Mark Norman Francis

Internet Boffin

The end of an era

Published on September 22, 2011.

Today (21st September 2011) is a very sad day for me. A few of my ex-colleagues and friends from Yahoo! Europe had their last day in the office today, after being made redundant. They represent the last of the European web development team.

In December last year, after hearing about the “sunsetting” of Delicious I got a little carried away tweeting about the bad experiences and decisions I had seen in my time at Yahoo! (said tweets have been preserved in a more useful format that Twitter themselves seemingly ever will by both James Wheare and Joe Clark). One tweet said:

Yahoo had the most incredible team of developers in London I have ever known. And has pissed almost all of that talent away.

Some of the team still work for the company, having moved to America. But there is no longer any web development done in the London office.

I chose to take voluntary redundancy in December 2008, for a number of reasons. One of the reasons was it was increasingly clear to me that London was being systematically stripped of development talent. Teams were being shut down, relocated to America, or just not replaced as developers took their talent and enthusiasm to other companies.

I still believed in the abilities of the team to do great work, but clearly the company didn’t. Or worse, just didn’t care. They were in the wrong place, and so their talent was irrelevant.

More than once during an all-hands meeting, some bigwig would bring up the concept of company loyalty. About working hard, doing our part during the tough times, keeping our minds focused on our work rather than whatever crazy rumours were around at the time. Even when teams were being shut down and made redundant, we were exhorted to stay focused on our jobs.

The thing that always bothered me, even from the start, was that I am very much of the opinion that loyalty is a two-way street. You can’t expect anyone to be loyal to a company, unless that company returns the sentiment. And a salary and benefits doesn’t count, that’s just economics.

Yahoo is a company that promises a retention bonus in two years. And then makes you redundant after one.

It’s not that I’m bitter so much as that I always felt that the company was capable of a lot more. Or rather, the employees were. The company as embodied by the actions of the senior management, both in Europe and America, is clearly not.

So to “celebrate” the rise, fall and elimination of the best team of developers I have ever worked with, I thought it would be "fun" to spend the next couple of weeks reminiscing, recounting anecdotes of my time at Yahoo! and explaining in much greater detail the event behind some of those tweets. Stay tuned.