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When your coworker does great work, tell their manager (jvns.ca)
1074 points by asicsp on July 16, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 367 comments

This is the biggest problem with stack ranking software engineers, the practice I had to endure while at a well known software company. All it does is create a zero-sum game, so I have no incentive to compliment anyone else. I needed to make sure that my rank was as high as I could make it, which really sucked during performance time. It was very stressful, even though I was a high performer, because it didn't foster the type of environment I wanted to work at, which is collaborative.

I heard from my friends at Facebook that the environment there is equally crazy. Everyone knows that the performance reviews are based on lazy stats, so they game the stats. Every time someone requests a meeting, they are expected to give a "thank you" which is one of the measures for performance. Also, things like the number of reviews commented on could be easily gamed by adding a "+1!" as a comment which sounds like another undesirable place to work at. Maybe current Facebook employees can comment, however.

This is what I loved about working at Netflix. We didn't have performance reviews. It was assumed that your performance was good to excellent, otherwise you wouldn't be working there anymore. You had a constant feedback loop with your manager on performance, but nothing was ever formal.

Raises were completely divorced from any performance assessment. You were paid whatever they thought the max was for your skillset, based on a bunch of data they had on what people at other companies got paid for similar work.

What we did have was 360 reviews once a year. It was basically a small survey you could fill out about anyone in the company, which they and their manager would see. You could evaluate your boss, your VP, or people who worked for you, or anyone else you worked with anywhere in the company. It was expected that managers do a 360 review for all of their reports, but beyond that you could do as few or as many as you wanted to. It was basically a start/stop/continue kind of thing.

It was such a refreshing change from the stack ranking at eBay, which forced good people to get shitty reviews just so they could "fit the bell curve". And as you said, it incentivized you to not praise coworkers and some people even actively sabotaged their coworkers to get a better rank.

I think this culture is often the difference between a company that's in exponential growth mode - where you care more about velocity than costs. When a company becomes a stable giant, the engineering department is no longer necessarily creating value in the same way it was before and often slowly becomes bloated.

I agree, but in the specific case of Netflix, people are let go all the time, and managers have a lot of authority to make the decision to fire someone. Tenure doesn't matter, either -- you could work there for 6 years and end up getting fired when you get a new manager or the existing one decides you're phoning it in.

That's a massive amount of trust placed in managers. I've had asshole managers before that didn't have this much power thanks to company structure.

Honestly I would never work at a place like this. Maybe it's lean and efficient for the company, but it definitely doesn't sound fun for the employee.

It's not as bad as it sounds. Yes, it certainly happens and it sucks for the good person that it happens to. But managers like that don't last very long.

When you get let go, they ask in the exit interview if you were warned, if your manager gave you any feedback leading up to it, etc. And then they follow up if the person says, "it was a total shock". I've definitely seen managers make some bad firing decisions, but they were let go soon afterwards. Word gets around quickly to their manager that they let go someone who was a strong contributor.

When you get let go, they ask in the exit interview if you were warned

Why would anyone give any kind of useful information in the exit interview? The only one who benefits is the company, they need to cover their back in case a suit over harassment comes up. If anyone wants revenge over poor management, keep silent, let the fellow continue to lose the company money and set them up for a lawsuit.

HR is not on your side. The company is not on your side. The union would be, but in software we can't have that.

That's a very cynical view. While the company may not be on your side, helping your coworkers by proving feedback about bad management is a good thing.

Also, why would you want the company to fail? Just because they have one bad manager? My friends still work there, and if you have stock options, you even have a financial interest in the continued success of the company.

I see no downside in providing truthful feedback during an exit interview. Sure, it won't help you, but it helps everyone else that's still there.

The context being described is one in which you were just sacked at the whim of a manager. Doesn’t it seem a little funny to wait until the exit interview to ask if it came as a surprise? Maybe they’re going to act in that information somehow, perhaps sacking that manager if it’s part of a pattern of poor decisions, but they’re not planning on doing anything to help you personally, like overturning the dismissal.

Maybe you’re inclined to help them out just to be a good person, and that’s fine; but I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to do that.

> Doesn’t it seem a little funny to wait until the exit interview to ask if it came as a surprise?

When else would they ask? The exit interview is when you are being informed of the decision.

The process is you get a meeting invite for a 1 on 1 with your manager. They come in, tell you that you're getting let go and why, and then invite HR to come in. They then leave and HR goes over the paperwork and asks you about if you expected it. If you were a poor performer, then it's most likely not your first meeting with HR.

I'm not sure when else they would ask.

" I'm not sure when else they would ask"'

Perhaps have the manager give their decision making and their inputs in writing, have the employee review these and provide a response. After all, if the employee were good enough to have lasted six years under the scrutiny of other good peers, then a sudden firing needs investigation. That's how it is done at other places where people are valued.

This entire thread reminded me of the callous attitude toward firing shown in the movie "Margin Call". Is it all related to American culture that the rest of us don't understand?

You will never ever get a reason for being fired in writing here in the US because all that does is provide evidence for a possible lawsuit.

> Is it all related to American culture that the rest of us don't understand?

In part, yes. Here in the US we don't really have worker protections. Many believe it is because of this that we have such a strong growth in business.

It objectively makes our economy more nimble and adaptable, but at the expense of employees.

A perfect example: I worked at a startup in 2000, and we had a bunch of people in the US as well as Europe. When business was down and we had to lay people off, we ended up laying off engineers in the US, because we couldn't get rid of any of the people in Europe quickly enough. We had to pay people for months before they were let go, and they didn't even show up to work. It was great for them, but it was bad for the company and also bad for our growth since we had to pay people to do literally nothing.

To be clear, I think workers need greater protections. But those protections should not be at the direct expense of the company. It should be indirectly through taxation.

But to get back to your question, yes, here in the US, workers are not treated as well as elsewhere. Entrepreneurs and businesses are seen as the drivers of the economy, not the workers.

> When else would they ask? The exit interview is when you are being informed of the decision.

At a previous employer, a manager would need to formally put you on a performance improvement plan to give you a chance to improve, to discuss about what's going on (maybe you need a leave of absence for family; or maybe training). HR should be surprised that the exit interview is the first time they're talking to the person.

That's my point. Those things still happen, even without a formal process. Most likely if you're in that meeting, you've already had multiple meetings with HR and your manager about your performance.

If HR is just hearing about it for the first time in the meeting, that is when they would be following up, because it means the manager made a quick rash decision.

Would they potentially overturn the dismissal in that case?

I don't think so. The last thing you want is to have someone working for a manager who tried to fire them. I don't recall any case where a dismissal was overturned.

Keep in mind, the HR person will still have at least a few hours warning, since they are invited to the meeting ahead of time and will know what the meeting is about, because they have to prep the paperwork. So if they disagree, they are most likely to ask the manager to discuss it first.

The process is you get a meeting invite for a 1 on 1 with your manager. They come in, tell you that you're getting let go and why, and then invite HR to come in. They then leave and HR goes over the paperwork and asks you about if you expected it.

That must be an absolutely horrible experience, if you genuinely didn’t expect it! Is there at least a reasonably generous severance package?

Edit to add: in fact, thinking about it, doing the entire process in a single meeting like that feels like a bit of a mean trick -- catching people off-balance so they’re probably more likely to answer the HR questions honestly, rather than having time to think about what they want to say and what they want to ask.

I wonder what questions that HR team asks and what use they make of the data.

The severance was several months of pay and usually a few months of health insurance too. It's the most generous package I've ever heard of.

For high level execs it got up into a whole year's salary sometimes.

Even for the lowest levels of engineers, the severance would be in the $40,000 range.

VPs could walk away with $1M+ in severance. CxOs even more.

This sounds horrific. I would never want to work in an environment where sudden unexpected on the spot firing was done, even if it was uncommon.

The company only looks out for itself and will support you only when it benefits. It will never benefit from supporting an ex-employee that left on bad terms, and the ex-employee will never benefit either from supporting it. So why bother, there is no rational reason.

The bond to co-workers at a former workplace is strange and tenuous - actually it goes the other way around, they reach out to you when they want to improve their situation. Let them ask you when they want out, then offer a hand.

> and the ex-employee will never benefit either from supporting it.

Like I said, even when you get fired, you still have stock options. So you do in fact benefit by helping the company when you're leaving.

> The bond to co-workers at a former workplace is strange and tenuous - actually it goes the other way around, they reach out to you when they want to improve their situation. Let them ask you when they want out, then offer a hand.

Why not offer them help when they don't ask, in the form of giving feedback to HR? Why do they need to ask? Why can't I be altruistic and help just because?

I'll say this -- you're entitled to your opinion, but I really hope I never work with or for someone who shares your outlook. And I especially hope I never manage someone with your outlook.

