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HR is not your friend, and other things I think you should know (rachelbythebay.com)
730 points by atg_abhishek 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 458 comments



HR is not your friend and your company is not your family.

Regardless of intent there are commercial realities that exist within the context of a company that may never be present in a non-work relationship. This has varying degrees of impact on the nature of the relationship itself and may not present itself until you are at your most vulnerable.

I find that a collegial environment with shared goals and responsibilities can be equally rewarding as non-work relationships even if we all have some level of underlying self-interest at heart. Our day-to-day interactions can also be made more pleasant if we are not constantly reminded of the at times competitive, zero-sum, structure of professional engagements.

At a team level your colleagues may be your friends but one shouldn't conflate professional relationships with personal ones.


Exactly.

And nor does anyone have a 'career'.

You have a job. When you lose that job, you may not get another one.

It's an illusion. One minute you think you are a high profile manager with budgets and power. The next you are packing your desk up into a box and rethinking your entire life.

We are not our careers!


I am always terrified of losing my job. It's a fear I've had even though I've been a top performer the entire five years I've been professionally working.

Maybe it's because I grew up poor or because I think things are too good in tech and about to crash any day.

My antidote? $100k in liquidity. Preferably not invested in the NASDAQ.

If tech crashes, you can take your liquid $100k and move to Thailand, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, etc. In these countries, you can live well for a decade, sometimes even thirteen years off just $100,000 USD.

I know $100k isn't much and it certainly isn't the $1M - $3M people want for retirement in the US. But it's enough to have peace of mind.


If you're terrified of losing your job, the first thing to do is look for another job, maybe a different field or higher level and higher salary. Give yourself a promotion.

Even if it's similar job at same salary, the point is to go through the process to get an offer in reasonable time. When you get the offer, you can decline the offer, if you're happy with current company.

I recommend everyone go through the job search process at least once a year or more.

Job search process takes skills, like everything else. It's much better to sharpen the interview loop skills while you're currently employed. You can take the time to analyze areas for improvements and learn the patterns in job search, interview loop process.

Good luck.


This is really true somehow. After working my first job for 8 years a friend asked me to come work with him somewhere else. They were desperate for techies and preferred hiring through existing employees so it would be quicker and there would be some level of guarantee about performance.

Before joining I thought it was a good time to do some interviews so I would know what my value should be and if maybe there were other (better) options than working with my friend. I had about 4 interviews and 2 immediately did an offer, that felt good. It took some time before I could "interview" at my friends place and meanwhile one of the companies started upping their offer to sway me to them.

The way I entered the interview at my friend’s place was totally different than if I wouldn’t have interviewed those other places. I felt empowered and like I had nothing to lose. I asked for (to me) ridiculous amounts of money and benefits and got them without them batting an eye.

But now here we are, a few years later, and the feeling is coming back. "What if I lose my job?", "Will I ever make what I make now?", "Why am I making so much more money than my way-more-educated friends?". These doubts are weird but they feel valid. I sometimes think if I lose this job there is no place for me besides a service desk or something.

I got another pay raise this week for my “excellent performance”. But I feel I just get this because I can talk to my manager about games we both play and he just likes me. Is this imposter syndrome?


I am an old person, still working, but here are a couple points I have lived by:

1)when you decide it is time to look for a new job, even if you have your sights set on a particular position, always fan your resume out to at least three places, and go to multiple interviews. You never know what opportunities exist unless you look. What you thought was your first choice might not be where you actually end up.

2)If you do go through the process of sending out resumes and interviewing, go into it with the attitude that if you get an acceptable offer for what you think will be an interesting position, accept it and move on.

As long as you leave a job on good terms, with a two week notice, you can always go back in the future. Never (never!) burn bridges. The world is small, and networks matter!

Always follow up with any job offer that you receive but turn down. Keep it short, keep it factual, be polite. Thank them for the opportunity. Note that if a company gives you a good faith offer, and you turn it down, it will be harder to get an interview there in the short term. In the long term, they took a chance on you once, they'll take a chance again.

Network, network, network. I cannot stress that enough.

With the final note. Never (never) burn bridges.


Some may fear of losing their job because they are glad to have a salary higher than the average in their industry and in the place they are.

Your process can work for singles in an area where jobs opportunities are wide.


> $100k in liquidity.

That of course puts you into the 1% of people in terms of liquidity. Quite a lot of people are a long way below that: https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/2019-economic-we...

Retirement saving are interesting because for a whole bunch of public policy reasons most people have illiquid retirement savings.

> move to Thailand, Spain, Portugal, Turkey

Check your visa requirements: can you really move there without a job? While $100k is a 1% number it may not be enough to qualify for the "entrepreneur" visa.


I clicked your link and clicked on a couple tabs even but did not find data on what most people have liquid or illiquid. Can you point me to it?

$100k sounds like a lot but....I live in San Diego. All in, it costs about $4,200/month post-tax to live here. Sure, it can be done on much less. That means $50,400/year post-tax. So your $100k whether liquid or not only lasts two years max.

Let's say a real recession occurs and you lose your job. If your $100k is in the asset that crashed -- say real estate (which I like real estate) or speculative tech stocks -- oh boy. You're now probably at $70k hopefully. If it takes you 12 months from losing your job to finding a job. Now you're looking at only $20k left in your account....that is scary.

I know I am being paranoid because you'd get unemployment + could probably find a lower level job quick in the meantime + you would cut your $4200/month to bare minimum. But that's my point, I live in this fear and the $100k provides some peace of mind.


In Turkey you can get residency with investing in real estate. Not sure if there is a minimum investment required but doubt it.

Does not give you the right to work though.


250k USD and you have to keep the property for 3 years.


> Check your visa requirements: can you really move there without a job?

If you're willing to live a slightly rootless "digital nomad" life, you can ping pong across several countries spending 3-6 months in each back and forth to remain on a visitor visa indefinitely. Not ideal, of course, but you can do this until you get on your feet in a more permanent manner IE full-time remote work.


It’s enough to qualify for the entrepreneur visa in Japan. I have to assume thailand is less.


I grew up "how am I going to eat?" poor, and I find i'm the opposite with work and money. I take risks, see it all as one big game because I know being poor isn't the end of the world. It is really shit, but i'll survive it. I know what it is like.


Do you have a family to provide for? Good health? Financially stable and healthy extended family?

We all have different inherited capacities for stress too.


Good point. Similar circumstances here, but excess risk taking can also backfire tremendously, especially as you get older. Rags to riches and back to rags. It’s easy to blow money away ... harder to hold onto it.


Some of the best times in my life were when I was young and carefree and poor :)


Agreed very much, this gives great peace of mind.

Receive salary > pay bills, buy food etc. > all the rest, transfer to a investment account at the oldest, most boring and slowest financial institution in your country to invest in the most boring, yawn-inducing and uninteresting investment fund. Don't touch this money ever.

In the worst of years you'll beat inflation and keep your savings, in the best of years you might make a % or two.

In the meantime, plan your post-employment life: what country to live in, what stuff/hobbies you want to keep etc.

Then when shit has hit the fan, cash in and execute above plan.


> Receive salary > pay bills, buy food etc. > all the rest, transfer to a investment account

One thing that has worked for me is to “pay myself first.” [0]

If £4000 comes in and your monthly outgoings are around £2000, invest the remaining £2000 immediately. The main benefit this gets me is that it forces me to budget better and come up with other streams of income (usually eBaying stuff) in case I come up short.

[0] https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/payyourselffirst.asp


I didn't really learn "pat yourself first" until I was thirty. That set me back a few years, which took time to recover.

When I mentor young people right out of college, the first thing I explain to them is that very principle.

Take advantage of the 401K. Have a brokerage account that you automatically deposit into every month. Money that never passes through your checking account, is money you are likely to keep.


I 100 percent empathise with this thinking pattern. I grew up in a poor family that struggled to find enough money. My endless fear is being unemployed, struggling to find a job, and sliding back to that dark place 15 years ago. Some would call that motivation for working harder, I still feel it as fear, and as a result, I do everything I can to acquire the resources to save me from that ever happening.

Great thoughts on alternative places to live as well.


We never had much money growing up, but in Australia it was never a problem. Sort of the opposite - with tall poppy syndrome, you sort of looked down on those too well off and out of touch or stuck up. Rather, I had 100% confidence I could grow up, get a good job, retire some day. Focusing on the end meant you missed the journey sort of thing. Pretty care free.

But I later spent some time in rich Asian cities and became aware of the high stress highly competitive environment there, all the way from early schooling. Now I am in the Bay Area and see the same sort of thing here, with there being such a huge difference in potential just by getting in the right schools or doing well on the right exams or interviews. Then things like this health care trap in the US is such a big shock. Even schooling, with such a huge difference between good and bad schools, good and bad neighborhoods. I can see why there is such a desire to better, or even maximize, ones situation.


> "I am always terrified of losing my job."

I stopped fearing that when I became a freelancer. It's done wonders for my confidence, and I'm much more productive as a result.

It also helps to be married; two jobs give a lot more security than one. Even so, having savings that can last you through a downturn or possibly even fund an early retirement, is definitely a good idea.


Married can make it more difficult if only one person works.


Of course, but being single is also difficult without a job. Having two people gives you a second option.


Because hard work is not a safety net. The network and relationships you embed yourself in is the real safety net. Get social, get connected, get valuable to the networks you are a part of and expand them.


Not sure about Thailand and it really depends on your lifestyle, but 100k will get you through 2-3 years at most in the other countries, if you live in an urban setting, not really pinching pennies.


None of these "cash out your lifesavings of 100K" when you're a 20-something and go live in the woods/foreign-country plans are realistic.

Sure, it's theoretically possible, but it's much better to redirect that effort into finding a job you can live with in your own county. Nothing wrong with a bit of wanderlust, and you can certainly get that out of your system with the safety-net of a sustainable career. Do I sound like a parent yet?

The expat thing is done by every generation, it doesn't stick. Gen-X-ers (my people) went to Prague, had great times, made lifelong friends, saved nothing, often developed mild drinking problems, in the end they lost a few years of their earning potential. Did it develop character? Yes. Could it have been done in other ways? Yes. Was it worth it? ehh.

There are other ways to escape from the searing banality of a career inside of Mega-corps filled with assholes, HR drones, soul-sucking labor.


It's psychologically comforting and you don't need to be an expat for it to be realistic. I agree that most people underestimate the value of creating a sustainable low stress life in their home country. Many people I know in the US seem to think working here means building up constant stress that eventually needs to be blown off in an orgy of travel and degeneracy.

I have about 80k in liquidity and in the back of my mind it's reassuring to know that if something went wrong at my job or I burnt out or got fired I would be ok. With just my savings I could rent a room in my city for something close to 10 years, including all basic necessities. Even just taking a part time minimum wage job I could easily double that time frame.

As it is I live happily in a small space with a very frugal lifestyle. Paradoxically I think going to work knowing that I could walk away at any time actually makes me a healthier and more productive person/employee.


I can tell you that you can live in the center of a French city for like 10 years on that money. You won’t have a crazy lifestyle but you can live in the center and do groceries and the occasional restaurants and drinks for that money. Most people would take like 5 years to make that much AT LEAST.


Plus you can extend that period of time significantly (or even indefinitely) by doing some form of work, even if not highly paid. It doesn't have to be all or nothing.

I really like the idea of "barista FIRE": make enough "fuck you money" that you can survive on a low paid job and supplement it a little with your savings, while leaving enough in reserve for retirement.


> I can tell you that you can live in the center of a French city for like 10 years on that money.

What city, though? I live in a small city (coast, but still), and the absolute crappiest studio will chomp 500€/mo out of your wallet, which roughly translates to over $70k. Anything decent goes easily over $100k and that's rent alone.


Not OP, but I suppose the implication is that you would continue to do some sort of work, even if just random jobs to supplement your income. It would probably be hard to go a decade without earning a single penny (of course I'm assuming this is all happening well before traditional retirement age).


$70K ÷ 500€ ($603) = 116 months (almost 10 years)


I used to live right in the center of Bordeaux in a nice studio for 400 euro/month, you'd be able to find a nice place for that price in Lyon also.


I guess the keyword is "used to". How long ago?

This is what 400 EUR get you now: https://www.leboncoin.fr/recherche?category=10&text=bordeaux...

Rooms and studios from 10 to 24 sqm (~100-250 sq feet), half of them unfurnished. So cheaper than here, but still the absolute worst. Well, you can get something for even cheaper but then you start having last floors without elevator and extremely low ceilings, which my back won't ever consider again after the experience.


Can you get a long term visa without any job affiliations? I'm not sure that simply having the money is sufficient reason for an European country to give you a long-term visa (> 1 year), depending on which country you come from.

Also, some countries have a "negative privilege" situation, where even if you try to get a low-wage job, you'll have less priority than others, or your employer will need to pay an extra fee to be able to hire you. Many will resort to illegal employment to avoid that.

And do not forget issues about guarantors: some places are really strict about proving you have the money, and simply making a 1-year rent deposit in advance is not enough.

Overall, even when having the money, some people don't have the "privilege" of being able to spend it as they please, in the country of their preference.


good question, not sure about the visa but if you at least have a passport from a european country then you can travel and live anywhere there. I know several of my friends who have lived in Asia without actually working there.


> "negative privilege"

I think that is called "discrimination"


I thought I could do that (in France) because I'm living on the cheap. But I guess you somehow needsf to pay the social security to get the benefits. I don't know how to do that when not having a salary (the social security "premium" is hidden and deferred salary) or are not searching for a job, or a kid/retirie. Otherwise it would mean being a freeloader.


I live in London (one of the most expensive places in Europe), and it'd take me 5-6 years to get through that. And I'm not overly careful with my money. Of course this is as a single person. It'd be different if you had a family to support, etc.


do you not have rent to pay?

6 years of extremely cheap 600gbp/month rent is ~$us60k


Rent just makes up the majority of my expenses. I was basing this on rent + bills at £800/month. Leaving £400/month for other expenses ~= £15k/year ~= $20k/year = 5 years.

£600/month is also definitely doable in London (even in Zone 2). I have quite a few friends who earn less than me that wouldn't even consider a room costing more than that.


Spain's minimum wage is 1000 EUR/month. 100k$ (82k€) will give you 6 years of living if you don't spend it all on useless things.

Portugal is even "better" with a minimum wage of 750€/month


not many people live fully independently and comfortably on minimum wage though. Just saying


You can always try Greece with 560 Euros/m (net)


How is cost of living related to minimum wage?


> 2-3 years at most

2-3 years might be enough time to study something (something else maybe?) and look for another job or possibly re-invent yourself into another field.

still better than nothing at all btw!


Though not a bad idea, $100k cash is slowly being chipped away at with inflation every day. Due to how our financial system works, you are probably ticking off days of that decade yearly by leaving it in cash.


