Not too long after I quit IBM for LzLabs in 2016, I was sent a copy of Pro-publica’s survey about age discrimination based firing and forced retirement at IBM. It appears that this survey was just the start of a very long investigation, and they’ve now published their story.

I wasn’t forced out of IBM, and am only ~45 years old, but at the time I had close to 20 years at IBM (including my student internship), and could see the writing on the wall. Technically skilled people with experience were expendable, and being fired or retired with gusto. To me it looked like 25 years at IBM was the firing threshold, unless you took the management path or did a lot of high visibility customer facing work.

IBM’s treatment of employees in the years leading up to when I quit was a major part of my decision to leave. I considered my position at IBM vulnerable for a number of reasons. One was my part time status (80% pay and hours), as I’d been slowly studying physics at UofT with a plan of a future science based job change. Another was that I was a work in the trenches kind of person that did not have the high visibility that looked like it was required for job security in the new IBM where the quarterly firing had gotten so pervasive that you could trip on the shrapnel.

Even after two years I still use “we” talking about my time as an IBMer working on DB2 LUW, as I worked with people that were awesome (some of which I still work with at LzLabs.) Despite now competing with IBM, I hope they stop shooting themselves in the gut by disposing of their skilled employees, and by treating people as rows in resource spreadsheets. It is hard to imagine that this will end well, and it’s too easy to visualize an IBM headstone sharing a plot with HP and Sun.

When I was recruited for LzLabs, my options seemed like continue working for IBM for <= 5 more years before I too got the ax, or to ride into the wild west working as a contractor for a company that was technically still a “startup”. Many startups don’t make it 5 years before folding, so even in the worst case it looked like no bigger risk than IBM, but I thought I was going to have a lot of fun on the ride. LzLabs was just coming out of stealth mode when I was interviewed, but had an astounding ~100 people working at that point! Salaries add up, so it was clear to me that LzLabs was not really a startup in the conventional sense of the word.

It is amusing to read the Pro-publica article now, as most of LzLabs employees are probably over 65. At 45 I’ve been singled out in staff meetings as the “young guy”. Many of the LzLabs employees are technically scary, and know the mainframe cold. I once wrote a simple PowerPC disassembler, but that’s a different game than “disassembling” 390 hex listings by chunking it into various fixed size blocks hex sequences in an editor so it can be “read” by eye!

In less than one month I’ll have been working for LzLabs for 2 years, about six months of which was a contractor before LzLabs Canada was incorporated. Two years ago, if you had mentioned JCL, LE, PL/I, COBOL, QSAM or VSAM (to name a few) to me, I’d have known that seeing COBOL is a good reason to get to an eye wash station pronto (it still is), but would not have even recognized the rest. It’s been fun learning along the way, and I continually impress myself with the parts that I’ve been adding to the LzLabs puzzle. Our technology is amazing and I think that we are going to really kick some butt in the marketplace.