Whatever happened to "we're all in this together"?

I'm sorry, but you're j"I worked at Reddit and Netflix"edberg. I am a schmoe who works in a small town where there are fewer than 10 good companies that I would want to work for, and you haven't heard of any of them.

From the average perspective, I have found the parent's commenter's advice to be far more accurate. I don't think you have a good idea of how terrible and vindictive the average mid-level paper pusher in management or HR is outside Silicon Valley (I suspect there are quite a few in SV as well, but maybe you all are a little more skeptical about their utility). I don't want some maniac manager talking crap about me to everyone they know and consequently blowing up my meager job prospects just because I complained to HR about their shitty management style. Oh, and unlike your Netflix example, tens of people complained about terrible management style at a former employer, and not a single manager got fired or even cautioned as a result. So I'm going to smile, nod, and leave a company – nothing more.

So, in summary – hopefully this doesn't sound like flattery, but consider that you might be in the position of a Lakers player giving advice to a local pickup basketball group. The advice doesn't always translate well to a different context :)

That is a completely fair and relevant assessment. I don't know what it is like to work in small town with few job prospects.

I would hope I would act the same in that situation, trying to make things better for everyone, but honestly I don't know.

Hopefully the rise of remote work will fix some of this, giving you more prospects outside of your small town, and more flexibility.

> So, in summary – hopefully this doesn't sound like flattery, but consider that you might be in the position of a Lakers player giving advice to a local pickup basketball group.

Aw man, thanks for that ego boost today. I'll try not to let it go to my head. :)

But seriously, I always try to give advice that is generally relevant, because I am self-aware enough to know that just about every situation I've been in is not the norm. But thank you for calling me out, because sometimes I still make poor assumptions.

> Hopefully the rise of remote work will fix some of this, giving you more prospects outside of your small town, and more flexibility.

Thanks! I hope so too. :)

> Whatever happened to "we're all in this together"?

Because we are not in this together. I like working in collaborative environments but after switching jobs more times than I can count I've become more cynical.

- Co-workers are not your friends.

- HR is not your friend.

- Management is not your friend.

It's a business relationship and in the eyes of the corporate structure you are just a fungible resource being consumed to produce shareholder value. Some companies do a great job of creating a "culture" but even in these companies it's only a thin veneer over the machiavellian tactics that keep the corporate machine chugging along.

I'd disagree with that, management and HR, sure, but friendship with co-workers is important. Personal relationships are the main way people find jobs, and unlike with management and HR with co-workers at least nominally you're on the same team

That sounds like a pretty horrible existence. I often spend more time with my colleagues than my family, and luckily I have formed great friendships with them. I care about them and vice versa. This contributes greatly to my quality of life.

Luckily we all have decent jobs that we enjoy that presents interesting challenges, and earn a decent amount too.

>Why would anyone give any kind of useful information in the exit interview? The only one who benefits is the company

My favorite personal experience on an exit interview: Question: What did you like best about working at $Company? Answer: The weather (it was in SoCal, so weather was typically great)

That was the best thing I could come up with, and was about as useful as I was going to be

I have given useful information in exits when i felt the company was open to it and would take it seriously. Because while i knew my tenure was done and it was time to move on, me providing my reasons may help the rest f their retention. And from what i have heard, that advice was taken seriously and it did work.

I have also just run through the paces in ones where i know its not gonna change a thing.

I also work in a small enough community where its wise not to burn bridges because you very well may run across other again down the line.

This seems like a limited view. I have worked and re-worked with people across multiple companies during my career. To burn bridges as you go through your career seems short sighted.

This. I never understood people who go apeshit during exit interviews or are even honest during it. There is simply zero benefit to genuinely cooperating on an exit interview.

If the company is trash and you lay it all out during the exit interview you're simply burning bridge (particularly if they do in fact act on your feedback and somebody gets smacked about it) and if you're ever in a situation where you get let go suddenly or whatever, the person who you blasted may veto your return.

You owe the company less than nothing. Play your cards close to the chest, say the reason for leaving is personal and not at all related to the company and move on with your life. Why would you want to help the company that just fired you?

Yes, all the incentives are perverse during an exit interview. HR is only interested in avoid suits, and the ex-employee wants a good reference, or if not at least their severance.

> When you get let go

I'm sorry for going a bit offtopic, but I have noticed this weird linguistic contortion "get let go" often. Why the euphemisms? You get fired. It doesn't hurt to speak plainly. This "let go" expression seems weirdly childish, like how people say that someone "passed on" to avoid confronting the hard reality of death.

And I'm not picking on you, I know that almost everyone talks like this now.

Well at Netflix in particular, there is no real difference between being fired and being laid off, since both come with the same severance and benefits.

So it makes sense to use a generic term.

In most cases you use the generic term to avoid liability. Saying someone was fired could be libelous/slanderous.

Interesting point, but in most cases people say it when talking about themselves (I was let go) or in the hypothetical, as was the case here with OP: "When you get let go". So no risk of liability, there must be some other explanation.

There is still a liability when talking about oneself. Sometimes when someone is fired they have to sign a non-disparagement agreement to get their severance.

Saying you were fired could be considered disparaging.

> Saying you were fired could be considered disparaging.

I'm sorry, but I highly doubt that this is the case.

The "let go" is total corporate newspeak. You can't "let" go someone who didn't ask to go nor doesn't want to. You can only force him to go (by firing him).

That still sounds pretty bad. The person who fired you getting fired doesn't get you your job back.

No it doesn't, but do you think at other companies people don't get fired for bad reasons?

Of course people get fired at other companies, but that's whataboutism - it's bad no matter where it happens.

It's not whataboutism when you are comparing two things. Jed is suggesting one company culture is superior to another. The fact that it doesn't solve a problem that the other also doesn't solve is non-sequitor in such a discussion.

So then what was the behavior after the bad manager was let go? Did they actually reach out to those who were let go? The toxic effects of bad managers is way larger than ICs.

In some cases the fired people were invited back, but usually if they were good they already had another job.

That supposes that good people get good jobs easily. Given the stupidity of the interview system and my own experience trying to get a better job after working my ass off on improving myself, I think this is really not guaranteed to be the case.

Is there mobility so people can leave bad managers and move to other teams easily (i.e., vote with their feet) rather than being stuck under bad managers and getting screwed this way?

Yes, it's easy to change teams. You just find a new manager and ask if they have openings. You don't want to leave your old team high and dry, but the only requirement was the new manager saying yes.

Obviously in reality there were most likely some negotiations amongst the managers, as the new manager wouldn't want to get a reputation for stealing people.

But I saw people change teams pretty regularly. Not just because of bad managers, but because they just wanted a new challenge.

> When you get let go, they ask in the exit interview if you were warned, if your manager gave you any feedback leading up to it, etc. And then they follow up if the person says, "it was a total shock". I've definitely seen managers make some bad firing decisions, but they were let go soon afterwards.

I guess "the firings will continue until morale improves?"

Exit interviewers are for those who quit. Never seen a firing exit interview.

At Netflix everyone gets an exit interview, no matter the reason for leaving.

How does it physically happen?

Usually you are called into a meeting. Told your services are no longer required. Then you are given career resource support / paperwork with an offer and helped off the property. At what point is there a chance for an exit interview? After they first fire you, you are in shock.

The "helped off the property" part always surprises me as a non-American. In Poland, unless you get fired for disciplinary reason (which would be reserved for conscious infractions against the company, e.g. sending confidential data to a competitor), you still work for two months at the company. This is the time in which you can look for another job, pass over your tasks to your other coworkers, release all the accounts, make sure the data is backed up where it should be etc.

Sooo American. I mean sure if they fire you, that's how it goes usually but even the other way around people leave and are gone in two weeks and there's no way you get a replacement quick enough to have whoever leaves train them. And Co workers are usually told on the day. Such BS.

There are more civil ways where both sides give a couple months notice and giving notice doesn't mean you get escorted off the property. It means you'll still do your job for a couple months, maybe even train a replacement.

In companies I worked for, people never left like that. They would be talked to and then continued going to work although significantly less motivated. The firing on spot must have big reason like not showing up or drinking.

American companies do that thing where they fire you, you have to leave instantly and then they pay you salary for the time you would be still going to work in any normal company.

The rest of team spends time guessing the situation, trying to contact you to figure out what happened and generally is disturbed.

After the paperwork, if you want to.

I feel like it has to be this way. You can’t both want to be trusted and enjoy the benefits of that autonomy and then expect others to not have that trust an autonomy. In many ways it shows it’s properly baked into the culture and not just some nice sound bite to attract engineering talent.

