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Dead End Jobs: Are You Suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? (chadfowler.com)
248 points by LiveTheDream on Dec 30, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 125 comments

Dead end jobs destroy transferable technical skills. I've witnessed miserable scenes. Many people are stuck maintaining large pieces of poorly written software. They forget how to actually program because their work involves very little development, and becomes all about knowing how the specific piece of software works (and the company's admin procedures) so that they can fight fires and make minor changes.

Escape involves gathering the confidence and the determination for self study, so that applying for another job is even a viable option. Skunk-works type projects at work are strongly recommended.

They forget how to actually program because their work involves very little development, and becomes all about knowing how the specific piece of software works (and the company's admin procedures) so that they can fight fires and make minor changes.

Great point.

Perceived value of a programmer at a start-up: Quality & quantity of software built and shipped.

Perceived value of a programmer in a legacy enterprise IT department: Knowledge of existing code base and ability to get things done with it.

I would remove the word "Perceived" all together (I can attest to it now and Ive only been here a month!). The other thing you missed with the value of a programmer in a legacy enterprise IT dept - ability to handle beauracracy and politics (i suppose thats one part of getting things done).

I think we need a new name for these type of jobs, then. They're not actual programming positions, since development tends to be about solving problems.

Maintenance and production are two lexicographic options that somewhat relay the scope of the position: higher than data-entry, lower than engineering. Much in the same way that a front-end is not necessarily a web developer.

Maintenance is what the current discussion is about, but production should be considered as well: it's about interfacing with the existing tools to extend without fixing any of the serious architecture issues. As in a web producer. Or, someone who produces plugins for a given architecture, requiring extensive knowledge of the system but with no access to improve or modify said system.

I would call it a programming position, at least in my case.

Most of my time is dedicated to maintaining a legacy application that is horribly written, but my time is mostly spent either trying to come up with inventive ways to code around the existing design decisions, or trying to come up with a way to improve the design without disrupting service.

It's very challenging to do well, but it is definitely not fun.

In some countries, programmer time marked "Maintenance" is expensed while that marked "Production" is depreciated over x years for tax purposes, so companies want their programmers to log their activities as "maintenance". If the auditors come, it had better have been maintenance. Perhaps the only real way to develop production code is work for a startup, but the recruiters won't be impressed if you want to go back to a large company later on.

I break things down into Developers and Hackers. A Developer tends to create new foundations using existing and documented API's. A Hacker works within a system, and focuses more on existing code and what it actually does than documentation. Hackers tend to be worth more in the short term, Developers tend to be worth more in the long term.

Code Janitor.

I did three years of maintenance programming on a proprietary enterprise Java Big Feaking Web App framework, fighting fires and making minor changes. I learned more about engineering in those years than in college, first job, and building two software businesses from scratch. Possibly combined. YMMV.

I learned a lot in the six months or so (of the job I have in mind), but it very quickly plateaued and from then on it was all very much self-directed learning, automating as much of my work as possible and writing tools to make my life easier and to learn new technologies. But there's only so much of that you can do without sufficient external challenges.

Most colleagues did nothing of the sort and were roughly as productive without developing any broader skills, as far as any performance evaluations showed. It's spending an hour performing repetitive manual changes to some code, or spending 55 minutes doing it programatically in Vim and gaining some precious Vim-fu in the process. The output is the same at the end but the programmer isn't.

When there is no further scope to learn from my work (apart from pipe dream re-write projects that never materialise) and I am not doing any significant critical or analytical thinking, I leave. It sounds like your place had a lot more to teach you.

Writing and maintaining terribly-designed software is actually a really great way to learn software design. It makes it so that when you read about a technique or pattern, the application of that pattern is very real to you, in the sense of "Oh, if we had done this on component X of product Z, it would have prevent bugs like Y."

Understanding what to avoid can be as valuable as having an idea of what specifically to do. I feel like I'm learning a lot about the software development and management fields where I am now, mostly because I'm starting to realize why some things are so important as I learn about ways that the system can be terribly inefficient even while following the letter of Best Practices.

At least, I'm telling myself it's valuable experience so I can stick it out for the next six months.

You always learn a lot in your first job, whatever it is.

I think the job he referred to was not his first job

Oops, you are right. I misread.

Still your statement stand corrected. We learn a lot from our first job that is.

This assessment is spot on. I'm in this situation now. While I haven't forgotten how to program, my skills have plateaued and have been at this level for far longer than I'd like to admit.

