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Ask HN: Is it me or ...?
465 points by neutralino1 on Mar 26, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 256 comments
Hi all,

I am a developer and I have worked at a few startups which I have subsequently quit.

Everytime I get hired by a company, I am 100% motivated and committed. I specifically choose companies whose business I find appealing. I am not an executant who can simply code anything for anyone. I like to work for projects I support. I care more about the project than about the salary and benefits. I suppose that's the case for most of us.

However, it seems after a year or two in the company, the honeymoon period ends and the only thing I can see is the bullshit coming out of management's mouth. Bogus business plans, inability to close deals, short-sighted decisions, petty management techniques, overly frequent pivots, you name it...

Am I 1/ Bad at choosing my jobs, 2/ Too demanding towards the companies that hire me, 3/ Mentally unstable, 4/ Unrealistic, 5/ Just a normal bullshit intolerant guy ?

Is there any way I can find a boss I respect beyond a couple of years?

Tell me about your experiences. Thank you.

I think it would be helpful to try to understand the perspective of management.

Consider an extreme stereotype: the "business school guy." He went to XYZ school of management, where he learned that a business is an organization that takes in raw materials and creates something more valuable than the sum of the unfinished parts. He learned how to raise money by selling his business idea to other people who think like him. He learned about how to manage people, perform marketing, design products, and set priorities for his organization.

I don't mean to suggest this is the type you're working with here, but I offer a relatable character to which you can add traits or from which you can remove them to fit the particulars of your experience.

For him, running a business is as much an exercise in tradeoffs and compromises as building an engineering system probably is for you:

You end up running with an imperfect design because of time constraints and because you're a slave to shipping. He runs with an imperfect business plan because that's what his board thinks is best and because he's a slave to their opinions. You devote time and energy to a technology only to have it fail when you need it most. He pursues partnerships and deals that fall through because of unforeseen differences, despite his best efforts. You end up rewriting your architecture because it didn't meet your requirements as well as you expected. He pivots the business because his original business plan isn't panning out as he anticipated. Et cetera.

The point is that generally people in management can be assumed to be doing their best. Despite what hacker news and TechCrunch try to convince you, running a company is a job just the same as building an engineering system. Incentives aren't always aligned, you have to cut corners, and conflicts are unavoidable. As someone on the inside of engineering divisions of technology giants, I can tell you that you get this sort of conflict and frustration even at these "engineering-first" sorts of places.

Naturally some companies are better than others. You want to find a manager who thinks of himself as your equal rather than your slaver. Instead of asking yourself "does this management know what it's doing?" ask yourself "does this management make me better as a professional?" If you can say "yes" to the second question, the answer to the first question doesn't matter. The company can fail, but if you come out of it better than you came in, you still succeeded.

Here, take all my upvotes. :)

The only thing I would amend is that most poor managers aren't the "slaver" types (if you end up reporting to one, it'll be obvious and you'll know to run as far and as fast as possible). Instead, they're weak -- incapable of protecting their people and productivity. Weak managers come in a lot of flavors, and it takes time to discern when one isn't working out. For example, you could have a promotion who has trouble taking on a managerial role with his or her old team; a likable supervisor who lets his team drift so he doesn't come across as too demanding; a manager whose focus is polishing the rungs up the ladder rather than the people below him; or a tech hire who has trouble focusing on project and budget details, or who avoids dealing with peer managers as much as possible.

A related problem is more strategic, and one that you find in very large organizations and bureaucracies -- the biggest conglomerates and public-sector agencies. In these environments, management undergoes a phase shift at a certain level, and successive layers of management are wholly budget-focused, isolated from operational realities. As I warn people, "First, you do. Then you tell people how to do it. Then you tell people what to do. Then you're creating the conditions for people to do what they do. Then you tell people why they're doing it." That fourth layer is where the trouble starts -- several layers of managers are involved in creating the financial conditions to allow lower-level management to actually get things done, but this means that by the time you get to the C suite or seventh floor, the executive/political layer is dealing with managers who aren't directly plugged into operational realities. The end result is that decisions coming from the top are, no matter how well-intentioned and considered, depending on rumor, hearsay and report, not on-the-ground knowledge. Thus the sense from the floor that the only thing the brass are good at doing is consuming steak and producing bullshit.

Exactly. I received a very valuable piece of advice in my first job out of college, when I reported to someone who seemed to be the slave-driving type. That advice was this: "Everyone's got a boss."

It's something to think about. Shit tends to roll downhill, and not because people are actively attempting to be sociopaths (at least not in 90% of cases). It's because they're under even more pressure than you are. If you think you're dealing with bullshit and politics at the lower to middle levels of an organization, just wait till you experience the upper-middle, or even the top. Politics gets more intense the higher you climb, not less. There's more bullshit to deal with at the top of the mountain. That's why there's so much shit to roll downhill in the first place. :)

In general, it helps to think of corporate bullshit as an emergent property of the organization, rather than as the personal failing of your immediate supervisor. Bullshit comes from constrained resources, limited timelines, and constant pressure. That's not to say there's no such thing as a bad boss. Most bosses are probably not great at being bosses (cf., the Peter Principle). But life is much easier when you give your boss the benefit of the doubt (to a point), and assume there's some shit way beyond his or her control. If you're unable to make this emotional compromise, your life's going to be pretty miserable for the next 40 years -- regardless of how high you climb, or what line of work you're in. Big-picture perspective is a valuable business skill. Maybe one of the most valuable.

Honestly, your word of "BS" blind me of understanding the true meaning of your paragraph.

also, be able to pick up cues on psychopath personalities in management positions and steer clear of them

good luck

better to know who you're dealing with and stay under the radar.

To me you seem to be describing some sort of ideal world.

Your vision fails to describe why information is withheld from engineers that would help them do their job. We wont even talk about why doublespeak and so often what seem to be outright lies are told to trusted members of the team.

The world you describe is some rational honest place where people are trying to build a system they understand. In an engineering project when we're doing that, you don't withhold information or surprise people, because that causes all sorts of conflicts and false starts, and robs people of the power to contribute.

That deliberate lack of communication, which steals perspective and the ability to think about your situation, is the hallmark of the division between management and workers in a growing company. And the only explanation for it is a paternalistic disrespect for the underlings who 'can't handle the truth'.

I see the job of a dev manager (i.e. his direct reports are mostly engineers) as the following:

(1) Filter requests for work to his team to avoid them having to constantly task-switch, with the associated loss of productivity and job satisfaction.

(2) Provide his team with the business context for the work he asks them to do, and trust them to handle details.

(3) Get his team the support they need to do their jobs.

These all involve tradeoffs. If you constantly tell your team every part of every business discussion that takes place as part of (2), you can fail at (1) and distract them from their long term goals and work.

I've worked with managers that didn't protect their team at all, and who constantly forwarded emails and repeated conversations to us until we could barely get anything done before having to switch to a new task. I've also worked with managers who didn't tell anyone anything, and let their reports toil in the dark for months before letting them know that most of their work was wasted.

A good manager will sometimes fall on either side of the line; a bad manager will consistently err to one side. Managers are just like engineers - there are a lot of bad ones, and some good ones, and size of the company is pretty orthogonal.

This, except that it applies to all managers not just dev managers.

I call it the "fog of war", and it's a signal that you need to get the hell out. Not all companies have it.

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

I cringe each time I read this quote. It isn't helpful. I have had too many people take advantage of "second chances" by pleading ignorance. Maybe I'm just too cynical.

The only take away here is that you have to treat malice and stupidity the same. The person in question either messed up intentionally, or is too stupid to do their job. You should fire them, or quit, whichever position you happen to be in.

"Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice."

Heyyyyyy, no bogarting Clarke's third law.


It helps you frame your point of view and, true, avoid cynicism.

Stupidity can also be more subtle. It's not always clear cut idiocy, there's a continuum between total and absolute head-desk stupidity, and ignorance or information blindness that's outside one's control.

Whereas malice is much less a continuum: the only question is, to what degree is this person an asshole, and when will they strike next? Intentionally and willfully hurting others is another world from anything unintentional.

The law treats it the same way. Hence, I believe it is helpful.

In any case, it's a razor: it separates illogical conceptual rabbit-holes from that which is more likely to be true.

Interestingly enough (in the context of this thread) my personal corollary to that is:

"Never attribute to incompetence that which is adequately explained by bad management."

Pretty much a noop, since bad management is a subcategory of incompetence.

It's about not blaming bad code/product on developer incompetence though.

It's a leftover from a time when I unfairly criticised a number of programmers who were actually heroically fighting to deliver a quality product under bad management.

100% agree!

This is very Deming-esque, you know? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Edwards_Deming

If you blame management every time, you'll never take responsibility for your own actions.

You'd think this, but it turns out not to be true.

When a person is working under good management, with the autonomy to do what they need to be successful, the ability to get better at their work and master a field, and a clear purpose, responsibility is a given.

It is when individuals are falsely given responsibility for things they cannot possibly control that personal responsibility loses its credibility.

You don't have to blame management (or the system you're in) every time (and most people don't), but you should every time it is true, to preserve the very idea and value of responsibility itself.

I'd say his description fits where I work quite well. Essentially the only lack of communication I've ever experienced that hindered my work was from the end customer, or occasionally we have a communication breakdown between teams.

Naturally some companies are better than others. You want to find a manager who thinks of himself as your equal rather than your slaver.

This is key. The first sin of management is to think they're managing people. Innovation comes from collaboration among talented equals trying to solve a real problem in the world, not from someone bestowing his unique vision upon the masses and giving them the privilege of working for him. It is the latter attitude that I find the best predictor of whether there's going to be endless frustration at a company.

It's a fine line though, because in any organization leadership is critical, and good leadership is not the result of a job title. A good leader fosters that collaboration, and points it in the right direction to meet some sort of larger, defined goal.

Bad managers who lack good leadership qualities seem to distract people from the fact that leadership is still essential.

Which makes it important to note and distinguish that manager and leader are not synonymous.

A manager that believes they are a leader because they are a manager is usually very bad news.

A leader doesn't need to be a manager.

It's difficult to find leadership qualities in managers, often times because many that WANT/DESIRE to manage want to for purposes of power and control.

A true "king" LEADS his army into battle on the field, he doesn't command and order them to fight from behind the front lines.

The king who leads the charge dies first.

Couldn't agree more, I had a great manager for many years and the way we worked together is that we were working together but were handling different parts of the problem.

We would met before he went to an important meeting or before he took an official position on something, he'd tell me what he thought about it etc. We discuss what we could do, if there was something I needed or something I didn't want to happen. Sometimes I couldn't get what he needed, sometimes it was the other way around but it was very functional.

Innovation comes from collaboration among talented equals, not from someone bestowing his unique vision upon the masses and giving them the privilege of working for him.

You nailed it.

It is the latter attitude that I find the best predictor of whether there's going to be endless frustration at a company.

Agreed. The MBA entitlement is pretty easy to spot and always toxic.

It's better to compromise on technical details (Clojure vs. Python, Git vs. Hg) than on quality of people. If you find yourself making excuses for people because you want to believe, chances are your initial judgment (stay away) was the right one.

* The MBA entitlement is pretty easy to spot and always toxic.*

You can remove the MBA, and it generalizes just fine.

It's better to compromise on technical details (Clojure vs. Python, Git vs. Hg) than on quality of people.

I would posit that the general tenor of a technical community, the quality of people attracted to it, and the efficiency with which it accrues value and gains the right kind of mindshare is really the crux of the matter. The technology is just a fortunate byproduct of technologist lives well lived. This applies equally to companies and programming language communities.

If you have the above and bad tech, you will still get by. If you have the above and good tech, you will prosper. If you have bad people/culture and excellent tech, you will fail anyways.

quote: You can remove the MBA, and it generalizes just fine.

agreed - I've worked for MBA's and non MBA's. In my small sample the MBA's have actually been less entitled, but I also know that the multiple of anecdote != evidence

The actual quote is, "The plural of anecdote is evidence."

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-the-fox-knows/ - search for "plural of anecdote"

Yup, so much for "stuff you read on the Internet" being the basis of rigorous, insightful analysis. Sturgeon's Law applies.

Thanks - I still like the saying, though I'm not sure how to correct it now.

To me multiple anecdotes signify a small uncontrolled, non random sample set, that you really shouldn't use to draw conclusions.

I once head a radio personality say,"There's nothing more useless to a company than a Harvard MBA." At first, I thought it was too harsh, but as I put on a few years, I knew what he was talking about. As a society, we are becoming more sophisticated; a lot of us know when we are being manipulated. When ever I see a company advertise incessantly--I now wonder who pays for this exposure. I then usually find a company with drastically lower prices, and by golly, holy hootenanny; This company doesn't advertise everywhere.

> You want to find a manager who thinks of himself as your equal rather than your slaver.

In my experience, this doesn't exist. Having a manager has already established a hierarchy of relationships that you deal with in your day to day work. Even if your manager tries to be an equal to you, they are in fact not your equal, they are your superior.

> Instead of asking yourself "does this management know what it's doing?" ask yourself "does this management make me better as a professional?" If you can say "yes" to the second question, the answer to the first question doesn't matter. The company can fail, but if you come out of it better than you came in, you still succeeded.

I don't buy into this definition of success. Indeed, if you don't have any confidence in what management is doing, it is really unlikely that said management is making you a better professional. In those scenarios you are already looking at management through a lens of mistrust (mistrust that may be totally justified). For someone like the submitter, if being a part of a specific kind of project is more important that money or resume building, they will have a hard time finding a place where they won't be unhappy over time because they do not have a true ability to affect the outcome of the software they build and work on as they are not an equal to those making decisions.

>> You want to find a manager who thinks of himself as your equal rather than your slaver. > In my experience, this doesn't exist. ... Even if your manager tries to be an equal to you, they are in fact not your equal, they are your superior.

