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Cost of Attrition (benjiweber.co.uk)
255 points by benjiweber 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 163 comments





I’ve come to think a certain amount of attrition is needed to keep a product and the individuals working on it healthy. Back in my consulting days I worked with a few enterprise software companies that had a lot of highly tenured employees (think 10+ years). All the long-timers I met were skilled fiefdom builders with a strong bias toward opposing every change and maintaining the technical status quo because a lot of their value was in their vast knowledge of the way things already are. Without attrition you end up accumulating people you don’t want. Overall it seems like a path to ossification/stagnation for your people and product.

From the individual perspective, staying too long slows down your rate of learning because you aren’t coming into contact with new people and technology at the same rate. Anecdotal, but lately I’ve interviewed some 8+ year tenured candidates that I wouldn’t rate above SWE II because it was literally a “one year of experience 10 times” situation. I try to change things up every 4 years or so to avoid ending up this way myself.


I noticed early in my career that relentless refactoring ended up as de facto empire building because some people would just give up on tracking the changes I was making and abdicated that domain to me.

I think I have a very different way of organizing knowledge, where I worry more about how to answer questions than knowing the answers. This makes me very popular with young and new employees, and quite unpopular with those who think you make Important Decisions by locking everyone in a room until they are made. Oh and using a computer in a meeting is disrespectful so we will make all decisions from memory, then have another meeting when we discover our memory was faulty.


What is your argument that encouraging attrition would cause these people to leave rather than the employees you might value more? That is, why wouldn’t doing things that lead to higher attrition lead to having a all the people you want leaving and the people you don’t want continuing to stay because e.g. it is harder for them to go elsewhere.

I think you have to fire them. If you just non-selectively "do things that lead to higher attrition", you're right, you're going to lose the best employees and just make things worse. It's painful and it's actively painful in a way that "let's just not pay so much everyone sticks around forever". You'd have to yank out someone that has convinced everyone they're essential to the company, but they're mostly essential through a situation they created.

I wouldn't overapply this though. I think terminal mid-levels might be undervalued in a way. A separate conversation, but I think "developer assistant" could be a role in the way "dental assistant" is (but not as much based on gatekeeping).


This is only necessary for single-product companies. Otherwise, just do mandatory career broadening assignments like the military does. You have to learn about and work on many parts of many stacks and regularly change teams and product lines. There is no need to fire people to keep them working in one position forever and building fiefdoms.

Heck, militaries even have interbranch and even international exchange programs. There is no reason in principle companies can't do the same and temporarily trade out employees every now and again to learn how things work elsewhere. It would have to be subject to pretty strict NDAs and limitation of sensitive data access, but given the sensitivity of classified defense data, if the military can make it work, private companies should be able to make it work, too.


That handles the specific problem of people not broadening their skills and I certainly wouldn't say that firing people is the best way to get more perspectives in your company. There's a general question of how to get rid of employees that are entrenched, want to stay, but aren't providing enough value.

I don’t know what goes on in manager meetings, but I think it’s a little too convenient that in many orgs very senior ICs get forced into management positions, which has the same effect. Trying to be both is politically and emotionally fraught, and some people hate it and quit.

You might say it’s constructive dismissal at its sneakiest.


I believe in early days Amazon(and possibly even now) Bezos did not want employees to stay for more than 2 years, for the hope that Amazon was a stepping stone to other places for people.

> From the individual perspective, staying too long slows down your rate of learning because you aren’t coming into contact with new people and technology at the same rate. Anecdotal, but lately I’ve interviewed some 8+ year tenured candidates that I wouldn’t rate above SWE II because it was literally a “one year of experience 10 times” situation. I try to change things up every 4 years or so to avoid ending up this way myself.

Should be noted, this is applicable to the same position specifically, not any one company. Some of the best engineers in the world have only ever worked at places like Google, Microsoft, an academic institution, etc, but they make sure they're constantly learning, working with new teams, switching to new positions once they've mastered their previous one, etc. In many cases these folks actually have a big leg up vs new external hires due to product and institutional knowledge, while also constantly learning new technologies.


> All the long-timers I met were skilled fiefdom builders with a strong bias toward opposing every change and maintaining the technical status quo because a lot of their value was in their vast knowledge of the way things already are.

So all German IT organizations? :)


I worked at the US hq of a .DE manufacturing company, and can attest to this.

My team was about 3 people (Americans, with our manager having worked in the German HQ for a few decades), who worked mostly on separate projects, and most of the headaches I had were due to change being opposed. I would try to do something, or request some sort of access to perform some task, and would get blocked by red tape that wasn't made visible until I was being told that I wasn't following a process that wasn't explained to me in advance.

There was one person whose sole task was managing the company-wide JIRA instance. If you wanted your team's board structured slightly differently, good luck. When I requested permissions to create a Component, the denial went to my manager instead of me, and I got a stern talking-to about 'the way things need to be done'.

On top of that, for a team of 3 people working on projects that are exploratory in nature, I'd expect that the local SQL server install (We didn't have the license key anymore, btw) would allow for us to have admin or developer rights. It originally did, until someone decided to change it, and I was the only member of the team who lacked that access.

I tolerated it for about 2.5 years (First job), but Covid gave me a great reason to quit!


I think some developers don't realize that corporations have a target attrition rate and it is fairly easy for them to enforce.

I would say that Attrition actually benefits employees and companies. The Employees who stay take a pay cut each year either to inflation or to the fact they just don't get paid more. Employees get better pay once they change jobs and companies get to have new people at a lower rate and they in turn may have a different perspective. Avoiding change I think it isn't necessarily the people who will stay for long periods of time but it might be corporate culture instead.


Depending upon the specifics, there probably tends to be some happy medium (from both a company and employee perspectives) between constant churn and very little change over the course of a couple decades. There are exceptions of course.

Can companies get around this by active transfers? This doesn’t work everywhere.

That’s maybe why most stock starts vesting after a year (when employees become very effective) and stops after 4 years.

While the point seems worthwhile, the animations don't help at all.

Stuff moves around for no reason (some graph layouting algorithm with easing I guess), the looping is bad and it's annoying to wait for the changes and as they happen instantly

A simple picture for each transition would have been simpler to implement and actually showed something.


And on mobile (iPhone), it seems to be impossible to scroll down on the animations themselves, only on the text. I had to stop reading the article at some point as I could no longer scroll down…

I appreciated the visualisation. My CPU fan, on the other hand, was not a big fan.

Most CPU fans are little.

I found the animations helpful and they conveyed the ideas in the text to me well.

yeah, the animations gave me a headache. Stopped reading the article

The author's points are absolutely correct.

However, I don't think that it makes any difference.

The entire industry has now shaped itself into a transient, mercenary, loyalty-free community.

It will take a long time to change that.

A lot of the trouble is the "You go first." mentality. Who will be the one to stay at a company for many years, getting only 3% raises; regardless of their performance, as their company's CEO keeps raking in millions of dollars, and lives a lavish, high-profile life?