In this sort of setup, you'd expect there to be a chance of asshole managers; but you'd also expect that those asshole managers would be quickly fired by their non-asshole managers. Being stuck under an asshole would only happen if you were in reality stuck under a whole chain of assholes, leading all the way to the top. And if that was true, the company would be in the middle of imploding anyway.

This may sound flippant, but it's not: you mean like Uber. (See eg Susan Fowler's book Whistleblower.)

On the other hand, I'm sure those bad managers get the natural result of their management much quicker and more visibly when there is no bureaucractic structure protecting them from themselves.

I have to agree; it's one thing to empower leaders to enact their vision. It's another to give them carte blanch to screw over the people they are supposed to be leaders to. Firing is serious, and it doesn't just affect someone's work life.

I think the number of people that are let go is overexaggerated. But yes, it is easy to fire and hire. The two go hand in hand.

My coworker was a product manager at Netflix and she said in a 2 year period she saw at least 20 engineers get fired. That seems pretty high to me.

Probably depends on team and circumstances. In my ~3 years there I've only seen a handful of engineers I interact with (which was a lot) get fired.

That's a huge amount.

I remember working in a large company with easily a hundred people over the years. I'd say there were only 2 employees that were fireable materials.

Yeah but how hard was it to hire new people? There is a direct correlation. It's super easy to hire people at Netflix. It is literally just up to the hiring manager.

The flip side is that it is also easy to fire, so you can quickly correct any mistakes you may have made in hiring.

This of course means more churn. But to someone working there, this felt like a good thing. It means you didn't have people just biding their time like you see in most big companies.

Never once did I think, "how does that person still have a job?" Unlike the other big companies I've worked for, where there is always at least one person who you know is just floating as long as they can and getting away with it.

Well, there can be some challenges to get people to apply to the archaic job board and they often don't recognize the brand. It's certainly easier to hire at Netflix being a well known consumer brand.

How's the interview process though? Do managers get to hand pick candidates, without them being subjected to a grueling full day onsite with 6-8 employees?

I'd say that's the biggest issue to hire. Even if referred and highly recommended, it's trivial to be rejected due to any one interviewer having a bad day or an impossible bar.

The process in general worked like this:

The candidate is found, either by the hiring manager themself, through an internal referral, or via the internal sourcers/recruiters (shout out to them for being amazing at their job!)

The hiring manager sets up an interview panel, where they recruit relevant stakeholders (in the case of an engineer, this was usually peer engineers and sometimes other managers who that team worked with a lot).

The panel is usually around four hours, with four or five people, including the manager, someone from HR, and some future peers.

If that goes well, then a second panel is set up for round two, also about four hours, which usually involves a Director or VP or two, maybe another higher up peer or sibling team peer or manager, and a higher up manager from HR.

Throughout the day, the hiring manager solicits feedback from the interviewers, usually within 15 minutes of them finishing.

The final decision rests solely with the hiring manager, but usually most of the feedback needed to be positive to move forward. The manager could also stop the process at any time. So if all the feedback was "meh", they could save everyone some time and cut it short.

Out of town candidates would have the both panels set for one long day, or sometimes the afternoon and following morning, so for out of town candidates who got all the way through, it could be pretty grueling.

After all that, if the hiring manager decides to hire you, you could get an offer before you even leave, or within a day or two usually, unless there were multiple people for one position, and then you had to wait for them all (although if you were amazing you'd get an offer anyway and then if someone else was good they would get an offer too).

For me personally, the entire process from first contact to signing offer papers was less than a week, and that was pretty typical at the time.

Thanks for the description. Sounds like the typical very difficult full day interview as in every other big tech company, so it doesn't seem to me to be easy to hire or to be hired by any stretch.

In some respects it is very similar, but I think the key differences were that the manager has complete discretion. Even if everyone said no, they could still hire you (as unwise as that might be). There was no hiring committee, no one had veto power.

But yes, you still had to pass a series of interviews. :)

I'm sorry, I'm afraid my comment was too negative. I agree everything is exaggerated on the internet, and I think Netflix's way of doing things is refreshing and has benefits over previous approaches. For example if, instead of getting fired, I was put on a dead-end project for 2 years, I would feel like I wasted time that could have been used improving my career prospects. The engineers who work at Netflix are all desirable and should not have trouble finding work (although likely with less pay).

My wife worked there for a year, and was used to seeing the emails to her dept. saying so-and-so was fired once or twice a week. Eventually she quit because of it, but she had an overall positive experience.

This works for high tier companies. But mid tier don’t have the same pull. It’s HaRD to hire good people. The funnel is full of chaff. My team has been interviewing for a Sr engineer for months.

You simply need to pay above the market. My company does that quite often when we need someone senior quickly to fill in a gap after some other senior left and you'd be surprised of the caliber of people that come out of the woodwork.

Even a first line manager can fire? are there no hr processes

There is no HR process. In reality you've already had multiple discussions with HR and your manager if you're going to get fired, but it isn't required.

That may very well be true. It also only seems to work at companies without junior engineers. Junior engineers need more guidance and more feedback and a more hands on approach from their managers to guide career growth.

Totally agree, when there is growth everyone is growing when the company is flat or worse then it’s a 0 sum game / survivor competition game.

How is this not stack ranking by firing instead of by formal review?

With stack ranking a manager must rank the entire team from worst to best and fire / warn the lowest ranked person in the team. Imagine a team with the 10 best people you ever worked with. Now fire the least great of them. You must, because didn't you just say he/she is the worst of the team?

Instead the Netflix process sounds a lot more fair. If everyone is awesome, no one needs to be fired.

I mean, they both sound like dystopian nightmare scenarios tbh.

Yeah. Threads like this whole discussion are why I never want to work for a "big" company. More than about 50 people and you start to get into this kind of managerial/competitive BS. No thanks, I'll take the lower (but still more than sufficient) pay of a small company over that any day.

What part of Netflix's arrangement sounds like a "dystopian nightmare scenario"?

Get fired for no reason because your manager doesn't like you?

I guess a lot of that is helped by "at will" employment in the States. In the UK for example if an employee has worked for 2 years at a company you can't just fire them for no real reason.

I'm curious about the 360 reviews. Where I work, peer feedback is solicited by your manager. So your manager can choose the people writing your feedback based on whether the manager wants to reward you or to screw you over. As a byproduct, your peers do not fear any repercussions for bad behavior if they have confidence that their manager has their back. So, for example, people have no qualms about sabotaging the work of other teams. Do the 360 reviews help with this problem?

I don't think they are related. I think what stops that from happening is open feedback across the company and hiring the right people. No one is really thinking, "man I would totally screw this person if not for the bad review they might give me!". Especially since the reviews only happen once a year.

If you do something negative to someone, that person will either directly address it with you or your manager at the time. The reviews are more to address longer term behavior.

This sounds like a huge step up in company management from what exists at most places.

I love how it creates the side effect that bad managers get fired if they fire a good employee (as you mentioned elsewhere). Its not even a written rule, but just through social physics it seems to bring out the correct outcome for people who actually add/subtract value.

I bet they also save a lot of money simply by not employing people who do nothing but look good and smooch around while being a negative contributor, since those people typically cost the most. And, a small portion of the money saved goes back into the salary of those who deserve it for the rate they are worth making them glad to stick around and help them succeed.

Sounds like you are no longer there - what was the dark side?

Honestly there was no real dark side. I supposed you could say some mangers were a little trigger happy on firing, but in a sibling comment I addressed that.

I left to start a startup. I would work there again in second if I ever go back to working for someone else (and they had a role for me).

Same. If you can possibly manage a stint at Netflix, do it.

So when people say companies are afraid of hiring false positives because it's costly to get rid of them - it's their internal corporate culture that is to blame for firing being expensive in the first place? Rather than some overarching legal complications?

The conventional wisdom in SV is that it's really hard to fire people. It's been my experience, too. I've worked with lawyers numerous times to fire people and it was always way more complex than I wanted. The problem is there are so many protected classes and once someone is in one, in CA, it makes it hard to just fire them, unless you have documented very precisely why you are firing them. And that is very taxing on everyone.

Geez that sounds exactly like how the place I work at works. Interesting!

Sounds like a place I would like to work.

Humans have proven time and time again that we are very good at optimizing for specific metrics, and apparently generally very poor at choosing the right metrics to target.

School is a prime example, in my opinion - there is so much I "learned" in school that I'll never remember, because I didn't take a proper approach to learning - I just optimized for grades. I had a 4.7 GPA and could hardly tell you a thing about US history or recite a lick of Spanish, because I simply did not care about anything but getting the A so I could get into the college I cared about.

