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At Netflix, Radical Transparency and Blunt Firings Unsettle the Ranks (wsj.com)
255 points by tysone on Oct 25, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 323 comments



Netflix has tried to recruit me a couple of times, I interviewed on site both times (after having the recruiter send me the slide deck that they use to explain their culture so it wouldn't be a surprise). For one of the sessions I had the extraordinary opportunity to talk to the manager for the role, their manager, and two people who had previously been in the role (Netflix wasn't aware that I knew those people).

What I discovered, for this one group only, the manager and their supervisor had essentially created a system for hiring people that could be fired when the manager's effectiveness was under scrutiny. It was very Machiavellian but it was also pretty effective for them. I carefully backed out of the discussions to avoid any hurt feelings, and watched as two more people were hired into the role and then left later on. The manager and their supervisor will still there the last time I checked (about a year ago).

I suggested to their recruiter that it would be useful them to understand all of the behaviors that would allow someone to be successful in their culture rather than just the one they were shooting for. This observation was not unlike Jeff Goldbloom's observation in Jurassic park to have the system count 'all' the dinosaurs, not just stop at the expected number. You can build a system to encourage excellence and that is good, but also check to see if it can be exploited by folks who can fool the sensors into thinking they are excellent. And then put in safeguards to detect those too. I'm sure if they did some data science on roles that turned over a lot it would identify bad managers that were avoiding scrutiny.


That's what you get when you have fixed quotas for firing people, e.g. bottom 10%. After a few rounds you have some very good people left and either you fire good people that are hard to replace or you hire people to fire them. I don't understand how the top guys don't see that dynamic.


Stack ranking is a very bad idea. At MSFT, as I understand it, it led to some terrible dynamics, such as people not helping each other within teams, nor across teams, and no one wanting to stick their necks out.

Labor is the biggest cost at tech companies, so one can understand desperate attempts at getting a handle on that cost. As long as you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater...


I think stack ranking can work well when it's understood that the quality bar doesn't sit at a fixed place in the stack. Google promo committees afaik stack rank a batch of employees and then decide where in the stack to promote, and (in theory) it can be anywhere from the whole stack gets promoted to no one gets promoted.

Whether you explicitly stack rank or not, if you give some people promotions and not others, you're ranking people. Forcing you to see the whole ranking at once seems like a good way to be more objective and cut out bias.


1. Don't promote based on ranking in current role. The new roles that you are promoting into aren't the current role. Being a good X doesn't mean that you will be a good Y.

2. Organise your company around rewarding excellent work. Ranking systems reward being good at the ranking system. They rapidly become the whole focus of the organisation, I have seen >10% of an organisations time burned on simply running the system, the amount of time manipulating it was unmeasured but by observation probably greater than that.

3. What is the objective : reward great people, remove terrible ones. The latter must be done at any time, it must be fast, it must be transparent. If your system doesn't do that then it's a bad system. Stack ranking and all ranking/global performance management systems fail to do any of these. They introduce relative performance as the bar, they introduce admin. The former is potentially done by a stack ranking system, but if you are a star in such a system then seek not to work with other stars or you will descend the stack - this is bad.

4. Pay rises (not promotions) follow business performance - if the team's unit is winning the money for the team will be there. But the team might be poor compared to another team that is in a weak unit. This is natural for businesses and what should happen is that the talent from the good team should migrate to the winning unit. Businesses need to manage this with an eye to the future (building business) but stack rankings don't help this.


> 1. Don't promote based on ranking in current role. The new roles that you are promoting into aren't the current role. Being a good X doesn't mean that you will be a good Y.

Definitely some truth in this but one needs to be careful. I think the way to view it might be that being good at X is necessary but not sufficient to being good at Y (assuming Y is a promotion, more responsibility, etc.).

If you're not performing well with the level of responsibility you have at X nobody should promote you to Y. For one thing, if you perform poorly at Y you're going to do a lot more damage than at X and the only real evidence anyone has for promoting you to Y is how you've done at X.

Possibly you can (or you might think you can) test for proficiency at Y but you may well be overestimating your ability to do this, and you open yourself up to all kinds of accusations about artificiality. Not only this but high performing employees can and should legitimately question why you as a manager are unable to accurately assess their suitability based on their performance.

Finally, skills are learned. Python is a learned skill; systems architecture is a learned skill; management is a learned skill. Even bad managers can learn to be good managers, and almost everybody starts out being bad at it. The key is engagement: do you want to get better at it? Are you going to invest the time in learning the skills you need to be better? If you do then, whilst it might take a while, you'll do just fine. The point with high performing employees, and why you promote them, is that they've already demonstrated the engagement and the willingness to learn that they're going to need in order to successfully take the next step.

Not to say there won't be any mess on the way, and success is obviously not to be taken for granted. Also worth pointing out that even great managers encounter serious difficulties - it's somewhat in the nature of dealing with people.


> For one thing, if you perform poorly at Y you're going to do a lot more damage than at X and the only real evidence anyone has for promoting you to Y is how you've done at X

But X is not indicative of performance at Y, so that's irrelevant. Project management and software development aren't overlapping skill sets, so a poor developer might make a great manager.

> Finally, skills are learned. Python is a learned skill; systems architecture is a learned skill; management is a learned skill.

But like any skill, some people will need a lot more work before mastering it than others. Doubtful that this investment is always worth it.

> The point with high performing employees, and why you promote them, is that they've already demonstrated the engagement and the willingness to learn that they're going to need in order to successfully take the next step.

Or they've just demonstrated tremendous skill at their current job which may or may not reflect "engagement", drive, ambition, whatever you think it's measuring.

Some mathematical studies have actually demonstrated the truth of the Peter principle, and how many hierarchical organizations would actually improve efficiency if a certain subset of promotions were randomly selected.


> Ranking systems reward being good at the ranking system.

This is how most of the banking works, anywhere (in fact I think most big oldish corporations). Most people go to the work just for the money, the mission is usually pretty pathetic and/or amoral (get rich guys richer, take as many fees from customers as possible, rob other players on the market etc).

Tons of semi-competent folks, usually various managers playing their games of perception - how do I look to the guy/lady who will be distributing bonuses/promotions.

I don't blame them, this is how whole system is set from C-level all the way to the bottom. That's how the top of the pyramid got there, why would they change the game they excel at. Just pure excellence at your work is possible, but a very ineffective way of getting rewards.


The tricky bit for #4 is if you're, say, a high-performing engineer on a team that's being poorly mis-managed so as to create little business value, getting a disappointing performance review is far more likely to cause you to leave the organization entirely than to switch to a different team. Creating a company culture that engenders that sort of trust and loyalty is not impossible, but still non-trivial.


That seems by design. Good skills poorly applied are t helpful in orgs that need total restructuring, I reckon? Curious for your thoughts.


The parent seemed to be describing a situation where there was a market whereby good talent will inherently flow from bad projects to good projects within an organization. I think my point is they usually don't migrate to a new project within the company, they migrate to another company.

It's true that good IC-level work is often a waste in an organization whose management is too dysfunctional to be focusing on the right things, but an org where all the good people leave is going to find itself in trouble.


If you give some people promotions and not others, you're ranking people.

In an ideal world 'promotions' should be a) a completely separate discussion from pay rises (as in a promotion is not automatically connected with getting a pay rise and ideally you should have to prove yourself in your new position before you even get to discuss pay) and b) not based on how good you are at your current job, but how good someone thinks you might be at the job you're promoted into.

I've seen several cases where the best engineers get promoted into positions of greater responsibility simply because they're the best engineers and completely floundering in the new role because it's largely unrelated to what they're actually good at. On the same note I've also seen fairly mediocre engineers get promoted and excelling in their new role since the new role fit them a lot better.

If you're great software engineer you should be able to spend 20 years at a company as software engineer with the job title software engineer and still get regular pay rises and end up earning the same or more as the senior managers.


I really like the way it's commonly done in German industry. You will typically see a union negotiated compensation table with a very wide range of set pay grades. The entire table (i.e. ever employee) gets a raise every year to stay competitive with the labor market. When you enter the company, you get assigned a grade appropriate for the position (plus whatever additional pay you negotiated). As your value to the company rises, you advance to higher grades.

Actual promotions in the org chart are entirely seperate from that. This can and often does lead to situations where an average engineer makes more money than his team lead.


That's consistent with Google promotions though -- being promoted doesn't mean going up in the org chart.


Allowing the rules to force you to fire people like a robot without concern for their quality is stupid. No way around it.

Of course it is not bad compare people to each other, the stupid part is making decisions by blindly following rules.


I think you have a slight misunderstanding of how Google promo committees work. Assuming you work there, please try and find a senior engineer or a manager you trust and get them to walk you through how it works.


I used to. What's the misunderstanding? (My current understanding comes from my memory of a manager I trusted explaining it.)


stack ranking != ranking. Even at El Goog, 50% of the headcount is performing below average.


> 50%

Only if the average equals the median. There is a low probability that they are equal if you randomly pick a distribution from the set of all possible distributions (and round the percentages to the nearest integer).

