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Ask HN: Never worked in a startup before, not sure if this is normal
32 points by empthrowaway on June 25, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments
I recently moved into a new job in Vancouver, B.C. Just today, the project manager accused me of not "being 100% in it" for the following 2 reasons:

1. I have not updated your LinkedIn profile since starting this new job 6 weeks ago. (Note that this person is not even my connection on LinkedIn)

2. I have not been working overtime on a regular basis (aka every single day of the week). I would understand if there was something urgent that needed to be done, and I have definitely worked hours over 12 hours in the past.

However, the employment contract never mentioned this was a requirement as he seems to be suggesting, and I do not see anyone else on the team pulling these hours. In fact, I am often the last or 2nd last person to leave. I do not believe in staying long hours for the sake of staying long hours, I do my best and put my full attention on my work. Just this past week, I had personal stuff to attend to, I got up to leave at 5, and let him know, he was quite aggravated.

I'm just beginning to realize I may have made a big mistake putting myself here and I'm not sure if I am just being overly sensitive. This is technically a startup (~50 people), and I do enjoy the product I work on.

I've never worked in a startup (besides running one on my own, but not with 50 employees), and I do understand startups are known for working harder than big corporations, but something just seems "off" with these expectations suddenly being expressed by this project manager.

Any advice/suggestions/similar experiences would be greatly appreciated.

EDIT: I realize the first sentence sounds like I relocated. I didn't (just poor writing skills...). I've been in Vancouver, B.C for quite a long time already.

My guess is that something is up at the company that you don't know about, because no one in management talks frankly to the rank-and-file. The project manager has been put under pressure that he can't deal with, so he's lashing out with irrational and silly requests like the LinkedIn thing.

But why's he pressuring you to work more and not pressuring everyone else? Two possibilities: a) the thing he's being pressured about relates directly to your work - perhaps he promised someone the impossible on your behalf, or b) he already tried this with everybody else and knows he can't get away with it.

This is all normal enough stuff, sadly, but that still doesn't mean you should put up with it. There's better working situations out there and I'd personally begin quietly looking for one.

If it is normal enough stuff, then won't one expect the same of a different job?

Not necessarily. Lots of things are normal when they do happen but don't happen every time.

Well, it sounds like you are saying it is the norm. Which means you will have to find an exception that breaks from the norm. Which then comes down to finding a way to filter such jobs out of your job search. Unfortunately that is a bit harder to do, even if you directly ask "Under what circumstances would I be expected to work overtime?"

"Not being 100% in it" is subtle code for "I reject working with you." It's probably nothing you are doing. Think how a little kid would react. He is trying to rationalize in his mind that it's actually you that doesn't want to work with him. It's a sort of "its not me its you" psychopathic characteristic that comes about because a person refuses to take responsibility for their own negative attitude. The person doesn't like you and its YOUR fault. Advice: don't waste too much time drawing this one out.

Sounds like an office bully.

If you want to manage the situation, here's what I would say (or wish I would say) in your situation:

"You seem to want me to spend a lot of effort showing my commitment to the job (LinkedIn/hours) but that sort of babysitting is exactly what I want to avoid by working at a startup. I've been here 6 weeks and honestly I feel like I'm still getting integrated into the team and familiar with the product. If you want to get the best out of me you'll have to trust that I'm capable of managing my time and energy to get my work done efficiently."

1) Linked in request - ridiculous

2) Overtime - I am in similar situation myself. Working for a startup with over 30 staff. I haven't been asked to work overtime but it has been mentioned on many meetings - "We want to create team of people who would enjoy this work so much that they would work overtime, I mean come on we are startup people should be working overtime anyway". Please note, this is BS. Doesn't matter if you work for startup or corporation. At the end of the day, you are employee working for your own live and that means 8 hours for which you are rewarded by salary. It is completely illogical to limit your life by working overtime and get paid like any other person in other company. Yes, sometimes I enjoy current project so much, that I forget about time and leave work few hours later, hell sometimes I even open my laptop in the middle of night ad work on something if I really enjoy it. But overtime should NEVER be expectation. Your answer to them should be: If you expect me to work overtime on regular basis I expect to be paid over time rate for it or some other reward (such as share in company).