Who will be the company that starts to treat their employees in a manner that proves they are worth staying at? This may mean higher pay raises, the CEO taking some of their profit (and the shareholders and VCs), and sharing it with the employees. Letting employees unionize, etc.

As people or companies are doing that, their competitors are running riot; acting as selfish, destructive and greedy as always. Many times, the competitors can crush the people trying to do the right thing.

So that generally means that governments need to step in, and help the people and companies to do the right thing.

As everyone knows, that's pretty much a non-starter, these days.

The tech industry makes crazy money. When an industry makes money like that, everyone "looks the other way," at truly awful behavior. The finance industry has been like that, for decades. Whereas industries that don't make much money, like public education, social services, etc., are regulated up the wazoo, with an iron fist.

I was a manager for over 25 years. I feel that I was a good one. My employees seemed to agree. I kept many of them on board for decades, and these were folks that could walk out the door, and get huge pay raises (my company paid "competitive" salaries). I certainly never made that much, compared to what people are doing, these days. many new hires out of college make more than I ever did, as a senior manager.

I worked hard at being a good manager; and that often meant working around a company with a fairly rapacious HR policy (HR was run by lawyers). Most folks here, would (and have) sneer at me, for staying so long, and for doing the things that I needed to do, in order to be a good manager.

In my case, it was personal Integrity thing. I have a really stringent Personal Code. I know that's unusual, and we can't expect it from most managers.


Well said!

Companies destroyed employee loyalty - by letting people go while paying bonuses to executives, by giving 3% raises while offering way higher salaries to new hires, by saying "we are a family here" only when they need employees to make sacrifices.

From the perspective of an engineering manager, attrition sucks. Whenever a season engineer leaves my team, I dread the next couple of weeks, because there's a chance others will follow. The hiring and onboarding is draining and often slows down the whole team for months. But whenever someone tells me they're leaving, I tell them I understand it. They need to think about their own career.

Employers destroyed the loyalty and they need to fix it.


> Employers destroyed the loyalty and they need to fix it.

I agree. I don't think that there's any incentive to do that, though.


There's a lot of incentive. The problem is HR and employers have decided to turn a blind eye to it in favor of looking at the next quarter.

Why give someone a 10% raise because the market has spoken when you might be able to retain them with a 5% raise? Even if you hire new employees at a premium, some contingent of older employees will stick around just because switching jobs is a hassle. This sort of thing drives down quarterly costs which ultimately makes you look good to shareholders who can't see the internal destruction.


Reducing attrition is a good incentive, especially these days. Whether it's enough is another question.

Do companies care? Their solution seems to be to hire more recruiters.

My wife is a tech recruiter, my bread gets buttered on both sides. It's a really funny market.

Don’t forget or discount the destruction of the social contract between employer and employee. Massive layoffs, insolvent pensions, etc were just the start.

Employees used to get pensions, have reasonable work hours, a reliable schedule and could afford to have a parent stay home in their 3-4 bedroom house on an acre.

When all that goes away and I have to work harder for less than my parents got then what is the point of being loyal to psychopathic companies with excruciatingly well documented histories of treating employees like interchangeable chattel? Loyalty ain’t gonna give these monsters any pause when they put the squeeze on me and the other numbers on their screen while they fantasize about how to blow their ill gotten gains.


> Employees used to get pensions, have reasonable work hours, a reliable schedule and could afford to have a parent stay home in their 3-4 bedroom house on an acre.

Pensions are not relevant anymore. I see no reason to pay a defined benefit pension fund’s employees and expenses when I can simply buy VOO or a target date fund at one of many brokerages for basically free. And I get to avoid the risk of a corrupt employee of the employer messing with it, or to risk the employer not being around 50 years later.

The other parts of the post have so many factors that contribute that it is not related to employer employee social contracts. Birth rates, relative developed-ness of other countries, supply and demand of labor, automation, political winds, societal changes, etc.


>Pensions are not relevant anymore.

Stated as fact without evidence. Many people are still paying into pensions and many more would like too. Think blue collar and gig workers who scrape by on a small fraction of what many outspoken people here take home.

>I see no reason to pay a defined benefit pension fund’s employees and expenses when I can simply buy VOO or a target date fund at one of many brokerages for basically free.

Because you’re highly compensated and have the buying power of X median income households. Median income households need to retire too. What’s your solution for them if not pensions.

>And I get to avoid the risk of a corrupt employee of the employer messing with it, or to risk the employer not being around 50 years later.

Pensions are supposed to legally outlast employers. Judicial failure to enforce that is evidence of a corrupt and politicized judicial branch that is actively waging class war against those with lower economic status.

>The other parts of the post have so many factors that contribute that it is not related to employer employee social contracts. Birth rates, relative developed-ness of other countries, supply and demand of labor, automation, political winds, societal changes, etc.

All of these factors you mentioned have been politicized and exploited to manufacture consent in the American public to vote against their own interests as bought and paid for politicians, judges, journalists, prosecutors, and lawyers sell out their own economic cohort to, for the sake of brevity, make the rich, richer.

I’m happy to flesh out how each factor you named has been weaponized if you’re genuinely curious.


>Median income households need to retire too. What’s your solution for them if not pensions.

The government redistributing wealth, i.e. Social Security. A federal defined benefit pension plan, if you will. And if it were up to me, I would take it even further and make it universal basic income.

> Pensions are supposed to legally outlast employers. Judicial failure to enforce that is evidence of a corrupt and politicized judicial branch that is actively waging class war against those with lower economic status.

Decades and decades of evidence indicate that the system does not work. But more importantly, automation and technology have obviated employer sponsored defined benefit pensions.

There is no value add from having employers in the middle of the wealth transfer chain. It is just extra paperwork and overhead and chances for corruption.

The pension funds invest in the same place as everyone else, the stock and real estate market. And then the government comes and bails out asset owners time and time again, so that the pension recipients get bailed out. But then why not hand the pension recipients the cash directly?


The problem is that many people aren't replacing their defined benefit pension with savings. They're replacing it with nothing.

That said, defined benefit pensions were always designed around the idea that you'd be staying in the same place for maybe decades. Federal government pensions are perhaps the most obvious example but it applied to many companies as well. And that just doesn't represent typical behavior--especially among professional workers--these days.


I would contend for any job that is not high paying, individuals cannot save enough to cover longer than expected age in retirement, but could cover the average.

The solution to that problem should not involve an employer. It might look something like legally mandated defined benefit pensions, aka Social Security in the US.

So you're just reinventing Social Security in the US.

That’s how us techies do it :-). We invent something “disruptive” only to learn that this was already known for decades.

I am saying that is the name of the fix for people not choosing to save enough money in the US. No employer is needed in the picture.

> Pensions are not relevant anymore. I see no reason to pay a defined benefit pension fund’s employees and expenses when I can simply buy VOO or a target date fund at one of many brokerages for basically free.

These are very different with respect to longevity risk. There are many people who can’t save enough individually for the longest lifespan. (Or the 80th percentile) But could save enough for the cohort.