Edit: I am not a statistician so maybe the above is totally incorrect. The myth half of a sample is below the average triggers me every time!! Sorry.


But then you're falling for the myth that average is synonymous with mean. Median is an average, too.


That's my point - it's a misleading statistic. If you have a cohort of geniuses, half of them are still going to be very smart. The premise of stack ranking is you fire the bottom tier.


Huh, interesting, I don't believe that's consistent with Google's use of the term from what I remember, but that does seem to be the meaning I'm finding now.

So yeah, fair enough, I do just mean "ranking" I guess.


It's my understanding that labor is not the biggest cost at netflix, compared to licensing and production, which is part of why they pay engineers so much.


Contrast with google where they consciously avoid anything like stack ranking. And incentivize helping (via peer review and peer bonus). If you ask a reasonable question people are happy to help and they genuinely try to help you succeed. (If you succeed they succeeded in helping you succeed)


I smell an idea here for a recruiting business that specializes in providing aggressively average but trustworthy workers for wink wink nudge nudge "this definitely isn't actually a one-year contract" arrangements.


I'm sure they do, they just assume that the benefits of ensuring low performers don't accumulate outweigh the costs of letting go some good talent.

That said, I think quota policies are bullshit.


The specific problem here is with the quota.

I've been in teams where firing a few bad actors was definitely a good idea.

I've also been in teams that were well-oiled machines where everyone was doing their part. You want to tell me I need to find 2-3 people every year to fire because of some quota dictated by some celebrity CEO with an agenda?

Great way to disrupt a well-functioning team.


>>After a few rounds you have some very good people left

After a few rounds you the only people left will be those loyal and belong to the inner circles of the cartel boss.

Who ever believes these firings happen on work performance is deluding themselves.


> That's what you get when you have fixed quotas for firing people, e.g. bottom 10%. After a few rounds you have some very good people left

That is not a general statement, bro. Not generally "very good people" are left, but people who are very good at achieving certain ratings. It can very well happen that for instance your top coders are actually in the bottom 10% because they don't know "how to human". People who only focus on social skills rarely end up in the bottom 10% tho. So this whole system depends on having very meritocratic rating systems or you end up actually increasing the speed of getting parasites in and normal people out.


That's only true if the population is static: if you fully replenish, and then discard the bottom 10%, on repeat, then your overall quality should be going up.

If you only make new bad hires, the 90% good population will stay the same, and the newly hired 10% will be fired.

If you make n good hires, such that that they're better than some peer in the previous 90% population, then the worst n peers will be shifted into the 10% firing population, and replaced with the better new hires in good 90% pop.

So, assuming your metric is solid, and replenishment occurs, the strategy should be successful.


I think it's a mistake to view individuals as having some objective constant measure of "quality".

A "bottom 10%" employee can thrive in the right environment. A formerly-star employee might completely tank when placed in the wrong environment.


Your statement would also only be true if people could genuinely identify low performers every single time without causing collateral damage, you are able to always ensure you hire people that are good and the company culture does not devolve into a empire building system and managers are not power hungry people looking out only for themselves. And this happens, it happened at many silicon valley companies (including one I worked for that is well known). Stack ranking does not work. It creates a culture that ends up embodying all of what I said above.


>if people could genuinely identify low performers every single time without causing collateral damage,

I'm not sure about collateral damage, but that's what I meant by a solid metric.

If the metric isn't worth shit, then you're probably not doing much better than random selection, and perhaps worse, selecting on a trait you didn't mean to, or didn't want. e.g. power-hungry.

But if you believe in the metric, the strategy is sensible (and its probably safe to assume such managers do indeed believe in their metric).

Probably the bigger problem is there's no strategy in place to test the metric


Apply this to a sport team where you usually have solid metrics and replenishment occurs. A contrived comparison at a smaller scale, but I don't see this strategy working. The assumption that you get better hires is where I think it falls over. In practice you would get similar hires and It would just cause more disruption in the team. ie you would lose chemistry for little or no gain in skills.


The problem is that they take an org wide "cut 10%" and pass it down to every team and say "cut 10%". That mean any team that is a well oiled machine is going to loose some pretty important gears.

Mean while team B which is full of fuckups will just lose their least popular fuckup.


Also assumes less than 10% voluntary high-quality leavers, which is a big weakness of the strategy. (Because it is likely true for almost all firms who cannot afford Netflix-level compensation.)


Assuming you only lose employees to firing.


Can share (without giving away names) what strategies you used to suss this out? One thing I am very terrible at is actually sussing out unhealthy behaviour and cultures in an interview setting and it would be great to see how you guage both the answers and the cues.


> Can share (without giving away names) what strategies you used to suss this out?

> I had the extraordinary opportunity to talk to the manager for the role, their manager, and two people who had previously been in the role (Netflix wasn't aware that I knew those people).

He knew people that worked there already.


Ah interesting. Yeah this is definitely the biggest signal. Networking and relationship building is absolutely critical in any job hunt and this is a hugely overlooked insight!


The learning loop is very simple here. Do interviews and look for clues. If you don't see clues join. If you see clues after joining, think about how they look from the outside. Then repeat.

AFter a few rounds (2-3) people usually have enough clues that they won't join a shitty team.

For instance if the team's management is full of parasites who have no technical skills at whatever they are supposed to do, then it will be very unclear from the outside what they are actually doing. If the recruiter can't explain it, it's likely that the team has not much skill.

Another example I faced is getting the same technical task in follow-up interviews (e.g. first phone call with one engineer, then a face-to-face with another engineer, both giving the same task). It shows that the organisation is not well since the engineers didn't know about each other's interview, otherwise engineers usually share their experiences and prepare each other.


If you don't have any inside intel, the next best thing is to ask for "a tour of the office" and take a big sniff of the atmosphere. Trust your instincts.


In all honesty, if you've seen Netflix software quality deteriorate over the last few months you probably know that they are not that excellent anymore. It's always like this. As long as there's real growth, there's real talent at work. But once that stops (and they now own the whole world, where should growth come from) the Machiavellian spirits set in. And the top doesn't really care about it, since the game of staying at the top is different from the game of getting to the top. The game of staying at the top is very Machiavellian in nature.

If it can be seen on the outside already, then that means it's growing on the inside for a few years. And your post shows that it's really like this. Sad.


Most people running companies don't understand that at scale, HR's most important role is eliminating and mitigating perverse incentives.


Someone should compile a list of those kind of management anti-patterns.


But isn't that the role of a manager? Building a team for success?

Sure there are docent ways... And they picked the hmm easy way. Hire and then fire off they don't like what they see.


> Many employees say they see the keeper test as a guise for ordinary workplace politics while some managers say they feel pressure to fire people or risk looking soft. Postmortem emails and meetings explaining why people got fired are viewed by some employees as awkward and theatrical when the audiences can be dozens or even hundreds of people.

So every employee gets to be badmouthed in front of as many as hundreds of former co-workers, as Netflix's special parting gift?

What a treat!

> Richard Siklos, a Netflix spokesman, said the company only fires employees for performance reasons

So Netflix is actively propagating the obvious myth that all terminations are due to poor performance. Not because the nature of the project / technology changed, not because the chemistry between the fired person and key players like his supervisor has unfortunately gone south... No, it is always poor performance.

Good luck getting your next job!

And to help you on your way out, we'll make sure every single one of your former co-worker hears your former supervisor talking trash about you in very blunt terms.

You know, just to make it easier for these same co-workers to provide references to your prospective next employers.

Have we said good luck already...?

(Netflix employees, why do you accept this?)


> So every employee gets to be badmouthed in front of as many as hundreds of former co-workers, as Netflix's special parting gift?

This isn't what happens, as far as I've seen. These e-mails/meetings don't badmouth people or imply that they weren't competent. They give context around specific ways in which the person wasn't meeting expectations (as well as outlining out the ways in which the person was positively contributing). IME it's valuable context and isn't an assault on anyone's dignity (or "trash talking") like you're suggesting.


They largely badmouth people. I have seen very harsh things written after the employee was fired, with the employee having no opportunity to answer. Harsher for ICs than for Director and up – cowardice is always cheap.

You cannot write that that person is not at the level of their peers, that she was not able to communicate with the stakeholders in a company-wide email, with no opportunity for the fired person to comment.

In my book, that is all very unfair. I hope you are not used to that behavior, either actively or passively.


> Netflix employees, why do you accept this?

Money, of course. Plus, people working in tech and making very good money are not known for "spine-straightness".


> Money, of course.

If they are such solid performers, they can get jobs in other FAANGs who pay just as well. Netflix pays well, but does it pay so much better that I should put up with this BS?

I doubt.

In fact, by keeping up this abusive charade, Netflix is guaranteeing that many of the best candidates will never apply. So my guess would be that their employees aren't the best, but perhaps the best candidates willing to accept this BS.


> Netflix pays well, but does it pay so much better that I should put up with this BS?

To the FAANG employee with a PHD who's been "hanging out" making widgets a 1st year programmer could build, the appeal I think is to invite people who want to show off the fire in their belly to do something.

