Thoughts on a Company Transition
As many of you are aware already, I no longer work for Cape Rail or the Cape Cod Central Railroad. I started at the Cape Cod Central back in 2005 as a ticket seller, and over the years have performed many jobs for the company, most recently as the Director of IT. It’s safe to say that the people I have worked with over the years have not only shaped me professionally, but have been like a second family to me as well. I’ve said many times that when it came to working in the “real world,” there was no way I’d ever have a group of coworkers who meant so much to me and worked together so well. Unfortunately, even in the “sheltered world” of the railroad, that group of coworkers no longer exists.
Even though I’d love to give a blow-by-blow analysis of everything that has transpired since Tuesday night, I am bound by legal, ethical, and professional obligations to keep a lot of information private. As such, this post will be primarily based on information that is either explicitly been made public, has been widely disseminated and is now common knowledge, or is part of my personal experience.
On Wednesday morning, I received a call from my brother who was at work, telling me that my former boss had just been fired and that there had been a shakeup in the upper management. I immediately left my house and headed to the office, which to my surprise and consternation was padlocked. This brings me to my first lesson:
Lesson 1: Don’t alienate key employees at the beginning of any transition.
At the time, I was the only one with administrative access to a vast majority of the railroad’s systems. Locking me out of my office without any notice or explanation left a bad taste in my mouth, and immediately made me concerned for my status as an employee. I headed over to the depot and spoke with the new manager, who promptly told me that he had a lot of things he needed me to do that day. I responded that I needed to think things over, and wouldn’t be able to commit to anything that day.
The next morning, I headed into the depot with a great sense of trepidation to speak with the new manager. I think he was somewhat taken aback when I began the conversation by saying that I first wanted to get a wage and job description in writing before taking any further steps.
Lesson 2: Always get a job description and wage guarantee in writing when beginning a job.
When I took the position, I made the mistake of not formalizing my job on paper along with a set pay rate. With a new management team in place, I realized I had no guarantees as to what was expected of me, and no position to negotiate on tasks that weren’t part of my informal (and unwritten) job description. I definitely won’t make that mistake again in the future. At any rate, the new manager told me that he’d get back to me on it, so I left to go sit in Barnes and Noble until I heard further word. An hour or so later, I received this:
I regret to inform you that it will not be possible to continue using your services for IT support and computer maintenance at Cape Rail. You have been a valuable resource over the past several years, and I find you a personable and talented person as an individual as well. Unfortunately, circumstances now make it impossible to continue that relationship.
By this email I am formally requesting that you turn over to Cape Rail all pertinent data currently in your posession relative to the computer systems of Mass Coastal and Cape Cod Central Railroads… and any other proprietary work product developed by you while in the service of Cape Rail, LLC, or its Directors or Management, either collectively or individually.
Just like that, I was fired. I didn’t really care, to be honest, given how I’d been treated thus far. However, there was a twist about an hour or so after that: the COO and part-owner called me to say that he wanted to talk with me on Friday about long-term plans for me working with Cape Rail. I told him that I had already been fired, to which he said “if I say you’re going to work with us, then you’ll work with us.” I told him that I was amenable to further conversation regarding the position, but in my head I made a mental note that it was a bad sign if they already couldn’t agree on who should be fired and who would stay.
Lesson 3: it’s probably best to terminate employees after you’ve gotten necessary information from them.
I wasn’t sure about long-term plans to work for the railroad. However, right up until my termination email (email! how classy is that?) I anticipated at the very least that I would be asked to help them transition to a new director, since I was the only employee who knew how to administer the systems that the railroad used for day-to-day operations. But no, all they wanted were passwords, the code I’d written, and a couple other items that I have omitted above for security purposes. I began to seriously question whether I wanted to work for a company that apparently valued my abilities so little, as well as one that had the gall to fire and try to rehire me in the same day.
Lesson 4: document everything, down to the location of the spare key to the employee bathroom.
When I took the job, there was no written documentation of the systems, and as a result I spent the better part of my first 3 months on the job familiarizing myself with how things worked. I imagine the next person who works as the IT Director will find himself in a similar position. The monetary cost to the company of not having documented systems will, I imagine, be pretty high — not to mention lost opportunities and productivity. The issue in this case is compounded by the fact that I was the only IT employee, however, even in a company with 2,000 developers and IT support staff, the lesson still applies.
Ultimately, I decided to accept the fact that I had been terminated and not negotiate a new relationship with Cape Rail. Even if I had been offered any hourly rate I wanted, I couldn’t bring myself to violate my final lesson:
Lesson 5: no job, no matter how high the pay, is worth it if you’re not happy there or feel like you’re not making a positive impact.
So, I now have more time to work my second (now only) job, freelance some development projects, and pursue a few business opportunities that I have put off due to time constraints. “Everything works out for the best” is an old cliche, for sure, but it’s still applicable here. I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to improve my skills, increase my knowledge, and gain insight into potential career paths that I may want to follow. Yes, I will have some nostalgia for the memories of working on the train, but I’m incredibly excited to be moving forward with whatever opportunities get thrown my way.