The key here is that the manager tries to be, influencing his behavior. Yes if you look at the org chart, their roles are different. Otherwise he'd have no authority to make decisions for the team. However, the quality described above isn't whether they are equal or not, it's how the manager thinks of himself.

I agree that if you took the perspective of management, that you'd understand more of where they're coming for and cut them a little more slack. However, I still doubt that you could forgive them for all of this stuff - "Bogus business plans, inability to close deals, short-sighted decisions, petty management techniques, overly frequent pivots, you name it...".

> Instead of asking yourself "does this management know what it's doing?" ask yourself "does this management make me better as a professional?" If you can say "yes" to the second question, the answer to the first question doesn't matter. The company can fail, but if you come out of it better than you came in, you still succeeded.

The question isn't "did they make me better?". It's "did they make me better than the best alternative". Opportunity cost. Working for a shitty company might make you better as a professional, but not better than your alternatives.

> The point is that generally people in management can be assumed to be doing their best.

This is a very significant point. The best part about building systems with computers is that their reactions to your changes are deterministic. With people, it isn't so cut-and-dry, especially in the world of cutting big-money business deals. In my personal opinion, there's really no "right" way to run a business, but there are plenty of wrong ways.

Over time, I've learned that one major origin of respect for your co-workers as well as your superiors stems from a respect or appreciation of them as people. Personally, I feel as though many of my co-workers could have been friends of mine had we met outside of work (not that they can't be even though we met at work, but you get my point), and I'm confident that they both understand and respect my viewpoints, because I do the same for them. This means a lot to me. When I see something wrong, I say something. In a small team startup, I believe I have the power to make changes that could affect the outcome of the company. Not only that, but I believe the product that we're developing is useful and beneficial to mass amounts of people. It may not be a venue by which we can "change the world", but perhaps we can make a few people's lives a little easier and bring their costs down tremendously.

So coming back, a lot of what this may be is a disconnect between the developer and the authority figures that sit atop him in the hierarchy. It's always hard to bow down to authority, but one with power who you both trust and admire is not really considered an "authority" in your head, is it?

It could "just be you", but I happen to think there are far more people out there I wouldn't want to work for than people I do want to work for.

The point is that generally people in management can be assumed to be doing their best.

Yes, but people in general judge themselves on their intentions while judging others on their results.

Part of maturing is figuring out how to not do this. Until that happens, it's easy for someone to find faults with everyone everywhere.

For me, I'm reminded of the times early in my career where our marketing people were making what I thought were the most boneheaded moves I could have imagined. One project in particular seemed especially bad and like we were flushing marketing dollars and IT resources down the toilet. That project ended up being responsible for 60% of our business for several years. From that, I learned to fulfill my role to the best of my ability and always respect the opinion of experts in other roles. They might not bat 1000, but I don't either.

> The point is that generally people in management can be assumed to be doing their best. Despite what hacker news and TechCrunch try to convince you, running a company is a job just the same as building an engineering system.

Your analogy is excellent, but you don't follow through with it all the way. I don't think it's fair to say managers are generally doing the best job they can any more than it's fair to say that systems are engineered as well as they can be. Most software is buggy and barely serviceable, and I don't doubt that is true for management as well.

I'm not in the same camp as engineers who think management is worthless, mind you. Indeed, my experience with engineering teams has taught me that good management is worth it's weight in gold. But it's also scarce.

Good advice. Find a place where you work with the team rather than for a manager. They do exist.

Well, we can't pretend that the culture has nothing to do with it, right?

I mean, how many truly big ideas are coming out of SV vs. ideas that are simply looking to attract eyeballs and create viral growth for the buyout/exit?

Also, how does the lean startup, MVP, iterate, pivot, succeed-at-anything culture impact the stability and vision (or lack thereof) of companies? Seems that it leads to a lack of the type of mission that would keep someone like the OP inspired. If you join a company that has a vision to revolutionize X, then pivots 8 times before landing on talking toasters, then, yeah, you may lose interest at one of those pivots.

Given your analogy, it seems to me that if one wants to work for a start-up it would be wise to vet the CEO as much as they should vet any engineer. Naturally, not all CEO's are created equally and not all of them are bound to succeed. However, if one can determine which CEO's are good at problem solving and making good architecture decisions (maybe based on existing business design patterns?), then it is possible to at least narrow down which ones are likely to be more successful, and thus leave you less frustrated.

It's a very hard job, and not everyone is up to the task. Good management is very hard to find, and that's true of any position. It's hard to find good engineers too. Maybe the best advice for OP is to try and get to know the company leaders more on a personal basis before joining a startup. If they're still small enough, grabbing coffee and having a meetup with the founders is very practical.

> does this management make me better as a professional?

I ask myself this all the time, and it still really difficult. For me, the answer has been to push my margins up to the point where I can take care of professional development on my own dime.

Most startups fail. Bogus plans and an inability to close deals are probably just the signs that failure is coming for that company.

As someone going to work for a startup, you're in much the same position as an investor. It won't be fun or lucrative to work for one that fails, so you're trying to predict which ones will succeed. In fact, it's even more important for you than for investors, because your portfolio consists of a single company. So I would suggest doing what investors do, and try (a) to learn as much as you can about how to predict which startups will succeed, and (b) analyze any company you're considering working for very thoroughly.

I've written a lot about how to predict which startups will succeed. I'd look for a startup with very determined founders who are working on a problem that grew organically out of their own experiences.

> I'd look for a startup with very determined founders who are working on a problem that grew organically out of their own experiences.

I'd go slightly further than that: look for founders who are working on a problem that grew organically out of their own experiences in an industry in which they have real domain expertise.

A lot of today's startups are doomed to fail because the founders are trying to "disrupt" industries that they really don't know anything about and have no relationships in. Ironically, however, the people who have deep knowledge about an industry and the connections to navigate it often aren't what many prospective startup employees would consider "technical" (i.e. they don't "code"), so they're dismissed, particularly in places like Silicon Valley.

Finally, it's worth pointing out that successful companies often fail to deliver attractive financial returns for employees beyond salary, so it's not enough to try to identify companies you believe have higher probabilities of success. You have to be able to negotiate a quality equity package with them. The average prospective employee is not going to be able to do that, especially in Silicon Valley, where:

1. Exorbitant valuations help justify miniscule equity grants for most employees.

2. A reliance on capital from professional investors (angels, VCs) results in dilution and the granting of preferences to certain classes of stock, leaving employee equity extremely vulnerable.

The best advice I could give to someone wanting to join a startup who is driven, in part, by the potential for financial return, is to instead seek opportunities to partner with folks who are deep in a particular industry, preferably unsexy, who wouldn't get the time of day from an engineer in Palo Alto because they can't write code and are probably older than 35. These people are not hard to find if you leave Bubbleville.

We like domain expertise, but empirically it's not critical. The Airbnbs knew zero about the hospitality industry when they started. They just knew they'd had a life-changing experience when they rented out airbeds on their floor during a conference. The Stripes didn't know anything about payments before they started Stripe, except what any hacker who'd tried to process payments before Stripe did (that existing options were terrible). And it was because the Homejoys didn't know how to clean, and thus found themselves living in squalor, that they ended up starting Homejoy.

It's also rare for a startup to succeed without making money for the employees. The founders have the same type of stock as the employees, so the founders generally can't make money without the employees also doing so. There are occasionally cases where a startup gets so close to death that it has to raise money on terms that wipe out all the existing shareholders (including the founders), and then goes on to succeed. But usually those successes are middling anyway.

I agree about unsexy ideas though. All the startups I mentioned were unsexy ideas to start with, though their success has made some of the ideas seem somewhat sexier.

> We like domain expertise, but empirically it's not critical.

That's quite a statement. Companies like AirBnB are exceptions, not rules. If you look at most of the top tech IPOs in 2013, which is as legitimate a way as any of identifying companies that have actually delivered liquidity to employees, there's domain expertise everywhere. Examples:

Veeva - founder was previously at salesforce.com, PeopleSoft, IBM

Marketo - founders hailed from Epiphany

FireEye - founded by a former Sun Microsystems engineer

Zulily - founded by Blue Nile execs

Tableau Software - founded by university researchers who specialized in data visualization

Rocket Fuel - founders all worked in ads at Yahoo

RingCentral - founder previously sold a software communications company to Motorola

Pretending that you can spot the next Mark Zuckerberg or Brian Chesky is a fool's errand if you're a prospective startup employee. Domain expertise doesn't guarantee success, but it is more likely to minimize certain risks, particularly those around market fit and sales.

> It's rare for a startup to succeed without making money for the employees though.

A founder who owns 4% of a $1 billion company gets a $40 million pay day when his company goes public. And chances are he's going to be receiving more equity if he's still a member of the management team. An employee who owns .01% of a $1 billion company gets a $100,000 bonus when his company goes public. Even if you own .1%, you won't net $1 million after taxes. This is not the type of "making money" many early startup employees are after.

Simply put, the idea that owning a smaller piece of a bigger pie is better than owning a bigger piece of a smaller pie doesn't stand up to scrutiny in Silicon Valley because most startups don't go public at billion-dollar valuations and the vast majority of M&A deals are under $50 million. The odds that you are going to work at Facebook in 2006 or AirBnB in 2009 are not very high.

Heck, the odds are that you won't even get an exit, so why not work for (or with) somebody who isn't figuring things out for the first time?

I just mentioned 3. There are many more. Like I said, we like domain expertise. But when you have that many exceptions there's not much of a rule left.

Just how many Facebooks and AirBnBs are there? You can look at the biggest success stories on the internet, from Google to Salesforce, and you'll find that in the vast majority, the founders had what most people would reasonably call "domain expertise." If you want to debate or exclude the concept of "domain expertise" altogether, that's fine. The number of major internet companies founded by folks with no professional experience/accomplishment is even smaller.

In any case, I respect that you're looking at this from the perspective of a tech investor in Silicon Valley, but you're in a completely different boat than prospective startup employees like the OP.

The universe of opportunities for developers is significantly greater than the universe of investment opportunities for Silicon Valley investors. There are literally countless opportunities in literally countless markets to build companies that, if not pure "tech" companies by standard Valley definition, use technology and the web to gain advantage. A lot of these would not be viable investment opportunities for YCombinator, but they will still make those who are successful in exploiting them very financially "comfortable."

Bottom line: any developer motivated in some part by a desire to make real money is doing himself a disservice by considering that the best path to financial success is to join an early-stage Silicon Valley startup for basis points in equity.

You are none of the above.

If you've got a few years of development experience in companies like that, I recommend you "find a boss [you] respect" by becoming your own boss. Start with consulting. These engagements are different than employment because often times they're not full-time and you can stagger a couple of contracts together at the same time. This is to your advantage because you now have two "bosses" (clients) instead of one. I know it sounds counterintuitive that more bosses are better, but if things aren't going as you'd like on one contract, you can move on to another contract as it becomes available without the sort of risk you incur when you're switching full-time employment at one company to another.

From there, you can further increase your independence by building a product that has many smaller customers. Again, many "bosses", but you need each one individually much less, so you're actually more in control of your circumstances.

If it doesn't work out, you can be reasonably confident you can just fall back into regular full-time employment. In this scenario, your definition of failure is most people's definition of success.

On the first day of my first consulting gig, as I was getting set up, an argument ensued over which server I should be doing my work on. In my old job I would have got caught up in the nonsense. This time I could just say: "OK, you guys figure it out, I'll just wait over here".

Sitting and reading while you count the dollars someone else is burning through can be rather therapeutic.

This time I could just say: "OK, you guys figure it out, I'll just wait over here".

You could have said that before in other situations. Regardless of what your work situation is, you can always do this. I haven't but in retrospect realize I could have in more situations than I want to acknowledge. The downside to that is you end up having to live with someone else's decisions for far longer than they spent making the decision, which may often stink. But as an independent consultant you still have to do the same thing. The only primary difference I see is that you usually can see an end in sight when you won't have to deal with decision X, whether it's jumping to another client for the afternoon work, or getting a different contract 6 months from now.

You can, and I do. The difficulty is catching yourself in time before you are drawn into the conflict. It's amazing when you see it happening "from the outside" and you realize how much time you were formerly wasting by participating in what are, in the end, usually pointless arguments.

Disengage, then say "let me know by XX:YY when you make a decision" and find something else to work on. Truly liberating.

As a fellow consultant, I would like to add that the temporary nature of consulting work makes this sort of infighting and politics a lot more palatable to me. I know that in 3-6 months I can laugh at it...(or at least forget about it)

So I sort of suffer from the same symptoms as the OP. Consulting has proven to be a good choice for me, as I do get some variety and dont get as bored as I did when I was a FTE somewhere...

any advice on getting into consulting?

Well for me, I just fell into it. I was a .NET developer and ended up working for a company that taught me a niche skill (CTRM/ETRM). I then learned how to customize two of the larger applications in this field.(RightAngle and Allegro) Now I do some development but it is more implementation/integration/customization. My development skills definitely help, but its not the main focus of my work anymore.(unless I start a hobby project)

I think having a niche specialized skill certainly helps, but you could probably find work at a "big 4" firm without it. Being either technical or functional AND personable helps. I am pretty easy going so I can get along with most, and have a pretty positive attitude most of the time. That said Im not overly extroverted, so that isnt a requirement. If you want to do it, work towards making it happen. Linked in(for better or worse) can be a good resource here. Join a professional group there, go to hh events, make connections. I dont think it is a tough field to break into.

thank you for the advice, I'm just exiting university so it really helps. Much appreciated!

As a fellow consultant, I found this comment quite liberating. Thank-you.