Invest it in index funds. That's pretty safe, and gives pretty good returns. The only way that's going to disappear is if the entire economy dies, and then money won't be any good either. If you want to prepare for that, you need to buy land.


Just to add, invest in broad-market index funds (or ETFs). Something which tracks FTSE All Worlds, MSCI World, maybe even S&P 500. Nowadays, there are hundreds of indexes that are so narrow I'm baffled how they're useful.


Absolutely. It's easy to get lost in the world of cryptic indexes. I generally use and advise S&P 500, because it's easy to find, remember and understand, and it performs very well.

I should probably look into MSCI World SRI, which is a socially responsible index (or a neverending collection of indices) that excludes all sorts of dirty and questionable enterprises like oil and weapons.


When you have 2300 ETFs in the US and 7000 globally, narrow indices are important ways to tailor your exposure as the broad index stuff probably has ten different vehicles to invest in..


That's not safe at all if you need to withdraw living expenses. You will destroy your principal the first time that there's a downturn in the market.



Indeed, it's a cushion that gives incredible peace of mind. Not only job-related, but also gives the option to deal with all sorts of other life-related problems.


Mmm if you plan to remain single the rest of your life and not have a wife and kids maybe


Moving abroad is harder with a family, but other than that, it's sound advice. With a family, it's even more important to have some savings.


A job is work you do for money.

A career is a story we use to guide how we look for work and to convince people to pay us for our work.

The important thing is to not let an employer define you career story, even if you work for them for a long time.


This is just my opinion, but "career" always felt like a narrative one must construct to fit in as a modern worker. It feels like a form of signalling - "I do this" where "this" is some high-skilled activity, particularly with the real intention of just ending up in management just to make more money.

And, regardless of skills, connections, etc., I still am concerned of any change in my job status. Career narratives or hoping to join the managerial classes don't pay bills or save for retirement. I wish I gave more stock to this idea when younger.


You established that no one has a career, so we can't be our careers.


Fine, but it seems to be going deeper than that.

Pretty often your peers are not your coworkers. They're your compworkers (or againstworkers). You'd think they would want to compete with your company's competitors and make things easy with you.


It was eye opening to do one of those training exercises about motivation with colleagues once and seeing who put money as their number one priority. Combined with a somewhat secretive culture of bonuses there (some people got them, some didn't, no one knew what they rewarded), it really killed any sense of camaraderie I had with them.


I really don't enjoy the tone here. The derision with which it speaks about managers, like they are either evil or incompetent, is unfair in my experience.

(my) Managers are just people. They have a task, they do their best to get that task done. Sometimes they decisions that seem bad to me. Often that is because I misunderstand their goals. Sometimes, it is because I know something they don't, and something they couldn't verify if I told them. And other times, they just made a mistake, or weren't told the relevant information by me or others.

Indeed, sometimes their goals are somewhat self serving. But often it just has to do with wider business goals than what I am working at. I am grateful for them keeping an eye on those. Leaving me to worry less about the biggest of pictures. That however, doesn't mean I should just bog down on the small picture of my work, and deem everything that seems bad in that context as stupid.


Your experience is atypical: most people will encounter bad managers in their careers, and more so in this industry, which deifies youth (twentysomethings managing people is a poor idea, period, as are teams comprising only twentysomethings).

Things are further exacerbated by the reality that SV has above-average people in the technical sphere, but way below average people in the people-management sphere. Management in SV is all about people-management, and managers' decisions affect people much more than in other industries. Another factor that contributes to this state of affairs is the high growth rate of companies: people become managers by default, and high growth is difficult to navigate without prior experience. Even when managers have prior experience, when the inevitable fall from high growth occurs, is is very difficult to manage people who turn disillusioned and demotivated. In all this, HR usually are a team that plays only for themselves: they prevent rapid hiring and firing of people who do not perform, causing problems, and they also prevent rank-and-file grievances from being heard by squashing them at the earliest opportunity. This is common in many industries, not just technology. HR is mostly staffed by underachievers with a mean streak --- high-achievers usually opt for engineering and finance, if they have spent time acquiring the specific skills that are needed for these functions, or sales if they have the personality and the drive to persuade customers. The rotten apples end up with HR (marketing comes a close second, but since sales performance directly affects marketing budgets, HR is the best place for these types to last).


I've had 7 managers in my career and none of them were bad. Several were inexperienced managers, and they still did fine.


You have been very lucky. Almost all managers I have experienced in my career were incompetent and had no clue how to manage a team.


The article ends with "reasonable exchanges are only possible with reasonable people". If you have an unreasonable manager or are dependent upon unreasonable people, there is no amount of meditation upon unaligned goals or rationalisation that will change the situation. Expecting everyone to act rationally in the best interests of a shared goal is an exercise in frustration and a fast track to burnout.


I think the article casts to many people ("All managers") as unreasonable. That seems significantly wrong to me, and feels like it would be counter productive.


Does the author seem reasonable from this rant?


Glad to see this at the top.

This is a very cynical take that applies wildly general negative sentiment and statements to a huge group of people. It's not just about workplace dynamics. I couldn't keep reading after the ~5th paragraph where the (not so subtle) point is: how can _these people_ live with themselves?

I'll copy the relevant paragraph below:

> Expert gaslighters, they are. What really makes me wonder is how the people keep doing these jobs. Many of them are in the very classes that get abused by other people regularly. How can you honestly keep doing that job when you are just enabling the abusers?

Sorry, but this is insane. You're generalizing millions of people here. Imagine this type of statement made towards a cultural subgroup rather than a profession. What would we call it?

edit: removed quotes in the first paragraph to reduce confusion around attribution, as per post below. I don't have time to reply in-depth right now but I appreciate the rebuttal and I'll give it a shot later.


Cultures have different professional cultures.

* Executive ethics focus on maximizing shareholder value, while individual incentives, on personal returns. If I can pollute a lake for an extra buck to my stock price, I'm expected to do this.

* HR ethics focus on protecting the company. If they can lie to you as an employee to minimize legal risk, that's what's gonna happen.

* Legal ethics focusing on protecting your client (no matter how evil), while practice focuses on maximizing billable hours.

... and so on. It's not good or bad. It just is. As a programmer, you'll be off-putting to people from those groups for reasons just as valid or invalid.

And generalizations are often accurate. If you don't show a certain modesty and humility in gift-receiving in China, you'll be an outcast. If you don't show a certain opulence and over-the-top gratitude in some parts of the Middle East and show the same, you'll be an outcast just as much.

Guess what happens when the two cultures come together?

People are viewed as jerks.

A little cross-cultural training goes a long ways to avoid that. I'm sorry you don't like the tone, but I viewed this as a fair guide for programmers managing corporate settings running into those barriers. This article appears to do a fine job explaining HR's role to people coming from e.g. CS undergrad degrees which will prevent them from getting hurt. It's no better or worse than a guide for e.g. American women as to what to expect if they marry someone from Saudi culture.

As a footnote, quotation marks suggest you're quoting someone. Your claimed quote doesn't exist in the source article. Your point would be stronger if you commented on what the author wrote than your (somewhat inaccurate) read-between-the-lines. That's another place cultures differ a lot: how things are implied and subtexts. People misread subtexts, which I think you did here.


> A little cross-cultural training goes a long ways to avoid that. I'm sorry you don't like the tone, but I viewed this as a fair guide for programmers managing corporate settings running into those barriers. T > his article appears to do a fine job explaining HR's role to people coming from e.g. CS undergrad degrees which will prevent them from getting hurt. It's no better or worse than a guide for e.g. American women as to what to expect if they marry someone from Saudi culture.

I agree that cross cultural training is important, and indeed what is needed here. But I don't think this article is framed properly to be seen as cross cultural training. Instead this article portrays one culture only as seen from the other. It lacks the opposite view, failing to consider how the management culture might perceive the coders. The article neither suggests that the actions by management might be a reasonable response from their culture, nor does it suggest ways to better interact.

> If you don't show a certain modesty and humility in gift-receiving in China, you'll be an outcast. If you don't show a certain opulence and over-the-top gratitude in some parts of the Middle East and show the same, you'll be an outcast just as much.

In the context of this analogy, this article would be much like a Chinese rant on "how all Middle Easteners are Jerks for displaying their opulence, and therefore cannot be trusted". That is not an article that helps in cross-cultural training.


Point well taken about culture and great examples. I completely agree with your premise.

However, tone is an extremely important part of cross-cultural training, and the tone of this article takes its premise from: _you may have a conflict of interest with group B_ to something between _group B is out to get you_ and _group B is evil_. I personally wouldn't recommend it to anyone because of this.

> As a footnote, quotation marks suggest you're quoting someone. Your claimed quote doesn't exist in the source article. Your point would be stronger if you commented on what the author wrote than your (somewhat inaccurate) read-between-the-lines.

The original post has always had the exact paragraph that I derived my subtext from in it. Emphatic quotes are a bad habit of mine, so I removed those, but c'mon -- this is a pretty common grammar mistake and the sentence preceding it pretty clearly "implies" (emphatic quotes) that it's only my interpretation :)

> That's another place cultures differ a lot: how things are implied and subtexts. People misread subtexts, which I think you did here.

Can you please explain how you would otherwise interpret the exact paragraph that I quoted? I'm usually pretty good at seeing the other side, but I genuinely can't see this one. Maybe it's because I've been in management too long (or maybe I'm too Canadian). Either way, I'm genuinely curious.

I'll quote the paragraph again directly from the article for you:

> Expert gaslighters, they are. What really makes me wonder is how the people keep doing these jobs. Many of them are in the very classes that get abused by other people regularly. How can you honestly keep doing that job when you are just enabling the abusers?

The only other interpretation I can think of is the author was referring to the people in the previous example. However, she switches from singular ("person A" / "person B") tense in the example to plural ("gaslighters" / "abusers") tense in this paragraph, so it's either an uncharacteristic grammar mistake or a generalization applied to a broader group.

The generalization is that HR people are "gaslighters" and managers are "abusers".

With that in mind, how would you interpret this sentence? "What really makes me wonder is how the people keep doing these jobs."

I can only see: _how can these people live with themselves_. How is that subtext not correct here?


I think a lot of your criticism here is valid. A two-sided approach would be better. Still, I've seen far more people hurt thinking HR was their friend than by not empathizing enough with HR.

> How is that subtext not correct here?

The grammar is a little bit hard to parse in the original article, and I don't know the cultural context, so I don't so much have AN interpretation as a probabilistic cloud of possible interpretations.

The thing I would remember when reading anything like this is how much language means different things in different cultures:

1) Words like "racism," "white supremacy," "gaslighting," and "abuse" get tossed around a lot in younger, ultra-liberal circles. If I call someone conservative in their fifties a white supremacist, I won't be welcome back ever again. If I'm talking to a liberal 20-something, we're both expected to accept our white supremacy.

2) Positive / negative language varies between cultures. If an Eastern European says something is mediocre, they mean it's typical. If an American says the same, they mean it's bad. Some cultures use language in ways which are hyper-positive, and others, in ways which are hyper-negative. Acceptable degree of exaggeration varies too.

I recently had a "friendly" lawyer for an adversarial party provide me with some "friendly" legal advice (which was specifically that I had no case, and would be out both sides' legal fees if I went to court, and so on). They were lying. I knew that, and they knew that. This was an attorney for a megacorp, where I filed an arbitration complaint as a typical consumer (so they probably didn't know that I knew that they were lying).

With filters for how the author might be using language -- well within the norms of some cultures I've interacted with -- I didn't see this as going far beyond "If an opposing counsel tells you that you have no legal case, they might be lying to you."


I enjoy the tone because it seems genuine. As with almost everything, I view it as their opinion, not fact. It might not apply to you or many others, but their experience likely explains their perspective.


I came in to my current (first) job with this kind of cynicism. Had I held on to that I would be a lot worse off right now. I hope to prevent others from making that mistake.

Especially if management is slightly worse than at my current job. It would be easy but wrong to write them of as incompetent based on articles like this. This would be quite costly for anyone making that mistake.


It’s not a mistake if she feels that her personal cost that she needs to invest are too high.

You still have a very valid point, the question of where you draw the line between “these guys are incompetent and I can’t deal with this” vs “I decide to put up with it to make things work” is very individual.

You should be careful generalizing the former decision as a mistake.


Sounds like someone's never had a bad manager haha. Trust me, they're out there, and they're dreadful.

The article reads like someone who's spent some time in industry.


I agree that there are good or even bad managers who have 'wider business goals' that I just didn't see.

But in my experience working for various large corporations, I've found that the sentiment expressed is very accurate. Managers were the bane of our existence.

While we as developers and other areas involved did our best, the managers were with few exceptions absolutely terrible. I was often amazed that anything got done at all.

In smaller companies or startups I definitely learned to respect the concerns that managers had to deal with that I didn't, sure. But in BigCo's it was generally a shit show of, basically, royalty running the show badly: ass-kissers, psychopaths, etc.


The tiger is not evil, but it will eat you all the same when hungry.


The writer summed up my experience with large corporations’ management. Salesmen, liars, and delusional liars. Your job is not only to protect the company. But to get actual work done. If your cronies are incompetent, no amount of selling is going to change the fact the emperor has no clothes.


This, the article comes off as very cynical and bitter to me. Yes, there are some managers and executives who are just jerks. And there are a few perverse incentives around that are worth keeping in mind. But if you go into a job with this level of bitterness, you're likely to just create the same situation that you were complaining about.

If you assume starting out that all managers are corrupt fools who only care about promoting themselves and their executive golf buddies, that comes through in every interaction you have with them. They're certainly not more likely to be your partner in advancing your own career and growing the business through delivering genuine value to customers when you're carrying that big of a chip on your shoulder.


There are good ones, there are bad ones. But my experience so far was that "loudest in the room" was very often becoming a manager, not necessarily doing the best job before, but being loud about it. And it helps, because are all biased, and very often fall for that. Luckily in the current company we have a pretty much flat structure and it's way better.


> But often it just has to do with wider business goals than what I am working at.

I think the problem comes when you work at a business whose wider business goals are unethical, or simply don't include respecting the needs and rights of their workers. This definitely isn't everywhere, but from the stories I've heard this seems to be some companies.

Totally agree that managers aren't a bad thing in general though.


Your experience is different from most. The problem is that most managers have no clue how to be a good manager and/or they turn into little Nazis once promoted.


> sometimes their goals are somewhat self serving

That's what it means to be evil :)

> But often it just has to do with [...]

Making excuses for bad behaviour improves nothing, least of all your life.


If being "somewhat self-serving" is evil, then I'm afraid we all are.


