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After landing a lucrative job at a tech startup, I had made a terrible mistake (torontolife.com)
336 points by wolco 41 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 185 comments



I'm surprised by the amount of salt (for lack of a better word in my vocabulary) in the comments. I've worked at a Canadian start up. It was not a unicorn, but you were expected to work long hours, be a "10xer", always be responsive, and put in hours on the weekend. Those expectations were never made explicit, but the company had a lot of churn for those who didn't "fit the culture" or acquiesce to the cult of personality.

I enjoyed the article - is this too strong a look in the mirror for most folks? My ideal job now is one where I can live in the bush, have boring but steady work, and otherwise not care about programming after 5pm and feel OK with myself for it.


I enjoyed the article; I find the description entirely plausible and totally depressing. It definitely reminds me of Dan Lyons' book "Disrupted", which was also perfectly believable.

I've been around since Bubble 1.0; I started working in San Francisco in 1997. The thing I find horrifying about this article is the way Vision Critical apparently takes the worst aspects of startups and amplifies them, while taking the best aspects and perverting them.

As example, I was an early Agile person; I went to the main US Agile conferences 2001 to 2008 or so. The whole point of things like sprints and standups was to control schedule pressure and keep our work lives sane. The point of agility was not to increase risk and fear, but to make it safe to take risks so that we could be both bold and serene. If you had focused on "maximizing productivity", you would have received stern talkings-to about "outcome, not output." The point was not to put on a show of working hard; it was to radically increase effectiveness.

The sales-bro culture of competition and aggression is also nightmarish to me. It's inevitably short-sighted. I'm sure it works to generate rapid growth, but at what cost to the people and the long-term prospects of the company? It's a sign to me that they definitely aren't changing the world, but instead are likely pushing a mediocre-or-worse product on the world. As if that's new.

For what it's worth, I have the impression that this sort of awfulness is is more common in tech startups that aren't in SF/SV. I take it as classic cargo culting: instead of adopting the important parts, they adopt the visible parts. So maybe some of the saltiness here is just where people are working.


> classic cargo culting: instead of adopting the important parts, they adopt the visible parts.

This is the most succinct description of cargo cutting I have come across. Thanks, will use it :)


I will think of this every time I see a getter/setter pair on a class. The illusion of modularity and encapsulation with net negative in code quality.


Let's not forget about one Interface for one Class, because that adds flexibility in the future :)


I never understood this objection. The interface adds flexibility in the present - it allows other classes to depend on an abstraction instead of a concrete class. The future is absolutely irrelevant here, since YAGNI.


> it allows other classes to depend on an abstraction instead of a concrete class.

... which has exactly zero concrete advantages if there's only one implementation of the class.


A good programmer plans ahead.

Edit: of course it is up to individual judgement on a case by case basis, and there are instances were it is obvious that no other concrete implementation of an interface will be required. But otherwise, writing an interface is good practice because it helps safeguard against time consuming future refactoring.


This is exactly what YAGNI is meant to counter: the constant tendency of programmers to add speculative extension capabilities that are never used. These add complexity and cognitive overhead. It's a net loss.

Also, people pretend like refactoring is hard. My experience is that refactoring is only hard on the ends of the spectrum, where someone has added all the wrong abstractions, or no abstractions at all. Of the two, I'd prefer the latter, but obviously anything in the middle is usually better.


No. I get why you think this way, as I also used to. Good programmers may think ahead, but they don't build ahead.


> A good programmer plans ahead

The comment above said the opposite, that the future was irrelevant.

These days there are tools that can help in a lot of languages; it's not a time consuming operation to press the Resharper "extract into abstract interface" button.


Show me a guy who says YAGNI and I’ll show you a guy who has coded their way into a corner that the only way out is a total rewrite. Why do you think webdevs throw everything away every couple of years?


From what I've seen, web devs throw everything away every couple of years due to high technology volatility, high requirements volatility, management idiocy, and outright business failure. As well at lack of automated testing that is exacerbated by the many technologies that make that hard.

And in environments like that, YAGNI makes even more sense. Overbuilding now in hopes it will pay off later is never a great idea. But it can only ever pay off if you correctly predict your business and technological future accurately. When you guess wrong, it's just waste.


>Why do you think webdevs throw everything away every couple of years?

Because their bosses tell them to and because it looks better on their resume, not because the code they have suddenly stops working.

Chances are you're not gonna need it. Chances are you don't even need most what you do have.


I can understand one or the other, and I can understand a setter that does some logic first, but to me, you might as well just make those members public if you're going to do both.


I think the sales-bro culture is much more prevalent outside of SF. I can only speak for Chicago, but having interacted with a number of 'startup' companies here, there is an obvious lack of engineering talent and an abundance of sales people ready to hit the phones. The sales guys all come from massive companies and want to work at a startup, and are sold on a pseudo startup culture; for them, its a dream come true.


I agree. Interestingly as a sales recruiter, I've noticed that while the sales bro culture is well and alive in NYC / SF etc, a lot of the major aspects of it are especially magnified when you talk to candidates outside of the major tech markets.


From outside San Francisco, it looks like SV is a giant circle jerk of these exact problems you're talking about. I'm actually much more likely to believe that a startup elsewhere in the US is focusing on the important things because they're less likely to be influenced by that culture.


From the outside, sure. From the inside, that's not my impression. And given that so many places are trying to follow their perception of what SV/SF is doing, it seems very plausible to me that they will pick up and amplify those visible traits.


The sales-bro culture is tightly coupled with the standard sales compensation model. You generally have to give salespeople large commissions, both because they expect it and because the best salespeople are too expensive to justify as a fixed cost. And it's only natural that people want a bell to ring and drinks to chug when they're regularly earning five-figure bonuses.


I doubt it's actually "natural". And if it is, that something is natural doesn't mean it's right. Tuberculosis comes to mind, for example.


Did the company also pay 10x the market rates?

Of course not, because they aren't really hiring 10x programmers (whatever that is), they are just hiring low self-esteem people, slap the 10xer label on them, strap them on the hamster wheel and work them to death.

It's a bit like the series "The Good Place" -- "heeeyyyy we only hire 10xers, you're a 10xer, aren't you proud? Right, now go prove you're a 10xer by working your butt off".


“My boss bet me I couldn’t work 100 hours this week and I proved him wrong!” is how I look at things like this. People actually brag about how exploited they are, it’s bizarre.


I may be a shitty person because of this.....but I exploit people like this sometimes, especially 'bros'. This works well when surrounded by a group of people. All you gotta say is...man there is no way anyone would do this, you would have to be a bad ass....smarter people usually ignore it but there is often one dude seeking attention that will do something stupid because he wants to be that bad ass.


I found this to be a really eye opening article: https://hbr.org/2018/02/if-youre-so-successful-why-are-you-s... on what the author calls "insecure overachievers".


Working for a big company/megacorp without valuable good stock options/bonuses on weekends and off-hours is dumb and abusive.

On the other hand these startups are voluntary organizations. You choose to work there or not. I don't see anything wrong with a company deciding on a culture/work enviornment which attracts people who are very dedicated to the company (and hope to be rewarded in the long term as such) and are willing to sacrifice personal time more than typically expected at a usual company.

Some people love working and solving hard problems (and having tens/hundreds of thousands of people use their software) more than going to restaurants or night clubs or having family - at that point in their lives.

It's one thing to work obsessively and to the detriment of your health. But that doesn't mean a small team of "10xers" is necessarily a toxic/abusive arrangement that people are forced to engage with.