I eventually realized that I needed to get out. I've sent out my resume and interviewed, but have had little success. I really had no idea how bad off I was until I started interviewing at other companies. I can't overstate the value of "practice" interviews. I wish I had done a few practice interviews before starting the process with Google because I did very poorly when I had a phone screen with them. That was a major confidence killer. After the Google failure I interviewed with Apple and went pretty far into the process. I felt like the interviews went really well (phone and on-site), but it didn't work out. I did a few other phone screens with companies after Apple, but nothing came of them. Ugh.

With a family to support I have to stick it out until I find something else. I really want to start my own company, but I can't afford to quit my current job. In the meantime I'm squeezing in work on side projects where I can. It's pretty depressing and stressful.

Practice interviews are definitely important because interviewing skills are not improved by work experience - they are improved by interviewing experience.

Interesting side projects are also really valuable. They can demonstrate individual initiative, show competency in different technologies/practices/industries, and provide interesting talking points in your interviews.

There's a whole lot of Lexapro at the other end of that tunnel. Get out as soon as you can.

Wow, your sstatement read like the past six months for me. Good luck.

Thanks. Were you able to escape?

Those aren't necessarily untransferable skills. You can always bill yourself as being able to get up-to-speed on a new codebase quickly and pitch yourself to corporations that need someone to battle their existing, horrible codebase. They need people that can be productive within their codebase.

An additional plus is if you're good at pushing incremental change to the existing codebase to get it under control. (e.g. my company has a large pre-existing Perl codebase, some of which mirrors functionality of various modules/packages on CPAN -- some better, some worse -- and there is a lot of internal push to move towards things like Moose, Try::Tiny, etc where possible for newer classes, etc)

I would say a lot depends on your perspective. If you are aware of the situation and the specific environment you are trapped in, you can nonetheless extract a lot of transferable skill from that kind of work. You just need to look beyond the surface

I'm in the process of cleaning up my resume to send out today.

* My responsibilities as a programmer have constantly been increasing. Every year I become the maintainer of more projects as others quit.

* We fired a sys admin and now I'm outright doing his job in addition to my own. Management was slow to get a job posting up and has not brought people in to interview. I feel like my breadth of abilities are being abused to save money. At this point I can't be a good programmer and a good sys admin.

* I asked to telecommute one day a week and the response was actually laughter. After speaking to someone high up the policy was changed and now I need to "Justify why it would be good for the department." Which is literally impossible. There is a key set of words I need to discover that would actually activate the policy, like it's a game or something. Now I'm questing for a new employer.

* I'm working with consultants from a Big Name Firm currently modernizing our X. These consultants send conflicting information and documents which aren't even internally consistent and then bill us while I work with them to clean up their bullshit. These people are earning 5x my pay and can't do their job. Then I was asked to work while I was on vacation this week to check up on the consultants progress. And sure enough they fucked up.

* Salaries are frozen even though we are profitable.

* A majority of my coworkers have no will to learn. I can dictate pseudo code to them to help with an issue and they will actually start typing the pseudo code into the editor and then be confused when it doesn't work. And a week later they will have a very similar issue with no ability to make the mental connection to the work done a week earlier.

Whew, nice to actually type all that out.

"Justify why it would be good for the department." Which is literally impossible. There is a key set of words I need to discover that would actually activate the policy, like it's a game or something. Now I'm questing for a new employer.

You just answered your own question:

key set of words = "Now I'm questing for a new employer."

better key set of words = "I quit."

Oh I was well aware what I should say once my "not having to drive is akin to a small raise" was shot down as "being good for you, not for the department"

I don't want to bluff though, so at this point I'm just moving on. If I'm required to throw a tantrum and threaten to quit to get what I want I'm happy to find work elsewhere.

Oh, and I just remembered. The only training we were ever offered came in an excel spreadsheet with over 1000 courses offered by some training firm.

We were told to email back "Three of four choices" and if there was enough interest in one of the courses it would be paid for. There was no possible way for any single course to be chosen definitively by the staff with so many choices.

But at least management got to feel good about "offering training, but there wasn't enough interest."

Send me your resume and portfolio. I'm recruiting for my company outside of HR because we need more awesome people with initiative. The month since I started at Groupon has been the best month of my career.

Mtn View or Chicago, your pick.

I was only ranting in what I thought was an appropriate thread, but thank you very much for replying. I appreciate the good will on HN.

Keep in mind, I may just be declaring myself Parfe, King of Idiots but when I'm happy with my resume I'll definitely be in touch.

There will always be things you want to tweak in your resume to showcase your skills in the best possible light. I would say, get any resume with all your skills in it and float it around....starting with Groupon. Goodluck.

Acknowledging that you're an idiot is the first step :) It means that whether you're good or not, you know enough to know that you can never stop working at it, and that's a good trait to have.