This also helps you gain perspective. Once you work for yourself, you may hear yourself spitting bullshit, creating bogus plans, not closing deals, making short-sighted decisions, implementing poor management practices, pivoting too often, etc. Then you see the doors swings both ways.

And then you can work to stop making short-sighted decisions and implementing poor management practices, because you can identify the bullshit.

This made me laugh, because it's so true.

"I'm self-employed, and my boss is still an asshole."

...but I'm learning"

People leave because of management most of the time.

Read this article and you'll thank me. http://www.hcamag.com/hr-news/people-leave-managers-not-comp...

Unfortunately consulting work doesn't solve any of his problems, he'll still be dealing with the same issues, just under a different employment contract.

The only way to really solve those problems and put yourself in a qualitatively different situation, is found your own startup where you'll truly be your own boss, or at least only have to answer to investors who care more about the big picture.

It solves the problem of being emotionally connected to the job. Maybe it doesn't materially change the day-to-day work, but it's a completely different experience when you can sit back and and get paid $100/hr while other people do stupid things.

You could do that. But you may find you traded one boss you don't like for seven bosses you don't like.

great advice and I agree. Consulting and working hourly changed my perspective a lot.

Where do you find such consulting work? Surely not craigslist . Then where? Should I buy leads from Adwords?

Do you need to become a partner for an ERP software company? How successful will you be calling yourself a 'consultant'.

If you have any friends that freelance, reach out to them. If they're successful, they'll know about more projects than they can take on, and may be willing to refer some over to you.

They may have also been approached by consulting companies that have more work to do than they can handle, and are looking for independent consultants to help with the load. The rates on those projects are usually a little less than your normal rate, but quite good for getting into the groove of things early on.

You can also reach out to local consulting companies yourself and make yourself available to them.

If you have the choice between a short-term client that wants you 40 hours a week and a long-term client that wants you 10 hours a week, take the long-term client. They'll reduce the risk of being in business for yourself, and you can take on other part-time contracts in addition. When you've got the benefit of a long term engagement, you can experiment with your pricing more with the remaining time. I end up giving a pretty significant discount to the companies I'm engaged with over the long term, as my rates on new projects are constantly going up.

The only reliable place I have found is jobserve.com. That was in the UK, but they seem to have US jobs as well. You might also find some contract jobs on the craigslist jobs sections (just tick the 'contract' option). The computer gigs section of craigslist is a bit hopeless.

Note that this is for medium-to-long-term contract jobs typically lasting 6-12 months.

I'd start by reaching out to people that you already know through previous jobs and any other contacts you have (maybe avoiding people connected to your current employer).

Starting up a business is pretty simple from a paper work standpoint and doesn't have excessive overhead costs or paperwork requirements if you aren't doing any work through said company. Now you have a company ready to accept checks or payment when the work arrives.

do you think incorporating as a company is worth it when you are not making a large amount of money to begin with?

in the US, most states allow an LLC formation - this is usually cheaper and offers you some protection against losing your personal assets in a legal dispute. You need to be above board and document all your stuff (expenses, etc), don't mix personal and business use expenses, keep separate bank accounts, etc. To start with for most solo freelancers, this is fine. At some point - "incorporating" might make more sense, but the ceiling would be moderately high. Going for an actual 'incorporation' may make more sense if you have external shareholders and such, or are looking to take investment from outside. Until then, as a solo practitioner, an LLC is usually the simplest combination of protection and minimal legal record keeping.

Go through a list of startups (e.g., http://www.austinstartuplist.com/emerging-startups), cold call/email/show up at every one of them to offer your services. If your sample is sufficiently large, you're bound to land a gig.

Alumni list for my university has been helpful.

email me :)

sent you an email just now!

John Boyd had this problem.

Boyd was the best fighter pilot in the Air Force. At the Fighter Weapons School, the Air Force's advanced tactics course that the Navy's Top Gun school was later based on, he laid down a challenge to anyone who would take it, in forty seconds, Boyd would maneuver from from having you on his six, to being on your six and winning the battle. It only ever took him twenty seconds and he was never beaten.

Boyd took his immense swagger and put it to work at the Pentagon designing what would become the F-15 and the F-16.

If you think the companies you've worked at had awful management practices, you ain't seen nothing yet. Boyd developed a scientific approach to designing planes based on the laws of thermodynamics. His ideas were constantly ridiculed and attacked, until enough studies were done to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were right.

Using this work, he designs the best fighter plane ever flown by pilots. He almost got that design approved for the F-15 but the bureaucracy, riddled with utterly toxic players, managed to bloat the plane with unnecessary cruft, gold-plating, they called it.

Boyd lost the fight for the F-15, but thinking ahead, he started working clandestinely on his design and, through a combination of back-channel communications with senior leadership under the President, outright neglect of the crap duties the Air Force gave him to marginalize him, he managed to turn his vision of a light-weight fighter into the YF-16, which demolished the competing design that the Air Force insisted have two engines. The YF-17 later became the Navy's F-18.

But the bureaucrats won the day again. After having the F-16 shoved down their throats by Boyd, they again gold-plated the design and the resulting fighter was nothing like the prototype. Boyd gave up in disgust and turned to academics, eventually developing what many consider to be the most important contribution to warfare since Sun Tzu, his OODA loop.

My takeaway from this is that we often limit the scope of our actions unnecessarily. If we focus our energies and efforts on things that management can shut down, then you are bound to be disappointed. I have projects and responsibilities handed down from above that I take seriously and try to do a good job of, but they don't get my passion. That goes into my personal projects and life. You should not sign your passion away for a paycheck. You can't succeed by fighting your opponents, you can only succeed by completely marginalizing them. If management doesn't matter, then they can't hurt you.

Holy hell - I have got to look this guy up.

Edit: I did some reading. A lot of sources referenced a very abrasive manner. That could have been a major factor into why his ideas weren't used more.

It really wouldn't have mattered if he weren't. The Air Force officer corps largely consisted of careerist sycophants who wouldn't have accepted anything that bucked the conventional wisdom of Bigger-Higher-Faster-Further.

We can speculate as to whether Boyd could have been even more of a superman than he already was and what he could have then accomplished. He was able to get the ear of incredibly powerful cabinet members and was successful at pushing projects through an uncooperative and actively hostile Pentagon. It's just that the weight of the status quo was just too huge for even him to move. It's not like he could fire every single general that was in his way, though he did manage to get at least one that I read about, though he never made general himself.

The biography is an excellent read: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38840.Boyd

> he designs the best fighter plane ever flown by pilots

Easy there, comrade.

Perhaps I was a little hasty making that assertion. I'd be very interested in hearing about a plane that was actually built that improved on Boyd's design.

If you're comparing within generations, he's probably talking about the Su-27 and MiG-29. Kinematically, those two platforms are probably able to match or exceed the F-15 and F-16 in at least some flight regimes. Remember that when Boyd applied his design principles, they were set up to design planes that could defeat any current designs - the performance characteristics of the Flanker and Fulcrum were not really known at the time.

If you're comparing across generations, I think it's pretty fair to assume that many of the 5th generation fighters are likely kinematically better than either the F-15 or F-16 in dog-fighting engagements. You can hear a US Airforce talk that includes a discussion about engaging F-22s in dog fighting. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKEa-R37PeU. Wanna skip to 7:50 or so, but the whole thing is pretty interesting if you're into that type of thing

> Kinematically, those two platforms are probably able to match or exceed the F-15 and F-16 in at least some flight regimes.

I'd need to read more, but I don't doubt that the four in-service aircraft are comparable. The design I was referring to was that of the YF-16, the prototype plane Boyd developed in secret. It was so maneuverable that it enabled a completely new type of combat tactic, called in the book I read the 'buttonhook turn'. When the Air Force was done with it, though, it lost all the aerodynamic characteristics that made it special.

If the book is "Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War" by Robert Coram, then I've also read it.

It's very easy to over state what Boyd did. As in, what he did in reality was so fantastic and unbelievable that it's very easy to attribute additional not fully truthful aspects to him.

Unfortunately, can't really talk about the YF-16's combat potential as a dog fighter all that much. But what I can say is that if you apply Boyd's earlier work (E-M theory and E-M charts) to the the YF-16, then its very likely that you -can- compare the various airplanes. While it's certainly true that the YF-16 could perform the buttonhook turn to significant advantage in a wide variety of situations (the buttonhook turn is used when being pursued. By initiating a ridiculous tight turn, you could dump enough velocity to cause the opponent to overshoot, and then MOST importantly, the YF-16 had the thrust-weight ratio required to rapidly regain the energy it had just lost and allow it to reengage), it's quite likely that either the MiG-29 or Su-27 could have beat it in other regimes. For example, look at how the F-4 (a terrible dog fighter) was able to find advantageous engagements against generally aerodynamically superior MiGs during Vietnam (aided by Boyd's E-M work).

It should also be pointed out that amongst the things that the Air Force forced onto the F-16 was a much better radar. Nearly all the major changes made to the production aircraft degraded its talents as a dogfighter (as you point out) while vastly increasing its flexibility and its ability to engage at long-range - decisions which in retrospect were massively beneficial. The biggest thing to ding the USAF with is that they did not sufficiently increase wing area to compensate for the mass increase. In other words, Boyd's vision of where air combat was heading wasn't really spot on.

Also, credit should go to where it belongs. Boyd did not design the YF-16 by himself. The rest of the "Fighter Mafia" deserve just as much credit, as well as the designers at General Dynamics.

> while vastly increasing its flexibility and its ability to engage at long-range - decisions which in retrospect were massively beneficial.

Also vastly increasing the cost of the machine, and decreasing its range. Boyd's vision was of huge numbers of cheap lightweight fighters dominating the skies. They could shoot down anything, evade any threat. Combine them with the unmatched pilot instructor training offered at the FWS and the Air Force would be a truly awesome beast.

Other roles such as CAS could be handled by other planes like the A-10. Boyd's critical insight was that you don't want much flexibility in an aircraft. Make it supremely effective, and it would find a versatility on its own. Just as the superior training of the F-4 pilots (instructed by Boyd himself and his peers) allowed them to be effective despite inferior hardware. A master with an old, rusty sword will beat a novice with Excalibur every time. But give him a gun and he's got a fighting chance.

> In other words, Boyd's vision of where air combat was heading wasn't really spot on.

I would say that air combat could have evolved the way Boyd had envisioned it, but didn't because he was marginalized. Evolution doesn't just happen, someone or something makes it happen. And then the results are looked at as inevitable, when they really aren't. Boyd was probably ahead of his time when it comes to combined arms strategy.

Eventually the Russians or someone else will put his vision into action and mop the floor with their adversaries, proving him right. After all, a good radar and long range capabilities are no good if you can't even keep your bird in the air long enough to put them to work.

The comment seemed to imply that what we ended up with was not quite his design, though, so maybe the originals would have been more performant?

You seem to be into your planes, have you heard of the Avro Arrow?


There is also a pretty good film about it's development starring Dan Ackroyd.

I don't know much about planes, but I remember in High School (90s) when we learned about the Arrow, it was reported that no fighter jet had yet to match her specs. Looks like the F-18 comes close to the Avro top speed.

I was making a joke based on a sweeping breadth of your statement and the fact that every single Russian would disagree that Americans could built a better plane, leave alone the best one. In particular, it is a common belief that any Sukhoi would fly circles around a comparable F, and Mig would do the same, just not as elegantly.

That said, I am curious what were comparing Boyd's F-15 to.

Which planes do you know to be better, and if you have time, why?

it was very illuminating story.

Loads of comments already, but here goes. My brother used to work for Big-DoD. He quit, for reasons you explain here. But, he did tell me about a time his perspective was changed.

He decided to stay late in the cube farm. His original idea was to go around to all the cubes and count to number of Dilbert Cartoons stapled to the oatmeal gray walls. he thought this would be evidence that everyone was cynical and full of shit. Ok, so, her grabs a post-it and goes about tallying it all up. What he saw was not Dilbert and black humor but desperate passion. Most of the cubes were not messy, they were not cynical, they were not reflections of the company. He showed me that ~85% of the cubes were more or less shrines to their families. Pictures of rosy cheeked little girls on swings, little boys with trucks and sticks, graduation photos, school flags and colors, game schedules and rehearsal dates, church functions, pictures of wives on beaches, men dancing the tango, wedding photos with really bad hair-dos, parents with liver spots and tubes in their noses, etc. Most of the cubes were just covered in pictures of family, just every inch. Ok, got it? Most people at this company didn't give a flying turd about the missions or the day to day. They all knew it was some load of horse hockey. It was their families they really cared for. They went in day after day only for those kinky haired girls and those octogenarians. To give their families a better shot at life, to go to college and make a difference. The plant shut down about 5 months ago, leaving all those there in a hell of a lurch.

Honestly, I don't know what the take away is here. That you should work harder, or that families are toxic to a company, or that they weren't dedicated enough to their families. I don't know.

But the people that you work with are just that, people. Forgive them. Love them too.

None of those takeaways seem to be it to me. I think it was just that the people saw the job as a means to an end and didn't particularly care about the management pivoting or bullshitting as long as they got paid and could support themselves and their families.

> None of those takeaways seem to be it to me. I think it was just that the people saw the job as a means to an end and didn't particularly care about the management pivoting or bullshitting as long as they got paid and could support themselves and their families.

When you hang out in places like HN it seems like everyone has this insane drive to succeed and be the best and conquer the world. The truth is that lots of (most?) people are happy getting their paycheck and going home every day. They don't want more responsibility, they don't want to climb the corporate ladder, they don't want to disrupt any industries, they just want to watch their kid play softball.

Sure, they love to say "oh I could run this company better!" but they wouldn't actually want to do it. If you read Yishan's AMA about a day in the life of a CEO it's very similar - most people DON'T want that job and everything that it entails (being on call 24/7 and being 100% responsible for every aspect of the business).