And then they make 1st year programmer widgets, but with LOTS of passion and arguments and being told they can be fired at any moment.


No one at netflix is changing the world.


This is absolutely untrue.

The pay for Senior & Principal level positions at Netflix are $350k-$500k+ base compensation. The same shape of thing at Apple, Facebook, etc. would be about half that in many cases.

Netflix goes out of its way to pay top-of-market and often by a significant margin.


> The pay for Senior & Principal level positions at Netflix are $350k-$500k+ base compensation. The same shape of thing at Apple, Facebook, etc. would be about half that in many cases.

A Principal Engineer at FB would make "half" of $350-500k in compensation?

Pure nonsense.

Moreover, it seems like Netflix pays more cash and less equity, so some folks on this thread love to talk about "base compensation", "salary", etc.

What really matters is total comp, and from what I know, Netflix is about on par with the rest of FAANG.

I don't know much about them directly, but I do know folks who work for FAANGs very close to Los Gatos, and would certainly be inteested in moving if Netflix paid more "by a significant margin".


They definitely pay more at Netflix for equal IC positions and very likely for Director roles. It is very rare to find ICs making 600-700 k total comp at Facebook or Google, not rare at all at Netflix.


Then it makes perfect sense. Not that hard to endure a little wild wild waste ride for $700K per year.


I agree, they sometimes exchange dignity for money.

In fact, it is not-my-wild guess that the probability of stopping a homicide steeply decreases with the amount of money given to look the other way. For some, even their sister's. Go figure for a job in tech.


So if they were nicer would they reduce their employee costs then? They justify their culture with I'm guessing handy-wavy justifications of business success?


The matter is not being nicer for the sake of it, but more not being a bunch of cultish, indoctrinating, out-of-touch-with-the-world, fake-no-nonsense people. I also tend to judge very negatively people who are "nice" or "not nice" depending on the economic benefit they get from their conduct.


Netflix is not on par. They do pay more than the rest can match.


They pay all in cash, other give stock.

Almost same outcome.


I know about them directly, and also about the other companies directly as well.

:shrug: You need better data.


You're claiming total comp at non-Netflix FAANG for senior-principal is $175k-$250k?

Would love to see any specific numbers you have but that just sounds straight up wrong. IME $200k-$250k is around what L4s at Google make in total comp.

Are you sure this isn't a salary vs. equity thing?


There are multiple Netflix employees in this thread, all citing the same $360k total comp figure.

I'm guessing GP is someone who heard base salary data for Netflix vs other FAANGs, and doesn't realize how much of total comp at a non-Netflix FAANG would come from bonus and RSUs.


>The pay for Senior & Principal level positions at Netflix are $350k-$500k+ base compensation.

true according to acquaintances from there. Pure cash.

>The same shape of thing at Apple, Facebook, etc. would be about half that in many cases.

the base at FAANG is about half of NFLX. The RSUs take the total higher than NFLX. Know cases where $100K-$200K higher total comp offer from FAANG (i.e. mostly RSU) wouldn't move the NFLX employee - $500K cash change your view of the world :)


> Know cases where $100K-$200K higher total comp offer from FAANG (i.e. mostly RSU) wouldn't move the NFLX employee - $500K cash change your view of the world :)

That's really silly, but demonstrates Netflix's pay strategy. They don't pay better than other FAANGs - the comments in this thread indicate they pay less than the top FAANGs. But then they use the fact that it's "all cash" to appeal to folks who are misguided about RSUs.


they can get jobs in other FAANGs who pay just as well.

There are no shortage of articles, just on this very site even, indicating that all of the FAANGs have weird, dysfunctional internal cultures. So it would be out of the frying pan into the fire.


It's interesting to me that the discussions in this thread treat performance and ability to work with others as distinct. In a team-based work environment, one's ability to work effectively with others is a critical aspect of performance. If an employee engages in behavior that frustrates, annoys, or confuses others, performance suffers, particularly in any role above entry level, where leadership, communication, and mentoring ability are part of the job description.

On the other hand, I find it very strange that the article describes a sort of 'post-mortem email' that goes out to dozens of people that describes the failings of the (now-departed) employee. That seems like it would cause more problems than it would solve.


> If an employee engages in behavior that frustrates, annoys, or confuses others, performance suffers, particularly in any role above entry level, where leadership, communication, and mentoring ability are part of the job description."

I don't see arguments in the thread that being generally insufferable at work is not a performance problem.

Most of the comments are about the fact that you can easily lose your job for being disliked arbitrarily by exactly one person: your direct superior.

This can happen to people who are good performers and team players.

One obvious example: professional differences, where an employees generally disagrees with his superior's approach. None of them is necessarily wrong, they just have different professional styles.

One less benign example: the manager is incompetent, the employee is a top performer, so the manager is intimidated and tries to push the employee out.


There's a moderately good cure for the subject-to-managers-whim problem.

Have a policy that in any case of performance issues, the person with the bad ratings gets to move to a different area in the company with as clean a slate as possible without being naive. Ideally away from the management chain up to and including the director. Then have HR reevaluate after 3-6 months.

It's only moderately good because it's never (and shouldn't quite be depending on the cause of poor performance) a completely clean slate and because it is very expensive to execute.

I've seen a number of folks who has relationship problems due to their environment be salvaged as perfectly good employees this way. I've seen others who left with the realization that maybe it wasn't JUST the manager after all and hopefully growing from that experience. And of course, I've seen people think it's all a giant conspiracy against them as well.


"It is nothing personal" is usually one of the most blatant lies. It always is, and at the same time it isn't. I try to judge people simply based by the quality of work they produce, despite spending a lot of time with them we are not married. So nothing personal as lond everybody acts as professionals and adults.

That being said, most political office stuff is very much personal, at least for one party involved. And than it gets nasty. And yes, with review processes being incredibly intransparent, without a real chance for the reviewed to defend himself, bad reviews are an easy way to get rid of people.


Because Netflix pays 360k a year plus benefits. It’s a shit place to work if you don’t fit the exact culture though, which is pretty brash and confrontational


You can get similar comp at Google and Facebook, to name just two examples. Why should I choose Netflix if I can get the same pay there, minus the BS?

Also, I won't have to live in Los Gatos.


Huh, immediately then someone will complain Google is evil as it working with Chinese government and FB is evil because it is working Russians who meddled with US elections.

Infact I wouldn't know of many companies who can't be branded evil or full of BS for some or other reason.


Don’t choose them. It sucks I just said that. But working at Google or Facebook is totally different. Netflix has a couple hundred engineers. They aren’t involved in selling ad funded content. I wouldn’t want to work at google or facebook


Netflix had 5,700 employees in 2017, and only a 'couple hundred' of those were engineers?


Yes


I think your stats are off. When I left Netflix in 2015, we already had 1000+ engineers. By 2017 it was probably closer to 2000.


So if 2000 eng, they are paying 300k on avg on the low end. That is like 600 mil/ year???? Omg


180m subscribers x $10 a month = 1.8B per month in income. I think they can deal with it...


Is that total cash compensation (salary + stock + bonuses, or whatever), or just salary? I can never tell with these sorts of statements.


Just cash. Plus another 5% in free options. It’s a ton of money. No bonus, no RSUs or stock, just straight cash salary. And I didn’t write books on the language I used or anything, in my opinion I’m just a regular developer.


Hate to break it to you, but $360k total comp for a senior engineer (the only type Netflix hire) is at best on par with FAANG.


It may be on par, but that's total comp. My understanding is that the 'Flix doesn't do bennies, matching, vesting over time, etc., they just throw straight cash at you.

Reduces their overhead -- no plan administrators, etc. -- and no abstractions or surprise fine print in the 401k matching or classes of stock or whatever.


Netflix has taxable free uber rides for commuting employees, so I would say they definitely have benefits.


Or maybe they have that (dirt cheap) benefit so folks would assume they have great benefits.

How costly and valuable are a few Uber rides per year (that are also justified as a business expense)?

Now compare that to a decent 401k matching program...


It's not dirt cheap, you can take 2 1hr $50 uber X rides a day if you so feel, and I don't think there is a limit? It's actually fairly generous.

Your still paying tax on it although, but it still would cost the company $2000 per month.

A company can also just give you more money without a 401k condition behind that matching program, and you can decide to put the money in. They don't have a large retail staff, so they can also probably do things like the mega backdoor roth too.


Ok. As a senior dev you can make that elsewhere—like Dallas or Austin. And, you don’t have to deal with Silicon Valley COLA.


> (Netflix employees, why do you accept this?)

Let me take a stab at this: money is good.


>> (Netflix employees, why do you accept this?)

> Let me take a stab at this: money is good.

Better than everywhere else, including other FAANGs, where you don't have to tolerate such policies?


If you want cash it is. Netflix salaries are generally $350k+. They only hire seniors, but that can mean 4-5 years of experience. Not even Google pays that kind of comp in salary.


"not even Google pays that kind of comp in salary" -- maybe not a deliberate equovocation, but total comp ("salary" plus stock) at google is definitely at or above that range.