Pensions are far superior in this scenario. That’s part of the reason why 401ks make sense for highly compensated, but not the majority.


Taxpayer funded defined benefit pensions, aka Social Security in the US, is the solution for people not earning enough money to save.

There is no reason to have a ton of employers get involved in the wealth transfer system. It adds so much unnecessary complexity, bureaucracy, agency risk, not to mention the longevity risk of a single employer surviving for 50 more years. And on top of that, the only thing the employer’s pension fund is doing is investing it in the same market that the beneficiaries can invest in themselves without having to pay overhead.


>not to mention the longevity risk of a single employer surviving for 50 more years

There are various protections in place. I'll be collecting a pension from a long gone employer.

I'm not really going to argue for defined benefit pensions. There's a certain paternalistic attitude to them that your employer is at least partly responsible for looking after your retirement savings. And you're on the hook for being a loyal long-term employee to get that benefit.

Still, it will be nice to collect a decent payout from a benefit I probably didn't ever really think about at the time. I even know people who completely forgot that they even had a pension.


The only protection is the PBGC, which is woefully underfunded, and could not even handle the recent multi employer pension fund failures. They just got bailed out again Mar 2021 in the American Rescue Plan legislation:

https://www.pbgc.gov/american-rescue-plan-act-of-2021

The real bailout is the backstop the federal government provides on asset prices at the expense of purchasing power of the currency.

I understand that you are not arguing for DB pensions. I am just trying to make it clear that US society has moved past DB pensions because we now have an explicit promise of bailouts at the expense of the dollar, and if we are going to do that, then cut out all the actuary and investment fund fees, and just drop it in social security or target date funds.


Pensions are binding in their payments, the stock market is not. It’s clear why some people would prefer it.

They are binding until the money is not there decades in the future, and you do not have enough political power to get a full bailout, and end up having to take a haircut.

I would take a defined benefit pension from the federal government (or any other entity that can print money), but any other payout promised decades in the future is just as, if not more, risky as investing in an index fund, because you give up control of the money.


When I left my company, after 27 years, I chose to take my pension in a lump sum. I had plenty of money in other investments, so I wasn't too worried about it.

I used the money to fund one of my companies, and tossed the rest into an index fund.

I made back the money I used to fund the company in a couple of years; just from the portion in the index fund (it's been crazy).

Earlier this year, my ex-employees told me that the company is shutting down their pension plan. I don't think that they are siphoning off the money, Jimmy Hoffa-style, but I think that I'm glad I took the cashout.


You made the smart choice. In a political environment where purchasing power is constantly being eroded, the only option is to stay ahead or on top of the wave by keeping assets invested and investing in new cash flow producing ventures.

A non COLA adjusted defined benefit just means you will continuously lose purchasing power, and even the COLA adjustments are subject to understatement due to political influences. Even Social Security is not immune, because at the end of the day, a smaller proportion of labor suppliers to labor buyers means less supply of labor per buyer, which means it has to get rationed somehow (for whatever amount does not get offset by automation/immigration).


My perspective is (and always has been) that I am working for a for-profit entity. There's nothing wrong with this, most people do it, and that's pretty much how society is built.

But I feel that the for-profit aspect applies both ways: if the company is going to work to maximize profits, why shouldn't I do the same? If another company is offering me a substantially higher salary than I would get with a normal raise, then why shouldn't I at least consider it? The company wouldn't hesitate to fire me off if they felt I was underperforming.

The only argument I can see for loyalty (and only kind of) is if you work for a non-profit, or something run on a finite research grant or something. At that point, you could argue that loyalty isn't naive as the work itself is more the goal than the profit motive.


The parent's loyalty isn't to the company, it's to their direct reports (I assume). After you've been shielding people from the shitstorm for long enough, it can feel very difficult to fold up your umbrella and leave. Even if it's strictly better for you, it might violate your utilitarian instincts or personal ethics.

Of course, companies know this and use it as one of the many tools to suppress wages.


That's totally fair; if you think your replacement is going to make people under you's life worse, it might be hard to leave. I've never been a manager or had anyone reporting to me, so I can't speak to that point.

But I agree, I think this is kind of weaponized by corporations to avoid employee churn.


But it sounds like they didn't do great by their reports:

"I was a manager for over 25 years. I feel that I was a good one. My employees seemed to agree. I kept many of them on board for decades, and these were folks that could walk out the door, and get huge pay raises (my company paid "competitive" salaries)."

It sounds like they did great by the company shareholders who captured the value from below market salaries.

Kindness, respect and trust should be table stakes but it's not going to pay for my kid's college fund, keep up with 7% inflation, or help me build my rainy day fund for a pandemic driven recession.


Sadly, this is the type response I always get, around these parts, when I talk about things like kindness, integrity, honesty, and empathy.

In our industry, we get paid a lot, for our ages (I never made as much as even entry-level folks, these days, but I had plenty of money, and still do).

It's not my fault that so many people decide to live beyond their means. Many folks would be crazy grateful for the money we waste on frivolities.

I'm not a threat to anyone here. I live my life, the way I live it. I write the software I write, and I chronicle it here. There are alternative points of view, and alternative ways of living.

I'm almost deliriously happy, in my life now. I never understood how incredibly valuable it is, to be in a position, where my work is not getting turned into raw sewage, by clueless corporations.

There are other measures of success, in life, besides money.


> A lot of the trouble is the "You go first." mentality. Who will be the one to stay at a company for many years, getting only 3% raises; ...

If the author's premise is correct, there should be a lot of money to be made in retaining talent. Some of that should filter down to more than 3% raises.

So if you believe in humans as rational economic actors, there is "$20 bills lying on the street" if you build a tech company that hires, increases comp, and retains, rather than the current model of hire, churn, poach.

I realize that double-digit raises at the same company is a big culture shift, but I've seen it done. If everyone benefits, why wouldn't it happen?


In companies, perception is more important than reality - this is why easily measured variables are treated as more important than difficult-to-measure ones - you can justify decisions by pointing to hard data even if that data is barely related to the problem at hand. Imagine trying to justify giving a developer a large raise (a measurable impact) and justifying it with an argument that retention is probably more profitable than churning (hard to measure). You'll be laughed out the door.

People aren't rational actors in the sense of "they aim for the objectively best action given a goal" - we generally aim to minimise risk, prefer things that are simple, and prefer doing what everybody else is doing. Homo economicus isn't even used in modern economics let alone being anywhere near to reality.


> Imagine trying to justify giving a developer a large raise (a measurable impact) and justifying it with an argument that retention is probably more profitable than churning (hard to measure). You'll be laughed out the door.

It depends how supply and demand curves are moving. What might be true today may not have been true 10 years or 20 or 30 years ago. Labor costs have a big impact on profit, a measurement that all company owners and executives care very much about.

For the past few decades, it may have been true that the cost of attrition was less than the benefits of holding down pay for most others.


That's a post hoc argument - you're presenting a possibility to explain why not minimising attrition was actually rational all along. Its quite well established by now that human decision making is not very rational. Even people who aim for rationality are generally biased towards variables with high measurablility.