>When you hang out in places like HN it seems like everyone has this insane drive to succeed and be the best and conquer the world. The truth is that lots of (most?) people are happy getting their paycheck and going home every day. They don't want more responsibility, they don't want to climb the corporate ladder, they don't want to disrupt any industries, they just want to watch their kid play softball.

Yeah, that's what I was thinking. Being around these sites can make it feel like the first category's what I'm "supposed" to be doing but I feel more like the second category occasionally. Startups sound like more stress than they're worth sometimes. I'm not sure what route I'll try to go once I graduate, really.

I was a bit surprised at the strange conclusions they offered at the end.

Like so many others your brother encountered individuals that work to support the norm and live a comfortable lifestyle. Hacker News definitely brings out the instinct to leave a imprint in our respected fields. OP distress is understandable and the recommendation to seek consulting is a wonderful alternative.

It's you. It was me a while ago when I finally realized that I am only projecting my anxiety by not having solutions to problems out of my domain. In the past I used to tag business decisions "good" or "bad" on: 1. Tentative technical implementation issues when the decision hits the work floor 2. Conjecture about those business decisions based upon hearsay and blog posts. I have worked in about 4 startups(including the current one) Only when I attempted my own start-up(and miserably failed) did I realize the unreliability of taking such business decisions. For e.g: I have a new product in a virgin market. How should I price it"? One shot or iterate? Or Long sight or short sight? As programmers we expect our employers to empathize with our work, it's only fair that you show the same empathy back to your employers. Now instead of snickering and bitching about it, I try to calm my anxiety by putting myself in the shoes of the decision-taker. If I am still not satisfied, I attempt to resolve it by asking for an open discussion. More often than not I am able to empathize with the decision-taker. Taking the "Archer" way of doing things, i.e thinking about problems when they actually occur has certainly made me happier and more productive.

Thank you for your reply.

I may indeed have been to long to show my concern. You are correct. However, in my mental process, I have tried many times to show empathy towards management, placing myself in their shoes and trying to realise the anxiety that they must be feeling. Yet, I can't make myself to accept choices I do not respect. I may be a pretentious prick but I just have a way of seeing things. Indeed I wouldn't be talking this way if I didn't have the luxury of changing job whenever I wanted and I do realise my luck here.

Well then maybe you are choosing the bad ones. I felt the same way you did before my current company. So when looking for a new job, this time I evaluated both the project and the people behind it. I rejected several offers at seemingly good projects with not so good people. My first filter was: What does the prospective employer expects from me? Does he think I am a magic wand? If he thinks I am a magic wand, he would pay me a nice salary but would get petty later when I do not come up to his expectations. Second filter: Does the employer continues communicating with me in business-lingo when I am consistently requesting for more clarity in standard English. Third filter: (if the employer is from a technical background) Is she vengeful/petty/disrespectful when challenged on a technical query. Especially when I maybe wrong.

"I can't make myself to accept choices I do not respect."

I've been in your shoes.

I confronted the GM (my boss) because I completely disagreed with how things were being done/decided. I feel it was mostly do to a lack of communication and not seeing/knowing some due diligence was being performed by him. I can't respect and blindly follow decisions if I don't feel/believe that the risks have been honestly and truly considered. Show me you thought about the risks and the trade offs and it's easier for me to go along.

EDIT: He gained a lot of respect from me when/since he didn't can me for confronting him.

I'd go with a combination of 1/ and 2/. Most of us are like you.

In 14 years I learned to:

- low my expectancies

- do my job always at 100%, but not 110% (save rare occasions)

- live a life outside work (mine, btw, is a life of wife, side-projects, and mmorpg)

Yes, I'd also add to that...try to carve out a Service from the rest of the project that you can build -your way- without having to fight with anyone else. I know that does wonders for me.

I'm always amused when my Service is up and everything else is down. Then again, vice versa happens and I wonder what the fuck I was smoking when I wrote the part that failed...but hey, when you can only blame yourself it is amazing how much more fun you have at work. :)

I think not working at 110% is difficult for those that "suffer" from imposter syndrome and always being afraid of being "found out".


I think this is honestly good advice. Every employer will want you to live for your job, but for the vast majority of human beings this is not realistic. There's nothing wrong with doing a good job and then going and living a fulfilling life from 5pm to 9am.

I'm not really talking about long hours. I've always been happy doing my 45/50h a week. I don't complain about that. Rather about transparency, clear vision and accountability.

50 hours is a lot of time to be spending at work. Perhaps, when you give so much of your life there you want to feel good about it. But maybe, you would feel less disappointed if you worked 8 hours instead of 10 hours each day and focused on your own fun time :)

I absolutely agree with you! After 10 years of work I only realized in the last few ones that those things you listed are the only to care about. Personally I always try to learn and apply to new projects, and not giving over 100% makes me feel quite comfortable even in those difficult relations expressed in the main thread. It's really important when you work for a company for a long time: you may learn all the dynamics between your colleagues but you cannot avoid some kind of behaviours...

Belatedly realizing the same points.

Most start-up work is 'hauling shit uphill' (horribly paraphrasing a quote about acting that Sean Connery said in his acceptance for some lifetime award).

Thank you for your comment.

I have a very active life outside. I just wish I could subscribe to a project for longer than a couple of years.

I just wish I could subscribe to a project for longer than a couple of years.

With over a decade of experience in my field, I can certainly relate but cannot offer any advice.

I'm currently reading the book below to understand more about this (it's a bit too verbose but it's a decent book I recommend).


From what I've heard/seen most younger engineers have a half-life of 2 years. As in, after 2 years 50% of them will want to move on. This seems to be fairly normal and nothing terrible comes of this. There is also a very neat term I learned about a year ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_relationship_energy. I can see how it'd apply to this situation.

I also found a dangerous situation that comes from commiserating with coworkers. Basically, you can be perfectly happy, chugging along doing your job and one or more of your coworkers is not happy. So you start talking and they start telling you all the things they think are wrong with the company. Next thing you know you are also getting upset with the management, etc. despite them treating you the same as before. You take on your coworkers' misery and adopt their attitude. This has happened to me in the past, sometimes justified, sometimes not. In either case, try to get some perspective on your own situation not just equate it to theirs.

Lastly, is there anything wrong with doing some moving around every once in a while? I don't think so. Or try your hand at freelancing and instead of dealing with a frustrating manager, deal with a whole lot of frustrating customers at once :).

Haha thank you for your reply.

I have tried freelance already and I didn't really like it. I would rather work in a team for a single company/project.

You are correct about talking to others. Yet, even if I have been fairly well treated, I do not want to work in a company where only so-called "high-value" employees such as developers are well treated. I do not support underpaid internship or crappy business developers deal. I know it's probably not my business caring about these things but I have a certain work ethic.

Absolutely. You should care about the company's attitude overall. I found though that sometimes there's a person there that's in a similar position to yours that is just miserable and they are taking their misery out on everyone. I've been in that situation where I start internalizing their issues so I have to step back and think about it.

Currently, I am subcontracting and really like who I work with and how things have been going. I am mostly insulated from dealing directly with angry clients, etc. and I work with more or less the same teams of developers/designers/QA/etc. The projects do change but for me that is fun.

Lastly, there are managers that you can respect long term. My first manager was a guy like that. He ruthlessly advocated for the user, and knew quality from crap. He'd push you to do better and to learn more, yet take great care of you from any outside issues (upper management, etc.) Sadly, the entire group within the larger organization got assimilated due to being a little too independent, and he left shortly after I did.

Whether you're 1/2/3/4/5, you're not alone.

My dad has worked at the same company since he dropped out of college around 40 years ago (he runs it now). I do think our generation's (well, I'm 32, don't know about you) job goals are a lot different and a lot more conducive to short-term jobs, and I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with that. I tend to place maximum value on doing real work and self improvement, and lots of meetings and doing the same work for years aren't the best way to achieve these (fundamentally unachievable) goals.

But even more than that, I think a major problem is that startups are companies that are by definition changing ceaselessly. They're either growing or belt tightening, adding new people who need to be managed even if the team is still functional. The emphasis goes from core product building to scaling and optimizing. Etc.

So, it might be sort of you, but it may also just be the nature of the work. Don't take it too hard.

I have a friend who's... hard to work with? He changes jobs a ton. But his strategy has evolved from 'join a team then get frustrated' to 'join a project, know what you're going to work on, add a ton of value, then maybe find another project at the same company, or not.' It's kind of mercenary but can be really valuable to both parties if you play it right, and keeps him from feeing miserable.

Thank you for your reply. I am 30 and indeed, we seem to have different work expectations than our fathers.

I am probably too easy to work with. I take care of loose ends, make it easy for people to achieve their goal, polish sharp corners for everything to run smoothly, treat everyone respectfully, etc... Everyone ends up thinking everything is natural and are surprised when I suddenly quit.

Maybe you should communicate more along the way of a project? Sounds like they think you're happy doing what you're doing and then "you suddenly quit".

That is a good assessment of the situation :-)

If your communications with your teammates is poor enough that they are surprised when you quit, it's likely you're not getting good information about other aspects of the companies you denigrate. Communicate more openly, with more people to get a better understanding of what's going on.

Definitely try consulting. I've always been a consultant and get bored incredibly easily when programming for money. Regardless of how interesting a project is; we are still doing this for money. Benefit of consulting is that when the term ends be it 4 weeks or 4 months, onwards.

I spent 14 years giving 100% at 2 different companies where in both cases, we started with about 5-10 people and I was an important part of building them up to 100 or more people.

Over time, I watched the passion and integrity of the founders/owners dissolve as they bought expensive real estate and had children.

Decisions that used to be about what would be the most "awesome", became about what would be the most $$$.

Quitting those jobs were two great decisions. After the first one, I was still surprised when it happened again at the second one. Now I'm not surprised anymore. This is just what happens.

Now I stay freelance. Everyone has to be happy all the time or you don't work together anymore. Until I'm in charge, and have the opportunity to sell out my own principles, that's how it's going to be!

For what it's worth, I get bored/disappointed/disinterested with anything I do after 2 years.

Jobs, universities, projects, residence, friends, women... You name it. I can trace that pattern to basically anything I've ever done in my life, to the point that I now count on it.

And that's fine.

Personally, I'd say some combination of 2, 4 and 5.

No company is perfect, even if you're the sole owner & employee. "Inability to close deals" is extremely vague, so I don't want to jump to conclusions, but deals fall through all the time. It could be a sub-par sales team, it could be market conditions, it could be a million things, but that's just a part of business in general.

Short-sighted decisions are also tricky. What you call short-sighted might be necessary for a longer-term strategy. Long-term strategies are great, but sometimes $10 now is more important than $100 next week. If it's a code thing, sometimes you need to have a feature done immediately for contractual reasons, even if it's going to require more work down the road.

Petty management techniques are a pain in the ass, but if it takes you over a year to find them, there's not a ton you can do before looking at your next job to ensure that doesn't happen.

Overly frequent pivots also can be tricky. If you don't see profit/upswing anytime soon, you might be forced to pivot if you can't raise money on reasonable terms. Unless you're privy to board meetings and whatnot, it's hard to say.

There aren't many perfect jobs out there. Like other posters have said, you might be happiest if you can save enough to do your own thing for awhile. But keep in mind that in one way or another, you're probably going to have to deal with other businesses, even if you're running your own show. Deals will fall through, your business plan might not go according to script, you might be forced to make short-sighted decisions just to keep the lights on / keep a client / what-have-you.

One thing I might caution about is quitting too many jobs. I'm not in the valley, but here in Boston, a reputation can follow you. If you get a name for being a perpetual flight-risk, it can be hard to shake. Granted leaving after a year or two at each one probably isn't the worst, but as your career develops, it might make it more difficult if you want to become a leader within a company.

There aren't many perfect jobs out there.

This. After jumping between five jobs (plus some consulting work) over seven or eight years, I've been with the same company for almost eight years now. It is hardly perfect. We screw up process, which in turn leads to buggy products. Product management often doesn't understand the technical limitations of our platforms. Sometimes the projects just plain suck. But the culture is really great, and keeps me there. We get ample PTO, and I can take up to four weeks at a time. I can work remotely when necessary. I have a flexible schedule (unless a client demand requires my presence).

I enjoy coding and building stuff, but I also enjoy the other things in my life. My employer's willingness to understand that covers over a multitude of little things that otherwise might make me leave.

That is so true. Company culture would play a big part for retaining its workforce even if the some of the work is not that engaging. That for me is almost 75% of why I would want to work at a company. However, having said that, the company culture must also match the personality. It is like a marriage.

In Boston, I've found loyalty and reputation are very important qualities people look for and strive for. People stick with jobs through the muck and the mud. Like we do the winters.

In California, people switch jobs at the drop of a hat, and a long chain of startup gigs of 1 or 2 years each is super common and even seen as great experience. Despite being California born and raised, I much prefer Boston's work ethic and loyalty.

This is a fair point. However, keep in mind that loyalty to companies is generally one-sided: most firms will not hesitate to layoff staff if business goals/economics dictate.

Speaking for myself only, any loyalty I have is to people, not to companies. I'm loyal to my boss, my co-workers, etc. These are people I want to work with in the future, and it protects my reputation. Beyond that, I have no loyalty to a company for just the reasons you mentioned.

Wake up! Don't be loyal because a company will never be loyal to you when the time comes.

Do your best, be proud of your work, but do it only for yourself, not for any company. At the end of the day, you're a number on a balance sheet.

As someone who has been an employee and employer, this is false. Sure most companies are not loyal to employees but there are those companies that are. I've worked for 2 in the last 16 years and 8 companies. One I was at for 6 and half years and only let because the economic situation demanded it. The other I currently work at and have been there for a year. There are great companies out there run by good people, it just takes time to find the right ones and sometimes you need to compromise in that it might not be the latest startup or maybe it's a boring manufacturing company job but there are people who run companies that actually care about their employees.