Netflix apologists in this thread love to use words like "salary" and "cash", then compare against the base salary of other FAANGs.

Effectively what they're doing is comparing total comp at Netflix with base salary at other FAANGs, which is very misleading.


I don't know shit about Netflix vs Googles comp but there is a lot to be said for cash: there's no vesting period ; it's dependable, there's no weird dips because an investing firm got spooked; it's liquid, you can spend it at the bar tonight, right now; taxes are straight forward.

That said -- I mean this with all sincerity -- it does my commie heart good to see that absolutely no in this thread is buying Netflix's bullshit.


> there's no vesting period ; it's dependable, there's no weird dips because an investing firm got spooked; it's liquid, you can spend it at the bar tonight, right now; taxes are straight forward.

For the most part, these are all benefits of RSUs at a company like Facebook or Google.

They're totally liquid. They "vest", but in short order.

This isn't startup equity. It's very much real money.


They are "totally liquid" after 6 months which isn't totally liquid. And those 6 months are subject to the stock market so they inherently carry more risk than base (and higher potential rewards).

You seem rather... aggressive with how much you want to downplay the differences and your entire contribution to this thread has been attacking "Netflix apologists" and defending any argument for cash-based salaries. It's fine if you don't like their culture/comp structure, but you sure seem to have an agenda here.


My stock vests monthly and is automatically immediately sold at market price. It's a lot more cash like than you believe.

For a senior engineer, their stock will vest monthly or maybe quarterly. At Google at least, there is no cliff, so you begin vesting your first or second month.


> They are "totally liquid" after 6 months which isn't totally liquid.

That is simply untrue. In FAANGs I'm familiar with, vesting can be monthly, very much like cash compensation.

Your other claims are untrue as well.

I'm very much against presenting misleading information, such as comparing total comp at Netflix to base salary alone at other FAANGs. Especially when this misrepresentation is then used to make the blatantly false claim that Netflix comp is substantially higher than other FAANGs.

The number repeatedly quoted in this thread shows the opposite: Netflix total comp appears to be lower than other FAANGs.

I have no agenda here. My initial response to the article was based on what I read in the article. Holding meetings to explain how terminated employees were under-performing - is very toxic in my opinion, and fertile ground for abuse and misrepresentation. Several Netflix employees in this thread seemed to agree with this assessment.


Yeah at Google you have autosale as well, whenever rsu vested they get sold and cash comes into my account. Slight hassle at tax time, other then that more or less the same as cash.


Stock at most FAANG is liquid though. Google even has an auto-sell program where you basically never even see the stock.

Agree to all the other points though.


First, I'm not a Netflix apologist, second, I explicitly said that if cash is important and third, I never compared it with the base salary of any other company. So what exactly was the point of this post?

You can't compare base salaries, you can compare the benefits of all cash vs stock awards (401k, higher monthly income, no market emphasis on income). That was my entire point, so this diatribe about Netflix apologists has no business in this thread.


I hope you understand that there are people who worked at these companies and received offers and they know what they are talking about.


I pretty explicitly said if cash is your goal (which has an impact outside of just take-home [401k]). And the 350k is at the low end (probably 3-4 years experience). $400k is typical. Google is pretty close at the Senior level to Netflix, but the all-cash comp is valuable to some people.


they pay that in total comp. netflix has no bonuses and such. the salary is your total comp.


If you think that FAANG does not have their own special policies you are sadly mistaken. They don't even need to exist on paper. It could simply be tacitly understood.

Had this not been the case every single company would have been doing perp-walks of the managers engaging in such behavior.

As someone in tech, if you are making over $250k/year you should realize that unless you have a contract ( not as in 1099 but as in someone who has an individual, negotiated, untouchable using regular processes ) and you are not in the top 3 tiers of management, then to the management you are a very expensive line item which needs to be minimized. Google and Facebook are starting to tip over -- there will be stories about their culture popping up next year or two.


> to the management you are a very expensive line item which needs to be minimized.

"Expensive" is relative, though. The top places are growing and in constant need of great new employees. Firing an engineer making $250k just to hire a replacement making the same amount is actually highly expensive and wasteful - firing and recruiting can easily cost as much an annual salary.

Recruiting is really expensive.

> Google and Facebook are starting to tip over -- there will be stories about their culture popping up next year or two.

What do you mean by that?


Stories about Uber's toxicity started popping up when it became unclear that all of those working for it would become multi-millionaires next two years.

Stories of Zenefits ickiness started popping up when it became unclear that those working for it would become multi-millionaries in next few years.

Stories of Netflix culture toxicity started popping up when it became no longer clear that Netflix will continue to eat the world of streaming -- hence continuing to provide massive $$ to those working for it.

People would take more abuse for a higher chance to make a boatload of money. The smaller the boatload or the less are the chances of making it, the less employees are willing to take.

If you are to look at Google and Facebook stories over last 6-12 months you would see more and more questions about how far those two companies can grow. As the growth trajectory slows down more and more stories about the internal ugliness show up because fewer people are willing to take it.


Oh, yeah, I totally agree with that.

People tend to work hard and accept a lot of crap as long as they are making a lot of money, or hoping to.

Once those prospect dim, hell does tend to break loose. People suddenly lose patience with bad policies, with politics, with people they only barely tolerated before, with high levels of stress at work...

The same people who soldiered on like good boyscouts when the money was pouring in, will become fed up and recalcitrant once they run out of financial reasons to take shit from management.


> So every employee gets to be badmouthed in front of as many as hundreds of former co-workers, as Netflix's special parting gift?

Well no. It’s usually very positive about them and generally sad that things couldn’t be made to work.

The point is not that they were bad - the idea is Netflix wouldn’t have hired them if that were so! It’s that it just wasn’t a good fit due to misalignment of goals. Perhaps someone doesn’t want to change or just keeps behaving in a way that they’ve been asked not to.

I’ve read a few departure emails in my time at Netflix and none of them - even the one with the C level exec who is mentioned in the article - were “badmouthing” anyone.

If anything they’re quite positive about the person tbh.


> It’s that it just wasn’t a good fit due to misalignment of goals.

That's not what Netflix's own spokesman say:

> Richard Siklos, a Netflix spokesman, said the company only fires employees for performance reasons

Only "performance reasons", not "misalignment of goals".

> Perhaps someone doesn’t want to change or just keeps behaving in a way that they’ve been asked not to.

Saying someone "just keeps behaving in a way that they’ve been asked not to" is a very negative thing to say. As a hiring managing, hearing that about a candidate would cause me not to hire them.

> It’s usually very positive about them

Something is very distorted if you think saying about someone that he "just keeps behaving in a way that they’ve been asked not to" and similar stuff that make a person unemployable is "very positive about them".

And once more, this contradicts everything else in the article. You can't have your cake and eat it, too: if Netflix is saying (through it's spokesman and multiple other execs in the article) that firing is always due to performance reason, then that's not a "very positive" statement about the person being fired. It's actually a very negative statement.


> Richard Siklos, a Netflix spokesman, said the company only fires employees for performance reasons, not because managers don’t like them

From what I've seen, managers give poor performance reviews or "metrics" when they don't like people. This feels like a distinction without a difference.


I've never seen an employee getting fired "because their manager didn't like them".

I've seen plenty of employees getting fired because their manager, who didn't like them, gave them a bad review.

In fact, across companies and even industries, being disliked by your manager is the single most reliable way to get fired.

Anyone claiming you can be disliked by your superior yet reliably keep your job - is BSing you.

Since this is, essentially, what the spokesman is stating, then I call typical PR BS.


No matter how people perform on any side, It sounds a little draining to work with people you don't like, regardless of the reason of dislike. Some people aren't in control of that so they just suck it up, whereas others get a say over their lives. The question is whether they will find sufficient incentive to prioritize company interests where they differ. One thinks of that when one joins a team with a lead that is a center of social activity outside work, and whether one has the energy to participate. When social dynamics are involved things are always a bit more complicated than the performance which strictly happens at work.

If people don't want this, I think it's up to the organization to do this, as opposed to the vigilant wall of an ethic. Presumably the organization doesn't want little cliques, and should structure their incentives properly.


> It sounds a little draining to work with people you don't like, regardless of the reason of dislike.

Absolutely! Which is why people do get fired all the time if they rub their managers or the rest of the team in the wrong way.

That's why making blanket statements that "all our firings are due to pure performance reasons" is such a blatant lie.

I'd like to see the manager who puts up with someone they just personally dislike, for the most mundane reasons, every single day, for months.

The article states that upper management also encourages managers to fire employees, which makes this decision just a little easier and more likely.


All we need now is for generally disliked to become a protected class.


I'm fine with workers as a whole receiving more explicit protections as a class.


Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that called “right to work”?


Nope, "right to work" just means that you aren't forced to join the union.


As far as I can tell, "right to work" means "you can quit any time for no reason, and we can fire you any time for no reason, and we're going to pretend that this is an equal trade."


That's called "at-will" employment. Right to work is specifically about not having to join a union or pay dues.


