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Failing the startup game at Unbabel (esoteric-code.blogspot.com)
536 points by andreasgonewild on Sept 2, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 235 comments



It seems that given Andreas' move to join the startup - if his explanation is accurate and complete - the level of responsibility of the founders does increase. I've been a founder asking people to move before and I've always felt that it adds a significant extra responsibility. You need to be quite a lot more certain it'll be a good fit before asking someone to move to join your company.

In my mind "culture fit" is the responsibility of the founder. If you're recruiting someone, you need to make the call if they fit into your culture. You can't really blame the person you're recruiting for not fitting in. You can (and should) fire them if they're not a fit, but it's still your hiring mistake, and you need to take the responsibility for it.

If a mudslinging contest can somehow be avoided, it'll be great to have a response from the Unbabel founders. There are probably some good lessons for both coders and founders here.


> I've been a founder asking people to move before and I've always felt that it adds a significant extra responsibility.

Exactly. If you ask people to do things outside the normal employment environment then you are partly responsible to make them whole if thing do not work out.

And if you can't do that then don't get people to move halfway across the continent for you, especially not without doing more work to see if there is a good fit or not.


If I was hiring developers, I wouldn't care much where they come from - if someone from Sweden wants to come to Portugal, I wouldn't stop them, but on the other hand I wouldn't give them extra assistance/benefits just because they're relocating (assuming that (1) there was enough local talent available, and (2) the company was a startup, not an established company with loads of cash).

On the other hand, if I was hiring developers, I would stick to the contract.


Moving across continents to work for a company which you're not sure it'll work well with them is a too big risk to take to be honest.

I'm a founder of a startup and I would only move someone across the continents after working with him for a while. For example I would fly him over for a month to work for us to see if there's a fit (without asking him to leave everything yet), covering his expenses, flights and anything other expense he would incur.

I understand if the startup is paying for relocating you but you're still taking a big risk, there's always the chance that you would be let go if you're not a good fit.

How other are mitigating this risk? Is working remotely for a couple of weeks/months with occasional flying viable and moving only after you spent some time with the company viable for others here?


That is why I said I wasn't interested in moving to my current company unless I had some sort of guarantee about being able to find a new job, since it would be horrible if I got dropped a month later.

They said I would be able to stick around for a few months until I found another job, which they would be sure I would be able to find very quickly in SV. Now I've been working with them for 3 years.

The details were actually written down, so it wasn't an informal contract, but it's been 3 years.

Also remote trial work should be an option for these kinds of workers. Making your company remote worker compatible will force many best practices from the start at your company.


How many people are realistically willing to do a trial for a month? Developers are in demand. They likely already have a job.


That's a legit question and I don't know the answer. However how is it different from hiring someone and letting him go after a month if you think he's not a good fit? The mention of a month of bootcamp or "orientation" is mainly to set expectations.

You should always hire the best candidate which you think will work out but that month allow you to set the right phase, this is a month where you both give the best to make that relationship work - orientation, pairing, documentation, short meetings to discuss potential roadblocks or issues.

All startups usually do this - I just consider it's a good practice to say it out loud that there's a period where we both find out if we want to keep working together.


Depends on where you are. Developers are in demand in major US tech hubs (read: SFBay, NYC, Seattle, Austin), they are not nearly as hotly fought over everywhere else, particularly in Europe and Asia.

It's important to remember that the "companies prostrating themselves at your front door offering you bonuses and perks and lavishing dining you" is an American Tech Hub phenomenon. While I doubt UK coders are doing badly, I doubt they are as in-demand as they would be in SF or NYC.


I still think that this is very limiting. I'm in Canada (Waterloo, Ontario) and I just can't see trying out at a company for a month.

That said, I'm "old" (36), and have family responsibilities. If I were a naive recent grad I might have entertained doing this.


I went to Waterloo and still have friends there - the job market may be pretty good for Canada, but it's a far, far cry from what you'd see in an American tech hub.

Trying out at a company for a month isn't really that bad when the demand is so intense you can literally line up 3-4 competing offers in under a week if things don't work out. There is sadly no place in Canada where the demand is that high.


As a company founder, I have never had someone move to take a job at my company. The reasons are #1, it is a lot more expensive to hire because most people want you to cover moving costs, and #2, if the person doesn't work out during the three months probationary period (this is standard in Ontario, Canada) I would be screwing them over if I laid them off (and if I didn't lay them off, it would be screwing over the company.)

If we had more robust hiring practices, and more money, maybe it would be better. But for now hiring out of town while requiring them to move (as opposed to working remotely, which has worked for employees) is horribly risky for all involved.


Have you considered having remote employees?


Exactly! It's just a bit of common sense mixed with having some managerial balls and take responsibility of when it was your mistake to hire someone or not. The worst part is the contract agreement, he should really follow through with the process and see what he can get, odds are in his favor, and at this point there doesn't seem to be much more he can lose. The whole 'we will end your career' part sounds like a baby mobster threat to me.


For the record

I am a co-founder and CEO of Unbabel. I feel that I should respond to these allegations.