Agree. I've been in both types of companies.

It's certainly true of some companies; they'll drop you without thought, you're only a number, etc. etc.

But some companies are better than that. You're very lucky if you find one. This type of thing drives loyalty, it's not blind.

Despite being California born and raised, I much prefer Boston's work ethic and loyalty.

Honest, non-judgmental question: why?

I get the value of loyalty to people. That I can go on board with. I'll gladly work my ass off or suffer to support people or causes I believe in. However, companies deserve no such loyalty. A pile of other peoples' money that will gladly get rid of you on no notice, or make you answer to an idiot, for any reason or no reason at all, is not worth emotional attachment or loyalty. It's just a thing that you should use (to pay bills and advance your career) while there are common interests.

Working hard when it matters is important and a true test of someone's character, but an unconditional work ethic is not a virtue-- just pointless.

Ultimately all meaning is socially constructed. We have basically two givens in life: we're born and we die. Everything you do in between is an arbitrary choice - certain choices are more popular than others because we don't live in a vacuum and people can't help but be influenced by others, but that doesn't make them intrinsically right or wrong.

I'll flip the question around with another non-judgmental question: how do you define "when it matters", and what would you rather be doing "when it doesn't matter"?

This is the essence of real culture. If a company is "just a thing that you should use (to pay bills and advance your career) while there are common interests" then I have no interest in loyalty.

I have worked for a couple companies that are more than just mutual interest, and I feel very lucky for it. This highlights the value of establishing that true culture. So many companies completely misunderstand this type of culture.

The healthiest approach is to make time for side projects or other non-software related hobbies you may have.

You're being unrealistic. Try lowering your expectations of other people and if you can't find complete fulfillment in your job, just search for it in something else. A job is just a job at the end of the day, you're primarily doing it for money. Not everyone is lucky to both have money and the ideal job at the same time.

It really isn't worth filling your mind with negativity about aspects that aren't fully under your control, which usually is the case when you're working for other people.

Just do your best, let the higher-ups worry about the rest, continue growing professionally through your side-projects and take good care of your health. It may sound silly, but going to the gym for instance, eating healthier, having a regular sleeping schedule can do a lot to lower your anxiety and in turn make your less than ideal job(s) easier to bare.

Thank you for your comment.

You are probably correct but I find it a sad take on professional life. I hope I can prove you wrong :-)

I care more about the project than about the salary and benefits.


I suppose that's the case for most of us.

I don't suppose that. Others may say that, but they really prefer what's in it for them. You are in the minority. (That's a good thing.)

...the only thing I can see is the bullshit coming out of management's mouth...

That's the unmistakable signal from your inner self that it's time to move on.

Am I 1/ Bad at choosing my jobs

No. It's hard to choose the best jobs because, for the most part, they're already taken. Good bosses don't lose their people nearly as much so those jobs simply aren't as available.

2/ Too demanding towards the companies that hire me

No. Don't lower your standards.

3/ Mentally unstable

Maybe, but I can't tell from anything you've posted yere.

4/ Unrealistic

No. The day you lower your expectations to the mediocrity you've encountered is the day you've sold your soul and forfeited your real potential dreams.

5/ Just a normal bullshit intolerant guy


Is there any way I can find a boss I respect beyond a couple of years?

Yes. You already have: yourself.

Tell me about your experiences.

35 years & 88 companies:

WorkingForSomeoneElse = WisdomAccumulation

DoingMyOwnThing = WisdomExpenditure // and much more fun!

I think that everyone needs a little of both. You've just had a little too much of the former and no enough of the latter. That's all.

That's a very inspiring reply, thank you :-)

You have an obvious lack of respect for the difficulty of running the business side of a business:

>> Bogus business plans, inability to close deals, short-sighted decisions, petty management techniques, overly frequent pivots, you name it...

This presents a killer opportunity for personal growth: go start your own business. You'll either learn that you are a masterful business planner, only making high-minded long-term decisions & closing deals left and right, and you'll be super successful.

OR you will grow as a person and learn that there are at least two sides to every business decision.

Either way, you'll grow as a person through the experience.

Thank you for your comment.

I indeed intend to do that. However, I don't believe in patching up a magical business formula, hypnotising VCs and raising again every other year.

I believe in small bootstrapped businesses that take years to build and can't become full-time occupations before a long time.

I find raising 1M and making 100K in revenue less successful and admirable than raising 0 and making 10K.

But that's just my humble clueless ignorant take on this.

No it's pretty solid, from the ground up stance. Those who values independence and control over their life are much happier with this setup rather than going too quickly to barely catch up or even fall. I think there is nothing wrong with your observation as long as you remain kind to people around you. Meanwhile you can be figuring up way how make your ideas happen.

It's not just you. It happens. It really comes down to your expectations from your job. If you over identify with a job and it lets you down, it's like a bad breakup.

Every business wants you to be fully committed and giving 110%, but most businesses aren't as committed to you as they expect you to be towards them.

At some point you need to find a kind of detachment to your job that allows you to do good work and go home and forget about work, or you need to keep moving on to different things until you land in the right spot.

It's tough because society still sort of makes you feel like switching jobs every few years is a bad thing, but that is just the way it is now. Companies tend not to invest as much in their people and so people aren't investing as much in their companies.

In many ways, it's more capitalistic to be taking advantage of opportunities when they come your way than it is to just sit at one company and "put your time in".

I had similar experiences at my first two employers, as far as becoming disappointed with management decisions and company politics. However, I was fired from both because I got angry about it and provoked other people by doing stupid things.

Getting fired repeatedly caused me to re-evaluate my priorities. I decided that, going forward:

(1) I would keep in mind exactly what I wanted to be doing day-to-day and focus on doing that better than anyone else; in other words, I would consider myself strictly as a skilled craftsman. (2) I would keep in mind my "ideal" work environment so that I would always be ready to take the next best opportunity to find it. (3) Every job short of the ideal would be merely temporary. Management missteps, office politics, too-good-to-be-true risks, management changes, cutthroat coworkers, overbearing schedules were all none of my concern.

It worked out for me. After two more "temporary" jobs, I landed a job doing the one thing that I did best. When they had a management split, I took the less risky path, since both sides offered me a higher position. By the time they folded, I had acquired enough experience to be able to freelance part-time. I waited for the best opportunity I could get by personal referrals. One of the things that helped me get the job was my breadth of experience and the fact that they perceived me as "hard to get" (and hard to keep) because of my freelancing work, even though I could never have supported myself freelance. I have been there ten years now and I would say it is my ideal workplace.

Maybe you are too tolerant? Usually you can say management is shit after a few weeks, don't wait too much before leaving and seeking a better company.

I think management style can change over time, especially in startups and even in individual managers.

When a company has to face the reality of staying afloat, or when the pressure is on, management ideals and goals can quickly go out the window.

I'd be curious to know what happened to the companies that parent quit.

Exactly. The OP said "after one or two years". That can be a lifetime for an early stage startup. Things change, and every day you're re-signing up for your job by going to work. It can be tricky to evaluate the current landscape objectively and independently of the landscape a year or two ago.

Chances are a year or two ago things were much simpler... There's a fair chance that was because a year or two ago the team was ignoring or just not-expecting the challenges you have today. Startups often mortgage their future this way... Year one is lots of work, but in my career it's never been the hardest part. Not by a long shot.

I think there's a lot of value in being the person who's valuable year three when folks are tired and struggling to find traction and maintain culture than it is to be valuable year one. Being valuable year one is easy, frankly.

That's true... to evaluate companies when the money flow is big is like to evaluate partners when you live in a different house.

Can't say for sure, but I do know those Dilbert comics didn't used to be funny to me.

I don't think you;ll find one true answer to these questions.

First, honeymoon periods seem to be a general thing: romances, friendships, jobs, etc. People are more 'polite' when you first meet them. You are probably more tolerant when you first meet people. You haven't had time to develop negative repertoire's or patterns. You're not bored with anything yet.

Your expectations also shift over time. You feel like you deserve respect or status or money or whatnot once you feel like a full member of that group. Instead of being delighted to get it, you're neutral when you do and angry when you don't.

Also, a lot of negative stuff takes time to see. The pathologies manifesting over and over and reveals ng themselves.

It sounds like you're pretty emotionally involved with the success of the business too (closing deals, pivoting, etc.). That can be emotionally taxing and you're on a shorter fuse when you're tired.

That is true. I am emotionally involved. I could see this as a weakness but I actually take it as a strength. I am a product guy as well and I don't want to be a mercenary. That also means that things take a higher toll on me.

I didn't mean that as a negative.

Just that maybe some of what you're feeling needs to be attributed to the emotional ride you take when you're involved like that as opposed to the people you're working with. Those things also interact. If you're drained from deals falling apart, your bosses tendency to not listen when you are explaining something is a lot more infuriating.

Isn't it OK to change jobs every now and then?

Publicizing this kind of thing is usually bad, especially when you have had the same experience several times. If your account is publicly identifiable as you I'd delete this post

I've been changing jobs every 18 months.

I get bored easily and don't mind relocating.

Doesn't matter, it shows on the resume.

Oh, I proudly display it on mine. After the first few years of it I realized I was much, much happier as a consultant-- and that mobility was better than stagnation. "Sure, I'll be gone in a year or two, but by then it'll get boring and I'll have fixed the interesting problems."

It seems like you have most experience with short term tenures at very young, unstable companies. While that can be really exciting, as others have pointed out here, most of those companies fail. And often that's going to be because the people in charge have various faults. On the other hand, others in this thread have also mentioned that politics and communication issues often crop up when a company grows too large (ie 100 people).

I'd just like to suggest that there might be a sweet spot for you in a small company (10-30 people maybe) that has already figured out a bit of product/market fit. These don't have to be VC-backed startups swinging for the fences. But you'd be able to find management that has to be doing something right in terms of having found a sustainable business. And in a company that small the chances are lower that you get a completely politicized dysfunctional organization (although that's always a possibility with all sizes).

So I guess if you're tired of management bullshit I'd say stop looking at unproven startups and mega companies. There are small businesses that might be a good fit if you can find a founder and management team that has integrity and competency that you really trust.

This is a serious problem and if you can solve it you stand to make a million.

Even if you don't solve it you could make a lot of money by writing a convincing enough book.

A blog about "today my boss said ..." (With a few ad words ads, and allowing user submissions) would make money. Dilbert has existed for years on management bullshit.

I was watching a programme in England where a consultant was called in to help a company. He spoke to all the shopfloor staff. They started by telling him that it was hopeless and pointless and that management would never listen. He dogeddly worked through that pessimism and got the staff, all of them, keen and motivated. He got some excellent ideas (cheap, legal, easy to implement, would save or generate a lot of cash).

So, then he has to feedback this stuff to management. He starts with one of the great ideas (basically "move this machine to be nearer that other machine" - the programme showed why that had serious advantages).

Management refused. They said that they had already looked at all that stuff and it was as good as it could be. They were so convinced of their rightness that they declined to even look at the suggestion.

That instantly demoralised all the staff, and infuriated the consultant.

It was a great demonstration of why some managers are poor. I wish I Could remember the name of the programme.

I used to work in a factory and I have a bunch of similar stories if you ever want to hear them.

So, put simply, you need to do open source work in your spare tome for the feels and just grind through the workweek to earn enough money for the open source stuff.

It doesn't really matter which of those I think you are ... you need to decide and act accordingly. I will tell you that I've been in your situation many times and my response is to fight against the behaviors that seem to cause you to switch jobs. If you're not willing to play at least a little politics at your workplace, you're going to have a tough time staying at almost any job.

I think this is a fairly typical scenario. The "honeymoon" period as you call it is the phase when everything thing is new and you are learning quite a bit in this new environment. Meeting new people, learning new processes, dealing with new problems. After a couple of years you've become the cog in the machine and little new is left to learn -- it becomes routine allowing you more time to pay more attention to management decisions without actually being in their shoes.

Just like any relationship that fizzles out after the initial honeymoon phase when you're learning about each other, it becomes your responsibility to keep things interesting. Take initiative on starting new projects, look for needs and innovate from within the company (being an entrepreneur doesn't always mean you have to start a new company), and most importantly always keep you manager in the loop.

This is not unique to startups. I have never worked anywhere where I thought everything was done well. Such a place likely doesn't exist. But guess what.. the owner is making money, the employees get paid and get to work in more interesting roles than many alternatives. Its not an ideal world.

Thats phase 1.

Phase 2 begins when you decide damn it Im going to start my own company, it can't be that hard, look at these clowns Ive been making rich all this time. Customers are clearly accepting of any old rubbish and I know I'm better. How hard can it be?

Phase 3 is when you start your own. Then you see it from the other side. And you were right! But can you do any better now you're in their shoes? Does it matter if you can't? You'll only have to deal with the occasional grumpy developer, hey those guys come and go all the time.

Reality is hard to change. Perspectives, less so.

Every new company goes through a period where the immaturity starts to hurt badly.

One common cause is that people who are good at starting companies are usually not very good at managing them internally, and especially bad at managing people. And they don't realize it because they are too busy being entrepreneurs in the hectic early phase of a company.

The good news is that sooner or later this changes, often by hiring experienced managers, because otherwise the company won't survive.

The bad news is that if often takes big incidents, painful confrontations and some of the best and most dedicated people walking out before the founders realize they suck at management.

Companies for whom this growth is a smooth ride are rare. But if you believe in company, believe in the integrity of the people leading it, it can be worth sticking it out.