OTOH your feelings for your reports correlates highly with the quality of work they're putting out


That assumes most managers are skilled / engaged enough to correctly judge the quality of work put out by the individuals working under them.

My personal experience puts that at about 2/4 as far as previous managers go.


Sometimes the disconnect is that your idea of quality work is different from your manager's. Although at the end of the day, that's your manager's fault anyway (because keeping that alignment is literally the manager's job).


Sure, correlates highly, but not perfectly.

Some people just don't get along. It's a fact of life. Managers are humans, and they detest working every day with people who rub them the wrong way.

Couple that with upper management at Netflix pressuring managers to hit firing quotas, and you can be sure who is chosen to be sacrificed on the altar of that particular metric...


Further, to that point, any manager that dislikes a report is likely going to have a very difficult time getting quality work out of that report regardless of how talented they may be.

Ergo, the report's performance may be suffering, but entirely because they're being poorly managed.


Very true.

A pattern I've seen when relationship between employee and superior goes south is similar to disfavored step-child:

They get less praise for doing well, and more blame for any mistake.

This tends to escalate over time, and very often the employee's performance will degrade (since they won't get any credit anyway) which escalates the situation.

Often they "patch things up" a few times, but if they really aren't compatible, it's just a tenuous forced balance that will eventually break and plunge the relationship to even deeper depths.

Of course in this situation, all performance reviews for the employee are anywhere from slightly to heavily distorted in their disfavor.

This will always result in one of them eventually leaving the team, typically the employee.


It sucks that it’s not commonplace for managers to be accountable to their reports.

Google has kinda structured things in this way, at least as far as I can tell from the outside. Managers can’t decide who is hired or fired and performance reviews are done by committee.

Seems pretty egalitarian but I’m told that even still, politics becomes an issue.


I haven't worked at Google, but from what I've heard, politics becomes an even bigger issue. If you're only worried about your boss (and your boss's boss, presumably), that's like two people to impress. If you're going to get graded by a committee, not only do you have to do good work, you also have to make sure everybody on the committee knows you're doing good work; and you have to fight people on your team to get the opportunities to do visible good works.


This is all true, and usually means the report would do much better in a different management situation. Unfortunately for the report, it's more convenient to reassign (or fire) one report than bring in a new manager (who may have trouble working with all the other reports). Fair? Not traditionally. But in a capitalist sense, yes, it is.


This is so always the case.

Sometimes a business that is not a pure meritocracy may have managers who got the management gig because they’re someone’s relative or from some non-work-related connection. They may be afraid they’ll be exposed for not really being that qualified for their job.

If they have a report that produces really high quality work, they may be intimidated and hold off on the praise to avoid placing attention on the report, and on their own self-perceived inadequacies.

In addition to holding off on praise when it’s warranted they may also even write the report up for trivial things such as being 1 minute late to work. So the net effect for the report is more negative reviews than would otherwise be, and less positive ones than deserved.

Human nature is a hell of a thing.


Not have I seen it, I've been involved in hiring the person for their next role. There's a lot to be suspicious of but I think most people have been in a position where the personal relationship is beyond reconciliation for no other reason except it's difficult to change well formed opinions.


Yes, I think it lacks an understanding of human nature to think that a manager wouldn't give someone bad reviews just because they don't like them. Though, I bet a lot of times managers do this unconsciously, especially as one tends to see more faults with people they don't like.


Let's not overlook someone's effectiveness as an influence on likability.

I hired a grumpy, cynical systems administrator who often spoke his mind at inopportune times, but I'll admit he was head and shoulders above every other candidate in terms of technical ability. And he was diligent.

I liked him. I liked him in spite of his shortcomings.

In general I tend to make large allowances for people of strong technical ability. It's not a conscious thing -- they do good work, and they're effective. Sure, they may be brusque: yesterday one said to me, "No, you're wrong, that's not who it works." He couldn't be bothered to sugarcoat what he was saying. But I like him -- he's good.


Thing is, you might find a brusque personality fun, others might not. The preferences of people are a dice roll, which is why fit is a thing.


>Many employees say they see the keeper test as a guise for ordinary workplace politics while some managers say they feel pressure to fire people or risk looking soft.

I worked for a place like this. Regular firings, sometimes every month. The CEO (who also self-funded the company) believed that regularly letting people go was a way of eliminating bad apples and forcing people to work harder and smarter. Similar to Netflix philosopy, but on a smaller scale.

Firings happened for all the reasons you'd think--politics, cliques, not being a "cultural fit." "Not being a team player" was often code for not trying hard enough to make your lead look good.

It was toxic and led to massive tech debt accumulation, as a succession of engineering managers all made new and different decisions on frameworks and technologies as soon as they were hired. Very little institutional knowledge.

Implicit quotas for regularly letting people go is just an insane way to run a business.

(edit: clarity)


> The CEO ... believed that regularly letting people go was a way of eliminating bad apples and forcing people to work harder and smarter.

Microsoft called it Stack Ranking.


Also known as "Management by Bestseller".

Some CEO of a successful company writes a book claiming his management wisdom led to his company success and then a bunch of CEOs read the book and try to replicate the same success because they don't have any original ideas themselves. In this instance the CEO was GE's Jack Welch and his policy was 'rank and yank'

Similarly, some CEO will write that you must have a mission statement and distill your management philosophy into 3 or 4 words preferably starting with the same alphabet. Next thing every CEO has their own tag lines: 'Agility, Accountabilty, Ambition' or 'Passion, Persistance, Performance' or <insert words from thesarus>. My previous company CEO spent thousands of dollars on polished metal tangram squares with her three words embossed on them given to every-single-employee at the company.


Ah yes, the "Conjoined Triangles of Success" from Silicon Valley is a parody of this.


Action, Urgency, Excellence, Dick Brown of EDS. Every employee got a book full of power point slides.


Sounds like those squares were conjoined triangles.


Presumably it wasn't structured like MS's stack ranking, it was arbitrary. It's a weird feeling to come in regularly and be uncertain if you'd still be employed by the end of week, but not for anything you specifically did.

Now that I think about it, it was a bizarrely nepotistic environment. An engineering manager would hire their friends, many speculated as at least partial insurance against being fired. But once that manager was gone, job security for those people was also gone.

Weird how people put up with madness like that when your field is in high demand.


> when your field is in high demand

Well, when everywhere is pretty much the same...


You mean cronyistic, not nepotistic.


Stack ranking goes back to the 80s at GE under Jack Welch.


Its obviously done Microsoft so much good /s


Rank and Yank


> "Not being a team player" was often code for not trying hard enough to make your lead look good.

Replace often with always. That's coded language that exactly means this. It's really hard to avoid this though.

> massive tech debt accumulation

Do you know any company that doesn't have that? Honestly I've never seen it. I've worked in a 10 people company, I founded a company with a co-student, I worked in a 50 people company, I currently work in a 95,000 people company and there's always huge loads of technical debt. Also I now often work with Google APIs/tools/frameworks as well as AWS. Also loads of technical debt, right there.

> Implicit quotas for regularly letting people go is just an insane way to run a business.

That's for sure. It's great for getting investors though.


If anyone from Netflix is reading this and needs to hire someone for the purposes of firing them a year later, I'm your man. I am no ordinary sacrificial hire.

I will work with you to create the narrative you need to showcase your true, natural leadership and management abilities. You know you've got what it takes; you just haven't had the opportunity to demonstrate it. My job will be to make sure that you come out of it shining, with the enhanced respect of your superiors, subordinates and peers. People will nod sagely when they look at you, clearly seeing your senior management potential. If you need any of your peer competitors to come out of it looking bad, that's part of the service; hey, the very fact that you're using my services makes it clear that you are smarter than them. You deserve this.

I won't name names (confidentiality of course is part of the service), but let me assure you that some of them are already doing this to you. There's no crime in levelling the playing field; making things even again is the right thing to do and the only way to ensure that your natural innate talents can be properly recognised to win you the promotions you deserve.

Obviously this is a premium service; we can work together to make sure that I appear to be worth every penny of the top flight salary you offer; part of the narrative will be how I appeared to be such a great applicant and a perfect hire but it was your leadership skills, your intuition, your deep insights that uncovered this employee's true inadequacies where everyone else had seen an illusion.


Love it - reminds me of the famous letter by Da Vinci outlining his capabilities :-) https://gizmodo.com/5460442/leonardo-da-vincis-resume-explai...


Wow. I can literally feel my neck and shoulders bunching up just _reading_ this. If I wanted to live in a fear-based culture every day, I'd join the armed forces--at least that way I could shoot back.


FWIW, "culture of fear" hasn't been my experience at all, and as far as I know it isn't the experience of the people I work with. I can't speak for other teams/orgs (I work in the ML org) but in the years I've been here I could count on one hand the number of folks (at least among those I knew) who were let go. I don't worry or think about my job security; I think about building better software (and from what I can tell, the same could be said for my colleagues).