1 - The contract we had with Andreas was full time employee contract. The first three months were "at will" which means that either one was free to terminate the relation at any time. We have a signed contract to prove it and I am happy to share a sample of the contract to anyone that wants. When we fired him, we not only paid him what we owed, but we paid him an extra 15 days of work in addition to $1000 dollars to offset any unexpected costs. Which we didn't have to. We also have receipts of all the transactions, If need be.

2 - We fired him because he was a terrible fit to Unbabel. It became clear very quickly that it would not work. In the end the responsibility of hiring him was ours, and we are really sorry it did not make the right choice. This made it clear that we have room for improvement in our hiring processes.

3 - He did really well on interviews and we went to considerable lengths to bring him to Portugal. We paid his airplane ticket, we lent him money for rent, we helped him search for a house, amongst other things. I am personally really proud that Unbabel is an example of how we can capitalize on excellent talent in Europe and Andreas was the first person from Sweden. We have people from 5 nationalities at Unbabel and we pride ourselves in having a great environment to work with.

4 – We believe that the culture of the company is extremely important and we devote a lot of energy to it. Everyone in Unbabel is expected to participate actively in the company Meaning that they are part of the planning, and encouraged to be autonomous in creating the best products possible. We truly enjoy working with each other and spending time together. For example, every week we go surfing on Wednesday morning in the beautiful beaches of Lisbon. It is not mandatory, but every one has loved it so far. It is an amazing way make sure that every week we hang out together outside the company.

We try really hard to make sure that working at Unbabel is an amazing experience. We pay well above average for Portugal, which means that you get a really good life here. We offer health insurance, surf lessons, catered lunches once a week and beers on Friday afternoon. We give you autonomy and agency, we are transparent about the company every employee has a chance to make a difference. Come and see for yourself what it is like to work at the best Translation Startup in the world. A position just opened up :)


I'm always surprised when a company is so quick to publicly comment on a sensitive personnel matter, but that said, it's interesting to note what this response doesn't contain.

The OP basically called into question the quality and stability of Unbabel's platform ("The code was a tangled mess of mindless duplication, half-implemented features and misleading comments. Of the few automated tests that existed, most didn't even run anymore") and the competence of the people behind it ("The team lead was the only one who knew anything about the system and he was either busy trying to patch things up by himself or working with the other person they had hired for my position before I got there"). The subtle implication of the post: the OP may have been terminated because he recognized these things.

Are the OP's claims true? Who knows, but the response here doesn't directly address them at all. Instead, there's ambiguous language like "terrible fit", corporate-speak like "we believe that the culture of the company is extremely important" and a poorly-timed "A position just opened up :)"

Frankly, if I was the founder of a tech company and I made the decision to respond publicly to a situation like this, the claims about my platform and the competence of my team would be my focus and I'd address them head on. After all, such claims could become very harmful when encountered by prospective employees, customers and partners. Given that, it's curious they were completely ignored.


> The code was a tangled mess of mindless duplication, half-implemented features and misleading comments.

In my experience, a lot of code is like this, and the majority of startup code is like this. I have found there's almost zero correlation between startup success and good coding practices. I have no data, but I suspect there's a negative correlation.

Before you protest, I know that your code is a shining example of clarity. But if you consider all the incentives for a startup, there's much more value in being experimental, and highly responsive to customer demands, than there is in charting a stable, long term course. People celebrate pivots like it's cool, but this is what it does to the code.

Just a forewarning for anyone who is going from a more corporate world into startupland.


I can't comment about any specific code bases for obvious reasons but I'm more often than not positively surprised by the quality of the code at the start-ups that I look at. Of course there are corners being cut, but usually that's for very good reasons marked with copious 'todo's. Start-ups definitely aren't equal when it comes to this and in my experience there is a definite correlation between those that ride that fine line between being in a hurry and making a good product and those that create a mess and those that try to be perfect out of the gate.

The idea here is that you do the best you can within the constraints, not that you use your start-uppishness as an excuse to be sloppy or to produce crap.

In fact, the majority of the real messes I see are not in start-ups but in more established companies where the original developers have long since moved on. Large codebases where very few people (if any!) have an idea of what is really going on.


Seconded.

I have been at startups where it's a total mess that will never be cleaned, and I've been at startups where the code is always tip-top because everyone knows you get big B2B points for implementing their dream feature right after a regular "how are you liking our service" followup.

I haven't worked at mega-corps, but I've seen bits of code that is so much worse than imaginable that I expect there are places that scrape pretty far below the bottom of the barrel, but that might just be a volume issue (the worst 1% of code will be mostly mega-corp code because most of _all_ code is in mega-corps).


I don't know if it's worth going on the defensive about that kind of stuff.

If the founder made an in-depth reply explaining that "No, we don't suck, we use language X, framework Y and methodology Z", then that just opens up a pointless side discussion about whether the X+Y+Z stack sucks, and how much exactly.

All that will remain in search engines, so in a few years' time the company will appear in public searches as a company that uses X+Y+Z even if they have moved on.


You're missing the point: if you're going to respond to a matter like this publicly, you had better respond substantively. Anything less can have the effect of making the claims against you seem more credible.

