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I realize you probably didn't mean this, but the thought that went through my mind reading it is "What kind of psychopath would take such a position?"

Actually, I know what kind of psychopath: the kind who ran the only startup I ever joined. He once told me, "I am at war, and if one of my men can't keep up, I will shoot him." A remarkably similar sentiment to yours! He also used to phone people up and yell at them if they didn't stay till midnight or come in on weekends.

Needless to say (or so I would have hoped), this is an algorithm to produce not a "complex product" but a fiasco, and that is exactly what happened. I was long gone before then, though. What kind of leader shoots his own men? What kind of people want to work for a leader who shoots his own men, or doesn't care if their families die? I know what kind: scared, servile placators. And since such a team hardly makes for startup success, there really isn't an argument here, only a form of hypnosis.

If you read my other comments in this discussion, you will surely see that I am in fact very pro-employee.

I also am, however, very pro truth.

Anyone who tells you he can have employees with low or zero productivity, for whatever reason, as select members of a small, highly leveraged startup - is either lying to you, or will fail unless he's extremely lucky not to have such employees.

If your team consists of 3 senior developers, and one of them stops producing, your project will likely be pushed back a third or more over schedule. This can easily kill a startup, since if your idea has any merit at all (which is your only chance of success anyway), then you have ten other teams competing against you to launch first.

I totally agree that employees should be respected and cared for, and that a key employee leaving a startup is generally the startup's fault. However, if someone doesn't work out, he will be let go. Not just by the employer - his co-workers will call for his head, since his problems (whether he's to blame for them, or not) endanger the entire team.

Who said anything about low productivity? The issue at stake is whether you should hire "job hoppers".

If I need to launch a complex product in 6 months or die, I don't care whether my senior developer had his entire family die from serial dysentery.

Yeah, yeah - really respectful and caring.

Sure, if my senior developer had something horrible happen to him, I should allow him to work 0-2 hour weeks, keep him in the same position and payroll, and let my startup go down and hurt the lives of the other 9 employees who worked hard on it.

"Respect and care" means among other things, that you keep your business running so it can respect and care for the majority of employees. If you're going to take things to extreme, why then I need to "respect" every candidate by hiring, and "care" for any employee who just feels like taking a 20-month meditation trip to Tibet, since the woes of this modern world are depressing him.

The fact remains the same: a lean, highly leveraged startup can't allow developers to go off on vacations for 3-6+ months, no matter how badly they need it. Hell, if you're that kind of startup, those 3-6 months may very well be your entire product (or life!) cycle.

If your senior developer has something horrible happen to him* , and you then immediately cut him loose because he's of no use to you any more, what happens to your product? You're a startup, so you're unlikely to have huge amounts of redundancy to cover for them when they refuse to train their replacement or answer support questions about your complicated 6 month time-critical project from their dying, dysentery-stricken family members' bedside.

Also, taking that sort of hard-nosed attitude will make the other developers on your team more wary, which will result in higher salaries, more turnover and (if you're a real idiot) no new staff, since word gets around. Ultimately you depend on your staff, so if you play hardball you're likely to reap the 'benefits' further down the track when you need them.

* - this was your original point, not some "meditation trip to Tibet"

If you're a startup and someone needs a 6-month vacation for mental health reasons, you need to cut him loose. If he's done good work and is willing to leave in a way that minimizes damage to the company, try to leave the door open and give him a good reference. You're right, of course, that startups cannot afford to have important people become nonproductive.

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