I worked for a startup for a couple of years that really got it right. The CTO really wanted a certain lead developer as his first hire (they had previously worked together) and the lead dev said (paraphrased, of course) "Nope. Not interested in working more than 40 hours per week. Not interested in startup culture. Not interested in grueling deadlines. I like taking long breaks in the middle of the day to go for a run. I come in early, and I get home to my family early."
They gave in to every one of his demands and from my understanding, in the 3 or 4 years since he took the job, devs have only worked longer than a 40 hour week maybe 5 times total.
That dev team has consistently deployed great feature after another at an incredible rate. I have since moved on but I don't think I'll ever find a place that respected their workers like they did.
I don't have a point to that story, no takeaways, no morals, no snappy advice or anything. But paired with my current not as good job, and this article from my worst nightmares, it's made me a bit nostalgic for that wonderful time in my life where I worked for a great place that trusted that happy employees are good employees.
I worked every hour, of every day for over a year to try and make things successful. It was never enough, and I felt like a failure regularly. It destroyed my personal life, and I still feel like there are ramifications from it.
Finally they questioned the hours I was billing, from the minor level of pay + equity, they didn't feel the output was enough. I quit on that point, having given so much, and then to have to defend myself.
It was a disaster, that in some small part ruined my life. I mean, I'm fine. Life is great, but it took some measure of life out of me.
They ask me to come back regularly, and I always say no. They have twice said they'd give me more equity with no strings attached just because of the work I had done, and then never said anything about it again.
I have no idea if the equity will ever amount to anything, but I learned my lesson. It just isn't worth it, under any respect. Sacrificing for some dream that isn't in your hands is a fools errand.
They can talk about whatever millions they want to from your equity. It can never make up for the destructive aspects you do to yourself to obtain it.
So you were getting an hourly rate--not salary?
That dev team has consistently deployed great feature after another at an incredible rate.
I very much appreciate you leaving this comment.
But I'm not going to try to convince an employer that they should care about such things out of the goodness of their hearts. I'm perfectly happy to argue that an employer should care about such things because it enhances the bottom line for the business.
When I started my corporate job, I met the only remaining living founder of the three brothers that started the company. He said something about wanting the company to be good to me and take care of me so I would take care of it.
One of the other new hires was from California. She was surprised at how warm this Southern gentleman was. She was used to the coldness and callousness of the California social climate in business circles.
I was born and raised in the Southern city where this comment was founded. I think people not looking out for their people are fools cutting their own throats.
You don't have to care about me in a "love thy neighbor" sort of way. But you should care that running me ragged if I work for you fundamentally harms your business.
The early hires (especially engineer #1) can have a huge influence on the culture. I think that's important to note both for founders and for prospective early employees.
> devs have only worked longer than a 40 hour week maybe 5 times total.
> That dev team has consistently deployed great feature after another at an incredible rate.
This second takeaway, that being disciplined about working hours is a boon to productivity, is generally supported by what few studies  have been done on productivity versus working hours.
 I believe most of, especially the early ones, have specifically studied industrial/factory output, including an early-1900s experiment showing that reducing working days from 9 hours to 8 hours actually increased output.
When I’ve seen good projects complete on time, I remember seeing my producer comb the milestone tasks asking herself “can this deliver value and be feasible”, rather than making a marathon for other people to run.
I handle the internal ERP and related software (android terminals, sandblast machines etc)
I get to work on varied problems in multiple languages where my contribution is immediately visible and then go home at 5pm.
It's glorious, I'll give up programming as a career rather than go back to 60hr+ weeks.
Then I moved on to New York city and noone came after 8am or left before 9pm. Was nightmare. CTO told me once: “if you have family to attend to, don’t work here”.
When we 'rebooted' Sensory Networks (our regex company a while back) we held to a 'regular hours only' policy and I think we did pretty well with it. We did get to a decent acquisition (esp. for a niche product) and importantly we were able to keep progressing the product technically. I suspect that 60-70 hour work weeks lead to a lot of technical debt that will require more 60-70 hour work weeks to pay back.