> Performance reviews are a joke because almost nobody knows how to measure anyone else's effectiveness. They are just a continuation of the same popularity contests you thought you left behind from middle school, high school, and maybe even your college/university days.

This has a bit of truth. In my experience climbing up the ladder is so disconnected from actual reality. There’s quite a bit of a buddy buddy / quid pro quo system that goes on when it comes to promos.

There are people who do the actual work and take it 99%, and others who stitch the last 1% and take credit for all of it. Our Industry loves rewarding for features over things that customers actually care about. I’ve seen many feature promos in my life. One year later we’d have to kill the whole feature because it’s not worth the maintenance cost.

One of my managers believed folks who write python and JS are not real programmers, C and go programmers faced hard problems therefore they are more real. There was also the unconscious bias that women can’t lead projects so opportunities weren’t given to them. Over time women kept leaving. Over time really stellar frontend engineers kept on leaving.

It also baffles me how much energy is spent on hiring people, vs mentoring and fostering them so they grow and are promoted.


There's a concept of "visible productivity", where you do good work but also make it visible. I learned pretty early in my career that merely doing good work is not enough; it's not that someone else will take credit, it's that few people will notice, especially outside your immediate area.

Features are much easier to make visible, but it's not universal... a long time ago my manager told me to shift the perspective on some crappy boring perf work I did by multiplying milliseconds saved by runs per day and converting CPU time into dollar cost in the datacenter ;) IIRC I literally put the dollar figure into my perf review.

A semi-related point w.r.t. visibility/popularity, is that your team is much more likely to be continuously aware, and depend on, your work; whereas controlling for levels/etc. each person's opinion of you counts roughly the same, and in fact that of the people from other teams may matter more because working across teams is perceived as a sign of seniority. So, doing awesome job when you work with other teams is much more important as far as your "popularity" goes.


This is on point. Unfortunately many people confuse make your work visible with licking your superior's boot or just showing off(part of it is simply...the clashing of ego)

I personally think it's different. I'm not showing off type(and even the opposite) but I see how visibility of what you(or your team did)it is very important, because I don't notice other people's work outside of my team, either!:p


> It also baffles me how much energy is spent on hiring people, vs mentoring and fostering them so they grow and are promoted.

I used to be baffled by that too (and frustrated when they hired someone from outside, when we had IMHO better candidates in-house). However the alternative leads to the Peter Principle, won't it (I've seen that too and the result was worse)?


Factor in nepotism and the alternative is even worse.


HR is neither your friend nor it is some evil secret police that’s here to root out the saboteurs in your company...

HR is an agent between you and the company. It’s there to run the negotiations between what the company wants and what you want. If you don’t understand that, you won’t be able to use HR to your benefit.

HR is there for you to ask stuff. You want a shower on your floor? Ask them. You want a course in React? Ask them. You can get plenty of things for you to work well if you know how to play HR.


> HR is an agent between you and the company.

Just to be more specific, HR is an agent of your company. Their job is to make every interaction resolve in favor of the company. Often, this is a good thing for you, because when things are running smoothly, a lot of the stuff that is good for the employees is good for the company.

The important part to always remember is that when there is a clear conflict, a situation where something that is good for you is bad for the company and vice versa, their job is to make you lose. Their job is to be the negotiator that resolves the situation maximally in the favor of the company and against your interests. In those situations, it is important to remember that "your boss, hr and you" is not two parties and a neutral intermediary, it's two parties, one of which has two representatives. Bring either an union rep or a lawyer.


Exactly, they are legally bound to do what is best for the company while they only have to "sort of" give consideration for your situation.


I don't think you mean "legally bound" here - there is no legal obligation for HR to operate with anyone's best interest in mind, corporate person or organic person.


It's an agent but like any agent they act on behalf of someone and represent their interests first or only. And that's the company's. Sure you can extract value from them as an employee but you have to keep in mind that HR is there for you only as long as your interests almost perfectly align with the company's interests and not a step further.

That shower? Keeps you working longer in the office. Same goes for most of these perks. The course in React? You can deliver in more projects or upsell you to a customer. Try to ask for something when you underdeliver and you'll see whether HR or the company value your happiness or your happiness derived productivity.


> HR is an agent between you and the company. It’s there to run the negotiations between what the company wants and what you want. If you don’t understand that, you won’t be able to use HR to your benefit.

-I like to think of HR as an abstraction layer between management and employees, whose basic function is to shield management from having to interact with the employees.

Also, HR receives its pay from the company, not their coworkers - so HR is very much an agent of the company, not you. (Which is fair - after all, their loyalty is with whoever pays them, which is not unreasonable)

That being said, there is good HR and bad HR out there - just don't think that HR is there for you; they're not.


"-I like to think of HR as an abstraction layer between management and employees, whose basic function is to shield management from having to interact with the employees."

This sounds cynical, but it's not nefarious at all:

1) As a manager (at various points in my career), I have better things to focus my time on than sick policies, vacations, sick leave, or similar. I'd rather focus on mentorship, growth, strategy, and technology. Outsourcing the menial stuff to someone else means I can manage people better. Plus, they're more likely to do it right. If I have a 16 year old intern who is a resident of Ohio working remotely whose parents are on an H1B visa who wants to do an unpaid work-sponsored training program beyond their 40 hour work week...

2) As a manager, I have no background in how to resolve legal issues. If an employee engaged in improper behavior (harassment, theft, etc.), the last thing you want are amateurs handling this. It's a relief to offload that onto professionals, both for the manager (who doesn't want the stress or liability) and the company (who doesn't want the liability).

... and so on.

HR is the company's agent. It's not your friend. It's job isn't fairness, anonymity, or justice, but to protect the company. It's still a necessary function and having it there is not evil, so long as employees don't go in with the expectation HR is some impartial judge. It's not. A lot of kids come in and treat it that way, and get into a lot of trouble.


> HR is an agent between you and the company.

No, HR works entirely and exclusively for the company. Just like the lawyer working for the opposing party in a process.

If you want an "HR" on the employee side that thing is called "union"


HR is taking money from the employer. It's not taking money from employees. In theory they should help both sides, in practice you don't need to look hard to spot a conflict of interest.


Reminds me of The Gervais Principle, which is also excellent: https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-...


Thanks a lot - Rachel’s article as well as the one you linked to hit home extremely hard.

Besides the comics (re: macleod, dilbert, the office) or this very article - is there a field that occupies itself seriously with the described kind of dynamic?

Or a good forum where these things are discussed?

I’m looking for further information to deepen my understanding or a forum to bounce off thoughts and exchange experiences around that.


I am writing an MA thesis on cultural conflict between engineers and management. I would suggest reading works from the field of CMS - critical management studies. You can find lots of articles available, with no paywalls, through google scholar. I would start with Alvesson's work on CMS.

We've actually used CMS to improve recruitment and retention of engineers in an organization. I subscribe to hard realism. We can't pay like FAANG, and we can't promise a fast career track. What do we offer? Oh, lots of things that don't cost money but are highly valued by engineers. Honesty. Transparent culture - who gets paid more, promoted, and why. Engineering excellence - management does not decide on tech choices, all decisions are negotiated from the principle of compromise between excellence, financial viability and short-and long-term benefits. Not dictatorial "transformational" leadership, with "agile" on top.

Guaranteed no overtime for engineers. Flexible schedules. The opportunity to participate, in an active, self-determined, ethics-steered way, in creating tech solutions that impact millions of humans positively, with no moral gray areas.

This particular org is honest about not giving "fuck-you money", but it also guarantees not bidding on military contracts, manipulating people to the lowest denominator, or engaging in surveillance capitalism.

From the earliest recruitment communication, we make it clear that we don't do corporate cringe. No inspirational coaches. No transformational coaches. No coaches, period. We don't do "teambuilding" exercises. We do send people to conferences, on the company dime, and have the option of on-the-payroll personal project, for those that want it.

  Surprising how easy it is to compete for talent with idiot companies that expect "loyalty" that they translate as "blind obedience through fear".


A lot of those things are hard to achieve - we would all, I think, like to hear more about how.


I have been running an experiment for the last year, and will also be interviewing professional developers, outside of my circles, as part of my research. Management and engineering cultures have been described as orthogonal, and the standard approach may be characterized as getting engineering to conform to management values.

Leadership has to be realist enough to understand that a) tech talent has other options b) managers have to commit to transparent dialogue and culture that is attractive to engineers, or pay talent higher than competitors.

With the fix-and-cheat in software fiascos such as Boeing 737 Max crashes and Volkswagen emission scandals,to name just two, this is a serious concern. With software eating the world, it will continue to grow in global magnitude.

Treating people with respect is not hard, it's just often not done in the corporate environment.

Right now I am consulting my university as to what would be appropriate to do the research anonymously, as close to truly as possible, to protect the sources, yet still have academic rigor.

My problem is that early on, I was interviewing engineers at a well-known San-Francisco company. That company had engaged in paranoid spy-craft, such as having developers followed, as well as the standard emails read, etc. My email was under continuous attacks and several trojans were sent to my personal phone (which I had not published online, nor had linked to my name in any records). So it looks like I have to protect my identity as well, to protect my sources. This is one of my current challenges.


Do you have a mailing list? :-) SIgn me up and keep me updated please :-)


I'll ping your comment once I set something up, thanks for your interest. The problem for me right now is making sure the people I interview are safe from corporate repercussion, due to their participation.

Voicing ethical concerns about management is a firing offense for many, it seems.So I have to make sure the blog / mailing list is set up so that the website, list, etc doesn't expose people.


"/sub."

;-)


> We've actually used CMS to improve recruitment and retention of engineers in an organization.

Would you mind revealing which organization? And how long have they managed to sustain these values? It would be super interesting to learn more about their industry, the size of the engineering org, how much product features get built in a given year etc.


thanks for your interest. I can't at this time, as the research is ongoing. The org would have to approve publishing their name. That's the only part up to them as far as affecting what I publish. The experiment has been ongoing for about a year. I don't think it's anything new, but apparently, if it is bringing results, then at least it's not widely practiced.

I would summarize the idea as "If you can't promise and pay developers "fuck-you" money, at least don't fuck them instead".

I will be writing more on the topic, but I aim for about 2 years for the experiment, as that would be the minimum to establish success in retaining talent.


I always love a good HR rant :-). At Google the "people person" was called your "business partner." I like the notion that they are the inquisition though, that metaphor includes the adherence to dogma at the expense of common good.

There are also people who enjoy "the game." That being the corporate politics of "gotcha" and "praise". When I got to the place at Sun where I had some "influence" and people started trying to cultivate me as an ally, it really annoyed some of them that I didn't play the game.


Yeah, what’s that “business partner” thing about?

We have that as well but no one could ever explain what’s the difference between a regular HR role and a HR business partner role.


IT is not your friend either. They work for the company, not for you.

Legal is not your friend either. They work for the company, not for you.

Janitorial staff is not your friend either. They work for the company, not for you.

Sales is not your friend either. They work for the company, not for you.

Marketing is not your friend either. They work for the company, not for you.


That's all true, but misses the point. HR is presented to employees differently than those groups (e.g. they're the people you're supposed to go to for help when you see a wrong happen). In some cases, their actions may even make it seem like they're on your side, but they really aren't.


Only trust your fists, HR will never help you.


Your co-worker is not your friend either (at first, or may never be).


I've had coworkers who put other coworkers first.

Ive never seen or heard of an HR department that didn't put the dictates of management first.


You're comparing individuals to departments. There are certainly people in HR who have put coworkers first. Depending on the company they may have succeeded or not in those actions. "The dictates of management" are what departments do.


I've had co-workers who I considered friends but was disabused of that thought once they no longer needed me for something.

Workplaces are funny environments, they aren't natural places to be.


So true. More often than not, they see you as an obstacle.


Speak for yourself please. Respectfully, this level of cynicism is not shared by everybody.


This is the starry-eyed, optimistic view of workplaces.

In fact, in each case management works for themselves. HR, most of all. While engineering management has some pressure toward development goals, sales toward sales targets, and top management toward business development, HR has no such objective targets. Typically they even farm out recruiting.

What motivates HR management? In most companies, HR is the center of corruption. They have immense opportunities to collect kickbacks for everything they spend on. They have nothing in common with anybody else in the company, but everything with other HR managers: toilet plunger HR is the same as rocket fuel HR. The most popular discussion topic after hours, at HR conventions, is grifts.

This explains why, so often, recruiting is farmed out. You can't collect kickbacks from HR employees, but there are plenty to be had from recruiting agencies; likewise training programs, insurance policies, 401k accounts, and anything else they come in contact with. If they were not motivated by corruption, they would prefer a different department.

Management of other departments, and upper management, know this about them, and know that it doesn't matter how they feel about it. Companies have to have HR, and HR has to have HR managers. An HR manager not obviously on the take must be working a deeper grift that might well be worse than the obvious stuff. Extortion, for example, can be lucrative, and HR has access to lots of information others don't. It's better when they are taking care of themselves other ways.


I've only known one person personally who has ever done the cloak & dagger wearing of a wire to record a co-worker saying something that they wouldn't want the public or a judge to hear. She was the head of HR for a F500 company and did this to the COO. The buyout package for her to leave and agree not to disclose what she recorded was apparently quite substantial as she didn't have to work for years. Still a bit amazed that she both had to guts to do it and actually got away with it. HR is a completely different world.


My experience with HR is not that bad :-). Dealt with them in few occasions and I found them to be helpful, at least from where I was looking at the subject.

I can totally agree that they are not competent and not dedicated, as far as my personal experience goes. But the corruption I have not seen.


They can be extremely helpful IF your needs are in line with the needs of the company, but if your needs are not then they're not going to be so nice.


Hahahahaha what? This reads like some kind of copypasta. Do you have any evidence of increased levels of corruption in HR over other departments?


How would one go about getting oneself invited to such a convention? or at least the after-hours social events?


So who is your friend? Your team? I mean they work for the company, not you.


Your friends are your friends. Your friends are the people who help you remember who you are. Some of them might share your same employer.


Yes, they do.


I really hope you have friends outside the company.

Your team is not automatically your friend. They are your coworkers (as is your boss and anyone else in the company). It's possible for friendships to grow there, but it's not common.


What a cynical article.

Also: what a realistic article.

It's probably not obvious but management at most companies doesn't actually want HR to be like this, at least for exempt employees (more cynicism, this time mine). But if it doesn't converge this way the execs usually start to get upset with the result.


If every manager was a good manager, there'd be no need for HR. Good managers don't cause HR-type problems, and can deal with any problems in their teams without involving HR.

So, yeah, kinda - management at most companies don't want HR to be like this. The bad managers because HR keeps getting involved with them, the good ones because HR imposes restrictions that they don't need. But HR is like this because it needs to protect the organisation from bad management.