The article really sensationalizes the culture deck for dramatic effect, IMHO. It's intimidating at first, but if you're good at your role and treat your colleagues with respect then (at least IME) you have nothing to worry about. The mood is collaborative, not confrontational – and I've never witnessed anyone being treated with anything but dignity and respect. Again, maybe different teams have their own "microclimates" – but that's been my experience.

So yeah, my two cents is that the article sensationalizes things and deliberately leaves context out of other things. I really wanted to keep my distance from this thread, but it makes me really sad to see how successful the WSJ was in getting people to buy in to the picture they set out to paint. I'll say one more thing (at the risk of sounding like a mouthpiece, which I'm not): Netflix has been hands-down the best workplace I've experienced in my career so far.

On the other hand, I've learned that I should view other "culture take-down" articles about tech companies with a degree of skepticism.


A few months ago, a good engineer who had left Netflix told someone I know that the reason was the work culture: specifically, she mentioned that there were team meetings where everyone was encouraged to say what they didn't like about others, in a public setting.

More recently, this person I know brought it up when interviewing at Netflix (not wanting to work in such a culture), and was reassured by the hiring manager that no, such things do not happen, that all feedback/criticism is 1:1 and never in a public setting.

Now, the article says

> At some team dinners and lunches there are rounds of “real-time 360,” executives say, where everyone goes around and gives feedback and criticism about others at the table.

What has your experience been?

It seems likely to me this is actually true (as independently corroborated by both my friend's friend, and this article), and the manager denied it to a potential future employee, which seems not a very nice thing to do.

And surely there's a selection bias at play: anyone who has a problem with such a culture (e.g. someone who doesn't want to be criticized in public as a matter of course, or someone who doesn't want to be fired one day unexpectedly) would leave, so by definition those who remain are those who are fine with such a culture and don't see it as a problem.


Both the manager and the friend-of-friend could be correct – it depends on the team. Some teams encourage (but don't require) a group feedback session where everything is out in the open; others encourage private feedback.

But either way, the goal is the same – not to target you or make you feel inadequate, but for you to discover things that you might not have realized were negatively impacting the team.

Group feedback meetings do exist, but I can't imagine that anyone would be penalized (even in thought) for choosing not to participate.

The way I see it, people will talk about their coworkers at any workplace. At most places it's behind their back; here we have respect enough for one another to give each other constructive feedback directly instead of gossiping. It makes a lot of sense to me, but I guess not everybody feels that way. If your manager doesn't make it clear that group feedback is optional, that would be a great piece of feedback for your manager!

So I think "criticized in public as a matter of course" is a mischaracterization. IME managers go to great lengths to ensure that people are treated respectfully and not made to feel pressured to participate in things they aren't comfortable with. And "fired one day unexpectedly" is certainly not the norm – I'm not aware of anyone who was let go without having been told weeks or months in advance about issues they needed to address. That's not to say it couldn't happen, because it could happen at any workplace. But it's not the norm.

Edit: Should also mention that the feedback cycle also includes positive feedback. It's not just a gripe fest. You identify things that your colleague is doing well/things you appreciate, and also things that they could improve.


My personal experience was that the only time we went around giving feedback was when managers were meeting. It was never individual contributors, except one time when I specifically asked my team to give me feedback, but it was all one way.

However, it was highly encouraged for ICs to give each other feedback in person one-on-one, and for ICs to give managers feedback (both their own and others they had to work with).


she mentioned that there were team meetings where everyone was encouraged to say what they didn't like about others, in a public setting

I have read that the Army Rangers have something like this, they call it the "beef circle". Everyone says a person who has annoyed them, then the two of you wrestle in the centre of the circle, then you shake hands and the matter is considered closed. But that's obv inappropriate for a corporate environment.


Even if the scary culture deck isn't followed, a scary culture deck is an indicator of a bad culture...


I wouldn't say the culture deck isn't followed. Just that it doesn't say what people in this thread seem to think it says. Have you looked at it? I wouldn't call it "scary". There's one section that's a little bit intimidating for a humble person who doesn't think of him/herself as a "rock star". I think that can cause impostor syndrome in many new hires. But it passes (at least for me), and the ability to trust any given colleague to do great work (and for them to trust you to do the same) is extraordinarily refreshing.


Also, I don't think after you get KIA in the armed forces, they hold a special funeral where your commanding officer tells your entire battalion that you were a coward and a poor soldier so justifiably you got shot.


Pretty sure you don't die when you get fired from Netflix. You go work for a different FANG for a lower base salary. Little bit much with that analogy.


I didn't choose this analogy, GP did. That said, I do think it conveys - somewhat hyperbolically - the premise that your own managers and teammates are encouraged - as a matter of policy - to disparage you and your performance once you are forced out of the outfit.


Also, the military has pretty great job security, with the only genuine cutoff happening between E5 and E6.

I worried about a lot of things during my time in, but getting fired was not one of them.


He's not talking about being fired. He's talking about getting killed/injured in action.


There seems to be a deep fundamental contradiction between current corporate culture and this relentless drive for efficiency. [1]

Some get untold wealth even for failing and land perfectly after. The system does not seem to be coherent.

[1] https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/10/26/containing-ceo-pay/


Oddly enough, the military actually does stack rankings with the same predictable results. You just can't get fired right away easily in the military, but a supervisor who doesn't like you can easily make you impossible to promote for the rest of your career.


If it was a fear based culture I would agree with you - I’ve worked in those & left as fast as I could.

Netflix is not even close to that in my experience, nor have I seen any evidence of that in the engineering teams around me.

Of course some teams may be different-and it certainly is different to how many companies operate-but the article seems to be unfairly characterizing the culture based on grumbling from a few disgruntled ex employees.


Sure, they fire for performance reasons by setting up one of those kangaroos courts where your voice is nowhere to be heard. The build-up to the inevitable firing is something akin to an Ionesco play, one absurdity after the other. The higher-up gets some sidekicks onboard, people who would sell their grandmother for a half-chewed piece of chocolate, and the smearing campaign begins.

The apologist has the words ready: they pay you a lot, they are clear about firing liberally, and you get your severance package. What's to complain about? Unfortunately (for the apologist), there are people who still have some dignity and do not like to be on trial with the kangaroo court. It is better to be punched in a leg than in the face, we all agree on that, but some people – a dying breed, apparently – do not like to be punched at all.

The article is a good description of what happens at Netflix, including the creepiness trickling down from the top with the lemonade, although there was never an email from the CEO asking the leaker to expose herself.


Nice to see a mention of Ionesco. Haven't run into him since high school French class..


> When news of the firing leaked to the trade press, Mr. Hastings, irritated at a very un-Netflix breach of trust, fired off an email to his executive staff saying whoever leaked it should report themselves to HR.

Are you a member of Netflix CEO's "executive staff"?

If not, how would you know that such an email was never sent?


I remember reading about this a while ago and I thought that it could work for a while but eventually you will attract and accumulate a bunch of cutthroat sociopaths. How do you even assess performance objectively without smart people gaming the system?


They don't, of course, people game the system. The trick is recognizing that a good fraction of people in tech at a company like Netflix could disappear tomorrow along with their work and the company would not even notice. So it is not that the fire someone and other people protest because they recognize they have lost "talent". Life goes on, paycheck comes and they are all ready to code again.


> Richard Siklos, a Netflix spokesman, said the company only fires employees for performance reasons, not because managers don’t like them

Oh how I wish I could have had that. I've had an experience in the past where I was dismissed because my manager decided he just didn't like me anymore. Although I was the best performing, most senior developer on the team and was doing all the hiring and mentoring of others, it didn't save me.

Within two months I went from having a glowing performance review that recommended me for a management role to being summarily dismissed for "attitude."


I can't help but wonder why just about every company has terrible hiring/HR/management practices.

You would think that someone out there would fix those problems at their companies and reap the rewards: an effective, highly motivated workforce.

The fact that we haven't seen that means either that it's a hard problem to solve, that nobody pays attention to it, or that there is no economic value in working to have "good" practices when it comes to workforce management.

... Or maybe it's good to have your workers living in fear, worrying if they'll be next at the end of your Kafkaesque processes ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Oh, one last thing I remembered: a previous coworker of mine raved about how his company treated workers, but the company was later acquired by a bigger player, and the situation changed. Perhaps companies with good practices get absorbed by the "big bad wolves" that have established themselves in the market.


I think the reason is that HR is similar to IT and QA - if they do their job right, it's like they're doing nothing at all.

My guess is that "Thank God HR was on top of that problem" is not a common phrase in meetings. Neither is "Wow, HR did a fantastic job creating that job posting, and every single candidate that they've brought in has been at least plausible." If they aren't braindead, you just take them for granted.

Systems like that tend to get neglected.


The role of HR is to shield the company from liability.


The role of IT and QA is also to shield the company from all kinds of liability: legal, process, financial, failures, continuity, etc.


only incidentally. whereas it is literally HR’s job.


Come on, be fair. There are tons of administrative tasks that HR takes care of that have nothing to do with liability.


sure. those are the incidental parts of their job.


Deciding on compensation structure, recruiting/hiring, and handling things like leave, benefits etc. Can all, depending on the company, fall under the purview of HR. None are primarily to protect the company from liability.