In the work environment, I can see a lot of parallels to this. If I'm competing with my coworkers, my incentive is to outwork and outshine them. A common thing I see is when a coworker does a bit of innovative work - it's almost guaranteed some other coworker will intercede before a chance at applause is given to discuss its obvious flaws, the plethora of alternatives out there, etc., leading the developer to feel like their implementation was not good. (For the record, I'm not talking about general criticism - I'm talking about the general pattern of not celebrating someone's achievements and then discussing how to continue improving, but rather a "why did you even do this" mentality).

Planet Money had an episode on such metrics[0]

The host shares a personal story from time when he was a cashier. The grocery chain measured performance as items scanned per minute and shared internal leaderboard.

Some items are hard to scan so the cashiers ended up skipping scanning them – so the store gave them away for free. But the managers were happy about their KPIs. (Look how many items are we suddenly selling per minute!)

[0] - https://www.npr.org/transcripts/669396192 (both podcast and transcript)

I love this podcast.

Costco has such leader boards and keeps a separate board for part timers vs full time cashiers. I asked my friend who works there why the part time cashiers have a much higher (upwards of 2x) items per minute rate than the full time employees. Costco only schedules part time cashiers during busy hours where the lines are long and there are assistants getting the carts ready.

I heard about a call center that rewarded customer service agents for short calls, so workers started immediately hanging up on some calls to bring their average call duration down.

I swear this happened to me with Grubhub. I had a problem with my order and used their chat. After I wrote my problem the agent replied with a standard answer and then immediately:

"Is there anything else I can help you with?"

And then immediately after that:

"No, ok I will close this chat."

> I heard about a call center that rewarded customer service agents for short calls

Almost all call centres reward agents for short calls.

Smart companies optimize something more like "percent of calls resolved on first contact" (or "1 - percent of calls requiring the customer to call back").

There's a target time. Something like 6 minutes. You can't just hang on customers

I can verify this does happen in some call centers.

The supermarket I worked at in high school did this, but you usually didn’t get incentive pay if you worked less than 15 hours a week.

The supervisors were pretty swift and always looking for shrink. If you were letting dog food or whatever walk out the door, they would figure it out quickly and you would be gone.

The GMs were well paid and profitability and shrink were their metrics.

> Humans have proven time and time again that we are very good at optimizing for specific metrics, and apparently generally very poor at choosing the right metrics to target.

Maybe it's Goodhart's Law: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

As another example: Agile dev team measuring velocity (story points per sprint) to predict how much work they can do in the future.

If velocity gets turned into a target, corners will be cut (less testing, poor code quality) in order to get those story points for that sprint. Code quality suffers and tech debt accumulates, reducing output down the road.

On the flip side, as time goes on teams could just progressively estimate a greater number of points to stories of similar difficulty during the planning process. So velocity goes up but actual deliverable features goes down or stays the same.

I agree that it is easy for a metric to loose it's original meaning. I've had luck with OKRs; Having a non quantitative goal, and possibly changing quantitative based targets aimed at making the goal happen.

One cannot overstate this and human capability to optimize for metrics ( and what is apparently rewarded ). Anecdote time. My former manager had an idea to measure the amount of average alerts per hour and tore into people, whose values fell below a certain treshold. What did people do? They stopped doing harder alerts whenever they could and did 'easy ones' to pump up their stats. I have seen it since and whenever I do, I have a quick talk about people not being idiots and importance of metrics not being used for evaluation ( or if you do, to be ready for its consequences ). In case you are wondering, former's managers response was to double down and hide the stats so that people don't know where they stand.. eh.

"When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure".. I think this phrase all too often... haha

If we don't have metrics, how are we to fairly and objectively compare one worker's performance to another?

I mean, what if you just don't?

at my company, raises have more to do with the financial situation of the company than subjective reviews (although we do have these, they just don't factor into compensation that much). if the company is doing well, everyone gets a nice raise. everyone gets the same percentage bonus every year which is calculated based on the entire company's performance. maybe this makes us unattractive for very competitive people, but it leads to a very cooperative environment. senior devs don't really have anything to lose by spending a few hours helping newer people, so they just do it.

Well, one reason is that without metrics, prejudice and bias is much more likely to win the day. "I just don't feel like they're doing a good job" is affected by all kinds of things unrelated to actual performance. At least having some metrics require you to think about whether that feeling is backed up by reality.

the theory is that high productivity people will not want to work there, as everyone else benefits from their excellence. If companies that retain these high productivity people perform better than companies that don't, evolutionary pressure will force these egalitarian companies out.

I think this theory may be true in some fields like hedge funds or heavy sales performance based businesses.

In software, I am not sure high productivity people care about this issue, as long as their compensation is high enough.

> high productivity people care about this issue, as long as their compensation is high enough.

That circles back to the original problem of how do you identify the high productivity people to give them high compensation. It works when the person spending the money is close enough to evaluate employee performance. But when it's some middle manager spending Zuckerburg's money you run into the agent/principle problem. The managers will do what's best for them (raises for everyone!) and not the enterprise.

I think high productivity people by definition cause everyone* else to benefit from their excellence.

So high productivity people who don't want everyone else to benefit are a bit of an oxymoron.

(* or at least most others)

LeBron James wants his whole team to succeed, but he still expects to be paid the most.

If you can afford LeBron, great!

If you can find a dev who can do for your company what LeBron can do for the Cavs/Heat/Lakers, great!

The reality is that you should be shooting for Shane Battier.

Being productive and not blocked is all some people want. Some might want to do less. And some might want to feel like they are the mvp. Michael Jordan didn't mail it in because Scotty was sitting at home.

How is obsessive focus on metrics making anything more fair? Even if you have metrics, choosing which ones are important still ends up being subjective, and the metrics are usually incomparable between projects. So the metrics alone don't tell anything useful and can still be easily gamed to make the manager's preferred employees look good and disliked employees look bad.

Metrics are CYA insurance for managers to promote or PIP employees without getting into trouble with HR

Metrics don't mean it's fair it just means you're judging someone on a handful of numeric values rather than them as an individual. If you judged me on the metric of turning up on time I'd be doing appalling [0], yet I'm still one of the first people to be brought in on every critical project in the company.

Obviously metrics vs just manager instinct/observation will benefit and harm different people in different ways.

A combination would be better. But life isn't really fair or objective, end of the day I'd rather work with someone I like and can socialise with and know working with them is stress free (which means my work is better) and can be trusted to just do their thing even if their performance is lower than someone who's a pain to work with but maybe puts in more hours.

Making software is a combination of engineering + artistry, it's not flipping X burgers an hour, objective performance isn't important it's the contribution of the whole individual.

[0] : I did have a manager judge me on this before, all it meant was I'd stay up all night, go into work, sit there like a zombie doing close to nothing, go home then sleep. Doesn't matter if I was barely doing anything, by their bum on seat metric I was doing great.

I've been thinking about this recently, what if we're doing it all wrong? what if, instead of your manager giving their reports a review, and then also giving raises based on that we go with a more market-based approach. Hear me out:

Every year, and once a year, all the managers in the company submit bids to the employees that they want to work under them. Employees then select their favorite bid, and that becomes their new manager. Employees are free to accept/reject bids based on any criteria: Salary/PTO/On-call requirements, etc.

There's a company that does this and more:


Hah, I think I heard of that company on a podcast, it may have inspired the idea

Let me ask you another question. How do you identify the additive employees from the multiplicative employees? You probably don’t want all multiplicative employees on a team, but you surely want some of them. How do you create metrics that don’t encourage too much of one or the other? How much is too much of one or the other?

The performance evaluations I've been through claim to be evaluating how an employee does vs expectations. That doesn't demand comparing workers to each other.

In theory, you have a list of things to check for each category of performance. If you tick enough boxes, you get a certain category. In reality, it seems managers stack rank, and then apply the required curve to the stack rank. If everybody on your team does their job as expected (or better), too bad, X% need to be flagged as poor performers as declared by the performance curve.

What is better, an objective measurement of the wrong thing, or a subjective measurement of the right thing?

Which is more fair? Note that objective measurement of the wrong thing will reward people for stuff other than quality, and probably stuff beyond their control.

It's not that metrics in general are bad, it's that bad metrics are bad.

What's the best metric for metric quality?

It's metrics all the way down...

You are conflating justice with “objectivity”. They are not the same thing.

How so?

Can you do that even with metrics? I really doubt that.

no better alternatives, if you do not do grading etc at school then what we have is a small group of kids learned a lot on their own(1% of them I guess), the rest 99% will just waste their youth totally and learned nothing at all.

I've been working at Facebook for a while now, and I think the environment is competitive, and you do need to shine in front of endless talent, but doing so doesn't mean numbers.