Note that this wasn't a debate about languages, frameworks or methodologies. The OP flat out referred to the company's code as "tangled mess of mindless duplication, half-implemented features and misleading comments" and claimed that only one employee "knew anything about the system." The response here mentions surfing on Wednesday but doesn't dispute any of the OP's claims about the state of the company's technology and technology organization. That looks horrible.


I disagree, there really is little beyond a "he said, she said" type argument to be had here and that really doesn't benefit them (or indeed Andreas). Much of that is subjective and they're not going to publish code to prove it one way or the other so there will never really be agreement. Best case is they reply and he refutes it which puts them pretty much back where they are now.

As a company you want to shut this sort of discussion down as quickly as you can. A detailed rebuttal may appear to do that but doesn't - the more you say, the more you raise questions, invite rebuttals and encourage further debate.

Maybe this doesn't answer some claims and they suffer some very slight damage because of that, but far worse damage is often (possibly even usually) done by detailed replies which keep the story going and fuel the fire.


The claims are most certainly not true. Regarding the code and team we have an mazing team and our code is pretty good, especially since going through YCombinator we have grown at a tremendous rate which sometimes forces us to cut some corners. Of course our code could be better, and it was precisely for this that we hired someone that we thought could be a valuable contributor to the code. Unfortunately we were wrong, as it is ow publicly obvious, but fortunately the rest of the team is truly excellent.


an amazing team of surfers? It's funny, if you go to their facebook page, on a lot of posts, they'r either praising their "engineering team" or making up excuses on downtime and bugs. And from the looks of the team it seems besides the elder ones (who must be the founders of course), the rest are recent grads whom they can sell their surf's up crap to then make work on weekends, and extra hours


"the OP may have been terminated because he recognized these things"

He wouldn't be the first one.

I had a bunch of jobs, where I had to work with crappy code and have seen many people getting "terminated" because they prefered to complain about it.

I complained too, but I worked with what was given, when it didn't change after a few years (most of these "the whole system is fucked up changes don't come easy) I just quit.


> The subtle implication of the post: the OP may have been terminated because he recognized these things.

These things are self evident to any programmer who isn't in their first year of work. I can't see anyone being fired over recognizing what their experience allows, especially since you hired them for that experience.


the claims about my platform and the competence of my team would be my focus and I'd address them head on

Why? A former employee criticizes the company they were fired from -- that carries essentially zero weight to pretty much anyone, and you seem to be among very, very few who took it at face value. Heck, even if they weren't fired and didn't have the axe to grind, people complain about "spaghetti" code with such vigor and frequency in this industry that it has become essentially meaningless: It's the standard fall-back when someone is in over their head -- attack others, malign their code and technology, and try to pull up yourself by tearing down others.

Further, how in the world can you complain about them commenting on a "personal" matter, when they are responding to a guy who posted a highly-critical extortion rant. I call it an extortion rant because he even claims that if he warned them that they need to pay up or face his public flailing.

That's incredibly lame.


It's hard to find fault with either side for the core problem of not fitting in. However, everything else could have been handled better. This is a learning experience.

First, hiring people based on interviews is known to be a bad procedure. To determine if a person fits a company, you have to let them do some actual work first. Working remote for a period of time is good, but if you're looking for an on-site employee: fly them out, pay them and cover all their expenses for a week, and have them work at least three days. Both sides could have figured out so much about each other if you had only done this.

Then, if someone still turns out to be a bad fit long-term, firing that person is a good decision. Both as a CEO and as the company, you have to take the high road, and make sure you're way more generous than you need to be (especially if that employee moved to another country for you). Clearly you went a step in the right direction there as you stated, but it's still not enough. You should have sat down with that guy and figured out together what it would take to get him back home as smoothly as possible.

Finally, your communication style. It's hard to come out on top when you're faced with this kind of criticism. But keep in mind that you allowed this situation to develop in the first place. While it's certainly your responsibility to raise buzz and sound enthusiastic on behalf of your own company, don't fall into the trap of congratulating yourself too much. We're here because something went wrong, not because everything is beyond awesome over there. Acknowledge that. Implement measures to avoid this in the future. And "a position just opened up :)" is certainly not the right tone at the moment.


> every Wednesday we go surfing.

I was in the military were they have a thing called mandatory fun time. basically, you are required to go to a bbq or some other "fun" thing. I hated it. I'm one of those people who draw a hard line between work and the rest of my life. when I'm at work, I'm working crazy hard to get the job done. period. when I'm not at work, I'm doing my own thing. period. I have no desire to mix the two.

> beers on Friday afternoon

again, this is a negative, from my perspective. I would much rather be home relaxing or out drinking with my friends then forced to go out with coworkers. I like my coworkers, and we are friends, but the minute you try to take my Fridays away is the minute I start looking for a new job.

I'm an good employee. I work hard and over deliver compared to what I'm payed. but I will not give up my freedom for my job. no way.

and it doesn't matter of you say it isn't mandatory. if you hold company events, they are mandatory. a rose by any other name it's still a rose.


This point was cited in a recent article I think debated here (or Reddit), "This is why you never end up hiring good developers." You push away a lot of talent when you select for some narrow culture fit, or mandate that they be your friend too.