I get the impression this author is dancing around some particular bad experiences they’ve had, which is the real subject of this post. Without understanding those details it’s hard to get where this comes from. There’s certainly a lot of unspoken expectations of what HR is.

I’ve worked with HR in many capacities, and find them to be supportive and helpful of both employees and managers. However, what you will not find them to be is sympathetic. They aren’t job relationship therapists any more than they’re mall cops. They are there to make sure workplace law is followed. Beyond that, it’s on everyone involved to be personally responsible for being a professional.


Can't help but read all of Rachel's posts through a Facebook engineering filter. And, with this post, once you've been on the opposing side of HR, you understand and appreciate her posts.

Everyone expects HR to follow the law but in practice you can see this is applied selectively at many companies.


She quit a while back if I recall from some of her posts about it a few years ago. Additionally this isn't the first time she's had issues at a company and left (if you read further back). That being said, it is still useful knowledge, but probably could be taken with a grain of salt.


They're helpful of employees and managers only insofar as it helps the company. And even then, only insofar as the company values that help. I've never seen HR go to bat for an employee, against either a manager or against the company. The implication that they're not mall cops (but there to make sure workplace law is followed, i.e., they are cops of a sort) is actually quite apropos; they are there to protect the establishment and the status quo. They are not there to help you.


I agree with you the lawyer is leaving out anecdotes and trying to generalize from them, but all you have to do is google for a second to find some incredibly embarrassing messups from HR see microsoft amazon google for examples.

I will challenge you on the part though about the unspoken expectations of what HR is. To be clear, HR always says come to them if I need anything. If I have any problems they are there to help me.

Like you said, this is a lie. They are there to follow the law, and if they see you as a liability and your complaint doesn't have enough evidence and they can get away with finding a way to get rid of you and claim it's not retaliation they will. This happens often.

So perhaps HR should take on some responsibility for actively misadvertising the purpose of their existence. They should say exactly that:

We are not here for you we are here to make sure the company doesn't get in trouble so if on the books we can be in the right and reduce liability we will, so keep your mouth shut and do not give us any reason to think you are a liability to us.

Alot of problems I agree could be solved if HR was honest about their role. And did not advertise themselves as therapists as a way to asses early on if you are a liability and come up with a way to get rid of you and get away with it.


Ironically, HR are often low paid and have a shoddy understanding of employment law.


I suspect this is a response to the about face that MS/Github took recently about firing a Jewish person for saying things like 'Stay safe, Nazis are about'. In the end, someone in HR no longer works for Microsoft but it behooves us all to remember that HR isn't there to protect you.


All her posts are like that. She wants to rant about something, but she doesn't give enough details for you to actually know what she is ranting about. Probably because she doesn't want to 'out' anyone by giving away too many details of the incident. Which is fine, but then why blog about it in the first place if no one outside your circle is going to know what the hell you are talking about?

Easily one of my least favorite blogs that regularly gets linked on hn.


Yeah, the whole post is just fluff and no substance. There are sooo many better articles on this subject. My guess is it's being upvoted by the title alone since people agree with it, and the discussion it has spurred.


Agreed with one small correction, HR is your friend before you join the company simply because internal recruiters fall under HR and recruiters are your friends. Literally paid to try and place you into the company.

Back to topic - HR is a tool.

Their job is to keep the company from getting sued by employees, the government and sometimes unions over bad practices. If the company is large enough they also report to the board.

Maybe HR's better analogy for the employee is a double edge sword. If you choose to use it, you'd better be prepared. Know the your rights, local laws/governance about your employment.

If your complaint aligns with laws then you're better setup for success, but again, it can always come back to bite you.


> "recruiters are your friends"

They are not. They may act like it, but they represent the company they work for, and ultimately their own interests. Some recruiters have enough integrity to be honest with you, but some don't.

If you want to know who you can trust, you need to know what motivates them. You can trust they will act in those interests. You can trust them to act in your interest when your interests align.


Agreed, yes. Recruiters generally do want to place you and collect their fee, but few would have any qualms placing you at a terrible firm that pays well (=good fee) and keeps you doing the same shit for a year before going under, rather than a place that pays less but has great corporate culture and an engaging job with growth potential.


A recruiter can be an ally. A friend would tell you things the company didn't want you to know.


HR is definitely not your friend. I’ve had exactly one good “real” HR person in my career, and she was forced out after our company was acquired, and we didn’t even get a replacement for months on end, despite our acquirer being a multi-billion dollar company. There are some people in HR that I know and like, but I’m acutely aware that I am merely a cog in the system and that HR works for the company, not for me.

As a general rule, I record all conversations with HR. I’ve never had to use the recordings, but if a third-party isn’t there, I'm protecting myself, period. I no longer live in a one-party consent state, so that means informing HR in advance that I’ll be recording, so if you’re in the US, check your local laws before proceeding.

HR has an important role and I don’t discount what that role is, but it exists to protect the company, not the employee. And knowing that is crucial to getting the best experience out of HR.


In the end, I think it really depends on your expectations what the role and responsibilities of a HR actually are.


The problem starts with the name, humans are not resources. Stones. metals and food are resources. It's a slave term to see people as resources. I will never contract myself to those companies and people.


Merriam Webster definition of resource:

  1a : a source of supply or support : an available means —usually used in plural 
  1b : a natural source of wealth or revenue —often used in plural
  1c : a natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life
  1d : computable wealth —usually used in plural
  1e : a source of information or expertise
  2 : something to which one has recourse in difficulty : EXPEDIENT
  3 : a possibility of relief or recovery
  4 : a means of spending one's leisure time
  5 : an ability to meet and handle a situation : RESOURCEFULNESS
I'd say humans are resources under definitions 1a, 1e and 2. Those things aren't particular to slaves.


You must harvest more Software Engineers.


We take a lot of Vespian Gas


You must construct additional cubicles!


Spawn more overlords.


It may be a valid use of the word resource, but it's still dehumanizing to think of people as resources.


It isn't dehumanizing to consider someone "a source of information or expertise". It's humanizing in that those are predominantly human things. And that's one of the primary senses of the word. It seems uncharitable to assume someone must mean some other sense.


The meaning of a word is much more than its definition in a dictionary. Context matters. Humans are animals, yet saying that someone is an animal might mean anything from praise (You're killing it, you animal!) to contempt (Stop behaving like an animal!).


Suppose I call you an ape. It's literally true, isn't it? Yet you would naturally assume I meant it in a dehumanizing way.


Yes we are. We are hired by a company to use ours skills and time to complete a task or set of tasks. Depending on when they want a project done and what skills are required, they must hire/buy accordingly.

I personally find this a very comfortable arrangement. I am a merchant of my own labour. I can upgrade the value of my labour by adding skills (in the same way that a merchant of stone could get a better price by reducing defects). I can seek a better price. I am free to terminate the arrangement when it suits me.


This is indeed the way companies treat us, just don't forget that they work to devalue those things much more than you work to increase their value.

And another thing, you are not free to terminate the arrangement because you need money to live, the company is indeed free to terminate it.


I actually like the name "human resources" because it very honestly describes the way humans are seen by large corporations: not much more than interchangeable resource units. Changing to a more comforting name while keeping everything else constant is awfully typical of superficial modern day activism.


Under your philosophy, how do you manage who should work on a project, how many people should work on a project, whether you need to hire more people and how long something will take?

Edit: I notice this person's account posted once 32 days ago, then 44 days ago, then 51 days ago ... I don't expect a response anymore.


HR don't decide any of those things, they're instructed to do those things by management.


> I will never contract myself to those companies and people.

I read that as them saying they'll never work for a company that treats people as 'resources'.


Direct supervisor of team, Head of team (C-level), Metrics or Organizational number of desired projects, Estimation?


A few companies I have been in have recognised this PR mistake and have renamed themselves "People and Culture". However, do not be fooled, the purpose remains ensuring the organisation has the right type of people and a culture that aligns with the objectives of the company.


Freudian slip.


Oof, this hits home.

Out of college I worked for a large company that's well-known for hiring lots of folks straight out of undergrad with high salaries and a demand of high hours.

Despite an almost cultlike devotion to meritocracy and micro-feedback, the "merits" only mattered if it was in furtherance of already established norms of success.

In a large company like that, deviation wasn't viewed as having a unique skillset, it was viewed as making it harder for other people around you to fit their work into a unique landscape that featured you.

If you feel like your company treats you this way, can I recommend a startup? When no one knows whether the process you're following today is the "right" process, like while a startup is achieving product-market fit, then there's lots of room for unique thinkers.


> If you feel like your company treats you this way, can I recommend a startup?

Having worked in both startups and large corporate companies, I feel they're just on the opposite side of the spectrum. In big corps there are established processes that are almost impossible to change, in startups the processes are changed daily, which can be equally annoying.

Jumping to a startup because you don't like the big corp style is a major change, the same goes for the other way around. Maybe go for a smaller, but already established company.


Some of the most heavily mismanaged places I have worked at have been startups. All sorts of insane people, particularly at management level, but also rank-and-file. Large companies have standardized interview and background checking processes on top of fairly standard requirements of candidates (educational qualification etc.) that work to root out pyschopaths and just plain weirdos, most of the time. No such luck at startups.


That's no much good if you are a psychopath or weirdo though.


I seem to recall studies that upper management in large companies has about 2.5x as many sociopaths as the general population.


In particular CEOs


> deviation wasn't viewed as having a unique skillset, it was viewed as making it harder for other people around you to fit their work

If your unique skillset makes it harder for people to work with you, it might not be that much of an asset, even if the skills are impressive.


Many people think that they live in a free democracy.

In reality, something like 50% of all working people are employed in a strict hierarchical organisation that is essentially feudal in its nature.

Most employees are the equivalent of serfs, overseen by lords, with a king in charge. The common employees don't get a vote. Their managers are not elected. They don't get a say in policy. The managers in turn form a strict hierarchy, much like in feudal times, with a top-down structure. A junior manager cannot say no to a senior manager. Nobody can say no to the CEO.

In this picture HR is essentially the inquisition. The inquisition was most certainly not the friend of the common man!

If you buck the system, if you step out of your place, if you're a commoner upsetting a lord, then you will be treated much like your ancestors would have been treated long ago: You will be put to the question. The inquisition will spare no pain to determine exactly why you stepped out of line and upset the natural order of things.


Why do you want to view the world like this? This kind of mindset puts you in a very weak position.

I look at it like this: I work for a company because it's a win-win. They need some work done, and I need money.

In fact, as a coder, the company is the one in the weak position. If I leave for another company, I can get paid the exact same amount instantly. They will have to get a new person, pay them the same, but first have to get them up to speed to get to the same productivity level as me. They lose, and I even might gain a raise. So they better make sure they don't piss me off.

If you have this kind of mindset, people can't fuck with you.

Take for example a manager that says "Hey, this customer expects it to go in production on Monday, so make sure you finish it this week, maybe do some weekend work". Now the problem is in your lap. What you do is you push that shit right back, so you tell your manager "Why did you promise this customer it will be finished on Monday? You're going to be in a lot of trouble when it isn't. Maybe next time check with the developers first about the time schedule, then you don't end up in situations like this again."

You have to educate your managers a bit.

I know that some people will respond "not every employee is in this position to make demands". Well, it's all about how valuable your skills are. Make sure you can do things that other people can't, and you put yourself in a position where you always have the option to go work for another company.

A company selling services to other companies, is not that different than a person selling services to companies.

Feudal system my ass.


Are you under the impression that everyone here is in the same kind of position of power that you are?

1. Not everyone here is a coder.

2. Not everyone who codes is in the US, or a small number of other countries, where salaries for coders are high.

3. Not everyone lives in a part of the US with multiple employers that they could work for (relocation may be infeasible for various reasons).

4. The company may be sponsoring the worker's visa.


Some of us remember successfully saying "no" well before we became coders.

Even for supposedly low skill minimum wage jobs, finding reliable employees that show up on time, don't steal, don't get high at work, stick around and get things done, and otherwise aren't a pain in the ass to work with - can be a time sink and cost. Even the most selfish manager may tolerate some pushback and some "no"s if it means they don't have to go through all the work to hire someone "better" (which might require hiring and firing a lot of unknowns to arrive at, even if there's plenty of applicants.)

The vengeful and dysfunctional might fire you anyways, even if it's more work for them, if only to flex their power. The downsizing might not want to replace people. Life circumstances might mean you can't be reliable and are already on the fence (or - to put it another way - you might already be saying "no" to too much to say "no" to more without getting fired.)

So, sure, there are people without power. But - perhaps it's not quite as bad as jiggawatts is making it out to be either.


1. If I didn't have my brain, I would be a plumber. These guys start earning when they are 18 or younger, and make a shitload of money because we have a shortage here. So even if you work with your hands, you can choose something that is in high demand.

2. Coders in US and EU are doing OK. Coders in Ukraine and the likes (I have multiple colleagues in that region) are absolutely killing it. They earn about 2x less than us, but 10x more than their neighbors. They don't borrow money to buy a home, they just buy it.

3. No idea about that one. But in US it's so hassle free to start your own business.

4. Yeah, then it's up to you what your options are, and how much you are willing to put up with.


> 2. Not everyone who codes is in the US, or a small number of other countries, where salaries for coders are high.

I don't have much stats, but this is true in countries that I know of: US, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, India

So I wouldn't expect other countries to be much different, it might depend on company you work for, if you stay in small < 10 people places, you won't get much salary as a coder.


Is it possible that the entire reason that you know about the coding salaries for these countries is precisely because the salaries for coding are high there?

Like, I live in the US, and I knew someone who transferred to Switzerland and got a pay raise for cost of living increase. So when you mentioned Switzerland I was thinking, "Well, yeah. Zurich is an expensive place to live, and there are some big engineering offices there." But I've also met software engineers who seemed pretty miserable when I've traveled to other countries.


No, I just know people in those countries.

Poland, Ukraine and India aren't exactly hugh cost living places compared to Zurich or SF.


Anyone can have a voice in the outcome of their life and society around them. When you give up on this belief, you relinquish power and control to others. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Stop focusing on the power of others, and obtain your own power and influence, and then govern with empathy for others.


Are you saying that people without power do not exist? Or are you saying that when someone does not have power, it is their fault? I am not sure you are saying either of these things, but I am finding it difficult to make any kind of charitable reading of this comment.

Positive thinking only gets you so far. When taken TOO FAR, positive thinking becomes a delusion. We with loving families can thoughtlessly & brutishly suggest to a friend that they “should definitely reconcile with their father”, because the idea of abusive parents is outside our experience.

Same applies to things like companies. I can easily tell people to “obtain power and fix problems” at work, but it is not necessarily possible. If we pretend that conflict does not exist, or can always be solved by the right actions, we’re just hurting people.