There will always be plenty of 9-5, no nighttime/weekend type jobs for software developers. You just won't find them as often at high-growth/high-risk+high-reward type startups.

That said, not all high risk/reward agencies require an obsessive/super hard worker type either. But that type of commitment isn't necessarily a bad thing either (unless they do it to the point of hurting their own health, which hurts the intellectual/physical ability and ultimately their contribution to the company).

I know for a fact it's possible to put above average commitment into a company, while still being entirely health. But it's certainly not for everyone, nor should it be. That also doesn't mean you should feel bad for getting fired or pushed out of such a company because it's not for you.


> On the other hand these startups are voluntary organizations. You choose to work there or not.

I think this sounds good in theory and is very shaky in practice.

For example, look at indentured servitude [1], where people can sell themselves into time-limited slavery. Once common, it has been banned. You will find people suggesting we bring it back while waving the banner of "freedom".

It's especially erroneous here. This whole article is about how he thought he was getting into one thing based on the hype, but that the reality was deeply different. He talks about it as cult-like, cults being organizations that take advantage of flaws in human cognition to manipulate people.

If free choice is to mean anything, it must be a choice that was honestly informed and unmanipulated. To use it as an excuse in a situation like this is just victim-blaming.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indentured_servitude


He talks about it as "cult-like" because they had standup meetings and used industry-standard acronyms. It certainly does feel weird to transfer into a new industry where there's a huge set of conventional wisdom you don't know, but that's not exactly manipulative.


Whether or not those are industry standard, they can be used in cult-like ways. E.g., I love stand-ups myself and have promoted them vigorously. But as with many Agile terms, a lot of the use I see and hear about is definitely cargo-culted: ritualistic, dogmatic, and not very effective compared with people who use them as tools to improve their work.

Here in particular he makes clear it's a veneer: "Six months in, I started to see through the acronyms and the carefully maintained optimism of my teammates. For all the talk of agility and disruption and 10X, there was a deep fear of fucking up."

Real cults regularly use reasonable-sounding religious jargon and performative optimism to paper over deep flaws. So I think he correctly describes this as cultish. And that's before we even get into the other cult-ish signs. You can do your own scoring here: http://www.neopagan.net/ABCDEF.html


indentured servitude may be banned, but similar dynamics still exist today. in the abstract, the college loan system in the US is not so different: you receive something valuable upfront (an education) and then you have to pay it back before you are really free to enjoy the fruits of your labor. while on the one hand you are not bound to a particular employer, the length of "servitude" is not set at the beginning and is likely to be much longer if you don't land a high-paying job.


I am personally opposed to the student loan system, but I don't think it's particularly akin to indentured servitude. The latter means not just one employer, but one owner who commands 100% of your time, feeds and houses you, controls where you live, can sell you at any time to somebody else, and a host of other things. Student loans just require you to pay back the loan out of your earnings. It's much more akin to a mortgage than slavery.


>>I think this sounds good in theory and is very shaky in practice.

If it were shaky, a court of law somewhere would find a comparable employment arrangement fraudulent and ultimately non-voluntary.

Social activists appealing to the court of public opinion, where under-informed people can be swayed with appeals to emotion, to change how interactions are governed, instead of a court of law, where a jury of one's peers have the opportunity to deliberate on the evidence presented, reveals them as disingenuous.


You seem to be confusing the moral discussion we were having with some sort of legal question. Legality sometimes correlates with morality, but often diverges. As an example, slavery was legal.


I'm questioning the truth of your statement. A court of law is a highly effective tool for ascertaining the truth of an argument, and the laws as set up will invalidate a contract that finds truthful the argument that it is non-voluntary. Yet no such working arrangements have been nullified on the basis that a court found them non-voluntary.

If a position has never been corroborated by court rulings, despite incentives existing to argue that position, then it's almost certainly not factually sound.


This is true only if the law interpreted by the court has a definition of "voluntary" that is 100% congruent with what other people mean. Given that even today people mean different things by that, your point makes no sense. And as I said, it's manifestly untrue that historical laws forbid contracts that match any modern definition of voluntary.


The law interpreted by the court that governs contracts is common law, which is society's best approximation of the truth as it relates to justice, that has been arrived at through deliberations by trained legal experts and juries over hundreds of years.

If you're going to make outrageous claims of the courts using an alternate definition of "voluntary", that is inconsistent with the correct or generally accepted definition, you need to provide evidence of that, and no, your own sweeping generalizations about a vast array of complex interactions is not evidence of anything except your own opinion.


Given that you are a frequent and tendentious commenter on my posts here, I do not in fact need to provide that. If you need that for your own purposes, you can ask nicely. But I am comfortable with the fact that you will not like whatever I have to say, and that there's no point in explaining more than one or two replies' worth.


"it's possible to put above average commitment into a company, while still being entirely health. "

Healthy or not, if the employee does not get above average renumeration for their above average efforts they are being ripped off. That's what the financial pathology here is - if everyone is working with an above average output, but thei pay is average, from the point of view of the company the cost of labour for above average output is less than the market rate, and it's harder to get fair compensation.

I don't think there is anything wrong in working ones ass off, but if the worker is just an employee they should make sure their compensation is fair, versus the market rate.

People often imagine that they will get a fair compensation for their work, while generally actually they get only the compensation which they ask for.

That's why this 'work hard party hard' culture can be detrimental IMO - it easily blinds people to the financial realities of their situation.

That's not to say that professional 10x operations would not exist where labour is rewarded faiy, but that the employee must be aware of what the unspoken gameplan actually is. Is it cultish razzle dazzle to get cheap labour or actual 'entrepreneurial spec ops' type activity.


All I do is 9-5. I get recruiters reaching out all the time about some bs start up in the city. One company tried to excite by saying they have happy hour DAILY where they drink vodka/beer because their customer sells alcohol. IMO that is fking crazy, my uncle died to alcoholism at 48 and I know others that struggle with addiction. I don't want to be around alcohol and I can only imagine the culture at that company.

Another time I interviewed at a company that I found cool and I was interested in their product. I asked, "How is work life balance here" and they answered "we have many projects in the pipeline". I told them their salary was too low. I left and my recruiter called me upset that I changed my salary expectations during the interview.

Some companies are shitty.


> On the other hand these startups are voluntary organizations. You choose to work there or not.

In the absence of a basic income guarantee, the decision to take a job is a long way from truly voluntary. As long as people are obliged to take jobs, these exploitative jobs have to be illegal (in the same way that e.g. conventionally unsafe working conditions are illegal, even if the employee might "voluntarily" agree to them).


I don't see anything wrong with a company deciding on a culture/work enviornment which attracts people who are very dedicated to the company (and hope to be rewarded in the long term as such)

That’s OK in theory but in practice it’s almost always a bait-and-switch relying on the marks not knowing the difference between preferred and common stock, or what dilution is.

Easy test: do they say “10,000” shares but don’t tell you how many shares there are?


Or pitching Series A stock to prospective employees by pointing to IPO valuations of a select group of successful startups with similar products, without mentioning that those startups experienced 4-5x dilution from Series A to IPO...


> I enjoyed the article - is this too strong a look in the mirror for most folks?

I enjoyed the article but I do think it's very wrong as a general claim. I like my job (is that so wrong?) and don't want to see it smeared by association with two badly-behaved companies that happen to be in the same broad category.

Plenty of startups won't expect you to work after 5pm - I never did, across several companies. Plenty of staid non-tech companies expect unreasonable hours.


