Success breeds some weird shit, especially if you were close to people, which happens a lot in startups with a high work ethic. Friends turn into strangers, friends turn into enemies. Some make more money than you — a lot more — and some make less than you — a lot less. Brews some weird undercurrent sometimes. Money changes things. Even if you don't make real money... the perception of success changes things, too.
The road to a "successful startup" can be paved with a lot of bullshit. Burnout, depression, stress, mistakes. Regret. Employees locked in their handcuffs, even though they hate their work and their lives. Taxes. Paying people to advise you on all of these things. Trying to do something bigger the next time. Trying to move up and forward, bigger and better. Recapturing the lightning in a bottle. Dealing with yourself, and your reactions to all of this. Feeling uncomfortable about those feelings.
It can be a painful, frustrating, degrading, and ultimately extremely valuable lesson.
It's especially difficult if you're naive because everyone around you is talking about metrics and OKRs, you agree on OKRs with people, and everyone seems to be working toward their OKRs. Everything seems so objective! It takes quite a bit of experience to internalize that (a) metrics have a lot of momentum and lag, (b) shit changes too fast anyway, (c) managers will move teams/groups way before the goals materialize, and (d) by the time they've moved nobody will remember what happened two quarters ago.
So while everyone is talking about the OKRs, nobody who isn't hopelessly naive actually cares about them (beyond the top line stuff executives see). Your manager doesn't care at all if you meet your objectives. They just want to look good until they can move to bigger responsibilities. Sometimes that happens to align with meeting explicit objectives, but quite often there is no alignment at all.
The people who understand the covert goals will do well very well for themselves (at least until the future eventually catches up to them). The people who naively work on their OKRs usually will not.
Re the above -- I don't mean to imply that any of this is malicious or even conscious on anyone's behalf. I suspect it is for a few people, but I bet most people could pass a lie detector test that they care about their OKRs and the OKRs of their reports. They really, really believe it. But they don't act it. Our brains are really good at fooling us! I used to think that corporate politics is a consequence of malevolent actors. That might be true to some degree, but mostly politics just arises. People overtly profess whatever they need to overtly profess, and then go on to covertly follow emergent incentives. Lots of misunderstandings happen that way -- if you confront them about a violation of an agreement (say, during performance reviews), they'll be genuinely surprised and will invent really good reasons for everything (other than the obvious one, of course). It's basically watching Elephant In The Brain play out right in front of your eyes.
Every manager wants to grow their team so they can split it into multiple teams so they can say they ran a group.
When there is a lot of money involved, people self-select into your company who view their jobs as basically to extract as much money as possible. This is especially true at the higher rungs. VP of marketing? Nope, professional money extractor. VP of engineering? Nope, professional money extractor too. You might think -- don't hire them. You can't! It doesn't matter how good the founders are, these people have spent their entire lifetimes perfecting their veneer. At that level they're the best in the world at it. Doesn't matter how good the founders are, they'll self select some of these people who will slip past their psychology. You might think -- fire them. Not so easy! They're good at embedding themselves into the org, they're good at slipping past the founders's radars, and they're high up so half their job is recruiting. They'll have dozens of cronies running around your company within a month or two.
From the founders's perspective the org is basically an overactive genie. It will do what you say, but not what you mean. Want to increase sales in two quarters? No problem, sales increased. Oh, and we also subtly destroyed our customers's trust. Once the steaks are high, founders basically have to treat their org as an adversarial agent. You might think -- but a good founder will notice! Doesn't matter how good you are -- you've selected world class politicians that are good at getting past your exact psychological makeup. Anthropic principle!
There's lots of stuff like this that you'd never think of in a million years, but is super-obvious once you've experienced it. And amazingly, in spite of all of this (or maybe because of it?) everything still works!
There's lots of stuff like this that you'd
never think of in a million years, but is
super-obvious once you've experienced it.
And amazingly, in spite of all of this (or
maybe because of it?) everything still works!
According to the first link I could find (https://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-american-economy-during-worl...) in 1945, 37% of American GDP (and almost 90% of government spending) was spent on the war. And yet basically everyone was still housed and fed with 1945 tech on only the remainder.
There's a lot of fat for these inefficiencies to feed on before (and if) they kill the organism. That's also why there are so many bullshit jobs around that the world would actually be a better place without.
It's cliche, but some of the happiest people are farmers, construction workers, or people who physically work on tangible things. Also, I feel people in the bay area compared to the south where I now live are perpetually unhappy and outraged. There is more to life than work. Simple and a slower life is not such a terrible thing.
Farmers and soldiers have notoriously high suicide rates. One explanation is that it's caused by a lack of control. From that perspective, it's certainly frustrating to watch your company succumb to inefficiencies (e.g. politics), but as a white collar worker, it's much easier to solve than for farmers. White collar worker can move laterally to a new job or upward, but farmers are looking at selling the family farm (social/career implosion) or controling the weather (impossible).
>Simple and a slower life is not such a terrible thing.
"In Drive, Pink goes on to illustrate why the traditional carrots-and-sticks paradigm of extrinsic reward and punishment doesn’t work, pointing instead to his trifecta of intrinsic motivators: Autonomy, or the desire to be self-directed; Mastery, or the itch to keep improving at something that’s important to us; and Purpose, the sense that what we do produces something transcendent or serves something meaningful beyond than ourselves."