The reasoning is that if preventing attrition was so valuable, then it would have shown up via better profits for various businesses over the many previous decades, especially publicly listed ones since their financials are public.

I am sure some businesses got it wrong, and some businesses got it right. And it probably even varies within businesses based on specific roles.

For example, it very well may be rational for a grocery store to let cashiers go if the cost of acquiring and training a new one is low enough that it lets the store compete with other grocery stores since they are operating on razor thin margins. On the other hand, people with specialized tasks in the store such as a butcher or baker or manager might have a better case for keeping them from leaving.


That's the perfect market fallacy, which is also a post hoc justification.

I think right now it is vital to double-digit raise your engineers if needed, because hiring is super difficult right now. You not only stand to lose an employee, you stand to lose the profit of having any employee there for months.

Yes there's a lot of money in retaining talent at any cost. That's what FANG companies are basically. The only problem being these firms are so good at making money they've sucked out a lot of the oxygen.

Most companies aren't as good at using their retained talent to make money.


Especially with remote work breaking down geographical moats at least within countries/regions, it's entirely possible that for most people salary-maximizing, they go with one of the big West Coast employers (or something like an HFT) if they can get in. And most other companies compete to hire everyone else.

Of course, hiring practices are sufficiently random in many cases that it's not really a matter of those firms skimming all the cream (and salary is only one factor that many go by anyway). But it is harder for other companies to salary match the likes of Google and Facebook.


>So if you believe in humans as rational economic actors,

1) They're not.

2) Even if they were, it may be the case they are short-term biased, meaning they're willing to forgo $20 tomorrow for $10 today.


Well said and I agree. Let me only rant about this a little:

> The entire industry has now shaped itself into a transient, mercenary, loyalty-free community.

This is sadly inevitable and it's a classic example of a race to the bottom and EXACTLY the thing you said: "you go first". As a contractor myself, I was effectively forced into being a contractor and not a loyal employee by the virtue of being screwed over many times. I learned to always shop around for the next gig while the current one is still going -- not because I love that, I hate it with all my soul, but because I have to protect myself and my family.

I was loyal throughout most of my 20-year career. I ignored my family, I ignored my own health even, I saved companies on the brink and only ever felt a pat on the back on the company's Christmas party, and a single 500 EUR bonus (if even that). And something similar happened several times, not just one.

One day you get seriously sick and you need a safety net which you of course don't have. It changes your perspective DRAMATICALLY.

---

WORK FOR YOURSELF regardless of where you are or what is written in your contract. You are your own top priority. Invest in contacts. Talk to people and don't assume that a conversation is useless. Just enjoy talking with people. You'll both have fun and will have the nebulous possibility of somebody calling you 5 years down the line.

I don't leech off of companies. They leech off of me. I am giving them only as much as they give me in terms of money and work-life balance and stress(-free) environment. I don't go an inch over that anymore.


"Who will be the company that starts to treat their employees in a manner that proves they are worth staying at? This may mean higher pay raises, the CEO taking some of their profit (and the shareholders and VCs), and sharing it with the employees."

You're right!

Competition between management teams for investment ensures that, absent some other force constraining competition, it isn't sustainable for most management teams to break out of this race to the bottom. The exceptions - firms that have a quasi-monopolistic market position - prove the rule.

"Letting employees unionize, etc."

Employees don't need permission from their employer to unionize in the United States or any other high income country. It is entirely the decision of the workers; if a majority want to form a union, the employer is obligated to bargain with them.

Historically, this is how the race to the bottom has been halted.


True, I work in a corporate like this with not much stress, lots of vacation days, interesting work. It is paid similar to other professionals in the office. However people can earn 2x, 3x at a tech company so are just walking out. Its just tech firms are paying so much money yet making no profits its crazy.

> So that generally means that governments need to step in, and help the people and companies to do the right thing.

That sounds pretty ominous. What policy would you suggest? Why would you be confident the government would be at all competent?


Honestly it’s already been done- release the wage numbers publicly. The only way screwing over long term team members works is if you can keep a lid on it. Wage secrecy enables all kinds of bad behavior.

This is a game setup by company management which is heads we win tails you lose.

If people stay on in the company they under pay people and save money. If people are constantly job hopping there's no longer any long term obligations towards employees and you have a constant pool of replacements thereby saving even more money.


Here’s a relevant MonkeyUser: https://www.monkeyuser.com/2020/new-hire/

> So that generally means that governments need to step in, and help the people and companies to do the right thing.

Then its not democracy any more. Its slavery. If People want to leave let them leave.


That’s an interesting logical leap.

I am confused what you mean by “the right thing” and why the government needs to be involved.

Here's an example. Maybe it only applies in the US, but Japan has something even more stringent.

If you live/work in a building with several floors, and a stairwell, go down the stairwell, until you get to the ground floor.

If the building has a basement, there will be a door to the basement, and it will be facing the stairwell, and will open inward (towards the stairwell). The ground floor (at least), will have a "panic bar," to unlatch it (this is a horizontal bar, at waist level, on average-sized people, that can be pushed, to unlatch the door, and push it open). The door will also open outward (away from the stairwell).

This is because of government regulations. Developers would not choose to do this, if given a choice. It's not cheap. I believe that some older buildings may be "grandfathered in," where they might not have to do it.

The same goes for lighted exit signs.

If they didn't have this, a lot of people would die in fires and emergencies. Before these types of regulations, there were constant stories about dozens of people dying in workplace fires. It still happens, in some places.


I meant in regards to how long an employee works for an employer. That seems like it needs no government intervention.

No, I meant helping employers and employees to be able (not forced) to keep employees/stay in a job, if that is what they want.

This is usually done by "carrot" measures, like tax breaks, and "stick" measures, like minimum wages. It can also be safe workplaces.

But like I said, that's not going anywhere (in the US, at least).


"governments need to step in" was a pretty big leap to begin with

Not really.

In the US, we have many government agencies, like OSHA, and the NLRB, and others, like the SEC, etc., not to mention the AGs and other law-enforcement people.

Business owners love to hate on them, but they are a big reason that we don't have poorhouses any more.

I have found that there is absolutely no bottom to the depths that people will sink, if they can make money. This seems to be true of folks that graduated from Yale, or from Jail.

The idea that any industry will "self-regulate," is a laughable and naive myth.


> I have found that there is absolutely no bottom to the depths that people will sink, if they can make money.

I'm confused why you don't think this same reasoning doesn't apply to politicians and bureaucrats who would be doing the regulating.


Why do you think I said it the way I did?

Really, this is going nowhere. You seem to think I said something I didn't, and I can't change your mind.

Have a nice day.


Enforcing staying at job via law enforcement is the definition of slavery. If people want to quit for higher wages let them. Market will move to equilibrium.

Seriously. I have no idea what you are talking about.

On the employee end, I think it’s obviously fine to leave for somewhere else for more money/better perks/whatever.