There is a thread of a story in the article that is interesting but leaves a lot of 'what if?' questions - could this author have found something that fit between the bro-culture-10x sales targets and a magazine editor-change-isnt-always-good?

How come when he interviewed at a dozen more start ups at the end of the story, he didn't find himself in an interview where he could discuss the 10x-start-up culture downfalls?

Or maybe that middle road is extremely rare.


> could this author have found something that fit between the bro-culture-10x sales targets and a magazine editor-change-isnt-always-good?

Maybe they didn’t want to? They tried a few tech startups and didn’t like the experience; it seems natural to then say “I think I’ll do something else instead”.


For me, it's a frustration with the writer and people like him because they project their problems onto everyone else. Not everyone agrees with what your ideal job is, why are you making sweeping statements about how bad the company is, when in reality there are plenty of people who do enjoy this "10xer" culture?

It's classic, "I know more than you" mentality, where the author believes the people who buy into the culture are being duped, and he's the only one who can see clearly.

I'm so sick of being told to be less optimistic and positive about the company I work for, because my optimism is just me subscribing to the "cult". It reeks of that classic teenage "it's cool to hate/dislike/criticize stuff" attitude that I'd expect my colleagues to have grown out of by now.


Keep drinking the KoolAid and you'll never be thirsty for common sense again.


> I enjoyed the article - is this too strong a look in the mirror for most folks? My ideal job now is one where I can live in the bush, have boring but steady work, and otherwise not care about programming after 5pm and feel OK with myself for it.

Would love to find such a job, but sadly they don't seem to exist. It's either startups like described in the article, or major companies cheating the system and building startups within so they can hire contractors instead of employees and pay start-up rates. Every company in Toronto does it, even the large ones (hello banks, telcos)


I can only speak for Germany but there are tons of such jobs here. Americans regularly mock German IT wages but I can go home around 4pm consistently without anybody looking at me weirdly. I might not have a snooker table or free soft drinks in the office but I don't need to live there because my free time is actually my free time.


In Canada now, but it isn't much better. As the article says, we get the worst of both worlds: lower wages and shitty work conditions. Seriously considering Europe in the near future. Not sure every EU country is equal on that front though, the UK (although not technically EU anymore) seems to have the same unhealthy relationship to work as North America does.


> the UK (although not technically EU anymore) seems to have the same unhealthy relationship to work as North America does.

We're still in the EU and I've no idea why you think we are anything like the US in terms of overworking. I've never had a job that required me to work overtime really, sometimes I've stayed behind in my latest job as I got lost in the moment and lost track of time, but usually someone will ask me "Why are you still here?". My manager even told me not to work overtime, as it often hid problems more than anything else.

In fact I don't know anyone in Web Development in the UK that does work overtime. Maybe it's different in London though...


The UK has about the weakest implementation of EU labour laws available (in particular its implementation of the working time directive is terribly watered down). The legal situation is still a good bit more employee friendly than the US, though.


In my (startup) office people go home whenever they want. It's in Seattle but our SF office is similar. It's not impossible to find reasonable situations.


I think there is a well deserved backlash against startups for exploiting (tell me if there’s a better word that describes this) their employees, to the extent that this is acceptable behavior.

If companies instead genuinely tried to care for their employees, I think the sentiment would be very different.


Sounds like we've had similar Canadian startup experiences.

Expectations quickly rose to time on weekends, responsiveness to emails and requests at all hours of the day, and job duties ranging from DevOps and app development, to customer and client support for all issues after they let go of their customer support team.

I'm about ready for a bush somewhere.


To be fair, the original article was very salty as well.


"Competitive" company cultures are an enormous red flag for me, almost always a mechanism to help executives drain employees to a lifeless husk without having to actually pay for the privilege.

In my experience, companies have three ways to motivate employees.

One is to compensate them at a level commensurate with what is expected of them (too few companies do this, even in tech).

One is to make them feel like they have a genuine stake in the performance of the company, either because they believe in the company's mission (usually impossible for a for-profit enterprise, except among the more gullible employees) or they actually have an ownership stake in the business (virtually impossible with the VC model, papier-mache stock options not withstanding)

The third is to build an artificial "competitive culture", so everyone is so busy pushing themselves to the limit in competition with their coworkers that they never stop to realize that the only prize is more money in the bank account of their investors (who may peel a bills off the top and toss it to them in the form of a 'performance bonus')


> One is to compensate them at a level commensurate with what is expected of them (too few companies do this, even in tech).

Companies don't do this because it's not a coherent concept. No two people see the same workload in the same way.

Payment is based on what it would cost to replace you, not on what you do.


Companies pay the lowest amount that workers accept. Some employers can hold down wages because their workers have no other options. Ours have to resort to marginally more sophisticated stratagems.


"Payment is based on what it would cost to replace you, not on what you do."

I would perhaps rephraze this as 'payment is based on the market rate'. It has more into it than just cost of replacement. The replacement cost becomes a key metric when presenting a counter offer to an employee who got a better offer elsewhere.


>> The replacement cost becomes a key metric when presenting a counter offer to an employee who got a better offer elsewhere.

Do not forget that replacement cost the first few months to about half year is quite high. You are far less profitable to a company if you are new as you take time of others and are less up-to-speed. But that never gets taken into account when dealing with pay increases for retained employees. E.g. you should get significantly more than a new hire if you are with the company for longer as it usually a benefit. Though there are counter examples to this statement, so it is various shades of gray between new hires and paying retained employees more.


Similarly, the replacement cost of a new employer is also high for an employee if they have a family and don’t want to move and/or can’t gamble on the conditions at a new employer. I would say thaumasiotes is correct in saying an employee is paid what it would cost to replace them, in 99.9% of cases. Of course the buyer takes risks such as not finding as good of an employee, cost of training, legal risks of terminating or hiring, and the cost of the message it sends to others, but it’s still the same concept.

No buyer wants to pay more than they have to, hence when the value an employee adds is commoditized, you see that they get paid exactly what it costs to replace them, hence the minuscule pay and terrible work conditions of retail, restaurants, and hotels.


The market rate is the cost to replace you. An employer paying more is making a mistake. An employee taking less is making a mistake. It's the only steady state.


Sure, avoiding the word 'replacement' is mostly about semantics as it guides the mind to think in closed and not in open mode.


The author didn't seem work with devs (who were on the other side of the country) or investors, so I have trouble fully accepting their generalizations of tech startups as a whole. Sure, they experienced a lot of tech-specific phenomena like free drinks at the office, but it sounds like most of the problems were just due to interacting with a lot of obnoxious young salesmen.

The part where they act surprised at the use of normal business acronyms (they're 40 and weren't familiar with the term "ROI" ??) kind of hurts credibility too


Yeah, ROI and KPIs. Real cult stuff there. </s>

And the part against "teammates" in favor of "co-workers." Some of this is really stretching.

There were some toxic stuff going on there for sure, but there is a lot of padding going on to get that article long.

I'm from a unicorn. Employee lower 30s. Still there. Free beer, trips to Mexico, all that. Stand ups, acronyms, etc. At no time have I perceived the environment as toxic.


[flagged]


If I said that a company wants to get employees on the same page for company strategic goals and initiatives, would you think that utter BS? What if it were put forth that it was better to do this in a all-hands style but with presentations, and everyone physically in the same venue? BS? I don't think so. Now, what if I told you this was more affordable to do away from the home office due to geography distributed offices, and that it was more affordable to do in Mexico than in the US? Naw, just horrid.


