16 Dec 2008 1 pm eastern

Laying off George

George Oates is responsible for much of what is great about Flickr. George Oates is the last person a sane company would lay off. I don’t know what to think about Yahoo after reading how they laid off George Oates.

[tags]yahoo, stupid, flickr, georgeoates, layoff[/tags]

Filed under: Yahoo

44 Responses to “Laying off George”

  1. jeremy_jackson said on

    Damn. That’s just cold. Hard to believe that a higher-profile figure, with proven success, could be cut so quickly and harshly. Bad form, Yahoo!. Bad form indeed.

  2. Nick Brown said on


    Laying someone off is one thing, but this is just cutting someone loose. Not even giving him time to transition the Commons over? Ridiculous.

    Oh well, just another bullet in my already long list of reasons to use Picasa over Flickr.

  3. MojoMark said on

    Personally dealing with a layoff is difficult – shock, denial, depression, anger, then recovery. Lay offs were at one time a way to trim “mediocre” staff. Today, it seems a lot more random. But what I have learned is that nobody is immune. Now more than ever, it’s time to step it up, demonstrate the value you provide to the organization.

  4. Neal G said on

    I suppose Yahoo! did just lay off a couple thousand employees didn’t they?

  5. Tyson said on

    stunningly bad form….
    I’ve been through more than a few layoffs, and can say that Yahoo! handled that horribly…
    Regardless of his position, he should have at the very least deserved to be told while back at home, not while on assignment in another country, promoting the company…
    From all I’ve read about him, and about his hard work and enthusiasm, I shouldn’t be surprised to see him snapped up in a hurry by the competition..never mind a recession/depression…good companies are always interested in people of value..maybe even more so now….

    My hat’s off to George…what could have easily (and quite understandably) turned into an expletive riddled posting, he took the highroad, and simply described how humiliating and devastating an experience getting laid off truly is.

    Best wishes dude, and big thanks to Jeffery for posting this…

  6. Nicole said on

    I think if George Oates’s layoff proves anything it’s that you can be let go from a job regardless of the value you provide the organization.

  7. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    I think if George Oates’s layoff proves anything it’s that you can be let go from a job regardless of the value you provide the organization.


    Also, dear readers, George is a lady. Not a dude.

  8. Pete said on

    It was done poorly but done that way for a reason, for many people.

    I don’t think it was bad form, the company is in serious financial trouble and quite frankly I doubt Flickr is a real big money maker. I wouldn’t be supprised if they announced a deal to sell the whole thing (or close it) within six months. (not that flickr COULDN’T make money, I just don’t think it does)

    This economic down turn should tidily solve the stupidity that is the web 2.0 bubble. I haven’t seen this many companies with no real business model since oh the spring of 2000

  9. Shelley said on

    Wrote on this myself and linked your writing.

    I must admit to being preternaturally sensitive about women in positions of influence in the tech community, and have been through the complete crash and burn in a startup myself, but Yahoo might as well have come out and said, “We don’t trust you not to try and screw us so we’re dumping you off our computers now.” People don’t deserve to be treated with such suspicion, especially when they’ve given so much to the company.

    PS I like your use of tags–slam by tag ;-)

  10. Brian Artka said on

    Just goes to show you how big companies are continuing to fail….at an EPIC rate.

  11. Carolyn said on

    What I’ve seen in a couple of places (not web-related) is that companies, in a panic, aren’t laying off the least experienced people, or the least valuable. They’re laying off the most “expensive” person to them within a particular department, even if that person is the most valuable to them. So, out go the geniuses, and the people who stay are the ones who aren’t paid much and can just barely keep the wheels turning. Incredibly shortsighted, or perhaps these ships are sinking faster than we know, and we’re seeing a last, mad scramble.

  12. John Allsopp said on


    knowing George professionally quite well, and her work veery well, when I saw the news, I was literally shaking my head. For some time now I’ve been strongly of the opinion that Yahoo! has many excellent, world leading people and projects, but apparently little if any business intelligence Just one more sad example.

    George’s leaving was the point at which I really did start to wonder about the ongoing viability of Yahoo :-/

  13. ben said on

    I get into these places where I feel guilty for not selling more and thus not making more. The inevitable consequence is that I wonder if I ought to get all up in the FTE thing.

    And then I read stories like that.

    Since George had the good taste not to cuss a blue streak, I won’t either.

    Between that event and the various factors (known to me) that made it possible, I’m at a loss to make sense of things. So I just walk away more jaded.

    This is about Web 2.0 nonsense AND Yahoo AND Google AND the execrable state of the economy. What all of those things have in common is that somebody thinks they have the winning formula, or thought they did, only to be proven disastrously wrong. (It might take a while, but Google’s no less immune.)

