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How to Keep Your Job as Your Company Grows (steveblank.com)
584 points by Raj7k 28 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 205 comments



While working at a company, be loyal to your local team (other people just trying to do good work) and yourself (e.g. build new skills you can use). And really, those are variations of the same thing because co-workers that value you can help you get what you want or even your next job.

Blind loyalty to a company means nothing though. First, managers change: any promise, especially a long-term one, is one manager-change away from becoming vapor. Projects are cancelled or relocated or reprioritized. Layoffs occur at times convenient for the company so don’t be surprised when you’re unable to count on stock vesting. Perks go away. Ultimately, treat most company-level things as “sounds nice” and never count on them. For example, I would never buy a house based on stock I should get or a bonus that was promised.


First, managers change: any promise, especially a long-term one, is one manager-change away from becoming vapor

Sometimes, you don't even need a manager-change for your job to be in danger. I know a guy who had a manager who was pretty cool and a good mentor to him. And then one day, something happened to the manager and he stopped mentoring him. No, he stopped interacting with him. Frequent lunching together came to a screeching halt. Eventually he was left out loops, projects and eventually out of job.

He still doesn't know if the cause was one of these:

1. manager broke up with girlfriend (which did happen) and started not caring

2. my friend said something about politics that offended him?

3. the manager saw 1 mistake by my friend, and just decided he didn't want to waste his time on him.


4. The Manager spent too much time investing in your friend but eventually realized that actually it was not your friend but the manager himself who was delivering results and realized that it was not going to change


5. Friend caused the breakup of his manager with his girlfriend.


6. Manager of manager asked him to change the relationship.


7. reddit ?


A consulting company I worked for fired a sales guy who basically built it with the two co-owners. He basically found all the clients to place developers with and found / interviewed a bunch of devs. Then the company grew and they hired a fancy Ivy League / Wallstreet experience guy in his place.

They gave the original guy zero warning. Kind of messed up.


The conversations I've heard on this topic seem to agree that they pull the lever quickly on sales people because they don't want the guy copying all of his contacts and trying to poach customers/sabotage the company.

But I can't see how that would work because only the really bad salespeople don't already know to have their own contact list. Once you've seen it happen to someone else or heck watched certain movies, you should know better.


This happens all the time. In a past company I worked at, I had test email accounts in the CRM, and those fake-contact email accounts would receive blast messages from reps who were now working at competing companies.

I always reported it, but damn, at least have the foresight to scrub your list of stolen accounts for contacts that have the last name "TEST". Pretty obvious where you got the list from if you don't.


I worked at a firm in the UK where this happened. Due to the UK having fairly strong data protection laws, the salesman ended up being arrested and charged.


Hmmm... yet somehow a sales person/consultant of any worth is hired on the strength of their book...


> strength of their book

Exactly, their book, the contacts they personally have. Not an arbitrary dump of a previous employer’s contact database, but the folks they had relationships with.


Also if your company's only assets are some sales leads, you're already not doing great.


If you don't have them, you're almost certainly not doing great


This anecdote further exacerbates the problem with the original article.

The lessons learned should not be: "CEOs need to do this, this, and that" and neither should it be "For employees, how you handle change will affect the trajectory of your career and possibly your net worth"

CEOs don't _need_ to do anything. They don't owe you anything. They can run the company into the ground for all we care, what matters is whether you have the power or not.

What it should be is this: "If you do not have power, you need to plan for the case when you will get screwed".

He who fails to plan, plans to fail.

Power is the degree to which a person has control over their own circumstances. Power is the degree to which we control the directions of our lives.


I've seen very similar situations. My theory is it's because we have glorified assholes like steve jobs and every executive thinks they are the next jobs.

There are no negative consequences for screwing over employees.


I'm not so sure.

Probably depends on multiple factors such as size of local economy, how many similar employers are in an area, how big the potential hiring pool is, but word gets around. One consequence is you can struggle to hire, at least for a while.

Very much an intangible though.


The word has been out that Amazon is a potentially very bad place to work (depending on team) for many years now. While I'm sure they can no longer hire some people due to their reputation it has not stopped droves of engineers desperate to get in there.

A former employer of mine that is nowhere near Amazon success level has tons of horrible glass door reviews calling out the senior managers yet still people join.


As well, there are no negative consequences for an employee screwing over their company, so the balance of power remains.


Not sure whether legally binding but many of the contracts I've been given as an employee has included at least some paragraph about damages in case my actions as employee hurts the company (e.g. disclosing trade secrets, poaching employees, etc).


Not sure if this is sarcasm or not.


Yeah they can get fired.


That is kinda messed up, though I’d want to know more about his exit terms.


If he was a cofounder and board member I wonder how "zero warning" is even possible.


> They gave the original guy zero warning. Kind of messed up.

The capitalism horror stories I read every day on this website are astonishing and depressing.


Do you think people/organisations couldawouldashoulda operate any better under any other paradigm?


To the author:

This does not add up. After they fired you and then had you fight to get your job back, you said they hired a "coach" to help you learn new skills. But at the end of this training, the coach reported to your boss that you "had a long way to go." It certainly does not seem like the coach was hired to help you out. It seems like it was just a backhanded way to get an assessment on you while you had your guard down.

To me, it seems like this company was just taking advantage of you and your youthful enthusiasm until they had no more use for you. By blaming yourself, I feel like you are drawing all the wrong lessons from this experience.


The new CEO didn't fire him, he basically gave him notice that they were hiring a new VP of marketing, and that he could be in the running, maybe with the help of a coach. Then after he didn't get the job, he quit.

It was a foreseeable sequence of events, from the point of view of the CEO, but he wasn't fired.


Yep


Yes, sounds like a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) which usually means they want you out but need documentation of you not meeting an arbitary KPI.

HR is never your friend.


When you are called into HR to undergo PIP (Performance Improvement Plan), you should just nod as they tell you about how they will help you improve and grow.

But the moment you walk out that door, start resuming, calling old contacts, and do anything to get a new job.

PIP is literally just a formality HR goes through to let you go eventually, and is just an axx covering move by the HR/company. When you are called into PIP, just consider yourself as let go.

edit: And I would NOT feel any gratitude for the company that they are somehow paying your salary even though you are pretty much an ex-employee. They are simply doing PIP only to cover their bottom.

edit 2: I don't know when this trend started, but HR transformed

BEFORE

It kept list of employees, made sure pay checks were handed out, had new hires fill out forms, handle lay off.

NOW

It sends emails about good sounding fun activities, request for filling out surveys, etc.

What really bugs me is, all the surveys (we want to hear from you so we can do better for you as a company), activities is just a smoke screen to not pay employees more.

Do you know how to make an employee feel happier? Pay more money. You know, the same thing CEO/major-shareholders/owners also like to get more of.


The sad truth is we as developers have enabled management to do away with even the formality of a PIP.

Monthly personal goals, sprints, burndown charts. Management has you agreeing to meet specific targets and performance goals. I can only see it getting worse in businesses that are happy to churn staff.

The surveys are insidious and just a way to gauge if there are people to hunt out and get rid of. Never answer one truthfully - tick the boxes and move on unless you have your exit already planned.

And we need more people to say just give me more pay - too much talk of work/life balance and employee perks. Where's the value of employee perks to my wife and kids? They'd rather more money to do things as a family.


Agree on PIP, but HR is often your friend actually, it's just a pretty broad field that tends to be behind the scenes. A significant amount of HR is aimed at making a company great to work at - pay, benefits, culture, recognition, career growth, learning & development, etc


> HR is often your friend actually

This is a dangerous POV and is very wrong. A “person in HR” might be your friend “right now”, but HR is never your friend. HR is there to protect the company. All those things listed later in your post are there to protect the company. It might seem like a nuance, but it’s a very important nuance that if you stepped back (like the person in the source article did about a different situation) and thought about, you’d understand.


I'm not going to try to change your mind, was simply raising the point that it isn't as black and white as "HR is never your friend". I'm aware there are large swaths of companies where HR is simply there to protect the company, and certainly not your friend.

For what it's worth, being a cofounder of an HR tech startup I work closely with and know a lot of HR professionals, my fiance has an HR background, and our academic advisors we work with are doing some great research in the field. Many companies just don't partake in the newer emerging strategic HR practices yet and continue the stigma.