The issues you bring up are normal for the stage the company is in. The problem is the way they are being managed internally, or rather mismanaged. The "bullshit" is just a misguided attempt at keeping up appearances. The focus of the bosses is on the business, not the company as a living organisation.

The only way to make it easier on yourself (besides completely avoiding start-ups and start working for mature companies) is to take control of the situation. Just put your foot down and tell your bosses "we're going to fix this now, and here's how".

Unless they have an ego the size of a planet or are extremely insecure (the two are often the same btw), your bosses will love you for taking part of the responsibility off their hands. When it comes to internal stuff, if you are confident enough to make them believe you know what you're doing (and hey, unlike them you've at least thought about it, and have some experience of how not to), they will even take orders from you.

Most start-up founders are utterly clueless about managing a company. Bitching about it won't help, and if you're not part of the solution but still want to work for start-ups, you're just as much part of the problem as they are.

Find a company that:

1. Isn't a "startup" anymore (by Steven Blank's definition of the term).

2. That's been founded by engineers (you might a better cultural fit).

3. That still has a fairly small workforce (so that your contributions still feel significant enough for you).

4. That's profitable, and self-funded (no pressure from investors who don't understand what the business is trying to do, only understand that they need to see +10x returns)

How carefully have you been choosing your jobs? I don't think you're being too demanding. However, you are being unrealistic if you're not vetting the startups that you're applying to.

That's just two cents from a dev who's been working at startups for the past 10+ years.

We might be in the wrong culture. My friends in [anglo country X] say it's amazing over there. I think it's they have higher empathy and saner goals

Over here, businessmen give you the "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" speech after they screw you. This was their real goal from day 1, it's just they have to sort of believe their lies to make you believe in them. Same old trick from con men and salesmen.

Never take promises from a businessman, always get it on paper. And even so, you might not get it (e.g. bankruptcy protection). The only exception is if you have done business with them for over a decade and they depend on you and their reputation.

But please don't get jaded. There are a lot of good people out there. They are the ones who are not trying to use you and are busy already. You have to go meet them. I'd say good people are the majority.

Most startups fail. Most entrepreneurs are likely very poor managers who end up stuck in that role because they happened to be the founders. What you're describing is pretty common.

I think the best bet if you're the type of person who can't help but care too much is to just keep trying. Eventually you should find a founder who is a better breed - although you'll only ever know once some pressure builds. You can't measure a founder at the start - only when money is low or something isn't going well.

Alternatively, give it a shot and start up your own company. It's hard but at least you'll be the terrible manager doing frequent pivots.

As a small business owner and a programmer, I may be offer some perspective--although I'm not sure if I have any answers.

First, it is my experience that for the bulk of people, and many programmers, that their job is all about salary and benefits. Those people wouldn't do well in startup culture, but they are great for 'big business'. I can honestly say I wouldn't be working with any of my current client base if there wasn't some type of monetary compensation built into our contract. For some people, the most important parts of their life happen when they leave work and go home. I have yet to figure out if I envy those people or hate them.

Are you bad at choosing jobs? I would say no! It sounds like you are following your passion and interests. That is awesome, I commend you.

Are you too demanding toward the companies that hire you? I'm not sure. It sounds to me like you may have trouble empathizing with other departments / people about their responsibilities and challenges. I don't think people are capable of understanding the issues around sales or contract negotiations or corporate viewpoint until you do it.

Are you mentally unstable? I am not able to judge; but you may consider seeking help if you are concerned about this.

Are you unrealistic? It sounds to me like during the interview / honeymoon stage you are "eating the dog food" which is slang for believing the hype. It sounds like you going all in. But, hype is just hype; and when reality isn't as rosy as it appears, it is shocking to you.

The hardest thing I find as a business owner is promoting the hype/ideas/ideals while still being aware of the imperfections and problems in what I offer. You, basically, need to be two-faced. Be both positive and negative. Be Idealistic and realistic.

It sounds as if you may be going from one extreme to the other; but may benefit from a more balanced approach to the companies you work for.

Are you a 'normal bullshit intolerant guy'? I'm not sure what normal is. But, don't make the mistake of thinking everything you don't like is bullshit.

For many of us, it comes down to -- as Dan Pink describes: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Very few companies are good at enabling even ONE of these, let alone all three. Startups are among the worst for fostering this kind of motivation.

Without a well-balanced three-legged stool of motivation, a few years is all you are going to be content. Or, like many of us, you will gradually learn to lower your expectations, eventually settling - tolerating lesser situations - for a longer time.


I think it's 5, just a normal bullshit intolerant guy. In fact, maybe your bullshit threshold is actually kind of high. There's so much money out there chasing startup ideas (kind of like 1999 again) due to the Fed flooding the market with US dollars... this makes it very easy to start a startup. The barrier to entry is quite low at this point, really. Much lower from a technical standpoint than it was in the late 90's boom (cloud computing, AWS, lots of free libraries already developed for you, etc.). And those low barriers mean that a lot of folks are starting companies that probably shouldn't be started (certainly wouldn't be started under a tighter money regime).

You jump in a startup that sounds kind of cool on paper but after six months or so realize it's probably going nowhere for the reasons you mention above. And then move on to the next one. That, unfortunately, seems to be the way of the world now. It will continue until the punchbowl (easy money) is taken away and this bubble pops. Lots of developers will once again be out of work. Then slowly, very slowly things will recover to a more sane level like they did in the early 2000's. If history is any guide that will take about 3 to 4 years (the 2001 to 2004 period was pretty awful for tech employment, but by late '04 things were starting to recover).

For now be glad you have other startups to jump to. That may not be the case when the music stops on our current Cambrian Explosion.

I think a combination between 2/ and 4/. Specifically, building a successful business is really hard.

Looking at something that doesn't work, and pulling the plug, so that scarce resources can be better focused on other things that show more promise, is one of the hard things that management has to do.

It may be that a six-month investment in an API platform would unlock the possibility of OWNING THE CLOUD in the future. But if the company has to worry about payroll between here and there, a shorter-term project, like a two-week A/B split test on better ways of monetizing existing customers, might be more in everyone's actual interest. (It's been a while since I was in a company that close to the margin, but short-term decisions show up for many reasons that are just as compelling.)

I've found that, at good companies, the thinking and data that goes into these decisions is shared with the company. If there's not an all-hands that talks about this with some frequency, at least the managers that make these calls answer questions, and also actively seek and act upon feedback from anywhere in the company.

Some companies don't have that culture, and management is managing mainly through fiat and "it's my way!" I find it hard to be effective in such an environment, and these environments tend to self-select away in the long run, but there's no dearth of such environments alive today. Screening for this in the interviewing process is important, and also hard.

There are a few things to consider:

First, management at a startup is inexperienced. Most of them are just a few years older than you and have never managed people before. They're still figuring out how to balance the realities of building a business with keeping the team happy and effective. It's a difficult balancing act, and I'm not sure you ever get it 100% right.

Second, the startup is probably struggling. Most startups fail, even if they've raised a ton of money or built a huge awesome team. Building a profitable and sustainable business is hard. You're experiencing that as seemingly irrational behavior from your boss. It's far more likely that management is doing that they think is best for the company than it is that they're trying to screw employees.

Third, the world needs good technical managers. It's a hard, often thankless job which eventually requires giving up being hands on with code. The tradeoff is that it multiplies your ability to make change in the world. If you think you could do a better job you should. Find a mentor and steer your career that way.

If that's not your path then work with your boss to keep you engaged. Come to him or her with ideas and solutions, not problems. I think you'll find most managers are receptive and will try to align things to keep you happy and healthy.

Ed Weissman's posts will be very interesting to you. He has worked for over 80 companies and has had similar experiences to what you described here. Read: hn.my/edw519

I think it's a combination of 2 and 4. I've been in two startups that were working on things that aligned with my interests and things that I thought were pretty awesome. Then after the first year or two, due to the inability to acquire customers or the existing business model not working out, pivots happened, resources and people started getting moved into different teams and projects, and communication started breaking down between the execs, management, and engineers.

Then shit just hits the fan as people leave, sometimes taking others with them, as soon as they realise that things aren't going as well as the company would want them to believe. After all, a company isn't going to outright tell its employees that things are going to hell (until the very end at least). That'll just cause a bigger exodus of talent. So it's not uncommon in a failing startup that management starts BSing - it's all about retaining employees.

In the end I think when you join a startup you have to be realistic about its chances of succeeding. Not every startup's a rocketship. You're going to get bullshit, pivots, short sighted decisions (or indecisions) when things aren't going well.

My advice is to not be too emotionally attached to your job or go in with too high expectations. If you sense bullshit coming out from management, do some due diligence on the state of the company and leave if you must. After all, if you're not happy doing what you're doing, then it's not worth it. There's a ton of startups out there looking for talent, and I'm sure you'll be able to land another job.

I am founder and CTO of a growing startup (Comufy) and I very much see where you are coming from.

The truth is that managing people is hard. Every person is different and you need to understand the personality of each one of your staff and it is not easy. The way you communicate with each person is a reflexion of your understanding of their personality and sometimes you get it wrong.

Suppose that you just realised that despite your best efforts, what you have been working on for the past year will not sell. Your board is maxing pressure on you and you decide to explore a new avenue. You now need to communicate the news to your employees, without making them panic, and to try to get them onboard to your new vision. Well I can tell you it's hard, and it happens! It certainly happened to us more than I wished for. You are going to have to be a politician! You need to minimise the failure while painting a beautiful and bright future ahead, even though you don't know yet whether it will work. This is probably what you refer to as "Bullshit".

And then that's just managing people. Managing a company is so much more than this. You make a ridiculous amount of decisions daily, and some of them will not please everybody. And some of them you will come back on.

Finally, remember that your boss is human too, and if he appears to be an arse at times, it is probably because he learned over time that being the best friend of his staff is a very bad idea. When a staff member is not performing, you are going to have to fix this. And pushing a staff member to improve is a lot easier done if that staff member thinks of you as his boss, and not his mate!

There's probably a honeymoon phase for the management as well. There's a reason why corporations have the structures and controls they do - they work at those levels. As a company grows, it will tend to gravitate towards those. Otherwise, if the company is struggling or failing, there may be some cognitive dissonance from management which gets translated into the bullshit doublespeak you're talking about.

Unfortunately what most engineers tend to misunderstand about the role of their manager is that there are responsibilities outside of the team itself that the manager must perform.

Most managers are in simply supervisory roles, to watch over the team and ensure it's functioning, surviving, and thriving. That is what a supervisor or lead is for. While managers are certainly responsible for nurturing and growing their teams efficiently, they're also highly concerned with managerial duties to the company, which can often be unseen or misunderstood by their direct reports.

Managers often have responsibilities to the management team, the executive team, and other departments entirely. Take an IT department for example. All of the other departments in the company, including operations (where IT often sits to avoid conflict with engineering, and because largely it's an operational focus), are its internal clients, and the management in IT must work with the management of all other departments.

Meanwhile, IT engineers (sysadmins, devops, etc) often under recognize that this intricate dance is going on. The executive team will put pressures on the department, and the manager must delicately balance their needs with what the needs of the team are as well.

Thus, the engineer often looks for a manager that focuses solely on the team. But long term, the manager ends up having to account for the needs of the company. Any manager will need to do this.

It's ultimately important that the staff understands that their manager is superior to them simply because the position requires this of them (not necessarily because of any inherent skill advances). To look for an equal out of your manager is and will continue to be an exercise in futility.

As a tech worker who is more focused on the back end than the visible product, I have found a very low correlation between my belief in the product and my satisfaction with the job. I find that my job is pretty much the same regardless of the actual product. This experience is likely different for people more directly involved in the actual product.

I get much higher signal to indicate whether I will enjoy a job from my coworkers and the culture of the company. If I am working with smart motivated people, I will be happy no matter what I'm working on. If I am in an environment where people are continually innovating and pushing the boundaries of the status quo in the field, I will be happy with my job.

This awareness leads to a very different typo of job search. It's easy to start a job search by thinking of a product you like then trying to see if you can work for that company. It's harder to think of a culture you want to join and then look for that.

I thankfully have not been employed by a company whose product I actively despise; I'm sure that would have a disastrous effect on my job satisfaction.

From your description I would say that you are 5 - intolerant of normal bullshit. Every company, no matter how slick from the outside, will have some variety of disfunction going on inside.

If I did believe in my team then I would try to do whatever I could within my domain of expertise to help the company succeed. As a developer there are usually lots of things you can do to help. When a deal doesn't close - find out if there are any technical features that might have make a difference. Give the sales department tools to better sell your products. Give the business people tools to analyze stats so they can make better decisions. Maybe these are not sexy things, but they might be necessary to get a company off the ground.

Depending on the organization you may not feel that you have the authority to do certain things. But, if the team is any good then they would recognize when somebody is trying to step up and help with the big picture. I would probably use that as a yardstick to tell me whether it's me or them.

What changed towards the end of each of those 2 year periods? Was it that management started screwing up more or that you had become integrated enough to recognize screw ups they were making the whole time?

Maybe you need a change of perspective. As some of the others here have suggested, you can become a contractor, but even as an employee you can think like a contractor. You can still be bought into the project and still be a good team member while thinking about it as "you" working for "them," rather than everything being "we" and "us." If they make bad decisions and ask you to do something that doesn't make sense, you can have a less negative outlook than if we make bad decisions.

So my suggestions are: start out as highly skeptical and assume that management decisions are crap from the start because they probably are and don't internalize the team's failures or poor decisions when you had nothing to do with them.

You know, this career thing is just not easy to work out. Our school system and hiring system..etc..really don't have a good model in place for how to match people successfully to a very good fit niche. When I got hired at my job, I had been a homemaker for years. After testing, they said "You still qualify for both positions. Which one do you want?" and I said "What do they entail? Those job titles mean nothing to me." I made the decision I made in part because one started two weeks earlier than the other and I was living with relatives. I wanted a job and out of that house.

