we've seen exactly where this leads, and its not good. Oct 24, 2023 at 1:59
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+200

The community isn't going anywhere isn't true. We have lost chunks of the community over time and they never came back.

It's worth considering that the biggest project that's set back is trust. Trust built over years - lost, points of contact we were familiar with no longer exist.

If you do manage to get out of the rut you're in now, the next future CM or SRE is going to ask themselves - 'Do I have a future here' in a company that seems to have a revolving door even for great employees.

Unlike the GenAI initiatives many of these employees have had deep, proven, and marked effects on the community.

It's not just sucky - the company might have once again traded the present and future of our communities for a much more uncertain future.

As a long time user of the network - I have literally seen the same cycles of chasing a product at the expense of the public sites and seeing it fail.

I was excited to see actual concrete good for the community from CM hires and such. The current direction seems to have rolled back the good work of the past few years.

It's easy to see a silver lining when you haven't been rained on. And frankly when your house hasn't been partially dismantled for a distant Lord's castle.

The long term picture isn't rosy, and should overflow AI fail, trust you couldn't afford to spend is burnt

It isn't any different from ... Many previous times. It was careers not AI but we got the same promises of better days we never saw.

The practical effects are very much loss, sorrow and frankly a loss in confidence

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    Thank you for your frank thoughts. I've always valued that when we talk, truly. I struggle a little here because, given the exposure that I have to different sets of people (end users, customers) I think the future is brighter than you portray. But the dystopian landscape that you're painting is certainly one that keeps me up at night. That's what I want to work to prevent. In other words, I hear your concern, and I'm watching for it. So are others. I don't have magic words to assure you that it won't go that way, but I will do everything in my power to ensure that it doesn't.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 16, 2023 at 18:16
  • 89
    @Philippe From our vantage point, things look bleak. Really bleak. This dystopian view is not just a view, it's how we are living this relationship with SO. And this is very real, it's not simply a fleeting moment. The company has stated so many times that the Community is important, yet the actions taken tend to prove the exact opposite. At least on our end of the monologue (I dare not call it a conversation). We lost V2Blast and Cat in this round, but we also lost many others in the very recent history (Shog, Jon, Robert, and others I certainly have forgotten). (1/2)
    – Laf
    Oct 16, 2023 at 19:31
  • 63
    (2/2) The management will eventually have to realize that saying that that Community is important and acting accordingly do not represent the same amount of effort. The Community has tried time and again to communicate what it needs to thrive, yet it is being ignored while questionable features are being pushed as being "for the good of the Community". We have understood a while ago now that decisions are being made for the good of the Company, and not the Community.
    – Laf
    Oct 16, 2023 at 19:31
  • 41
    @Philippe I've seen storm clouds for over a decade, and kept up hope for what now feels like the merest rays of sum peeking through. There's no preventing dystopia - its where we have now. Trust is again broken, people who we need out of the company, and a focus on things we don't actually care about. I've heard too many 'next time it'll be better' or 'Its just temporary' or worse, justifications for decision that hurt the community . To borrow a line from Taylor Swift... I've seen this film before and I didn't like the ending. And I don't see it anything that changes it Oct 16, 2023 at 19:40
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    With so many of these exercises we lose core members of the community in the company with no true replacements, with promises that its the last time. And frankly as much as the company wants a clean slate, we remember and we see the exact same things over and over again. The only difference is the room for redemption, for reconciliation, and healing gets smaller every time. Oct 16, 2023 at 19:44
  • 12
    "It's easy to see a silver lining when [... frankly ...] your house hasn't been partially dismantled for a distant Lord's castle" Very well said. I'm feeling for those who were laid off especially.
    – TylerH
    Oct 16, 2023 at 20:02
  • 19
    @Philippe Forgive me, but I keep seeing comments that brush of the "dystopian" scenario described by users as either over pessimism or something that we didn't reach yet and you are working to prevent. Forgetting for a second how much I disagree on both points, can I take this opportunity to ask if you (as in: the company) have ever asked yourself WHY the community would dream these dystopian realities? I mean, unless this turned overnight into "Emo Exchange" we can't all be a bunch of negative pessimist, right? There must be something that make us say that thing are bleak...
    – SPArcheon
    Oct 17, 2023 at 9:47
  • 3
    @SPArcheon, It's my job to pay attention to the dystopian outlook (and every other outlook that I see on site) and sort through them and raise them to my boss, Prashanth. In order to do that, yes, I have to consider and analyze the origins of those feelings, and I often make use of my team in so doing. I don't mean to minimize or brush off those feelings, and that's not what happens. I just also don't happen to totally agree with them. From my seat, I see things differently. Maybe that's access to data, or planning, or whatever, but I certainly don't discount the community impressions.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 19, 2023 at 4:07
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    @Philippe Then can I ask if the company could consider sharing these insight? I think that those analysis should clearly show that the userbase is felling neglected and not listened to. The company presence among us mortals is fading with every new cut. People like shog9 or Catija were key elements on meta, ones that would often interact in the chat and therefore people that the users seek out to make their voices heard. Even if it did nothing in the end, knowing that you told some of them about a problem gave you a felling of being listened that you are killing with these actions. [cont]
    – SPArcheon
    Oct 19, 2023 at 7:50
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    @Philippe [cont] I think you may also realize that despite those claims being very old, an userbase that sees its few trusted voices in the company silenced one after another is an userbase that will indeed remember the horrible words "only a 0,0001% vocal part of the actual users". I am probably repeating myself, but know that whatever may be the analysis you are doing internally, what users see externally is a company that clams up. And it does not help that many also see the objectives of Prosus as the current "man behind the curtain" being different from the objectives the old network had.
    – SPArcheon
    Oct 19, 2023 at 7:58
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    @SPArcheon - Reasonable question, and a good suggestion. I'll sit with the relevant folks and see if there are any metrics that we're treating as non-public that we could consider exposing.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 19, 2023 at 10:24
  • @SPArcheon month later, I'm sure you're very surprised your request has been ignored. Nov 12, 2023 at 8:20
159

Classical roadmap towards a sale. Make big promises, cut back costs, pocket reserve cash, boast net revenue, sell.

My question is: who are some prospective buyers, and what is the projected sale's timing?

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    This question deals with topics outside of the one immediately at hand, and they are areas with which I have no personal involvement or knowledge. And even if I did, I think it would unreasonable to expect me to speculate as to prospective actions by another company.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 18, 2023 at 19:36
  • 60
    Thank you for the response @Philippe, but of the spokespeople listed I didn't expect that this would be a topic you would address when I asked it. This is more of a question for Prashanth, however, I am aware he essentially does not post here. As for the topics at hand, the issue of sales positioning has been the driving force of this company for the past 2 years, and to be quite frank, the community is getting a little exhausted from it being so invasive to such topics.
    – Travis J
    Oct 18, 2023 at 20:31
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    I'll be sure that Prashanth sees the question then. :)
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 19, 2023 at 4:11
  • 12
    @Philippe Seconded as to the importance and relevance of this question. My current perception is that the highest level decisions at SO are being driven by goals and motivations which are rooted in greed/short-term exploitation, and not in the community's interest. I also have serious doubts as to the ability of top decision-makers to even understand the company's value, much less possessing of the imagination required to grow that value without destroying the thing itself. At the very least, it is relevant to demand some honesty about the reasons for the "financial targets" here.
    – BryKKan
    Oct 22, 2023 at 10:47
  • 9
    When I think back to what SO was when created by Joel and look at what it has become today, it makes me sad. @BryKKan you've nailed it about their lack of ability to even understand what this place is. Heck, it has become the thing it set out to destroy.
    – Skrrp
    Oct 23, 2023 at 19:45
  • Related: From "The people who make your apps go to Stack Overflow for answers. Here’s how it works" (The Verge, 2022-10-25): "We can still go public as a company if we want to, or we can continue to stay private if we want to.". Though the interviewer keeps using the word "forum". Dec 19, 2023 at 12:11
151

You state:

At the end, if you squint, I hope you’ll see the faint glimmer of a silver lining.

I've been squinting really hard, but maybe you could help me out and tell what to look for. Where should I look? Since I'm not seeing the silver lining of dismissing 2 veteran CMs while you consider "priorities may shift towards reliability and maintenance". Those CMs were pretty important for the reliability and maintenance, both short- and long-term.

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    Let's be real: Monday was not an easy day and quite honestly, that sentence referred to a section of the document that got cut, and I failed to remove that line. The end result was that it seemed that I was was suggesting that the loss of our team members that were affected was a silver lining. That couldn't be farther from the truth, and I regret the editing error. Instead, what I was hoping to portray, and missed the mark by a fairly large mark, was that as devastating as this news was there is a path forward and we are commited to walking it with you.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 18, 2023 at 19:34
  • 15
    That "silver lining" is all the "silver" they get to keep from not having pay these people anymore. (as others have said, many have hired far more people than they can sustain paying. and SE isn't exactly a paid-for service.) [I've been there. It's never fun when it's your paycheck no one wants to write anymore.]
    – Ricky
    Oct 19, 2023 at 23:26
134

When the moderation strike ended earlier this year, the outcome of the negotiations was posted. I'm concerned about how the company is going to keep up its end of the agreement here.