IMO, the obsession with culture fit and team bonding is really just a way to trick engineers into devoting more of their life, mindshare, and personal freedom to laboring for your startup.


In some countries (the UK is one), you need to be very careful with "cultural fit".

For instance, not hiring someone because they don't want to go for beers on a Friday can accidentally become a proxy for excluding certain religions at which point you can be in all sorts of bother legally.


Hard to believe the skill acusations when there's such a glass house. In terms of rookie mistakes they sure make a lot http://unbabel.co/admin (django admin exposed). http://dev.unbabel.com/ (django dev toolbar with delicate details on settings and so on). So Andreas,don't bother,even these guys are well funded,in terms of python and django skills i wouldn't enjoy work here


A position just opened up :)

Most inappropriate HN job posting, ever.

Is it perhaps a culture/language barrier? Do they even realize how callous their little segue is?


That's just how employment is handled here in Portugal. Something along the lines of: "Don't want to enjoy our amazing company culture and below average compensation? There are dozens who would, for even less pay".


It could be a culture/language barrier - I am not a native speaker (and obviously not from USA) and it didn't strike me as callous (or even inappropriate) at all. Especially given the in-depth explanation above the remark.

Interesting! I will need to be more careful in my own writing... :)


It's not a language barrier problem. I'm from Portugal too and he sounds like a douche.


Firing someone is 10 times harder than hiring them. I've seen startups almost die due to putting off firing people until the very last minute. If it's not a fit, it's inevitable and will happen eventually, but in 6 months when he is eventually fired anyways, irreparable damage will have been made to the company, both in terms of culture, and it terms of wasted time, energy, and money.

All that to say, props on making the difficult decision early.


"Everyone in Unbabel is expected to participate actively in the company Meaning that they are part of the planning, and encouraged to be autonomous in creating the best products possible. We truly enjoy working with each other and spending time together. For example, every week we go surfing on Wednesday morning in the beautiful beaches of Lisbon. It is not mandatory, but every one has loved it so far. It is an amazing way make sure that every week we hang out together outside the company."

Maybe I'm reading too much into your comment, but are you saying that enjoying surfing is a necessary part of your company's “culture fit”?

If someone is physically or otherwise disabled or unable to participate, does that preclude them from being a part of your company?


Personally the "we go surfing every Wednesday" would be a red flag.

I'm not at your company to have fun. Beyond a paycheck, job satisfaction and personal growth would be nice, but surfing, nerf guns, pinball etc are things I'd prefer to do in my spare time with friends and family, thanks.

Sure, the annual company retreat or Christmas party are expected, but there's nothing worse than a bunch of co-workers trying to have "fun" because it's an unspoken requirement of the company culture.


And just for the record, everyone hasn't loved it so far. The last thing I did before being fired was opting out of surfing because I didn't enjoy it at all. I got the feeling that most of the employees would rather have done something else, including working.


They say its not mandatory, right there in your quote.


De facto and de jure are two different things. Mandatory is "De jure", when you say (for example), ”Surfing with the team every weekend is part of your contract. Otherwise, you will be let go.”

What I'm asking about is ”De facto”. If practically, you are letting go of people who can't or won't surf with you on the weekends because of ”culture fit issues”, surfing becomes a de facto (but not de jure) requirement of the job. And the reason I'm asking about it is that it has been mentioned as one of the four points related to letting this employee go. Otherwise, why is it even in the response? Notice that it is not part of the advertisement (which comes later, outside the points).


Not to mention that even if it's OK for people to not go surfing, there are still other issues that can arise from it. Like, say the surfing trips are because the CEO loves surfing, and part of the team goes on them and the other part doesn't. Now the CEO has to be extra vigilant about not giving preferential treatment to those that do go, because of having good feelings about them as his "surfing buddies."


In the US, the motto is "don't invite your employees anywhere" due to the fact they might later litigate that you preferred your friends to them.

In Asia on the other hand, it literally is mandatory to socialize with your employer.


Not sure why other commenters are jumping on the bandwagon to criticize your response. Frankly, OP made a tasteless move by posting a public rant/complaint about being fired. There are no substantive allegations of mistreatment or inappropriate behavior by Unbabel (other than vague assertions of "abuse"). In the light of that, I'm sure a lot of folks at Unbabel are annoyed. I appreciate that you avoided personal attacks on the former employee (because I'm sure you're angry at this distraction).

It sounds like exactly what you said: OP was a bad fit for this company. Rather than sour grapes and trying to publicly shame Unbabel (for what? Recognizing a bad fit and acting on it?), OP should take this as a lesson learned.


IMO, this bit "A position just opened up :)" is a bit tacky. Take the high ground!


As 7Figures2Commas says below (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8259046), this seems really tasteless, and possibly illegal.

((

EDIT: In light of gamblor956 (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8259687)'s response, I should clarify that what I found tasteless and possibly illegal was the posting of this personal information, not the arrangement itself (about which I think it is wisest to offer no opinion).

))

I agree with bkeroack (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8259618) that Andreas's posting this rant publically may not have been desireable (although the poster says that your company was given some warning about the content appearing), but I think that does not give you the ethical right to compound the wrong by complaining about the poster ("he was a terrible fit"), or the ethical or legal right to post sensitive and private information about an employee.