Except if 60-70 hour workweeks created the debt in the first place, subsequent ones can be expected to create even more, rather than (net) paying any back.
Perhaps a better remedy would be 1.5x-1.75x as many 40 hour workweeks. If so, that could easily be more years than the average engineer's tenure, which can add its own challenge.
I’m okay with it, as what’s important to me isn’t 100% related to the work I do and this job is a great resume bullet, but I know that the market for employee merit doesn’t stop at 5pm.
When the customer is screaming down the phone at your grand-boss that you've failed to deliver and they have very little context for that and ask you if you can work extra to make them happy you're in an awkward position.
A good boss would push back on unreasonable customer demands and spend time figuring out what went wrong. A good boss will help prevent it from going wrong the next time. A good boss will help you figure out what needs to be done right now and what can be scheduled so it’s not just a constant “P1 emergency”
That is what is so hard.
This, of course, illustrates, why it's difficult: when one knows something that happens to be false.
That's why it's important to have these kinds of discussions here, even they appear to surface concepts that may seem obvious to some people. To other people, it's important to read/hear that perspective, lest "tunnel vision" or an "echo chamber" takes hold.
Forcing someone to work overtime against their will is still a big no-no even in most hostile work environments.
Life is still good. My schedule is still fantastic, but I am missing that certain something where I felt like my personal goals were very closely aligned with my company's goals. I still might go crawling back and beg for my job back sometime though.
If a leader feels insulted because a person left it was for the best that person left. That company needs to fire the leaders as it will only end up with a very toxic culture.
I work typical 9-5, wife and kids. We go grocery shopping and make dinner every night together. We live very modestly and we have lots of non-tech friends and family. It’s literaly nothing special.
I don't think anyone here seriously thinks this is the norm for working in tech, although I can entirely understand that the author might have a warped perspective on it as a result of his experience.
With that said, this "superficial shit" does happen, particularly in startup culture. And even if this is out on the margins of the experience, one can imagine milder versions that are still a very long way from ideal for a lot of people. For example, I find the thought of living with people I also work with utterly horrifying even if we were living in a decent house with our own rooms, a good amount of space, and what have you. I've worked with people over the years who have house-shared with others at the same company and I've never understood how they could do it. That's no disrespect to my team, or to anyone one I've worked with previously: for the most part they've been great people, but you just HAVE to unplug from it and get some social interaction from outside of your professional milieu.
 Also, I did house sharing for 10 years and, even 12 years later, I am absolutely over it. Perhaps even more-so with the passage of time.
I wouldn't say the takeaway is that working in tech is bad so much as it's a criticism of Silicon Valley hype and culture. I read HN a lot in college (2010-2015) and kept reading articles glorifying startups and the Bay Area; so when I graduated, instead of looking for a safe industry job I tried to get a job there (and decided to just move there when I was rejected by a company who said they'd prefer someone local). Even when I did get a job there, my monthly paycheck was lower than my rent--though with promise that I could earn more if I worked there longer.
Overall, SV felt like a very exploitative environment for people young and hopeful, and I'm happy people are calling it out.
After the showing for that one, I was able to get a showing and eventual application acceptance for some tiny studios at a nearby converted hotel - no kitchen, but totally private bed and bath for only $100 or so more per month than what the coliving space offered. So far so good - not my ideal living space by any means (I miss having an actual kitchen), but it's a short-term lease, so it gives me time to find something better.
I went to SF without money for a bootcamp, I did not experience this. The author seems to just have done it without preparing or thinking much.
First, if you are joining a bootcamp, there are other people in your cohort with whom you can find support, roommates, etc (that's what I did).
2nd, even if you end up in such a bad situation, you KNOW it's for only 12 weeks. And very intense 12 weeks anyway, so really, all you need your room for is sleeping.
3rd, you socialise with other students and teachers in that bootcamp. Can't you see that most of them are NOT like the nerdy roommates he describes?