I am saying that assuming or accepting you have no power or less power than others is a sure way to create that reality. Are there limits. Sure. But there are countless examples of people that created more than society would have “allowed”.

Put another way. Ignore inequality as it effects you, assume you can overcome it. But acknowledge its existence with respect to others and do everything in your power to create equality.


> Ignore inequality as it effects you, assume you can overcome it. But acknowledge its existence with respect to others and do everything in your power to create equality.

This sounds hopelessly inconsistent to me. Why should I hold myself to a different standard than I hold other people to? If acknowledging inequality elsewhere is required to be kind to other people, that means that ignoring inequality when it affects me is being unkind to myself.


Because it is effective.

If you assume you can’t do something you definitely won’t. If you assume you can, you may not succeed; you may be blocked by some external cause, but not by something you could have controlled.

In the case of helping others, you may play a role in clearing an obstacle that, not withstanding their own effort and belief, would have blocked them.

In both cases you are assuming you have power. Power to help yourself and power to reduce inequality by empowering others.

This isn’t a contradiction.


It is sometimes effective. It is sometimes a harmful delusion.


It's a good rule of thumb. It's the difference between accepting and acknowledging. You can acknowledge the hardship of others but still fight against your own.

I don't tolerate inequality, but I do know it exists. It will continue to exist if we don't fight it.


If you get the reputation of being a difficulty employee, they don't hire you, doesn't matter how good you are. They make a cost-benefit assessment and as long as your benefits outweigh the costs, they'll bear the costs, otherwise you're gone. Feudal system at its finest.


Well, I'm also making that same assessment for them. If they give me too much shit for the pay, I'm going to work for someone else. It's all about negotiation and win-win deals, no?


> I know that some people will respond "not every employee is in this position to make demands". Well, it's all about how valuable your skills are. Make sure you can do things that other people can't, and you put yourself in a position where you always have the option to go work for another company.

I think GP was talking about workers in general, not just software developers. Software developers are in a super entitled position when it comes to this. Not every grocery store cashier, McDonald's worker, taxi driver, etc. can be expected to "do things other people can't".


What does GP mean?


"Grand parent" perhaps, if you consider their post as the child.


Correct.


The overwhelming majority of people have whatever job they can get. They don't get to be selective, because they have bills, and kids, and rent to pay.


The overwhelming majority of people don't live in the US. In Europe, you have access to free healthcare, unemployment and education. It's not a silver bullet, but it significantly reduced your vulnerability to eating shit from your current employer.

Why the US doesn't value safety nets and collective action is beyond me.


Continuing that line of reasoning, the overwhelming majority of people don't live in Europe either. They live in India, China, Africa, South America where free healthcare, unemployment, and education are not always available.


This reminds me of this article [0] where more than 50% of world population lives inside of the circle compared to outside; which is fascinating as it covers only 20% of land-area.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/07/more-people-live-insi...


Unemployment benefits are bit tough sell when you don't have enough savings and you don't get it for quite a while when you leave on your own... And educations isn't always that simple matter either.


The size of your rent and bills is largely in your hands. Too many people sell themselves into slavery for a nice car or big TV.


IMO this is why it is so critical to get to a position of having fuck you money as quickly as possible. This includes something having a side hustle that's ramen profitable so you won't starve to death when you get the boot for not working on weekends.


Make it much easier on yourself: Micro fuck you money. 6 months of living expenses saved up, ready to go in an emergency or to say fuck you. Even if you were to get assistance from the state where you live, you want to be able to say fuck you to the state as well.

Along with being able to minimize the lifestyle your probably accustomed to when getting a decent wage (this is another hurdle even if you have micro fuck you money), mondays will never feel dreadful again.

You're constructing a giant mountain to climb if you require a side hustle or actual fuck you money (1 mio.+). 99,999% of people will not achieve that, look at how much people save for retirement. Micro fuck you money is very achievable though.


Holy shit this is the most privileged mindset.

Do you know people who aren't coders?

You know we live and work in some sort of dream land and 99% of people in other jobs don't have anywhere near this level of freedom and bargaining power.

You will sell yourself short by forgetting this. Coding isn't guaranteed to stay like this - as tooling gets better and better and more people get into it we will be seen less and less like wizards.


You can get the same level of freedom with manual labor. I don't know where you live, but here, contractors make a shitload of money. Especially plumbers are in high demand.


Plumbing is skilled labour and requires school/training - proper apprenticeships take four years, though there are fast-track options.

Any "manual labour"? Certainly not true. Unskilled manual labour is a race to the bottom in most places and usually done by immigrants who can afford to work for peanuts.


In my experience just as often the manager asks for an estimate, get one and plan accordingly. When the developer inevitably does not finish on time they have multiple excuses, but the manager is getting the heat. Which is exactly why the developers are part of the team that plan and set deadlines. And let me let you in on a little secret. There is still delays - we're working on that.


The feudal analogy still works. The difference is that the Black Death has swept the place, and you are now the only pawn left on the field, and suddenly you are in a negotiating position with your local lord. Which is actually something that happened during the Black Death.


>> now the problem is in your lap.

I agree with your point but ultimately, why not have the engineer document how long the last cycle took to get into production. So when the manager asks, hey do this in 70% of the time, you have reference to live recent data that it’s impossible.

Or even simpler. Manager asks to finish something and have it live in Y days.

You will finish it in Y days because the last project needed an additonal 3 days and you communicated that immediately back then, so your manager already has provided a solution by the time you’re ready for the next development cycle or sprint. Hence Y days should be computed with feedback you already communicated from the last cycle.

>> You have to educate your managers a bit.

Ironically, this could come off as feudal since a manager is “senior” in terms of time and experience at the same company. In which you are currently a junior. How often will a manager be like “so glad you educated me on my own delivery and timelines, you were right!” Versus hey, that’s my job, you worry about yours and I got mine.

I think the word “synchronize” (delivery times for production, ie) applies better than educate.

Why worry about educating them if you’ve set a self-expectation to communicate immediately when something is not as expected. Or as initially agreed between the employee and their team or manager (s).

Majority of these empathy gaps b/w managers and engineers is actually the byproduct of failed communication protocols that both parties can maximize upon assuming consistent internet service (unfortunately still not the case or available with examples of significant gains. The moment you start caring about how another feels or thinks towards your execution, work, or biz strategy, gg.

You are now thinking about what others are thinking, and planning all these scenarios to ensure you act accordingly + optimally. This whole hr analogy shouldn’t even exist - it reminds me or read receipts on iMessage. Back in the old day, you didn’t have the information of when someone actually opened your mail indoors.

All I’m saying is to forget about the hierarchy + roles and just crisp clean communication up front.

Any gaps in understanding means that you needed to communicate much clearer, earlier. Versus, omg hr might be out to get me or something.


So when the manager asks, hey do this in 70% of the time, you have reference to live recent data that it’s impossible.

All the data in the world won’t sway a manager - and his manager, and his manager - if they need a scapegoat. This is something engineers only figure out when it’s too late.


If I leave for another company

Yeah that’s not a powerful move, that’s the equivalent of leaving the country. What happens if they’re all run along the exact same lines? You can start your own I guess, which is not feasible for most people.

That’s why we require the democratically elected leviathan to limit the power these people have over others.


This echoes the best career advice I ever got: Have a plan B!


I think you are taking your job and skillset security and demand for granted to some degree potentially. Wage slavery is real for a majority of people whos responsibilities and inflexibility of skills dont allow for the leverage you describe

In principle I agree though


Everybody is replaceable, no matter how confident they might feel.


Indeed, including your employer


Not if you have majority share control - then everyone can toss right off.


It’s good to be king, in this analogy.


Unlike the serf, I can go find another Lord. I can pit the lords against each other for a better deal. I can try and become my own lord. HR has a lot fewer tools than the inquisition. Fear of lawsuits reduces their toolkit even further.


Very true. Unless you have a sick family member. Until the ACA, you were 100% trapped. Now, you’re not officially trapped, only trapped in practice, because when you switch health plans, the providers who have been working with your kid for the last few years are no longer in your network, and... you get the picture.


This is more a problem of the US american healthcare system than one of the nature of the employer-employee relationship.


Yes exactly. In my country (Australia), the majority of employers don't pay for health insurance. Either you rely on the public health system, or you pay for private health cover yourself. So, losing my job, or changing jobs, has no direct impact on my health insurance (beyond the impact on my ability to afford private health cover if there is any reduction of income)


It's also worth adding that the public health system is pretty good, or at least better than some other "first world" countries.


In the 1950s, employee benefits became non-taxable. Prior to that, employees would get health insurance as individuals and their plans would never be tied to a particular employer, kinda like how it currently works in Switzerland. So that one law drove our entire health insurance system to where it is now.


It actually started due to WWII.

> Once America became embroiled in World War II, there was great concern that rampant inflation would threaten America's military effort and undermine its domestic economy. The concern was valid, as Americans had witnessed what inflation had done to war-torn Germany, devastating its economy and giving rise to Hitler's regime.

> To combat inflation, the 1942 Stabilization Act was passed. Designed to limit employers' freedom to raise wages and thus to compete on the basis of pay for scarce workers, the actual result of the act was that employers began to offer health benefits as incentives instead.

> Suddenly, employers were in the health insurance business. Because health benefits could be considered part of compensation but did not count as income, workers did not have to pay income tax or payroll taxes on those benefits. [0]

You can also read about this in a 2017 NY Times article [1]

[0] https://www.griffinbenefits.com/blog/history-of-employer-spo...

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20210109190532/https://www.nytim...


You were not 100% trapped, by collapsing the propositions of an argument you destroy a meaningful distinction. It is very different to be a serf in fact and a serf in practice. Serf's were legally defined as property and could be bought and sold with land and killed if they failed to work according to the Lords liking. No company can compel you to work on threat of death. Does employer linked insurance suck and have negative, unintended consequences, yes, but you can quit with two weeks notice and find another job with health insurance. The distinction does matter.


That's not entirely true. If you had a "gap in coverage" e.g. you were without insurance for too long (about 30 days?) then limits on pre-existing conditions, etc. might be an issue when you get insurance again. But if you were just changing jobs, going from one employer plan to another, it wasn't an issue (at least it wasn't for me, and I changed jobs many times before ACA, including going back and forth between employer and individual plans). And if for some reason there was going to be a gap between jobs, you could pay for gap coverage under COBRA, or get a short-term individual plan.


> Until the ACA, you were 100% trapped

It is unclear how premiums that exceed income along with deductibles that exceed rent are a freeing experience.


Haha... indeed. I meant specifically from the perspective that you were in a situation where leaving your job meant you were now uninsurable (in many states, at least). I have an entirely separate rant on how the ACA stuck people with higher deductible health plans outside of employers (like me and my family) with virtually all of the risk of the formerly uninsurable. It was more politically expedient for the Democratic Congress of ‘09 to not really try to fix the problem.


It was fairly maddening hearing endless glory heaped upon the ACA, while most sq mi of the US remained saturated with uncovered Americans.

At least until 2017. After that it seemed a little okay to discuss the realities of the ACA.


I mean... it was an improvement, and certainly did enable coverage for a lot of people who otherwise would have gone without. But it was such a lost opportunity, and I wish the Dems could just own up to that and push for something more. The problem is that both sides are so deep in the industry’s pockets, that I don’t think real reform is even possible.


> it was an improvement and ... enabled coverage for a lot of people

This is kind of my point. The ACA was designed to benefit the middle class and non-vulnerable. At which point the middle class and non-vulnerable (and the press) stopped caring about who had healthcare.

To drive home that point: A few years ago I ran ACA quotes for typical income levels (typical for non-wealthy regions, 12k-32k) and found that premium cost steeply dropped for each 10k rise in income.

My primary issue isn't that this happened, it's that we weren't told. It's that ACA supporters + the entirety of press compulsively gloss over ACA realities.

> I wish the Dems could just own up to that and push for something more.

I suggest that uncovered Americans don't need something more. They need something.

> The problem is that both sides are so deep in the industry’s pockets, that I don’t think real reform is even possible.

Pols trading law/power for campaign cash is the other thing that news orgs have ~0 interest in.


My family migrated to different employer healthcare with zero changes on the provider side other than premium cost.

Perhaps we’re lucky or the system is already monopsonized in our area. However, sometimes you can also get the same network at your new employer (e.g. Kaiser or other HMOs).

That said it’d be a lot better with single payer and the largest risk-pool of an entire country.


Is there a reason to regularly switch plans? I keep the same one each time annual enrollment comes up.


They were specifically referring to the difficulty of switching companies.


You may be forced to switch when changing employers or when leaving your job and COBRA is not a good option for you.


> Unlike the serf, I can go find another Lord. I can pit the lords against each other for a better deal.

For many people that isn't really true. And even if you are in a high-demand profession, and have the necessary negotiations skills, moving between jobs has a pretty high transaction cost.


Then keep working until you are in that position. When you are 1 years old you can't walk, you keep working, when you are 12 you can't drive, you keep working, when you are 22 you probably can't retire of self earned assets, you keep working. Set a goal and work until you get there.


In Western Europe, serfdom was the exception. It's more of a Russian notion. Commoners in most of feudal Europe had an explicit "right of departure."


This historian says that despite this theoretical freedom, most peasants were just as trapped: https://acoup.blog/2020/07/24/collections-bread-how-did-they...


What if we tried to make it so there were no lords? Just a thought.


Any different group with a semi-competent lord will absolutely destroy you and take your resources. You'll soon send around resumes begging for a lord to take you.


>> What if we tried to make it so there were no lords? Just a thought.

> Any different group with a semi-competent lord will absolutely destroy you and take your resources. You'll soon send around resumes begging for a lord to take you.

Not really. IIRC, in the French Revolutionary Wars, French troops were more effective because they were better motivated than those who were fighting for some lord.

It's probably necessary to have leaders, but that doesn't mean lords are necessary.


Clearly it's a nice analogy. So there is a need for leadership. There are good leaders and bad (call em leaders or lords) but there is always a hierarchy. Let say there where no hierarchy by rank, there would still be a hierarchy in competence. It may shift as situations shift. Given that. But if someone is a competent leader he will succeed dominating evey hierarchy. That's what leadership leads up to: being a efficient and hopeful a competent leader. So even if you are in a group of mercenaries you will and want to have a leader who makes a call in critical moments. Even if you vote who the leader might be you will choose the one who makes the best decision (could be yourself) or even persuades you into believing that the decisions he made are good.

On this grounding all the other systems emerge like nepotism, bad leadership, fall guys... and HR


You mean like in a co-op (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative)?


Others in recent history have tried this. Do we know how it went for them?


Mondragon, Orbea, and others are doing great.


Works fine for Ariz Mendi...


In my experience this approach only works with small groups.

In larger power/lordship(?) tends to accumulate. Why this is, I don't know. It would make and interesting study topic.