Without commenting on the merits of the situation (I have no idea who is in the right, and think that this kind of unpleasantness should probably not have made the front page), I think that it would have sufficed to say that his allegations are demonstrably untrue, but that you cannot provide documentation due to privacy concerns, without giving personal information about his performance and salary details.


To follow up on your comment about the illegality of it... The following source notes that while at will termination is no longer completely illegal in Portugal, probation periods must generally be at least 90 days in length for indefinite-term contracts:

http://www.portugalglobal.pt/EN/Biblioteca/Documents/Portuga...


"by complaining about the poster ("he was a terrible fit")"

This is not a complaint. I agree that "terrible" may be a bad word, but not being a correct fit is not wrong.

Not all people are great for all jobs. Even if they have the technical qualities.

A basketball player runs a lot on a game, but that doesn't mean he/she would be a great sprinter, as an example.

Culture fit is needed as much as a technical match


Regardless of what is true and what isn't, it must be tough to have your company featured on HN like this. Thanks for handling it so classy in your post.

.oO(What's with the code quality though?)


I believe the intentions were good on both sides, but again, good intentions were not enough.

There needs to be great care addressing company culture. It may be clear what those values are when the team is small and made from people with similar backgrounds and life experiences. But how do you expect those values to be transmitted to others? If you don't clearly state your mission, vision and values, then you are going to have a hard time justifying any decisions based on company culture.


Is "at will" a very American concept even valid in EU/Portuguese employment law? - I certainly haven't heard that Portugal has American style employment laws


Red flag. Copy-paste from another comment: "37 old Java professional from Sweden spends all of his savings in two months? You have 5 kids or something?"


A really big problem for startups lies in attracting high quality coding talent. There aren't many experienced developers who're in a position to take the necessary risk joining a startup and working for a reduced income for a while. Consequently any startup that screws over a developer isn't just hurting their own rep, but they're damaging the chance of success of every other startup by reducing the size of the talent pool.

Whether or not Unbabel did something wrong here is a matter of speculation without more details, but there's still a lesson in it for every startup founder - developers are necessary and important to your success so being nice (especially if the relationship isn't going well) is a Good Idea.


> there's still a lesson in it for every startup founder - developers are necessary and important to your success so being nice (especially if the relationship isn't going well) is a Good Idea.

If a founder is only being nice to someone because it's a good idea and in their interest, they are an asshole. It's not a lesson you should need to teach anyone.


The lesson is that it's hard to find good developers.

More generally, it's quite hard to find good <anythings>. People assume that available talent fits some sort of bell curve, with lots of 'average' people out there, but really it's more like an inverse square curve - there's a lot more people at the bottom end than the top. When you find the good ones you're nice to them because it's in everyone's interest.


> When you find the good ones you're nice to them because it's in everyone's interest.

Why do you have to differentiate being nice to people based on their abilities in any way at all?

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding your point?


Maybe its a "when you don't have much left, whats left is more important".

Like the discussion of employee talent vs qty graph shape, there exists a similar graph of employer quality vs qty of some shape. And if you know as an employer you're at a very low point of that graph, unable to execute, unable to meet deadlines, unable to pay contracts in full, all you may really have left is nice personal charisma, making it all the more crucial.

You can behave like IBM or Google if you're IBM or Google. Little startup, maybe not.

If all you've got left is the ability to be nice because everything else is lost, then being nice is becomes more important than at Accenture or insert any other large company.

Its similar to the concept of "grace under fire" which used to mean something other than a sitcom or a martial arts TV show.


You should be as nice as you can to everyone, but pragmatically speaking you can't. There isn't enough time, money, or energy available. There are a good reasons to prioritise certain people though - I was suggesting that people who will have an impact on the startup industry are such people.


> You should be as nice as you can to everyone, but pragmatically speaking you can't. There isn't enough time, money, or energy available.

Being nice to someone isn't the sum of all time, money and energy expended on someone. It's just treating them with respect and dignity when your path crosses with theirs.


>It's not a lesson you should need to teach anyone. Perhaps most of us (the non-assholes?) learn this at such a young age that we don't even remember learning it. But I do believe, because I've seen it happen and done it myself, to varying degrees, that people CAN learn this later in life and change bad behavior (even if it's initially for superficial reasons like a desire to see a venture succeed).


Best to teach people to not be assholes with empathy, not through furthering of their own personal goals and ambitions.


There's being nice, which -- you're right -- everyone should do, and then there's going beyond ordinary courtesy to outright generosity. I think onion2k's point is that startups should try to do the latter.


Actually, this is only a problem for un-founded startups - but if you don't have the money, you should at least have the technical expertise necessary to create the software for your start-up for the next 6 months or so (before you get to a Proof-Of-Concept stage, and can get investors). When you get the money, it's almost always a problem of just offering enough money to offset the risk of a startup failing/the team not working out.


That's typically not done because it means your burning cash at a rate that adds "unnecessary" risk to the business. This is why early employees are paid $75k instead of $150k and are given equity in the business. It greatly increases the probability of a successful outcome. Paying $150k will most often lead to a 12 month run then winding down the company. That's not really in anyone's interest.