First and foremost:

Improving day-to-day communication between staff and moderators

How will this be accomplished? The Community team has lost two highly respected members of the team. They were also two of the most visible members of the team.

Where is the community manager->community relationship at this point? I'm saying that it is much closer to the "Non-existent" end of the spectrum than "Fully engaged two way communication" end.


Tooling for mod communication and determining if the company violated the Mod Agreement

Combining one statement

Longer-term projects that are more piecemeal in nature, such as time spent servicing requests for new tools, may also be impacted and responsiveness may slow down. My commitments during the recent moderator action negotiations remain intact, and we will continue to honor them.

with another

It’s important to us that the sites continue to function as designed. Like I said, the community isn’t going anywhere. That means we’ll still prioritize bug-fixes as usual, and maintain our uptime. Any reduction in our work throughput will come from other areas of product development.

I don't know how to reconcile these two. How are you going to honor your commitments while also reducing the relationships that were vital in getting even minimal tooling upgrades out the door? At the same time you are pushing the generative AI brouhaha even in this announcement. It's clear that remains a priority. How do the other commitments the company made to the community fit into this new landscape with fewer employees and fewer Company->Community relationships?

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    There's no question that losing those two is hard. I miss them personally and professionally. But I still have some long-term very dedicated community managers who will step up. In previous times, they may have been assigned to less public tasks, but that doesn't mean they aren't capable of doing the type of public work that these two were so good at - it just means that they were assigned to work in other areas. Work assignments are going to have to change, clearly.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 18, 2023 at 19:35
  • 28
    @Philippe I don't think it's about the capability of the remaining community managers, but rather the rapport that the ones we've lost had with the community. That's not something that is fixed by reassigning tasks, it's a relationship of trust built over time. Those personal relationships had survived breakdowns in the broader relationship between company and curators and seemed like the most promising avenues for mending the broader relationship. Oct 19, 2023 at 20:37
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    That task has also been an extremely burdensome one as far as I can tell, and I fear the extreme pressure this is going to put on your remaining staff who seem even less comfortable with that role than the CMs affected by the layoff. Oct 19, 2023 at 20:40
  • 3
    @BryanKrause - it's not the easiest job in the world, nor is it the hardest. But each and every person on my team knows that they will be called upon to do it. You dont' get into community management without being willing to engage with communities. I appreciate your thoughts for them, but I think they'll be fine. Let's give them a chance to prove it.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 21, 2023 at 11:37
  • 17
    @Philippe I understand the reason for your "political answers", good and bad. I understand you have a job to do, and that to some extent it's required. However, it's not like I don't notice when you're sidestepping and reframing issues in an attempt to "non-answer" the hard questions. It's frustrating to watch you continually move around the fact that the community isn't "fine" here.
    – BryKKan
    Oct 22, 2023 at 10:58
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    @Philippe I am not suggesting the remaining team is unwilling to engage, please do not insult me or them by putting those words in my mouth. Oct 23, 2023 at 15:10
131

Regardless of the nuances of the full picture, and as stated by Prashanth in his blog post, this layoff is part of the company's path to profitability--profit has 2 elements--income and cost. Layoffs reduce "cost" (in the form of humans and salary).

Based off LinkedIn, social media, this post, and conversations with friends, with a few notable exceptions, the layoff has affected the lives of many individual contributors from across the company, and only a select few managers.

I would appreciate answers to these three discrete questions, which all get to the main question of "Have senior leadership (VP+) shouldered any of the financial burden currently facing 120-something employees?"

  • Will senior leadership forego bonuses and raises this year?
  • Has senior leadership taken a reduction in pay so that they can share in the salary cost-cutting?
  • Or are individual contributors expected to fully shoulder the direct financial impact of the company's strategy which resulted in the layoffs?

Why do I care? Why should users care?

Stack Overflow became what it is today because it was able to attract top-tier talent across all areas, both as employees and as volunteer content creators on the site. Top talent is choosy about where they work, and will choose to work where they feel respected and working on things they love. I hope that the company treated all laid off employees with the respect and compassion they deserve, and this is one important measure of that.

10
  • 36
    This is the question. If "community" is so important to them, what % pay cut did the C-suite decline to take, that would have saved the CM jobs? I'd be willing to bet it's in the very low single digits.
    – miken32
    Oct 17, 2023 at 17:09
  • 13
    SO is two years+ into a a buyout, the countdown is on to the investors flipping the company get their money out. Layoffs are the easy route to dress up the financials to get someone else to buy out the original investors. That is the long and short of what passes for a strategy. Oct 17, 2023 at 21:11
  • 15
    @AdrianKlaver --- That is certainly one possibility. I'm not here to speculate as to whether Prosus is seeking to sell Stack Overflow or not. My question is meant to distill whether the company is treating its employees (my former coworkers) with the compassion and respect they deserve....
    – AMtwo
    Oct 17, 2023 at 22:56
  • 17
  • 2
    @EricDuminil - that's clever. Thanks for the saturday morning chuckle.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 21, 2023 at 11:39
  • 4
    @AdrianKlaver Does nobody care about the fact that clumsy layoffs often eliminate crucial knowledge, skills, and relationships which the company relies upon to support those underlying numbers?
    – BryKKan
    Oct 22, 2023 at 11:03
  • 3
    @BryKKan - I've yet to see layoffs that don't do this, clumsy or otherwise.
    – Robotnik
    Oct 22, 2023 at 23:51
  • 14
    @Philippe -- This is the highest voted question (+106 / -0) without a response. From my perspective, it seems like a relatively objective answer which should be fairly easy. The silence seems like a deafening response in and of itself. I can only assume that a response may be unflattering/undesirable to answer. I'm profoundly disappointed. 👎
    – AMtwo
    Oct 24, 2023 at 20:11
  • 5
    Your questions are probably backwards. Senior leadership will get bonuses and raises this year, because they supposedly increased short term profitability™ thanks to the layoffs. Oct 27, 2023 at 10:39
  • 3
    @EricDuminil It’s well deserved, after those tough decisions. Oct 27, 2023 at 12:25
107

What will become of the development projects that Catija and other devs were involved in? There were some initiatives (such as mod tooling) she was acting as liaison on in the SO mod room.

3
  • 3
    The question generally says that ongoing projects might be delayed or changed. Maybe more detailed fates haven't yet been decided but it's clear that with less work force less projects can be done at the same time. Oct 18, 2023 at 6:05
  • 9
    Every team in the company, including Product and Engineering, was impacted. Mod Tooling and other community facing projects that were being worked on are still a priority. There is a slight pause right now as teams regroup and reassign any roles and responsibilities that need coverage. We'll be sharing more details once they are ironed out and letting you know next steps on these inisatives and who on the Community Management team will be point people on those projects.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 18, 2023 at 19:34
  • 1
    @Philippe for posterity, if you do that as a new question post, please also link to it here in a comment. thanks!
    – starball
    Oct 27, 2023 at 19:37
97
+200

Projects undergoing active work may change scope or be canceled.

Does that also hold for your GenAI initiatives? Will you continue to invest as much resources and energy into GenAI initiatives as before?

It seems to be a fact that your projects will suffer from this layoff. But it will be significantly worse if you are not willing to reduce the amount of energy/men(and women)power/money you put into GenAI.

Please consider reducing the focus on GenAI and ensure everything else doesn't fall apart completely.


(personal opinion/very biased)

If you don't, I only see the situation becoming even worse for SE (and the Community but the Community doesn't seem to be important for SE judging from what SE is doing (I am talking about SE as a company here, I am sure CMs are still caring about the Community, even without Catja and V2Blast)) in the future. And with "the situatuation becoming even worse for SE", I fear that 2 layoffs from now, even the CEO might be impacted.

Please, for the sake of god/allah/buddah/business or whatever you believe in: Don't take (any more) bets (on GenAI) you can't afford to lose (because you seem to be losing them).