You won’t convince me, so agree it’s a waste of your time. No matter how you try to spin it (“newer emerging strategic HR practices”), it’s fundamentally a fact that HR departments aren’t your friend. They can be very “friendly”, some can even try their best to look out for your interests, but ultimately the company’s interests will prevail otherwise the company won’t stay in business. As someone in HR, you should fully understand the legal minefield out there and why it’s so important for employees to keep a healthy separation.


I'm reading Developer Hegemony - it's quite interesting. The guy states HR is not there for you - it's (ultimately) there for the financial benefit of the company (makes sense). The employee benefits are baubles in lieu of cold, hard cash (with which you could choose to buy your own baubles, presumably).


Only as much as cost/benefit of all this helps the company. HR is not a union. It literally has "resources" in the name, said resource being you. Resources get written off, used up, sold and discarded as a matter of business practice.


As others have written - HR is there to protect company from employees. I've been working in one company where HR people were actually nice, helpful and engaged in various activities and improvement, but those are rare (and I've been lucky).

Standard corporation has lazy, useless HR department that is there to hire you (with minimal effort on their side), fire you, and stuff mentioned above.


I agree completely with charmides.

I'm founder and CEO of a company with over a hundred thirty employees now and I have a strict policy not to hire anyone as a team lead or manager or executive from the outside. I always promote within and always reward people who've been committed. If no one is ready to be a team lead or manager, I have the team operate with that one until I spot someone who is ready.

I would highly recommend to everyone out there to never work for a hired gun CEO. Companies that are run by their founders are far more likely to succeed.


This is too broad and general of a statement to make. Depending on the size of the organization, the work you're trying to do, the pipeline and network of employees you've worked with at other places, bringing in a leader from outside not only could be important for growing the company in a new direction but also provide an outside and objective perspective on a team that isn't performing. I have seen managers promoted from within with negative results and brought in from outside with great success. Don't remove a tool from your toolbelt as a leader unnecessarily.


If no one is ready to be a team lead or manager, I have the team operate with that one until I spot someone who is ready.

I've never been a ceo or a vp or team lead (probably never will be), but to me, it seems if an organization has no one inside being groomed to be the next team lead, manager, vp, I feel the ceo has failed at his job.


seems like it would beneficial to occasionally bring in fresh blood from different companies because they might bring ideas and strategies you hadn't thought of yourself


I’d caution against jumping to conclusions. The author did say that he was emotionally shut down and wasn’t intaking any of the coaching sessions. It’s very possible that the CEO/Coach knew that it wasn’t going to work out, but it’s also very possible that they wanted to see the author succeed and prove them wrong.


There's another question to ask: Do you actually want to keep your job as your company grows?

This is not to imply "yes" or "no"; it's a very personal answer. At the companies I've been in, there are some who thrived moving into new roles as the company grew, and there were others that would have been happier and more successful taking their skills to the next startup.


The fundamental principle-agent issue here, is that startup-y people, who thrive on small teams getting stuff done, are essential for getting a startup up the ground; however it is exactly the point where startups hold the least cash to compensate with.

This generally leads to stock-option based compensation; which, in turn, expires 30 days after employee leaves.

This economics -as practiced presently- strongly implies for savvy startupy people to work only on startups of their own; which in turn makes early hiring extremely difficult.

There are 2 points of equilibrium here:

* The current one is people leading less savvy people on. This leads to a lot of resentment; see rest of HN for that.

* a much less wrong solution would be to have secondary markets set up significantly earlier in the game (post series a); which would make stock & options immediate liquid. Despite sales difficulties(for finding counter parties for that), this can be a huge advantage during hiring, as employees don’t have to take on lottery tickets; and allow early employees to resign with much less resentment.


Can you elaborate more on how this "secondary market" would work?


Easiest would be to offer employees a small % of liquidity during a fundraising round. Not sure why this is not done more frequently.


Because anything of value is kept tight for investors and for the possibility of more investors? Early startups don't have much else to offer, which is not to say the way startups is done is morally commendable.


Secfi.com trying to solve this in some regard (not quite)


My thoughts exactly.

I've mostly worked in small companies with tiny engineering teams but I've had a go at some larger companies as well. Personally I thrive in the small companies and wither in the large ones. In the small companies I tend to spend a large part of my day writing code (which I love), meetings are rare and typically to the point. In the big companies I've found it hard to find stuff to do and the meetings are many and repetitive. It seems to me that the bigger companies hire for redundancy. In the largest company I worked for (~3k ppl) I typically received >100 emails/day + dozens of slack channels. In my current job we're 8 ppl and I rarely get more than 1 email/week :)!


I've given this thought before, and generally I think the answer is, "yes".

There's something to be said about riding the growth wave in a company or industry that is on the up-and-up, and it usually involves more career opportunities, fatter project budgets, and just a general sense of optimism from everyone else you work with. Of course there are exceptions/outliers, but in general, "yes".

The inverse of this is, "Do you want to be working at a company that is shrinking?" and I think the answer is generally, "no".


At least a company ostensibly shrinking won't be shrouded in hypetrain fumes. Maybe it's actually a great idea for those with the know-how to navigate it, jumping around stabilizing wounds, maybe you can become an hero.


What a fantastic read. As a CEO who has grown my company from 6 to almost 100, this is one of the hardest discussions to have with someone. It's not that they did anything wrong, they're just no "right" for the position in its current state.

He suggests that it's impossible to retain employees through such changes. I haven't found this to be the case. One technique I've used is to keep the company title-light, so that changes in title aren't as stark. I've also had a few people who have gone from IC->manager->IC, which shows the company that I value people no matter what their role is. Retaining people after hiring above them requires a lot of careful, honest conversations not just with the affected employee, but with messaging to the broader team.


I'd love to know how you approach the messaging to the broader team about hiring above someone (perhaps if they've always been an IC, or if they tried management and weren't performing). In my view it seems quite difficult to maintain face in such a scenario, and it's not obvious how one can alleviate that.


Great post. The author is polite enough to avoid drawing attention to a mistake of the CEO, but I thought it was worth mentioning. (Assuming the boss already knew the lessons learned.)

Believe the CEO would likely have received a much better response had phrased the same idea as:

- Great job!

- Business is changing, we need to take it to next level.

- Let's improve our Plans, Vision, Strategy

- I've got a coach on retainer to help get us there.

Then Plan B, where early employee can't make the transition and is replaced, can be left unsaid. If it happens the employee will be a lot less surprised, and have a greater chance for retention.


Well, you have to have seen it from the point of view of the CEO. Playing devil's advocate, what would you do if you jumped onboard, and the first thing you saw was that all your clients were interacting only with your VP of marketing/Sales on a personal basis? ...well, granted, if it was that exactly he would still be employed to this day :D but you get the picture, maybe it was bad enough that what the CEO did was already above and beyond.


I don't think there is any real way to plan that. Keeping your ear to the wall, schmoozing can help, if that's your forte. But it's a lot of work. I've seen people who seemed irreplaceable get chucked out because of dirty politics and the team suffer because, the person in question was a fantastic worker, not merely someone who had tribal knowledge. I am not loyal to a company, am loyal to an ethical code that says that I try to do by best, but not at the cost of my health or time. No matter what, don't stop learning, if your job allows you to, then great, otherwise just find time in your schedule to do it. Eventually, you are the master of your destiny.


You definitely have to be aware which way the wind is blowing when re-orgs are happening. The closer the re-org is to you, the more you should pay attention.

I was recently in one of these situations where I came out on top and was able to assist my department head in a favor to a friend. None of what happened was ever made explicit but the summary of the subtext (in hindsight) was: "We're pushing out so-and-so and you're up for a promotion, ostensibly to his role. However, I have a friend whose contract is ending soon and needs a new job. Would be you interested in this other role that's a promotion but also allows me to make a future org change I see as necessary?" All the players and pieces were mentioned. I had to infer the game plan.

I took the alternate role and the rest played out. It was definitely a learning experience, and as you advance in your career these types of soft skills matter just as much as any hard skill.


disclosure: i dont work in software, im an engine mechanic whos learning python.

ive worked for small shops from the ground up, starting with mostly off the shelf hand tools and paper records, and moving into automated and well run repair businesses. The key i think is to find a company that realizes when they are squandering your potential and takes action before you're gone.

I went from brakes to suspension in 3 months and from there with consistent demonstration of talent, became the shop lead, then master mechanic, after 4 years. Im not so much a guy who twists oil filters anymore, but I'll still walk the floor and see whos doing what. I'll check our ticket queue to see what hasnt moved, or if parts in the crib need stocking. In my line of work we call it 'old timers.' guys who know and have the experience to guide, but dont necessarily care to leave the comfort of a comfy chair very often. Not a manager, but the first line of defense against having to talk to one.

