4 min read

How to get acquired (without losing your mind)

If you, too, are a deeply anxious and conscientious person and you are staring down this newest acquisition and freaking out about it, I have some advice.

Yoooo newsletter-ers. I'm Nat Bennett, and I'm here this week with a very special episode of Simpler Machines, because Broadcom is acquiring VMware.

Quick programming note before getting into that, though– at the end of this week I'm starting a new pop-up newsletter, called Nomad Exquisite. You'll get a photograph or two every day, for about two months– first from a road trip through the American southwest, then from a move between Oakland and Berkeley. Then– poof. E-mail list deleted. Subscribe here. (And tell your friends, at least the ones who like weird lil' art projects.)

Anyway– to ACQUISITIONS

I worked for a previous victim of Michael Dell's financial shenanigans and the eighteen month period between the acquisition getting announced absolutely sucked. I've spent a lot of time since then thinking about why it sucked, and the ways that I contributed to it sucking for both myself and people around me, and what I wish I'd done differently.

If you, too, are a deeply anxious and conscientious person and you are staring down this newest acquisition and freaking out about it, I have some advice.

Just walk out (of the reflective scream chamber)

Not out of the job. (At least, not yet.) But ignore, as much as you can, any conversation about the acquisition at work. Don't do the town halls. Don't do any listening tour shit. Don't talk about it with your team, don't bitch about it with your pair. And for the love of computer generated skeletons leave the yelling channel, and anywhere else on Slack that people are talking about the acquisition.

Venting doesn't help. The "hydraulic model" of emotional buildup is basically the psychological equivalent of humors. The idea sounded good to some Greek dude, and it's since been puppeteered by a series of psychological cranks (because it does trauma bond people and make them believe that they are Experiencing Therapy) but it doesn't hold up to experimentation, like, at all. And while there's absolutely value in sharing feelings and experiences with your coworkers, when every is stressed out about the same thing it mostly just puts you into a reflective scream chamber.

Slack, in particular, is a terrible place to go to for social support. It is fundamentally Twitter for business, the "oops all comments" of social media. It rewards you with dopamine (notifications!! emojis!!) for posting things that emotionally activate your coworkers. Stop reading those posts, stop putting little 🔥 and 💯 emojis on them, and stop writing them.

Also– please– especially if you are any kind of leadership position– do not speculate. Don't talk about what "might" happen or what will "probably" happen– even verbally, even in 1:1s. With so little information and such high emotional charge there's a huge temptation to just make shit up, but then people start repeating that made up shit, taking it as fact, and making career decisions about it. Don't give into that temptation. Don't talk about the acquisition in general, but if you must, stick to the facts.

Organize.

Get your coworkers phone and Signal numbers and talk to them about taking organized action. This is where to talk about what's stressing you out about the acquisition– find concrete, specific things that you can demand, then put that on paper and take credit for it when you get it. Work from home? Parental leave? Layoffs? Get a petition going and start getting those signatures.

We did this a little bit during the Pivotal acquisition but we made two basic mistakes: We waited until an outrageous thing had already happened, and then we didn't ask for something specific when we did start putting a petition around. Don't wait for the outrageous thing. An outrageous thing is going to happen. Be ready.

And remember– Broadcom started this fight. And they are not, uh, especially well-loved by the broader industry. A whole lot of folks out are fond of VMware, and are making comparisons between this acquisition and Sun/Oracle. Be the heroes who unionized VMware.

Photo by Tobias Tullius / Unsplash

Take some time off.

I can't stress enough how much easier it is to think about work and make decisions about it when you get away from it for a minute. Take a big chunk of vacation time– two or three weeks if you can swing it. If you can, spend at least a few of those days in a physically different location, looking at different stuff than you normally do. Go to the beach or the woods or something, get near a body of water If your manager is any good they're also stressed right now, and they're looking for things they can do to support you. So ask for stuff that they can give you!

And connect to the stuff in your life that's not work. In the wake of the acquisition I got really into photography, got a dog, and made more friends who weren't coworkers. That all helped me to put work back into perspective. (Though it's still a long and ongoing process.)