If you like, I can review your resume privately and let you know an idea of your chances, as well as make any recommendations to help make yourself more attractive to good tech employers.

Thank you.

I just left a job that afflicts Stockholm Syndrome on employees. Thankfully as a systems programmer in a research firm, I avoided the worst of it, but most people weren't so lucky. Here are some management behaviors that were effective:

Never thank people for finishing something on time, on budget, and to the project specifications. Instead, heap attention on those who finish in an all-nighter that ends in the final demo. Heroic measures are sometimes necessary and deserve reward, but being part of the process is a big red flag.

Never set expectations or milestones, just expect the project to be finished on the due date. This had an interesting effect on the work pace. Due to Parkinson's Law, individual workers finish days before the deadline, but that's not enough time to test integration. Major problems are discovered late, and everyone works ridiculous hours to fix it. Thank everyone for making it work at the last minute, rinse and repeat!

Tell employees to work weekends and nights for projects that could be unnecessary. Make these individual efforts to maximize the time one person wastes. When burning the candle on both ends, it's satisfying when you're done and the work was needed. After all, you took on the impossible, and here it is! But when days or weeks of your life are thrown away with a laugh, you would find another job if you actually had the time.

The Perceived Threats were the Bad Things that would happen if our demos failed. Funding lines would dry up, the company would be in trouble, etc. So everyone pitched together to keep the system going. Everyone became so focused that they stopped realizing that it could be done another way.

A couple others I've witnessed:

Ideas only go down When employees tell you of actually useful innovations to a product do NOT agree it is a good idea. Mention that it is cute they are trying, and pretend to forget about it. In 3-6 months have a VP flash brilliance and push that innovation down from the top. All employee protests of "I have been pushing for this for months" are to be stonewalled, possibly with discipline.

Permanent emergency mode VP or CEO comes down to the dev team in a panic at least once a week handwringing about how "OMG we're fucked if we don't fix this" Complaints of "its been crunch time for a year" are met with replies about other duties as assigned, how if they just did their job this wouldn't be necessary, and company solvency.

Praise only the shitty employees Never ever ever praise the employees who solve a problem. Actively deride the employees who consistently solve problems, deliver results and so on. This triggers a "what am I doing wrong" response in them, and gets them working even harder.

Keep the situation confusing Give employees a set of tasks today and have them undo that same set of tasks tomorrow. In a week, do it over. Half way through a day, come down and demand something at top priority, then raise hell at the end of the day that they didn't finish the work you preempted w/ a top priority request.

rules! (this one works quite well in the food service industry) - impose rules that almost make sense at slow times, but which add unnecessary process and overhead. Insist on these rules being followed strictly during the busiest times. If the plebes find ways to speed up the process that is still with in the rules and has the same effect, begin the firings. Double down if the process reduces tips or rate of sales for the business. (It turns out most employees want to make you money, even waitstaff).

Find ways to keep your employees cash-poor Make them pay out of pocket and have very slow reimbursement procedures. Delay paychecks or even sneakier, have "problems" with direct deposit. The net effect is employees with less liquid money than they might otherwise have... helping get them into that nice trapped state.

Funny, the company I just got out followed all of those points. Many "emergency fix this" moments and "problems" processing checks. Often times, paychecks were lower than they were supposed to be.

Glad I'm out..

Last day of the year and it is so depressing that I work in BigCo that does every thing mentioned above. :(

That seems all too familiar. Thanks.


That a good list.

The thing is, the job I had that fit that bill wasn't Big-Company, or even Big-Contractor-To-Big-Company.

It was the one man operation. One man in the sense that he got ... well everything since his behavior fit your quite exactly... everyone else... wasn't there...

In fact, the one-psycho operation have an easier time being like thisthis, since they don't have to worry about liability or etc.

... just one thing to add to the list. At the same time as you do all the other stuff, claim that the person should be doing everything without putting in undo effort. Say soothingly, right after a psychotic fit, "...relax, you should be more relaxed..."

If you liked the article, you should also read this blog post: "How to keep someone with you forever" - http://issendai.livejournal.com/572510.html

It's written from the opposite point of view and goes into more details - ie if you were a manager, you can do X, Y and Z to encourage Stockholm Syndrome and keep your employees emotionally bound to you. It's a pretty scary 'how-to' guide!

The additional reading links at the end are also interesting and relevant[1]. Also, this strip illustrates a horrible example of an abusive workplace[2].

[1] http://www.liberatedthinking.com/data/Library/SATANISM/Satan...