I go out to fleets and take part in bids for maintenance jobs, not because Im a good mechanic, but because I know which mechanics I work with that are good for certain things. Im also known for bringing in a bucket or two of fried chicken for lunch on the weekends. I still have a workbench in the repair area, but my coworkers mostly leave weird parts I might enjoy or tricky problems to solve that nobody else has figured out.


The way you describe your work sounds a lot like the physical world equivalent of engineering management.


> disclosure: i dont work in software, im an engine mechanic whos learning python

You don't work in software. Yet.

Good luck with learning! Find fun problems to work on, like making games or programming your lights. Perhaps scraping web pages for content and emailing you. Automate some small things. If you keep having fun, you'll stay motivated.

The more you build, the better you'll get. It just happens naturally. You'll think, "I could have done this better by doing X instead", or, "I could have organized this more efficiently".

Before you know it you'll be ready to make a career jump (if you want to). A lot of people in our industry never went to university and studied on their own.

A few recommendations:

Learn lists (aka vectors, arrays) and dicts (aka hashmaps, maps, etc.) These are the core data structures in scripting languages like Python. Knowing how to use them effectively with looping constructs is key to becoming a good programmer.

Next learn how to organize your code. Functions, classes, and files where appropriate. You'll learn this naturally as you continue to build things. You'll also learn by reading other code.

Use libraries to accomplish work that other people have conveniently made easy and packaged for reuse. Image processing, HTML scraping, game engines, website frameworks, etc.

When you graduate this and want to become more "academic", you'll want to look into two areas especially :

- data structures, which are things like arrays, linked lists, hashsets, etc.

- algorithm analysis, which will teach you how to write efficient code (big-O notation and analysis, etc.)

You don't necessarily need these, but they're a huge leg up. Mastering them can get you into FAANG.

If you like web stuff and servers, look at distributed computing. Also look at principles of operating systems to understand how threading, virtual memory, etc. etc. work.

Hopefully this helps. It's not stuff you need to jump on right away, but it can be a roadmap for the next few years.

Best of luck! Hope you enjoy everything you're doing and never feel discouraged. There are always people out there that are better than you, and it doesn't mean you aren't good yourself. Don't doubt what you're doing.

You got this.


It was nice of you to put all of this effort into writing up this post, but what gave you the idea that GP wanted to do software full time for a living when they've got a great job already? Seems like they have autonomy, efficacy, respect from their co-workers, and enough money to share lunch.

seems like a good gig, imo.


That's what I was thinking! Enjoy being up and walking around. Being chained to a desk is not always a dream job by any stretch of the imagination. There are very direct mental and physical health ramifications impacts that can only be partially mitigated.


Also, I might argue if you have talent with programming, and already a mechanic, the better trajectory might be specializing in automotive electronics repair. I keep hearing about the parts costs to replace electronics in cars, and that's only going to get more and more expensive, and often a bench repair might be replacing a blown capacitor (after drilling through the epoxy). If you can get good at troubleshooting electronic problems with cars, and can save people from having to buy entire new replacement boards, you can capture some of that savings.


Money. When he realizes how much more he could be making doing software, he'll switch.


I’m not who you replied to but I really needed this.

I’m working on getting out of being a headhunter (a decent, honest, technically minded one who actually listens, but still with all the bad actors it’s hard to have prod in my career) into software development. I’ve always been fascinated with computers ever since programming my BBC micro first in basic then assembly.

Family reasons meant i needed a short term job (12 years ago!) so I put off learning and dropped out of university.

I’m able to spend the evenings and weekends learning now -I’m fascinated by iOS development, Swift and learning all the apis.

Motivation hasn’t been too hard to find but seeing light at the end of the tunnel has and this post resonated with me because I understood a lot of it and thought that I have come a little way after all.

Thanks for taking the time to write this.


If you ever need a friendly ear or a sounding board, feel free to send me an email.


> im an engine mechanic whos learning python.

Automate the Boring Stuff with Python is a fancy course if you're interesting in something fun.


Mechanic turned dev here. Writing Software is similar to working on cars. Youll do well as long as you keep your detective skills honed. Email me if you ever need any help. I do python as well.


More folks should give additional thought to what STAGE of company they want to specialize in. It is totally ok to want to be a great early stage engineer/salesperson/marketer where the ability to make decisions and move forward when the environment is vague/uncertain is HIGHLY valued. In my experience (leading teams at both early stage and 1000+ employee companies) most of the folks that thrive in the early “Wild West” stage start to wither when things get more formulaic as the business matures.


I've thought a lot about this and I agree. I find a certain social environment at work and a certain structure to be what I enjoy, so I figure I will always try to get myself into situations where I have a lot of responsibility, lots of latitude to learn new things, and a wide variety of roles. I wouldn't be happy in some jobs that limit that, but there are lot of people who wouldn't be happy in my job. I had a roommate in college that saw very little allure to entrepreneurship or risk, but was an excellent electrical engineer and wanted to have a corporate job forever.


Yeah, it took me a long time to realize that my sweet spot is organizations between 100 and 1000 people. Any bigger than that and I don’t have the patience or attention to detail to deal with the bureaucracy / politics; any smaller and I grow frustrated with the lack of resources.

Honestly, a good corporate manager does a whole lot of process and very little thinking. Great for those who can handle it, but I can’t.


The basic problem is that what he was doing for the first 12 months was right. Doing what a big company executive would have done would have been wrong.

When the new CEO comes in and wants things done immediately in the big company way, it's going to feel like the new guy is saying he was doing everything wrong. Further, the actions he was taking will be perceived by others in the company and by new management as his identity rather than as a rational response to the circumstances of the early company.

A smart and observant person in such a role might come around over time naturally. He or she would notice that what worked early on isn't working as well any longer and would adapt. That may even be better for the company than going overnight from "small company mode" to "big company mode".

Or the person may not come around. Either way, it's likely change will not be perceived as fast enough. Difficult problem for all parties.


>He or she would notice that what worked early on isn't working as well any longer and would adapt.

I've seen a few execs not be able to do this, so I don't really blame the CEO in this situation. They did fine and dandy as the product started out but were flailing in the wind once we got big enough.


I saw more companies collapse at that stage because they decided that they are now a new kind of company that needs to scale than I saw companies that collapsed because they did not scale fast enough.


Ive been thinking that a properly constructed company-wide and long-term profit sharing scheme is the best way to combat this.

Early employees take onboard the most risk with a venture and even if they don't want to be or are not able to be VP of X when the company sales they should still maintain the material (and psychological) benefits. I bet people would have less of a problem being demoted if they knew their eventual payday would be larger than their new boss.

It's possible to construct a profit sharing scheme where x% of future profits is dedicated to a pool of employees and weighted more according to risk than seniority. And to offset the negative aspects (investor wise) of this with buyout clauses based on some fair metrics.


It's a nice idea, but I don't see how you can objectively measure the risk or value of individuals like that. For example, if a company spends 5 years treading water/pivoting before it takes off, how do determine how much of future profits an employee who joined and left in year 1 should get?

I agree that the current system is far from ideal (just read through the Ask HN post asking early employees how much they made from their startup's exit).


You can use vesting schedules to deal with the time component. Any measure of value is going to be difficult (it is under any scheme) but risk taken is a little easier. If I look at the companies I have been involved in there are very distinct phases during growth in terms of salary, prospects and job security.


There is a pattern and it has nothing to do with how hard the author worked or the CEO.

> No one knew what I was doing, and I couldn’t explain why I was doing it when asked.

> I had shut down. Even as we were meeting, I was obsessively thinking about the change

> I literally paid zero attention. In my righteous anger I was unreachable.

The common thread is communication; specifically the lack of it. These quotes are huge red flags.

The CEO saw a problem and clearly communicated it -- you've gotten results but cannot explain how or why, and that isn't good enough going forward. The author even had a chance (real or not) to act on this feedback by way of a warning and a coach. Instead of embracing and acting on clear feedback from his new boss, he panicked and shut down; allowing one negative interaction to throw his entire sense of self into disarray. This is strong evidence that indeed they were likely not the right candidate for the position as the company grew.


The CEO saw a problem and clearly communicated it -- you've gotten results but cannot explain how or why, and that isn't good enough going forward

That is clearly the CEO's point of view in this case, but it's a view I find rather perplexing. It leaves no room for intuition and good judgement. Potentially, it can force people to try and write down explanations of stuff they are not actually confident about, which just end up confusing whoever comes next.