That's a very good idea... as long as there's enough equity (there usually isn't). For 75k/year, I want at least 10%, and even better, co-founder status. While 75k and 1% is in the founders' interest, it certainly isn't in the employees'.


You can never make claims like that before the fact. Every company, group of founders, group of investors, and opportunity is different. I'm certain there's a startup out there who you would take 75k and 1% from because you really believed the business would change the world and exit for Facebook money. You'd be crazy not to.


I feel sorry for you, I really do!

Not knowing the details of your contract I can't say for sure, but with the recent changes in employment law in Portugal, I think legally (not ethically) they maybe in the right. I can put you in contact with a lawyer that specialises in this kind of situations, but honestly, for 1.5 months salary, it isn't probably worth it for you (justice system in PT is very very slow, though they do tend to stick with the employee in these situations, even when the law isn't on their side).

If you don't mind me asking, what made you move from Sweden to Portugal to work at this startup? Was it Portugal that attracted you? Knowing the salaries and economic situation of the country, specially compared to Sweden, it confuses me a bit why you would do it, but if it is Portugal as a country that interests you, shoot me an email, I maybe able to help you out.

Best of luck


I only learned about the loop hole in Portuguese employment law from this discussion. That's one thing I really hated about Portugal, they just don't offer any information in English, even the signs in the museums are in Portuguese, it's no mystery to me that a lot of the translation startups are based there.

The thing is, were I come from, if you have a contract for three months, you have a contract for three months. And I was treated like royalty up until the exact moment when I didn't agree with their practices. Live and learn, I guess.

Unbabel is unique in that it's based in SF and offer compensation on that level in Portugal. Landing a job in SF is pretty much impossible as a European so this seemed like a nice compromise.

Thanks, but from the experience I had with both my employer and my landlord in Portugal I'd rather not do business with any Portuguese people ever again. Sorry.

Thanks!


What loophole? It's not something missing in the law, it is very well detailed in the law (see links in a previous post of mine, or from some other posters as well). Swedish contract law also seems to have trial periods, BTW: http://www.business-sweden.se/PageFiles/10381/Employing%20st...

In Sweden it seems that the employer must always give two weeks of notice, that's not the case here. But on the other hand you were paid two extra weeks of wage.

I know for a fact that Luxembourg, UK, and Bulgaria at least have trial periods as well and they are typical in these countries. I don't know about other EU countries, nor do I know whether they are typical in Sweden. But they are certainly not loopholes.

(BTW my apologies if I sound blunt, I love my country and don't like seeing false statements posted which make it seem that working here is very bad, when the truth is quite the opposite -- after the trial period is over, you are very well protected and can expect a job for life unless the company goes bust, goes through a major layoff, or fires you illegally, in which case courts and unions will defend you)

BTW here in Portugal you can also have a 3-month contract. They are uncommon in the IT world, but they exist especially in less well-paid positions (supermarkets, call centers, etc). In that case the trial period cannot exceed 15 days. If your contract says "com termo certo" (meaning "with predetermined duration"), then you did have a 3 month contract and are entitled to legal action.

Have you tried translating the contract on Google or Bing to understand what it says?


There was a great piece of advice I was given about 20 years ago by the South African guru of franchising, Eric Parker:

"Run your small business as if it was a large business", or, "Start as you mean to go on".

There is a great deal of bullshit in the tech industry; that chaos is somehow normal and that planning and the principles of good management can wait "till we're big". It should be painfully obvious that once chaos has set in, then that is the business environment and it cannot change.

If that environment includes hiring in panic and treating people badly, and the organisation survives anyway, then that organisation becomes one in which toxic relationships are rewarded indefinitely. It will be unsurprising that people like the OP will find it horrifying and be forced out.


"Run your small business as if it were a large business" is a quote that I would disagree with for startups, for two reasons:

- it encourages premature scaling

- many large businesses have lost the ability to innovate and lost the ability to respond quickly to market changes.

Both of those consequences can be fatal for a startup.


Nope, small companies that don't think about growth while they have the time, cement bad practice.

"Run your small business as if it were a large business" is more about conscious decision-making and awareness of consequence. Do your admin, make sure payroll is documented and people are paid on time, make sure that managers pay attention to work-load and communication, develop work practices that support people rather than assuming everyone is committed to 24-hour days ... sweat the small stuff so that your employees can get on with the thing you hired them for without concern.

It's all those assumptions that get small businesses as they scale. And then - if they survive - they become horrible, impersonal large businesses.

A small business is like a small child. All the potential is there, but surround that child with all the clutter of a poor environment and it will become an adult that perpetuates the system it was raised in.

"Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man," said the Jesuits. They knew what they were talking about ;)


>>"Run your small business as if it was a large business"

So basically, several layers of approvals for every $10 expense report? :)


Nope, small companies with bad processes grow up to be big companies with terrible processes. Precisely because you hope to be a big company (or mature into a profitable one), get your processes right from the beginning. I'm definitely not saying "run your small company like the big companies you hate" ... I am saying, start as you mean to go on.


>>Nope, small companies with bad processes grow up to be big companies with terrible processes.

Yes, but it's not just small companies with bad processes that grow up to be big companies with terrible processes.