There are certainly some parts of the job primarily about avoiding liability but, as go said, that's true for many swes too.


compensation structure is decided by the c suite, or can be. if decided by HR it’s just a convenient delegation of research work.

recruiting is a separate function from HR. even in medium sized companies this is is visible in the reporting chain.

the other things are all outsourceable and these days they are except for large companies and older companies with inertia.

the one thing that isn’t outsourceable or trivially reassigned is liability. That is HR’s core competency, if you will.


I can't help but wonder why just about every company has terrible hiring/HR/management practices.

At least with startups, I think money is too cheap and is flowing to underqualified people, managementwise. The VCs see a business person and a tech person, call it a startup and try to eke out a real company. Meanwhile, employees learn the meaning of shit flowing downhill and how culture comes from the top. Anyway, these cheap-money bosses are more often than not predictably bad at org-charting. Just add "flat hierarchy" and 3rd party HR, and 90% of the time it'll be a shitshow that at best elicits a chuckle when you mention how you work. [exaggerated for effect]

Obligatory "sick systems" reference: https://issendai.livejournal.com/572510.html


Software is art, fashion and politics.


There are companies out there quietly doing a great job see this and making money, but not the news. ;)


> just about every company has terrible hiring/HR/management practices

There are certainly companies out there with a lot of problems, and there are a lot of toxic people. But if it seems that every single manager and hiring person that you encounter is an asshole and a jerk, there is an alternative explanation. Just saying.


You would think that someone out there would fix those problems at their companies and reap the rewards: an effective, highly motivated workforce.

The fundamental problem is a misalignment of incentives: what is good for any individual manager - getting a bigger budget and more staff reporting to them - it not necessarily what is good for the organisation as a whole, nor for any other individual within it, or even the shareholders or customers.


I had the exact same experience with a well known startup in SF. I got a glowing "Outstanding" review in the previous quarter. My manager left and the new manager who came in took just 15 days (with a single one on one meeting) to decide she din't like me and fired me without offering much of a reason.


UT Austin was much like that for me. Highest possible ratings from the previous manager, and then the new manager was hired.

Technically, I was caught in the campus-wide 10% across-the-board layoffs, but it's very clear why I was made eligible for that list.

Funny that it happened to be the same month that I was recovering from surgery to remove my cancerous thyroid gland.


Ouch!! That's heartless. Got recruited into a role by a friend who a few months later decided to pack up and go back to his previous company. My gall bladder died and went necrotic nearly killing me. I came back from the hospital to find an email telling me my job had been eliminated.


For what it's worth, I am sorry that happened to you. That's terrible.


I'll never understand US-style at will employment. It just seems so barbaric and arbitrary. Where I'm from the current conservative government just proposed legislation that would make it slightly easier to fire people in small companies (at most dozen employees or so). This caused the left-leaning part of the country to throw a collective hissy-fit, including several political strikes organized by major unions.


Note that tech, and especially the tech examined on Hacker News, is an outlier in American business. If this were Civil Engineer News or Actuary News, you'd see a very different attitude toward hiring and firing.

Startups are quick to hire and fire because hiring exactly the right person is important, and hiring the wrong person can cripple the company. Everyone who applies for a position at a startup knows how this works, and I'd argue that if you aren't okay with this atmosphere, you need to avoid the startup scene and go work for a big company with some decent HR policies.

The bullshit shows up when a startup succeeds, and the company tries to preserve its startup culture because they want to keep growing like a startup. You then get BigCo politics with startup arbitrariness, and that's a recipe for disaster. Similarly, sometimes the Good Idea Fairy whispers in the ear of a high-up executive, and he tries to institute startup attitudes toward hiring and firing at a BigCo. This also goes poorly.


Another characteristic of tech is that it is comprised of very, very many people that effectively have no idea how to accomplish the task they were hired to do.

For example, a civil engineer would need to have a degree in their field and then pass a series of stringent examinations to get an FE and finally a PE. Most will require a PE to practice their trade.

In tech an "engineer" may or may not have a degree and there may be certifications, but very few that I know of have ever provided any value. In my experience, there's also not as strong a correlation between a degree in CS for example and one's ability to produce software.

Lots of folks in tech come out of Enterprise IT where projects usually fail and the modus operandi is to purchase technology from vendors and blame them when it doesn't work out.


Projects do not fail. They get cancelled before they are finished, because they are not meeting expectations. This is just a different form of success, since you identified that the project was failing before you wasted any money on it.

Or something like that anyway.

The other big group of fail that I’d point to is bootcamp developers.


Even then why is such culture legal? Over here you're legally required to let someone know they're under performing and give them a minimal time (I think 6 months in the UK?) to improve before you can fire them.


> Even then why is such culture legal?

In general, Americans see this protection as none of the government's business. If the business wants to provide it, or unions want to demand it, that's fine, but it's not going to be applied as a blanket policy.

Many businesses do apply some sort of lengthy process for firing people, for the simple reason that experienced talent is valuable and removing it capriciously is a terrible idea, but it's not required.

In my experience, however, even these processes are just drawn-out kabuki dances. By the time that you've been formally notified that your performance is deficient, the decision has already been made to fire you and nothing will change their minds.

---

As for whether this attitude is a good idea, I'm mixed. On the one hand, it allows businesses to take a risk and hire inexperienced or otherwise dubious prospects without fear that they'll be stuck paying a useless body for months after it's been found that they're a bad fit. On the other hand, it allows shitty managers to be thundering assholes and capriciously fuck with people's livelihoods.

However, I'd assert that the American attitude toward employment is critical to startups. A BigCo can be indifferent to keeping a shitty employee around for months. A startup has much, much less margin for error.


That is american working culture - it is built upon the myth that if you can't cut it you don't work hard enough or smart enough. If you aren't a millionaire or on your way to become one, its because there's something wrong with you.


The idea that your success proves your goodness (and not just random chance, or a rigged system, etc.) goes farther back than the USA[1].

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protestant_Ethic_and_the_S...


It also means that US employees are able to leave the next day if they want and that company hiring decisions don't have to factor in that it's going to be really really hard to get rid of someone if they don't work out or circumstances change. It allows a lot for flexibility for everyone, with some costs.


Sure, but those costs are borne disproportionately by employees, and of those by people in lower skill positions.


Most UK tech companies have an initial six-month 'probationary' contract. If you're a good fit in that period then that is superceded by a permanent contract.

So both sides benefit, the company has the initial flexibility to hire and fire and after that the employee gains some assurance that he won't be thrown off the premises arbitrarily.


That just reinforces our inexorable march down to the US level.

When I started most UK tech, and companies in all other industries had an initial one month probation. Very occasionally, usually for the most senior roles, it might be two or three. Six months weighs the balance much too heavily on the employer side I think.


You'd think that in any decent company a manager would be held accountable for firings. "They weren't performing, why not? What did you do to assist them? Show us the minutes from your meetings where they outlined why they couldn't meet performance goals and you provided ways to help them"

A manager's role is to support their team, any failure to do so should be looked at very carefully as to why they are under-performing. This behaviour needs to continue up the chain to the very top of the company structure.


The manager's role is to deliver. Managers are given head count to deliver. Managers are assessed on how demanding they are of their direct reports. The general expectation is to ruthlessly cut and replace underperformers.

Only attorneys in labor disputes will be asking to show minutes from meetings.


I don’t think most startups feel they have time to mentor.

I think most big companies would find that much firing accountability at the all levels uncomfortable.


At my previous job the management not liking you layoff was because "you're not being a team player/difficult to work with".

They were never firings because the the company just did massive layoffs every year so you just get rid of the bad apples with the rest of the under-performers when the company downsizes.


You'd think that HR would take one look at your performance reviews over time and call the manager on the carpet.


At Netflix you'd be fired not because your manager didn't like you. You'd be fired because he didn't like your performance. There's a lot of it, alas it's just not the quality we are looking for here...


I recently quit a job that had me burned out, and in the meantime I've decided to take a couple months off before my next job. My biggest fear in going back is that I feel like now that I have 0 tolerance for the corporate culture bullshit that permeates all large organizations. I don't really even fault Netflix for what they're doing (I've certainly seen much worse) but I've determined that to function that pretty much all large organizations have to do this weird theatrical dance that separates them from their humanity, and no one (or sometimes too many people I guess??) are willing to call them out on their bullshit.

Oh well, guess I could always be an Uber driver.


The good/bad thing about going back to corporate is that the initial euphoria of stability and lack of stress offsets the frustration at meetings and politics. As the first declines, your ability to deal with and ignore the second increases. Equilibrium ensues until you next get the startup itch.


Becoming a contractor is always an option.


I guess so, but it’s not like you have to believe in the dance with your heart and soul in order to perform it.

I think this is a “pick your poison” situation. If you freelance you need to kiss clients’ asses, in a smaller org there are politics as well, just expressed differently.


“Be­ing part of Net­flix is like be­ing part of an Olympic team,” the com­pany said in a writ­ten statement

Oh please. Get over yourselves.