Once you grow past Dunbar's number you can no longer rely on individual intuition and good judgement alone, you need higher level communication and alignment around strategy because there is simply not enough interpersonal bandwidth to communicate otherwise. Of course you want everyone to continue using judgement, but the leadership needs to go the extra mile to project a vision and strategy across the org.

You can argue over whether the CEO was right or wrong in this case, but at the end of the day it's the CEO's job to make these calls.


There is danger in being too productive while coworkers focus their efforts on 'shaping' the company.


Agreed. I have seen it multiple times that people didn't get promoted or transferred to a new interesting task because they were so good at what they did at the moment. Instead people that didn't perform well got promoted or to do the new thing.

One example: At my company the high performing experienced people are stuck with our legacy products so new things get either explored by interns or new people who don't know the company. I have pointed out several times how insane this is but everybody just shrugs.

I think the lesson is to not leave too much of a footprint so management has no qualms transferring you to a new task.


You could argue both parties, the managers and the high-performing, experienced people are to blame in this scenario. Sure, the managers should have the foresight to make sure there are continuing opportunities for the experienced people by training up people to replace them in their current roles. But shouldn't those experienced people have the foresight themselves and make sure they're not "stuck" and instead have mentees ready to take their place?

I write this comment as someone currently in this place myself. Or rather, planning so that I don't end up in that "stuck" place. I want to start working on bigger picture problems in the engineering organization but it's hard when the buck stops with you for a multitude of tasks that have to be done to foster the continuing growth of the company. Training the next gen. is an interesting problem I'm exciting to work on mastering.


How do you "have mentees" without management on board? Legacy products tend to be inherently unsexy and it's hard to attract mentees to those projects.


I guess I’m ignoring the situation wherein the experienced devs are stuck in a corner without a team. In that situation, without management on board it seems quite difficult to get out of that situation without some tough conversations directly with management.

That being said, that, I hope, is the exception rather than the rule. And I should think intelligent, self-aware devs wouldn’t let themselves fall into that situation. I personally would start looking for better opportunities once things started looking as dire as that.

For devs not in that situation it’s still a non trivial problem you bring up: how to entice the next gen to work on legacy-type projects. That I think comes down to a problem of selling. That is to say, solving it will depend on the audience and the product. Some strategies I’d think might work would be: 1) the opportunity to learn a great deal, for those who are very junior, 2) the opportunity to master an important part of the business (if it’s being kept around with resources allocated, there must be a reason why), though a dated one.


Throwaway obvious reason.

All of this stems from you caring about your job and the status it gives you.

After being burned twice on two startups that went on to Series B's, I'm done.

I no longer give a shit about my employer or if they live/die. I clock out at 5pm on the dot. I clock in whenever. Pay me, I'll get your features out and that's that. No I don't care about your estimates, no I don't care about your stock, no I don't care about your company's potential. Pay me, and I'm out. That's that.

My most recent gigs I choose the path's with the least amount of stock and most amount of salary.

I no longer give a shit.


I believe this attitude is important because you will get destroyed otherwise.

If you are invaluable to the point of the company not functioning well without you... that is when the knife comes out.. then management of any kind will want to slice and dice your job into 6 different jobs and fire you even if those 6 people combined can't do the same job at the level you did.


To be fair to "management," having invaluable company contributions that could tank a company were that contributor to no longer be there is a huge risk to all employed there that should be mitigated against.

It would be irresponsible of leaders in that company to make the company overly reliant on any one contributor.

I know I certainly wouldn't want to work somewhere that would implode if a single person left, and for any decent-sized company, I imagine many others would share that sentiment in terms of the risk involved. In fact, while I feel many of my personal contributions are valuable, I'm ALWAYS thinking about how I can automate/document/spread around my efforts so as to provide some resiliency should I get hit by a bus, etc.


BTW, that's your reason behind ageism in tech.


Did you reply to the wrong comment?

I have no bias against older developers. I think older developers are fantastic because they want to fuck off and do other things and get their work done on time.

The ones I hate are the 25 year old thundercats no-lifers who want to stay until 11pm for some unknown reason.


There's this common misconception that young workers never put in extra hours before the Silicon Valley culture picked up. That's just untrue.

Younger workers have always used energy and enthusiasm to make up for experience and skill in the workplace. Either they work more hours, accept more work, or just accept more stress than their peers to offset their junior status.

I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. It's competition that you can either use to motivate yourself, or you can just complain about it as others advance past you in the workplace. I think the stigma against the young developer who _wants_ to put in these extra hours is more of an issue. These people don't deserve to be looked down upon just because they're putting in more, just like you don't want to be judged for working 30-hour weeks even if you deliver. Much like you want to do your work and bug off, they want to do something else with their time. Trying to find reason when you're so far on the other end of the spectrum seems futile.


It's literally working for free so I will continue to think less of them. I can't respect someone who works overtime for no money.


I believe they were calling out that companies have prejudice against older workers because they are vaccinated against hustle-baiting with low salaries/lots of 3rd class stock.


I think what the comment was saying is that young people are the only ones delusional enough to drink the coolaid and be happy working countless hours for crappy insurance, fake stock grants and a ball pit whereas an older, wiser worker not only costs the company more but sets work-life balance limits and therefore is harder to take advantage of.


That logic is like calling Multi-level-marketing as Smart-ism.


I don't think they were saying it justifies it, just that it's a logical explanation for it.


I was a one of these “new hires” to a startup that was growing. It was chaotic because a lot of knowledge wasn’t transferred and we had to basically figure out a lot of the business logic because those original people were all gone.

I jumped ship after a few months and eventually the startup failed. I heard from former colleagues the main reason is those original people went to work for several big companies, who were all customers of this startup. They still held a grudge and persuaded those companies to stop working with them.


Exactly what seems to be happening at my current startup (more context in my other comment).


Most valuable and uncomfortable part of this article:

  What I wish I knew was that if you’re an early company employee, it’s not
  likely that the skills you have on day one are the skills needed as the
  company scales to the next level. This sentence is worth reading multiple
  times as no one – not the person who hired you, the VC’s or your peers -is
  going to tell you when you’re hired that the company will likely outgrow you.

Pure gold from a career-building perspective.


‘if you’re an early company employee, it’s not likely that the skills you have on day one are the skills needed as the company scales to the next level‘

This resonates with me


As a CEO, I experience the same emotions when there is change at a strategic customer. It sucks, but it takes work to rebuild trust you thought was already earned.

The "new decision maker" has just inherited your product/solution and likely wants to establish their vision and network over yours.

Start from scratch and re-earn their trust :-(


There is no "transition". What happens is your investors decide they want the latest recycled executive face to take the helm. That person usually goes for short term results at the expense of long term ones, because they'll be gone in a year or two and they don't know anything about the product anyway. And the cycle continues. To pretend it is some process you can navigate rationally is not healthy.


I know Optimizely isn't as relevant these days, but this article matches my experience there. Just about all the early employees were pushed out or encouraged to go when the business matured a bit and the adults from SalesForce were brought in. Of the first few dozen employees, only a handful are left.


I'm in a similar position to Steve Blank: early employee navigating various role transitions as the company grows. Would appreciate additional resources like the above, recommended coaches, books, etc. if anyone can offer.


I'm not sure it's exactly the coaching or books you're looking for but YC itself did a series of interviews called Employee #1 about how different people in different roles navigated being an early employee of a successful company to varying outcomes. I found it helpful if not directly instructive.

https://blog.ycombinator.com/category/employee-1/


You have a certain specific set of skills. That set of skills comprises of what you had when you started at the company, grew with you being in the company and probably now has a sprinkle of play during "the company in transition" phase.

The problem is that the company that you are with is unlikely to care about those skills of yours if you are noticing what is currently happening in a company and are looking for additional resources.

Look to go to another company that would value your set of skills.


Elad Gil's "High Growth Handbook" is a great resource.


https://firstround.com/review/give-away-your-legos-and-other...

I found this post to be in a similar vein, and helped lessen the scare of growing (or not growing) with my current startup, Starsky Robotics. What it made me realize is I loved the ability to switch direction, to "give away my legos", and I needed to focus more on making that an easy transition if I wanted to do it successfully. Learning to onboard a new employee or a new team onto your "complex tower of legos" is high impact and extremely important as teams scale.