How will we convince the lords?


We need to convince the serfs, not the lords. The lords can keep lording alone, it doesn't matter.


The real trick, assuming you succeed, is not becoming a lord yourself.


"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

- Mao Zedong


We debate them through rational discourse in the free marketplace of ideas!


You just get much worse lords and lose all your freedoms which you may still have.

Free market democracy is not ideal system, but it offers at least some freedoms for serfs. All other systems take them all away.


Yes, the social democracies of Europe where governement restrict the rights of corporations for the benefits of people are just a fantasy invented by left-wing media, in reality people living there are all suffering. /s

Honestly, it is still jarring to see people in the US actually believe the system they are living in is some sort of "lessest evil system", not realizing how much easier they would have it in Scandinavia/Germany/France/Switzerland/Netherlands/Belgium/etc. And this is a region with comparable population and resources to the US.

I mean, just think about implementing socialized healthcare, a proper tax system which is short and understandable with few loopholes, a reasonable minimum wage and parental leave for all paid by the federal government. Those are a handful of measures that would significantly improve life for 99.5% of everyone in the US. And there is no plausible mechanism where these measures take away all your freedoms.

Sure you can argue that it's impossible to get American politicians to enact these. But that is just another point of failure of the free market democracy, that elected politicians are most interested in the outcomes for people and organizations who pay them money (literally or indirectly), and not in the people they are elected to represent.


Is someone really your "lord" if you can just choose for them not to be your "lord" and freely choose for them to be your "lord" if they compensate you well enough for your liking? I'd suggest we already don't have lords and the analogy doesn't really hold.


This is always a matter of degrees, and most jobholders have much less freedom to choose than your line of questioning assumes. In general, and especially for those people, maybe this is a good mental model for how to operate in a workplace. Power imbalances may actually be so unequal.


If you must choose and serve a lord in order to survive, is it really worth bragging about your “freedom” to choose the least bad lord?


It’s been tried - mostly leads to disaster, see: animal farm.

Hierarchy can work well, particularly for growing companies and making decisions.

It obviously has problems as a form of government, but the incentive structure of capitalism is a good one for work.

Even in democratic governments with elections you still have a decision hierarchy somewhere (hopefully just with some checks on their power)


> incentive structure of capitalism is a good one for work.

The inventive structure of capitalism is good for capitalists. Why would they make it any other way?


Growth (when controlled for environment destruction and human rights) leads to helping the most people the fastest: https://press.stripe.com/#stubborn-attachments

You get that from proper incentives. Capitalism is mostly about creating an environment where people can leverage those incentives as easily as possible.

There's a deep irony that the system set up based on incentivizing and rewarding growth (and occasionally greed) has helped raise millions out of poverty while the systems based on altruism have led to the deaths of millions and massive amounts of suffering.


> helped raise millions out of poverty

You do know that 850M of those live in China, right?


Where do you think that comes from? The modern CCP leverages market economies to build that wealth. That success is because Xi recognizes the power for capitalism and growth to create wealth. They then try to control that though and the recent disappearance of Jack Ma and the government block of that IPO is more what I'm talking about.

The cultural revolution, hundred flowers campaign, and current Uyghur genocide are some of the classic negative aspects of CCP control. Those aspects are more the standard fare communist policy.

The good that's there comes from their embrace of capitalism and market incentives. The bad comes from the standard communist one party control, it's also what eventually leads to problems.


It comes from Deng Xiaoping, but I have yet to meet an advocate for adopting Dengist economic principles.


I thought Deng's principles were the foundation for modern China's economic policy? Is this not true?

"After Chairman Mao Zedong's death in 1976, Deng gradually rose to power and led China through a series of far-reaching market-economy reforms, which earned him the reputation as the "Architect of Modern China"." [0]

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


Attributing reduction in poverty rates primarily to Xi doesn't make much sense given the historical trends. See the world bank info[1] for a sense of the long term decline(1990-2016).

[1] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.DDAY?locations=C...


That may be for Capitalism, but that's not what we have today. We have Corporate Feudalism. Capitalism makes a bunch of assumptions about the freedom of the market, freedom of information, freedom of capital and labor and so on - most of which Corporate Feudalism has undermined.

Capitalism and Communism has suffered the same fate from the same source, and this will remain true until we move into the age of plenty from the age of want, and probably beyond.


I'm being heavily downvoted in my other comments, but I don't agree.

Today we have more people starting more billion dollar companies more easily than any other time in human history. We have more freedom of movement, more wealth, etc.

There's a staggering amount of growth, a staggering amount of capital investment.

No system is its perfect ideal (and there are obvious issues today), but things are a lot better than they were in the age of a handful of national companies.


Sure, but that growth and investment did not and will not benefit you, or most anyone else. That 'value' gets aggregated into a vanishingly small group of hyper valuable individuals. In fact, at this stage the meaning of GDP for example is fundamentally decoupled from the actual wealth of the people.

I encourage you to research Mark Blyth's work on generational wealth and check out 'Angrynomics'

https://www.gq.com/story/mark-blyth-economics-interview http://cup.columbia.edu/book/angrynomics/9781788212793


It has and does benefit me directly. Why do you think so many move to the Bay Area or do startups?

As for others that see benefit less directly: https://press.stripe.com/#stubborn-attachments

Growth (when constrained for human rights and environmental protection) is the best way to help the most the fastest.

You see it everywhere, massive reduction of global poverty, infant mortality, etc. Even just things like the ability for almost anyone to have an iPhone and use of Amazon/two day shipping are examples. Inexpensive food is another.


While gp is using slightly emotive language, they didn't at any point say that the feudal structure was bad. A feudal structure is pretty effective in a localised setting where most people know most other people and everyone is happy-enough with the person at the pinacle of the status tree.

The major downsides of old-school feudalism were (1) Doesn't really scale to populations of 200k+ and (2) the We Cannot Get Out problem.

Corporate structure solves both those problems pretty neatly.


Er, nope. Or at least you cannot call this system a democracy of 50% if all decisions are done in a feudal system or are done to appease the lord.


A corporation is not a democracy though, and no one is calling it that. Everyone knows this acutely because they know they have a boss to appease. In contrast, in a government, there's really no "boss" to appease, we choose the leaders.


Indeed.

Really the only difference between feudalism and capitalism is the latter’s ability/freedom to fail. Shitty hierarchical structures are replaced by newly emerging better hierarchical structures. Serfs migrate easily.

All this is basically a consequence of companies & people not being defined by / tied to land (as serfdoms were - basically farms). Rising from agrarian to industrial society is what enabled this.


You can move countries too. It’s meant to be difficult for most (easier for the elite).


Do you mean moving countries is difficult? It is difficult, particularly after a certain age and without the right qualifications.


Well, it is way easier to move from a developed nation to a developing nation. Try the other way around for a challenge.


Indeed. I would say though that while you are contrasting, the parent was comparing. It's a very good analogy for the political dynamic within a company.


This is highly dependent upon your field. You have never been unlucky enough to be trained in a field that then died out.


I'll agree that edge cases can prevent anything from being reasonable or fair, but we can't let perfect be the enemy of good here. I think we're making progress every day towards enabling everyone to have more choice (on average, obviously some days have major setbacks for humanity).


With the major difference that these days a lot of people get to choose their employers. Yes, it's not perfect and not everyone can afford that, but we moved significantly from "you live here, this is your lord".


>With the major difference that these days a lot of people get to choose their employers.

That was true for many in the feudal times too, they could shop around and pledge their allegiance to one or another feudal lord, and even be given a plot of land to cultivate (as long as the lord got their share of the results).

If anything, the feudal lords left them even more to their own devices, and demanded even less of their produce (like 10% was common).

If it wasn't for the lack of technology and modern conveniences and frequent wars and dangers from outside, it would be a pretty good lifestyle...


I can't tell if you're trying to be serious here. It was in no way a good life to be a serf. Life was literally nasty, brutish, and short - even putting aside armed conflict and external dangers.

Lords would extract what they could. A huge part of life for serfs was figuring out how to survive without producing an easily-extractable surplus (because of it could be extracted, it usually would be extracted).


>It was in no way a good life to be a serf. Life was literally nasty, brutish, and short - even putting aside armed conflict and external dangers.

That's the "old wives tale" version.

Life wasn't particularly nasty or brutish, modern scholarship has re-evaluated the Middle Ages, and the "short" part was similar to 19th century levels due to infant mortality (and otherwise similar to 19-century standards), and has little to do with serfdom per se, and all to do with lack of 2-3 things we take for granted (running water, sewage systems, understanding of microbes, etc.).

Heck, even their vacation time was better: https://www.reuters.com/article/idIN2854000020130829

>Lords would extract what they could

For most of history, there was a certain standard. Lords didn't take "all they could", but closer to 10% or so. If they got too greedy the people could align with another lord, and that would mean trouble. Medieval history has lots of such examples.

>even putting aside armed conflict and external dangers.

Which I already covered:

"If it wasn't for the lack of technology and modern conveniences and frequent wars and dangers from outside, it would be a pretty good lifestyle..."


> frequent wars

The vast majority of wars in the Middle Ages would be considered mere skirmishes by modern standards.


Yes, and in many case the 'civilians' were not affected, it was mostly professional armies and mercenaries.

The "popular/people's army" (armies of common folk) come later (though, of course, we have examples of it in the ancient world too, as well as examples where common folk to the short end of the stick during conflict. It was just not that common in feudal times).


And if you are willing to buck the system completely, which as you point out is not compulsory as it was before, you can leave and go live off the land. Unfortunately almost everyone has lost the skill to do this.


> And if you are willing to buck the system completely, which as you point out is not compulsory admit was before, you can leave and go live off the land. Unfortunately almost everyone has lost the skill to do this.

Huh? Whose land? The frontier has been closed for a long time.


Also not much land to freely live off of, unless you have the wealth to secure some already.


A serf cannot 'quit' his lord. An employee can.

Everybody can say 'NO' to the CEO. What you cannot do is agree to exchange your work for his money, and then when he asks you to work, say 'NO'. If you do not wish to work, simply cancel this arrangement.

And the inquisition could BURN YOU ALIVE. HR cannot even physically touch you for fear of the lawsuit.

This comparison is such an insult to the people who had laid the foundation of a modern society, and to those who actually died fighting to defend and maintain such societies, that you should seriously reconsider your position.


> A serf cannot 'quit' his lord. An employee can.

Perhaps the analogy works better for graduate students. Advisors often control a Ph.D. student's academic progress and financial support, and it's very hard to change advisors without starting over from scratch.


> A serf cannot 'quit' his lord. An employee can.

I'm vastly ignorant on the subject, but that makes me wonder if there were any serfs moving to other regions or countries back then, and if so, how that worked out for them.


> A serf cannot 'quit' his lord. An employee can.

An employee thinks they can, in many countries they can't, as there isn't any other job to do.


Oh, give it a rest. You're not actually outraged, you're just jumping on an opportunity to call him a hypocrite. The guy fumbled an analogy. I don't buy that you're that apoplectic about serfs from the 1500s. You get it, I get it, he gets it. It's fine.


I am not angry or outraged. I didnt call him a hypocrite.

People simply lose sight of the luxury and freedom that we have in modern societies. It takes active reflection and a study of history to really appreciate the things we have.

While an improvement to the economics system or the lives of the common man is possible, you cannot do it if you don't have an honest vision of what the current condition is.

So much work has been done to build the modern society. You wouldn't call linux a waste of time because it has bugs, would you?


Make your comparison against an average working american in a poor town with a family. I bet they look closer to serfs than you would care to admit. Absolute freedom has gone up, but that does not mean we don't have 'modern serfdom' for people who can't leave their job for fear of going bankrupt when their medicine costs 2,000 per month.


My friend and I (both females) one the CEO of a tech company and me a Staff Engineer, have talked about how to do HR right and we came up with an idea but havnt done anything with it.

Since HR is clearly biased towards the companies and this has proven to cause a lot of problems, they will never side with you over the company if the company is indeed wrong.

HR should ideally be an independent third party and all issues treated the same way a legal audit would. An org comes in promises to keep things confidential. Objectively assesses the situation, inquires for more info (emails, convos etc) and determines the outcome. If someone needs to be fired and it's a male superior, then so be it.

HR is never going to tell their boss that they should be fired for mistreating another employee for example, if they do not also want to lose their jobs.

In reality it makes sense to have an internal HR for all things like hiring recruiting etc etc etc but when it comes to managing deteriorated relationships between employees it will never be done right unless an independent third party comes into asses.


It's a nice idea, but in practice what would likely happen is the "third party" HR contractors would still generally side with the company, because the company is the one paying them, and if the company doesn't like their decisions, they may stop paying them.


The crux of this hinges around (perceived) "ownership" of the HR service.

It needs to be jointly owned by both the employer and the employee for there to be any chance of an equitable balance between conflicting interests of the company who's paying the bill and the company who's providing HR services, with that of the employee, as outlined in some of the other responses you've received.

Based on the inherent complexity of the above, I think the simplest model would be where an employee is also the employer, ie. ownership of the company by the employee.

This allows for the greater good, the future of the whole company, against the rights of the employee to be balanced within the company.

There are plenty of examples of companies owned by their employees.


A 3rd party HR department is still being paid by the company...

If you want something 3rd party that can be impartial ("sometimes", in quotes) and sit on a table with both company and employee, that's unions.


Unions are not impartial - their power in the company is proportional to the number of unionised employees, so they have an incentive to take your side if you are a member - and against you if you are not. It's more complicated in practice, but impartial they are not.

Arbitration may be impartial ("sometimes"), court system may be impartial ("sometimes") - but you still have to be represented by someone who can navigate these systems.


At least in Italy, your work contract always falls within the general rules established with the unions. At the end of the day, you are somehow unionized. If there is a dispute you can always call an union representative for arbitration. I saw it happen several times, and more or less they were siding with the employees.

I know the issue has 1000 shades of color, but if somehow, someway, in a sunny day, with all the possible luck in the world, someone sides with you in a dispute (and is not a lawyer you are paying), that will be unions.


> At least in Italy, your work contract always falls within the general rules established with the unions. At the end of the day, you are somehow unionized.

That is true in many countries - though there are some (US being one) where non-union employees are ostracized or pushed away from being employed, especially as the law allows exclusive union representation in about half of the states [0]. The unions have been known to argue for union members and sacrificing non-members as part of exclusive bargaining with the company.

> I know the issue has 1000 shades of color, but if somehow, someway, in a sunny day, with all the possible luck in the world, someone sides with you in a dispute (and is not a lawyer you are paying), that will be unions.

That's not being impartial - that is being on your side. Yes, there are conditions in which unions may be on your side (in which case: great, but still bring a lawyer) - but the claim in grandparent post is that they may be impartial, whereas they very rarely are.