[2] http://bigbigtruck.deviantart.com/gallery/9680890#/d24ih85

I've been mindful of this since my teenage years, which is why I swore to myself a few things before I had even turned 16:

* If I don't like a situation, I will leave it. After all, the easiest way to change your environment is to escape it.

* Fear of failure is a great motivator. When you quit without having another opportunity already lined up, you have a lot of obvious motivation to find a new job since your income is $0. I've found it easier than lulling myself into complacency by continuing to get my income from the source I hate.

* Don't just zig, zag. I've been programming professionally for 12 years. Eventually I will stop, at the very least from being bored. Honestly, I want to work on Formula 1 cars, preferably before I'm 40. One day I'll stop building massive data engines for finance, and instead work on bleeding edge race car engines for racing teams. In the next 18 months I'm working on chasing another crazy dream successfully enough to have the option to walk away from big finance research.

It's difficult to describe my mindset about this, and being a ruthless, very self-critical perfectionist probably helps tremendously. I always joke that it's my mission in life to prove everyone else wrong.

The one that is hardest to follow is the first. For instance, I've never completely struck it out on my own, and have always worked for startups run by other people. My solution was to create a business that could be successfully run by myself, with no help from anyone. That's in the works... but in the meantime, I'm at another startup.

Reading your post, I feel like you're me, except I haven't worked at startups. Addressing your first two points:

* If I don't like a situation, I will leave it. After all, the easiest way to change your environment is to escape it.

I feel conflicted with this one. While what you say is true I can't help but feel, when I try to apply to certain situations in life, like I'm quitting... or that I'd beat myself up for "being a quitter who didn't try hard enough to make things better" at a particular job or relationship or something of the sort. There's something to be said about the potential payoff relative to the amount of effort involved in making things better, of course.

Your second point is something I've been personally stuck in for awhile, mostly given the economic downturn and seeing friends go unemployed for quite a long time. Still, I probably have to make that jump sooner or later.

I understand your point, but I think it might not always be possible to improve the work situation enough to justify staying there. I think it's always worthwhile to give it a try and see how much change you can effect, but there is a practical limit.

As far as unemployment - I only know of one friend who is currently unemployed, and that's by choice! Not that this is indicative of North America as a whole; but it does reflect what I've heard others say in regards to there always being good jobs available for good people who are skilled.

Yeah, that's what I was referring to when I talked about the potential payoff. I certainly have skills and a decent resume, but have had trouble getting interviews my way.

Oh, I try to change things. However the reality is you're working against a much larger force. It's difficult to create enough inertia to force real change.

Regarding the second point, I quit my job in early October. I had my first offer in hand in 23 days, and three in hand after the first month. Income was $0, which was a good motivator.

Though the amusing thing this time around is my former employer is now looking to become one of my clients (the place loved me, I just didn't like them).

"* Fear of failure is a great motivator. When you quit without having another opportunity already lined up, you have a lot of obvious motivation to find a new job since your income is $0. I've found it easier than lulling myself into complacency by continuing to get my income from the source I hate."

This is true - but this has to mean that you also manage your finances properly on the side. People who are one late paycheck away from a cascade of payment failures and personal financial chaos can't operate this way. (So they should fix their financial management first, then follow your advice!)

No, I've done it when it wasn't prudent either. People who look at my salary history tend to have their jaw hit the floor when they look at the first 8-to-9 years. I used to have my own bosses tell me every day that I was "getting screwed". We're talking 25-33% of market rate, which traps you into slightly less crappy paychecks going forward and initially being typecast as an idiot. That was my fault for being a doormat in my teenage years -- I didn't think it would follow me until I was 26.

Fortunately I was smart enough to fix it at one point, and got a 70% pay increase upon starting another job. That takes a few tricks, though, including being hard-nosed enough to call the CxO of a company out on the politics of his negotiating practices.

It has forced me to live simpler overall, and not waste money. That's stuck with me. But when you don't have much to fall back on, you'd be surprised at how fast you're able to find a decent step up.

Just a question out of interest - how/why are people looking at your salary history?

Formal job applications.

"* Fear of failure is a great motivator. When you quit without having another opportunity already lined up, you have a lot of obvious motivation to find a new job since your income is $0. I've found it easier than lulling myself into complacency by continuing to get my income from the source I hate"

Just remember that you are a more desired candidate if you are actively employed, and that other available jobs might be just as bad or worse than your current one. Also, if you don't absolutely loathe your job, you can use job offers as leverage in your current role.

You may be more desirable to a dysfunctional employer if you are actively employed, but working for another one of those is not the goal. A rational employer would judge a candidate on his/her ability to add value to the company, regardless of how they have chosen to spend the majority of their time recently.