11
  • 29
    Although I agree, the CEO perspective on this is that StackOverflow has to be building something new oriented toward growing revenue. We, the users of SO, recognize that GenAI is a bad idea for SO. But the sales team needs buzzwords to market the Teams product. Sadly, we can't just say "kill GenAI"--we have to offer a more compelling alternative way for SO to drive revenue. Oct 16, 2023 at 18:37
  • 3
    Yes and I didn't request to completely "kill GenAI" (just to put less resources/effort into it and focus on what's important). However, I don't think it would work out if they kept the same focus on it. Oct 16, 2023 at 18:44
  • And it would be a relief (and I think a lot of people here would agree on that) to hear that no big GenAI initiatives were planned - but that might just be wishful thinking. Oct 16, 2023 at 18:57
  • 33
    Honestly, if Stack Overflow wanted to make a competitive GenAI product, they'd need to increase spending on it, massively. There's no use in having a worse conversational AI than Copilot/ChatGPT/CodeWhisperer/Replit etc. Microsoft has recently realized how enormously tricky integrating hallucinating GenAI in a business product is, so I don't see it being sensible for Teams either. Just investing a bit serves no other purpose than having something to talk about to investors. And given that GenAI has been a huge money burning machine for nearly all companies, that's not that useful either.
    – Erik A
    Oct 16, 2023 at 19:31
  • 2
    Well, I don't think they can afford doing that. Oct 16, 2023 at 19:33
  • 9
    Indeed, so they should scrap it fully. There's no in-between with AI
    – Erik A
    Oct 17, 2023 at 8:05
  • 1
    Not sure how realistic that is but I don't feel I am in the position to request that. Oct 17, 2023 at 10:13
  • 12
    @ErikA There's no in-between with AI systems intended to be generalist – a big part of OpenAI's brand is producing “AGI” (which is awful at most stuff, but it attempts most stuff! Wow!). Special-purpose AI, like auto-summarisation tools for specific fields, can require vastly fewer resources while producing better outcomes: we had decent auto-summarisation tools before “LLM” was coined, we had decent OCR and image recognition of pastries before massive neural networks became a thing, etc..
    – wizzwizz4
    Oct 18, 2023 at 20:47
  • 3
    Also if one uses an LLM for tasks special-purpose AI systems could be good for, they shouldn't expect too much of it. Oct 18, 2023 at 21:17
  • 1
    Since AFAIK there's not been a single company so far that's made a profit from genAI, I'd say it's insane that they don't just cut that tumor off from the company, instead of firing quite literally essential and priceless employees like V2Blast.
    – Gloweye
    Oct 23, 2023 at 12:31
  • Glad someone brought up this elephant. The whole point of the SE network (all sites) has been the human interaction and knowledge. Replacing people with computers that "think" can only go poorly. Whether here or at any company/site.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 23, 2023 at 12:56
87

At the time of writing this answer, on SO's main page, the featured blog post is "Is AI enough to increase your productivity?".

Original screen capture

This... doesn't look good, given the circumstances. This whole AI thing is already infuriating as it is, and now that many people lost their job, it adds a taste of arrogance which we could do without.

Is there any way you guys can just remove this link for now?

Edit

Good news, the link to the article was removed. Less good news, we can still see an article on LLMs O_o

New screen capture

@Philippe: The Community does not agree with the AI initiatives being pushed by the Company. That was made abundantly clear in various posts on Meta.SE and other sites. This is a pain point for us and this is creating a rift between the Company and the Community.

You said that the Company cares about its Community. If this is indeed the case, please consider putting a hold on the AI-related articles being pushed? This would be a very clear display of how much you truly care about the Community. Then maybe you can find a way to exchange with the Community about their views on possible AI-related initiatives that could be helpful in our opinion?

2
  • 50
    At the layoffs in May the blog featured an article on finding a job .... Maybe the blog authors are on our side and send us messages early for things to come. Look out for How to go bankrupt or Survive a hostile takeover ...
    – rene
    Oct 17, 2023 at 7:23
  • 8
    @rene Why not wish for something hopeful? E.g. "How to bring a new CEO up to speed in record time!"
    – BryKKan
    Oct 22, 2023 at 11:11
81

I have a question for Mr. Prashanth Chandrasekar.

A while ago, Joel Spolsky made a post announcing your arrival at Stack Overflow.

At the time, one of the things that was said was the following:

Last March, I shared that we were starting to look for a new CEO for Stack Overflow. We were looking for that rare combination of someone who could foster the community while accelerating the growth of our businesses, especially Teams, where we are starting to close many huge deals and becoming a hyper-growth enterprise software company very quickly. This is not something I’m particularly good at, and I thought it was time to bring on more experienced leadership.

By them, it seemed Stack Overflow was going really well. Joel there talks about lots of opportunities arriving, and needing more experienced leadership to help managing things going forward.

A few years later, came the huge acquisition by Prosus.

With that acquisition, you personally mentioned that:

Once this acquisition is complete, we will have more resources and support to grow our public platform and paid products, and we can accelerate our global impact tremendously. This might look like more rapid and robust international expansion, M&A opportunities, and deeper partnerships both on Stack Overflow and within Stack Overflow for Teams.

And that:

Prosus is a long-term investor and loves what our company and community have built over these last 13+ years. They are impressed by the SaaS transformation the company has been on since the launch of Stack Overflow for Teams and especially over the last two years. Prosus recognizes our platform’s tremendous potential for impact and they are excited to launch and accelerate our next phase of growth.

Very promising words! Acquisitions are scary, but those were words that promised greatness to come and that things would only get better. That happened around the middle of 2021.

Fast forward just two years later, to 2023, and now we find ourselves on a strange situation where a third of the workforce, including people that were highly valued by the community, had to be let go in order to recover profitability.

A third of the workforce.

A third of the workforce being let go after very good news a few years ago is not a minor reorganization or a strategic shift. It's something very major, that doesn't happen from one moment to another. It feels like things are going very, very bad, and we as a community don't understand what is going on. I think I speak for many of us when I say that we're in the dark of why this was necessary.

We don't understand how things came to this. We had the acquisition, the big deals, the promises of growth and getting better and better, and now a third of the people that work on the company lost their jobs.

How did the situation got this dire?

12
  • 31
    They weren't talking to us. They were talking to investors. Cutting employees by a third with a heavy focus on the sales oriented teams makes sense if you need that money to develop technology instead of growing the community or customer base. This should not be a surprise to anyone who listened to what the CEO was saying about AI. They believe that any erosion in the community this causes is either going to be slow enough to be reversed later, or completely irrelevant to the company's future.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 17, 2023 at 17:03
  • 2
    Some meta post within the past few days claimed (the reference escapes me right now) they grew 100% within a short time. +100% - 10% - 30% = +25% (they aren't additive). Oct 17, 2023 at 19:14
  • "How did the situation got this dire?" It's not a full explanation, but sure not many people predicted the rise of Language Models so quickly back then and the issues with quality, curation and user experience and a decline in participation on StackOverflow for example are long (many years) in the making. Also, Joel Spolski might have greatly exaggerated the "hyper growth" part. I'd say that the situation never was that rosy, but it still got worse and worse over the years. Oct 17, 2023 at 20:54
  • 8
    Not sure I read this answer correctly - are you suggesting that CEO communications are anything else than hot air? Also, as mentioned above, SO doubled its workforce last year and thus the headcound is actually still higher than 2021. As for "how things came to this", that's what happens when a CEO does not understand the core business of the company and instead chooses to chase the latest hype such as genAI, but still has financial targets to hit and thus needs to cut corners elsewhere...
    – l4mpi
    Oct 18, 2023 at 8:49
  • Yeesh. Thanks for digging up the Spolsky quote in particular. Looks like he would have done better to stay as CEO himself in spite of his "not particularly good at" disclaimer. Is he still chairman, do you know?
    – Wildcard
    Oct 18, 2023 at 17:52
  • 7
    @l4mpi Mr. Prashanth Chandrasekar was brought in as someone that had the necessary expertise to move towards a good future, and his own statements made clear that growth was assured. Now the company faces a major retraction. Something is amiss - or we are lacking important context, or this was a major fumble under his responsibility. This is the moment to either explain, or accept blame. Sustainable hiring is a concept that should be on any modern CEO handbook.
    – T. Sar
    Oct 18, 2023 at 19:59
  • SO doubled its workforce within a single year? That sounds like it was overly rushed maybe. Oct 19, 2023 at 8:04
  • 2
    @T.Sar you seem to have an overinflated view of CEOs and an uncritical acceptance of company communications. Your source for the claim about the current CEO is a blog post by the previous CEO, which is biased and will try to give as rosy a view as possible (e.g. hypothetically, if Joel was forced out by activist investors, you won't read about that in the blog). Maybe he actualy was brought in to prepare for acquisition. Re CEO handbook, FAANG went on a similar hiring spree during the pandemic and also found out this is not sustainable; and tech CEOs often seem to chase / imitate FAANG.
    – l4mpi
    Oct 19, 2023 at 10:39
  • 2
    @l4mpi Please don't assume things about me. I'm bringing up those blog posts as-is because they're explicitly what Stack Exchange said. They are their own company communication. It's their word against themselves. What I truly think about this situation is far too unkind for a place of polite discussion.
    – T. Sar
    Oct 19, 2023 at 11:10
  • 3
    @T.Sar "What I truly think about this situation is far too unkind for a place of polite discussion" - then I think we're pretty much on the same page. I'm just saying the blog is a place for fluff pieces... it could state that Prashanth will strive to gift every single SO user a unicorn in real life and I would take that just as serious as I took the "becoming a hyper-growth enterprise software company very quickly" line (how much that sentence aligned with reality should be obvious given that they've now fired most of their marketing for SO Teams).
    – l4mpi
    Oct 19, 2023 at 12:09
  • 5
    OK, it wasn't a meta post (but it was linked from one (or a comment on one)): The 2023-10-16 Ars Technica article, citing a 2022-10-25 The Verge article: "Stack Overflow doubled its headcount in 2022 with 525 people" Oct 19, 2023 at 21:45
  • 2
    Rich people at the top of things want to get even more richer. That's the answer. Oct 31, 2023 at 18:37
76

One of the impacted CMs was the last remaining person who would straddle between the difficulties of communicating to the community and representing the company. Some of their announcements and projects were generally well received, and it was the impression that for as long as they were around, things could at least start to heal.