"If I said that a company wants to get employees on the same page for company strategic goals and initiatives, would you think that utter BS?"

I work at a very large multinational company. I worked at such companies for roughly two thirds of my career. The other one third I worked at a mid-size company which later on became a multinational conglomerate. Based on those experiences, I would absolutely say that it's utter bullshit. You bet I would.


It would appear that the marketing department in these companies was focused in helping the sales people push more product, rather than work with product to highlight new functionality. This does make sense: most companies are sales driven, not product driven.


The Canadian startup scene is brutal. We have all of the downsides of valley startups with very few of the benefits.

About five years ago, during my last job search, I interviewed at a well funded (Series B) AI company that was looking for a VP of Marketing. After a few months of interviews, including many early on where they had asked me for my salary expectations, they offered me a starting salary of $70,000 CAD saying that they had to "save money for Engineers because AI is expensive and engineering is more important."

Another company I had worked at early in my career had two "co-CEOs" (who constantly bickered all the time in a power struggle). The claimed to have "flexible work hours" as long as you put in your regular hours and were there between the core hours of 10-3. Since it was a long drive away from me, I started doing a 7-3 shift to avoid the traffic. I noticed that the younger staff would arrive around 8:30 or 9am, but was told that they were staying until 7 or 8 at night and ordering pizza each night because nobody dared to leave before the CEOs, who were two young single guys just out of University. I felt guilted, and would end up putting in a few extra hours here and there, but, when it came time for my performance review, I was told I wasn't a "team player" because I wasn't staying to tough it out with the rest of them. The one other employee who had a family and didn't stay late said "You don't pay enough for this to be my full life" and the CEO said "well you make more than we do and look at all the time we put in" - he couldn't understand the difference in the fact that this was his company that he owned, and for others it was just a job.

I've got probably a dozen stories of Canadian startups who expect top 0.1% talent, pay below market rates, and want you constantly in the office. They try and make themselves seem great with office dogs, and catered lunches but they are classic underpaid corporate jobs, with even higher expectations.

After a few years, I could see why Canada faced such a brain drain of talent to the valley. Even the University of Waterloo, which is famous for its Engineers notes that Canada even companies in the city of Waterloo have trouble retaining their grads from going to the valley.

I started working remote and haven't looked back. But, it's a real shame because I think Canada has such potential to be a great startup market and yet the culture is way off course.


The Toronto startup scene is exactly like this. All of the negatives and no upside.

My last company didn't allow me to work in my off hours. Paid below market, needy owner wanted to be part of the developer team so he checks in untested code at 3am.. mornings were fixing those commits.

It's a culture issue maybe weaker real technical visions with ownership which creates 'medium' driven culture where everyone must be a sterotype.

You are better off working for a small business. Entity in most cases should be ignored.


I really feel for you here. And I think you're right that this comes from deep weakness at the top. The investors want to get in on the Silicon Valley money. The founders channel the Silicon Valley hype. But once you've started pretending you are a genius who will make billions, you can't really switch to the sort of humility that it takes to really get things done well. So the whole company turns into an extension of the sham performance of the founders.

E.g., really great people I know are constantly sweating effectiveness. They look at outcomes. They want to be sure they're having the desired impact on customers, on the company, on its people. Plenty of mediocre people focus on metrics, on following the rules, on seeking efficiency. Those aren't intrinsically bad, but can turn that way when the proximate measures don't align with outcomes. But the really scary ones I've met focus on appearance. They want butts in seats, the later the better. They create artificial deadlines and dramatic launches. They look at metrics and find ways to manipulate them with no regard for actual outcomes.

If those fools were only harming themselves, I'd be ok with it. But when they harm others, often hundreds of others over the course of their companies, it's truly enraging.


Remote work was a life changer for me too. The pay is far better, the hours are better (if you keep yourself in check at least), and... Well, I spend a lot more time with my family now, so there's nothing worse to say about it really.

In the past I worked for a lot of "performance marketing" companies, but also a few more legitimate companies like Checkfront. Even Checkfront left me feeling deeply unsatisfied despite being an good group of people and decent work. I think there's just something weird going on when companies identify as startups, especially if they're seeking funding. Things deteriorate as they grow, "perks" you mentioned like dogs in the office don't make you feel any better about not seeing your kids after school, and the free coffee tastes like shit anyway.

Worst of all though, you're blowing 8-10 hours a day on Canadian pay. If you're in the west like I am, this is a giant fuck you to your bank account. Going remote was an immediate $25k raise with better hours and no commute.


> A job for life also meant that your job was your life. You went into teaching or sports reporting or proctology because it was a calling—it was who you were meant to be. But it’s been a long time since anyone has been able to count on a job for life. The tech industry led the way: our shift to precarious employment was hastened by more efficient algorithms, apps and Amazon.

What is the real history of employment stability? I mean I can imagine that a Blacksmith was probably safely a Blacksmith for life back in the day, but is even that really true? And that's for identifiable trades, which it seems were not even easy to get trained into. So maybe the reality is that employment for most people has always been precarious?

Hasn't tech merely brought this instability to a social class that was exempted from it for the latter half of the 20th Century?

Would love to know more from someone who has some grounding in this.


>I mean I can imagine that a Blacksmith was probably safely a Blacksmith for life back in the day, but is even that really true?

I'm guessing in most countries a Blacksmith (a toolmaker if you will) was usually self-employed. Of course they were "in-for-life", nobody was there to fire them. But this doesn't mean that it was easy going, they could still have a bad economy or some other blacksmith underbidding on price (or offering much better quality, marketind, whatever).

You can open your own toolmaker shop as a programmer. Your success won't depend on whether your boss likes you, but whether you can sell your tools, whether you can provide the appropriate quality, and whether you're not underbid by a large competition.


In medieval Europe, AFAIK trades were regulated by guilds. You couldn't just become a blacksmith, the job was hereditary. And the prices of goods were set by the guilds. I'm far from an expert on the matter, and I'm sure I'm painting the era with a very broad brush here. The point is, I don't think you can compare being a craftsman in previous ages to being self-employed today.


Like most things in history: it's complicated. Generally, in a feudal system: yes, you had a job for life and that was that. How stable was that? Not very, as food is still 'variable' until the industrial revolution and the green revolution of the 1930s-1960s[0]. But starvation and epidemics are a bit orthogonal to the question of employment. Still, the skills and, importantly, the tools used were expensive to learn and teach.

The feudal system, as done in Europe in the middle ages, is actually a result of just one man: Emperor Diocletian. His policies essentially ushered in feudalism as Europe knew it. He forbade the travel of skilled craftsmen, inadvertently encouraged the self sufficiency of large estates, and tried to fully regulate all prices in the empire. His early attempts gave Rome the Tetrarchy and yet more civil wars; essentially his efforts were total failures. He actually retired, a first, and went off to grow really big cabbages in modern day Turkey. Though many of his reforms flopped, the feudal system of 'jobs for life passed onto kin' did stick for about 1500 years.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Revolution

[1] https://cafehayek.com/2006/09/an_empire_of_re.html


Well 2 of my grand father and my father worked in the same trade for their whole life. Their entourage mostly did.

Now appart from very specific jobs like lawyers and doctors, I don't know many people around me that haven't already changed job several times.

Just a data point of course.


Are they changing jobs within the same “trade” or are they really changing trades?

As someone who is looking for a career reset in the short/medium term, it appears companies/recruiters have a very narrow window for what kind of new employee they feel is acceptable.