You can make good use of the startup people by making them repeat the success in new markets. Sacking them is such a waste of talent.


I like your view, because sacking them doesn't waste their talent (usually), it wastes all the time and effort of recruiting them, filtering out others, and forming a well-functioning team.

This applies even in cases where someone isnt fired, but you've changed the job to something else. I'm leaving my current job right now because they dissolved our vertical product teams and formed horizontals that have no consistency of focus, codebase, or any larger input into product direction. I really work well with the people of the company, but after 6 months of feeling like IT support doing superficial changes in ever changing repos I'm done. (No offense to anyone that enjoys that style, but it I'd not for me and not how we worked for the 3 prior years).

So now I'm out. I think the new job may be even better, but it is a gamble and I wouldn't have even looked had they not changed the company on me and failed to respond to my concerns. I'm not indispensable nor irreplaceable, but in this market it is not easy to find someone, convince them, and build relationships and domain knowledge. My email to individual people I work with that should know I'm leaving went to over 50 people - rebuilding that's a cost that doesn't show up as a line item on the balance sheet.


A new CEO will not just come in and fire a senior exec unless there is a lot of behind the scenes activity we are not privy to or the CEO already has someone lined up for the position.

A lot of CEOs have got into the habit of building teams with people they already have trust with, in which case this whole article is overthinking.

If not that it's strange that the first thing the CEO did without even working with him is to fire him. If things were so bad that why wasn't he talked to earlier? That could mean some 'history'. These things are so contextual its dangerous to try to draw any insights or lessons.


The insight I drew from this article is that I never want to be an early employee of a startup and put my heart and soul into it unless I own a significant part of that company.


I am currently going through a very intense transaction, from being the CEO of the company I founded, to no longer having a full-time position at the company. (looks like I will simply remain as an external advisor).

I am curious to hear if any of you had a similar experience, and if you have any suggestions or tips to share.


Start again. This time don’t take that dirty VC money. Bootstrap.


This sounds like a rough transition, and not one you were asking for I guess. I don’t have any relevant suggestions to share* but you have my sympathies.

* well, except for the very generic ones to not confuse what’s happening to you and your worth as an individual, to seek to learn or take away something good from the experience, and to remember that karma’s a bitch and that whoever screwed you will get their comeuppance one way or another.


I could really relate to this post, since I've recently (past couple years) gone through exactly this.

I was hired as a senior software engineer for a very early stage startup, and quickly became the de-facto engineering leader, ran multiple teams for a couple years (backend/frontend/ops), and most of the technical products of the company still have my clear fingerprints on them.

Result? After the early success, founders and VCs brought in new official managers (VPs and directors of engineering) to scale the company, and I "regressed" to an IC role. Due to all the technical context I have about the company, they essentially let me roam around without having to account or report to anyone. Essentially, I do whatever I want, whenever I want, which these days means working on very experimental stuff that selfishly interests me, but that one day might be used for the company technology (long term plan). I suspect once all the former systems are replaced they might terminate me, which I'd welcome so I'd get some severance as opposed to quitting (and I have passed several FAANG interviews so I'd find a new job relatively quickly), but it hasn't happened yet, and have been in this limbo for a couple years now.

I'm not gonna lie when I say this caused a lot of shock to me initially, along the same lines of the blog post, but I eventually dealt/coped with those feelings (sort of). I say "sort of" because I haven't changed job purely due to the financials of the situations: even if my title/role changed, my original equity grant is still vesting at the original rate, and as the company becomes more successful it's unlikely that I could find another opportunity as good as this one (from a financial point of view).

However, I am really not happy with the changes that have been implemented: in particular, the new management is really really bad, like severely technically incompetent. These people were hired as "experienced managers" from companies such as Cisco/IBM/... where they held a management position for 10+ years. These people are not technically bright or inspiring, they just live by processes and jira tickets.

This caused two very big problems:

1) The quality of these managers caused very good people, mostly individual contributors, to flee. Essentially, a lot (50%+) of my peers who were originally in the company and were extremely strong individual contributors left for greener pastures, and in informal conversations they all told me they were fed up with the level of incompetence of the new managers. They didn't have a strong equity package such as mine, so it was a very easy decision for them, I would have done exactly the same.

2) These managers are effectively unable to deal with high pressure and customers. We had customers who churned on us, explicitly listing as the main reason the inability to effectively interact with our engineering team during support escalations. A quote I remember from a customer is: "It seems like you guys lately don't know your product and what you're doing anymore".

It seems just now, two years later, the upper management is slowly realizing this, as this incompetence is starting to make a real dent into our revenues. I have seen this all along since the very first few weeks they were on board, but I always carefully refrained myself from escalating this to the founders because otherwise I would have just been seen as a "negative nancy" acting out of jealousy, so I decided to put a good face and take what's in for me (freedom in my current position).

But I truly and humbly believe that, had I been put in charge of engineering instead of those new people, I would have done a better job scaling, hiring other more talented managers and keeping ICs motivated (I value a lot technical excellence and I always go above and beyond to make sure I am technical enough in every conversation, and all the team members always appreciated that a lot when I was leading things).


Why do you think those bad managers were hired and how would you have avoided the same mistakes?


Very simple: a much higher hiring bar, which requires more hiring effort, but it's well worth it. To me, every manager should be deeply technical: that doesn't mean they should be wizard developers, but they should be able to discuss very well technical solutions, have opinions (this is very important! being opinionated and not just go with the flow is really really good, it shows you care!), and also be able to troubleshoot the systems their teams work on, so they don't interrupt everyone as soon as there is even a minor customer escalation. That's key to gaining respect from your team and be effective, from what I've seen. Otherwise, you're basically just a glorified delegator and you're not sheltering your team in any way.

The VP that was hired chose a different approach and decided to poach people with very long management experience in "stagnant" companies, who jumped ship at being promoted to "director of engineering" from their previous "engineering manager" title: of course these folks don't know much about the technical stuff, and are basically just there to manage processes and remind everyone to fill some bs on jira. The major thing these people care about is making the VP happy, it's incredibly comical. Whatever he says, it's law (paradoxically, I have many conversations with the VP and he instead likes that I am frequently confrontational and argumentative, in a good way, when it comes to technical opinions).

This is also dangerous for another reason: as new IC people get hired, they can quickly sense the weaknesses of their managers, so they either 1) Leave out of frustration 2) Stay, because it's convenient for them (it certainly allows average performers to cruise through their job) 3) Or, more dangerously, they manipulate their boss in order to drive their personal agenda (e.g. do horrible work saying to the managers "all the other solutions would be too difficult", and the clueless manager trusts without verifying, since he/she is not capable of verifying).


And do you know why you didn’t get the job when they added the new layer of management? Were you considered but rejected, did you even get a chance to apply or did you wake up one morning to a new boss and new title?

I really feel for what happened to you, but I have trouble believing that a whole raft of incompetent VPs were hired just because they had BigCo du jour in their CV.

In other words, what would you have done differently to avoid this outcome, if you believe it was avoidable?


This is what happened. It's important to understand I'm not bitter about it (anymore), so I'm really just listing the exact steps that led to my "fall", as they happened:

1) About a year after me being into the company and having taken substantial lead in all the engineering initiatives (I was working like crazy and hugely motivating the other folks, always at least 12 hours a day, but it didn't feel like it because I was really excited, so nowhere close to burnout), one of the founders (the CEO) talked to me and said I was doing an amazing job, better than the other technical leads. He said when the time would come, he would seriously consider me for a VP role (we didn't have any VP by then and the company was still just experimenting, we had a few paying customers but no clear vision on how to go to market).

2) After a couple years of tenure, the founder/CEO came to me and said that the company was doing really well (we were growing exponentially by then, and taking new funding with very favorable terms) and that it was time to bring in an experienced VP of engineering. The candidates he had in mind (introduced by the VCs) were all in their late 40s with at least a dozen years of experience as executives, so clearly I wasn't the right person for the role since I was in my very early 30s with much less management experience. He described the VP role as someone who would take on a lot of the overhead I had to do myself, like hiring and keeping a tab on the deliverables, but that on a day to day basis I would still fully lead the engineering team. I kind of believed the story so I didn't think too much of it, and didn't think it was the time to raise drama.