It happened to work out that I chose the job that was better for me personally. But I really had no idea at the time that I got hired. Only after working for some time did it become clear to me that the other job would have been terrible for me.

I don't know what you need to do to find your niche. But you are not the only person that struggles with this.

You are experiencing what I like to call "not my company" syndrome. When the company or management isn't making the decisions you want them to make, you get pissed off. You don't seem to internalize the fact that this is not your company, and you don't get the right to judge them. Instead, realize that it's your job to do the best you can with what you have and try to do good, but realizing that people are fallible and the company won't go in the direction you want or expect it to.

This is of course different than if the work environment is toxic or the work is dull, or something of that nature. There's no need for you to stick around at a job you hate. But if it's just management you're upset about, heh, I hate to break it to you, but every company's management sucks balls.

As an alternative, either become a team lead/manager/exec, or start your own company.

Given your description, I wonder if perhaps you're burning out due to over-committing to your work. Caring about the work one does is laudable, but if it's the only thing one cares about, it will never completely satisfy, and a passion-then-quit cycle like you describe seems to be a familiar result.

There are plenty of suggestions online for ways to avoid burnout, but it seems like it's even harder to diagnose than prevent, and usually involves a lot of soul searching. I unfortunately don't have any good recommendations for either diagnosis or prevention, but it might be worth considering as a possibility.

If you're not familiar with the patterns of burnout, I found this article to be a good introduction: http://nymag.com/news/features/24757/

The answer is cut your spending and start saving a huge percentage of your income. If you can save 50% of your income you are about 15 years away from never needing to work again if you don't want to. At that point you can work on whatever you want regardless of if a company is working on it or not.

I've worked in all sort of places. There have been places where business used to make the wrong decisions, but the only thing that kept our team together was our manager. He defended us and took one of the team many times trying to shield us from the crazy decision made from above.

Once he left the company I left afterwards. I was loyal to him not to the company. He was my manager and I respected him and always wanted to do my best to make his life easier. I worked with him not against him. I didn't care about the business decisions as long as I got paid. We did great work but as always bad decisions can make or break a company. When I join a company I don't know what is going to happen 1 or two years but I can try to ask questions to my potential manager to see if we are going to be good fit or not.

    Life is a mess[0]:
        Don't work.
        Avoid telling the truth.
        Be hated.
        Love somebody.

[0]: http://interesting_posts.quora.com/Don%E2%80%99t-Work-Be-Hat...

A job is a relationship. The fictions you get force-fed as part of growing up in Western civilization (not sure about other civilizations) about romantic relationships mislead in the same way.

Most notably, a relationship is different from years [2,4) than it is from year [0,2) and there's no way to make that not true. Maybe you really like the [0, 2) thing -- the excitement, the sense of possibility, the novelty -- and there's nothing wrong with that, but it's an important thing to know about yourself.

Of course, as with romantic relationships, you might find that as you get older it's harder to keep jumping from one [0, 2) gig to another, without facing consequences you might not like: reduced choice in jobs; reduced pay; getting a reputation as someone a company shouldn't invest in, etc.

It is just you, but it's not that you're crazy or incompetent or entitled. It's just that nothing ever feels as exciting after a year or two as it did at the start. You can't expect to realistically gauge your jobs on the basis of your novelty-excitement.

Finding a good Startup is hard, really hard. Just think about how a top VC works with startups. How many startups they vet, out of which how many they invest, and then out of which how many of them they even expect to succeed.

How long did it take you to find your next startup when you were looking?

None of the above. Seems like you've been picking early stage startups where this chaos is inevitable or growth stage startups with bad management.

Some tips if they're helpful: 1. Find a growth stage series A or B funded startup with a product market fit where focus is now on scaling up. They are beginning to know what they are doing.

2. I give more weight to the team than the project or idea itself. Ideas change all the time. So its more important to work with great people. Find a place where you admire and like the people.

3. Voice your opinions. You're not working for a "manager", you're working for a "company". You should be open about what you think and feel. If that's not welcome, you're in the wrong place.

Sounds completely normal. You're joining ambitious companies who want to be the next billion dollar hit. But that kind of success isn't formulaic, it's extremely rare and 9/10 attempts will end up flailing around until they either make it by chance or ultimately die. The management each so dearly want the company they're part of to be a big success for their own sakes, they'll try anything and everything to make it happen when things are starting to look south. It isn't pretty.

This isn't unique to technology companies, it's human nature whenever there are high stakes in play. Don't worry about it, just get better at predicting it, and jump ship when necessary.

I felt the same way at a company called RealNetworks, hence quit early and thereby missed out on substantial stock option wealth. For a startup to find a paying niche isn't easy. Managers promise this, promise that, in order to keep the game going. To thrive in that arena you just have to grow a thick skin and decide to enjoy being a jerk sometimes. Remember that startups aren't about pursuing a fun hobby project, although they can begin that way, but about realizing a big financial score. Even if some founders still talk like it's their hobby, that just isn't the way it works in a business which actually becomes a business.

I can definitely empathize. One thing you may try to do to figure out where you stand on the scale is ask for ownership of something and try running it - see if you can meet your own expectations of what a manager should be doing to be successful. If you can't, you may have your answer.

Sometimes expectations are too high, other times, you're just seeing the truth as it is, but it can be difficult to see the whole picture until you've actually got the responsibility. Next tough decision is whether to try and change the place because you like the project and it's too important to fail, or skip out because life's too short.

Are you finding that you are getting better at asking the kinds of questions whose answers identify potential problems that would have otherwise only been apparent after you had accepted the job? It's just possible that this might be too much to ask, especially if the problems are sufficiently different every time. The answer to the 'is it me' question may quite possibly have less to do with your compatibility or suitability but may have more to do with 'diagnostic skill', in which case, perseverance may just pay off as you get better at it over time.

> 5/ Just a normal bullshit intolerant guy

I assume this. The problem with bullshit is that big companies get away with it for years (decades, even) while in a startup, this leads to very short-term consequences.

For a lot of people, it is difficult to have a boss, especially a boss who you do not respect and is giving bullshit orders. There are a few options:

1) work for a boss who you respect

2) work for a manager who let you be your own boss most of the time

3) be your own boss - either start your own startup, or consulting

And on a side note, most people care about what's in it for themselves. The fact that you see bullshit coming from them means you are not understanding what they think. It's an important life/leadership skill to understand how different people operate, what motivates them, etc.

I think you have to be comfortable with the nature of the industry you're working in. Startups are volatile beasts. One minute you're on top, the next you're picking up quarters off the floor trying to keep things afloat. I think what you're experiencing, more than anything, are the natural growing pains of being an early employee in a fledgling company.

I don't think you're deficient in any of the ways you list, but perhaps you are looking for a more stable work environment with a proven business model.

Personally, it's always been about trying to separate my frustrations with the company I'm working for, and frustrations with work. No matter what job you have, it's still a job and there will be things that you are unhappy about. The thing you need to figure out is whether those frustrations would be resolved by switching companies, or if they are frustrations that come no matter where you work. Sometimes the grass is damn green on the other side, but when you move over the same problems follow you.

It sounds like what you want is to do is to limit yourself to a startup that's already in growth stage (so series A and above with a clear hockey stick present and future). Within this group of startups you want to find team and passion fit. Companies with good people that are already doing well tend to have less BS going on within them. It's obviously tough to get into such startups but you didn't ask for easy answers. [As for which categories i think you are...my suggestion implies 1) and 5)]

> Is there any way I can find a boss I respect beyond a couple of years?

Yes, be your own boss. You sound like a smart person, who can be a tech co founder. Or you can find your boss from your pool of friends. Find someone you know for a few years that you think will be great to work with.

It doesn't have to be a YC 1 billion$ company that you build. Even doing freelance will give you more freedom. And you will have less attachment to a specific startup as it will be part of the expectation that you "see other people".

Spend a few days reading www.randsinrepose.com. The guy does a really good job of explaining management to developers in a way that developers can finally understand and respect management (assuming the management is good).

http://randsinrepose.com/archives/category/management/ http://randsinrepose.com/archives/

Don't be too hard on yourself. You're probably just an intelligent guy with a good bullshit detector, but with midterm attention span. After a period of time, you need new impulses or challenges. That can cause some frictions in a business environment, especially as an employee dealing with incompetent management.

Maybe your not 100% employee material. How about a more independent career? Consulting is one possibility, starting your own company another, maybe a so-called lifestyle business?

Luck plays a HUGE role. If the company is doing really well, rather than "limping along," then the environment is motivating in itself. I am ready to bet none of the places you have worked have been doing really well.

When the company is "average" then it is the management team (importantly your direct manager) that hold the keys to you being happy.

The question is, "Would a really good manager stick around at a company that is limping along?"

You are an entrepreneur that hasn't figured it out yet.

This seems the most likely reason behind your discontent. People who start companies rarely fit well into other peoples organizations.

I've learned to cherish my co-worker and let the boss do his bossy stuff as long as he didn't fight against the team.

Stand together with your co-workers as a team. I think thats more usefull and can balancing out the shity boss stuff.

Maybe one good boss under a million bosses will exist i think. If you can't find it, do it by yourself and be your own boss. But at least, there is no boss like the girlfriend||wife that waits for you at home! :D

Just some thoughts.

As someone who's spent some 17 years doing almost nothing but startups, allow me to add my $0.0296 ($0.02, adjusted for inflation1)

Some combination of #1, #4, and #6.

#6 is the one where you don't truly respect the process of management works (in much the same way we all get frustrated at managers who don't understand how the process of software engineering works), and are oblivious to the challenges and concerns involved.

This is an easy trap to fall into and most engineers I know have fallen into it at some point in their careers. Good management is often virtually invisible, but bad management sticks out like a sore thumb -- or so the conventional wisdom goes. Remember:

1. Management is a skill, just like coding. It's deep and complex and multi-faceted and you're only seeing the surface of it. 2. In startups, many entrepreneurs are getting their first taste of a completely different world. It's a learning process even for an experienced manager/executive. Imagine being a career web developer and say, cutting over and doing 3D game development on a console system in C++ for the first time. Only it's not a hobbyist thing, it's your job and people are counting on you. 2. Startups are not like normal environments. Inaction is usually worse than a bad action, because at least with a bad action you've learned something and narrowed the search space a bit.

You should EXPECT that in a startup, seeing management trip up and make "mistakes" will be a common, everyday occurrence. Oftentimes the right decision will look, externally, like the wrong decision. If you want a well-oiled machine in a well-understood problem domain, go work at Cisco.

Startups are about discovery. Product-market fit, paths of least resistance, etc.

I'm personally inclined to this form of myopia myself, so as a rule, I only work within my personal network at this point because I have a group of entrepreneurs, executive-level programmers, and so forth who I trust implicitly. I may not understand a given decision, and any given decision may be a mistake but I'm entirely comfortable leaving their domain in their hands while focusing on doing my best in my domain. I find it's less stressful, and more rewarding whether the venture succeeds or fails.

(1 - Yeah, I looked it up on WolframAlpha. I'm bored, what I can I say.)

It strikes me that you can choose 2 out of 3. i) Work for a business where you find their business model/vision to be very compelling, ii) Work for an established company that will (largely) stay the course and not migrate away from that vision too dramatically over time so you don't become cynical/jaded iii) or work for an early stage startup and know change is inevitable.

Sounds like you are a great candidate to start something yourself, and implement all the things you remember about optimal management. Is there a reason you haven't tried to start something yourself (just to be clear, I'm assuming that as a developer, you have made enough money to pay off any unsecured debt, and have the option of freelancing for side income if necessary).

Yes, start something yourself, and then you'll understand why the startup management you've worked for thrashes around so much because they're learning the art of business management while on the job.

If you going to work for a startup then just expect that there will be a new business plan put forward every week, and the management tiers will want to latch onto whatever fads are trendy this week. Comes with the territory. On the other hand you can work for a super big corp where the business plans haven't changed in 5 years but project titles change every 3 weeks.

It's hard to screen out for these aspects, unless you're told up front that the company got too much work to do due to business development overselling.

On the other end of the spectrum, you could be like me and pick a company that looks good on all these aspects, but adds great stress due to having to catch up on work to meet deadlines due to being understaffed for too long.

5. Humans will let you down.. bullshit occurs, its extremely frustrating. I've spent 10 years like you, trying to do the best I can for good companies but the good companies always turn to s* at some point.

The only sane option seems to be: be the boss yourself. Take a leading role somewhere where you can influence the running of the business, better yet start it yourself.

Honestly, I think it's a mix of you being too demanding and the company not being sincere. Once the company honeymoon over, you're treated like any other guy no matter how hard you work.

Side note, I wrote a post about this: https://medium.com/maybe-its-fiction/5bac4f20203a

Sounds like building your own business is up your alley. You may be all of them except 3. It could be that you see yourself as a much better manager and you probably are. Try something small that you hear there is a need for and you might be able to find more fulfillment from that than job hopping. Business isn't for everyone but you can give it a shot.

My experience has been nearly identical to yours. Although it is usually good to assume the problem is with oneself, I wouldn't do so in this case. It can be hard to find work in which the people making decisions are the ones who are adding value. And when people who are not adding value are making decisions, weird things can happen.

6/ You should own your own business. :-)

you're NORMAL by my books

at least you lasted a year, i have quit TWO jobs (well paying i might add) - one in one day, the other in a week.

so, i got a job where i don't have to code shit [network and maintenance]

i stay in the coding scene [which i LOVE] by doing side projects and doing my OWN and OPEN projects [nothing beats the feeling of getting a PR on GitHub]

You're truly cursed. The only thing that you can ever do to achieve career happiness now is to do your own startup.