    No single person, no single management team, has all the answers. If that were the case this’d be utopia (and don’t forget what THAT word really means).

    “Not in our stars but in ourselves” indeed. Pshaw.

  14. Jesse Gardner said on

    ♬ “Nearer my God to thee, nearer to thee…” ♬

  15. Nate said on

    I guess we shouldn’t be as shocked as we all are (myself included). We’ve all seen how Yahoo! has been run for the last few years. Should we really have expected more in a time of crisis?

    On the bright side, when some time passes and all the dust settles, I can’t wait to see what George is up to next. I’m sure it’ll be fantastic.

  16. Robert said on

    Wow, I know anyone can be laid off at any time no matter their stature. However to do it without any professionalism or class is just low. Shame on yahoo.

  17. Robert said on

    I’m reposting this from A Beautiful Web, with the exception of “guy” to “gal” since I didn’t know until 3 seconds ago that George was a gal…

    I’ve never been fired, and George wasn’t either, despite my want to say I was (and hers). It’s called being laid off. At least, that’s what we call it in the US. “Fired” vs “laid off” is the difference between it being your fault (and not getting unemployment) and it not being your fault (and being able to draw unemployment).

    It sucks that a girl who worked hard for a company got laid off. But, in the past, I’ve worked hard for a company and got laid off the day before (my final) pay day. My severance package was a Bible Track and a pat on the back. Them’s the breaks.

    It’s hard times for everyone — and apparently a lot of Yahoo employees are having hard times — but there is no nice way of saying, “We don’t need you anymore.” I just don’t see why this particular guy is getting mentioned a lot when a lot of good, hard-working, smart people are getting the axe.

    Maybe someone blogging about this gal (not pointing fingers) should hire this gal.

  18. George Girton said on

    A couple of years we’ve been getting together in Santa Monica in Yahoo Center, on Saturdays. They opened a company store, selling Yahoo gear. Then not too long after, they closed it. Hundreds of cubicles were built on the 1st floor, 2nd floor, no doubt floors above. Then they were empty, then they were gone, just concrete floor and aluminum struts, bare flooring and would-be walls, waiting to be filled in again. It could be a little while now. Sorry to hear about George Oates, of course, though I never knew him nor the places he’s been.

  19. Alan said on

    Harsh, brutal, unfair? All true, and tragically so. Random? Not really.

    The politics of any large organization are layers and layers deep, often abstracted away from the day-to-day realities of whatever it is the large organization does. The politics of web-advertising/web-content/Web 2.0 are particularly rough and tumble, where the opposite of good work brings in “easy” money.

    George managed to accomplish things within the hierarchy of a large company. You don’t do that without making enemies; The kind of enemies who are insecure in their own position, and base their power on playing the game, forgetting that the game is only a means to an end.

    HR is notified, and because you’re busy doing good work and not playing the game, you end up on the list. Not because HR is evil, but because HR is there to protect the company, and the insecure have identified you as a troublemaker and there’s no one there to say otherwise. Tough times hit, the lists come out, and you’re shown the door.

    This is, a decade or two in, our industry. So desperate to tap the potential the medium offered we mortgaged our future to the shysters, hucksters, and the timid people willing to prop them up.

    What to do now that that party’s over? We could learn the game; put our goals, dreams, and even ethics aside to pay the mortgage, fund our retirements, and live in comfort.


    We could consider the medium. A medium where, for $10 a month you can have a global voice. A medium where, ultimately, if you provide something compelling you’ll find an audience. A medium that, at least for now, is still as free and as open as it ever was …

  20. m said on

    Yahoo management apologist here:

    The layoffs were announced 3 months before they happened. Employees knew full well when the day was (as did every blog/newspaper out there) and it was made clear that cuts would be happening all at once. By firing everyone at once, they avoid the long drawn out weeks of rolling layoffs were nobody knows what day might be there last. While I’ve never been laid off, I have been through multiple days like the one Yahoo had last week, where people are told and asked to leave within a few hours. I think it makes the most sense for employees, allowing them to move forward and not be the ‘dead man walking’ around the office until their final day comes. Also, it provides some sense of security against the stealing of proprietary information. While I don’t doubt George one bit, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else fired from Yahoo (15k+ employees?) would decide to try and save off their work, or internal data. As such, the company has to have a ubiquitous policy, which unfortunately affected George as well.

    It’s sad to see Yahoo have to let go a great employee, but when laying off 1000+ people, there have to be policies that affect everyone.

  21. Wil said on

    m: So let me get this straight… Yahoo! employees knew for 3 months that they might be laid off, and thus would NOT be inclined to “save off their work or internal data” until AFTER the layoff day actually came, thus the need to lock everyone out then. Right.

