You can't fire me, I quit

Can't let them fire me. These are the words uttered every time an employee doesn't get along with an employer. I've seen it happen many times and the employee always has the idea that he has the upper hand.

Why is it preferable to quit then to get fired? I haven't been fired per se yet, but I have worked with companies contracting for another and our contract gets annulled. In other words we got fired. Since I don't work there anymore, I guess I got fired. The service I provided there was no longer needed.

When I was asked about it I would always try to explain myself, saying that the company got fired, not me. Today, I see that explaining myself doesn't help me in anyway so might as well shorten the story and say I got fired.

I worked as the main IT professional in a non profit organization. I was part of a contracting company. We were 5 including the owner, or CEO as a startup would say. I took care of networking troubleshooting, computer upgrades, replacing parts, and resetting accounts mainly. But every once in a while I would get a complicated task beyond my expertise. I am not sure what I mean by expertise, but as the owner of the company said to me, "when in doubt Google it."

I was the least experienced. I never worked in IT before. It was very difficult at first because it was my first time to handle a network of Windows machines. Yes I had more then 2 computers connected at home but the rules can change when you are handling over 500 machines. I read blog posts, bought books and redesigned my home networks and things were looking great. I got along with the people working there and loved the environment I was in.

The exception was the president of the non-profit organization. She was very demanding, and would question my "expertise" when I tell her that I cannot make her computer any faster. She would ask "why is my computer frozen? Why does it take so much time to open this document?" Being a newbie, I relentlessly tried to explain how accessing a network drive is different then accessing a local folder, but throwing random technical words that I, myself, didn't grasp fully only lead to more confusion. At some point I used up all the words I knew in English and I was stuck in an infinite loop.

while(true){
    say("uhhhh");
}

The more I talked with her, the better I understood what she wanted from me. I learned to speak her language and I realized that explaining what the problem was was not what she wanted. She doesn't need to know the inner working of a network. Now I would say things like we need a faster server for this problem, she would nod and we move on (it's a non-profit, there is no money to spend on a server).

OK, now I will get to the part where I get fired. The president had an secretary that worked in the same corner office as me. He was very close to the previous IT guy that I replaced. I never knew why the IT guy left but they always went to lunch together. One day I came to work and found him sitting at my desk, using my computer. He said there was an emergency and they couldn't locate my boss so they called him instead. I didn't know what to believe since the problem was now fixed. I tried to contact my company and I couldn't get a hold of any body. None of my team mates answered their phones. I wrote an email to document the incident just in case.

During the few days that followed, there were random network outages. As a noob, I stayed in late troubleshooting the network only to find it magically working after I replaced the cables. Cables wear out, so I blamed nature for that.

On the next Monday I receive an email from a disgruntled employee saying that he is not receiving external emails. I panicked because I had no experience working with Windows mail servers. I restarted the server and advised the employee to communicate with his personal email in the meanwhile until I resolve the problem. None of my team mates were responding. For the following days, users after users were complaining to me that their emails were failing. I tried different fixes I read online and restarted the servers until they magically worked.

I notified them but was still skeptical since I didn't find the root cause of the problem. The worst part in all this was that I was alone. None of my teammates was reachable. The next day I came in and remotely connected on the server only to find that the last person that logged in on the server was the previous IT guy. Before I had a chance to do anything I got a call from the president saying that some very important clients are emailing her and she can't receive anything.

She contacted my the team leader first and he wasn't responding. I spent 3 days working on this issue the system was up for a second then goes back down. Obviously the next phone call I received from her was not very pleasant. She said she had no choice but to call the previous guy to see if he can fix this issue. And she did, and he, for some reason, had working credentials to connect from the comfort of his home and fix the problem in a matter of minutes.

The next day he happily came to the office and asked me where the rest of my team was (bastard!). Obviously he was behind all this but I had nothing to prove it, plus he was regarded as a hero while my team was unaccountable in desperate moments.

The end of the month was approaching and I still had no contact from my team, I was notified by the president that if the team lead doesn't respond by the last Friday of the month they will have to take the previous guy back and cancel our contract. And on the last day there was a response. The owner apologized for his absence and on that same day we were let go.

I did not quit. I was fired. It was unfair but to tell you the truth, an experienced IT person could have fixed the problem. It was a game, I didn't understand the rules and I lost.

Now here is the big question: since I was fired, can I use this job in my resume? You betcha. I use it on my resume all the time and of course I do not write that I was fired. But when I asked I mention that I was let go, and the reason I give is not as long as this blog post.

You can't make everyone like you. You will use a company as a reference and they will say the worse things about you, that's OK. You cannot control what they say, but you can control the words that come out of your own mouth. In the brief time I worked in this organization I learned valuable things. Not only it improved my technical skills, it also improved my people skills. This is what I talk about in my interviews. I talk about things I learned despite being fired. I talk about how it taught me about the things I didn't know I did not know. It opened the door for more opportunities.

I was bitter when I lost that job, but today I see it as a blessing. I love working in IT but what I love more is programming. And this job was the best introduction I could get.

So why do people prefer quitting over getting fired? Dignity? I doubt it. The reason is they are afraid it is going to negatively impact the next jobs. If you were going to get fired anyway, quitting is not going to make you look any better on the next job. If you don't want to work at a company, look for something else then quit. If you know you are going to get fired, well then let them fire you. In some cases you might even get a nice severance package.


Comments

bobby :

Well written and thought out. I wonder if that old IT guy is still in the job? Every figure out how he did it?

Ibrahim :

@bobby, I never figured out how he did it. But he was an experienced IT with very good connections in the company. I may have lost the game but It wasn't so bad after all. As obvious as it should had seem, today I know that seeing someone else's login creds on my machine is a bleeding red flag :)

I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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