With their departure and with the calamities that have already befallen this community, what words could you offer to someone like me who would use this chance to forever give up any faith that the company is on the right track and that the community is being taken care of?

10
  • 34
    The company hasn't been on the 'right' track for many years, as evidenced by the boom and bust cycles as they chase the next shiny thing. Oct 17, 2023 at 1:19
  • 22
    @JourneymanGeek: Yes, that's well established. But like any bad relationship there's some irrational thing that causes you to cling onto hope, and one of those CMs was that. With her gone, it all feels hollow now.
    – Makoto
    Oct 17, 2023 at 1:34
  • 2
    Everyone impacted whether on the CM or any other team is a great loss. I do want to point out though that every member of the CM team does as @makoto says "straddle between the difficulties of communicating to the community and representing the company." Everyone on this team advocates for the Community both internally and externally. For over a year now Community Managers have been formally liaisioning with teams across Product, Engineering, Design, etc...
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 18, 2023 at 19:50
  • 3
    ....They serve as your voice in planning meetings and work with Product Managers to syntheize your feedback, respond to it, and push for changes that will benefit you. But going foward, we need to do a better job of sharing more about our liaision work and what that intails - and that's on me. Teams are regrouping right now and figuring out coverage but Rosie is planning to share more details with you about liaision work in the upcoming weeks.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 18, 2023 at 19:50
  • 22
    @Philippe: I do not trust that anyone on the team advocates for the actual long-term members of the site. It has not been demonstrated in a measurable way that our voice is really being heard or that our concerns are being addressed or that our feedback counts. While I know that Catija couldn't promise anything, if nothing else she was pretty no nonsense about it, and owned up where things fell short. Everyone else has been utterly transparent and largely in the background to this point and has not owned up when they let us down.
    – Makoto
    Oct 18, 2023 at 20:09
  • 30
    @Philippe: The struggle that is shown here with CMs is that they're just not visible to us anymore. We don't feel their presence when interacting with us and it takes years to build a rapport in this fashion. I categorically reject this papering over what has been lost with "well, everyone in the room is championing for the community". No, it has not felt like that. It has not felt like that in a very, very long time.
    – Makoto
    Oct 18, 2023 at 20:13
  • 2
    @Makoto Some remaining CMs have a similar rapport with some moderators… but it's going to be a few years before anyone's rapport with the wider community reaches Catija's. (I don't even know if the conditions for developing a rapport like that still exist.)
    – wizzwizz4
    Oct 18, 2023 at 21:17
  • 4
    @wizzwizz4 I feel like CMs have to also be regular users on their accounts on at least one site (but preferably multiple) for them to build any sort of ongoing presence with the wider community - Catija and V2Blast had that in spades. Kinda hard to do if you're coming into Stack without any prior interaction though :/
    – Robotnik
    Oct 19, 2023 at 6:02
  • 3
    If only there were sites that aligned with the new CMs' hobbies, it's not like we have over a 100 of them... Oct 19, 2023 at 6:48
  • 1
    @wizzwizz4: Well, that's good for the moderators then. Maybe one day us non-mods might be able to share in that privilege.
    – Makoto
    Oct 19, 2023 at 9:08
74

today’s actions will allow us to be more strategic and to narrow our focus as we move forward.

This statement implies that the individuals whose jobs were eliminated-- who are largely individual contributors executing on strategy set by senior leadership-- were somehow responsible for a lack of strategic focus.

That's a terrible thing to imply, and as a former employee I understand it is far from the truth. This phrase should be edited and frankly y'all should apologize for the insinuation.

I understand you are trying to find something positive to write, but throwing shade at the people whose jobs have been eliminated for somehow inhibiting strategy is a desperate look, not a community focused one or even a strategic one.

3
  • 8
    Yeah, the phrasing's not great. I imagine it's difficult to find a way to say "layoffs will help us accomplish our [financial] goals", but... I feel like this could have been phrased better.
    – V2Blast
    Oct 18, 2023 at 2:35
  • 1
    @V2Blast I agree. They could just come out and say "layoffs will help us accomplish our financial goals," but it's bad form to say what you mean anymore. Oct 18, 2023 at 18:16
  • 7
    If that's the implication that came out of this sentence, it was certainly not intentional, and I do apologize for it. I thought that the intention of the sentence was clear: it's incumbent on those who remain here, who are in management, to do a better job of focusing their work. No shade was intended, at all.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 18, 2023 at 19:53
70

Practical effects of the October 2023 layoff

A CM who cares deeply about improving user onboarding and guidance is now no longer a voice inside the company. If anything, that's the kind of thing that I think will lead to anything like a "demise of Stack Overflow".

People don't hate SO because it needs more AI. (and I can give you a long list of people who have found SO more helpful than ChatGPT). They hate it because the onboarding and guidance sucks, and then they kick their pinky toe on a disgruntled curator who is equally frustrated at the situation.

I just want to scream- "WHY!?".

My disappointment is immeasurable and my day is ruined.

5
  • 5
    We share your deep disappointment and frustration. We really valued all of our teammates that were laid off, on our team and beyond, and we will miss working with them greatly. We hope to honor the contributions of those that are no longer here by remaining commmitted to improving the experience of both new and seasoned users on the public platform. Although these staff members were consistent voices for the topics you mention - onboarding, etc, they were not by any means the ONLY consistent voices for prioritizing those things.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 18, 2023 at 19:52
  • 6
    Unfortunately, the hate SO gets may not be fixable with onboarding and guidance. It's a perception problem of what the site does by outsiders. They see SO as coding forum or chat room to ask questions, rather than a place already full of answers they can use. I had a friend who is reasonably intelligent, but she said to me that she sees no harm in asking a question on SO without searching first. She said, "It doesn't matter if I waste a little bit of somebody's time because I didn't search. It's just one question." That perception is the problem, and it exists outside of SO's control. Oct 19, 2023 at 0:24
  • 8
    @ConspicuousCompiler that kind of misunderstanding is part of what I'm talking about when I talk about bad onboarding and guidance: understanding the platform's goal and chosen path to achieve that goal.
    – starball
    Oct 19, 2023 at 0:26
  • 3
    @starball I understood your stated goal and was addressing it in my comment. It's ambitious to believe one can redirect users who already have a mistaken vision of the purpose of the site. You can't add more text and get different behavior than they planned; you have to constrain courses of action or change expectations of the world at large. I don't think SO has the advertising budget for the latter nor the will to remove the ability of new users to ask questions without searching first, especially when one of the current CEO's first KPIs was to increase total number of questions. Oct 19, 2023 at 18:08
  • 7
    @Conspicuous Compiler: They could redesign the looks and the way it works, so it doesn't look like a forum. Even force new users to jump through some hoops to make it clear it isn't a forum. Even the CEO thinks it is a forum. Oct 19, 2023 at 22:25
69

The last announcement about the earlier layoffs said

This is painful for them, and we are supporting those employees through this transition with severance packages, extensions of healthcare benefits, and outplacement services.

There is no such statement in the current announcement. Is there anything the company leadership wants to add about this aspect of the layoffs?

12
  • 8
    The WARN Act requires a 60-day notice for employers over 100 employees (which includes Stack Overflow) so I'm sure they are continuing to pay their salaries and benefits for the next two months. That is usually what companies refer to when they say things like 'we will continue to support these employees for the near future as they find new work'.
    – TylerH
    Oct 16, 2023 at 17:50
  • 9
    @TylerH Only if the layoff is large enough to qualify. I don't know whether the previous layoff would combine with this one to make it qualify since it wasn't too long ago. Another complication is that not all of the employees are in the US. Oct 16, 2023 at 17:54
  • 51
    @BryanKrause You're right; now it looks like Stack Overflow planned to lay off this 28% all along but spaced it out 6 months from the last 10% layoff to avoid the 33% threshold. Great optics!
    – TylerH
    Oct 16, 2023 at 18:06
  • 41
    @MadScientist, everyone impacted today was provided with a severance package with some variation depending on geographical location and tenure.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 16, 2023 at 18:08
  • 29
    I understand that the severance compensation from this round is significantly less than what was offered during the prior round in May.
    – AMtwo
    Oct 16, 2023 at 19:51
  • 34
    They didn't even have the decency to warn or even tell these folks privately that they are being fired. At least one former CM simply woke up and couldn't access their stuff and that's how they learned they had been laid off. Seriously. They didn't even have the decency to tell them face to face or at least directly.
    – terdon
    Oct 17, 2023 at 9:38
  • 7
    @terdon Funny, this is how contractors are treated, not employees
    – kevinskio
    Oct 17, 2023 at 13:23
  • 4
    "At least one former CM simply woke up and couldn't access their stuff" Casualty of timezones? With a global workforce, there's probably some SOP for that, but I imagine it's tricky. Oct 17, 2023 at 15:09
  • 9
    @terdon- We attempted to meet with every team member face to face. The worst scenario is for someone to wake up and not have access. To that end, we sent an announcement at 7AM eastern to staff so that they could see it on waking up. We then started by notifying Europe and moving west. The two CMs that were impacted were around the 11:00 hour (Eastern). I will not speak to the particular circumstances of anyone, but know that in every case, we tried multiple methods to contact the affected employees before their access was removed.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 18, 2023 at 20:06
  • 13
    @Philippe I've only ever seen “we tried multiple methods to contact [blank]” said to me or others when the communication strategy was woefully and fundamentally inadequate (the failures disproportionately, though not exclusively, affecting neurodivergent or disabled individuals; in at least one case systematically). I don't know if this is such a case, but I'd recommend improving your approach for next time (which would likely include giving more notice than one working day – ideally a proper notice period) and informing the remaining employees of those policy improvements.
    – wizzwizz4
    Oct 18, 2023 at 21:30
  • 10
    @Philippe You don't "notify" layoffs. You notify the beginning of a discussion about layoffs, so that eventually, at the end of the process, if no alternative was found, the affected workers at least don't get any completely unexpected surprise. This is basic workplace decency. Oct 19, 2023 at 12:45
  • 2
    Wow that's mad, in the UK and Europe you would not get away with that!
    – deep64blue
    Oct 20, 2023 at 14:44
66