Remember that all employers hire based on imperfect information. Being employed signals that you can add value to at least one organization, which is a pretty strong indication that you can add value to them.

Absolutely. Being employed is one of many possible indicators of your worth. Hopefully one's portfolio contains a few items more persuasive than merely being employed.

>Just remember that you are a more desired candidate if you are actively employed

This doesn't apply in all industries.

>and that other available jobs might be just as bad or worse than your current one

This also only applies if you aren't the one in control. I could get a substantially better job, and I knew it, not fearful if I could get any job at all.

Which industries does that not apply to?

I once worked at a company that managed to pull off all four conditions with one brilliant but devious hack: The warehouse uniform was a t-shirt imprinted with, "The beatings will continue until morale improves."

Perceived Threat

This implied that problems were the workers' fault, not the boss's. Subtle, but effective.

Small Kindness

Believe it or not, many people were actually glad to be given their own t-shirt by the boss.

Isolation from Other Perspectives

Everyone had the same t-shirt. Eventually, what started out as a joke became the accepted condition.

Perceived Inability to Escape

There was never any doubt who was in control. Resistance was futile.

Oh yes, I recently escaped from a company like this. I'm not afraid to name names: ClickBooth.com, a Sarasota company in the affiliate marketing space.

Myself and other programmers that once worked there all feel so grateful, we all get together on a regular basis and feel so lucky to have gotten out.

Here's a funny anecodote. They were having a hard time finding new developers. About 9 months ago, if you look through my HN posts, I posted to a "Who Is Hiring" thread. I mentioned a few of the cool things about working at Clickbooth and put my work email address in my post.

The next day I was called into my managers office. The HR woman saw my HN post. She was upset. For some reason. Still don't understand why, exactly. But it's not "my place" to post these things, I was told. And I should go delete my post. And my manager, he played the "good cop" routine... "I talked to the CEO and I'm not going to pursue this further." Oh, really? How lucky of me. You won't discipline me for, ya know, going above and beyond and trying to attract good developers to the team. Oh, gee, thank you sir, so much, for your kindness.

I didn't mean to rant for so long, but boy, it feels good.

Protecting turf is standard big company BS. By posting that you were hiring you threatened HRs turf. Most programmers by nature are pretty pragmatic so we don't see turf wars and often only see efficient solutions. Other people don't operate that way.

I see this type of thing all the time in the bigco I work for in my day job. I hate it because all it does in get in the way of solving problems while people jockey for control and credit. I recently had to take 'HR' out of the title of an application I wrote last year that did a bunch of HR functions. The reason? HR didn't like that 'HR' was in the title because they didn't control the application. Talk about wasted cycles that could be used for something actually productive.

That wasn't a long rant at all, and in fact, quite insightful. Truth be told, I'm actually rather happy that you managed to get out of your predicament and hope I can do the same soon.

Thanks for the post.

Anybody know if there is a good place on the Web where people can be honest about what it's like to work at specific companies?

Good question. There are a handful of employer review sites out there that have real review content, but on the ones I've seen it is often hard to discern the angry rants from the legitimate grievances.

glassdoor.com is probably the most popular I know of. There's also vault.com.

Glassdoor weirds me out a bit from the other side.

It's a little unsettling going there the day after a round of interviews and basically reading a description of what it was like to be interviewed by me. No names, but I can definitely identify myself and some other co-workers by the questions we asked candidates.

A little weird, but getting good feedback on your performance sounds like it would be pretty nice to me. I mean, it might not feel great, but at least you'd know what needs improvement.

It wasn't feedback so much as it felt...disconnected and impersonal. The candidates didn't offer opinions, just descriptions of the interview flow (number of interviewers, how it was structured) and the types of questions asked. It felt like I was reading a transcript of a wiretap or something.

I once suggested adding an option to make a review non-anonymous an an optional feature. Optional of course because not all companies support it.

I second glassdoor.com -- although I'm sure it skews toward the negative... good info you won't find anywhere else.


I'm not allowed to post job openings for my department. That's HR's job! And they don't post on third party sites. I asked about placing some notices up on various sites and was turned down for no communicated reason.

I wonder how the HR woman ended up seeing the HN post in the first place.

Probably someone applied for a position and referenced HN.

Actually, it's a very paranoid company. They do a lot of googling for the company name.

You can become mentally locked into a programming language or development tools or an operating system, or to particular approaches to solving problems, too.

Learning something entirely new is more work, as is spending your own money on this given employers can tend to avoid funding career-unrelated tools and learning.

Corporations themselves can become locked into products and solutions and businesses.