  22. deyes said on

    Absurd. Smells political. Yahoo! cuts one head from Flickr and it’s hers? Completely absurd.

  23. Sesh said on

    I was always impressed with Flickr since the time it first came up and got eventually brought by Yahoo. But never knew about George. Times like these are the best opportunity for anyone to takeout their grudge. I guess George (or actually her talent) might have really frightened someone at Yahoo. What is sad this happens to someone who can call herself “Georgeous Ludicrous” :)

  24. Winslow said on

    >> stayed up until about 2:30am that night, chain smoking

    Gross. I stopped reading right then and there. Why do people who smoke always wonder why bad things happen to them? Blows my mind…

  25. joe gannon said on

    Granted it’s cold. But it sounds like employees knew it coming. And anyone who believes they are indispensible think again. If you work for a company, don’t be lulled into job security. Always look for a new gig while you are employed. As a side note, the last time I got laid off [as opposed to being out of a job with no contract], I was fully prepared. I had heard about the threat of layoffs. Over the course of a month or so, I had decided to be proactive and started removing all my personal belongings. When they asked me to leave, they brought a box for my “belongings.” I told them, I just have my baseball cap. My desk had n othing on it. All project material was filed away. No pictures, or books. Period. Somehow I felt a bit of justice in the whole manner. I got to them before they got to me.

  26. Live and let live said on

    Dear Winslow:
    >> Gross. I stopped reading right then and there. Why do people who smoke always wonder why bad things happen to them? Blows my mind?

    Does this affect your life so much that you have to stop reading because of this? Damn, that second hand smoke is powerful stuff to get through the tubes. Great things happen to people regardless of their decision to smoke or not. Look at Obama. He smoke(s|ed) and is going to be president. Hitler abstained from everything and killed millions. Don’t let the popularist view of demonizing another’s choice rule your life so much, you’re missing out.

  27. Josh Stodola said on

    In the eyes of an executive, anyone is replaceable. What a shame.

  28. Skitten said on

    Hopefully nobody is foolish enough to think that stature in the world of Internets is a guarantee of employment? Yahoo needs money, and I doubt flying George around to conferences is generating much of it. Likewise the Brickhouse place in SF whose main purpose seemed to be hosting parties.

    Sure if Yahoo had better management and long-term planning these would be luxuries they could afford and ultimately benefit from, but I think it’s too late for them now.

  29. Greg Bulmash said on

    Winslow, you’re supposed to hate the sin, not the sinner. Refusing to read on because the author admitted to smoking in a time of great stress? You’ve never had a bad habit?

    On the topic of George’s dismissal. I see Yahoo’s point. It’s like the debate between whether to take off a band-aid slowly or rip it off quickly. OTOH, when someone is out shmoozing members of a foreign government, laying them off in the midst of that is a bridge-burner. I’m sure that the manager in charge of Yahoo!’s relations with the Taiwan gov’t is thanking his/her lucky stars George declined the invitations to go out after the layoff. She could have torpedoed months or years of relationship building without even trying.

    Not just bad timing, but stupid timing.

  30. anon said on

    @live and let live
    Actually, Hitler was a tweaker (methamphetamine delivered by IV daily). If you know your drugs, then, ah, it all makes so much sense.

    I’m not too fond of cigarettes or second hand smoke either, but your response is even more disgusting.

  31. George « Clyde Street said on

    [...] moral hazard when I received Stephen Downes’ OLDaily with a link to Jefrey Zeldman’s post about Yahoo laying off George Oates. This is George’s post about Not quite what I had in [...]

  32. Darrin said on

    A good friend of mine was laid off from Yahoo SoCal last Wednesday, and my wife was laid off from a non-profit job last Thursday. I felt very insulated from the piss-poor economic conditions until these happened, now nothing surprises me.

    While layoffs are a difficult thing, what might help is having it executed properly. In both the cases I’ve discussed, they were handled poorly, making the event more traumatic that it already was.

  33. Alan Bristow said on

    Thanks Jeffrey for highlighting this.

    George’s treatment was appalling and likely she was not the only one treated that way, and so to George and others, from someone who was once not treated well by ‘colleagues’ / ‘management’, sorry for your pain.

    The take-away for me is that I remember my role and my satisfaction at a job well done and my actions, actions that my parents would have been proud of; those that do bad, unless conscience free, have their low behaviour to remember. Fitting.

    Go George! _Certain_ you will do brilliantly, wherever you invest yourself.

  34. Jason Kratz said on

    Is there a good way to handle giving someone they news they’re getting laid off? I’ve seen almost every way under the sun described and *none* of them come off as sounding good. Firing someone sucks for both parties. There is no way to be nice about it. I’m actually surprised they didn’t cut off access completely before her manager made the call.