Netflix is a fracking online video store for F^%k's sake - not Bell labs


Well, it's not like Olympic athletes are doing anything new and innovative. They are just the best at doing what millions of other people also do. That seems like a decent analogy for Netflix whose basic task isn't groundbreaking, but who has to manage doing it at a scale that rivals anyone else in the industry.


It's not a good analogy because it doesn't require individuals at the top of their field. The only reason Netflix is winning is because they have massive amounts of content and integration into many devices. Both of those are business arrangements and have no requirements for the best engineers in the world. Just competent ones.


That is not completely true, it would be very easy to start a company and acquire such a library and still fail.

It’s also about the quality of the service, the apps and the rest of the experience.


Netflix don't need anyone defending them but they've done some really interesting research into delivering video at very low bitrates.


And athletes are just playing games. So what?

They are trying to make a parallel for the expectations and rigor involved in maintaining peak performance.


> Richard Siklos, a Netflix spokesman, said the company only fires employees for performance reasons, not because managers don’t like them

That's not true at all. The company fires people all the time because their skills just aren't necessary. I mean I guess technically it's a layoff, but a layoff and getting fired are functionally the same at Netflix as they both come with the same severance.

When we moved to AWS, there were plenty of folks who were let go because their expertise was in physical infrastructure and they had no desire to learn about the cloud.

They were stellar performers, their expertise just wasn't needed anymore.

I very much enjoyed working in a culture where both hiring and firing were easy to do, to make sure that the team was always the right people at the right time.


> I very much enjoyed working in a culture where both hiring and firing were easy to do, to make sure that the team was always the right people at the right time.

I think you'll agree that your perspective may be something of an outlier, given that you 1.) are not the person who's going to be fired, 2.) are the person who is most empowered by a policy of ease of hiring and firing those under you, and 3.) don't need to work.

I don't like working in a culture where being fired is a thing anyone in my management chain might decide to do to me easily and suddenly for any reason at any time, and I don't think I'm unique in that.


It occurs to me that I like that sort of work environment as well, as an employee.

One of the reasons I always insist on working as a contractor is so that the company can end things whenever they want. Importantly, though, the risk of that happening is reflected in my rate.

Since from my perspective the risk of being let go as a 1099 vs. as a 1040 is roughly equal, and the compensation is roughly double, it seems like an easy trade-off.

And a fella can buy an awful lot of health insurance for 100% of his salary...


> to make sure that the team was always the right people at the right time.

That is what contractors are for.

Full-time employees are hired because they know/learn the business, get things done, and adapt to changing circumstances. You want them around to help you get through changes. If you are hiring full-time employees to fit a narrow niche need that will change in the future, with the intent of "easy" hiring and firing, you are just setting yourself up to have a bad reputation as an employer.


That seems like a no win. You hire employees and your mean for firing them when you don't need their skillset. You hire contractors and you look like you are stingy and don't want to pay as many benefits.


> but a layoff and getting fired are functionally the same at Netflix as they both come with the same severance.

I actually think that's a really great policy. I've seen layoffs done under the guise of "underperformance" (i.e. with no severance) and it's really shitty. Giving everyone severance is a just fairer way to say "the business has fundamentally changed".


That's really a third category and happens all the time when companies shift strategies or just evolve product lines over time. Sometimes there's a transition path to a new role but, even (or especially) if you're the world expert in X and there's no need for an expert in X any longer, there just isn't a place for you (especially at a salary commensurate with world expert status) any longer.

It doesn't need to be about not being willing to learn new things. It can be about having expertise and there still being a market for continuing to develop that expertise elsewhere.


I find it hard to believe that you "let go" of people with physical infrastructure expertise after you "moved to AWS." Netflix has a massive physical hardware project with Open Connect and runs one of the largest bandwidth networks in the world. The fact that everything suddenly collapsed under one individual probably had something to do with it. I don't mind said individual, but a lot of people don't like him. He's been known to do and say some pretty petty things.


Open connect didn't start until years after the move to AWS happened. All that bandwidth was served out of Akamai at the time.


And lots of people stayed through working on Open Connect while still using Akamai. It didn't happen overnight.


" and they had no desire to learn about the cloud."

Is that true? I have seen it quite a bit that people in similar situations were never asked if they would like to switch.


I don't think it works like that... The company doesn't ask you if you'd like to switch to the cloud, and then you give a yes/no answer.

In my experience, what happens is there is a technology shift -- the company leadership decides they want to use the cloud (or use containers, or start moving their codebase to ${LANG}, etc.) and there is a group of employees that will lead this effort by learning and working with the new technologies, and there is another group that will actively oppose taking responsibility to learn about the new technology, and may actively work to sabotage or slow down the process.


" and there is a group of employees that will lead this effort by learning and working with the new technologies, and there is another group that will actively oppose taking responsibility to learn about the new technology, and may actively work to sabotage or slow down the process. "

And I have seen groups that would like learn the new tech but never get involved by management.


True, I think it depends on the culture where the drivers of change come from, but in my experience that matters less than the fact that there is a change at all.


What is stopping a group from learning a new tech, regardless of whether change is organic or imposed by management? Or are you saying you have seen people get replaced with zero warning that new technology was being introduced? That's definitely not been my experience.


This was mainly in large companies where departments are quite large and the regular workers don't really see what's going on. I have seen people in one department being told to keep working on their current stuff while new people were hired for the new tech. Once the new people were up to speed the old department was laid off. There was no effort to get current employees involved.


The entire department? No one saw the writing on the wall and studied up on the new tech to stay relevant?


When do you suggest that they find time to 'study up'? Most corporate environments in which I have worked have an assignment:time ratio greater than 1:1. Often there wasn't an opportunity to take the legal statutory lunch break nevermind study.


Consider our industries project failure rate. I've been on projects where it was the new team on the new tech stack that's let go and the guys maintaining the 20 year old system get a huge boost to their negotiating power.


another group that will actively oppose taking responsibility to learn about the new technology, and may actively work to sabotage or slow down the process

Another perspective is that that group of employees was doing the unglamorous work of maintaining the legacy systems that kept the lights on and paid the bills while the lucky few got to play with new toys, and they were rewarded for their diligence with getting shafted. Been there, done that, lessons learned.


That would interfere with onboarding more H1-Bs. Look, we can't find anyone to do these jobs...


> "I mean I guess technically it's a layoff, but a layoff and getting fired are functionally the same at Netflix as they both come with the same severance."

hmm, but unemployment is a concern too, and you wouldn't get that if fired?


Honestly, that sounds utterly horrifying.

I'd much rather work at a company that practices Japanese-style lifetime employment.


Err no they are not, being fired is not the same as redundancy.




First time seeing Outline. How in the heck is that legal/welcome in Chrome Web Store?

Hm, are you just violating their TOS and they're putting the onus on WSJ to ask them to take down your link:

https://outline.com/dmca.html


I didn't use the Chrome Web Store (or Chrome), I used outline.com

I learned of its existence through other users pasting similar links with articles that involve paywalls.

Previous instances of posting outline links to get around client-side only paywalls have not been fussed at, so I interpreted that to mean acceptance of the practice.

Someone educate me?


The HN FAQ says that workarounds for paywalls are OK:

Are paywalls ok?

It's ok to post stories from sites with paywalls that have workarounds.

In comments, it's ok to ask how to read an article and to help other users do so. But please don't post complaints about paywalls. Those are off topic.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html

Obviously, outline.com wouldn't work unless WSJ explicitly allows them to bypass its paywall. (I have no idea why WSJ does this.) If it's OK with WSJ, I don't see why people should have ethical problems with it.


Yes, it is on the copyright owner to take it down.

I use it often on news websites as it allows you to by-pass most soft paywalls.


Not to rationalize the environment there but I feel like Netflix is pretty transparent about being a difficult place to work and compensates for the potential stress with above average pay. I feel like most people who can get hired there are well aware of the work environment they will be entering.


The pay is extreme - top of market, but I think more than people realize (even people in silicon valley).

I've heard 400k cash is not that uncommon.


It is very common. Senior Software Engineers are commonly at 400+ up to 7-800. Director level for Software, Data Eng, Data Science are very rarely under 600+. VP in the same areas rarely (never?) under 800+.


That looks very high for senior devs and very low for directors/VPs.


It's not that high for Seniors. $400k is pretty standard for a Senior at most FANG companies. With Netflix you get it all in cash and that's the major selling point.


Low for directors, yes. But the senior engineer figures are in line with what I have heard. The initial offer is never that high though.


The initial offers are often higher than 400 for Senior Software Eng, Senior Data Scientists, Senior Machine Learning Research Scientists and Engineers. 600 is actually pretty common for experienced people. On paper, there are no Juniors (there are associates in Marketing and Business and I think other teams). They pay top of the market according to their Excel sheets.

Netflix does not have "tech lead" or "Principal" roles for the Software or Science teams. It is Senior, then you have Managers (who can be paid less than Seniors), Directors (no senior Directors), VP (no Senior VPs), and C-suite (with comp that is publicly available).


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