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I am a software developer for a team that I have been in for many years. I like the job well enough (most days) and am highly-respected, but the current management is very poor and I'm not being utilized very well.

Another team came forward earlier this year to me to offer me a position. Since then we have talked and I interviewed with the team and I was received enthusiastically. I am just waiting on the offer letter from the other position, which should be forthcoming in the next week or so, although this process has been several months coming now (actually, pre-COVID-19 problems here in the US).

However, today there was an email that due to COVID-19 they are cutting back the matching on our retirement accounts and are offering employee buyouts, presumably to avoid layoffs, although that remains to be seen.

Is it a good idea when there may be layoffs coming to jump to a new team, or should I just stay put where I am and miss the opportunity? My management in the current team would be happy (or even relieved) if I don't go, but I probably won't get another opportunity to join the other team. I certainly don't want to be the newbie if they start bumping people.

Perhaps I should clarify a bit: my company is a very large player in the regional healthcare industry. I'm in IT as the sole developer for a technical team that serves its whole larger work unit, and I'd be transitioning to the information security team where I would still be the sole developer. Both teams are well-situated in importance to the organization, but the team I am on will really feel the loss if I go. The security team has been doing fine without a developer but has plans for expansion that can use my skills.

I feel like I am well-regarded in the organization, and been told by the head of a third IT business unit that if I never need a lifeline to give him a call, but I don't want to test the possibility of being the long-term, highly-compensated guy with a target on his back and want to plan accordingly.

My biggest worries are security of my job, of course, but also my current management knows I am deathly bored so that might play into their decision-making. I am also afraid I simply may not like security. I might as well throw in that work-life balance is pretty good on the current team; we're 100% work from home, and the commute to the office to work in security is a bear.

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    It's a risk either way. Which risk are you more comfortable with? – joeqwerty Jun 17 at 3:05
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    Neither decision is safe. Whatever decision you make can be the right one or the wrong one. – gnasher729 Jun 17 at 7:59
  • I'd take into consideration the roles of both teams within the organization. Is one team more 'business critical' than the other? That would be the one to be in. – LaintalAy Jun 17 at 10:20
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Being scheduled for transfer to a different team might actually offer you some protection against being laid off.

There are now two teams which want you. When your position at your old team gets cut, there is already the decision for you to work on your new team. When your new positions gets cut, then your transfer gets canceled and you just stay where you are. You will only get laid off if both positions are cut while you are in the transfer process.

If you hear that your position might be threatened by downsizing but you want to stay with the company, then applying for an internal transfer to a different department is actually a pretty good survival strategy.

Nevertheless, you should still evaluate your options at other companies. Many companies in the software industry are unaffected by COVID-19 or even growing thanks to it. Further, in the past few months, many companies discovered that software development is a job which can be done perfectly fine 100% remote. So even positions in very far away places might now be a viable option to you.

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  • I like this strategy; it makes sense. – Restless Jun 22 at 14:54
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Is internal transfer safe during a layoff?

No. Nothing is really safe during a lay off. I think you want to ask whether the transfer is "safer" than staying put.

This depends on variety of factors that you will to assess for yourself

  1. What's the relative business value between the two teams? Is one generating a lot more revenue or is in a more critical part of the revenue generation?
  2. What's the C-suite's trust in the leadership of each team. If one is perceived as being "less reliable" than it's more likely to get bigger cuts
  3. How much does your company value "seniority" vs. "skill" ? If seniority is a major factor, staying put would probably be safer.
  4. What's the strategic outlook for the company? Are there any major pivots in the works and which team would be fit better into the new landscape?
  5. How good are your hard and soft skills as compared to the average comparable developer. If you are much better, than there isn't a lot to worry about.

Typically lay-offs are guided by the following priorities

  1. Preservation/generation of short term revenue. The company is hurting for cash so anyone and anything that brings in cash right now tends to be safe.
  2. Cut the fat. It's a good opportunity to deal with problems cases and poor performers
  3. Cut more fat. Eliminate business roles that are on their way to obsolescence, not fitting well into the current structure, or are simply inefficient or badly run
  4. Re-structure for future success. What are the skill and functions you are less likely to need in 2-3 years down the road.
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Why not test the overall job market where you are?

I’m the relatively new guy in a government department (where seniority is taken seriously) that operates parking services for downtown areas. Our business is being substantially impacted and if WFH (work from home) became permanent, that could easily lead to major changes. Now we have several positions which need filling so those should be eliminated first, but you never know. They were asking for early retirements a little while ago. I like to always have options.

I decided to use LinkedIn easy apply to spam a bunch of job applications to see the state of the market. I’m a junior with one year of experience (two if you count internships). I got replies from about 1 in 3 job postings (I did 10 and 4 got back) and at least where I am, there is a robust supply of new software development job listings.

Anecdotally, several friends have moved to new software development jobs in the past few weeks as well and those were opportunistic moves, not intense efforts from desperation.

Why couldn’t you do a similar thing? Use LinkedIn Easy Apply to take the temperature of the market where you are so you can assess your risk. If you can get callbacks, take the new job. If there is a slowdown, give more consideration to the seniority aspect.

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  • I could do that, but I know the state pretty well. I'm in Texas so things are hard all over right now because of the low price of oil. I really want to hang on to a job where I am right now because of it. – Restless Jun 22 at 14:57
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It depends on many things that you do not know.

The main one would be at which stage of planning are future layoffs. From your post it seems that it is still quite vague, but maybe Management has planned for it but they are not talking about it for obvious reasons.

  • If the persons making/approving the transfer offer know of the plans, I would count it as safe. There is no sense covering a position that you are going to remove, to train you and become a burden for the team for some weeks while you get the git of it to later fire you. It would be a "safe-ish" position, while your current one would be uncertain.

  • If the persons making/approving the transfer offer do not know the plans, they may find later that they have to downsize the team, and obviously being the less experienced member puts you at a disavantage (although it is not necessarily the only factor in play).

    The possibility of moving back to your previous position is dubious. A manager will be very tempted to decide that since replacing you will mean the work and cost and finding a replacement, they can save that by just removing the unoccupied position, which also has the advantage that it does not cause the costs (severance package, bad morale) related to actually firing someone.

    At a time of layoffs, this is a very tempting situation, you would be in fact signaling that the position might be worth removing.

    Of course, if you are highly valued in your original team that could help in that they try to get you back, or at least that they put a good word for you to help you land in some other team.

Other factors which you will probably will not be able to know is management's view of those teams/projects: which is seen as more important to the business, which is seen as less efficient/bloated, commitments to deliver results for each project, market perpectives...

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