One of two things will happen, you will either succeed or your patience for the struggles of management will grow and you will be happier at the company you work for next.

Maybe I should have mentioned I work in Europe (France). I guess it doesn't change any of your well laid out arguments but it was very refreshing to see how similar things are across the pond. Anyway, I quit today so I'm now up for hire (wink wink nudge nudge ;-).

Shit, that's why I became a founder! It's a lot easier to be consistently passionate about something that's yours over time. That's especially true in jobs that don't reward you for going above and beyond, which your own startup might very well do.

As if giving 100% for a couple years isn't enough? Don't feel bad about poor leadership from the top. Most startups fail even with good people giving their best efforts. Move on if you have better options. Until then, just make sure the checks cash.

Thank you for your reply. I don't actually feel bad for the company, I am just starting to wonder if the problem is me or them ;-)

How much stake do you have in these startups? It is a huge difference in perspective if you have 0, 10, 20, 50 %. It makes for a completely different experience. Like totally different, it's like a new job even if you are doing the same things.

Was promised some, still waiting.

Well that explains everything. That's not a startup, it's a startup scam. It's not possible to stay motivated without having a stake. Even if they pay a lot which they probably don't. And the level of bullshit is much lower. They are treating you like a stupid customer and you are supposed to buy into their bullshit.

most startups have bogus business plan: the recession is worldwide, and the web2.X gold rush is about selling productivity to startups (mainly). Like in the gold rush the one who are making actual money are not the one digging gold but the landlord selling the "startup ground" (incubators), and the companies selling the tools to dig. Secondly whatever they say no silver bullets appeared in the last 10 years: the mythical good developers with a productivity = 10x average (quantity & quality) are still a resource. They are scarce, I have met some, I don't belong to them. As a result, business plan relies for their costing on a resource that is very unpredictable. As a result companies relying too much on "new technologies" based their hiring policy on a brute force attack.

Wait, you tell me there are a lot of devs on the market? No, there are a lot of clueless young people on the market with a huge student loan that studied CS but that maybe the worst developer ever but have a strong incentive to get hired (cheat): they have to reimburse their loans before they sleep under the bridge.

So, brute force attack require to hire a lot of expensive broken arms. If I were a recruiter, I would never hire a student with a loan to refund that young I would prefer an autodidact that understand the basic of economy: don't spend money you don't have and don't be a sheep.

Lastly the money for startups even if QE is turning in all worldwide economies is not there! Central banks are printing bank notes like mad men (China, Japan, US, Europe...) but this money is directly used in stock options and the bank never landed that few money (or when they do the compound interests are just mad). And public and private debts are fucking high. The economy is on the brink of a bubble explosion for which new startup are responsible.

So there is no money to turn startup that don't master their costing/pricing in real companies. (no money available on the credit market)

Yes basically startups is a phony ecosystem.

My advice: have balls.

Go for companies that do not label them startups that seems «unsexy», even with lower wages, and accept the job after you accept and understand their mission/business model.

Maybe helping family planning communicate better on their mission can be more satisfying in life than helping a delusive «self made man» have is first million before 25 based on a ponzi scheme (buying tools to startups that buys me tools without generating new products is a little mad, isn't it?).

It only happens in dreamland :) option (4). In practical, its a human tendency that after some time either we get irritated by each other or we start finding flaws in any decision taken by the management or vice versa.

Some of these issues can be related to issues like depression in our field. This is a great watch on the topic: http://vimeo.com/72690223

You are hardly different. In NYC, for most developers, this is the norm. I used to think there was something wrong with me too, but now that Im at my 7th job in my 10 year career, I realize that something is wrong with society's employment model in general.

We operate a bit differently in this field because we are empowered more than most others in the contemporary western workplace. We have refined skills, engineering backgrounds, and are very high in demand. On top of that, there is a very large amount of average to below average talent in this field (ie code bootcamps, php for dummies readers, etc), so having a track record which demonstrates high level of talent makes one even more desirable for any position. Programming is a hot field right now, especially web development, so again, there is a surplus of jobs. Our role is not rocket science, but its not trivial either. Few other employment opportunities have these qualities - there isnt nearly as massive demand for rocket scientists as there is for web developers. There is a demand for accountants, but their specialization and employment opportunities make them less in demand. We are also very empowered when it comes to base salary negotiations. The point im making is, few people in 2014 have the ability to say "f this job, it sucks, im finding another one next week" and actually go out and find 50+ jobs to choose from.

My first company refused to pay me anything reasonable, but it was my first job ever. I left after 3 years of asking for more money to work for one of the biggest media companies in the world. They paid me a decent salary, treated all developers like dirt, and used fear as a motivation to work harder. I found another gig after one year. In this third job, I wasnt utilizing my skills at all (back end dev), I was basically making mundane HTML changes and surfing tumblr out of boredom. A friend offered me a great job with more money, so I quit, and joined him. Two years after that, they completely forgot to enter my tax information (yah thats illegal), and due to a complicated process I wasnt able to access my payroll for that tax year to even know about it. I got screwed heavily on taxes, the company wouldnt do anything for me unless I sued them, so I quit.

The pattern here is reasonable, rational, logical dissatisfaction with a job. Its odd that someone can just say "f it, im finding a new job" and do so very easily, regardless of their career choice. Like the original poster, I dont care about salary and benefits nearly as much as the product Im working on and the balance I get between life and work. Most people, when tremendously unsatisfied with a job, face a paycut, or a big move to a new area, or both. Software Engineers can just surf the web for a few hours, and most likely find something better in their local area.

Add this to traditional corporate culture in America. Its seen as "better" or "stronger" to have a long lasting relationship with a company, even if its entirely superficial and your experience there was miserable. There is absolutely nothing logical or rational about corporate culture in America - its designed to exploit the worker for maximum yield to the employer. Right now, Software Engineers are empowered enough to escape this situation, although we usually just find the same themes resounding in the next business.

Ultimately, NOTHING IS WRONG WITH YOU. Everything is wrong with the jobs themselves. You arent unstable - YOU RESPECT YOURSELF. You actually have the power to do something about it when you feel disrespected, disenfranchised, or disengaged. Other people simply dont have this power, they can only smile and obey.

...and of course if the tech bubble bursts, we all lose this power as well.

Most founders are not exactly who they think they are. Some few succeed anyways out of luck. Even fewer succeed consistently because they have some insight at the level of first principles.

It sounds like you haven't encountered people who are good at what they do ("animals", as PG might say). Probably just bad luck or not enough good luck, or something else.

There is a saying that if you look around and all you see are assholes, you're probably the asshole.

I think there is more to that quote but that's the jist of it.

I solved this problem by working somewhere that doesn't have managers. We all share the project management tasks for our client work.

> I specifically choose companies whose business I find appealing.

You might try prioritizing the people you work with rather than the business.

Just a normal bullshit intolerant guy. There's too much BS in a lot of startups. After all, that's why most fail.

This sums up my career. We should grab a beer and bitch about work. That's what most of my colleagues do to cope.

The only way to avoid all of what you describe is to work for yourself though you may still bullshit yourself ...

Things make me miserable that other people are fine with. I change jobs every two years. It's just life.

Sounds normal. I suggest you lower your expectations and perhaps take on a more mercenary-like attitude.

it might be the case of a developer who loves to build things more than to be pm. the 'symptoms' you describe are signs of your maturity as a person capable of leading a project.

I have worked for one year as a Product Manager and quit over strategic differences with management.


You are the minority, so better adjust your attitude and take it like a man.

Definitely 5 and it's not specific to startups!

Option 6: Start you own business.

This took me a while to realize.

Your best bet is to start your own business. :)

Maybe you should stop working at startups.

I've had this problem in the past as well. Regarding the "is it me?" question, I don't think there's anywhere near enough info to answer, but the fact that you're being introspective on the matter is a very good sign.

I can offer a few pieces of advice. First, be direct but exceedingly rational with your co-workers - especially your superiors. Sometimes it helps to start conversations regarding conflicting ideas under the assumption that you're wrong.

Also, watch your assumptions. Sometimes when people get frustrated about things it's really easy for our assumptions to solidify into fact, and it's just as easy to feel justified launching into a spirited argument fuelled by all this fact.

Finally, if you think you're expressing yourself well, and you don't agree with the direction things are taking, you're 100% totally justified in leaving. I don't care if you're a minimum wage employee, your time is your scarcest resource. Don't invest it in something you don't want to own.

Annnd really long (but hopefully interesting) anecdote time...

I used to work for a very small, now fairly famous start-up non-profit which was cofounded by Edie Widder of Discovery Channel/Giant Squid fame. She wasn't running it because she didn't feel that she had the fundraising or business acumen. She decided to cofound with a former marketing exec, and to make him CEO.

I worked for them indirectly and directly for a combined 5 years. It was the kind of life-consuming work that one only does when they're very passionate. And I was as it was incredibly rewarding.

Our mission was to develop very inexpensive sensors for very broad scale in-situ monitoring of estuarine environments (the mission has broadened since then). When I first came on directly, we made a huge push to win a seven figure grant. Engineering was told by the CEO to push, and to push hard because this would be the money we'd be using to go from prototype to small-scale manufacturing.

Except after we won it, engineering wasn't given a budget. As time went on, our feeling was that we were having to beg for every expenditure. In the mean time lots of money was being spent on marketing, with the justification that it would be bringing in the "real big bucks." Of course, there was also plenty of disagreement over certain expenditures. Was X really marketing-related, or was that a personal expense?

Obviously there was lots of infighting -- mostly by people who typically like to avoid confrontation. People would wait to address something until they were so exasperated that it'd just boil out, and everybody involved would get very defensive very quickly.

I started to wake up to the idea that we were working more on our arguments and less on our mission. I'd spent every second I could over the past five years building a monolithic realtime telemetry system with the idea in mind that this was a step toward literally saving the world. Leaving felt wrong, like I was abandoning my purpose and my friends, but after a while staying felt more wrong.

On my last day there I sat down with Edie for an informal exit interview. For the first time I explained to her my position as directly and rationally as I could. This wasn't out of some new-found maturity, but because I had nothing to lose and nothing to gain.

I stated my observations, listened to her responses, and conceded on the points where my knowledge of the situation was lacking. At the end of the conversation I still felt justified for leaving, but I think she understood my justification. Prior to that, we were always putting her in a situation where she had no other choice but to feel cornered and defensive.

Not long after I left the CEO became the former CEO. For a brief period during this process, there were two separate sets of legal council arguing against each other - I believe with each claiming to represent the company. When the dust settled, relationships were tarnished, names had been dragged through the mud, and most importantly the work had all but stopped.

Fast-forward to today and things are much different. In many ways they've been terribly stunted, but there's better accounting, better employee representation on the board, and most importantly - a unified focus. They have turned into the organization I wanted to be working for back when I left. In the mean time, I've been in a constant struggle to find something anywhere near as rewarding. If I could afford to do so, I'd go back to work for them in a second -- on my own dime.

You'll notice that I spend a lot of time talking about the "evil" CEO here. That's not the point. The point is that a significant part of it was me. Sure, the company had some growing up to do, but I had just as much, if not more.

Although, if anyone reading this happens to be looking to make a very high-impact donation to a great nonprofit - give Edie a call. I promise she won't disappoint.

To turn this the other direction, here's some perspective from a startup exec. This job requires constant compromise between doing what's right for the business, the investors, and the employees of the company. In my management experience I've found that I've always worked FOR my people, not the other way around. My days are full of battling it out with the CEO over a pay raise I know a good engineer deserves, or figuring out a way to provide additional stock option bonuses when more cash just isn't feasible. The majority of my time, however, is spent as keeper of the peace. People are tricky and all very different. Some have thick skins, others don't. I spend countless hours being a therapist and making sure everyone is able to work as close to peak performance as possible without killing each other. This involves a ton of moving parts.

In my last gig I managed five directors who all had their own teams under them. The juggling to make sure these folks were well taken care of and their teams were happy overall is tough. Things do fall through the cracks. A developer might have a big problem with a product manager. I might not hear about it until the developer has put in notice because my engineering director thought he/she could take care of it without me. That engineer more often than not probably thinks "hey, the CTO is ignorant and has no idea what's going on." I accept that as part of the job and understand I'll never have 100% view into everything that’s happening. I accepted a long time ago that in some cases a member of my team might believe me to be incompetent. Comes with the territory.

On top of those duties, the overall company strategy and operational plan needs oversight and contributions from the executive management team. The amount of time spent talking about ideas and direction is enormous. By the time a pivot or major change has been decided on it’s generally been under discussion for several weeks, sometimes even months. The inputs and process for arriving at these decisions are a complex mix of research, customer conversations, cogs analysis, competitive analysis, M&A discussions, go to market strategy, pricing, technical feasibility, margin, etc. When the decision is finally ready to be communicated to the troops it can often cause confusion and the belief that “these guys don’t know what they are doing.” While that may be true in some cases, I’ve never been involved in one of these types of decisions that didn't have a lot of well thought-out reasons behind it.

This is only the first step. The way the best leaders separate themselves in this situation is their ability to communicate decisions and make everyone BELIEVE it is the right thing to do. In startups there’s never a 100% clearly correct answer. Faith comes in more often than I’d like to admit, and getting everyone to drink the Kool-aid is pretty damned important in terms of morale. The rightness or wrongness in the decision won’t often be known until a year or more passes. If the decision causes the company to be successful the execs are looked at geniuses. If it fails they are incompetent idiots. Many of the factors that determine the outcome are out of the control of the executives. I guess that’s life. My advice is always this: be self-aware about what you want. If you have a passion for a product or space and enjoy your work, try not to let the factors out of your control dictate your job satisfaction. If you are unhappy with decisions being made or company direction, put yourself in a position to have influence. It’s easier than you might think.


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