3) Shortly after, the VP (one of the candidates from VCs) came in. He spent a month or two observing things, then talked to me and told me how I was doing amazing things and how everyone in the team loved me (he had 1:1s with everybody where I was praised a lot), and how he wanted to concentrate me more on working on experimental projects while he would be looking to make "big changes" by hiring experienced managers. He said my experience was very good as an IC, and that by managing people I would be "wasting my talent" and that it was all part of scaling the company. I told him I still wanted to be involved in the team operations, and initially he said it was ok, but then over time he proceeded to sideline me more and more (e.g. not including me in relevant technical meetings where I could have easily provided good input). Go figure why, I don't believe I was ever hostile to him or anything that would make me appear bitter. It felt like he was thinking "let's see if I can succeed without him, as opposed to using his help to succeed". At times, I was excluded in things where I more than obviously needed to be in (e.g. niche areas that I architected). Occasionally some of my peers would IM me and say "Hey why are you not in this meeting?".

4) From then until now, the VP has installed this new layer of mid and upper management (directors and managers) by hiring people who strictly have at least 10 years of experience as pure managers. Since we are a startup and we can't exactly steal people from FAANG due to our lower offers, he had to settle with those C-class players (in my opinion) coming from big "stagnating" companies. These people have a completely different perspective on the role, duties and responsibilities than our original culture. They have no vision, just process, which causes the problems mentioned in my initial comment. During this period, my impact on the company has been minimal since I have been put on the sidelines as per VP's request and, while I still have fun because I get to spend time on cool stuff, I haven't affected the bottom line, which I think I could have done had I been still involved in the teams.


I pretty much try to look at every issue from what I could've done better viewpoint - doing the same here. So no offense:

- as a small company CEO, you get less leeway in terms of who you can hire. So there is a high chance his hands were tied and the on paper experience folk probably looked much better than a really really good newbie. Think about it from the perspective of a lay person or busy board member: it's pretty much like how you'd choose a cardiologist. You gotta play the numbers unless you have some great insider scoop. Playing safe is a sad reality :/

- if you really had the ceo ear as you say and carte blanche, you have a part in not making that a productive setup: a ton of people would love to be in that spot, probably would produce more too.

- at the end of the day, your only irreplaceable value in life is your time. By messing around with 'cool projects' that didn't mean much, the biggest loss here is yours.

- ratholing again on the privilege part, if you were that established, no lifer would've been able to affect you that much. There is probably a miscalibration here in your opinion of yourself.

Again - really no offense. Just what I would take away if it were me.


I appreciate your honesty.

On the loss of time: true, but as I said my equity appreciated significantly, at the current valuation (I am very aware of all our details about funding terms, dilutions etc, so I can calculate a reasonably accurate average case outcome) my total compensation is essentially $1M a year without even counting for possible future growth, and FAANG offered me basically 40% of that, so it’s wise for me to stay put at least until I see the company significantly doing worse. I wouldn’t necessarily consider that sum of money something worth throwing away just for the sake of making a better use of my time. The day I’ll see the probability of my equity becoming zero rise significantly, I’ll leave in a heartbeat, that’s why I interviewed with several FAANG companies over the past 12 months, so I always have the doors open when it’s time.

The cool projects don’t mean much to the company but mean a lot to me, since I’m sharpening my skills in areas that I would bring with me to another career opportunity (e.g. machine learning in a project, and low level system programming in another one).

On the miscalibration: that’s certainly possible, I’ve tried to write facts more than opinions explicitly to avoid that, and all the things they told me indeed happened (e.g. founder said I was the only one to be considered for VP, former team members saying it was so much better when I was leading the team, ...).


Good job on the comp haul. You made exactly the right call staying considering the options were only 40%! Feel free to ignore my points about making yourself useful if that will disturb the status ka'ching quo.

Thanks for the civil convo. Clearly you have put a lot of thought into this and I wish you all the best! FWIW, money is never a waste on smart people :). Money is freedom and an amplifier. I hope you find good uses for the same!


> To me, every manager should be deeply technical

This sentence needs to start with: "I have a dream..."


When I interviewed at FAANG (Google, FB and Netflix specifically) I had the chance to talk to several managers as part of the process and most of them were highly technical (they were still involved with technical stuff, and/or had significant contributions in open source projects).


Did you speak your mind? It might be in your best interest to voice what you're sensing/feeling.

OTOH, are you looking for something new with the same excitement as the early stages but with product market fit and growing? I'd love to speak :)


I didn't speak my mind immediately, for reasons mentioned above. These days I am slightly more vocal since I have less to lose, but I think the biggest damage has been done, the culture significantly shifted for the worse and it's a direct result of a "let's bring in adult supervision" decision.

Thanks for your other point, but this is the last startup I work at for a while, next one is going to be a big and stable company (hopefully a FAANG), with perhaps more politics but 1) more talent on average 2) more predictable financial outcome (being stuck in "maybe golden" handcuffs not knowing if it will all be worthless in the end really sucks).


Totally get what you're saying.

Where are you based out of? Would love to get coffee nonetheless if you're in the bay area. In the least, it appears we have some interesting stories to swap.


My theory on why organizations devolve: https://realminority.wordpress.com/


Maybe it’s because I’ve never really been attached to a company I’ve worked for but the second I left that meeting, I’d be negotiating my exit package and talking to other startups, not trying to save my job.


Itamar Turner-Trauring latest Software Clown newsletter¹ (#105) was about this. The author wrote about a similar story where a company he worked at changed as it grew and layoffs were made.

He concluded with some really good points:

| I came away from the experience unable to commit myself to a company. In part this was an ethical stance: who controls the company can change, and change quickly. So loyalty to a company meant committing to follow people who shouldn't be followed, not because authority is inherently bad, but because in most companies authority cannot be rescinded by the workers in its power.

| But it was also an emotional reaction: I'd put a lot of myself into my job, only to see my work—and my friends' work—destroyed in an incompetent power grab. I didn't want to go through that again.

| The thing about loyalty, though, is that it's motivating: you give your loyalty because you want something or someone to succeed. So if you're past the point of pure survival, where do you find motivation if not in loyalty?

| Eventually I came round to solidarity, a thornier path than loyalty. Loyalty is simple, because it starts with an answer: your country, your cause, your company, your friends—above all. Solidarity is complex, because it starts with a question: beyond yourself, beyond your friends, beyond your cause, beyond your country, what ought you do to help everyone?

¹ https://codewithoutrules.com/softwareclown/


In essence, its essential that we as software professionals work in company that's really motivates us and hence can call us to grow, otherwise we would soon find ourself getting left behind in fast paced software world. Seen this happening to experienced developers in my company.


Or: you recognize that you are a disposable commodity, accept that fact, and focus your growth not along dimensions that benefit your company, but strictly in ways that benefit you and your loved ones.


You are only valuable if you can align those well with company goals. That’s the way I see it: I try to find employers where the dot product of their desire vector and my desire vector is high and where the dot product of their desire vector and my capability vector is high. Not just the basis vectors but the actual value.

So far it’s worked. But I haven’t had the decades of experience yet to reflect on it.


>You are only valuable if you can align those well with company goals.

As I see it, that's my manager's job. He's always blathering on about aligning with this or with that, but I have more than enough work to keep me busy and if he wants me to work on something else, he will tell me. This has worked well for me for 2 decades and I'm more than satisfied with my benefits and compensation that I'm happy to just keep plugging along.


Haha, I imagine neither of our experiences has sufficient predictive power as to what works. Ah well, let’s hope the next decades don’t teach us both too many hard lessons about our respective philosophies.


>>As I see it, that's my manager's job.

No, it's your job, because it's your future at stake.

Never put your destiny in the hands of others.


It is the job of both of you. However the motivations are different. Over time one or the other will be more useful to follow.

Your manager needs you to bridge the gap between when the company was doing yesterday (this is what is making the money today), and what the company will do tomorrow. When your manager sees that next year they will need a skill and gets you to develop that skill they have your domain knowledge of the existing product to apply to the next thing and the whole gets done faster because of your experience and new skills.

You are responsible for yourself. If the next job is a variation on what you did today no training is required so he won't give it - it makes you less valuable to outsiders so you won't leave. Also because you are not growing he doesn't have to give you top raises to keep you from leaving - which is more money to give someone else who is better than you. The downside of this is you need to guess where the next big thing will be and sometimes you will be wrong.


Your manager's job is aligning their talents with company goals. When your manager aligns you with company goals, that's no longer called a 'job', is illegal in civilized countries, and isn't a role many folks seek out.


That's a good way of putting it.