I'm also very surprised to see "employment stability" as something good. I'm the kind of person who likes to change things in life pretty often, and I change jobs around once a year, also taking shorter contracts. In the "old" world of job-for-life employment I would be complete outcast; I am really happy to work in the industry that is much more friendlier to my temperament.


> In the "old" world of job-for-life employment I would be complete outcast

This is not the case. The old world also had job variety: you could join one of the many ad agencies or one of the many manufacturing companies. Consulting was also a thing. Today's GDP is occupied more and more with startups, not companies focused on the long term.


Whenever I find myself falling for this, I keenly remember the advice given to me from Your Money or Your Life, which is that you are at work for 1 reason and 1 reason only: money.

Many people say they work for other reasons, like socialization, meaning, etc. Robinson (the author) makes a point that you can find these things in volunteer activities, and that your loyalty ends at the paycheck. Your company will not hesitant to eliminate you when it's financially viable. Why should you be any different?


Because your incentives are different from your company's incentives.

I'm working for money, but why can't I "double up" these working hours to also get socialization and meaning out of them? Sure, I could volunteer, but that's not an efficient use of my time.


Because you don't have to have only one reason to work. I mean, everybody needs some amount of money for basic neccessities, but after that, it's a complicated equation of different priorities. And if you choose money only, then you're spending the best time of your day maximizing only one resources, while letting everything else take the back seat. Why do it if you can get socialization and meaning from work too?

Also, I don't understand your point about company not being hesitant to eliminate you. Yes, but so what? There are two parties in the work-for-hire transactions, and of course, both parties are looking out for their own self-interest. I see no reason why they should extract the same exact resources from this transaction, though.


Some context is needed. The goal of Your Money or Your Life was to get more people familiar with financial independence, the idea being once you have saved enough to "retire" early, you can pick the projects you work on and the people you work with. So in that case, yes, you do optimize for resources.


> the idea being once you have saved enough to "retire" early

That assumes that you have a very high natural ability to lay off gratification to pursue your goals. If so, good for you, most people don't, and this quality (conscientiousness from the big 5) is not really mutable above very early age. So, if you do try such a strategy, most likely you will fail because you don't have willpower for it, won't be able to suffer through the job that you hate and took only for the money, and will hate yourself for it.


Anyone else find it strange that this person worked in sales for one company which called itself a startup despite being nearly two decades old but keeps making these sweeping generalizations about startups and tech?

> Here was the biggest surprise about working in tech: even though everyone wears their team T-shirts and hoodies, rah-rah chants at the monthly all-staff meetings and competes for the sombrero of shame at the tropical off-site, no one loves the start-up they work for. No one feels secure. No one is loyal. There’s no certainty your start-up will exist in a year—or next week.

I can testify from personal experience all of these generalizations are false. Did it never occur to the author that maybe they were just being exploited by a crappy company?


You've worked at enough companies to make your own generalization and can say with 100% certainty that they are false. The author happens to do the opposite. Seeing as you are both talking from (your own) experience, you might both be right. There's no way for the readers to know.


No, the author is making a sweeping generalization about ALL tech startups in an article published on a news website.

The commenter on a forum is simply asserting that these facts are not true about ALL tech startups, and it's perfectly valid to discredit a generalization about ALL with one anecdote.


Importantly, I would argue that this feeling that you need to feel some level of pressure is an important part of a sales organization, and is actually a good thing (when managed properly).

Not in a hopeless, we are doomed way, but you can make a lot of money in sales, but you have to go out and make that happen. In your mid twenties you can make the equivalent of an investment banker or top lawyer, and you don't work anywhere as many hours as they do.

Note: I work in external recruiting (which is a very sales heavy role).


And I can testify from working with and consulting as a content person for 6 startups over the past 13 years that most of his generalizations are true. That was one of the most accurate takes I've read on this BS "culture" I have come across in a LONG while.


This is a key theme of all "tech" culture commentary. They play fast and loose with the distinction between "tech" as a business vertical, and the "tech" focused roles found inside any companies.


Raw and revealing.

As I was reading the article, I started to wonder: is this the Holy Grail of everyone who wants to be disruptive, creative, productive, etc., when it comes to work with tech products?

IMHO, independently of "the hat that one might be wearing", this "Zen of Star-ups" is too much (unnecessary). Dozens of companies forcing this way of life (snacks, beer, parties, video-games, etc.), creating a "cool world", when in fact, it is not. There are investments and decisions affecting the direction of a product (which must be successful for the sake of everyone). There is no paradise in this scenario. This is too serious. Instead of all this "blablabla", why not just keep a serious and cooperative environment? The "Zen of Startup" is a trap (most of the time). Sounds like a lack of reality, which could be addressed by a simple set of values between employer and employees:

- honesty, cooperation, productivity, good compensations and missions

Throw away beers, snacks, spas, video-games, etc. These five things above, are solid enough for a sustainable work environment, and things doing great or not, there's no "Never Land" feeling (no illusion).

Someone has the money, and you might the have the skills that she/he wants. Period. K.I.S.S.


"honesty, cooperation, productivity, good compensations and missions" Competence is a lot more expensive than beer and pizza. And it encourages less time in the office, not more. It's easy to feel assured when everyone is at their desks (doing whatever).


I've been at a few Canadian startups on the tech side, some as lead Architect, and the thing I took away from them is that while they all called themselves tech startups, what they really are are sales organizations.

In each startup I worked at[1] the sales guys would write deals that were nearly impossible for the tech people to deliver on.

And when we did manage to deliver on them, it wasn't a 'win' for us.

For one thing it kept us in firefighting mode all the time because we were never given the time to do the job right and and two, it just emboldened the sales guys to write even bigger deals.

I burned out so bad from those jobs that I developed some medical issues as a result. I'm mostly ok now, but in my opinion it's not worth it. If you aren't a founder, those options won't ever be worth anything, and you will never get those years back.

Even worse, if you burn out too badly, you may end up with permanent health issues.

[1] I won't name them cos I have nothing good to say about them.

[2] The graphic midway down the article where someone responds to a text about work from bed hit too close to home for me. I can't tell you how many pings I got on slack about some server being down sometimes as the last thing I saw before going to bed, or often as the first thing I saw in the morning.


I would be wary of joining any startup where a major shareholder is the Father of the founder. Unless you really knew a lot about it. Second major red flag is a company referring to itself as 'startup' after 18 years of operation.


What's wrong with the 2 red flags?


Nothing wrong with family funded business but if after 18 years the 'dad' is the major shareholder it's a bad sign they were not able to raise much outside capital.

It's not so bad, most companies are not 'high flying' but if they have 'startup culture' ... maybe not such a great thing.

Also - family companies can be odd. It very much depends on the situation.

An 18 year old company should simply not be referring to itself as a 'startup' and they should have at very least be settling into some kind of routine. It's fine if there isn't hypergalactic growth - but something fundamental should be there.


I find that a lot of companies that refer to themselves as being bearers of startup culture, is mostly trying to cater to younger people or at least a young mindset - not because they're necessarily trying to hide insane working hours or demands. Sometimes it truly is about passion and keeping a "beginner's mind". Definitely not for everyone, but to me it feels very inspiring and empowering.

(I work for 15+ year company that like to view itself as a startup - but the partying is definitely optional)


> Nothing wrong with family funded business but if after 18 years the 'dad' is the major shareholder it's a bad sign they were not able to raise much outside capital.