Just one more note about developer position in general. Doesn't matter what people say, developing is very creative job. It comes and goes in waves exactly like art, music and such. I am trying to actively fight for changing developers conditions in workplace for this reason. Take for example my job. I work 9am - 6pm every day. But there are days when I just don't get the vibe and I do all together 1 hour worth of work and lousy on top of it. Sometimes work goes well and I am into it whole day, but then I finish one part by 4pm and just cannot get myself start anything new til 6pm. In that case I should be just able to go home at 4 because I am no good for the rest of the day anyway. Same as now, it is already 8:24am and I am still at home writing this comment instead of being in subway on my way to work. I would do the same in office anyway...

Developers should have much looser schedule in my opinion. On the other hand of course every developer should be responsible and if there are (reasonable) deadlines they should know how to work hard to meet them.

Don't ever work for people who treat you like a slave, unless, perhaps, you're compensated like a master. Life's too short.

Approach everyone like your equal. If someone expects you to assume a subservient position, get the hell out. They will not change, you'll regret it months down the road. I speak of experience (in my case, 2 years down the road))

That said, someone may be riding the PM because he took your time estimates, then took off 15%, and now he's in trouble with his "boss". Try to find out why he is acting this way. Try to find out is he's treating other people the same way, and if not, why not.

I disagree with the HR talk thingy. Like any other bad relationship, a warning by a third party has never truly improved the relationship between the parties involved. Solve it with the guy, or draw your conclusions, ditch the loyalty, search for a new job, and walk away happy.

PS sometimes the act of going out there and looking for another position will make you feel more empowered.

Good luck. I'll repeat: life is short, don't waste it on toxic people.

The LinkedIn thing is none of your employers business. I don't have my current employer on my linkedin page. That is a weird one, unless the product you are working on would benefit from you putting them on your linkedin page, I don't see that as being a requirement from them.

Overtime is called overtime because it is supposed to be above and beyond the normal expectation. This should not be 'normal', but definitely could be in situations where a release is behind, or you're coming up on a deadline, most of which is probably the responsibility of the Project Manager, not you, but you have a role their too.

I would talk to the Project Manager specifically about the overtime. Try to understand why he expects you to stay later. It may be difficult, but try not to be defensive (we're Canadian, so friendly is our nature). You should explain to him your thoughts on overtime. Ask what he would expect you to be doing with the extra time in the office, and why the work would not have been scheduled to be in regular hours.

As far as LinkedIn, talk to him about that too. Why is it important to them that they be on your LinkedIn page?

Most important, make the project manager understand that you really do like the product and the work. If the work is getting done, and you like the product, that is probably the most important starting point.

Best of luck.

My thoughts exactly. Whether or not I update my LinkedIn profile should be my own problem. It feels almost like someone asking for your Facebook credentials before hiring (less ridiculous, but still weird nonetheless).

I did tell him I really like the product and the work, but the whole time he just went back to "You didn't update your LinkedIn profile. That tells me you are not 100% committed." and I couldn't get an answer out of him about the expectation to constantly work overtime; this was never mentioned in the interviews, offer, or during the last 6 weeks.

Another thing I just remembered about our conversation -- I've been doing freelance work for 6 years, and have continued to do so despite full-time employment in the past 3 years. I make sure to keep them separate though, I do not work on freelance stuff (including answering emails/phone calls) during the time I am at work, and I make sure I don't leave early just because I need to do freelance work.

He seems to attribute that also towards me not "giving 100%".

I'm quite frustrated right now, and since I've never worked in a startup like this, not sure if what he's saying is really justified at all. I have made sure to speak to him civilly though, especially when he kept saying I wasn't "100%" because of the LinkedIn and lack of excessive overtime (I was pretty ticked off but I still asked him why and explained my point of view).

The thing that's particularly peculiar is that he's dinging you for not updating your LinkedIn profile on your own. It's one thing to make that a requirement, it's quite another to construe not doing it on your own as not "giving 100%".