Counterintuitively, there can be value in the bungee boss approach in countering this syndrome; of a policy of periodic and scheduled managerial evictions with business reviews and a review of the bosses, and of institutionalizing some instability within organizational management. A Darwinian policy of up or out; where each middle-tier and upper-level bosses are treated as and measured akin to a self-contained CEO and sales rep, and where each is going to be promoted or pushed out.

Agreed. I spent several years shackled to the Microsoft tool chain, exhibiting multiple symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome. I'm grateful to be free.

The modern corporate structure has evolved to exploit this dynamic, so it ought to come as no shock that most everyone here has experienced it. In fact, my guess is that more than half of HNers who think positively about their current position will eventually look back upon it with feelings of having been manipulated in this way.

Even shops that style themselves as non-traditional will adopt this corporate body plan as they grow, because the new directors and officers have had "best practices" ingrained in them.

One term specifically stands out throughout my career: if you are told by the company that you are "empowered," then you're not.

>Even shops that style themselves as non-traditional will adopt this corporate body plan as they grow, because the new directors and officers have had "best practices" ingrained in them.

Any idea how to solve this?

Doesn't this situation describe about 3/4 of the working age US population ?

I find it ironic that a nation where freedom is supposedly so highly valued accepts relegating most of its people to corporate slavery.

Exactly. At my last corporate job, there were a few extreme libertarians who would rail against "big government taking away our freedoms" at the drop of a hat -- but these same guys would meekly submit to all of the 1984-esque corporate BS (swiping a badge 9 times to get to your desk, weekly 'IT Security' reminders that your every action is being logged, surveillance cameras everywhere...

Like some here, I recently escaped a company which pulled off these four condition on every employee in every dept. Am not ashamed to name and shame them either. ComXo, a Slough UK, based umbrella company with call2.com, buttontel.com and multivoice.com brands under them. Here's the deal....

"We run a tight ship, everyone has to be in at 9am" ... The employer had one person he believed is the cream for the week and their given top spot...everyone else is treated like dead wood for the next week or two. Percieved threat of getting fired if you were the dead wood, and some did...to our amazement..this kept the rest quiet, head down, trying utmost not to get noticed!

Small Kindness...This was amazingly executed. The employer introduced an great bonus scheme and got you to agree to it and the job/project delivery based on it. The scheme is known as "MBO"


The objectives were set, one/two meetings take place and then you got a nice tidy sum, around 8% of the total bonus...then the scheme was shutdown, your locked in to the project, otherwise...see perceived threat above!

Isolation from other perspectives - provided you met the project deadline, did the utmost to killoff the competition to be the "cream" mentioned about, you were in with a chance to be IT / Sales / product (you name the dept) manager.....keep waiting.....the perception was..."we dont need an manager, we do a great job without one". The employer is the manager for all depts, have you heard such tosh!

Perceived inability to escape - Majority was told, they could never get paid as well as they do there, the jobs easy and "you" make it difficult, all you have to do is A, B and C, we have to do D, E and F-Z..your lucky! They even went as far saying how would they cope without you...praise that were simply words to keep some staff working till 9PM when they would refuse to pay a penny over the 9-5 allocated!

Myself and other ex-employees all feel extremely grateful, we all get together on a regular basis and feel so lucky to have gotten out when we did too! We were only lauging last week when we found they were using their own employees to advertise their services on youtube (try serching for "comxo"), amazing what they got their employee to do in the name of the company!

Sorry for the long rant.

While Stockholm Syndrome may be the observable result, the underlying emotion is fear.

Addressing one's fear is a shared part of the human condition. Which may be why we admire those who act, persevere, and succeed.

A poor economy doesn't help either. I think part of the fear is not being able to find other work to pay the bills so many of us settle for the current situation... or work on startups on the side!

Yeah- the threat is very real for people underwater on their mortages, with huge student loans, or about to put kids through college. It definitely is an awful position to be in, but a lot of people are forced to do this to make ends meet. It's not just psychological disorder.

It's also tough for people who are actually not in much debt, aren't underwater, aren't in financial stress. Because they can only make do with a few months unemployed. That's a small margin for failure/experimentation/following your "passion".

Whatever happened to the American Dream? These scenarios certainly don't sound like it. A lot of Americans (if not a majority) are in a similar situation.

"It's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe in it." -George Carlin

A wider look at similar ground is "The Gervais Principle." [1]

1. http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-o...

That's totally worth reading

So, to summarise, S.S. type of jobs can be ones that provide:

- occasional bonuses

- competitive salary

- great tech to play with

- high status within the company that you might lose if not keep up

Now, the question is, does that really sound like a terrible job environment to you? Where one is supposed to go from there? Entrepreneurship? Consulting? Cause actual salaried jobs don't get any much better than that.

