On January 20th, 2006, I was finishing up a class as 5pm was getting closer when one of the office admins came by my classroom and asked me to go see my boss when class was over. My students left, I packed up my stuff and went to see my boss. I sat in a chair in her office and she said “I’m just going to get straight to it. You are being terminated effective immediately.” I knew exactly what was going on and in a weird way felt relieved.
I’ve never written about getting fired from that job before but as I was writing a comment on Facebook tonite about my history of blogging, I wrote, and then deleted, a couple of lines about having been fired from a job over a blog post. This story is about how a single act of writing my own thoughts and feelings resulted in termination from a professional position.
I worked as an instructor in a private college in Moncton, NB between January 2005 and January 2006. I taught their MCSE/A+/Linux+/Network+ IT program. I remember having to take a small pay cut to get the job but it was meant to serve as a way to get out of working at Norampac. I’d been trapped there for too long and desperately needed a new job so I took this one when it came along. Despite the fact that I had never taught an MCSE based course, I did quite well. I got raving reviews from my students, enjoyed the work, had great colleagues, and it seemed like this could be a decent gig for awhile.
But as the year went on, it became clearer and clearer that the main focus of the school was not the students, but the money they brought in. At my lowest point, I was asked by the school’s administration to create a test I knew a failing student could pass. They did not want her to flunk out and have to refund her money. Some people are just not cut out for certain types of academics or work and no amount of study or help can get them there because they just don’t have the aptitude. I’ll never be someone who fixes cars or builds houses because it’s just not in me. This was a student who was never going to be a skilled IT worker. But the school did not want to lose her money so they were going to do anything and everything to keep her there. Getting me to create a test she could pass was a way to do this. After that student took the test, and passed it, I knew this wasn’t a place I should stay at for too long.
To my surprise, the school “laid off” the other IT instructor. This was a surprise because he had been there longer, and had his full MCSE certification which I did not. I didn’t understand why they would let him go and let me stay when I clearly had less seniority and credentials. However I later learned that his student reviews were very poor and they opted to keep me since I seemed to have a better rapport with the students. His departure would ultimately result in my own removal from the faculty.
He taught a class that I had no experience in. My boss told me that I was switching to half days and my mornings would be on study so I could learn the material for the class my former colleague had taught. I was a bit intimidated about the material, but I always was able to learn new technologies so I just took it as a new challenge. The week ended with my colleague informing his students about his departure, saying his goodbyes, and then that was it. I was the only IT instructor left.
I was an active blogger then and opted to write a post about how I was having to learn this new material because of the departure of a colleague. I said in the post that I had never taught the material before and was a bit nervous about it but knew I would be able to learn it in time to teach it to my class.
Within a couple days of writing that blog post, my manager called me at home while I was studying and asked me about a blog post I had written. I told her that I had written it. She got a bit vocal about it and insisted that I remove it. I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on but she made it quite clear that it needed to be removed. I never heard anything again until Friday when I was fired.
Turns out, the students in my class read my blog post about not having taught Cisco before and a mass exodus began. The school was being asked to refund a ton of money to students who were dropping my class because of what they had read on my blog. They didn’t want to take a class delivered by an instructor who had never taught the material, especially after the school had just laid off someone who was highly qualified to deliver the class.
Prior to that incident, I had experienced one other minor issue with my blog where people from the shop floor of Norampac saw how I wrote crappy things (albeit true things) about them and complained to management. But between that and my release from the teaching position, it taught me a very valuable lesson about what you should and shouldn’t say online.
When it comes to advice about blogs and the workplace, there’s really only one thing to remember: assume the world can see what you write.
If you write a public post on a blog, assume that anyone in the world can find it, read it, and share it. You shouldn’t ever expect that your public content is somehow hidden because you don’t have a lot of readers. In the IT world we call that “security by obscurity”. Just because someone doesn’t know about it doesn’t make it secure or in this case, private. I didn’t think anyone beyond a couple of friends of mine read my blog and look what happened to me. Unless your blog is designed in such a way that only certain people can read your material, assume that everyone across the globe can and has seen your content.
We live in a world where everyone uses Google to find anything they want. The moment you put a name in a public blog post, you subject it to the Google machine which will add your post to a list of search results someone else sees. Nowhere in this post did I say where I was fired from or the name of the person who was laid off before me or even the name of my former manager. I keep that information off here because it isn’t necessary to get the point across. If I was doing a review of a company’s services, or products, that puts the blog post in a completely different context. But if I said the name of the college was “Whack-a-Doodle IT School” and someone finds this post about that school and then goes to them about what I have said, that may lead to an entirely different kind of situation to be in. For me, I’m playing it safe by keeping that kind of thing off the blog. Others may not care and would post it anyway but they need to be prepared for what could come of it. I’m someone who has experienced the negative effects of writing questionable content on a blog so I tend to be a bit more reserved with certain things. If you’re the type who doesn’t care, say whatever you want just remember that the internet does not forget things.
So for me, losing a job over a blog post changed how I write all of my blog content. I rarely write about the specifics of my work or what I do. And when I do, I am meticulous at reviewing what I write to make sure nothing in the content can be taken in the wrong context. I stick to writing about things that have nothing to do with the specifics of my work. Everything else is fair game.
My suggestion to those who read this and are bloggers themselves, always be mindful of the content you write. You never know who might read it.