On the other hand, since you're still freelancing (why do they even know that???), well, by definition you aren't giving this job 100%, e.g. even when one is not working, one thinks in the background about the various problems one is working on. I don't know how they do things in Canada or B.C., but I've never heard of such a thing in a "Maximum Effort" "startup" (although very possibly this really isn't one).

If you aren't willing to give up the freelancing, I'd bail on this company ASAP.

It doesn't sound like this job is going to last very long at all, I mean, your PM is already angry at you and it sounds like he has an idée fixe that you're not "giving 100%". You're not going to fix his stated concern in his mind, you can't fix the LinkedIn issue since that's a "failure" in the past, and I think you'd be insane to give up the freelancing given the situation. There's a very good chance that no amount of overtime will satisfy him, especially since it will decrease your actual useful output.

Don't try to fix things, don't discuss this with any superior in the company now or in the future (that never works), obviously your company is happy with a PM with high turnover in his direct reports, and it would be unlikely they haven't realized he's a bully by now.

I work at a startup with even fewer people than yours (we currently have three developers in total), and if anything, the idea that you shouldn't stay late unless necessary has been pushed. It's definitely not usual (and I would argue somewhat abusive) to expect employees to work overtime on a regular basis, regardless of whether or not the company is a startup.

It's a sign of a bad manager that they expect to get more productivity out of their employees through additional hours on a regular basis; this has been proven repeatedly over hundreds of years to be a fallacy. I suggest you read Team Geek and maybe Peopleware to get a feel on what good managers should be doing... though it will probably make you want to leave your job even more, which is probably not a bad thing.

You've already sussed out that this is ridiculous. Just a little background.

In 2013 there is no excuse for a culture of shaming people into working long hours all the time. You should have a culture focused on measuring effectiveness. The "100% in it" sounds like brogramming, or I guess bro-duct managing.

If your co-workers are not pulling those kinds of hours, then presumably this guy's threats are empty, or don't apply for some reason. You should try to figure out why.

Either those guys are already planning exits (cashing out/believe startup is doomed). Or maybe they just don't report to your boss. Actually, are you sure you report to this person? Often techies set up companies so that direct reporting goes through a tech hierarchy, although a politically savvy product manager will try to imply to a young and impressionable hacker that they are the boss. You mention elsewhere that it's all kinda loose, but I think you probably do have an official boss who does your performance evaluation, somewhere.

I'm also in Vancouver. I've been around the block a few times although I'm just getting a feel for this city. Anyway feel free to hit me up for connections or advice. Confidentiality assured.

There's a few places around Vancouver that I would avoid and seems like you found one of them....sorry to hear that.

As others have said the Linkedin issue is ridiculous, just change it to shut him up.

The issue of overtime is something else though, if this was never mentioned before then my spidey-sense would be tingling about how the future will go at this place. I'm obviously not familiar with your exact situation (do you really need the job etc) but if you can risk moving on then I would have a honest chat with the PM...if it sounds like a no go then I would just be ready to move on.

2 of my now friends started work at a place in Vancouver (seperately) and left within 3 weeks due to the unrealistic expectations.

The LinkedIn request is ridiculous. Even it would shut his PM up, he shouldn't change it. If he caves on such a stupid request, his PM is going to wonder what else he will cave on. Going through life letting your employer bully you around is a good way to be stuck forever doing the grunt work.

(To be fair to the company it's hard to say whether it's the employer doing the bullying or just this mid-level employee whose doing it.)

The reason I suggested just doing the LinkedIn update is that it's so plainly ridiculous and easy to fix that if the PM truly thinks that's a measure that's important then give it to him. But then stand firm on whatever views you have on the OT.

Basically my gist was spend your energy and time fighting about something you care about, and at the same time show you're a 'team player' as you changed your linkedin status.

But it's all subjective, I continually change my views on how to handle issues like this in the work place, I tend to swing to each extreme as time goes on....I figure I'll get it right by the time I retire :)

But really...If I had other opportunities then I'd get the hell out.