Sadly, many people who don't do well take their feedback to mean that they need more code commits or comments. Some of them might even succeed at gaming the system for a short while due to a bad manager. The truth from my experience is that as long as you drive meaningful impact, and are able to convince you manager and others of it, you will be doing well. Falling back to silly stat numbers is the toolset of people who don't have enough achievements. In a way, good numbers don't mean good performance. But bad performance really does correlate with bad numbers. So people who are unhappy with their ratings will deduce that is the problem. It's aggravated by the fact people with good ratings don't boast about it (which is considered rude). I've noticed similar effects in college with grades. Judging by the vocal people one could assume the majority of the class failed at the exam, since whoever succeed will do well to not rub in their friends' faces)

* Personally I do use numbers in reviews, but only as a secondary way to backup my claims for what I did, or why it was important

* * If you are convinced that your manager and team only cares about stats, I recommend switching to another team or company when you have the opportunity.

By meaningful impact, do you mean how many users you convinced into clicking ads?

Or perhaps it was meaningful to create a tool that was used to monitor and manipulate millions of people to vote In a particular way?

If only you'd made a meaningful comment.

I was an eng manager at Facebook for a number of years and I think you accurately summarized the coding metrics in performance reviews perpetual great debate.

The only thing that really matters is your reputation among others. If you want a promotion, start looking for another job or start your own company. The only incentive companies have to give you raises is the changes in the going rate for software engineers. Everyone ends up moving in ~5 years; and if you make a good impression that becomes an opportunity for you.

I do a good job because I'm a professional, and care about what my peers think about me. I'm not competing with them, I'm living up to the high standards that they have to me and vice versa. I don't do a good job because of some carrot on a stick tier "promotion" or "raise". Those are easy enough to get by job hopping or having the option of job hopping.

One of the least well understood things is that people can have different motivations to do a good job. But most people assume everyone's motivation is the same as theirs.

I work at FB. Can't speak for other teams, but this does not match the culture I've seen in 3+ years. There is a tool to send thanks, but there are no expectations -- it's just a nice thing to see coworkers appreciate you. I've done reviews and never heard anyone mention the number of "thanks" their report has received.

The PSC cycle (bi-annual review) is stressful, which I think is where the "craziness" stems. OTOH, there's not much day to day oversight - employees have an insane amount of freedom - so these 2x / year reviews are the tradeoff. ICs have tons of freedom, then twice a year, have to stand account for how they spent the last 6 months, compared to what other people in the same role and at the same level have done. (It's not stack ranking, it's more like grading on a curve across very different exam questions.)

There are mechanisms to provide feedback more frequently than every 6 months. It's agreed that the manager failed at their job if an IC is surprised by how a review ends up.

(FB also has 360 reviews every 6 months, offset from PSC by 3 months. These are usually upward reviews, and they are taken very seriously. Results from these determine manager career progression, so it's a chance for ICs to have their voices really well heard.)

Gaming the stats does exist, just as it exists everywhere. I think this is probably the only part that I don't strongly disagree with. It's also a hard problem to solve, with significant tradeoffs for different approaches. (And might be the most interesting piece)

>I work at FB. Can't speak for other teams, but this does not match the culture I've seen in 3+ years.

I'm an Eng Manager at FB and my experience matches fbanon9876's.

In the rating calibration sessions I've been a part of, stats come into play as a data point in the overall package and usually as factors IN SUPPORT of improving someone's rating. i.e. This higher level person wasn't really driving a lot of cross-function efforts, but man were they shipping code...and vice versa.

I'm over 20 years into my career and have been around the block a few times at companies large and small. Overall, I feel that FB's performance process is, by a massively wide margin, the most fair process I've been a part of.

Also, one of the reasons for high pressure at FB is that there is a serious financial incentive for top performance. We're talking 25%-300% multiplier to your bonus AND stock refresh. For those at levels where RSU is a big part of your compensation, that can literally mean a 6 figure bump for 4 years. Contrast that at other companies I've been at, where I've received top ratings that resulted in a pay increase of 4% instead of the standard 2% and an extra 1-5% on my annual bonus.

How does FB handle people that are strict 9-5'ers?

I read a lot of conflicting things on teamblind or glassdoor about a poor WLB. It's hard to tell if this was someone in their early 20s out of school struggling to work with a large company or someone mid 30s that burned out.

If you just do your obligations does it look bad? I mean not everyone can be a top performer, especially if there is a curve. Some companies will PIP you out, but I can't quite get the vibe at FB.

I'd love to join, I interviewed last year but went thru some personal grief and didn't really prep well then failed the interview. I'd like to time to properly study this year because the process as was very do-able if you put in the effort.

Sorry to hear it didn't go well for you the last time. I know a bunch of people who passed the interview process only in a later try.

I personally do 9-6, take my coffee breaks really seriously, sometimes to later work like reply to messages if I'm in the mood, and never (save for very very rare shitstorms) work on the weekend.

Teams vary, I've seen plenty of 9-5ers that make it work (some of them on my team). As you already pointed out, I also think younger people tend to overwork, and people with kids tend to reprioritize and go for a 9-5 schedule.

Since one gets to choose the team they join in Facebook (in contrast to being offered a job in a specific team) you get to choose a team that will fit your personality. This means you should pick a team not only based on their project, but also based on the people and the team's culture, and if you pick wrong, you can rather easily switch.

I'll back up what strulovich said. Every team is different, but most folks on my team are in the office from 9:30-6 or so. Some come in earlier, some come in later. I'm a parent and on a train commuting schedule, so my day is 7:45-5:15 or so.

You can get PIPed out at FB, but in my org it's very, very, rare. Out of 100 people, only a few people received a rating that was less than "Meets All Expectations" and none were in danger of a PIP.

Regardless, people are measured by the work they do and against expectations of their level. There is no "hours your butt is in a chair" requirement. The big caveat is that some teams are more hectic than others and quality of managers may vary.

I do 6-10 hours per day, depending on the day. My team has quite good WLB. I have heard of other teams that are more pressured, but haven't spoken directly to those teams.

Compared to my previous... 4 jobs (+1 company founded), this is the 2nd lowest stress. The one lower stress job had 1/3 the compensation, no career growth, and was just a "marking time" federal tech job. YMMV.

It's something that on a casual basis no big deal.

But once you ask folks to do it and there's any positive outcome ... it becomes a thing.

I've been a part of similar systems and as soon as it is sort of institutionalized, it is a nightmare.

It became office politics and groups of mutual admiration clubs, and frankly a lot of folks who maybe needed to up their game in the view of their bosses got in on these sort of mutual admiration clubs. More so than those who didn't, and that really skewed things.

The underlying fact is a complement from a coworker might have jack squat to do with ... actually doing anything good, it could even be because of a bad thing, who knows, you just never know.

As soon as it isn't 'organic' it becomes kinda horrible.

> It became office politics and groups of mutual admiration clubs

Right, the incentive problem is especially hard here, because "compliments" and "praise" by definition involve unverified info, so it's really easy for the whole thing to devolve into a popularity contest, and you can only avoid this by discouraging it. OTOH it might still be possible to reward employees for praise of coworkers that involves some amount of verifiability. It's not that everything is going to be verified after-the-fact, but the possibility has to be real so that everyone's behavior is kept in line.

I'm stupid. I give people the praise they deserve, even when it hurts me.

Same here. I am also stupid in another way - I can't boast of my "incredible" accomplishments by sending out huge and beautiful emails to prove my "impact". With that kind of combination, I am looking forward to stagnation at my current level.

I felt similarly, earlier in my career. Until a manager explained it this way: "Suppose you make the greatest thing in the world, but nobody knows about it. Wouldn't it be better to have spent 95% of the effort on making a slightly inferior product, and 5% to actually get people to use it? Isn't it more impactful to make something people use? Well, in order to get people to use anything, you have to talk about it."

Thats a cop out by a lazy or self-centered manager. The difference is that it's the manager's job to evaluate you vs marketing a product to an unknown buyer. A good manager would actively work with their employees to know what is going on. Most managers I've seen care about their own performance and hitting target metrica.

If you're not good a marketing a product, you should still spend 100% of your effort on making it great, and hire a marketing person to do the other part.

This only works for external products. People make internal tools all the time that can be used by many teams. You're not going to get a marketing person to market the tool internally, that's wasted money.

At that point, it's really your and your manager's (and so forth) responsibility to ensure your product or tool is in the right hands and helps people.

My manager was great at taking on some of the burdens and shielding me from above, while still giving me the flexibility and incentive to work with other teams and people to make sure I was the one everyone recognized for the work done, as opposed to the team or him.

It depends. Over time, I've seen a lot of cases where other teams were duplicating effort, or product owners or project managers were making bad guesses about what was difficult, or impossible, or already done - and the reason was that they either didn't know what was being worked on or didn't understand the impact.