For companies, certainly some do value retention and this is obvious from things that can be observed (eg the turnover rate) and incentive structures (ie being willing to pay to avoid attrition).

So I think it isn’t true that no companies value attrition. Even Amazon which usually have a reputation as a bad place to work as an engineer seem to do things to reduce attrition (an alternative way of looking at their ‘weight vesting schedule towards later years’ is that they are trying to encourage people to stay for longer, rather than that they are trying to save money on a high turnover rate).

It feels to me that a lot of it is cultural. For example, lots of people in senior positions may believe that a certain level of attrition (or ‘unregretted attrition’) is good because it is like an easy way of firing people. But regretted attrition can be a lot worse than not having so much I regretted attrition. I say it’s cultural because opinions in management could change—certainly other countries can be different—just like other aspects of company management have changed over time too.

I think another aspect is that if your company is growing very quickly, like many of today’s big tech companies did, then most people will be recent hires and it is perhaps hard to have a culture that values or takes advantage of people with a lot of internal experience.


Ah yes, 'the good old days' talk. It has now shaped itself, but back in my good old days...

This is my dad's favorite past-time, to talk about the good old days of the USSR when he had free education, free guaranteed housing, free health care and a guaranteed job. Combined with those other people who made USSR fall apart or are all about money or whatever.

Nevermind all the other thousand broken things in that system, let's narrow it down to a few elements that align with your pre-conceived idea and cherry-pick, to create the good old days and conversely, kids nowadays.


Interesting tangent, there.

I’m not pining for “the good old days,” at all, and it’s … interesting … that this was what you read.

I’m enthusiastic about tech, the future, learning new stuff, and making the world a better place.

I feel that it is a shame that the concept of Personal Integrity (or corporate Integrity) is considered an anachronism.


> I’m not pining for “the good old days,” at all

> The entire industry has now shaped itself into a transient, mercenary, loyalty-free community.

You're not pining for a time prior to when the industry shaped itself into a transient, mercenary, loyalty-free community?

Or you mean to say it was a different kind of mess before, that has now shaped itself into another mess, but mess nonetheless?

If so, my apologies.


The second.

Lots of people want to "go back," but that can never happen. It does not mean that "the old ways" are bad, or that they could not be applied to today or the future, but there is a very good chance they would not be applicable to today's world, without modification.

I don't like "Old bad; New Shiny." Something is advantageous to the current situation, or it is not. Its provenance should have nothing to do with it.

As an engineer, who has been developing (and shipping) software for my entire life, I can tell you that some (not all, just some) things that I learned "in the good old days" are quite applicable to today's world, and I always find it amusing, when someone goes "Wow! That is so cool!" when I have shown them some old pattern that was created before they were born.

In the company that I worked at for a long time, a bunch of ultra-conservative folks had a war with future-facing folks, and won (that's one reason I was let go). I totally understand where they come from, but I also think that it was a disaster, and may kill a 100-year-old company.

But no one asked me. They just handed me my pink slip.

Best thing that ever happened to me.

Funny "In Soviet Russia..." story. A friend of mine, who is married to a Russian, and lived in Perm for many years, said that the soviets always built two of everything, because one inevitably failed, and was used for parts, for the second. I have no idea how true it was. He is prone to flights of hyperbole.


Doesn't mention the benefits of attrition. A network can be robust since none of the pieces leaves, but what is even more robust is a network that constantly renews itself and gracefully handles the process of swapping out parts. Constant attrition means that your company never starts relying on individuals, instead the process survives and thrives on its own, hiring new people who then hire new people before they leave etc. Such a process isn't very attractive to individuals, of course, but they are very attractive to the owners.

I mean, for assembly-line production this might ring true (I wouldn't know, never did it). But for what one might reasonably categorize as "knowledge work", my experience is that knowledge reigns supreme. Some of that knowledge is shared by a whole community of practitioners, other parts of it is local and contextualized. This part probably makes up a sizable proportion of an organizations competitive advantage.

To make workers replaceable is to rely mostly on the knowledge you can reasonably expect to regain on rehire. Remember: Management (up to owner-management) are also workers, so running some kind of special culture-and-knowledge preserving über-organization is predicated on somehow retaining the structures that support and maintain this secret sauce. Military services around the world have researched this extensively (for obvious reasons), then again, we refer to a well-seasoned and experienced practitioner as a veteran. Veterans are invaluable in military service, as they are in any other endeavor. Trade them off against ease-of-management at your own peril.


> Veterans are invaluable in military service, as they are in any other endeavor. Trade them off against ease-of-management at your own peril.

I never said that experience isn't valuable. The question was whether experience at a particular company was more valuable than experience outside of it. Every time you hire a senior engineer from another company you learn a bit of their secret sauce, making your company stronger. Participating in that knowledge trade is extremely valuable, and without churn you will be left out as most of your engineers will have mostly experience from your company, that is a really bad thing.


Excellent point IMO! For an organization to believe itself the sole proprietor of relevant and useful knowledge within it's domain of operation is pure hubris.

So too is believing it is anything more than a community of individuals, cooperating on the basis of shared- and tacit knowledge as well as skill to perform the different tasks that comprise business operations. Tacit knowledge and skill resides in the specific individuals, and shared knowledge in the specific relations between individuals. Losing an individual is losing part of aggregate tacit knowledge and skill, as well as all the specific relations shared by the individual. The organization as a thing-in-the-world loses part of itself not captured by it's charter and governing contracts (or share value, or business strategy, i could go on). These things are hard to quantify on the best of days, so to assume (or even mandate) that this cost is incurred with net benefit (by, as you say, hiring some industry heavy-hitter who is expected to bring the goods) is fraught with unknowns, and on balance likely hubris.


If your business requires a lot of knowledge specific to your products, think adobe Photoshop, it is hubris to think a new hire experienced even in relevant fields could meaningfully contribute for a long time. If your product uses an industry standard framework or standard, think adobe reader, then yeah, you can probably have someone hit the ground running. But a bigger problem is that when a new hire leaves after 2-3 years and you replace them with a couple people fresh out of school, so that anything they don't come out knowing has to get taught again. And if it takes some large fraction of the 2-3 years to learn your domain specific knowledge you are done for.

I don't think that hiring people to get outside knowledge is that useful in IT.

From what I understand there is no such other occupation that is sharing so much information between people. You have blogs, loads of free and paid materials, you have loads of conferences where you can send your staff to see "how others are doing it".

Other thing that I often see ... a lot of developers really invest in "outside knowledge" and common problem in dev teams is building stuff with new shiny tech or in a new way they saw on the conference.


> I mean, for assembly-line production this might ring true

Not there either. You mess up more in the beginning. Experienced workers have better flow.


I would assume this as well, when i think about it. I guess learning about the industrial revolution in school kind of messed up my preconceptions.

Anyhow, this military comparison just keeps sprouting thoughts in my head. Isn't an owner-management almost perfectly comparable to aristocratic officership? Is GGP's theory of defensible churn basically a modern incarnation of feudalism and aristocratic privelege?