Sometimes, small companies with good processes turn those processes into terrible ones because they think that's what it takes to become a big company. In other words, they observe the terrible processes at big companies and emulate them.

Expense reports are a classic example. Small companies have informal procedures that are built on trust (good). Large companies have formal procedures that are built on pages and pages of policies that dictate what kinds of things can be expensed and under what conditions (terrible). It's very common for the former to turn into the latter as companies grow.


In the Portuguese labour law the default "experimental" period lasts a minimum of 90 days (for both employer and employee).

During the experimental period any of the parties may void the contract without any compensation (except for the time already worked) unless noted otherwise in your contract ...

Also there is no notice period required.

As a disclaimer, I note that I am friends with one of the founders of Unbabel. I don't know their side of the story and I am sad this happened to you.

Still, from what you say, as far as I can tell, they acted within the boundaries of the portuguese labour code.


This highlights one of the risks with going and working in another country - what seems fair, reasonable and legal to you may be very different in another country.

As someone who lives in Europe I find American hire / fire at will contracts terrifying (getting rid of someone in the UK can be a torturous process, in other European countries even worse) but obviously in most states (?) in the US they're the norm.

Lesson to learn - before you agree to work somewhere else, understand the culture and legal framework you're going to be working in if at all possible and set your expectations accordingly.


> (getting rid of someone in the UK can be a torturous process,

It's really easy to get rid of employees in England. While it's not quite "at will" it's pretty close.

You don't even need to give a reason in writing if the person has been working for you for less than 2 years.

https://www.gov.uk/dismissal

> You have the right to ask for a written statement from your employer giving the reasons why you’ve been dismissed if you’re an employee and have completed 2 years’ service (1 year if you started before 6 April 2012).


It really isn't, trust me, I've been through it a few times (as an employer).

There is a lot of detail hidden behind this:

"If you’re dismissed, your employer must show they’ve:

* a valid reason that they can justify * acted reasonably in the circumstances

They must also:

* be consistent - eg not dismiss you for doing something that they let other employees do * have investigated the situation fully before dismissing you - eg if a complaint was made about you"

There actually aren't that many valid reasons. Cultural fit certainly isn't one (and has the potential to get you in all sorts of equalities issues if there is any possibility that age, religion or anything else can be seen as a proxy for the way you didn't fit).

If you want to claim someone isn't good at their job you need to be able to back it up and show you gave them every opportunity to turn it around (including having given them all the relevant support and training). Generally speaking that would be a performance management exercise (several weeks of monitored performance) which is time consuming and rubbish for all involved.

And that's before you even get into the whole performance is hard to accurately measure in IT issues.

The investigated fully part is also important. If you diverge from your stated policy (or a reasonable policy if there isn't one stated - the ACAS one is usually the template) then you can be found against at a tribunal even if you reasons and evidence were sound.

Obviously people do ignore all this and get away with it (particularly in IT where people can often get new jobs relatively easily) but that doesn't mean you will or that what you did was legal.

Your best shot is if the contract has a defined probation period (3 to 6 months) during which you can pretty much get rid of people at will but after that, even before 2 years is up, it's going to take some work. It's not impossible but it's an exercise which will take a lot of your time and likely have a significant impact on team morale.


Is this a good place to ask why the title of this link was changed? It was originally the same as the title of the blog post, including "(YC/2014)".

I've noticed this kind of alteration a number of times on stories about YC-backed companies, and I don't recall ever seeing it when the story was positive.

EDIT: And now the post is getting rapidly demoted on the front page, below links that are older and have fewer votes.


The (YC XYZ) tags are for major third-party articles and launches. We take them out of the titles of blog posts. I'm not sure exactly why, but it's been the convention for a long time. This, however:

> I don't recall ever seeing it when the story was positive

... is just sample bias. By far most cases of this are positive stories. Indeed most are blog posts written by the companies themselves. Sometimes they even complain and think we're biased against them, which of course is not true, just sample bias again.

Re the story rank: users tend to flag stories that have a high controversy-to-substance ratio, and moderators penalize such stories. In the case of negative posts about YC or YC-funded startups, our policy is to penalize them less, not more. But that doesn't mean we do nothing. Why? Because the heat of indignation guarantees massive upvotes. There needs to be a countervailing factor or such posts would fill the front page every day. It's a balancing act.


Thank you. Just a small piece of feedback: I clicked the title expecting a story on Unbabel failing the startup game, ie: I thought they'd gone bust and this would be a post-op.


I had similar expectations, and I am glad the flags / downvotes still had weight. I was able to chime in on a code quality discussion, but this has been, for the most part, a very bizarre discussion that I (and most of HN, I assume) is not capable of litigating.


Fair enough, thanks for the explanation.


I thought the policy was to use the title exactly as it appears on the article?


That is the policy, "unless it is misleading or linkbait." https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Makes YC look bad, that's why.


I have to say I admire your courage in writing this. I've been put in a not dissimilar situation in the recent past. I said nothing. I'm hoping one day the situation will resolve itself, but I doubt it, and I suffered a lot for it. Thankfully I'm out of immediate danger now.