If your goals are too closely aligned with the company's, you risk devaluing yourself for your own or the next company's goals. If your goals are too different from your company's, you risk finding yourself out of a job.


it's surprising how few realize this. I would use different words than "disposable commodity" but the point is the same. Your job is the revenue stream for you and yours. Your focus should be maximizing that revenue stream, it doesn't matter what company the end is attached to. If you're a live-to-work type and your life is defined by your work that's perfectly fine too, the stream goes from revenue to.. I don't know, a "fulfillment" stream. But again, the focus is maximizing that stream not what it's connected to.


What are your thoughts on "maximizing the revenue stream"? We commonly hear that job hopping is one way to maximize income. Contracting and consulting? Others?


what works for me is just keeping my professional network in good shape and my ears up. I've doubled my pay in about 5 years by just keeping in touch with people. My last transition started with a simple linkedin msg like "hey I'm starting a new practice at this other firm, i need a delivery director, you in?" and that was that.


Cynical, but not necessarily wrong.


Thanks for the quote.

As the sibling comment points out, be loyal to individuals. Also, if you are rank and file employee, caring for the industry more than the company produces better long-term results.


Caring for your industry also produces things like open source contributions, conference talks, and other forms of collaboration which are arguably of greater benefit to your personal career than they are to your current employer.


Agreed, there is a huge personal benefit when you're actively participating in companies evolution.


Loyalty can only exist between individuals.

Never be loyal to a company because a company will never be loyal to you.


The way loyalty has always worked is that your first loyalty is to individuals, like yourself, your family, boss and immediate coworkers, and your second loyalty is to the collective you all belong to, like your company, extended family and neighborhood.

People who can't recognize second loyalties can't be trusted, and need to be weeded out of an organization before it hits hard times, otherwise they just won't be able to be relied on.

Your company isn't just some faceless entity interested only in profits. It's face is all of you and it exists to keep all of you fed and with a roof over your head. A company with a headcount of 40 people can provide for 200+ individuals. All 40 of those will work together to bail out the company because the company provides for themselves and their families. It's simply immature to not recognize that.

You shouldn't be expected to choose your second loyalty over your first, except in very rare situations. But those situations exist and you should recognize them. When it's crunch time, it's crunch time. Crunch time all the time demands a re-evaluation of priorities, but so long as it's relatively rare, put in the hours and build solidarity with the people you're working hard with.

You shouldn't make your second loyalty your first, is how the sentiment should be expressed.


People who can't recognize second loyalties can't be trusted, and need to be weeded out of an organization before it hits hard times, otherwise they just won't be able to be relied on.

Do you think if a company hits hard times they aren’t going to lay people off? The first loyalty of a company is to the owners of the company. I’m not making a moral judgment. If a company is going through hard times, it would be irresponsible for them not to lay people off. I would even go so far as to say that if a company isn’t going through hard times and they saw that they could be more profitable with fewer people they should.

It's face is all of you and it exists to keep all of you fed and with a roof over your head.

No, a privately held investor backed company’s primary goal is to provide a return on investment for its investors via an exit. A public company’s primary goal is to provide a return to its shareholders. The employees are just a means to that end. Anyone who doesn’t understand their place in the hierarchy is doing themselves a disservice.

It is my responsibility to keep my family fed and not my employer. My employer is just a means to that end. If I can find another employer that can do that better, and the other trade offs are worth it, I will leave.


A company shouldn't be laying people off in hard times. They might let some contracts end, and if someone leaves for other reasons they won't be replaced; but they shouldn't be laying people off. They should have savings for hard times. That might mean no rasises for a couple years - including the CEO, but everybody has a job. Every time they lay someone off they forever lose everything that person knew.

Hard times are should be used to invest in the next product free from the distraction of supporting the current ones (since nobody is buying). When good times return they are met with the introduction of great new products.

A layoff should mean that the company is exiting whatever industry you are in. Thus it should not be a few people - but everybody at once.

The reality is few companies are managed well enough to pull the above off.


You use the word “should” a lot to describe things that a non executive employee has no control over, and only limited visibility on. The point is that trust in your company to do these things for your sake is misplaced.


You should have visibility by past behavior. A company that has a history of lay-offs is going to do it again. A company that has managed downturns without layoffs is likely to do pull it off again.

Of course a company can change, so you have to be prepared for anything. This isn't a bad idea for other reasons: there are a lot of people right now not living at home because of the California fires which requires some emergency savings.


What company hasn’t had layoff during a downturn?


Germany companies are heavily incentivized not to lay off people in downturns. Workers here are generally less mobile (esp. outside of tech) so when you loose an employee and then go somewhere else, they’ll probably never come back.

The federal government has programs to assist companies with this. With the approval of the goverment, you can impose “Kurzarbeit” and let your employees only work, for example, 3 days a week for 6 months. The other 2 days a week they’d then get“Kurzarbeitergeld”, equivalent in amount to unemployment benefits (~65% of your net salary). This obviously only gets approved in economic downturns or for things outside of the control of the company (weather, natural disaster), not of one company is mismanaged but the sector as a whole does well.


That is the complete opposite of what happens in the US.

At one company that I worked for, one guy was laid off and came back 4 or 5 times on contract in different roles (QA, L2 support, and as a field technician).


I believe it! From a Western European perspective, US labor law is a joke.

The downside of that is a far less mobile workforce that causes its own issues.


I see both sides. As someone in a high demand field in an area with plenty of tech jobs (not on the west coast), it doesn’t bother me personally. I have literally gone from “I want another job” to “Ive got another job” within less than a month on numerous occasions.

If I were hiring, I would be a lot more reluctant to hire someone if I knew I couldn’t let them go without a lot of red tape. I might just try to get by with fewer people.

But, I consider myself to be a big government free market capitalist. Make hiring and laying off easy and provide a large social safety net paid for by taxing corporations- a better form of unemployment insurance.


> The first loyalty of a company is to the owners of the company.

Of course it is. That falls right in line with the 'two loyalties' framework. Everybody is out for themselves and their immediate families first, for the rest of the company second. This includes the owners. Expecting it to work any other way is just foolish.

> No, a privately held investor backed company’s primary goal...

You mean the leadership's. Each IC has their own priorities. But yes, this is part of its first loyalty. It's the second loyalty aspect that you have to be wary of. If the company seems to have no regard at all for the well-being of the workers, then that's an unhealthy company and you should steer clear if you can.

> It is my responsibility to keep my family fed and not my employer. My employer is just a means to that end. If I can find another employer that can do that better, and the other trade offs are worth it, I will leave.

Of course. Your first loyalty is to your family.


Your company isn't just some faceless entity interested only in profits. It's face is all of you and it exists to keep all of you fed and with a roof over your head.

We all have experienced that in hard times a company's only loyalty is to its shareholders. At times, upper management may decide to divert some of the resources to itself, but that's a small, exclusive circle that most are not part of..


If the company is in existential crisis, then yes, the shareholders will all be out for themselves. They do, ya know, own the company. There should be a buffer zone between 'hard times' and 'existential crisis'. Some companies are always in hard times. Avoid them if you can, because it's always crunch time. Startups are constantly in existential crisis until they find product-market fit.


My only disagreement is the “in hard times” qualifier.


If these inspiring words were more true, you’d see employees taking pay cuts instead of layoffs. Remember, an individual’s loyalty is also to their career.


I've taken paycuts in exchange for less hours during hard times before. All depends on your priorities.


I mean I think I would do the same in the right scenario but both times I’ve been through layoffs it wasn’t even a discussion—leadership assumed it wasn’t a viable strategy.


It was a small company and I was young and didn't have many bills to pay. They had laid off the excess already and if they laid anyone else off the company would have just been toast. Worked out alright. Got about 4 extra weeks off in the summer.


I've never researched company and interpersonal loyalty, but this rings exactly true for me.

It is possible to be only be loyal to each other and destroy your company, a la tragedy of the commons.

Loyalty to coworkers naturally includes loyalty to the company, because (ostensibly) if the company does better, everyone working there does better.

I don't understand the impulse to steal or skimp or be lazy. It seems short sighted and damaging.


> if the company does better, everyone working there does better

Is the theory, but rarely the reality. The truth is that at any company of a certain size or larger, you're a replaceable cog, and nothing you do - positive or negative - will affect the trajectory of the company. It's easy to become cynical in that environment.


That's probably true, but that's the opposite of what the article is talking about. Transitioning from nothing to startup to small business is not the same as working at multibillion international company.