In the military attrition is even worse because you can't fill gaps by hiring from any competitors!


French Foreign Legion would like a word.

> To make workers replaceable is to rely mostly on the knowledge you can reasonably expect to regain on rehire.

Fortunately, we developed systems of writing, so that the limit to this relearning is higher now than a few millennia ago. (Society does the ultimate “rehiring” continually.)

I think that far too many companies (including my own) rely much too heavily on “things that are in people’s heads” and don’t spend enough time and money on making the company knowledge effectively outlast any individual employee, making it easier to put the essential knowledge into new people’s heads.

Society doesn’t rediscover pi, e, I, and calculus from first principles every half-century, but rather we’ve instituted that knowledge into books and mechanisms of teaching.


True enough, but look at your last point.

> Society doesn’t rediscover pi, e, I, and calculus from first principles every half-century, but rather we’ve instituted that knowledge into books and mechanisms of teaching.

How long and how many resources does it take to train someone to understand pi, e, and calculus?

Or, to apply your nice analogy to the topic under discussion.

what are the expected costs (time + training support) to get a new hire trained on all of the written materials which describe the system?

For a non-trivial system, those costs can be very high.


Well yes, if we could only train new employees for 20 years in the specific curricula of the organization, as that is how long we spend getting pi and calculus into the heads of kids.

On the scale of lifetimes, I don't think we can refer to it as "churn" as understood in the context of a modern company.

I'm being facile, of course. Developing a good library of knowledge as you propose is hard, takes a long time and many iterations and there is the unfortunate matter of time taking it's toll on the relevance of such recorded knowledge (esp. in our line of work). Not to mention costs. Even academic institutions, who are in the business of doing exactly this, guard their staff with tenure (some of the staff anyway, the big boys)


It takes 20 years because kids come from all kinds of backgrounds and there isn't enough funding for individualized support. A company should be able to get someone up to speed faster since that person is presumably chosen for that role based on existing proficiency. It's easier to piece together an understanding of the system from the napkin scratch notes of the person who got hit by a bus than it is to hope they come out of the coma before the business fails. Imperfect documentation is better than none.

We are not in disagreement here. I was making a comparison in kind as a cheap rhetoric trick. Documentation is good, no documentation bad, good documentation can be better.

Slide along the scale towards more and better documentation and our perceptions might diverge. I don't think all the valuable know-how that goes in to fulfilling a specific role in a larger organization (and in particular the marginal knowledge, relations and skill that increases performance) can be captured in words. Even if it were, there is so much of it and it is full of subtle nuance and context sensitivity. On top of that each individual person takes to different parts of it in different ways. The things you can only learn by jumping in at the deep end. We all know, deep inside, that this is the stuff that matters and I see no reason to play charades and pretend we can know or see how even half of what we do really works. If we did, the world would be a very different place. Until then: tacit, implicit, context bound and relation contingent knowledge and skill will be the light that shines on our practice; and what we can put in to words, a mere shadow.


“I think that far too many companies (including my own) rely much too heavily on “things that are in people’s heads” and don’t spend enough time and money on making the company knowledge effectively outlast any individual employee”

Totally agree but I have never seen a company implement this consistently. They seem to expect that while you are under constant deadlines you also have time to document your stuff thoroughly. We also need systems to organize the documentation so you need to hire tech writers who do that. If you put this on engineers they most likely won’t do it because they don’t have time.


> very attractive to the owners

And yet I’ve worked at software companies that will go to great lengths to avoid attrition. For exactly the reasons mentioned in the post, they encourage people to move to other teams to build up the inter connectedness of teams while keeping employees motivated and engaged. In fact, even if you weren’t looking HR would reach out and ask if you were interested in looking at other teams within the company because you had been in your current team for 18 months.

Side note I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky but I can’t relate to this talk of “companies are evil and act maliciously against their employees at every opportunity”. That hasn’t been true in my experience.


> Side note I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky but I can’t relate to this talk of “companies are evil and act maliciously against their employees at every opportunity”. That hasn’t been true in my experience.

I think this heavily depends on the type of industry you work in. In some industries the abuse is so normalised that everyone takes it for granted.

In retail you have the example of companies scheduling workers just under the number of hours at which they'd qualify for insurance or other benefits.

Hospitality work often expects you to be available any time they're short staffed, if you aren't you'll probably find your shifts cut.

On the white collar side last year we heard about junior analysts at Goldman Sachs being made to work 100+ hour weeks[1].

Game development is widely avoided due to a similarly toxic work culture, where you'll often be forced to "crunch" for long periods of time[2]. The worse places will also lay you off after the game has shipped.

At the software companies I've worked the biggest issues have been terrible raises for current employees, to the point that graduates were being paid the same or much more than people with 3+ years of experience.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/mar/18/group-of-ju... [2] https://www.polygon.com/2020/12/4/21575914/cyberpunk-2077-re...


Side note I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky but I can’t relate to this talk of “companies are evil and act maliciously against their employees at every opportunity”. That hasn’t been true in my experience.

I think there’s a combination of some people with really bad experiences and a larger group of people that exaggerate.

That said, it’s a fact of the contemporary employment market that most companies do compensation such that sticking around in one place means making significantly less money then moving around all the time. Companies bring new people in at higher comp but don’t push the comp of existing people doing those jobs to the same level even if those existing employees are performing well. I don’t think this is evil or malicious but it certainly feels hostile.


> For exactly the reasons mentioned in the post, they encourage people to move to other teams to build up the inter connectedness of teams while keeping employees motivated and engaged.

That isn't to avoid churn, that is to have more people around in general. If you leave your old team it means you no longer use your knowledge, the important part is to have engineers around, not to have the same engineers working on the same tasks.

For example, Google encourages churn by making it really easy to move to other teams in other areas. You don't talk to your old team again, so that is effectively the same thing as you leaving the company and them getting a new engineer, ie for the teams it is equivalent to churn.


> If you leave your old team it means you no longer use your knowledge,

If you move from Team A to Team B, you may not use your knowledge of the details of their codebase.

But you know precisely how to sort out the problems caused by the company's weird internal certificate authority, and their weird internal deployment tools, their weird internal inter-service auth system, and their weird internal multi-cloud system. That 'secure' way of managing secrets in production that makes 'unauthorized' errors almost impossible to debug? You know how to debug it. You know how to operate the purchasing system so your orders go through right the first time. You know precisely what the criteria are to get your subordinates promoted, and how to coach them to meet the criteria.

That can be worth a lot, when it comes to getting things done.


Military veterans of some theater of war are desired exactly because they will perform well in the next theater of war.

I don't think i can fully appreciate how mind-bogglingly huge a company like Google is, so it might well be the case that tacit knowledge, skills and relations acquired in one team don't transfer meaningfully to another. I would have to see it to be convinced however, even more so to make me believe this kind of transfer was the norm.


My past company tried to present these moves as a career option while failing to come up with a guide to promotion, and not really having the higher level of technical job. I changed jobs and got three promotions in five minutes by accident.