Eh, bring it up with them -- if they still have insane expectations: leave. I could envision a situation or two annually where more than ~40 hours a week are expected at some firms, but constantly? That's just a nightmare waiting to blow up in their (and your) face. Burning people out is not the way to build a company.

I think you should have a candid conversation with him and the HR manager or equivalent (together) about the working hours mentioned in your contract and his expectations. Also ask feedback about the quality of your work. I'm sorry to say this relationship may already be poisoned and it might be difficult to revert it, even if you work the hours he's requiring. He may just be trying to take advantage of your situation (recent hire, recently relocated) or he's setting up some excuse for project delays (someone to blame).

I don't believe long-term crunch mode is effective. I've been burned by it before, so I would probably say that I will deliver more and better by working sane hours, and try and stick to that arrangement. If the situation doesn't improve you might want to shop around for another opportunity.

Off hand, It sounds like your project manager was talking without really thinking about it. These expectations sound kinda unprofessional. It's his job as a product manager to motivate you, but that doesn't mean he knows how to actually do that.

Personally I think being 100% into your job indicates a lack of a healthy balance. It's called overtime for a reason, and repeated studies have shown that a 40 hour work week is optimal, and that hours above that may create a temporary increase in productivity, but a long term decrease if maintained.

I'd broach the topic with a friendly coworker and get a read on the situation, and use that in your dealing with your product manager.

I'd take a look at Andrew Carnegie's how to make friends and influence people. It's a bit dated, but an easy read that will give you some suggestions as to how to think about dealing with your manager.

You need to figure out, why is your project manager saying these things? What are his/her ultimate goals, beyond the intermediate things you mentioned? What does he/she value, as a person?

Maybe he's/she's saying these things because he/she wants to feel useful. Maybe he/she is under pressure from his boss to improve productivity, and he/she is going about it in a backwards way. Maybe they are squeezing you because your new, and they thinks they can get more out of you.

Ultimately, you may have to figure out if you want to take on additional responsibilities, and if so, what do you feel is fair compensation for such efforts, and if not, how to deal with these suggestions. But if you have an issue with them, it's better to say something sooner rather than later.

My guess is that this person has no idea that you are this bothered by what he/she said, and that you feel disrespected. They may not care or may take offense if you approach the issue in those terms, hence the Carnegie book, so you can use what they actually care about to get them to see where you are coming from and try to resolve things in a mutually satisfactory manner.

How about working on your communication with your boss?

You said you had to leave at 5PM, did you leave at 5PM everyday for an entire week? Did you let your immediate manager know you would be leaving at 5PM because of personal issues?

Did you ask what hours were expected of you as an employee?

There could be a lot of reasons why your manager is treating you this way, perhaps he heard from someone that you worked with previously that you were not dedicated? The easiest way to resolve this is to sit down and have a open conversation about expectations on both sides. After that conversation you can both make clear decisions about whether or not its a good fit (though don't say thats the purpose of the conversation).

Dedicated? It's a job. That's all it is. It's not a 24/7 proposition. You show up for a reasonable amount of time (8-10 hours), work your hardest, then you go home.

I'm not passing judgement, but other people do. If you have a conflict with someone you should understand how they are forming their judgements and views. Whether you agree or not.

If you're a salaried employee you work for what you get paid. That's the deal in the contract.

Don't really understand people that work more. I can understand flexibility in when you spend the time and are not a 9-5'er.

If you deliver, it doesn't matter what creed the company is. Delivery is the most important thing on a proyect, if someone is too good at work than in 2hs a week he/she delivers and then they use their time on other things out of the office, then it shouldn't be a problem. In fact, it would be a miracle.

If they see this as a problem, then their problem isn't productivity, its a devotion problem. For devotion, you can work for Jesus and the high lord and spend 24hs of your life on that kind of… creed.

I get two impressions: (1) the PM is a recent hire too; (2) he's a bully.

Further questions: Did the PM interview you before you were hired? Can you talk to the person(s) who interviewed you?

Based on your additional comments to @pedalpete, I would suggest talking to key people further up the chain of command and clarifying what the real, tangible expectations are. Long hours of busy work != effective work.