4th I have a few friends who work at Pinterest... yes _that_ Pinterest. They can afford their own place in SF, thank you.
5th, the OP wanted to do a 12weeks bootcamp to then work remotely and be a ski bum? That's nice, but he obviously didn't really research what a bootcamp really offers. I've done a bootcamp - I'm now working for myself, but that's 5 years later.
I would have NOT been able to work remotely my first year, I needed way too much mentoring and help to continue learning. Bootcamps don't promise to make your a senior engineer in 12 weeks, they promise to teach you how to learn, so can get a cheap entry level job and _continue_ learning on the job, with _mentoring_.
Sorry this sounds like a rant, but I've seen too many people giving a bad image of what bootcamps have to offer. I've had a great experience doing mine and this is true for most people I know who did one too. It just has to be taken how it is.
I work mostly remote these days--in tech but not a developer at a company with a lot of people who are remote to greater or lesser degrees.
I can't imagine having started out that way though. Communications mechanisms and so forth were different at the time but I can't imagine starting out without physical proximity to co-workers.
I started programming without co-workers, or instruction, or related experience. I did get a lot of use out of IRC for a while, but I don't really see what difference having someone physically proximate might have made.
As for the author's situation. There are not camps in other cities. He could have attended one elsewhere and then relocate if he wanted. It's also only 3 months. You'll survive. I rented a tiny room between kitchen and living room that saw lots of threw traffic in a shitty old house in Munich when I was a student so that I could do a internship at big Corp. It was less than ideal, but when you are young you can live shitty for a while. It will make you appreciate what you have later.
Retire with $750k (assuming stock market gains over that 10 years)? Man, I don’t know many people who can do that, at least not in the US.
Don’t get me wrong, it gets you out of the “work or starve” level, but it’s also not exactly “I don’t have to work a day the rest of my life” money.
We try to maintain a false dichotomy where the alternative to working extremely hard is partying, travelling the world, and of course tons of sex.
Most people don't do either.
It's not necessarily a false dichotomy, but there ain't no such thing as a free lunch: there are opportunity costs to both paths. If you're dedicated, you can work out a way to fill your hours with travel and hedonism: and then one day you wake up and you're 40, you have no close friends or career prospects, and a worn-out liver.
If you aren't going to do something awesome (like travel a lot), [then] why not work hard [instead]?
If you're going to do something awesome, why not work hard [to achieve great things]?
If you're not going to something awesome, why work hard [because what's the point if it's not awesome]?
When it comes to living life I'd rather go with 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.' And I say this as someone who's worked hard in their 20s to let go of nerdy and awkward behaviour to be able to more fully enjoy my life NOW.
> Programming for me was never supposed to be more than a means to an end
Programming is one of my favorite things to do and I do it even when my job is something else. Why do it if you don't like it? No wonder it seemed hopeless.
Uhh, because it pays well, has good job security and benefits, doesn't require multiple degrees, is respected socially, isn't physically intensive, etc. etc.
Most all of my non-programmer friends don't really like their jobs all that much, so if you're not passionate about anything else, my question is why not go into software development?
The things the author complains about (low pay, long hours, uncertain future) are positive things for me, which is why I chose the path I did. It usually includes working with really interesting people.
I'm glad he abandoned it as it sounds like he would not enjoy it. There's no evidence from his article that, say, the Pinterest fellow or the people who'd come home and open their laptops are actually unhappy, except the author himself and the "mid-30s" person in the bunk above him.
I think you mean you’ll accept them to work somewhere you want to work, if the exact same job came up but with higher pay, a guarantee that you’d only work 35hrs a week and a clear future you’d prefer the low paying hard hrs job?
I work in a none programming job in an unrelated industry and I find start up culture really weird, you have seemingly smart people willing to sacrifice their lives to build something like Pinterest (no disrespect to Pinterest but it is what it is, a social network, not putting men on the moon)... your years 20-30 should be be some of your best years, don’t waste them living in a closet.
