|(been on HN for half a decade, but posting anonymously because I could be perceived as damaged goods and hence unemployable)|
The story is a familiar one to readers here, so I'll spare the details. Abusive management, perpetual "crisis mode," promises repeatedly broken, entrenched technical incompetence, smothering bureaucracy, vomit-inducing organizational politics -- the whole nine yards.
I started as a wide-eyed youngster desiring to prove myself, went through the denial phase, and ultimately suffered a total loss of motivation. Since then I've left the job to spend some time recovering, soul-searching, and gathering what I can as lessons learned.
Right now I'd say that I have the (financial) risk tolerance to work at a startup, as well as the desire to work on challenging and meaningful tasks, especially with growth and learning opportunities and a level of ownership such that I can take pride in my work. But I doubt I have the dedication or interest in the business aspects necessary to start a company of my own, hence my willingness to give the startup employee route a shot.
However, given my experience with burnout, I feel that I may be excessively skeptical of what any employer would have to offer. Of the problems I mentioned before, everything other than the red tape could just as well happen in a startup. The obsession with "rockstars" and "ninjas" who have unwavering "passion" just smells like a search for naïve, exploitable labor willing to give up evenings and weekends for foosball games and beer. The prevalence of social bubble-worthy companies whose value propositions are little more than "cat pictures" suggests an inflated sense of self-importance among the founders, and I can't expect to keep my level of enthusiasm in line with their irrational exuberance. And while I don't need much job security, having the specter of financial instability looming over the office tends to be at minimum somewhat distracting and most likely quite demotivating.
Perhaps a startup that has gone through the vetting process with YC would have less of these issues, but even then I have some doubts. I'm not in any position to question PG's judgment, but after seeing some of the announcements of companies funded and the infamous "YC company seeks brogrammer" job post, I have a feeling that his evaluation metrics for founders may significantly diverge from mine.
I recently passed up an opportunity at a very high-profile technology company mainly because everyone on the team was required to carry pagers. It just didn't feel right, especially for an established business that claimed it was being run like a lean startup. But it did get me thinking -- why would an actual startup not require the same?
tl,dr: Can I expect to find a position with the potential professional rewards of working at a startup, while still setting strict boundaries on work to preserve my sanity? Or am I trying to have my cake and eat it too?