When your head is down in an interesting, thorny problem, it is easy to forget how those other folks are affected by your work, and it's easy to lose appreciation for the fact that their head is filled with a completely different information set. So it can be very useful to spend 5% of your time on this.

Or heck, just try 2.5% - one hour out of a standard work week. Personal anecdote: I wrote up a little thing about why customers would pick one video encoder over another, and marketing just did backflips and started asking my manager if I could write more things.

This strategy is contrary to everything I know about how great teams work. Great teams are allergic to "not my problem" thinking, and teammates have empathy for each other's roles, meaning they learn about what makes each other tick.

Focusing on your own silo and blaming others for the team's failure results in dysfunction, not success. Instead, take ownership of your job and (shared) ownership of the other jobs that interact with it.

I think you jumped to assume that it's an external product. You have no idea whether the person in question is lazy or self-centered. The person who taught me this was neither.

In either case, at some point you have to convince someone else that it's worth investing their time. External, this can be dollars (although is that really the best way?). Internally (and optimally), you still need to self-market your product to marketers.

Either way, it's better to spend at least a little time doing marketing. Boiled down from all the hype and jargon, marketing is highlighting the benefits to another person. If an IC is working on a project where they don't know the benefits, there is a larger issue.

> If you're not good a marketing a product, you should still spend 100% of your effort on making it great, and hire a marketing person to do the other part

You can't hire a marketing person for yourself. Marketing yourself and your work is important because things don't magically get discovered or recognized.

"stagnation" mens "avoiding the rat race" and it has mental health benefits that masy be worth more than the raise.

I'm stressed because they will find a way to get rid of me if I stagnate too long. They begin to think there is something wrong with you if you haven't moved up. I'm 8 years into my career and this company, I'm a midlevel developer, and have an MSIS.

Sounds like you might consider your quality of life improved with an employer that doesn't expect you to climb arbitrary ladders?

There are a lot of medium-small employers in lesser-known or unsexy domains that under normal circumstances struggle to compete with FAANG/similar to find people. How many are hiring right now I don't know, but it might be an option.

I have a family to support and we basically just make with this income, with the possibility to retire someday. My experience is in Neoxam and FileNet, so my options are limited. My wife won't consider moving, so that brings my options to zero.

That's me. I don't like visibility. I like to do a good job for the sake of the job without bragging.

The dilemma is this... "Ignorance is bliss" - You can't be worried/stressed about problems you don't know...

What if you're consistently doing good work but have zero visibility? Then years down the road, you notice a trend of people around you getting promotions/raises/bounses more often than you? The same people that slack off & lack integrity; to name a few. As a human being with emotions... can you honestly say you won't feel resentful in your moment of realization?

I am asking as someone who's been in that situation more times than I care to admit... I do good work for myself and for the sake of doing good work; I take pride in the work I do... but as most of it was never communicated, no one knew about it and just took it's results for granted; I was bypassed for raises, promotions, etc... Was it worth it? I can't give you a answer... it's a very conflicting place to be.

I have this problem myself. I've gotten around it in the past by taking roles where the visibility is already baked into it, but I've never really solved the root problem. Now I'm a mostly anonymous, invisible contractor at a FAANG, and I don't know that there's a way break through that even for those most determined.

Thanks! Maybe I'll reconsider becoming a chief of staff.

Is there a particular reason you never communicated your work?

I think people have an obligation to share the work they do, especially if it's interesting or impactful. Because if you don't, then generally no one else will.

I'm definitely resentful and demoralized.

That's why having a culture where people share their gratitude for your being helpful, competent and otherwise awesome really matters. The self-promoters always look good, but the best people - and those that make the best leaders - often don't self-promote.

I feel this, and it's challenging because visibility is important for advancement. My manager advised me to think of the broadcast emails/posts as ways to boost the people I collaborated with, and that's helped a lot. It doesn't feel like I'm tooting my own horn, people still see the impact of projects I contributed to, and my colleagues are always enthusiastic to work on projects with me because they know they will get good visibility and be "given" they credit they deserve for their contributions.

Granted my role is very crossfunctional, but I think it's pretty unusual to be consistently impactful working in your own silo. So boosting my collaborators gets me the visibility benefits, without feeling insincere, and contributes to a work culture that is collaborative and supportive.

For context, I lead an analytics team at a FAANG company.

You'll always have people across the industry who want you to go work with them :)

Thanks, but I'm turning into a miserable, no skills, scrooge so I don't think that will be the case much longer.

I'm stupid in this way, too.

I used to be this stupid too but then I learned that it's better to just play their game, win and then move on, no point in fighting it, just think of it as another part of the job.

This is what I do now after trying and failing at "doing my best work and hoping to get recognized".

I'm bad at communicating when I've worked on something challenging, so now I realize I should never give more effort than can be noticed. You may think that's cynical, but this is a business and I'm paid not on what I actually do but what the business perceives me of doing.

Thanks! I might look into trying that mindset.

In another comment you say you find the lying and mindgames to be morally offensive. How do you not find this morally offensive as well?

I read this as not giving any extra effort, which I think would help reduce the reliance of my self image on my work success. I wouldn't be lying and I wouldn't be playing head games.

I want to, but I find the lying and mind games to be morally offensive, especially when they can have such a large impact on a person's wellbeing.

This is my problem as well, and seeing all of the unfair behavior -- with average performers who are easy targets getting PIPed while the lowest performers who are the managers favorites get top ranks or promotions -- is really annihilating my morale.

How is communicating what you're working on lying or using mind games?

We aren’t always lucky enough to get a project that will shine, yet all projects are compared with the same eyes.

That can lead to having to ‘lie’ or act overly proud of work you know is essential but boring.

This comment was in response to "...it's better just to play their game...".

Yes, and the game is to promote your work and have it noticed.

You do that by communicating. Where is lying and mind games involved?

That might be the game at your company. The company I work for lies and plays mind games. I assume all large companies do - just look at other comments in this thread that suggest this.

Can you explain how the lies and mind games come into play at your company?

It seems like most other people are talking about gaming metrics, not lying and playing games.

See the comment above your's about "unfair treatment".

At my company, your rating should be evaluated against the standard according to HR policy. I have been given a low rating in the past simply because somebody else got a high rating. Some departments require that the highest rating be 'balanced' by giving someone a lower rating, even when they don't deserve it. I know this because I have friends in management who have confirmed this.

The year after this, I filled the role of a tech lead as an intermediate developer. I was a key part of an enterprise-wide upgrade and recieved a commendation from the leader of that initiative. I was up for the highest rating, but did not get it. Why? Somebody else on the team was also doing an awesome job and they didn't have an FDN from the prior year. Policy states that only the current year should be part of the rating. My manager even said they believed that I "...deserved a distinguished rating, but [they] couldn't get it". Not to mention, can you imagine giving two out of ten employees an FDN to balance out two distinguished?

I left that team for a new team. On this team I got an average rating, but 12% of my target bonus (we are a pay for performance shop). Why so low? Because I took parental leave and my point count wasn't as high as others'. HR policy forbids point comparisons and also forbids any negative impact from taking parental leave. This team also tried to state that my work as an Application Security Champion for the system was not to be counted as part of my job, but as a supplemental role. Policy stated that it should be considered part of my job. I filled this role for six teams across two departments and received very positive feedback from two individuals that I interacted within the security subdivision.

These are probably half of the major issues which impacted my monetary, promotion, or rating outcomes.

As for head games, they play too many to list. One very memorable one is how I was told by my manager that some people only have the potential to be an intermediate developer, but later being told that if I stay in that position too long they will try to get rid of me because if you stay in that position for too long it shows you don't have any potential.

How's your career? Did this have an impact?

Mine is ruined and this might have contributed a little. I'll never be more than an intermediate developer and I'm worried about being fired/laid off.

Don’t believe that about yourself for a second. I regularly scored low marks at a previous company of mine; and, even during one review, I got a ‘you improved a lot! But your coworkers improved even more, so you’re getting a [low rank] again.’

I’ve since moved on to different positions at different companies and am doing plenty fine. I’m even the senior member on a new team I’m joining now.

A few bad years or even many bad years don’t end your career :)

I once had a manager give me an FDN rating and when I asked what I can do to improve she told me "just keep doing what you're doing".

I’ve been told this several times when I’ve asked what I could do to get a higher rating or promotion. It always meant that there was some tenure element to the rankings. I think from the manager’s perspective they are being both honest and reassuring, but from the report’s perspective, it’s very frustrating knowing your progress is being limited, and hard work wasted, due to some bureaucratic limitation. And knowing that in practice it’s possible for exceptions to be made and it’s possible your manager isn’t advocating strongly enough for you.