I don't think that those things all necessarily combine. For example, you could hate everything about the job, but be afraid to leave because the benefits package is good. There is also the chance that you haven't 'shopped around enough' and think that the benefits package is better than it actually is.

E.g. my employer was touting that our healthcare costs are ~$300/month less than the 'industry average' (though they didn't state which industry they think that we are in -- it's not cut-and-dry like 'financial services' or something). Someone that I know left the company for a ~$30K/year increase in salary. The difference in benefits payments does not out-weigh the salary difference, but if you're focusing too much on something like 'competitive salary package' you may not have the whole picture. [Obviously it's more nuanced that this, because different healthcare packages have different levels of coverage too, but this is just a simple example off the top of my head where focussing too much on the micro can cause you to miss the macro.]

I don't know why anyone would put up with this nonsense. The market for tech is amazing right now and has been for years. It's inexcusable that anyone worth their salt should feel trapped in a dead-end job.

I think imposter syndrome (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome) contributes, and a grim view of prospects combined with lack of knowledge on how to find jobs. If all you're doing is reading monster.com postings or whatever then the majority of jobs postings that are out there are terribly written and deeply discouraging.

I had no idea "impostor syndrome" had a name. Every day, I go into work thinking I'm just waiting to be fired for incompetence, just as soon as they discover it. Meanwhile people continue to point out how productive I am, but I don't seem to believe a word of it.

Any advice on what could be better than reading monster.com ? (genuinely interested)

Meeting people. It's not easy and it's not fast, but if you can find an interesting and relevant meetup, or user group or some-such you can start talking to people doing interesting things.

Local technology associations are also good sources. I'm in Waterloo, where there are organizations like Communitech (http://communitech.ca) and Canada's Tech Triangle (http://techtriangle.com) that offer social events and whatnot. Also, if you're really bored or motivated, you can go through their membership lists checking out all the companies in the area and see if they're doing interesting things.

Look for Camp events in your area too. DemoCamps, StartupCamps, BarCamps, FooCamps, yadda yadda.

Improve your skills Take on something new (even as a side project or hobby) Network Search indeed.com instead of monster.com!

Meet people who are working on things that interest you and convince them that you can help.


People often stay to build up their fuck you fund, and to prepare their exit. Finding the right job can be a long process. And even when you find it, taking it is not necessarily the right decision. If you're married and you have kids, for example, that Apple offer might not be a no-brainer if you have to move to a new city. Also, once they've been burned by a shitty corporation, people can become very picky on the job hunt.

There's a lot to these things. And also, the tech market for real, salaried jobs often depends on locality; the market in Kansas City (almost exclusively corporate IT staff with a handful of generic chop-shops) is not as good as the market in Salt Lake City (a lot of corporate stuff a la KC, but many more tech-specific companies using not-Java out there), and that is not as good as the market in San Francisco.

The article is little more than spam, so presumably this is getting pushed up in order to sell advertising.

I was starting to feel like I was in a dead end job a couple years back and then I started programming like I wanted to quit but leave the company in a good position. I automated everything. All of a sudden I had copious amounts of spare time to work on interesting projects and the business started growing rapidly as we were able to scale easily to larger operations and add more revenue with fewer mistakes and more customer satisfaction. I kept up the same pattern, and a couple years later the company is doing better than ever, I've gotten raises, etc. I've also been able to move-on from boring maintenance to new projects as the old stuff practically runs itself.

Moral of the story is, if you are getting bored you're probably not automating enough or making tools to let non-tech people do most day to day stuff. If your management has a problem with that, or prevents you from doing that, then you should move on.

The author should add "Founder's or CEO's promises of grandeur, huge exits, and unbelievable equity". I'm currently leaving for greener pastures (after three years), but this is so common in our industry that it's not even funny. If you're promised fame, fortune, equity, and power, and in two or three years you're not at least one step closer to those goals - you're being played. Over confident founders with delusions about how great their idea really is are the life force of said Stockholm Syndrome for employees.

My wife read this over my shoulder and said it is extremely accurate for teach for America. They not only make you love your employer, but feel like a terrible person for quitting.

Obligatory: "Teach for America Chews Up, Spits Out Another Ethnic-Studies Major"


>>Perceived threat

Put in place a procedure to rate people in a relative fashion, and link this to benefits and compensation. Make hard slabs in percentage for each rating (excellent 10%, good 25%, average 50%, below average - rest). Does not matter if there is a team full of awesome wonderful guys, someone is going to get rated as 'below average'; and in a team comprising mostly of below average guys, many still end up getting 'excellent'/'good'.