I wanted to post this message yesterday, but then decided against it to avoid further drama. Then I saw Zoe’s answer and the company comment on that, asking almost what I wanted to ask.

Then why, over the past two firings (and previous rounds), have you eliminated the CMs and other employees who were among the largest advocates for the community and who, in some of the worse periods, were the only communication channel with the company? (Zoe post)

Not just the CMs. And in fact, this time around the CM team was hit much lighter than many other teams, because of the critical role that it plays here. But ultimately, decisions needed to be made to reach a certain target, and there was no way to protect the CM team entirely. Nobody has more respect for the CM team than I do. I'm feeling the cuts very personally today. I was blessed to work with them, and once they're on my team, that's forever, and I will celebrate every time I see them. (company comment)

@Philippe You're missing the point (and the "CMs and other employees" bit). The point is that over the past few years, the company has fired many of the outward-facing staff members who actually believed in, and advocated for the community. With this last round of employees being fired, the list of remaining community advocates (that, more importantly, also has the faith of the community) has shrunk. (Zoe answer)

I can't even begin to say how annoyed I was by this exchange and how the company comment seem to completely miss the point Zoe was making.

I think it is very obvious even from the outside that right now that the company is internally divided in two factions:

  • one that sees the community as an issue/hindrance and something that must be controlled, avoided, corrected, cleaned.
  • one that recognizes the community as the core of the network value and the central focus of what need to be done to move forward. Those seek collaboration and reconciliation instead of control.

Many users currently seems to share the feeling that the "cut offs" are surgically aimed at removing the second faction, the one that historically has shown support to the community in order to allow the other to progress in their plan more easily.

The comment on Zoe's answer avoided this issue completely. I am therefore posting this more direct question in hope to get some insight on that. Some attempts to tell us why this is just pessimistic thinking. Something that should make us change our wrong interpretation and be more trustful.

I'll leave you with this "artistic interpretation" of what is happening that I saw many users rant about in the last few months. Mind you, it is just a half-parody that hopefully isn't true at all, but I am posting it in hope this pushes some triggers and causes an epiphany to what a growing part of the community is thinking about the company right now.

Prosus bought the Stack Exchange network with the only purpose to use its data to train its proprietary LLM. For this reason they are pushing everything in the AI direction, researching more ways to use the available data to develop other products. At the same time they are trying to find way to ensure the exclusivity of their "market advantage", for example by trying to render competitors unable to use the same data (see: data dump, how can we kill the Creative Commons). The network is seen as a cost to pay to obtain more data. The focus is therefore to reduce that cost at much as possible while still obtaining that data, not to further develop the community. Depending on how things progress, the network will be kept open and slowly converted to an advertisement for the core product (integrating Prosus LLM in the site to showcase its abilities) or shut down as soon at it won't produce any more useful data.

Again, this is just an "Evil Incorporated Inc." comic-book style made-up story that in no way has to be true (nor in any way I am claiming it is). Yet, the sole fact that many users would consider this bleak scenario even plausible should really ring some big alarm bells in your heads.

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    To anyone at the company who is listening: As an exercise, can you come up with any externally visible actions (not words) of senior leadership since the acquisition, that are not consistent with this artistic interpretation? That is what breaks trust and encorages these narratives. Oct 17, 2023 at 20:54
  • 4
    @user1937198 as I said, I don't have any pretense to be able to tell apart what the truth actually is behind all the mess that happened in these years. Yet I think it would still be useful for the company to reflect about WHY so many users now see them as one of those mustached villain from some old western movie, wearing their top hat as they tie the network to the train tracks.
    – SPArcheon
    Oct 18, 2023 at 7:56
  • 3
    Here's what Joel had to say about Prosus in the first place—all of which is consistent with your Evil, Inc. scenario: Prosus is a long-term investor and loves what our company and community have built over these last 13+ years. They are impressed by the SaaS transformation the company has been on since the launch of Stack Overflow for Teams and especially over the last two years. Prosus recognizes our platform’s tremendous potential for impact and they are excited to launch and accelerate our next phase of growth.
    – Wildcard
    Oct 18, 2023 at 17:55
64

Some further thoughts -

I would refer you to this verge article

After the team doubled its employee base last year, Chandrasekar told The Verge’s Nilay Patel in an interview that about 45 percent of those hires were for its go-to-market sales team, which he said was “obviously the largest team.” We’ve reached out to Stack Overflow to find out what other teams may have been affected.

This has generally been a cycle. SE's best years were as a community and engineering centric company with a product that was best in class.

Considering that this has been identical to the events that lead to ... every other downsizing, what does the company intend to do 'better'? While the consequences to the individual contributors who're downsized is clear, I feel like nothing has actually changed between CEOs with respect to this.

With a smaller sales team, and a core community that's beaten, bruised and exhausted, and a engineering and community team that's shed people - how exactly does

As per the blog post

continued product innovation of Stack Overflow for Teams and the health of the public platform by building out our AI/ML capabilities.

Actually benefit any of us and

As we refine our focus, priorities, and strategy it's to better meet the demands of our users, customers, and partners as part of this commitment to product innovation and the continued momentum of OverflowAI both for Stack Overflow for Teams and on our public platform. Our new team structure best positions us to succeed when it comes to these initiatives.

As a core and vocal community member we have seen many requests be put on the back burner, or frankly ignored due to lack of resources. Multiple rounds of downsizing due to non profitability shows you're not meeting your financial goals, and loss of core community facing employees over time shows you've failed in your commitment to the community.

Considering the failure in meeting many of the needs of the community, down to a unprecedented protest action shortly before these downsizing events, one might consider the strategies so far a complete failure.

I asked about this in May - and apparently the response to "What are you going to do" seems to be to double down on actions that hurt the community.

What does success look like in the face of this?

I ask as I have before. I've seen concrete steps that have stripped away vital community resources and put back many projects again. What concrete steps, not promises (which feel worthless right now) does the company intend to take to serve the community and protect their interests?

We clearly see the impact of poor decision making by management on staff. I guess the question is how many cycles does the same "we're increasing our sales focus" "we're losing money" cycle have to happen before there's nothing left.

56

My main issue is, among the roughly 28% of the workforce that has just been laid off, were there any at a management level? If so, then secondarily, assuming it's permitted to be publicly disclosed, what number and/or percentage of the total being laid off would that be? Finally, are the numbers of these managerial level lay offs in the various groups/departments, compared to those of regular workers, roughly similar, or are there some that are significantly more or less affected?


Note that Philippe's comment states

Yes, management was impacted, up to and including at least one VP. ... But I think I can safely say that just as with the layoffs of individual contributors, management layoffs were clustered around the same solidly impacted teams, primarily Go-to-market focused.

6
  • 34
    I bet it is anywhere between 0% to 0%. Oct 17, 2023 at 8:04
  • 28
    I'll also bet the reduction upper management took to their own bonus and salary is anywhere between 0% and any amount of increase instead Oct 17, 2023 at 9:36
  • 5
    Yes, management was impacted, up to and including at least one VP. I'll see if I can get the numbers, but honestly I don't know if I'll be allowed to release those. I'll ask. But I think I can safely say that just as with the layoffs of individual contributors, management layoffs were clustered around the same solidly impacted teams, primarily Go-to-market focused.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 19, 2023 at 4:21
  • 5
    @Philippe But you're a VP and you appear to be really quite low down in the company hierarchy. At least from what I've seen - it doesn't seem like you've been able to affect much meaningful change so far. If the company is in such a dire financial state I'd expect more executives to be moved on too. Oct 19, 2023 at 6:53
  • 15
    I'm not sure that I agree with your reading of my role. In terms of company hierarchy, I report to the CEO. In terms of meaningful change, well, I grew the very team that we're talking about here, among other things. I wouldn't expect you to know about the change that I bring, though, because much of it is necessarily backstage. But I'm proud of the liaison program that I introduced, for instance, and for our closer and tighter cross-functional relationships. :)
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 19, 2023 at 10:37
  • 1
    @Philippe Thank you for the info. I assume you're not permitted to provide the specific numbers. As indicated in my answer, I suspected this might happen because, in my admittedly very limited experience, companies try to limit how much internal company details are released publicly. However, as I've made it clearer in updated my answer, I was primarily concerned about there being any management who were affected. Although it's best nobody's laid off, there's a sense of "fairness" if it's not just lower-level people. Finally, note I've now included part of your comment in my answer. Oct 28, 2023 at 18:33
52

So, let's compare the Stack Exchange organisation with a wayward truck. This truck has a history of taking wrong turns and unnecessary diversions, which is causing it to consume far too much fuel and is costing its owner big money. How can we fix this?