Do you have any evidence to your claim? It’s possible to ad hoc rationalize pretty much anything.

A real statistic against your claim is one of the highest predictors of defects in a code base is whether or not the original team is still working on it.


> highest predictors of defects in a code base is whether or not the original team is still working on it.

Defects is a metric businesses doesn't care much about. If you have a good team that can create products customers wants, then it is better to have them keep making new products rather than maintain what they already have, then you can have less productive engineers perform maintenance, defects might go up but this way you will have way more products which businesses seems to care more about.

You would have a point if maintenance was something companies cared deeply about, but they don't. They want new products, and company specific knowledge doesn't seem to be very valuable there.


>Defects is a metric businesses doesn't care much about.

This depends on both the defect and the business. Just because critical regressions and recurring denial of service has become normalized as somehow par for the course in our line of business does not mean it comes without cost. It's all situational and subject to calculated tradeoffs but every shop i've worked with/in has classes of defects on the "Never Again" list, and sometimes on the "NEVER EVER EVER AT ANY COST" list.


from a different angle: "non original team" might have higher defects, but i propose that "non original team" without process or time to understand the code base would be more accurate.

changing people requires a time investment. and the learning curve is steep at the beginning


Not to mention vision that will change due to new ideas or influence that new staff brings to the team. It's not always beneficial for the project. It can go wrong in so many ways that it ends up being dead.

Don't get me wrong, change is good but too much change is just too much to handle sometimes.


That sort of anti-fragility isnt a guaranteed outcome of attrition though. You can just as easily be left with a pool of under-performers that can't/won't leave, while talent moves to organisations that invest more in staff vs processes.

I don't think it works like that. Constant attrition does not prevent your company from relying on individuals. You don't fire you good employees and they won't leave if it's a worthwhile job. With constant attrition you get a core group you rely on. However that group is not as productive as they could be because they spend a lot of time training and integrating new employees that don't stay.

That’s a management pipe dream. The software verification teams at my company have very high attrition rates and it’s getting really tiring to deal with newbies who don’t understand the product or why things are the way they are. You can’t really replace experience with process. It works well only in very simple and well understood cases.

Hmmm...I and a few other top developers on a corporate team just left a project and company because we were being mindlessly driven by management.

Management really tried to be accommodating, transparent, and woke in their treatment of employees but the work load was just too much. One sprint into the next without any breath in between.

Tenure averaged about one year on the team. The project has been going without release for three or four years.

The only people left are juniors (college grads basically) who don't realize how bad it is wrecking their health.

The only thing keeping their main SME dev is the generous PTO. She is always out sick, randomly. A lot of it was obviously the stress. She would always let out this lengthy loud exhale on calls and in grooming sessions. When I started doing that I began the exit.


Sounds like wasted effort. Relying on individuals are good, since it means they are somebody to rely on.

Anyways, hand over in high turnover places is shitty anyways, since they are shitty places to work at.


I think the rate of attrition matters. Too little change and you get stagnation -- you do need that ongoing renewal you call out, and the incentive to create good processes. There is a tipping point though, where attrition isn't renewal, it's erosion. It's the difference between "small fires that clear out the undergrowth and a few large trees" vs "large fires that denude a hillside that then destabilizes into a mudslide."

This is very true. Attrition helps with cross pollination as well as enforcing process and knowledge sharing.

However, I'd submit that it doesn't matter how good the docs and process are, you're going to lose a lot when an engineer who has been at a company for, say, 3+ years leaves:

* historical knowledge * personal relationships * intuition about the systems

Some things you can't get except by putting in the time.


Think about having a robust network like being able to fly.

You don't develop the ability to fly by placing yourself in positions that require flying...

Most companies that have lots of attrition have bad processes in place and are suffering due to attrition, although I think there are some companies that are developed enough to benefit from attrition like you described.


In order for a part to be entirely interchangible, you should choose the smallest common denominator of all parts to rely on as the highest value that you can get from one. I think that one must find an equilibrium but it requires active management and careful thinking to be executed properly.

Or to have great onboarding, people learn a lot, are effective quickly, and leave after learning enough. The know-how is then embedded in the process not in people, which guarantees stability, while people are guaranteed to change.

If you can embed all of your organization's knowledge in a few weeks of a single person's study, then you don't have much knowledge to begin with. Such stuff might be good for a small factory, but for nothing more complex than that.

Nice. But remember: the cost of non attrition can be keeping idiot coworkers around. Who actively destroy work with their anti-work, and waste time with idiotic discussions.

Attrition usually loses the top-performers because they can get much better offers. The poor-performers don't have any good options to leave.

Proactive management would reward the top performers and reprimand/fire the poor performers. That's the opposite of attrition.


Wait so according to your model of the world top-performers become idiots in their next job? Where are all these top-performers who do get compensated enough and what companies do they work for that have no attrition?

World is much bigger than you can imagine. If you hop jobs every 2 years in 30 years it is only 15 companies.

I have something like 10 years of experience and was working or collaborating already with something between 10 and 13 companies.


Define idiot coworker and idiotic discussions. I have only worked in small teams so I'm not sure I've met such a person.

I recently had to give up trying to convince a coworker that the observer pattern was useful, because he refused to budge from the position that it made code harder to read as it was not "all in one place". Naturally as a stubbornly helpful person it took several hours over a couple weeks before I reached the point of surrender. Meanwhile there are a number of related decisions he's inflicting on the codebase that no one else would make, but find it easier to accept than resist, and which are ultimately unsustainable/ungeneralizable. If he left the team tomorrow the rest of the team would slowly revert these decisions. In the meantime, he's kind of just randomizing the code.

Not really a definition, but there's an example for you.


I once came in to work on a Monday to find a 200 email thread from a clique of idiot coworkers who had been feverishly working on a bug over the weekend, only to discover that our locks were fundamentally flawed, though that was at email 50. Around email 52, someone who actually knows how to use a RW lock (and has written research papers on lockless data structures) says, "no, they are fine, you're just doing it wrong, see [link]". The rest of the 150 emails were the idiots talking among themselves learning how locks work, and convincing themselves they now knew how to "work around" the bug (i.e. use the lock correctly).

This is not a thread about idiots, and actually these guys were trying their hardest to be conscientious employees... It was just a noisy and stupid way for several people who should have known better to learn how to do a simple and fundamental part of their job. (The one who falsely diagnosed the bad locking code was a 15 year veteran "senior" engineer. <scoffs>)


Incessant bike shedding about every project concern or business case. All with a tinge of negativity and scepticism leading into rather unimportant arguments because... "last time we tried this." They are often 100% correct but nobody wants to hear yhier shit because the team has marching orders, funding, and they want to complete the project without a bunch of stress and drama.

They have been at the company too long and aren't really happy about it. They don't get a new job because it's viewed as far too distruptive to their life. Again, they are probably 100% correct.


"Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.'

As others have said, the people you describe don't leave companies.