> I find start up culture really weird, you have seemingly smart people willing to sacrifice their lives to build something like Pinterest (no disrespect to Pinterest but it is what it is, a social network, not putting men on the moon)... your years 20-30 should be be some of your best years, don’t waste them living in a closet.
I also find it weird -- building Pinterest doesn't seem interesting, and these days (last 15 years) most of the startups are just retail shops that happen to be online. Yawn. The companies I've enjoyed starting and working for have been deeply tech oriented and actually have tried to, or managed to, have significant visible, technical effect on the world. But really, working at Apple in the late 70s/early 80s++ would have been fun, crazy, long hours, huge esprit de corps, and yes, shared housing. But don't you think it would have been worth it?
The dot com boom brought all sorts of carpetbaggers who merely wanted the money, and they changed things for the worse. Though most of them ended up in SF (used to be you lived in SF and worked in Silicon Valley, so the morning traffic jam was leaving the city, not entering it). Though we do have plenty of douchebags down here, the great thing is the SF is like a douchebag magnet. It's paved over most of the craziness of SF replacing it with blandness, but at least it acts as a honeypot for the benefit of the rest of us. This poor kid is simply one of the victims.
+ the real kind, not the "let's make a corporate mission" kind. When you actually want to live in the world where your product is ubiquitous and you only work with people who like their jobs. Crazy to work with people who don't like their jobs, and no amount of money would make that kind of life (working with people who don't like what they do) worth living for me.
++ this example is well before my time; I just picked it because everybody would know it
Now, this was probably good advice 6 or 8 years ago. But rising rent costs, an overabundance of coding boot camps, and a relatively lower supply of jobs willing to employ boot camp grads has made that advice much more questionable.
I'm glad he abandoned that housing nonsense, but even in SF there are sane tech jobs that only expect 40 hours out of you per week.
Producing bad code is more lucrative for the developer than producing good code.
It's like this for the vast majority of jobs, inside and outside of tech. People do them because they have to pay their bills and come home to their family and their hobbies.
I think what I mean to say is: if you get into it and it sucks, don't be surprised. But instead of being discouraged jump to somewhere else in the industry. You may be able to find your happy place full of nice people and fun projects (but still hard work!). And if you never do find that place and eventually move on to something else, don't take it as a personal failure.
How sad! I know not every job excites passion but really, nobody?
I've never met anyone with a passion for programming, but I've met a lot of people who misuse the word passion.
They where also renowned for saving a huge sum of money for the company when a quarterly CSS run barfed badly - CSS was the BT billing system and the worlds largest IBM system at the time.
Train is the same. You have to go out so far to be comfortable that your commute goes into the hours mark. SV is just insane for someone that doesn't already have an established career. I know I would have burned out already if I didn't have the experience from Austin already.
Importantly in my opinion, you can buy a nice house on middle class income in Phoenix still, or rent for very cheap, and the traffic is pretty good. You'll be car dependent in most cases but it is RADICALLY cheaper than Silicon Valley.
It's difficult to do stuff outside when it's that hot, especially as you get older.
This is the (not so?) subtle quality-of-life aspect that people seem to forget when mentioning other cities as alternatives.
The Bay Area isn't popular/expensive solely due to network effects. Climate and geography (nearness to ocean, mountains) make it comparitively more appealing than the alternatives, for a variety of ages and lifestyles.
Nobody said a nice, well-paid coder job, let alone a successful startup and early position there, would be easy.
Besides, he misses the point. There are brilliant men and women in the SF Bay, doing magical things. Maybe they spent time on the Sisyphean path he and I did, maybe not.
But don’t go bashing everyone here because you chose the riskiest route and then lived it. He’s right that this place remains a beacon of hope and opportunity all over the world.
That’s a good thing dammit
$1.4k for a closet in an Airbnb with 13 people, where you don't get a key and have to sneak in? Heh.
I have found a large room in a newer complex through a company pairing roommates in just a few days. It was $1800. Heck, you could pay $1k for a room in Berkely or Oakland and commute in by Bart.