Or they didn't have a need to. Why depend on other peoples money if you're fine without?


Because family rounds would have been earlier, and typically want less risk. Also, there are almost 0 companies that can do just as well with $10M as they can with 100.

More money is a powerful sign of momentum, and it generally increases valuation.

So sure, maybe $50M is enough and 'more' just comes on worse terms ... but a small company avoiding going past Round A ... it's far more likely they just couldn't raise.


I equate startup but downsides like longer hours, less salary, higher pressure. That is ok for a few years but not sustainable. If you are still working like that after 18 years, I would consider that a commercial failure.


> Some mornings, I had to reassure myself I hadn’t joined a cult. We were teammates, not co-workers, and our meetings would end with a rousing “Go team!”

Most startups (if not all) are a cult: they have even 'evangelisers'. Why? They need money from investors and sometimes with nothing to show. So founders need to preach. Employees wake up one day in this environment also. Like in any cult, some people believe more and some people believe less. Some don't believe at all and some pretend to believe. Meanwhile money flows.


Annoying bro-style salesmen? Say it isn’t so! Good thing they only exist in the tech startup world... /s

I’m not saying startups are a perfect, far from it, but this whole article focuses only on the non-tech side of tech startups. Again, even for those in tech, startups are far from perfect but still, it seems like the author happened to interface with only the most juvinelle/brainwashed groups at a company.


This description of a startup is exactly everything I ever think of when I hear or get offered "the next big opportunity": as an engineer, to me this would be the equivalent of going to a Gulag, 7000 days in Siberia.

I cringed the entire time at the lucid descriptions of testosterone fueled football throwing and bell ringing, tempered by own personal experiences with sales and marketing (none of them ever useful, and often highly detrimental to the places I worked at). These descriptions are exactly as I remember it.

A Gulag turned into a frenzy by testosterone. What a salt mine startups are! It's like volunteering for a labor concentration camp.

I bow in silent respect to startup founders who toil away in their basements and garages on their own spare time and with their own money, taking none from anyone else. If you are reading this, perhaps it might make you smile a little to know that someone somewhere admires you.


One litmus test I use is too look around physically and/or on the org. chart and see where the majority of people are. That highlights the focus of the company. If there are 15 senior sales people and an entourage of sales support staff to each engineer, then it's clear that engineers are not particularly valued not will they be.


Culture is an obsession at start-ups. They talk about it nearly as much as they talk about sales targets.

Its a signal for: don't apply here if you're over 40.


Believe whatever you want. But I'm never hiring a guy whose belief is that as a developer his job is only building whatever some person thinking about the product wants. I want to work with engineers who want influence over the product.

That's a culture difference.

I'm never hiring a guy who thinks it's his job to only write code in the stack I tell him to under the rules I place him under. I want to work with people who care about that and have an informed opinion about it.

That's a culture difference.

I'm not hiring a guy who wants to write code but not be affected by the operation of it, who believes that he should operate in isolation and everyone should merge his 30k line PRs, who believes that he should only have his code reviewed by those senior to him.

That's culture. And a hundred other things are, too.

Life's too short to have a net negative weighing the team down.


I want to work with you!

Of the 3 points you raised the 1st one strikes the highest chord with me: it really sucks to be working with someone who just likes to move stories/tickets from left to right.


Can you expand on that? I disagree completely, but my sample size is small. We have lots of people over 40 and we hire for culture too. We define it has folks who are happy, hungry, honest, and humble. If you fit those boxes, are enjoyable to work with, are customer focused, and interested in driving the product forward with colleagues, you will fit our culture. We guard that zealously.

Edit: typo.


True company culture can be anything. But if someone talks too much about culture, it just makes me think about all the extra non-work parties, get together a and events you'll be expected to go to.

My idea of a good company culture is a place where everyone works hard during working hours and then goes home and leaves the work at work so they can relax and spend time with friends and family.


This is absolutely right. A mature company should be hiring the best person for each role defined as the person that can do the job the best (of course price is another issue). Hiring people because of some preconceived idea of culture is usually code for agism or worse discriminations


We define it has folks who are happy, hungry, honest, and humble.

Good for you. In a number of companies, "culture fit" became code for "looks like us, dresses like us, educated like us, thinks like us, is like us".


But for how many decades do you expect someone to be honestly happily hungry when food turns out to continually taste like doritos?


My personal experience. I've worked in an out of Seattle, working for some big-name companies. Shortly after turning 40 and got laid off. No big deal, I thought, because my resume, open source contributions, customer skills, and deep experience should land me a job pretty quickly, right?

Well without getting into too much detail, I was told more than once "I am not a culture fit". The whole experience caused me to rethink my career as a pure software developer, and I've since pivoted to become a cloud architect.

I'm not the OP on this thread but I do agree, when I hear "culture fit" I feel in a sense it's a veiled way to discriminate in some way, age, gender, or otherwise.


It sounds like these ones took this up a notch and expected everyone to do all their socializing, eating, entertainment and anything not work related with the company.

It's more of a "don't apply here if you have a well adjusted, balanced life at any age".


> Top Hat’s software could very well make higher education more efficient but possibly less rewarding and meaningful for the student.

This seems like a variant on the just world fallacy - any improvement has to be balanced by an equal and opposite cost.

It's not true. It's very possible to make things just better overall. And college textbook publishing would be close to the top of my list of candidates of things that are just bad for no real reason (other than lack of competition).


You both use possibly/possible and that's enough of a hedge that I don't think there's an actual disagreement here on facts, just on mood.

It's possible that there is a way to improve on textbooks, but this company won't find it. Or maybe they will?

It seems to me that writing just a single textbook (or equivalent content) well takes a lot of work, and improving on it would be harder than that.


Seems like there's not a lot of circumspection happening in these responses. I truly don't know how true the "brogrammer" stereotype in SV or Toronto is, but my opinion changes dramatically between HN (in general) and say Blind, where engineers with the vocabulary and attitude of young children are regularly found waxing insecure about their 300k+ inflated salaries (as just one example). I imagine the culture can vary dramatically, but if it doesn't, then I'd wager that cultures fall into one of the extremes. Either the older antisocial stereotype, or the one described here. Not really going on a lot though.


What's Blind? Is it a community? Tried googling but could only find a consultancy of some sort.


Seems like that's what it is. Only heard about it recently through another offhand reference in another HN comment.

https://www.teamblind.com/articles/Topics


Even just a quick glance at the stuff visible is pretty uhh.. interesting, I'd think it was a parody site if I didn't know better


Just looked. It does kind of come across as an elaborate parody...


It really does. But in their FAQs they don't have a "Is this an elaborate joke?" question, and they appear to validate work email addresses.


In The Netherlands I see some similarities, but also a couple of differences. The startups that I have worked for (3) did:

1. Put in long hours (mostly as a result of deadline stress).

2. Have a mission/vision.

3. Acronyms and own company words that they invented themselves. Not necessarily a bad thing, a new word can mean a very specific concept.

But they didn't have:

1. Stock options

2. An explicit company culture

What they did have:

1. More direct than the companies described here. It wasn't brutally honest, but definitely more honest than whatever I read in this blog post.

2. Being more down to earth.

These final two things are also much more ingrained in Dutch culture than in the US culture (and probably Canadian culture).


That's sad to hear. A friend of mine has been trying to get me to work in NL for a while and she says a common hatred of overtime is a big plus. Maybe it's just the company and not the country.


This is true, Dutchies tend to hate overtime and often in the elevator at 16:59. but there are of course exceptions.

