I spent a lot of time tonight at the geek dinner talking with Mark Jen.
He was the guy fired by Google because of stuff he wrote on his blog.
It was clear he didn't understand what he was up against. He's very sorry for what he wrote. I believe he's learned what he did wrong. He won me over. I would hire him on my team in a heartbeat (if he'd agree to capitalize his sentences properly. Heh!)
Really what he -- and other bloggers who've been fired -- did wrong is have a mismatch in the image they were presenting to what the company wanted presented.
Anyway, I can certainly see why Mark was hired at both Microsoft and Google (two companies that have famously tough hiring standards). He's smart. Dedicated. Passionate.
I look forward to him moving past his mistakes and blogging again. He told me he'll blog again real soon, just wanted to make sure that he didn't increase his troubles with further writing. I'm sure he'll land a good job and be a leader in this industry.
That said, I told him that next time he gets a job I'd make sure it's one where he can talk passionately about it in a positive light.
Some more tips I learned:
1) Know about strategic dates that are coming up that might make managers or employees more skitish or uptight than usual (Google's pre-IPO employees will be able to sell another round of stock this month).
2) Make sure you really understand the culture of the company you are joining before writing openly about that company. An Apple employee was also at the table at dinner tonight and agreed that the expectations around blogs were quite different at Apple than at Microsoft. If you don't understand that difference you can really get into trouble.
3) Make sure your boss is on your side and is willing to (and able to) stand up to people who are extremely wealthy and powerful. Or, is willing to defend you to your coworkers.
4) Make sure your own personal "brand" (for lack of a better word to describe what people think of you after reading your blog) is aligned with what company insiders think the corporate brand should represent. That's where the Delta flight attendant got into trouble. That's where Mark got into trouble.
5) Understand employment law and the consequences for making mistakes. California, for instance, is an 'at will' state. Translation: your boss can fire you for combing your hair the wrong way this morning.
6) Understand common-sense culture. For instance, it's not generally accepted to talk about personal details like salary (and I can think of a whole raft of such issues like religion, sexual orientation, political persuasion, personal lifestyles, etc) in public spaces. In fact, if a coworker asked me about the salary I make I'd refuse to discuss it (although astute readers here know that I make less than $100,000 per year). See, even I like breaking the cultural rules once in a while.
One last thing: please remember that when you talk about people in the public space that there is someone on the other line. Mark made a mistake (er, a raft of mistakes) but he paid for it by losing a job he actually liked (although I wish he'd have been a bit more positive on his blog) and the salary and career opportunities that represented. I've seen a lot of pretty personal remarks made about Mark and getting to know him I've come to realize he's just as human as the rest of us.