This is actually the opposite problem of what the article is covering: instead of companies not being able to keep good people, (some) companies are not able to get rid of bad people (whatever subjective definition of "bad" you choose to use).

I've worked at some companies where it's almost impossible to get rid of people that are only causing a net loss for the company, or at the very least, are consuming headcount that could be used to hire someone much better.

Attrition is about people leaving. "Idiotic coworkers" don't leave -- they have to be pushed out. And, again, that's a completely different problem when companies can't and/or choose not to push people like that out.


those type of people are lifers at a company

“This post is also available as a Twitter Thread” struck me as nonsensical as a restaurant saying “This meal is also available as a taxi ride”.

More like "this meal is also available to go, but we put it in 15 packages, each containing three spoonfuls"...

The other part of why people leave is they end up doing lots of support. Often when things go seriously wrong or even just regular problems the main people called on to fix it are the people that have been there a while and know the system best. They end up missing out on the interesting new projects. Its a good incentive to move.

There's an unintuitive incentive to refrain from gaining too much knowledge of all of an org's systems. Being the support person across teams potentially lowers your value to your immediate leads since you get pulled away so much. Good management will identify and correct for this, but it's not easy.

My first full time boss quit over this. He was there 10 years and his life revolved around support as nobody else stayed more than a year, so nobody ever learned many of the systems.

some people like to be in this position, although I find those people have a way of stretching out every support or maintenance task that should take hours into weeks

That is more like after the long haulers have left and the new people have to figure it out. The guy who wrote it can probably fix in 5 minutes, the next guy is paid more but takes 5 days.

Just look at FAANG: Retain developers at (almost) any cost.

Pay developers like it's monopoly money.

You could call this "The benefit of retention", though that may be a bit reductive.


> Just look at FAANG: Retain developers at (almost) any cost.

That isn't true at all. FAANG pays a lot for you to join them and give good raises, but they don't pay extra to make you stay instead of leaving for another FAANG. So there is still a lot of churn at FAANG.


Well, you've reduced competition for employees from THE REST OF THE WORLD to a handful of companies, the executives of which you met for golf and sherry last Tuesday.

> FAANG pays a lot for you to join them and give good raises, but they don't pay extra to make you stay instead of leaving for another FAANG

No, they just choose who to reward according to whatever their metrics are and how someone's management chain chooses to apply those metrics. These rewards are explicitly stock-based to help with retention.

Some examples:

- Have a "top talent" marker, managers get N% of their headcount to distribute each year. Anyone with the marker get more comp than their peers. - Create stock and bonus bands based on your rating and level, then heavily reward high senior bands compared to others. - Create a special retention program for specific areas of tech (eg ML) or for senior engineers who "cap out". Anyone in these programs gets a boost to comp.

These things can be combined such that you can have 2x-5x differences in compensation for two engineers in the same department at the same nominal level, sometimes with small differences in performance ratings.

When used correctly as intended programs like this reward people who work the hardest, are the best at what they do, or who will cause the most pain if they leave the company. If used incorrectly they become a tool for managers to reward their friends/sycophants. If a manager doesn't think about how to use them at all then it becomes a random walk, biased toward whatever you happened to do around review time.

But no the FAANG companies are absolutely aware of the effects of retention and deploy resources to retain employees they think are important, at least at a high level. Sometimes those efforts don't reach the right people and sometimes your estimation of who is important is not aligned with the company's view.


I would say that's because they would prefer the employees to create another project internally than leave and potentially create a competitor or even a more successful service that they'll need to spend billions on to purchase.

More accessible option is to pay former developers for consulting.

Arguments of attrition aside, I don't agree with this model.

Maybe I'm not understanding what an edge is supposed to be, but the author implies that "something" is lost when the edge disappears. That doesn't make sense. Knowledge live in the node, not the edge. You don't just forget a project you worked on just because someone left. If you lose access to knowledge when someone leaves, that's because you did a bad job of preventing silos.

Further, someone who has deep domain knowledge is valuable even with 0 connections.


Unless every piece of knowledge is documented in a clean and understandable fashion, then the edge represents the ability for team members to collaborate with the node to either resolve issues or develop future improvements on the project. While you don't forget a project you worked on, it is unlikely that you worked on the specific pieces that others in your team were assigned to.

I thought the edges represented the strength of relationships between teammates. As people get to know each other, people settle into roles and communication patterns, worrying less about social status, complementing each other, making decisions faster, and anticipating each other. Time together makes good a team more effective.

>Beware looking at teams on a spreadsheet.

Beware looking at teams as a social network graph or org chart! Human teams are nuanced and require up-keep.. hence the existence of HR and management.


If that's really what HR is supposed to be doing (upkeep of human teams, with nuance)... I have never worked at a place where they even act like they think it is, let alone succeed at doing it. Are there really HR's out there who are different?

I have worked for managers who act like they think it is their role, and even succeed at doing it. As well as managers who don't.


I have to ask one important question, even though talent is more valuable than money, companies still don't have infinite amounts of money to simply rise pay for everyone.

Some companies operate in not that profitable markets or have bunch of other issues.

Cost of attrition is still dispersed over the time and while you loose the knowledge at hand it still might be cheaper to build it back over a year than drop cash on people right here right now.

There is such thing as time-value of money and company might prioritize other investments that in long term will outweigh knowledge lost as knowledge can be rebuilt and gains from other investment might not.

Of course one can say - there will be some knowledge that will be gone. From practical point of view, if that knowledge that is lost would be so valuable it would most likely resurface or would be rediscovered quickly by new hires. Maybe not ideally but still in a way that company can continue.


Counter-point: Tesla/SpaceX have extremely high attrition rates, but are so successful they'll likely be remembered in 100 years for their achievements.

(To be fair the article just points out that attrition has a higher cost than we realize, not that attrition is never worth it).


This feels like an organizational twin of an old idea of personal relationship, which is called "weak tie".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpersonal_ties


The article doesn't mention the double whammy of losing well connected engineers: morale and ripple effect. When a high performed with a good network leaves a company, it usually encourage others to leave as well.

> Teams can be growing but have dropping tenure.

It seems like any team that’s growing (by a non-trivial amount) would have dropping tenure.


The cost of attrition is very real, probably higher than the cost of keeping low-performers on the team for large companies. For small startups the cost of attrition is probably negligible. Maybe the solution for big companies is to break them up into small independent startup like entities.

I don't know. This is a nice piece of thinking, although I did get a bit bored after the first few points, but it perhaps ignores a couple of key realities:

1. Most obvious, people are going to leave, so you need to take that into account. You can't keep everyone and I'd argue you shouldn't try.

2. The impact of someone leaving is highly variable. Sometimes it's a bad thing, sometimes it's a good thing. Sometimes it's pretty neutral. Different people add different amounts of value, and not all relationships are equal.

Of course high attrition can be a yellow or red flag - certainly a warning that you need to look at how management and leadership work - but some amount of attrition is a reality, and the outcome of that reality is not universally a "cost".


If it's enshrined woke culture that's driving people away, mere $$$ won't fix it.

Thank you for posting the blog version



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