12 or 13 "hackers" and noone thought to make a copy of the door key?
Come on ...
If I wanted to save money, I'd accept a half hour commute and get a room near a Bart station for half the cost.
This article is a total lie, unless these people are really bottom of the barrel idiots.
it was weeks. i wouldn’t be surprised if the guy living in the closet was the owner of the unit. (or lessee)
the author thinks he’s going to graduate from boot camp and “make it”? please.
this article and the fact of its (self) publication tells us a lot about the author, and almost nothing about startup life. if you understand that, it is interesting in its own way.
Programming is the love my life but I would never bear this situation at any cost for it.
He states himself that programming was just "means to an end" for him. So why even bother? I just can't comprehend? Sorry for being ignorant or something ... I'd really like to understand
Because you gotta pay the bills somehow. This is something you only ever hear from people in our profession and I think it sometimes leads to self-exploitation.
Nobody would ever say "He states himself that driving the garbage truck was just "means to an end" for him. So why even bother?"
There is so many stuff out there he he could've paid the bills with, why did it had to be programming in this kind of experience?
Also keep in mind that the author of the article is going to a boot camp. He is not getting paid, but paying. Once he is done he will likely earn ~$100k and can move into better conditions. It's very unfortunate that the author never was able to talk to the people he lived with who already had a job and find out why they still live there. Maybe they were just saving a ton of money. I knew someone who was earning a good tech salary, but chose to commute every day from Dublin for hours. That guy chose to safe the money and bought a gold coin every month.
It is kinda like being a bus driver but dealing with less filth.
I have relatives in completely different (non-tech) jobs that would say of working a job just to pay the bills "what kind of way is that to live?". In fact they have said that of other family members from the previous generation, who stuck it out in a job they didn't particularly like so they could take care of their families.
A lot of people don't seem to value the personal sacrifice of others, even when that sacrifice is for a worthy cause (and taking care of your family most definitely is a worthy cause).
Sure, if you have a chance to get paid at least a sufficent amount of money to do something you like, or even love (if possible), then take it. But you shouldn't look down on others who choose to put up with a lot in order to provide for others. It's a noble thing to do, and it should be honored, not scoffed at.
Even at with the base rate of $100k/year - which is cheap, you can rent a beautiful $5k/m apartment and split it with a friend. Heck, you can even cook and eat organic only. Use Uber to move around. Even then, at “maximum living conditions” you should be able to save north of $50k/y. There’s countless beautiful Airbnbs at the same price in case you can only rent short-term. Also, you either choose a corporate job or something you love. You can’t work 15h/day on something you don’t love.
All in all, this article it’s halfway BS, halfway poor management of one’s own living conditions and financials
I moved away from London because its economically and socially tough.
With a remote job I will be able to make a London salary but live wherever I like, enjoy the outdoors and live life how I see fit.
SF, Madrid, Berlin, NY are sparkly places where a lot of people (bar the lucky few) end up trapped.
I was expecting “NYC salaries” and instead found more like “Atlanta salaries” which I can’t figure out how the economics works for London-based employees.
Given that, lots of US employers with remote work available will be able to hit London salary level I think.
Though London has far better public transport so living 60 miles away and commuting by train isn't to bad.
I don't think there is much more to it than that. People just enjoy living there even if it doesn't make as much sense economically.
The pollution, increase in knife and gang crime, work yourself to death culture and overcrowding due to immigration.
This makes London not feasible for the long term. If you look at statistics of immigration / emigration from London by age. Anyone below 30 is net migration, whilst above 30 its the opposite.
They don't. Much like SF it appeals to people though so they flock to it anyway
Well, they don't have the privilege of being able to work in the US, so basically it is what it is.
Its a happy medium from going full outsource to Asia
The main hurdles have been that many remote jobs in the US are restricted to US only.
Other things have been tech stacks; I am a Java/Go/C++ with SQL person, whilst most remote companies use Ruby/Python/Node.js with NoSQL.