At my company it wasn't a tenure thing, although I think that played an informal role as to why I was picked vs someone else. When a manager picks someone for the highest rating some departments require the manager to also pick someone as an FDN to "balance it out".

In this case I know the guy that got the high rating. As weird as it is to say, and even when the wound was fresh, I was/am happy for him and he deserved it. He's a nice guy and he had nothing to do with the rating I recieved. He's now a manager several levels up.

Ah, I didn’t realize “FDN” was a bad review

Yep, it shows up on your record for 3 years when posting for a new position or promotion, maybe longer for management positions.

What's an FDN rating?

Further development needed, aka you're not successfully meeting expectations for your role.

>I'll never be more than an intermediate developer

Do you mean this at your specific company? I felt the same way in my last company because there was definitely nowhere to go up, but I've since moved on and am in a more senior role.

I'm in my 30 with a family and find that I am much slower at learning new stacks now. I was a FileNet developer and then a Neoxam developer. There aren't many opportunities for me.

I'm also just tired of the bullshit and and mind games that management plays. My current plan is to gamble in the stock market and 'retire' whenever I can't take it anymore or get fired. I would love to retire to run a small farm and/or work a retail job like Lowes.

If you don't like the industry you're in, programming culture, or the software stack you're used to, one way to break out of it is to get a low level office job in the sort of place you want to work and figure out how to solve problems with technology among people who don't normally have developers at their beck and call.

This is also, I think, how you find a job that is very stable and secure - focusing first and foremost on something other than technology until they can't imagine hiring someone off the street to replace you who doesn't know the business.

Thanks! I've sort of considered moving into a business role and becoming a business analyst. Seems like a huge pay cut (that I can't afford) and years of wasted effort.

I actually have a business administration minor and trade options and equities, so I have a better understanding of finance and the business than most people I work with in IT. I work for a large financial company and my previous team was amazed that I passed my CFA Foundations class without studying (it's not difficult like the CFA level 2 or anything).

Maybe I'll reconsider becoming a business person.

With a knowledge of finance and software development, you should be able to choose jobs that use both but focus on either... I would expect such jobs to pay extremely well and there to be plenty of them, even if your current skills are a bit rusty!?! Maybe you're just overly reluctant to start looking for other jobs?

I've been browsing jobs for the month or two. I also browsed jobs when I was in my previous position. I'm not finding many jobs that fit my experience/skills.

I don't have any financial licenses or experience. I have a minor in business admin, but that doesn't mean much on a resume. So hardcore financial jobs aren't really an option. A tech job in a financial field could be good though.

The problem I'm finding with tech jobs is that they want an expert in a given technology. I have experience in Neoxam and FileNet, which are not very common. I would have to take an entry level job, but I'm just able to support my family now (with the hope of one day being able to retire). I'm also finding it much more difficult to learn new stacks as I'm getting older.

Wanna go 50%/50% on a farm? We can be nerd neighbors.

Haha sure. I'll need to at least triple my money before I can even think about this as more than a dream.

Not that poster, but in my personal experience praising others is good to match with humble by noisy comments about the work you are doing.

Whether this works or not depends if you have any psychopathic coworkers, which isn't something you can really know very easily.

I also don't think the actions of others really define whether or not you are "intermediate," unless you're only talking about some corporate ladder bullshit.

Why are you worried about being fired? If you are underpaid for your work, your manager is happy to have you.

I recently switched stacks and I'm not coming up to speed as fast as they would like.

I'm also becoming demoralized after being looked over or screwed over for about 4 years.

If praising others hurts your position you should find a new employer.

If only it were that easy for me...

How can giving praise hurt you?

If the company's unofficial policy is that if someone gets a high rating on the team, then someone else must be given a low rating to balance that out, even if they don't deserve it.

Thanks, I haven’t experienced that. How painful. I agree with other posters here when I read about your problem in these comments. Personally I think of my manager and performance review more as symptoms or results of a process, rather than the source of anything. Promoting myself - Github, LinkedIn, trainings and brown bag sessions for my coworkers, program completion emails, those are part of my job just as much as personal learning, architectural planning, and writing code. In fact because I don’t want to fear for my job, they are almost more important. Perhaps it’s not the ideal. But it’s the job description. There are so many pluses to what is essentially a god-level nine to five grind: freedom, intellectual work, lots of money and benefits, etc. I just accept that some of these non-ideal extras are part of my deal. Hope I’m not preaching, trying to help.

Thanks for sharing!

I loved giving a brown bag on Raspberry Pi project to my teammates. I know it's not a great work related topic, but installing and using linux and tips on securing it was at least tangentially related.

I have to say, I wish I made lots of money.

> someone else must be given a low rating to balance that out, even if they don't deserve it

I wonder how this kind of thinking starts. Is there any rationale for this?

In my company, employees grades have to follow a normal distribution (HR rule). Most people must be ranked average, some must be ranked above, some must be ranked below. Otherwise all managers would give above average grades to most people, because it makes them look better, avoid conflict, and everyone is always convinced they're above average. So HR forces managers to find some losers.

If a coworker is given an above average grade, it means I'm much less likely to get one.

But in practice it doesn't matter too much because managers tend to distribute grades depending on time since last promotion/significant raise, to be able to justify the next one.

The thinking is based on the budget and also to make managers show "managerial courage" that they are capable of delivering bad news.

It doesn't have to even be the stats game. Just the fact that employees know there's mandatory 10% cuts every year/quarter whatever produces a hostile work environment. Amazon is a fantastic example of this. The PIP culture has produced an environment where everyone is backstabbing each other for promotions and to keep their job. If solid product gets built, it's incidental. People are too concerned about their jobs and employment.

Stack ranking intuitively makes sense. Rank people by performance, fire the bottom 10% or so, promote the top 10%.

The first iteration can work very well. But what about the next iterations? People will adapt to the process and change their behavior.

Under stacked ranking, if you are interviewing someone brilliant that can potentially be the strongest member on your team, is it in your best personal interest to hire that person?

The answer is: no. Because if you add high performance members to your team, with each iteration of stacked ranking not only it will be harder for you to be promoted, but you will be closer to being terminated.

So what ends up happening is that people hire the worst possible candidates, which defeats the purpose of stacked ranking. With stacked ranking, instead of iterating towards stronger people, you iterate towards mediocre, political people.

In my experience the biggest problem with stack ranking is that it's not easy to update. I mentored a developer and he skyrocketed from the bottom of the stack to near the top in real terms over the course of two years. But he could never escape his "reputation" as a lower tier person. He left, over two years quadrupled his income, and now I work for him. I doubled my income.

> He left, over two years quadrupled his income, and now I work for him. I doubled my income.

This is such an American story :-)

I don't think there's any other developed country where you can remain an individual contributor, a developer, and quadruple your income in 2 years. Heck, in most other developed countries the whole salary range for a profession is about 2x, from the lowliest junior developer to the highest senior developer. To make more you'd have to become a consultant, so basically start your own company, which is an entirely different kettle of fish.

>To make more you'd have to become a consultant

My name checks out :)

After experiencing this myself I’m beginning to think the best performance management system is one that is as “holistic” and loosely defined as possible. Probably doesn’t work at scale (since every director will be happy to spend as much of the company’s money as possible to retain employees) but seems to be better than OKR/tenure/stack ranked bullshit, even with the potential confounding variables like nepotism

You need to set the directors' budgets somehow. But hopefully there's not so many directors, and company leadership can figure that out. Then let the directors do whatever within that, with light supervision (company CYA of course, but also to make sure things are fair enough within the overall company, etc).

> All it does is create a zero-sum game

Which is exactly what the employer wants.

It's also why they don't want people talking to each other about their salaries, which is a practice that needs to die.

> All it does is create a zero-sum game, so I have no incentive to compliment anyone else.

I think that's not quite right. You have incentive to compliment those who you would rather be working with, which hopefully correlates pretty well with those who deserve compliment. Of course, this is weighed against your other incentives, some of which are probably more important.

This comment should not be taken as any meaningful endorsement of stack ranking.

I was at a company that had a few rounds of layoffs. great way to destroy a culture. Everybody hunkers down, looks out for themselves, and teamwork dies.

It is easy to see zero-sum as noncooperative but in reality there is more than one winner. In fact, the number of losers is relatively small. One thing you can do to ensure your own position is to find some people you like and trade feedback with them. Everyone not included in the deal will have less feedback and you will be slightly advantaged over them.

That sounds like a good strategy: form an inner circle of peers that don't have conflict of interest (preferably not sharing the same supervisor, etc.) and being vulnerable with selective people should be helpful for fine-tuning strategy, and if not, at least generate a little social power. Previously, I had the tendency to isolate and not open up to anybody, to my own detriment.

