Jun 16, 2022 2 min read

Paying It Forward

Paying It Forward
Haley Joel Osment, “Pay It Forward” (2000)

We’re going through another tech pullback.  I don’t know how long it will last, or how deep it will go, but over the last few weeks many companies announced staff cuts or closed startups. COVID, global supply chain issues, war in Ukraine, inflation, energy supply disruptions, virtual currency meltdown… pick your precipitating event.  A lot of companies that were counting on hoping for near-term funding rounds will be disappointed. Feels like 2008 to me.

Tech will recover, but layoffs can be catastrophic for those individuals.  So this is a moment for those of us who can help – with open positions or personal networks or part-time work or resume design skills or open slots in training courses – need to step up.  To pay it forward.*  To be a mensch.**

I remember major tech downturns in 1985, 1992, 2001 and 2008.  Especially 2001.  I quit my third startup on Sept 1st, 2001, in a very hot tech moment.  9/11 came around less than two weeks later, which crushed financial markets and VC funding.  
With my spouse CEO’ing an unfunded tech startup, a mortgage in Silicon Valley, a daughter destined to attend a famously expensive Ivy someday, and no income… our family situation was dramatically altered.

So on Sept 12th, I started calling and emailing people I’d previously worked with or might have short-term gigs.  For the first time, I was asking for help rather than offering it, which was new and strange and deeply humbling for a name-brand MBA.  But dozens of ex-co-workers and classmates and friends and friends-of-friends responded – some of whom I'd never met.  They offered encouragement, contacts, and bits of contract product work that tided me over.  (Even though most didn’t really know what product management was... hence my blog, started that year.)  Lots of people paid it forward for me.

If you’re fortunate enough to have resources or connections or open positions or short-term projects or paid internships, this is a moment to raise your hand.  To help. To check in with folks you enjoyed working with.  To support the tribe.  To pay it forward.

(If you're suddenly an ex-CPO or VPPM, I might have some leads.)


* Paying it forward goes way back across cultures and traditions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Heinlein...  hundreds of others that I've missed.

** In the original German, this word means “person.”  It migrated to Yiddish and then English, where mensch signifies a person of integrity and honor, someone who does the right thing without expecting reward.

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