I fear you may have added poison to your situation by revealing your freelancing work. It would have been better to keep that confidential.

I think the PM's been here for about a year or so. Which actually seems to be quite long in the context of this company.

Yes, the PM was one of the 4 interviewers who interviewed me. HR lady, PM, tech lead (of the company), and tech lead of the product.

I can't say I'm being completely objective as I am part of this situation, but he definitely did not come across with these expectations during the interview. You could say things were pretty "rosy" in the interview (well, if something seemed wrong I probably wouldn't take the offer anyways).

Thing is, this company doesn't really have a chain of command in the sense that management/executive level people don't really talk to or bother with the going-ons of the team (I guess it feels quite "big corp" in that sense). My understanding is that in our product team of 5 (1 copywriter, 1 PM, 2 devs, 1 designer/UX), the PM is pretty much management/HR.

I just remembered something else when you mentioned the PM is probably a new hire too. For whatever reason, when I got on this team, I found out that there were 2 previous devs (different timeline, they didn't work together), before me. Basically Dev-A stayed for ~5 months or so, then Dev-B came on and left after ~3 months, then Dev-C (current tech lead for our product) came. From my understanding, they all had a 1 month-ish overlap where they had 2 devs for knowledge transfer, but it's been the first time this team has had 2 devs officially. I felt a bit iffy hearing about that (it came up in some documents I read when I started, but any questions about their involvement were always avoided)...

I think this is just piss-poor management.

1) I could put on my LinkedIn page I'm a professional Dolphin Waxer and it would be f--k all to do with them.

2) As long as all your deliverables/assigned tasks on the plan are on track then I don't see what the problem is, unless it is one of "perception management" which is largely nonsense. Of course, if you have stuff that is running late and you're not trying to bringing it back on schedule that is a different issue.

To sum up - the PM sounds like a dick.

1) a company of ~50 people doesn't sound like a start up to me, and calling themselves one just reeks of opportunism at the cost of the employees 2) there's plenty of work in Vancouver 3) as others have commented, constant crunch is neither healthy nor productive 4) talk it over with HR, if they continues to seem unreasonable, go somewhere else. Your mention of two others that came before you but left after a short time raises a red flag

Change jobs. There are lots of opportunities here in Vancouver and many employers who frown on overtime because they know that it leads to writing a tangled mess of code that is a nightmare to maintain.

Seriously, leave the Linkedin profile alone and start shopping your resume around. If you are downtown there is enough density of software shops that you could just walk around with a pile of resumes and knock on doors.

Talk to lots of people. Talk, talk, talk.

Employment is a two way street. Your employer is not doing you a favor. You have an economic benefit to give to your employer. Your employer has an economic benefit to give to you. The moment that relationship stops being economically beneficial to you, it's time to move on. Period. You are not a slave, and it is not a privilege to work at a startup even if some people want you to believe that.

This guy needs to stay late and do his own job. Any company can claim they are a startup and squeeze their employees for all of their time, but that does not make it worthwhile.

I, personally, refuse to work extra hours. I've burnt too many years with too little pay to do it ever again. If I cannot do it in the time allotted. I will get a good night's sleep and go at it hard the next day.

By any chance, is he being sarcastic ? I myself sometimes find it very hard with some people in figuring out whether they are just joking or are serious. Even when they joke, they just have a straight face and say it seriously.

From the look of it, I feel the manager is just pulling a joke on you. Specially with the LinkedIn stuff.... But maybe I'm wrong.

I have seen fairly similar things, but have not worked in a start-up of nearly that size.

I also tend to see more demands made of younger, unmarried developers than older ones (not that the young guys are paid more! — probably the opposite is true), which is shitty and obviously not very fair.

Yep, I took a pay cut joining this place because I was really excited about the product -- probably another terrible idea.

Yes, it's normal. Unfortunately, startup companies in the 50-200 employee phase rank amongst the worst working situations.

Agreed, a company with 50-200 employees that still hasn't found a business model is just burning money fast and is going to be one stressful place.

LinkedIn is so creepy, and I totally resent people pressuring me into it. Kool Aid.

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