>>Small kindness

Boast of world-class infrastructure, gym, sprawling campus. This would trump the fact that BigCo pays less than industry average, or the abysmal type of work involved.

>>Isolation from other perspectives

Again, the cult of personality and culture vacuum as mentioned in the post. And a lot of make-believe thrown in. And Goebbels style propaganda to instill that "all's well" notion, worked out masterfully. Not many within this BigCo would know that the tools of the trade are, or the best practices, or even the options in terms of technology.

>>Perceived inability to escape

In case of few places I know, this is not just perceived, it would be a hard fact and reality. Maintaining legacy VB code, spending an average of 6 months on every sort of technology (without mastering anything), and being an excel warrior aren't really great on resumes (except of course when applying for BigCo, that is).

"Institutionalization" is the word that many of my colleagues use to convey the feeling. :(

Living in a society where you have to pay taxes and obey the law, matches the Stockholm Syndrome characteristics. Society, the political system and its forces (police, army) is the abuser that threatens if you don't pay your bills, taxes etc., isolates us from different perspectives, occasionally shows a little kindness, and it's seamingly impossible to escape that situation.

The difference is we get to choose who's the abuser going to be.

SS is phenomenon of structural deficiency, not contextual input.

some will have SS in their job, in their affective life, in their intellectual life. others will use their job, their affective life, their intellectual life to achieve beyond. and sometime they ll even use SS of the first.


If you work for BigCo, you learn to do things The BigCo way.

Apologies for going off on a tangent, but this sort of jumped out at me. Is this consistent? Shouldn't it be either

a) ... do things the BigCo way.


b) ... do things The BigCo Way.

Native is not my English tongue, so I just want to make sure. :p

It depends if the name of the company name is "The BigCo" or just "BigCo", but as he referred to it as BigCo just before then it would seem to be a mistake.

Ah, thanks for the clarification.

I don't enjoy my current job. However, as soon as I mentioned quitting after six months to my family and friends they reacted uniformly negatively. "You can't do that, it wouldn't be respectful to the people who hired you." "You'll make (friend who recommended and vouched for you) look bad." "It will look really bad on your resume to only have a job for six months."

It was enough to break my determination to quit and now I find myself looking for a new job much more casually. I have dreams about changing things from the inside. Let's see how long that lasts...

I've never had a job that lasted longer than six months. Some employers think it's weird but I don't really mind. Just one job that didn't last doesn't look so bad, just say "We just didn't mesh well", or something like that. There's no reason to let your friends scare you about that -- again, almost everything I've done professionally has had the universal disapproval of family and friends, and it's not that big of a deal. If you're unhappy, blow it; your family and friends aren't the people stuck sitting around hating their life all day every weekday. When I worked a "real job", I would always hate how short the weekend was, and spend most of Sunday in dread anticipating Monday's return to the death world of the office.

I thought this was a great comment from the original article (comment #18): "We’re lucky as software developers, even if we’re moderately good we have a lot of options, the pay is good, it’s not the same for many others in other industries. If I broached this subject with friends who are not software developers they’d tell me I’m a bigot and I should be happy with what I have."

This is one of the reasons I prefer contracting/consulting. I feel like much more of a free/non-enslaved human being than I was before. I'm not totally "free", in that I still have to do things for others, follow external rule systems, I have to obey physical laws, etc. but I am more free than before. Closer to a state of bliss, as they say.

Please stop wasting your precious time.

yep, i'm senselessly stuck in bad job situation. lol

There was a very good piece on this posted to HN this fall. Wish I could remember the source...

I know. Fear-based top-down command and control is fundamentally flawed.

I'm printing this and pasting it in my bathroom's mirror.

The same might be said for grad school...

"It's not just a job... it's an indenture!"

There's a more-or-less scheduled end date for grad school though.

Amazing, I never thought if that way. This notion really explains some phenomenon that I've seen. Coworkers I knew drove themselves insane programming themselves to death for someone they didn't even like. Leading those individuals to suicide to escape. It never occurred to them that they could change jobs. Stockholm Syndrome definitely affects programmers. If I catch anyone doing this again I'm blowing the whistle.

I remember working at a very large, technically oriented company.

After it was discovered I had actual development skills, I was asked to work on a project in my off time without any extra compensation for it.

They pretty much wanted me to go home after a full days work, and put in more work to develop a system for them, totally unpaid.

Later that month I gave my two weeks.

Why did you give two weeks as opposed to just boxing up your stuff and letting them know you were done? Would they have shown you the same courtesy?

No probably not. At the time though I thought I needed to use them as a reference.

I made good friends with my boss though, so I probably could have used him as a reference and quit without the two weeks.

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