First approach: Let's remove one of the rear axles/wheelsets. That will save money, for sure, and maybe that axle is the cause of the wrong turns.

Nope! That didn't work; the company is still losing money because of this wayward truck.

Second attempt: Let's knock out the headlights. Clearly, they are far too bright and dazzling, and are likely making it hard for the driver to read road signs. This is obviously contributing to the unnecessary diversions (and those lights also consume energy/fuel). So: Scrapping the headlights will save us money.

Nope! That didn't work either.

At what point will the truck's owners wake up and realize that the cause of the wrong turns and diversions is … the driver?

4
  • 22
    Not yet. They’ll first open the doors, and throw out all the passengers, and then dump the goods the truck is carrying, in an attempt to make the last few liters of fuel be enough to get back on the road. Oct 17, 2023 at 9:51
  • 10
    @AndreasismovingtoCodidact Actually, the driver grabs half the goods when they bail out before the tank hits empty if past corporate declines are any indication.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 17, 2023 at 13:32
  • 5
    @ColleenV But the brakes will likely fail before the tank goes empty. Jumping out is the only reasonable thing to do. Taking the goods is only considered a fair exchange for the danger the driver was in. Oct 17, 2023 at 15:22
  • 2
    don't forget to grab a big box of genAI to put on the hood so we can't see where we are going.
    – Praxiom
    Oct 23, 2023 at 12:10
51

[ from Prashanth's blog post ]  To our community members and customers reading this note: you are foundational to our success. Thank you for your continued partnership as we enter this next phase.

My translation: we fart in your general direction, but we'll be happy to milk your contributions while you still stick around and volunteer. Calling it a "partnership" is between disingenuous and downright insulting at this point.

"Lost trust" has been mentioned several times in the previous posts, in the GenAI fiasco and strike discussions before this, in the Monica debacle years ago, and before that, too. Other than the goodwill of some SO staff, is there any reason to hope for the history not repeating itself next time around i.e. is SO management, and the CEO in particular, even aware of this "trust" issue, and do they have any concrete plans to repair/rebuild it?

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    Although I personally am quite familiar with it, and enjoyed your "translation", not everyone is knowledgeable about the "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" 1975 movie, e.g., the memorable quote #9 stated in Best Quotes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: 15 Funniest, i.e., "I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries." of the French knight to King Arthur. Oct 17, 2023 at 5:15
  • 8
    A clip (at 01 min 38 secs) Oct 17, 2023 at 5:29
  • 2
    I've read the CEO's blog and given their inability to write anything coherent I seriously doubt their ability to understand what the problem is.
    – Skrrp
    Oct 23, 2023 at 20:20
  • You know what, why are you all still here? If there truly isn't any trust left, there is nothing for you here. One might as well leave. Sure, the place won't survive without you, but in all seriousness, it won't even if you stay, because the company will run it into the ground. So seriously, if you don't trust the company at all, it's time to leave. Face the fact, and do something about it. It's time to leave this place behind. Oct 23, 2023 at 20:24
  • (says the user who "moved to codidact" more than a month ago but is still more active here than there)
    – Kevin B
    Oct 23, 2023 at 20:25
  • @KevinB No, yesterday I changed my username from "is moving to", to "moved to". I have ceased all post creations, and I'm no longer doing any curation tasks. I just happened to stumble upon this Q/A thread by random, because I'm still in some of the chat rooms, and never intended to leave them behind, because I still talk to people here. I'm leaving the platform, but not the community. Also, besides regular chat with people here (about stuff other than SE), I am more active on Codidact now, than on SE. Even though it may not seem like that, I spend more time there than here) Oct 23, 2023 at 20:27
  • @AndreasmovedtoCodidact Whatever you gotta tell yourself, ;)
    – Kevin B
    Oct 23, 2023 at 20:31
  • @KevinB Although, I will be honest and say that I disputed the close reason for one question on MSE today. Oct 23, 2023 at 20:31
  • 2
    @KevinB Yes, managing to tell myself what I needed to, was part of the moving process. I have had an addiction to this place. I like the people here. The community is nice (mostly). It doesn't happen in one day. And I'm not a particularly efficient person. So excuse my fatigue. Oct 23, 2023 at 20:34
49

I'm really struggling with

Our commitment to the community remains unchanged.

and

Community is among the most reliable cornerstones of the place – the essence of what makes this company what it is.

followed by

Our responses to you will be temporarily disrupted.

and

Short-term priorities may shift towards reliability and maintenance.

These things feel like opposites to me.

Consider this: Right now (4:38 pm Eastern on 16 October 2023), there are 211 [tag:status-review] questions on Meta Stack Exchange. The kind of disruptions are going to seriously impact the targets for addressing new posts as well as the backlog.

The fact that two of the currently active CMs I can remember interacting with the most were laid off also strikes me as odd, especially considering the agreements with the moderators and the community to improve day-to-day communication between staff and moderators.

Phrased as a question: What are your concrete plans for achieving these commitments? Or, in the case of the quarterly targets, what's a new reasonable target?

3
  • 5
    If there are already 211 [status-review] questions here on Meta Stack Exchange, then the plan is simple, and it has already been in effect for a long time: Let the stack overflow, and the resulting StackOverflowException (.NET architecture) is caught and ignored.
    – rgettman
    Oct 16, 2023 at 21:41
  • 3
    @rgettman That is not true. See the targets that have been set and the regular statusing. The number of status-review posts on Meta SE and across the network is a known issue and there were plans to try to address them. Oct 16, 2023 at 21:54
  • @rgettman Follow (with notifications) this post for quarterly updates on how they're doing with status tagged posts and what their priorities are for the coming quarter: What posts should be escalated to staff using [status-review], and how do I escalate them?
    – Robotnik
    Oct 19, 2023 at 6:25
44

I recognize that this is not a question, and that Philippe is only a messenger, but it needs to be said.

I want to take a moment to say that the folks we laid off were not let go on the basis of poor performance. On the contrary, they are some of the best folks I have ever had the chance to work with. These are attractive hires, solid candidates, and affable, talented people. We’re grateful to have had the chance to work with them. They have our respect, and they deserve yours as well. I hope that we can count on you to do everything possible to ease their transition, beginning by not speculating as to who was cut and ‘why’.

It's downright insulting for the company to tell us this.

It's insulting that the company apparently has non-performance-related reasons for doing this. In my book, those would be the only possible good reasons.

It's insulting to be told (by implication) that we don't deserve information.

It's insulting to be teased with this lack of information, and then expected not to speculate.

It's insulting that the company describes layoffs as merely a "transition".

It adds insult to injury that this profound lack of transparency, couched in obnoxious HR-speak, comes at the same time that the layoffs include liaisons between the company and the community.

As others pointed out already, it adds insult to injury that the community are referred to (elsewhere) as "partners", even as we are continually further distanced and disrespected - when the site owes its existence to us.

Prashanth, I am not your "partner". I have had enough of this. Enjoy your AI-powered ghetto.