The Netherlands is a great place to work though :)


How is that a bad thing though? Why would you voluntarily work for free (overtime is rarely paid in tech) and long for it? Giving away your most valuable hours 5 days a week isn't enough, you should aspire to more? Screw that, you're an employee not the owner.


What?? I view it as a wonderful thing.

Overtime is rarely paid, but the reality is the jobs I see in NL pay a lot less than my current one. Enough less that I haven't moved. I might look in to it in a few years when I'm not at a relatively high-cost stage of life (new family, buying first home, etc.)


I might have replied to the wrong comment by mistake because yes, we're essentially saying the same thing :)


I think a bit more experienced Dutchies have this. The people I worked with in general were all quite young. But there was one senior programmer who has children and was vocal against overtime.

</nuance>


Did I miss something, what was the mistake the author was referring to?


The story was a bit anti-climatic. I was waiting for that "oh crap" key moment where he uncovered something profound and it would punch me in the gut as a reader. The title could have been something as plain as "What I learned working at a couple startups in Toronto"


Right? Bit of a long read for no conclusion


Personal anecdote: Worked for a startup for 14 months a couple of years ago. The pay was on the low range with promises for the future. The perks: they offered $10 for lunch on Seamless and one unlimited metro-card per month. And $20 for dinner if we stayed after 8:30pm IIRC. The implicit untold cost was that we were not supposed to leave the office during lunch since it would be delivered there. In order to get edible food I had to put 10 myself since it would not meet the minimum for delivery and the ones that did were trash. In no time did I realize that we were paying for the lunch ourselves by working the other half hour of the lunch break. The 8:30 dinner was obvious what it was:)

Cart food was an option that I started taking after a while. Food was the same and I would de-tense during the break. GC sponsored employees did not dare do that.

When new clients were visiting the office (once in a while) we were supposed to become animated and chatty, draw diagrams and seem deeply involved with some problem; in a few instances 3 remote contractors that were doing design work for us were asked to come to the office to make it look as if the company is larger than it seems. They were thinking of buying a Foosball table and play during those visits to impress potential customers. I left before they they got it.


Great post.

I worked at a few startups (Unicorns) in Telecom. I was surrounded by amazing senior engineers, but otherwise it was like a 'regular company'. Kind of like a 'Verizon' if it were modernized, and they got rid of the ugly bureaucracy and maybe took a few pointers from startups.

The SF youthful startup scene - no thanks - even in my youth - for the very reasons written in this article.

These guys need some self awareness.


The setup for this article sounds like a rip-off of Dan Lyons' book "Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Startup Bubble." That was a fun book also about a journalist joining the marketing startup ... this one called Hubspot.

Dan Lyons' blurb from Kindle edition: "Dan Lyons is a novelist, journalist, and screenwriter. He is currently a co-producer and writer for the HBO series Silicon Valley. Previously, Lyons was technology editor at Newsweek and the creator of the groundbreaking viral blog "The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs." Lyons has written for the New York Times Magazine, GQ, Vanity Fair, and Wired. He lives in Winchester, MA."


That was one of the few books that made me genuinely dislike the author. By the end of it everybody at the company hated him, he didn't do any work but wouldn't quit, he thought the job was beneath him and was contemptuous of the people who were actually doing their jobs.


Indeed, they're both pretty much the same story. Journalist uncomfortable with the very idea of sales and marketing takes a job in marketing and ends up unhappy. Neither story was particularly unique to startups, nor particularly insightful beyond "don't take a job in marketing if you're uncomfortable with sales and marketing".


Reminded me of this excellent book https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26030703-disrupted


We're going to look back on these days as a modern tulip mania. So many of these companies (and serial startup employees) are not even living "fake it until you make it", they are on a new and better plan: "fake it here until you have to go fake it somewhere else, with someone else's money"


> That aura is also what seduces investors into betting millions on every tech founder with a half-decent PowerPoint pitch

If only.


> I would be overseeing an in-house propaganda

There is nothing wrong with content creation to reach marketing goals. It can be informative, less intrusive than ads, and help company better reach marketing fit.


Fittingly, the wikipedia page for this startup [1] warns:

> This article appears to contain a large number of buzzwords.

Wikipedia's definition sure falls neatly into the author's thesis:

> ...often have much of the original technical meaning removed through fashionable use, being simply used to impress others... Examples of overworked business buzzwords include synergy, vertical, dynamic, cyber and strategy...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vision_Critical


More "Wolf of Wall Street" than "Silicon Valley"


Who's hiring who doesn't fit this mold?


It seems he joined a company that after a dozen years was still looking for product market fit and decent growth?

it seems the company probably in normal circumstances should have died - but was on VC life support.

As such any number of pathological symptoms would occur - if you were living day to day expecting to die any moment wouldn't you?


The article is so cringy... made me say 'aww' a few times. I don't know - sure, it's an outsiders take. Alright. I kind of want my 6 minutes back, why is this even here?


> So we quietly hired an outside consultant to conduct a study of the brand and make a recommendation for a new name.

That seems a very bad decision from the author.


According to the Wikipedia page the company was founded in 2000...I don’t think you can be called a “start-up” when you’re almost 20 years old...


The article brings this up (but you can of course disagree with its conclusion):

> I was initially mystified by how a company that’s been around since 2000 could still call itself a start-up. It turns out it’s not unusual for software companies to hold on to the start-up classification long after the point when businesses in other industries would be considered established. Software companies are forever “pivoting”—changing their business plans, chasing emerging markets, pushing their platform in new directions. The day I joined, Vision Critical had some 700 staff and two main offices: most of the execs, the sales team and I were housed in Toronto, high above Yonge and Bloor, while Andrew Reid and the majority of the devs were in Vancouver, where they’d taken over part of a tower that used to house the Vancouver Sun newsroom. The company also had sales offices in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia. It was established, but it was also very much a start-up, and had only recently pivoted the business to cloud-based market research software.


It's not a startup after 18 years. Most companies, and especially tech, have to constantly adapt but that doesn't make them a startup. Was Apple a startup when they got into MP3 players from computers? No.


That describes an established 18 year old company, they're not a startup just because they decide to take the business in a new direction. It's like describing IBM as a startup when they decided to move into computers.


Yeah I don't disagree with you, I was just pointing out something in the article that I believe the parent comment missed, since it referenced Wikipedia while the article mentioned 2000 directly.


startup = young

They want to appear "hip" and "cool" ... forever.


I can say from experience that calling yourself a startup give you certain leeway to stupid 'requirements' like 'having 5 senior software devs on the project. Big companies do this just on paper but if you are small, even though no longer a startup, you can get away with such requirements by calling yourself a startup. Also, if your company (if it's small enough) does 'relatively' small jobs a lot of clients pay faster and with less hassle than normal.


Sounds like that bizarre "brogrammer" archetype that journalists claimed represented Silicon Valley engineers.

I'd imagine high-growth startups hire many low-experience SDRs like the ones described in the article -- is it possible people are conflating this 'tech' sales culture with engineering culture?

Perhaps this is even done purposefully to provide a politically-correct narrative for the low proportion of female engineers.


Fratbros gonna fratbro.


Why all the animosity towards "frat bros"? I worked in a "nerd only" environment before and I felt incredibly lonely. Nobody ever wanted to go out for drinks, nobody even talked during lunch.