    That being said very good people in the tech industry won’t have issues finding good work to do. I’m sure George will land on her feet doing great work elsewhere and I’m thankful for her work at Flickr.

  35. Jon K. said on

    There may not be a good way to let someone go, but there is a humane way. I think we all know that dealing with 1000 layoffs, sure you have to have a bulk policy in place. I’m sure a VP might’ve garnered a better send off. Oh wait, none of them were laid off.

    I’d like to point out as well, what kind of idiot policy doesn’t allow any sort of succession plan?

    We’re also talking about a public face of Yahoo/Flickr, one that is well respected (otherwise Zeldman would be unlikely to blog about) and well liked. You’d think they would use the good PR for something?

  36. Mike T. said on

    I myself got laid off a few weeks ago from Travelocity–5 minutes before I was heading out the door. As crappy as that was, it doesn’t come close to the robotic policies of Yahoo!

    These times suck. My heart goes out to George and others.

  37. T.C. said on

    Harsh, sad and unfair, and I’m sure George Oates is one very special guy at what he does, but nothing about the way he was laid off is anything special. This is the way it’s done, everywhere, every day, to thousands of people, regardless of their skill or value. It’s about the bottom line, and it suck, but that’s the reality of the corporate world. There’s nothing to be outraged about; if you work at a corporate organization, you basically sign up for being subject to this kind of treatment. Not blaming the victim here — I’m signed up too — just saying it’s, unfortunately, the way it works.

    These are how layoffs are done. In the vast majority of cases, people are allowed enough time to collect their things, then escorted out of the building and cut off from all access.

    I certainly feel for Oates, very much so, but his situation is nothing special. It’s a sign of the times.

  38. Jason Kratz said on

    “I’d like to point out as well, what kind of idiot policy doesn’t allow any sort of succession plan?”

    The same type of idiot policy that doesn’t allow a “succession plan” when an employee gets fired. No offense Jon but Yahoo has to worry about *their* property. I’m not saying that Oates would have done anything nasty but Yahoo (or any company laying off an employee) isn’t going to take a chance. That’s why people are escorted out of the building, etc. It’s not pretty but they have to do it.

    And based on my experiences seeing executives being let go don’t be so sure a VP would have had a better send off. I’ve seen senior execs escorted out the door just like the bottom-feeders.

    “We’re also talking about a public face of Yahoo/Flickr, one that is well respected (otherwise Zeldman would be unlikely to blog about) and well liked. You’d think they would use the good PR for something?”

    Actually no I don’t. It should have been handled like any of the other 1000 employees who were probably important to the company. Layoffs suck no matter who they happen to. It isn’t good for anyone.

  39. DesignNotes by Michael Surtees » Blog Archive » Link Drop for the Week Ending in Friday the 19th (December 2008) said on

    [...] Laying off George Jeffrey Zeldman wrote “George Oates is responsible for much of what is great about Flickr. George Oates is the last person a sane company would lay off. I don’t know what to think about Yahoo after reading how they laid off George Oates.” [...]

  40. The Bat said on

    So… Winslow. If George Oates just happened to be in the same room with me right now, I’d offer her a good Honduran stogie. And a double shot of Macallan’s single malt scotch. Why chain smoke ciggies when a good double corona or churchill can last for a couple of hours?

    Anyway, I have a feeling that someone with her talent and vision will still be forging ahead, innovating, and coming up with great ideas with or without Yahoo and with or without the idle tiresome fussing about other people’s personal habits.

  41. Karen Anderson said on

    This is a good example of what happens when a small, innovative company is acquired by a big entity interested in market dominance rather than quality product. When your goal is to “win” rather than to provide value to users (dare we even say, to society), evangelists like George are out the door, and numbers crunchers and sales people remain on board. Until the ship actually sinks, and which time the executives take the severance lifeboats and row off to scuttle some other company.

  42. Archivalia: Tragedy at Flickr Commons said on

    [...] to whoever is to take it over: “A week should do it,” I said. It was denied. Worth to read more. http://www.zeldman.com/2008/12/16/laying-off-george/ “George Oates is the last person a sane company would lay off.” UPDATE: [...]

  43. The BFF: 08_12 said on

    [...] George Oates has been let go at Flickr. That feels all wrong’ a few days ago. Jeffrey Zeldman is as dumbfounded as I am of the move. If you visit the Flickr home page You will even see George. Totally weird. She [...]

  44. Black Phoebe :: Ms. Jen: design + web Archives said on

    [...] and Jeffrey both weigh in on George getting laid off. by Black Phoebe :: Ms. Jen on Mon December 15, 2008 [...]

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