Check wfh.io , remoteok.io
Most big companies with offices around the world adjust their salaries to local market because it is yet another way to optimise, and with a physical location, it doesn't make sense not to level. It's also how they budgeted the office to decide if it's worth having or not.
So salaries in most locales will be way closer to the market. I moved myself from SF to Amsterdam (staying with the same employer) and my salary was cut by roughly 40% for this reason.
For a remote company, the approach to hiring might be a little different. They need a new engineer, they budget the new engineer, not knowing where the engineer will be located, so even if the engineer is located somewhere cheaper, lowering the salary won't be too much of a deal.
That's usually what you see. For example, buffer will pay 100% for SF and 85% (I think) for a city like Amsterdam. That different is much lower than what you'd get at Google, etc.
And certainly my experience winter of 94 with another developer using DSDM (Agile) an collocated with the customer in Scotland delivering in a month what another remote team quotes 2 years for makes me agree with his thesis.
Though I don't know why people need to live in an expensive city for a bootcamp.
In fact, this article may have been inspired by a much longer piece from the previous year (1) which focuses on the kinds of dropout teens that Peter Thiel would later come to encourage to head west. Fascinating read.
This sentence embodies what repulses me about current Silicon Valley culture: The self-satisfied claim to San Francisco 60's heritage, only, you know, with peace and love being replaced by greed and egotism.
1,200 $/mo is more than enough to get a room to yourself in the nice neighborhoods; admittedly, you'll need to put in the time on craigslist to find sublets, "interview" with potential roommates, etc. I can see if you're desperate to find a place in a hurry, an airBnB like this might make sense for a month, but more than that seems insane.
Getting scammed by false promises of equity riches is definitely a thing that happens to people, but it's far from the norm. Again, take a job like that if you need something right away, but spend your time hunting for something better, because the vast majority of programming jobs in SF are nothing like this.
One of the difficulties potential renters can run into, especially ones from out of town, is that no matter how nice the neighborhood is from a residential standpoint, it might be much less nice from a commuting standpoint (be it work or the coding bootcamp).
Whenever I try it, I find public transit within SF to be remarkably time-consuming, even to travel short distances. That means living outside the city can be both cheaper and result in a shorter (time, not distance) commute, which might seem counter-intuitive.
Just to be clear, typically you will never own a home and you will be lucky to have an apartment to yourself. And you will likely be unemployable after 35 or 40 so you better get that mortgage quick and it better not be 30 years.
This site obviously has a survivor bias toward success stories. But of the 7 software people I know who are still in the bay area, only 1 still has work. The others live of the considerable income from renting their packed homes. In places like Alameda, Richmond, Oakland and Concord even. So the ratio of packed renters to home homeowners is obviously much higher than 1:1
And I think we can safely assume the housing cost to wage ratio will be even higher next.
I do see terrible coders who haven’t learned anything in 20 years and they have a tough go, but good coders in their 40s are readily employed from what I see. (Over 45 here.)
The hours are long down here though too. But IMHO the companies are more interesting.
I mean, the real problem is that it's impossible to break into SF if you don't already know a lot or make a lot. As long as a 1br costs $2,000 or more you'll find operations like this.
There are plenty of places you could get with a few friends for less even in soma. After the first week I would've been talking with others in there about moving out together. Seriously you work at mother f'ing Pinterest and you are ok living like this?
For around $2000, you would share an apartment, but have your own bedroom and your own bathroom.
For $3000 to $4000, you can have your own space and bathroom, but that would unlikely be more than 500sqft.
All seem to want a security deposit equivalent to one month's rent.
Also, the California statutory limit on deposits is two months of rent, so, with a law-abiding landlord, that's an upper bound.
That brings me to the second point, the only time you should be working is to build your own business, not someone else's.
A lot of people fail at both.
But here-here on the first point: never take stock at startups, kids. It’s never gonna work out well. Wanna work at a startup? Make one.