Like at most large companies, I am "stack ranked" and a bell curve is applied, but in my company we do not really have any problem with gaming the system, or trying to shit on your colleagues.

The way this is achieved at my company is having no quantitative performance indicators and having your performance decided in a completely opaque process by leaders three levels above you in the organisation who you have never met.

As a consequence, we have all given up on engaging in the formal side of the performance review process because we know it is a waste of time. However, if you have a good line manager, you end up having a genuine conversation about what went well and what could be done better.

An odd situation, but infinitely preferable to counting up the number of fake "thank you" comments you receive (which just makes me vomit).

> well known software company

named...? :-)

Uber used stack ranking as recently as 2017 and routinely laid off the "worst performer."

Until November 2013 Microsoft used stack ranking.

Doesn’t Microsoft, as well as almost all other large software companies, still do almost the same thing by having a fixed distribution of ratings that needs to be met under some organizational unit? IE under each director of 100 people you have 5 A+, 25 A, 30 B, 30 C, 5 D, 5F?

Not to mention that there is a fixed budget, and so they can only promote so many people in a given period, as rewards are tied to promotions. That means that even if there are many top performers, they have to determine which ones aren't as "top" as others. This inherently creates a stack. Whoops.

There is always a fixed budget, so at some level stacking has to occur. Whether that's at the individual level, or team, project, department, business unit, etc. Unfortunately at some level politics / perception / who speaks the loudest always comes into play.

The only other system I can recall is usually for things like sales. Where you have a fixed salary and commission-driven bonuses based on your numbers that quarter.

Of course, sales is easier to compare 1:1.

And I've always thought that hard targets would be more stressful than stack-ranking.

When people talk about stack ranking they are often referring to the most toxic part of the classic system, forced firing of the bottom ranked X% (usually around 10% per year)

The flip side of this is, if you want to sink someone's career, badmouth them to their manager.

Having worked at many companies, I've observed how shockingly easy it is for a manager's assessment of their reports to be colored by "hearsay" whether good or bad.

I once had several members of another team who deeply disgreed with a product decision I'd made complain to my manager that I was being uncooperative, not a team player, etc. To avoid getting fired, I had to ask a bunch of members of various other teams to (honestly) tell my manager what a good job I was doing. Which worked -- according to him I'd really "turned things around" in the space of just a couple weeks (!). In the end it was 100% political, a bad manager who had no idea how to actually assess my work for what it was and so relied entirely on what he was "hearing", and I quit as soon as I could for a better job.

So yes, tell someone's manager when they're doing a great job. But it sucks that we have to rely on this stuff at all, rather than managers who can actually assess your work directly.

This does not always work. Not necessarily "hearsay", but there was a coworker of mine who would happily take credit for everyone elses work by sending emails in a timely manner (people tell them stuff they work on, then you'd see an email from them pretending they lead the effort and it was their idea). Many times this got escalated, the manager didn't care. Everytime someone talked to that problematic person, it was "the first time he heard about it".

Also effectively (sadly): You can bad-mouth someone to your own manager, provided your manager is peers with your target.

I've been in too many performance-review manager meetings where someone under Manager A is up for promotion, and Manager B steps in and says "my engineer had a bad interaction with your engineer" and that's enough to put the promotion at serious risk. Managers are happy enough to effectively kill a promotion with a clean conscience by saying "let's re-evaluate this one in mid-cycle reviews". Sure, set this engineer back 6 months, a year, a year+, no worries all good.

I would also add that it's important to always be communicating with your manager and building that trust. You need to make sure that their initial reaction to any negative hearsay should be that the other party is then in fact bad and uninformed.

Maybe it helps people to think of their manager/work as being analogous to a startup product? You build an awesome product, but then spend zero budget on sales and marketing, and are then super-sad that you're not magically growing up and to the right.

Many people choose jobs over a startup to not have to do marketing

This depends on the manager more than anything else. Somebody who complains all the time is just as likely to come across as low-credibility and untrustworthy. If they’re the only person complaining perhaps that’s a signal to the manager that they’re in fact a problem for the team they’re working in, and perhaps they shouldn’t be there anymore.

Conversely somebody who readily gives credit to others might come off as high-integrity and trustworthy. Perhaps a person like that is an incredibly positive influence and valuable member of their team.

Each approach can succeed or fail depending on what your manager values. I wouldn’t say one is more likely to succeed than the other, but if you want to end up working for a boss that values integrity, then I’d suggest taking the integrity route.

Google has a culture of internal peer bonuses and kudos, which in some ways is great and meant to help with this kind of thing... except that it also leads to an internal culture of "congrats!" and "thank you for your amazing work!" centi-threads which often overlook other contributors on a project, or are used strategically by overly political managers to boost their own reports and projects and gain corporate visibility for them.

Lost in this is just the work ethic of doing incremental non-glamorous work and managers and people around you _doing their job_ by recognizing it. Many corporate perf processes, peer bonuses, and so on simply smudge this over, and they indirectly or directly encourage _fame seeking behaviour_ which is in my opinion the most corrosive thing to a company's long term performance and bottom line.

Not my experience of Google, at least having worked there as an intern multiple times. All of the peer bonuses on our teams and affiliated teams have been for people going out of their way to help out with some project even if it was not part of their day-to-day work. I can only speak for the research-y side of Google, which in my experience seems to avoid most of these problems probably due to having managers that also do research and write papers. Having a separate academic status system other than your internal work position probably helps in this regard.

It's true peer bonuses in particular seem to be mainly reponsibly used. Probably because there's $$ and an accounting chain attached to them.

But just last week I watched the hard work of a coworker get completely bowled over by another manager's "congrats on amazing work" email chain to someone else who used the work of my coworker without recognition.

That's really unfortunate. I agree that the $$$ and accounting help make sure the system is not abused in the usual case. Unfortunately jerks are unavoidable, and even if the manager knew the true story they could ignore it to emphasize the contributions of their own reports.

It's hard to imagine a promo system that rewards hard work, where feedback comes from ones peers, and only promotes a fixed number of people where these kind of zero-sum issues don't appear.

Unfortunately I don't think it's a case of jerks vs not-jerks. Many years at a BigCorp has underlined to me now that the ethics and "professional economy" of working in one is entirely different than SmallCorp.

SmallCorp you all work for the bottom line or company goes bust. That acts as a damper on empire builders who build for their own sake, though there is still that behavior.

BigCorp it's unlikely your contributions are going to impact much of that kind of thing, even if you're up in senior management. So you're there for your Career(tm) first, company $$ success second. And in fact that is directly promoted through Perf, etc.

So the aggregate behavior of individuals is not only to self-promote but to encourage the self-promotions of others, that's how we get ahead by the measures defined as "getting ahead" by the company: internal promotion, project glory, internal and external speaking engagements and publications about your project, etc.

So a 100 person "congrats" and "that's amazing!" email (or its equivalent on LinkedIn) or whatever is just reasonable professional behavior. You're not a jerk for promoting yourself, you're just doing what is expected of you. The professional behavior of the modest but "plug along and do my job and help out and not self-promote" person is the one that's suspect in this scenario. The company _wants_ you to self-promote.

This is so strange. I feel weird enough telling people to send me a gThanks when they ask what the best way to recognize me for something is, doing it unsolicited is just crazy.

Start a new "congrats on amazing work" email chain to thank your coworker, and cc: their manager

Do you find that this culture leads to bad code slipping through, because people aren't as direct about its flaws?

I mean that on the macro and the micro level. Does it also lead to bad abstract ideas developing because nobody is willing to be critical, especially of broad approaches? I'm thinking along the lines of: "there are serious and fundamental flaws with the way you guys are approaching this."

Bad code doesn't tend to slip through at Google because the review process is pretty intense.

Bad design does, though, because it's easy to get lost in the weeds of incremental small code reviews.

I definitely consider it part of my job as a manager to boost my own reports and their projects. If even your own manager isn't going to publicly congratulate you on your hard work, then who is going to?

Promoting the work of your own reports is legitimate manager behavior. But when that takes the form of ignoring or minimizing other people's teams efforts in a project, it leads to inequity.

In any case teams are ideas... organizational structures, but shipped projects are real things. If the needs/desires of the organizational structure consistently take precedence over the actual needs involved in shipping product, the company is in trouble.

Multiple times in the last few years I've worked on projects that were in direct stated or unstated competition and in parallel development with other projects from different teams, but with the same feature set and target market but different technology stacks and organizational structures. I don't like this, at all.

> except that it also leads to an internal culture of "congrats!" and "thank you for your amazing work!

For that, no internal culture is really needed: Google is in California, a state where the use of positive superlatives is mandatory for every single human interaction :)

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