Fun fact: loyalty to the employer is often considered as being written into the law of the province I live in. https://www.educaloi.qc.ca/en/capsules/being-loyal-your-empl...

| 2088. The employee is bound not only to perform his work with prudence and diligence, but also to act faithfully and honestly and not use any confidential information he obtains in the performance or in the course of his work.

| These obligations continue for a reasonable time after the contract terminates and permanently where the information concerns the reputation and privacy of others.


Not disclosing confidential information is more ethics than loyalty. That that may fall under a legal definition of loyalty in some areas, but I think in more common parlance that behavior would just be professionalism. Even then there has to be some degree of judiciousness between what a company might consider confidential and what is just industry knowledge. And over time, a lot of what might be held confidential, becomes common practice too.


Yes but that's "legal loyalty", basically being honest, which is not the same as e.g. making efforts or sacrifices out of loyalty.


Agreed, that's why I worded it as "is often considered". The law being a bit vague, employers often present it as employees needing to be personally loyal.

The law asks one to "act faithfully". Faithfully can easily be used as a synonym for devoted and some employers ask a religious devotion to the company.


I can assure you that the law is very clear and established. Employees are often not very knowledgeable about it, though.

And in any case some jurisdictions have employment at will...


Loyalty can exist without reciprocity.


Yes, but should it?


Loyalty is specifically distinct from reciprocity.


Which is madness in the business world, and perhaps outside of it as well.


this seems overly cynical. companies are absolutely loyal and stand by their employees. that match is rare, just as it is rare to find another person that will stay with you through good and bad times


As they say in Boxing, if you want loyalty, buy a dog.


That sounds like content i would love to read, just not in email list subscription format. So lame.


I don’t get why people don’t realize that we’re all playing capitalism and it doesn’t make sense to tie your hands behind your back for the sake of some company that doesn’t care about you. One thing to pass up some profits to be a more decent person or whatever, another to do it for an abstract entity that would happily toss you onto the street for a few dollars were it able to.


I agree with the general thrust of this article - the company grows and its needs change over time. You will need to change along with them. But I think the last 1/3 of the article is a little too self-congratulatory. It's not really clear the retaining early employees is important, and in fact they may become more dead weight as the company grows. The concept of maintaining "company culture" is silly, that changes as the company grows anyway. The company owes nothing to early employees and some churn is likely.


> The company owes nothing to early employees and some churn is likely.

Given the fact that early employees are usually under-compensated (and who usually thinks of buying out any options right after they are canned, while job hunting?), this is doubly sad.


until the new CEO called me in for a chat.

Maybe that CEO was infallible... or maybe he just wanted to give the job to one of his b-skool buddies. Who can say?


I have indeed seen this happen several times.


This was a good article. You don't even need to be in a startup to feel this way. Product road maps change and skill sets that were valuable at one point are not valuable the next. We should always be improving our skills, integrating constructive feedback, and looking for opportunities to grow.


What strikes me is how parlous vocational training (for want of a much better phrase) is - it took him (a clearly talented and successful individual) two decades to understand his situation.

I am a better person in many ways than my 20-year old self, but I do wish I had learnt my lessons a bit faster as well


The only way to learn some lessons is to have something you care about blow up in your face. That's the cost of the lesson. Sometimes it's not worth the price of admission.

Steve Blank is a celebrity of sorts around here, but who is to say that that experience, as terrible as it was at the time, wasn't responsible for setting him up for his future successes?

I'm somewhat earlier in my career, and undoubtedly have similarly devastating events waiting for me, in addition to the select few behind me. Framing those as "learning experiences" softens the blow considerably when things don't go as they "should".


People change and so do businesses. I think this is kind of click bait but I see he has something to say. Bottom line I feel if you're at a startup that grew you changed with the company as well and I don't think you'll want to be doing / working like you did.


I hope the gig economy develops to a point that people do not need to bow down to the whims of corporate overlords. I spent 7 years in investment banking, and the corporate environment contributed to much unhappiness and anxiety for me personally. It gave me financial freedom fairly quickly, but I've always wished there was a better way to obtain the same, and I hope for future generations, the gig economy can go some way to providing that, without them needing to "sell their soul".

P.S. I know that currently, the gig economy can be seen as taking advantage of people (Deliveroo and Uber come to mind), however, I'm hopeful that things can be improved so that workers are rewarded more fairly.


The problem is the CEO never approached Steve correctly. Never threaten someone's job unless the situation is dire. He should have said something like, "now that we're growing, we need you to ..."


It is so weird. It is really hard to find good people. If you have a good person, you don't get rid of them, you help them grow with the company.


It's very clear that the new CEO tried to help Steve do just that. Just the way that he framed it as, "you're a candidate for your job" set Steve's defenses up way higher than they needed to be.


Guess the question should be: how to keep your job as your company decline?


still waiting for the companion piece How to Keep Your Job as Your Company Shrinks


A short answer: Own the company.


From the title, I didn't know which direction the post was going to go in.

This one: grow with your job title. Alternate version: how to keep doing the same tasks you enjoy and not be forced into a different (likely managerial) role.


I would have liked an exploration of the alternate version. Are there any resources you might know about that?


Does this approach guarantee success?

Are there any companies who brought in this or that CEO/VPoE/Lead Engineer and failed miserably instead of successfully going to the next level?



> it’s not likely that the skills you have on day one are the skills needed as the company scales to the next level.

I don't really buy that this is a major issue. Founders and early employees tend to share very similar skill sets, and yet it's standard practice for founders to get put into c-suite level roles, while it's much more common for early employees to get pushed aside. In some cases it is probably warranted (as is occasionally removing founders from CXO roles) for performance/skill/fit reasons. But I think a more common issue is that early employees are just poorly prepared to navigate the 'politics' that inevitably emerge in a growing startup. There are a few likely reasons for this, in somewhat chronological order:

1. Most founders, from day one, are preparing for a leadership role. This may not be obvious to the early employees, but the founders are probably reading/studying leadership and management material. They are highly likely getting advice and mentorship from other founders, executives, and/or VCs. And they may even have a paid executive coach. Early employees rarely get this type of advice/support/encouragement.

2. No company or startup is free from 'politics', even early stage startups. But early stage startups can trick you into thinking that they are. The org chart is non-existent or flat, early employees work alongside the founders, and every one is working on critical projects. In BigCo, employees navigate the politics by choosing their projects carefully, presenting their work in the best possible light, and currying favor with the right managers. In a fast-paced early stage startup, it's hard to do any of that. Projects are often assigned to whomever has the most bandwidth. And the nature of early stage startups mean a lot of these efforts are going to be wasted and/or failures (usually due to reasons beyond your control, i.e. product market fit, etc..). Ideally this early-stage chaos doesn't get held against you when it comes time to promote people, but that leads me to point 3...

3. As the company starts to grow, the primary motivations of subsequent hires will likely start to shift. The earliest employees are probably more focused and excited about building a product. Later employees are more likely to be focused on their careers. So while early employees are tied down with fixing obscure bugs and supporting and maintaining legacy projects, the later employees are busy playing the political game, i.e. picking cool/exciting projects, spinning everything into big wins, and scheduling lunches/meetings with the founders any chance they can get. And at some point, the start up is going to reach a size where some hierarchy is needed, and before you know it, promotions are getting handed out and you aren't on the list. Which then leads to point 4...

4. Ideally, your newly promoted colleagues should realize your value to the company and seek out your input and participation as much as possible, right? Wrong! Your deep knowledge of the product/stack/company is more or less a threat to them and their new found authority. Even if you make it abundantly clear that you don't aspire to be more than an Individual Contributor, you will find yourself getting left out of meetings and pushed more towards legacy support. And of course, this behavior puts you at a severe disadvantage for subsequent rounds of promotions.

I think what it really comes down to, is that companies are inherently political, no matter how small or large, and it feels like in addition to poor pay (relative to risk) and long working hours, early employees also carry significant 'political risk'. The founders have plenty of leverage to keep their own positions secure, and at the same time they are incentivized to hire the fanciest resumes they can afford (Stanford MBA's, ex-googlers) into management roles to make the company look attractive to VC and acquisitions. My advice to early employees out there, is if you want to grow with the company, you need to start preparing from day one. Get yourself on the winning projects, treat the founders less as colleagues and more as judgmental managers that you need to constantly impress, and spend some time working on 'road maps' and 'hiring plans' to show off your 'managerial' skills. Or just go the easy route and start your own company;)


Honestly if this guy was able to bring in business he will be an asset to whatever company he goes to and can probably negotiate a golden parachute of some sort.




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