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Ask HN: Desire to be the dumbest guy in the room?
18 points by toocool 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 18 comments
Hello HN,

I posted another thread a few days ago related to my possible job move from a startup where I had a very successful career to a Google-like company (it's one of the big 4), mostly because I'm bored in my current situation (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14908269).

I realize the biggest cause of my boredom is that as a software engineer I'm not that capable and I am not improving in my current situation (I am comparing myself against some of my peers who work in other tech companies in SV). My "vast" success in the startup has been mostly due to most of our engineering team being outsourced towards cheap and junior talent in foreign countries (no prejudice! I immigrated in SV myself from another country, I'm just stating what my experience has been so far).

I realize that in order to improve I really need to be the dumbest guy in the room, which is very likely what I would experience at this "Google" environment.

Family and friends are telling me it doesn't really make sense, since I go from a startup where I have completely proven myself and am essentially free to do whatever I want (almost a "rest and vest" scenario) to a place where I would have to build my reputation from scratch, and even getting a lower title (I have a technical director-like role whereas "Google" is offering me a standard senior software engineer).

Do you have stories where a move such as this backfired on you?

Thanks!




Worked at Oracle for 5 years...was in a similar situation.

Left to go to a 9 person company full of hot shot DevOps engineers, couldn't have been more happy to be the dumbest person in the room everyday. I learn so much I feel like I should be giving up extra salary to cover all the education I'm getting.

I liked working at Oracle, but am so glad I made the move. At the end of the day, lots of respect and admiration, even at a huge company like Oracle, don't really mean a lot. I used to tell my girlfriend that I worked 80 hours a week even if I did nothing. 25 hours of work at work + 25 hours of studying at home to make up for what I wasn't learning + 30 hours of guilt for working at a place where I wasn't learning anymore.


I did a similar thing - went from a startup to a bigger company, a startup in which I noticed I was the "smartest guy in the room" regarding not just mine role, but all the roles. Had a free reign with everything - workload, time, choosing tasks. It's been great. Even though there is less freedom and better perks, I'm still not the "dumbest person in the room" but I am surrounded by awesome teammates and they let me fill my knowledge gaps before starting real work and in turn I fill theirs with my skills that I brushed upon while having the free reign.


As a musician I've always found that situation to be the best for improving my musical chops. The trick is to make sure you're good enough to stay in the band.


Just wondering, how did you fare well in that scenario, how did you handle anxiety and other obstacles?


Anecdote: I've pretty much always optimized to maximize learning and interesting work even at the expense of giving up safe, comfortable (and lucrative) jobs and friends and family thought I was crazy. I would say this has worked out well for me, in terms of what I know as well as what opportunities I have (and my compensation).

However, it doesn't sound like there is much if any financial risk for you here. I assume "Google" is going to match or bump your salary, and bigcos are certainly stable employers. So you're looking to give up freedom in an environment you can't really do what you want to take less freedom in an environment where you can do what you want? Seems like a no brainer.

In fact, my current situation has become somewhat similar to yours, and I wonder if I should make a change again. You write:

> which is very likely what I would experience at this "Google" environment

I would say to be very careful you've done your due diligence on this in the interview and don't just blindly assume it. I have friends at top tech companies that have had a mix of experiences.


You don't really want to be the dumbest guy in the room but you also don't want to be the smartest guy in the room.

If you're the smartest guy in the room you're not going to learn as much.

If you're the dumbest guy in the room you're not going to have opportunities to mentor or lead other people.


It's a good idea, in principle; I've seen people who stayed too long in rest-and-vest environments become completely unable to function when the gravy train ended.

The key questions you should be asking yourself is whether you're ready to withstand the stress of being "the dumbest guy in the room" (it's hard on the ego, to say the least), whether you're willing to make the commitment to learn an enormous amount of material in a relatively small amount of time, and whether you can come up to speed with the people in your new environment fast enough to avoid being penalized or even potentially laid off (having a financial cushion or some other backup plan in case things don't work out would probably be a good idea).


People who rest and vest hopefully would not care when the gravy train ends? You would have enough money to never work right? If not, why would you rest and vest? It is a waste of time then?


Not necessarily. If you would otherwise earn X in a fulfilling job but by resting and vesting in an unfulfilling environment you make 3X because of the vested equity, it might make sense to stay a few years in the latter and try to not completely waste your time by, for example, keeping learning other technologies not related to your actual tasks with the hope of remaining somewhat competitive. It's not "never work again" money, but it certainly can make a difference towards an early retirement.


Fair enough but would it not make sense doing something on the side which makes you learn new things? I guess I cannot imagine sitting still.


Also in some cases, you are morally bound to work on the startup when you've recovered and not waste time programming some side project. But too burnt out to code at all.

So, what many do is neither of the above - they read books, play games, have meetings, or some other time filling activity.


Agreed. In my case the side project was preparing 4 months to interview at the big 4 companies, and I interviewed with 3 of them and luckily got 3 offers :)


Getting a new job in order to learn more is a great idea.

However, keep in mind that "Google" or other massive companies are not a magic wonderland of The Best Engineers Ever. It's a very large number of software engineers, many of them quite good, many them of amazing, many of them just average. So it will depend on your team, still.

You will definitely do better than "we outsourced to the cheapest people we can find" though, and when you get bored again it's much easier to move sideways inside a large company. So it seems like a reasonable plan.


I hang out on Hacker News for a similar reason. Whether or not that is a strategy worth emulating or not is another matter. For me, it's meant I have learned a lot.

Good luck.


I've been a similar situation lots of times. I'd say, without hesitance, that being the dumbest guy in the room is the best move and I'm trying to do the same.

I also find that I'm at my best when surrounded by people who I admire. When I'm the smartest guy in the room or overqualified for something, I tend to perform very poorly because there's just this feeling of malaise when you stop learning.


What's your strategy?


There's not really a strategy to it. Ideally, you want to always, always work with people smarter than you. But some companies have limited resources or smarter people may just be a luxury.

So the only move is to move on. Get better jobs. Be in a situation you're uncomfortable in.


After leaving the startup I had founded, I had the option of earning a six figure salary and a senior position at another company. I passed this up to go back to college. I love math and physics and always regretted not finishing. I’m still in the midst of this so it’s hard to tell whether it’s the right decision.

Being the dumbest guy in the room, and knowing so is probably good for you in the long run.




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