10
  • 6
    If it wasn't performance related, how did they choose? Randomly? By whose benefits were most expensive? It would have been better to say nothing about how people weren't selected. If it wasn't the lowest performing people or people working on things the company doesn't want to work on in the future, shouldn't shareholders be concerned that the lowest performers didn't get laid off? That statement was a big communication mistake IMO.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 17, 2023 at 13:24
  • 1
    @ColleenV see Zoe answer for example. There is a clear "speculation" going on in the heads of many users. And obviously, being told to not speculate doesn't do much good to the speculation itself... quite the opposite - it only makes those speculations look more realistic.
    – SPArcheon
    Oct 17, 2023 at 14:03
  • 11
    Performance often isnt a factor in layoffs because it can be difficult to quantify. Its more about making the money work, which teams can take the hit, and how they can restructure after X amount of employees are gone. We would like to think if we work hard we wont get selected, but every layoff Ive seen has included a wide variety of people including those who were super high performers.
    – Josh Wolsborn StaffMod
    Oct 17, 2023 at 14:38
  • 10
    @JoshWolsborn Absolutely, which is why I think specifically mentioning that it wasn't about performance was a mistake. Everyone who's been through a layoff (which is a lot of us) knows how they work. The statement was well-meaning, but counter-productive. It's like saying "This tornado was definitely not man-made." Uh, ok sure I guess but why do you need to say that?
    – ColleenV
    Oct 17, 2023 at 16:28
  • 2
    @JoshWolsborn Most big layoffs also don't fire who actually needs to be fired from a company.
    – T. Sar
    Oct 17, 2023 at 17:49
  • 20
    A contrary view: I appreciated the note that it was not about performance. Philippe went out of his way to include praise for the laid-off people, acknowledging the great work they did for the company and removing any cloud of speculation around whether there were performance-related reasons that they were chosen; it was simply that there is no longer enough money in the budget for their role to exist. While I think eliminating these roles is a terrible mistake, I am at least glad that the people affected will enter their job search without that cloud over them. It's the least they deserve.
    – Ryan M
    Oct 17, 2023 at 18:11
  • 2
    @RyanM Philippe could have praised them without weirdly stating "it wasn't because we thought they sucked at their job" and provoking the obvious follow-up question of "well why were these particular individuals chosen to be laid off then?"
    – ColleenV
    Oct 17, 2023 at 20:26
  • 31
    I think Philippe did his best to praise us without actually revealing how the company/managers decided who to lay off. I understand folks wondering how they decided that, but I don't fault Philippe for saying nice things about us (and asking that folks not speculate about specific individuals).
    – V2Blast
    Oct 18, 2023 at 2:42
  • 5
    @ColleenV One fairly common strategy is to simply lay off the most well paid employees first, as it minimizes the number of people affected for a given amount of costs saved, and is also objective and non-discriminatory (pay grade is not a protected class in any country I know of). Some may question the wisdom of effectively getting rid of your most senior employees first, but it still does happen here and there. (Of course, I'm not suggesting that this is what happened at SE, it's just a random example of a non-performance-based criterion.)
    – TooTea
    Oct 20, 2023 at 7:29
  • 1
    @TooTea Yep. People with families are more expensive benefits-wise which can put them at risk of being laid off when looking at "total compensation". I know how layoffs work; My point is that it was a communication error to say anything about the reason why someone may or may not have been chosen because I know how people work. The only reason this answer and all these comments exist is because of mentioning "poor performance". Laying off a bunch of people across the company is almost always financial and not due to individual performance.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 20, 2023 at 13:40
43

Is the experiment announced by Catija in “If more users could vote, would they engage more? Testing 1 reputation voting on some sites” still underway, or has it been affected by her being laid off? What's the status of this experiment, and is there another community manager in charge? The Arqade community is very enthusiastic about this idea, as shown in the Arqade Meta post, “Should Arqade opt-in to the 1 reputation voting experiment?” Many of us at Arqade are looking forward to seeing it happen.

Aside from Arqade, Graphic Design SE and Pets SE are also volunteering for the experiment.

3
  • 22
    +1 - I would really like more detail on "Projects undergoing active work may change scope or be canceled" - even simply a list of project title -> status, what's ongoing/unchanged, what's been suspended/reduced in scope or shelved, and (apparently) what's being brought back from the dead. Although by the sounds of it the current priority is "keep the lights on" so I imagine most projects are in the 'suspended' state at the moment :(
    – Robotnik
    Oct 17, 2023 at 3:19
  • That particular experiment also depended on a community willing to volunteer. It might be that this experiment is still hold back by a lack of such a community instead of being without staff now. Oct 17, 2023 at 7:21
  • 1
    @NoDataDumpNoContribution "That particular experiment also depended on a community willing to volunteer. It might be that this experiment is still hold back by a lack of such a community " That's not the case. Actually, Arqade, Graphic Design SE, and Pets SE are volunteering. Oct 27, 2023 at 8:41
39

Were the layoffs equally distributed among departments and roles or were they focused on specific areas like e.g. sales, development or a specific product?

13
  • 11
    And what does 28% mean in absolute numbers? They don't publish their Team page anymore, sadly, so it's hard to know if 28% is 28 people or 280 people or somewhere in between.
    – TylerH
    Oct 16, 2023 at 17:41
  • 14
    There were over 500 employees before the first layoff (ctrl-f 500). 500 * 0.9 * 0.28 = 126 people fired is a very rough estimate. Probably worth adding a +-20-30% on that number (but probably on the higher end rather than the lower end) Oct 16, 2023 at 17:45
  • 13
    @TylerH Good question to ask in its own answer.
    – Slate StaffMod
    Oct 16, 2023 at 17:49
  • 6
    In his blog post, Prashanth explained that todays round focused largely on our go-to-market operation. They took a hard hit, but every single team in the company was impacted.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 16, 2023 at 18:09
  • 6
    @Philippe "go-to-market operation" is Teams sales, right? Oct 16, 2023 at 18:09
  • 11
    Pretty much, yeah. But there were hard hits in other areas as well. Our product teams suffered a hit proportional to the size of the product org. Lots of different areas are feeling it. But yes, sales felt it the most this time.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 16, 2023 at 18:11
  • 4
    The Verge - theverge.com/2023/10/16/23919004/… Oct 16, 2023 at 18:20
  • 22
    @user10186832 "coding help forum" yikes
    – TylerH
    Oct 16, 2023 at 18:23
  • 4
    @TylerH: Not much worse than the CEO (at 02 min 57 secs) Oct 17, 2023 at 5:11
  • 1
    @This_is_NOT_a_forum He just repeats what’s written on the presentation. Oct 17, 2023 at 7:28
  • @Zoeisonstrike re your math, I believe that last factor should be 1-0.28=0.72, right?
    – Max
    Oct 19, 2023 at 0:56
  • 2
    @Max No, because that would tell you how many employees are left, not how many were fired (which was the question at hand) Oct 19, 2023 at 6:27
  • Actually though, I completely forgot/missed that the previous round said "58, or about 10%". Assuming exactly 10% for convenience, and no new hires since, gives 580 employees, yielding 580 * 0.9 * 0.28 = ~146 (which is well within the +-30% of the initial estimate, FWIW) employees that now suddenly have to look for a new job. There's still an error here, though, but significantly less than +-30% Oct 19, 2023 at 21:23
39

Coming from a different region of the world, with much stronger labor laws, I always wonder why we seem to view layoffs so differently.

Where I come from, a layoff is stronger regulated and many things are out of control of the company. For example, you say your layoffs weren't performance related, but since you picked the people without any public criteria, that may or may not be the case, we will never know. Where I live, you have to set up public criteria (like age, number of dependents, salary, number of years in the company) and then select the people based on that.

Unless there is an equally public reason that cannot possibly be attributed to the company leadership (let’s say Corona lockdowns and airlines), a layoff is a very public admission of company and company leadership failure here. Two layoffs in a year certainly are. I'm not even sure when I heard about it the last time, except for companies that went belly up two months later.

Why is it that in the US, I never hear company leadership step down after such a failure? It's not SE alone, and I have not heard that from others either.

Can you shed some light on the cultural differences? Why is a layoff just something the leadership in the US shrugs off as something that just happens every few years?