[0] https://www.nrtw.org/your-right-to-work-rights-in-three-minu...


Oh. Ok. You are right. I guess with impartial I wanted to mean "someone not siding with the company". I expressed it badly.


I would love to work for a place like this, but I can't imagine a company choosing to pay for this HR service unless forced to by law. They can already get the version of HR that will side with them every time. Why pay money for a version that might rule against you?

That said, I can see an eventual path for this. The "problem companies" definitely won't be interested, at least at first, and the only companies that would choose this are the ones least likely to need it. Given time and publicity, these companies may have an easier time hiring, until eventually there is sufficient pressure on the "problem companies" that they feel they have to change to this to continue to hire.

That might have an okay shot in industries like tech, where you could argue that employees still have a lot of choice in employer. I don't see it working in other industries (that could probably use it a lot more), like the legal industry or food production.


Yup. My point exactly.

Do you think companies want to waste money on 401k matching or healthcare benefits? They don't. They do it because it's either required by law in some capacity and for when it isn't it's because it's such a uniform standard for any nonfledling startup company who wants to hire someone full-time they would look like idiots for not only providing these benefits but providing them from respectable third parties. Over time these things became standardized and highly regulated and that's a good thing.

You're right, if we had to rely on the goodwill of a company this most certainly would not happen. I don't think it would happen overnight but I do believe the best and brightest will go for places who offer competitive advantages and others will follow suit.

If it garners high quality employees then make the company profitable in the same way every startup wants to pretend they are like google with video games and playrooms and brightly colored walls and provided lunches, actually not treating your employees like crap if they have an issue with another employee is also a competitive benefit that could become a trend for any company who wants to be competitive.


That’s what arbitration is supposed to be. Independent. Yet, it’s not. If you don’t side with the org that butters your bread, you lose the contract.


Good point but if this went mainstream it could be considered a requirement the same way a good growing company behind a fledgling startup will never get away with hiring people full-time unless they supply a healthcare plan and other standard benefits most employees at respectable companies receive, to the point there is no chance they could not be competitive with out them.

And that's the thing really. They could be required to have them, so then it's just a matter of which ones are competitive to the employees.

I would love to apply to a company, ask who their third party HR is and say oh man that one SUCKS and everyone knows it. Sorry, gonna take a job at this other company who had external HR with much better rankings, the same way I might for more competitive healthcare plans or benefits between to equally competitive jobs.

Of course companies do not want to spend money on things like 401k matching healthcare and the otherwise but they will if enough companies do it to the point they look sketchy if they do not only provide these benefits but provide these benefits through respectable third parties.


Yeh bit arbitration is something that has to be escalated to, and something one employee is not well versed or capable of paying the fees for in relation to the company. I wouldn't say arbitration is the equivalent of my idea which is access to external legal help by default with a fair assessment.

There are definitely metrics by which these parties could be ranked but sure there would be issues with gaming these metrics. For example if there as a legal requirement to accurately report across many companies how many times during an internal issue the person not in the superior position was fired vs the superior despite reporting something like sexual assault or racism or something like this, and the company says 100% of the time we agreed the superior did nothing wrong and 75% of the time the complainant magically failed their performance review and is no longer with the company within 6months of this.

Well that is a pretty bad metric.

There are definitely ways to report metrics anonymously and the results and legally can inquire if they reported the outcome accurately.

Carts is stating to do this with money. They are reporting how much money women and minorities have in equity vs white males, and eventually will break it down by position which means yeh if most women work in HR and I'm a senior engineer yeh probs women will have less equity, but next yr they will expand and show things like all staff level software developers, this is the breakdown of men vs women equity in tech companies....

That's a number I would love to see. And it would say alot.

So there are ways to make this better even if it's not an easy fix. Requiring companies to provide healthcare and 401k plans did not happen overnight Im sure, but noone would take a company seriously without these benefits for long.


In the Netherlands, where I am, it's a requirement of companies over a certain size to have a "works council", which is something like, but not quite, a union. It's made up of employees and they are legally empowered to be a go-between between employees and the company if required.

This year, for example, the council members where I work have been very busy ensuring that company plans for layoffs were as fair to employees as it was possible to be, by doing things like ensuring that if someone could be moved to another role they were, that the voluntary layoff system was suitable, and so forth.

There are also unions which are cross-company and were involved to a lesser degree in this process, providing advice and specialist support, consulting with members, and so on.


I was fired once in one of the worst ways possible. It came as a total surprise.

My boss and my boss’s boss booked a meeting with me at 17:00 in an external meeting room. My boss’s boss did the actual firing. My direct boss just sat there like a sad puppy.

They handed me a piece of paper and I signed it. I was still in shock. I was escorted to my desk to collect my things and then taken to the head of HR for my “exit interview”.

I told her the whole story and she actually seemed shocked herself. I think I spent over an hour with her, holding back tears, explaining “I wasn’t even told what I did wrong. What am I supposed to do now?”

She told me that she thought what the company was wrong. It didn’t change anything but it meant something at least, considering the state I was in.

I noticed from her LinkedIn that she left the company a couple of months later as well.


Oh yeh for sure. I've had an HR women on the phone with me crying because she's so disturbed ny what happened but she had to pretend like she wasn't infront of my boss. She even told me 1:1 the man who refused to let me speak also refused to speak to her it was beneath him and he had another male deliver the message to her to fire me.

In the end she was useless to me and powerless and had as much power ad a caged parrot.

If they are not evil they are simply in control of determining nothing and just a euphemistic liaison for corporate abuse.

I have many war stories from companies like these. Never sign the paperwork right away. I was once given 23minutes to sign a severence agreement and found out later they violated state law: 21 days plus a 7 day walk back, and broke federal law by saying I couldn't have cobra health insurance if I didn't promise to shut up.

Typically a shut up you little bitch document also known as a separation agreement holds severence pay hostage, not healthcare. They also fired me days before I vested my equity and didn't tell me why. In my state you can fire anyone for any reason. They don't have to tell you why. Yeh it's really messed up.

Corporations are like small abusive dictatorships. Just try to find a decent one with good work who is successful enough to be focused on good engineering or whatever it is you do they don't need to bully and tear people down to protect themselves and get by in life.


Sigh. I'm so sorry you had to deal with that.


I think it's an interesting idea.

Although, it does remind me of reading about the rush to judgment that killed Nortel. While not totally related, the inciting incident is something along the lines of something appeared a little weird in a financial statement. To avoid even a perception of impropriety, nortel hired a top outside firm to investigate whether there was anything wrong.

The resulting investigation according to the author led to a chain of events and witch hunt that led to the downfall of Nortel and needless criminal prosecution of executives.

Anyways, probably not so much a comment on the idea itself, but more just a thought on possible outcomes when the process goes wrong, whether internal or external.


Sure that's an entertaining outlier anecdote.

I think it's better than the current state of things which is: if the company is wrong and covering it up requires some disadvantage to you vs doing the right thing. 100% of these times you are screwed as an employee.

It also wouldn't be a witch hunt anymore than current HR investigations. Just performed by an objective third party.


There are outsourced HR management companies, that hardly changes anything, the company is still the one paying their contract.


HR should ideally be an independent third party and all issues treated the same way a legal audit would

This exists, it’s called “binding arbitration” and it is heavily biased towards the company because they pay its bills.


I would very much recommend Private Government by Elizabeth Anderson (specifically, chapter 2).

It's a relatively short read, and very relevant to your comment. Personally, I found the book quite enlightening, it gives a very different perspective to the jobs landscape than the one we usually have. An uncomfortable perspective, but one I feel one that is much more accurate.


Just read. Great chapter. Highly recommend.


Seconded.


News flash:

There is always a boss.

8-5 job: Your manager is your boss.

Manager: Your senior manager is your boss.

Senior Manager: Your CEO is the boss.

CEO: Board of directors are your bosses. Shareholders too.

Investors: Are they the real boss!? No. ROI is the boss. All the variables that make them successful are their bosses.

Bootstrapped Startup?: Customers are the boss. PR is the boss. Ask founders how tied up and enslaved they are after they've invested time and effort into building a product or service.

Everyone has a boss: At the end, nature is your boss. Can’t escape death.

This is how the society works.

We are under a crazy tyranny of nature as replication machines mindlessly optimizing for resources.


On lower levels all the higher ups are still your bosses to some exteny, you just have no visibility into how their decisions affect you. The lower you are on the hierarchy, the more bosses you have, and the less you have to show for it.


I would argue that the boss is the easiest position to automate.


Come on, this is counterfactual hyperbole. In actual feudalism, if you disagreed with the king he could arbitrarily kill you or jail you.

Sure, corporations are lame and if you work for one you're a cog in a machine, I agree it can suck. But it's crazy to suggest that this somehow invalidates democracy.

The first job of a functioning government is to establish a monopoly on violence and prevent it from being used against the people. Sure there are times when modern democratic governments fail at this but they do a pretty good job of making sure that Jeff Bezos can't literally murder his lowly serfs when they get out of line. He can take their jobs but he can't take their lives and that's a far cry from how things worked in the Inquisition.

When you make spurious claims like implying that we don't live in a democracy, you're dishonouring the millions of people throughout history who wrested power away from the kings and warlords of the past, bit by bit, and built a system which at least places a few limits on its most powerful members.


> arbitrarily kill you or jail you

At least in some countries, if you have a life-threatening medical condition and you lose your job, you're at a significant risk of death.

Just because you have it easy, doesn't mean everyone does. Billions of people are terrified of losing their jobs, because that means starvation or a slow painful death from a disease they can no longer afford to treat.

I worked with an Indian woman that was worked so hard that she had a spontaneous abortion. On a Sunday. And was made to go back to work that same day.


I think you place too much emphasis on violence. As there are things worse than death or physical harm. Just as the face of war changed from a physical one to an economic one.

Democratic nation with a strong Oligarchy. Who over years forged q corpocracy that obfuscate such via citizens united. The basis in which we operate is democratic, but popular public policies are rarely enacted.

As to why you put too much emphasis on violence. Think of labor the united states has thanks to corporal punishment. Why waste labor?

In the end it doesn't matter too much as even the beginnings of a GAI would derail such a system. Think on the idiocy at the capital the other day and the post truth aspect that spurred it on.


I don't agree that there is anything worse than death.


https://www.livescience.com/55606-health-states-worse-than-d...

Something about opinions being treated as facts is part of a post truth society. I don't like what you said, therefore is false. It's a trend that to me is worse than death when it comes to discourse.


> But it's crazy to suggest that this somehow invalidates democracy.

I wouldn't say it's crazy. Your employer can just schedule you to work on election day, forcing you to choose between participating in democracy and not starving. Heck, I would go so far as to say that Covid elected Joseph Biden. If mail voting wasn't made so widespread, it's entirely possible that not enough people would have gone to the polls and we would be stuck with the fucking angry orange for another 4 years.


Are we talking about work or life? Sure, private companies aren't democracies, but why should they be? Democracies are extremely inefficient. Imagine if Linux or Python projects were run as democracies and not lead by BDFLs? I can't imagine them being nearly as effective because democratic processes to get new features would always be gridlocked. Benevolent dictators are 10x, maybe even 100x more efficient than democracies.

Outside of work I certainly live in a free society. I can walk up to a rich person ("a lord") and insult him to his face and nothing will happen.


>Are we talking about work or life? Sure, private companies aren't democracies, but why should they be? Democracies are extremely inefficient.

Isn't the common argument of economists that democracies are more efficient? (I do believe they're just paying service to their own governments, and just say what gets them grants and such, but in any case, that's the conventional wisdom).

Plus, democracies are "less efficient" compared to what dictatorship that did better than a democracy?

The main counter-example that comes to mind is China, and even them are mainly effective because of huge population and low labor costs, by being the place to outsource production by those democracies that can pay for it.

>I can't imagine them being nearly as effective because democratic processes to get new features would always be gridlocked.

Grid-locked by what? The purpose of voting in a democracy is to remove gridlocks. You don't even have to vote for everything, you can vote on a platform, and can delegate power for a certain time to someone to make the decisions, and then judge how they performed, and vote again after the period ended.

>Outside of work I certainly live in a free society. I can walk up to a rich person ("a lord") and insult him to his face and nothing will happen.*

You'd be surprised.

Plus, they can crush your neighborhood (e.g. to throw the tenants out and build some monstrocity), cajole with your lawmakers, fuck your working life, pollute your city/countryside/water supply, and usually nothing will happen.

And if they really cared, they could trivially have you killed, with nothing happening. It's just not worth the small risk of them being tied to it. But they hire legal teams and detectives to throw dirt at their enemies all the time..


> Grid-locked by what? The purpose of voting in a democracy is to remove gridlocks.

Well I suppose in a "pure" democracy where voting decides everything there is no gridlock, but those types of systems usually suck because there are no checks or balances, and whoever buys up the most votes wins. Most western nations are not governed by pure democracies. USA is a federal republic with 3 systems of government that check and balance each other and they get gridlocked all the time.

> And if they really cared, they could trivially have you killed, with nothing happening

I wouldn't say "with nothing happening". Something would definitely happen. If you're OJ Simson and the prosecution botches your case, then sure "nothing happened" (besides the millions you spent on lawyers and bad PR). But even OJ wasn't untouchable - he spent around a decade in prison later for other felonies. What about Jeffery Epstein? Harvey Weinstein? Yeah, their money buffered them for decades, but justice eventually caught them in its jaws.


>I wouldn't say "with nothing happening". Something would definitely happen. If you're OJ Simson and the prosecution botches your case, then sure "nothing happened"

OJ did it himself. A millionaire/billionaire could outsource this in tons of different ways, including totally untracable.

In some historical cases (including in western countries, never mind a place like e.g. Mexico) they could even get the police to do that for them...


> Outside of work I certainly live in a free society. I can walk up to a rich person ("a lord") and insult him to his face and nothing will happen.

If you really think that’s true, do it on camera. Upload it to YouTube. Let it go viral. See something happens.


Like this you mean? https://youtu.be/FF-tKLISfPE


That was 1997 at a conference. There was no social media or cancel culture.

My point is that you can be fired for insulting the wrong rich or the wrong anybody if it’s caught on camera and gets enough views and it brings shame to your lord. You’re not free when you clock out or leave the office. As an employee, you’re a representative of your company 24/7 whether you like it or not.


And what an artful response.


I would love to know where you're pulling the 10x or 100x efficiency stats on dictatorships, and what exactly are the sectors of the dictatorship that are more efficient?

Also, it seems like your definition of freedom has no responsibility attached to the actions. Yes, you may be able to do as you wish, but so can others onto you(especially if they have more leverage).


> Outside of work I certainly live in a free society.