We're talking in stereotypes, but I think it has more to do with your feelings about competition than about lunchtime conversation. When I was working I really enjoyed lunch (with the right people) and I'm definitely more into nerdy things.


tl;dr: "The legacy textbook publishers the company wants to disrupt aren’t perfect, sure, but that doesn’t mean they need to be destroyed. Those publishers do many things very well, and they do them slowly, with great care, for a reason. We should resist change for change’s sake. I’m being naïve, aren’t I?"

No, you're being wrong? Source: I used TopHat's predecessor products in University and the predecessor was Terrible (with a capital -T) and made zero effort to fix things. I am guessing this is true for a large swath of largely profitable web-first companies like Top-hat.

Bro culture is a deep-seated problem in tech that I'd love to see excised and tbh, as the author points out, this happens when a company has more sales people than "devs. But "gongs", incentives and aggressive sales goals are a tale as old as Capitalism. The author seems to try to lump a myriad of mostly inconsequential idiosyncrasies into a nice little bow called "bad".

Or maybe, Canadian publishers like Toronto Life are just catching up to the tired old tech "expose's" American media has been writing for about 5 years now.


I graduated from the University of Toronto around the time Top Hat's products started to come into use in some first year engineering courses. The end result as far as I saw was students already saddled with tuition that increases at 3-4x inflation annually for no apparent reason being forced to shell out additional hundreds of dollars for Top Hat products in order to get their grades.

Textbook publishers are vultures, but their products are inherently optional. You can buy used books, borrow, pirate or simply take good notes and not use the text at all. As long as you show up to the calculus exam with a pencil and your wits no one will check that you've bought the book.

The insertion of Top Hat into higher ed just feels yet another money grab from Big Education for no pedagogical benefit. They've gotten away with it because it looks like shiny new technology instead of just an unjustified fee increase.


> Bro culture is a deep-seated problem in tech that I'd love o see excised

When did this start, actually? Where did it come from? I don't remember it really being a thing in the early noughties, but by the end of the decade it was deeply entrenched.


If you hire mostly men directly out of top US colleges you'll get a lot of this just by default, because that's the culture on those campuses. I get the sense that in the past, relatively fewer people came to tech through that particular pipeline.


The author alludes to the problem, I'd venture a guess it is a cultural import from Wall St. after the success of B2B companies in late 2000's.


No, it coincides precisely with the rise of RoR and is largely confined to webdev, even if the trendy language had changed to Node. You just don’t get C++ or R or Python brogrammers.


> Bro culture is a deep-seated problem in tech

In engineering? Could you elaborate a bit more? I've worked in SV tech for a decade and every large company was about 50% nerdy white engineers and 40% quiet Asians.


It's just lazy sexism. Some startups have a party culture and some folks conflate that with the "male problem". For my part I like to share the anecdotal evidence of a past company where our star beer-pong player was a female engineer.


It's not "lazy sexism," "bro" in "brogrammer" comes from the "bro" subculture

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bro_(subculture)


It is lazy sexism because engineers are nothing like the "bro" subculture. From the article you linked:

> "The subculture is not defined consistently or concretely, but refers to a type of "fratty masculinity"

Engineers are underrepresented in fraternities.

> predominantly "if not exclusively" white In Silicon Valley tech,

Asians are overrepresented by a factor of 10, while whites are roughly at parity with the demographics of the US.

> associated with frayed-brim baseball hats,

Engineers are less likely to care about sports than other men.

> oxford shirts,

Engineers are famously casual.

> sports team T-shirts,

Engineers are less likely to care about sports than other men.

cargo shorts,

> Maybe this one applies :)

and boat shoes or sandals

> Boat shoes? Hardly.


I'm confused, you're saying TopHat, the one "changing for change's sake," is doing a bad job, but you're also saying GP is wrong for calling them out?


Sorry, I might've messed up the subject of the sentence?

"I used TopHat's predecessor products in University and they were Terrible"

TopHat's predecessor was terrible and TopHat's innovations are very much welcome (which also made them quite profitable).


Nah, I think I just misread it, sorry.


This writer really needs to learn how to edit his writing for length. No one is that interested in his experience and he repeats himself constantly.


I read the whole thing, even though I knew it was nothing that new, but if you look at where it's published and who the general demographic of reader would be, it would be much more riveting and informative than to people on HN where this is old news.

I read it because it was well written and about Toronto companies, which is relevant to me based on my location. I got to see a bit inside companies of which I am aware of and/or have met the founders of. There are only so many large Canadian "Startups" so it's interesting to see a viewpoint from the inside and how they compare to SF companies.

If you knew nothing of startups and happen to live in Toronto, this would be a great read to learn more about them, especially ones you've heard of. I'm pretty sure magazine style publications commonly have long articles, so I don't know what you would expect. How often are HN submissions short and/or designed for readers from HN?


I found the article interesting and entertaining.

fmajid 41 days ago [flagged]

The author really enjoys the sound of his own voice (written in this case), doesn't he? I couldn't make it past 20% of the logorrhea.


I am incredibly sick and tired of this stereotype:

> The most common is the engineer who, slaving for hours in the proverbial garage, programs his (or, infrequently, her) way to glory and gets showered with millions by venture capitalists. He is the tech cliché—nerdy and socially awkward.

At least 90% of the technical co-founders I know are well spoken, well dressed, and perfectly capable of attending social events.

It seems like 100% of the problems with this company come from letting sales people (or in this case, men) fresh out of college dictate the culture.

None of the startup founders I work with let their companies go this far, because at the end of the day they have work to do.

I've ran teams that had Whisky Friday, at 5pm we opened a bottle and invited members from all teams to come, sit down, talk, and have a drink. Team culture doesn't require being horribly irresponsible. People who didn't drink at all came and enjoyed themselves just fine. (I can say that because for the majority of the time I ran the team, I didn't drink)

Same team did have nerf guns, but we also had nuanced discussions about world politics, literature, and science.

On a related note, what is up with places having beer available around the clock? Does anyone actually get up at 1pm and have a drink?

tl;dr Give me a few million and I promise to build a responsible, respectful, team culture.


"I've ran teams that had Whisky Friday, at 5pm we opened a bottle and invited members from all teams to come, sit down, talk, and have a drink."

How late did whisky Friday run? On the clock or off?


An hour or two, some people would split off to play board games, others would have a drink then hop on a bus or grab their carpool to go home.

Plenty of families on the team, sometimes kids + spouses would stop by and chat as well.


When it stops being an accurate representation it will stop being a stereotype.

Great job not being like that I guess? I don't know how your experience has any relation to the article nor the norms of reality.


For me the trouble with the company was the product was as dull as a spoon. I'd rather work at SpaceX.


An incredible amount of butt-hurt and cynicism rolled up with well-worded storytelling and topped off with a bevy of stereotypes and buzzwords, quoted for effect.

As I approach "the hill" and prepare to age over it, I have accumulated a metric ton of cynicism. But after spending nearly 20 years in the business and having worked for multiple startups there's just one thing that I can't get past with this article - the author just comes across as _incredibly outmoded and get-off-my-lawn-y_.


It's just the opposite. This is exactly the writing of a thoughtful guy with an inch of self awareness, giving us his experience at a couple of startups.


This is textbook bad culture fit. It's okay to not fit, but pretending like no one will fit is wrong. I like being "on call" 24/7, I like working 12+ hour days, I like being drawn away from social situations because of a work issue. Why do I have to conform to the author's idea of what an employee is?

This article is a lot of words to say, "I didn't fit in with the culture of this company, here are their names and you should think less of this company because I didn't fit in."




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