It's also magical that given all this, everything still works! The products get shipped, the people get paid, the world benefits! Think of it this way -- human behavior is much weirded than one would naively expect, and we manage to self-organize to accomplish all this crazy stuff! Isn't that pretty cool?
It's strange how SV geeks as a class will generally skew libertarian and wheel out lots of free market arguments, but haven't read Coase nor thought about how this applies within an organisation. Of course they're money extractors, that's what you've selected and that's what your culture prizes - you were just hoping they'd turn the money-extraction skill only against people outside the organisation. It's not even necessarily a bad thing, every successful startup needs a bit of this to get money from investors and make their first sales of a not-really-existing product.
This is a universal truth, and it is probably the main reason why a company needs a well defined mission, vision, and core values. They provide a way for individuals' emergent incentives to align toward a common goal.
The naive employee you mention who strives towards OKR completion wins the game, but loses the metagame of corporate ladder climbing.
In retrospect, one of the early employees observed that this happened when the company "was big enough that people could hide".
That seemed to happen around 60ish people.
The moment your boss has a boss, its just plain easy to hide.
The most important thing to understand about big people structures is every thing is a 'cost center'. The expenses aggregate at your boss, its irrelevant who is consuming how much in a team. For example Boaty McBoatyFace could have negotiated a big bonus from his boss Scrooge McDuck. Scrooge could have 10 people reporting to him, but Boaty's bonus is largely an expense divided by 10 across Scrooge's team, and largely appears as expense per person to the Scrooge's boss.
More precisely its like
GROUP BY manager_name;
I learned this first hand from my ex-manager. Also most organizations are likely to fire queries along the lines.
GROUP BY expense_category;
Say an expense category was 'bonus', or 'stock grant'. Its very common in most orgs, that in a team, for 2 - 3 people to eat the whole team's budget, and yet be totally invisible. And better, make it look like the whole team finished the budget.
But it also helps that the relationship between money in and money out is more explicit in finance. The feedback loop is more immediate.
People become invested for themselves (in some ways that always true with work, but there’s levels of obviousness). It’s like that with every trending “gold rush”. Opportunity arises, FOMO strikes, and hell breaks loose. A worplace that suffers 0 damage would be incredibly rare, but having the presence of mind to accept it, plan for it, and confront it in a positive way makes a huge difference is the ultimate success or failure of a place.
Seen this a few times, “executives” joining late in the day (weeks before IPO) with 10-100x the stock(options) of early engineers.
The first thing you learn about business is that you don't know how it works.
The second thing is that no matter how experienced the competition looks, they don't know either.
Hiring cannot solve a lack of business knowledge ... and yet everyone keeps thinking, again and again and again, that it does.
So what makes people hire these idiots ?
In other words, they are hired to look good - any productive outcome is a mere coincidence.
This is true about any large people structure operation. In fact I would say this is true in any case where your boss has a boss.
>>If you happen to be the hapless person who is innocently trying to make the company successful
You are either going to be a Jeff Dean. Very likely you won't be.
In the other case this is the equivalent of painting a huge X and walking into an arena full of political snipers. The first thing they will do is eliminate you at all costs, to prevent competition from emerging.
I've been purposefully losing 'Hackday' and 'Innovation Challenges' at work. Those have little to do with innovation and mostly exercises to prepare purge lists.
I think what you're really talking about is short vs long term gains.
Unless you give your employees the option to achieve long term gains that out weigh the short term gains, they'd be kinda dumb not to focus on short term gains right?
Of course, you'll still get people who focus on short term gains even if long term gains are better, because they might think it's more likely they can find better success moving on to their own version of long term gains, or they think they'll get screwed over if they put all their eggs in your basket.
I was so naive when I started out in tech as a starry-eyed fresh grad, only to have my soul slowly crushed somewhere between the transition from slash and burn start-ups and boring behemoth big Corp bureaucracy. How do you guys stay sane in tech and do you see yourself do thing forever?
Recognize that the work life is not the ends, but the means. You're selling your time in exchange for money which then allows you to pursue your personal goals.
Also, enter a state of mind where you watch office politics from the sidelines without getting personally invested in it. Maintain a metaphorical "strategic popcorn reserve".
Did you just come up with that? It's absolute gold.
A lot of people did leave when they had the chance.
It surprised me how many people stayed. As another poster here noted, a lot of very senior people stayed who were at or near the VP level stayed. Some of them wouldn't know what to do with themselves if they left. And I think some like the status and power that comes with managing a huge org.
But I was also surprised how many individual contributors who became rich stayed, and just continued to write software or Verilog or whatever. They were bright people, and nobody messed with them because they were well-known and were just allowed to do their own thing.
Watching what people did when they came into a lot of money was an interesting life experience. Hell, watching what I myself did when I came into a lot of money was also an interesting life experience.
When I first came to Silicon Valley I was so excited to be surrounded by so much great technology. I got to play with so much very expensive test equipment: it was like being a kid again. As time went on, it wore me down, and it wasn't so interesting. I encountered a lot of bad actors: the other anecdotes in this HN post sound very familiar. When I had FY money, I left. At that time, I hated my job. I have no interest in writing code or using fancy oscilloscopes and logic analyzers. I don't want to look at another C function as long as I live. And I will never go back to Silicon Valley.
IPO day had a bunch of people walking around in a daze because they became millionaires on paper during the day. Nice people too. That was a good day :)
It’s the top tier (VPs or people with a clear path to becoming one) people who usually stay