16
  • 1
    Not all SE employees are based in the US. ... meta.stackexchange.com/users/508266/cesar-m Oct 17, 2023 at 7:09
  • 4
    @user10186832 but it's a US company, so bound only to the US laws. Also, no need to go far, the CEO himself wasn't born in the USA. (though might be considered USA citizen by now, didn't check that deep.) Oct 17, 2023 at 8:16
  • 2
    I'm not deep enough into their business to know whether they have local subsidiaries, hire their "staff" as self-employed, or have some other construct. I have no idea which labor laws apply for their remote workers. But since the company is a US company, they point of view of what is an acceptable "failure" (or if layoffs are even a "failure" at all) is certainly a US point of view.
    – nvoigt
    Oct 17, 2023 at 8:20
  • 4
    @ShadowWizardIsSadAndAngry A US company is not bound only to the US laws when it comes to hiring and employment practices.
    – wizzwizz4
    Oct 18, 2023 at 21:38
  • 10
    (disclaimer: I was one of the employees laid off, but that’s unrelated to this comment). In a past life I was a manager at a different company and was told many times by corporate legal/HR that you basically never give reasons/criteria for firing someone unless specifically required to. The US is a very litigious nation and that info will often lead to lawsuits. Oct 18, 2023 at 23:27
  • 2
    @wizzwizz4 I'm not a lawyer so can't know for sure, but common sense does day that if an employee is hired by a USA company, that employee can be laid off according to the rules of USA, not wherever they live. The contract is personal, between the company and the employee. If there is an existing blog/article explaining otherwise, I'd be happy to read and learn. Oct 19, 2023 at 7:49
  • 7
    @ShadowWizardIsSadAndAngry The laws of both countries apply. Otherwise that would be a massive loophole to bypass labour law.
    – wizzwizz4
    Oct 19, 2023 at 8:47
  • 4
    @wizzwizz4 with all due respect, the answer there is given by private person, being a mod on Law.SE does not make them lawyer. So that's not anything close to reliable source. Oct 19, 2023 at 11:14
  • 6
    @ShadowWizardIsSadAndAngry There's little room for "common sense" when the law is involved. Speaking from extensive personal experience, at least in the EU, it's where the work actually takes place that determines the applicable labour law, regardless of where the employer has its headquarters. My employer was forced (yes, that involved actual legal analysis) to basically set up a one-man subsidiary in my country of residence just so they could legally have me work for them from home. There are entire companies specializing in setting up such "proxy employers".
    – TooTea
    Oct 20, 2023 at 7:14
  • 2
    @TooTea I see, and glad to hear. Can only hope the non-USA employees of Stack Exchange are treated properly, according to their local laws, which are most likely better than the USA. Oct 20, 2023 at 8:26
  • 1
    @nvoight what you list as criteria for letting go would be illegal in the UK and I would guess EU. You have to close down a job - ie do less things and the let go the people doing that job. It does not matter how well or bad the employee was or any details about them.
    – mmmmmm
    Oct 20, 2023 at 11:42
  • @mmmmmm No it is not. It's actually mandatory in Germany. When you remove a job (compared to a person), you have to pick objective criteria and publish them. None of the criteria say anything about whether or not the specific person was good at their job though.
    – nvoigt
    Oct 20, 2023 at 11:46
  • @nvoigt Ok in Uk performance can't be used as layoff criteria but neither can you use (like age, number of dependents, salary, number of years in the company) . The only criteria is does the job exist after the layoffs.
    – mmmmmm
    Oct 20, 2023 at 11:54
  • @mmmmmm What happens when you remove 5 out of 10 developer jobs? Can the company just pick who they like best? In Germany, the company has to prove that they did not pick for performance.
    – nvoigt
    Oct 20, 2023 at 12:31
  • 2
    @mmmmmm Mr experience and understanding (in the UK) aligns with nvoigt's - if you are reducing the number of employees who are in the same role, you have to create measurable criteria, and rank the candidates. It's actually for exactly the reason John M. Wright gave: secrecy isn't enough, you need to be ready to answer any legal challenge with evidence that you followed a fair process.
    – IMSoP
    Oct 22, 2023 at 10:29
37

We’re seeing some positive signs around uptake for our new OverflowAI features, and today’s actions will allow us to be more strategic and to narrow our focus as we move forward. Expect to see a continued focus on OverflowAI as we build it toward commercial viability.

Do you have any tangible proof about those positive signs or this is just bad case of wishful thinking? Because I am not seeing any improvements in the OverflowAI functionality since the initial release.

And if by uptake you mean, people trying the thing to see how it works, then is it really an uptake?

Do you really want to keep pouring all your money betting on the dead horse hoping for some kind of miracle?

2
  • 7
    Yeah, wasting everyone's time with OverflowAI is part of why the community is so nervous in the first place, and if this is anything like the MDN case, you're (at best) just seeing people who haven't realized that what the "AI" made for them is just a bunch of words stuck together in a way that superficially resembles the training data, augmented by the prompt.
    – SamB
    Oct 20, 2023 at 0:10
  • 2
    (Link to MDN issue for context)
    – cocomac
    Oct 21, 2023 at 21:14
34

What, if any, pay cut have folks on the C-suite level taken in response to these financial issues?

I generally find the actions of such layoffs a lot more reasonable when it's not just the rank and files losing their income stream alone. And if pay cuts haven't occurred on the C-suite level, why hasn't this occurred?

4
  • Not quite a direct answer, but Phillipe has mentioned that any pay cuts would have needed to be "very very substantial" as personnel costs amount to around 80% of their total budget. But I agree it would've been nice to see it from the C-level folk especially.
    – Robotnik
    Oct 22, 2023 at 23:59
  • @Robotnik did you mean to post a different link? The one you provided links to this post. Oct 24, 2023 at 21:04
  • hmm, it's a comment link, no idea why it doesn't link back to the comment now. Possibly it was deleted?
    – Robotnik
    Oct 24, 2023 at 21:20
  • 3
    Oh, it's on a downvoted answer so it probably ended up on the second page of answers (depending on how you have your answers sorted). I'm guessing on load, the page couldn't find the comment, and so loaded the top of the page instead. Here's a direct link to the answer, Philipe's comment is below it: meta.stackexchange.com/a/393988/179041
    – Robotnik
    Oct 24, 2023 at 23:01
32

For any company, multiple large layoffs within a single calendar year are an extremely concerning sign. Following the round this past May, I hoped that the company's strategic plan would avoid another; that was obviously not the case.

Yesterday's blog post by Prashanth announcing the October layoffs contains the following section:

This year is no different, ranging from the monumental efforts to successfully launch OverflowAI to dealing with the ongoing threats to customer budgets shifting due to the macroeconomic pressures impacting the entire tech industry. This is why we have been so focused on our path to profitability, even as we commit to the continued product innovation of Stack Overflow for Teams and the health of the public platform by building out our AI/ML capabilities. This year we took many steps to spend less. Unfortunately, those changes were not enough[.]

Speaking as specifically as possible, to what factors, plans and strategic decisions since May does the company ascribe this latest layoff, and how will it change course going forward, beyond of course these layoffs? Was it doubling down on investing resources in AI, problems with sales, etc.? I'd like to have a better picture of what there is to learn here and where we're headed, since it feels like there's uncertainty everywhere.

Succinctly put, how did the company get from May to now, and how will SO avoid more layoffs in, say, another five months?

2
  • 2
    For an economy too... where's the advertised "soft landing" I wonder?
    – mirekphd
    Oct 17, 2023 at 14:01
  • 1
    Especially concerning is that the second RIF was bigger than the first. 18% RIF followed by 3% 6 months later? No big deal. 8% followed by 20%? Bad sign. (And SO's is even bigger than that)
    – Ben Voigt
    Oct 20, 2023 at 19:12
31

From the blog:

This year is no different, ranging from the monumental efforts to successfully launch OverflowAI to dealing with the ongoing threats to customer budgets shifting due to the macroeconomic pressures impacting the entire tech industry. This is why we have been so focused on our path to profitability, even as we commit to the continued product innovation of Stack Overflow for Teams and the health of the public platform by building out our AI/ML capabilities.

Translation:

We have fired a bunch of people so that we can continue to piss away vast quantities of money on AI hype.

2
  • 4
    I mean, they have to focus on money because Prosus spent $1.8 billion acquiring SO. That's a lot of money to make back, and then they also want a profit afterward.
    – Reed
    Oct 18, 2023 at 17:07
  • 6
    Firing people won't help much. Assume each person fired was earning $100000. You'd have to fire 18000 people to save that $1.8 billion. Apaprently, something like 140 people were fired. Assuming they all earned $100000 per year (a serious overestimate,) then that'd save Stack a grand total of $14 million dollars. per year. It'll only take 128 years at that rate to pay back the $18 billion.
    – JRE
    Oct 20, 2023 at 14:02
31

We are all aware of many platforms (far beyond Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange) that once provided an excellent service to their users but afterwards started to degrade. Cory Doctorow calls this phenomenon Enshittification and ascribes it to greedy capitalist platform hosts that want to monetise their communities as much as they can. And in the next step, the advertisers are trapped and monetised, too. Some platforms are too big to fail, and others are left by their former users and go into oblivion.

Having said this, I hope that SO/SE does not go down this road, because I find their service still valuable.

P.S. A new piece by Cory Doctorow on Enshittifiaction and the Labour Market

2
  • 1
    It's hard for SE to trap and monetise their advertisers, because ads aren't provided directly whatever this was notwithstanding. Iirc Stack Exchange is part of the Google Display Network.
    – wizzwizz4
    Oct 18, 2023 at 21:50
  • 4
    "I hope that SO/SE does not go down this road" - to quote the late and great Douglas Adams, "There is another theory which states that this has already happened."
    – l4mpi
    Oct 23, 2023 at 10:42
30

Of the four "Chosen Spokespersons" listed, one doesn't even appear to have an SE account, one hasn't been seen for over a month, and I don't find a response here by the third. The only "Chosen Spokesperson" to make any sort of response is Phillipe.

Why were the three C-level persons listed as Chosen Spokespersons if they (appear to have) had no intention of Speaking to the beloved community?

Yes, any response they made would no doubt have been followed up with embarrassing follow on questions, but this appears to me to have been yet another false impression of caring given to us, the regular community.

2
  • 7
    I created the list of spokespeople, and I did it based upon what areas I thought questions would focus on. It was always my intent to handle the majority of the questions here, but if there was a need for a voice from the legal team, I wanted to be able to very quickly get answers from a designated person there, and have you know they were authoritative. Same with the technology team, and the CEO. As it turns out, I have been able to field them myself, or take them to an SME (like the diversity question) and bring back an answer.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 21, 2023 at 12:27
  • 2
    @Philippe So we have no hope of having any sort of answer directly from Prashanth regarding this mess? Nothing against you, Philippe. I'm aware you're doing the best you can, but for the community it appears that management, in the form of Prashanth is outright ignoring us. It is not helping the community sentiment at all.
    – T. Sar
    Oct 24, 2023 at 11:32

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