Only if you define freedom as the capacity to do whatever is allowed or at least not expressly prohibited by the state without legal consequence. Fortunately no one defines it that way. You cannot be simultaneously free and subject to state power. Companies simply add another layer atop the restrictions to freedom imposed by the state. You might feel freer outside of work, but don't make the mistake of thinking you are free.

Being satisfied with temporary respite from greater restrictions imposed at work is hardly something you should celebrate. Slaves in antebellum America enjoyed free time as well, presumably many were intelligent and self-aware enough to resent their situation despite this.


> Only if you define freedom as the capacity to do whatever is allowed or at least not expressly prohibited by the state without legal consequence

So how do you define freedom? Anarchy?


It is not defined as such, but it certainly only seems possible in the absence of the state. One well known dictionary phrases the relevant definition as "the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action". Many nation states (although the US is the worst offender in this regard) and those whose interests a given state protects, have quite successfully convinced their citizenry to celebrate the limitations placed upon them and further to mislabel these limitations as freedom.


Linux and Python are both projects where people can vote with their feet, though. The projects themselves are not a democracy, but they're certainly not the same sort of ballgame as employment. If I decide my management chain is doing the wrong thing, there's a huge personal cost to finding another job, and little guarantee it will be better. If I decide Linux is doing the wrong thing, I can just stop using it or contributing to it.

That is - the fact that Linux and Python have BDFLs is not the reason for their success. The fact that they have effective BDFLs who make sound decisions that actually work is the reason for their success. And the BDFLs only have power insofar as the community still believes in them - Guido stepped down and Linus has faced significant opposition.

BDFLs and traditional corporate governance are quite efficient, yes. But democracy doesn't aim to be efficient; it promises to be pointed in the right direction. There's no sense in going at 100x speed in the wrong direction. Democracy isn't the only way to get there - if you have tangible data about leadership and where they're pointed and how they make decisions, and the cost of switching is fairly low (so that you can keep pressure on leadership), that works too.

When was the last time you had any data about how effective your management chain would be when you started your job?

(I'm happy in my current job because I asked hard questions about management at each place I interviewed, and I found one where my own management chain seemed to have good people - but even so, only one person in my management chain is still the same as when I interviewed, so I still took a gamble, and I had far less data on any of them from a bit over a day of interviews than anyone has on Linus or Guido.)


Why the downvotes!?

It's obviously true that being banned from contributing to an important project can be saddening and in rare occasions harm your career, but it happens very rarely.

OTOH losing your job can be way more serious consequences and happens way more often, even without any blame on the employee (e.g. a company shutdown)

And on top of that, a project BDFL cannot order inactive contributors to do some work under threat of banning them.


OTOH, look at how successful Rust has been with its extremely democratic RFC system for new features.


There are degrees of democracy (as I think your comment rightly points out).

Maximum democracy in this case might be, the RFCs are written by anyone, work on features is started when people vote to start it, and there is widely distributed veto/filibuster power.

A bit less democracy might be that the maintainers select the ten proposals they feel are best, and put them to a vote for people to choose.

I just read a really good book on this topic called "10% Less Democracy". I'd highly recommend it. It shows how "maximum democracy" usually isn't the best setting, at least for governments. Their proposal for tax is interesting: write a 4-page bill in Congress that outlines the % of income to be collected, and maybe some amount each decile should pay, and an unelected tax body (like the IRS) figures out how to make that happen, as cheaply and transparently as possible.


> There are degrees of democracy

No, it's not a thermometer. There are many, complex shapes and dimensions.


I wouldn't describe the Rust processes as democracy. The team members are the ones to decide on RFCs, and they are not elected. Their "appointment" is more a meritocracy.


Success in one domain, doesn't guarantee long term success.

Rust still needs to win a spot on major OS developer SDKs, industry standards for HPC, GPGPUs, embedded certifications.


>Outside of work I certainly live in a free society. I can walk up to a rich person ("a lord") and insult him to his face and nothing will happen.

They could cough on you while unmasked.


A less dramatic way to put this might be: the person who is paying the bill is the person who gets to decide. In a large company this may be some manager who controls the budget your compensation comes out of. If you’re an independent contractor this is your client. If you’re hiring a person to paint your apartment, this is you.

Arguably, this is as it should be. Taken to its logical conclusion the alternative would mean that nobody is entitled to make a decision about anything without taking a referendum on the matter.

Reasonable people will be interested in informed input from the people they employ, but it should not be surprising that in the end the painter you hired doesn’t get a vote on the color you want your bathroom.


>the person who is paying the bill is the person who gets to decide.

Paying the bill with money made by who? Sure, in the case of independent contractors the money is coming out of someone's pocket, but in most structured companies (which is what GP is talking about), the money comes from the people making and pushing the product. In real terms, the employees are the ones paying the bill.

>Taken to its logical conclusion the alternative would mean that nobody is entitled to make a decision about anything without taking a referendum on the matter.

That's literally just an argument against democracy, which we have, as a society, come to the conclusion is a generally good thing. (Well, fascists disagree, but society also has opinions on them.)

>Reasonable people will be interested in informed input from the people they employ, but it should not be surprising that in the end the painter you hired doesn’t get a vote on the color you want your bathroom.

You're conflating the relationship as a client and the relationship as an employer. You get to tell them what color paint to use, but not what type of ladder or brushes to use, or whether they're allowed to use the bathroom, sit while working, or eat lunch.


>A less dramatic way to put this might be: the person who is paying the bill is the person who gets to decide.

Well, the reason they're "paying the bill" is because they have the money and you don't.

Which is as good as the King having gold and army, and you, the serf not.

>Arguably, this is as it should be. Taken to its logical conclusion the alternative would mean that nobody is entitled to make a decision about anything without taking a referendum on the matter.

If only we weren't forced by the laws of nature to take things to their "logical conclusion" (i.e. their exaggerated slippery slope ending), but could instead use some moderation and judgment, but still come with something better than strict hierachical dominance in companies...

If only...


> Taken to its logical conclusion the alternative would mean that nobody is entitled to make a decision about anything without taking a referendum on the matter.

I think a much more generous reading would be that taken to it's natural conclusion this would mean that leaders in the workplace would govern more by consent and not by fiat based on their ability to wield economic power within the corporate structure as lever to coerce workers in to faithfully executing their commands no matter how ridiculous or counter-productive.

Corporations are constituted entirely by laws which evolve under democratic processes and those laws have already been used to limit, structure, and shape the power that corporate managers hold. They cannot defraud investors, they cannot imprison or lash their employees and so on. So is it really unimaginable that there might be some kind of democratic legal reform that would place other limits on their powers without requiring death by a million referenda? I don't think so.

In fact, I think there's probably every reason to believe that, if anything, shareholders would be even better served by preventing executives and middle management from building fiefdoms loyal to them personally which are often not really in-line with the goals of the institution.


Very on point. We have democracy on a government level and have 1 day in 2 years to select our representatives. For the rest of the time we have to please our boss, that we have not much say about and that has a lot of power about economic circumstances.

Yes, we can always find another boss, but mentally on day to day basis it is not that different to dictatorship.


A recent observations my co-founders and I also made are that companies are basically authoritarian regimes. This is probably necessary during the startup phase, but perhaps less so as the company matures.

Is there a precedent for moving from dictatorship/authoritarianism to democracy for company governance as it grows? One movement that shows up on the radar are zebras (vs. unicorns).

An analogy for this comes from the founding fathers of the USA. Washington had a lot of power as effectively the "CEO" of America, but gave up his power after 2 terms and further encouraged democratic governance and peaceful transfer of power.


This is not an inevitable outcome. As company's get bigger they often find that checks and balances and democratic norms will be necessary and effective. Command and control is really effective as some scales and breaks down at others. As Aristotle said, all forms of government have a good and corrupt form. Select the right form under the circumstances and strive to make it operate well.


The word you are looking for is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worker_cooperative

Unsurprisingly, dictatorial and democratic companies don't want to cooperate with each other.

And in many societies, the latter are a small minority so they struggle to survive.


Serfs were literally bound to the land. They could be bought sold and conveyed and were not allowed to leave.

Say what you will about companies and inequality or lack of representation; that may have merit, but you can quit with two weeks notice. Serfs were not afforded those rights.


Democracy exists or should exist outside the companies, creating the laws that constrain contract law.

Companies are basically one person (at the top) trading money for work with the people doing what they are paid for. The person doing the work could of course say hey I don't want to do this job I want to do something else instead but I want you to still pay me the same amount, or more. That wouldn't really be about democracy would it?

Employee protection laws are a different matter and are possible because we live in a democratic society, if we do.

One huge step towards democracy would be universal healthcare, which would make it easier for people to quit the job they don't think they should be doing.


Corporations are legally constituted. A society should be allowed to decide whether they want to grant corporations a license to operate or not and, if so, then under what conditions. After all, you can freely chose to accept the limitations of your corporate charter, or you can take a lovely hike without being granted one at all.

I don't think anybody is seriously suggesting that employees be able to do whatever they want without limit and still be entitled to a pay cheque from a corporation.

Just as nobody would suggest that some despicable organisation be granted a legal charter to perform some anti-social, destructive, or massively wasteful activities... (sarcasm alert!) :)

But I think that, despite taking different routes, we arrive at the same conclusion that, yes, there are also positive legislative actions that could be taken (healthcare, UBI, others) which would effectively incentivize decent corporate behaviour without needing to set specific new rules or limits.


There is a huge problem with you comparing a feudal system to an inclusive democracy

At least in the feudal system the peasants knew their energy would not amount to changing anything!

All we have now is lifelong cognitive dissonance after children are told they have a say.


If anything, the modern corporation is modelled after military with squad/platoon/company structure. You have people in the trenches, you have HQ rats/architects. Sometimes you have commissars ;)


What I wonder: is a well run feudal system more successful business wise than a democracy? A democracy sounds nice but I have experienced that it slows down a business because everybody wants to participate and speak their mind. No decision is accepted but constantly challenged. Progress is slowed down. Maybe we just did “the wrong way”. But still.

On the other hand the most successful company on this planet Apple is clearly not run as a democracy. So, I really wonder if a hierarchical system works better if you want to have a successful business.


There's a wealth of statistical data that shows that cooperatives are more resilient and stable than classical owner run enterprise, here's a Stanford paper citing a lot of good sources on it[1].

Largely the reason so few businesses are cooperatives is because if you are an active participant in the founding of a business its in your own self interest to retain as much power over it as possible, which leads you to want to establish a dictatorship rather than a democracy - even if you aren't the founder / owner / CEO, being a first generation "lord" of the company will net you much greater bounty if it succeeds than if your compensation was dictated by a majority of your peerage.

That and absolutely nobody knows what cooperatives even are. Establishing a complex managerial democracy is way excessive for mom and pop shops or businesses with less than a half dozen employees and then those dictatorships scale up into larger and larger enterprises with no incentive to transition away from top down power structures. The benefits are largely for those who, under the current regime, have no power or say anyway, and thus the utility of more stable, productive, or resilient businesses is lost when it would cost the founders and owners their potential for ludicrous wealth and unquestionable power.

[1] https://siepr.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/...


Largely the reason so few businesses are cooperatives is because if you are an active participant in the founding of a business its in your own self interest to retain as much power over it as possible

There is no reason a software company couldn’t operate like a law firm or architecture firm with “partners”. It just doesn’t because software developers are too focused to the technical aspects and ignore the bigger picture.


Interesting. Can you name large successful companies run as a democracy / cooperative? Apple, Google, Amazon etc. are clearly very hierarchical.


It's not that hard to find a list of the largest ones in the US, they collectively represent about 200bn in revenue: https://www.thenews.coop/122959/sector/usas-top-100-co-opera...


Thanks. These almost all either agriculture or grocery companies. I was looking for a list of tech companies since that’s what I’m interested in and what’s usually discussed here.


It is important to understand that in a lot of ways, corporations are completely contrary to how we like to see the world. We want democracy, but corporations are often essentially feudal, like you say. We like the free market, but internal economies of corporations are entirely plan-economy.

I often wonder if we shouldn't just ban large corporations. Make everything small business.


Not sure where to draw the line between big and small, but instead of the current notion of employment which for wage slavery is a very apt term, society should look into worker owned businesses and/or collaboratives.


You know, now I wonder why hiring isn't bottom up. Most companies have higher levels find lower levels, but what if it was the other way around? Could this actually create more profitable companies? Ones that would be better run?


Luckily we do have freedom to quit and change our jobs, whereas feudal serfdom was essentially trapped by debt and servitude. The history of the ever-evolving common worker is fascinating! How far we've come!


Work isn’t life anymore. That’s where the serfdom analogy breaks down.

I am utterly subservient to those to whom I report. I obediently tug my forelock to HR all the way from 8am to 4:30pm but at that point I turn off my company devices and am my own person.

If you draw a $200k salary and work until bed-time in a shared flat with no garden then I suppose it’s a different story — one of the chattel post-grad SWE — but at least you have $300 a day on which to live.


If melodrama was a comment.


> If we believe in democracy, then allowing the economy to run by a patchwork of private command structures, with no internal democracy or accountability, should make our stomachs turn. Alexis de Tocqueville once asked; “can it be believed that the Democracy which has overthrown the Feudal system and vanquished Kings, will retreat before tradesmen and capitalists?”. The question he poses requires an address, and not all are shy to the challenge.

https://newsyndicalist.org/2017/09/30/union-cooperative-stra...


Cynical but sadly true.


Difference is that for most of the serfs, it is possible to switch feudals and kings much more easily than in the olden days. And even in the last decades this mobility especially worldwide, has increased. This is very hopeful I think as in the coming century this should slowly move people to a more positive place, all things considered.

Coming from the startup world, I used to investigate those issues quite deeply, as in “how do you run an organization that would be different, better”. One of the most interesting works in that area for me was “Reinventing Organizations” by Laloux. (https://www.reinventingorganizations.com) it kinda studies if this is even possible and what would organizations like that look like. TLDR it is possible and there are quite a few real world examples. Hopefully more and more each decade.


your analogy falls apart at "serfs".


You can quit your job, though. And you can negotiate with management. The only reason you are a serf is because you choose to be one. (Spare me the "many people can't afford to quit their job" comments - save money, or look for a better job)


It's not feudal until people can't leave to go elsewhere.

People can leave tho so please stop abusing the word 'feudal'


By that argument our government is also a feudal system because there's a king (the president, prime minister, etc.) in charge. Most people would argue that the ability to choose the "king" and replace the "king" provides a key distinction. Likewise with an employer you can change your employer which provides a key distinction from a feudal system.


Changing your employer is more akin to emigrating in your feudal example. "Choosing a new king" - the way we do it in democracies - corresponds to voting for a new CEO. Some democratic/worker owned companies do that.


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