I hope this leads to a positive conclusion for you, as I have a lot of respect for the difficulty of startup life, but none for those who behave dishonestly rather than face the consequences of their actions.


Thanks. At this point this isn't about me anymore, it's about transparency and telling both sides of the story. In my opinion Unbabel behaved like total jerks and were getting away with it. I'm getting to old to let stuff like that slip anymore.


I feel for you too. It wasn't a startup and the job was local, but I took a salary drop and swapped a cosy-but-unrewarding role with a global corporate to join a 40-strong SaaS development company that wanted someone to come in and sort out their internal and customer support infrastructure - they had no strategy, procedures or hierarchy and were constantly firefighting - shuffling resources between projects according to which customer complained the loudest.

It became clear very quickly that the two founders who brought me in wouldn't embrace any change that didn't come from them, and they had a total fear of empowering anyone else to make executive decisions - even about their own team members; I constantly found my guys being assigned to firefighting for other teams without my knowledge, so workload planning and scheduling knowledge sharing periods was impossible - we had information silos all over the place and if someone went on vacation they would often be called or emailed frequently because they were the only ones who knew about a specific part of a project or system. I wasn't allowed to attend support review meetings with the customers - the Directors went alone and told me what had been agreed, and they constantly dealt directly with one of my guys (the company 'guru'), assigning him work and making it impossible for me to grab his time so he could share his skills with the rest of the team - I highlighted it as a serious business risk that this guy was the only person who knew some of the tricks with some of our internal and customer infrastructures, and that he wasn't encouraged to document or share his knowledge, but they dismissed my concerns.

When we had that Friday afternoon talk after 9 months of trying to bring in some best practices and semblance of organisation, I left the office for the last time with a sense of great relief that I was out of the clusterfuck.

It only took me a few weeks to find a much better role and I hope things work out for you too.

Edit: Looking back at what I wrote, it might be that the OPs circumstances just offered the opportunity for a bit of a personal rant, which was not the intention. My main point was based on the fact (not explained at all by me in my post) that when I met the two Directors (twice), prior to joining, the setup and opportunity for me looked very positive, and I was convinced I was going to be empowered to fulfil the role. Things turned out very differently, and I clearly did not fit in with the company culture the founders wanted to both leave and stick with simultaneously (it was their comfort zone, and although they knew is was not the best was to run a business, they ultimately couldn't leave it). Moral: Shit happens, despite due dilligence, but that doesn't make it right.


Stories like this (and my own experience) kind of sum up why I don't intend to work for another startup unless it's one I've founded. Too many people out there are taking roles with <= 1% of equity and thinking that they're going to be part of something big. Instead, they have no power to make decisions and make less money than they should. Working for a startup because it's a startup is always a bad idea.


I can say you also see the "perpetual clusterfuck" antipattern in organizations that don't fit the traditional "startup" mold.

You can definitely see it in government, non-profits as well as existing businesses. It's the end result of a culture that values "getting shit done" and ends up with nothing but "shit".


Here are some sources of potential clusterfucks I've seen firsthand:

* Paying a contact manufacturer to design and build electronic hardware, then not getting any sources for the software.

* Selling R&D prototypes.

* Mistaking being customer-driven for waiting for customer orders before developing a product.

* Promising customers 3 month lead times on products that exist only as R&D prototypes.

* Not documenting what was built until product is shipping.

* Not documenting design decisions.

These are all real things that happened at a 20 year old company that I used to work for. This is also a short list of the many reasons I left.


That doesn't excuse certain behaviors like breaking a contract early (we haven't seen the contract, but it's reasonable to assume there's some provision)

After seeing this and similar situations like https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8152933 involving YC companies, it's hard not to conclude that there may be something culturally broken at the accelerator level.


It might not be broken, but definitely overlooked. YC is supposed to provide the experience part of the business for these companies, and they are obviously not doing it if there are so many cases like this one.

But to be fair, I don't think any other accelerator focuses on this part. Most, if not all, accelerator only focus on growth and momentum, because that is what ultimately that is what gives the best ROI.

But in most cases, problems like in this particular case become obstacles for growth. I think YC should add provision of experience to the YC formula. What is the point of having so many experienced investors and founders in the accelerator if their companies are so bad at doing real business not only growth.

This is obviously all speculation, since I am not part of the program. Just commenting on the fact there are so many cases like this one in YC companies. So take my comments with a grain of salt.


It's called inexperience and immaturity - people seriously expect a bunch of twenty something's who've never operated a business to get things right in 3 months? Or better yet, can you imagine the abuse if you worked for a startup led by 28 year old Steve Jobs today?


Absolutely, but that doesn't excuse the behavior, and that's an important thing to keep in mind. If anything, it needs to be emphasized. If we, as an industry, truly believe that talent is our best competitive advantage, then we should act accordingly.

My biggest concern about Steve Jobs's legacy is that people can all too easily draw the wrong lessons from it, or use it to justify bad managerial practices. Steve Jobs's managerial style was as much of a hindrance as it was a benefit.

Obviously I'm not saying you're one of those "Steve Jobs was an asshole, so I can be" types of people, or that you're condoning them as such. But a lot of people do think that way, and a lot of people condone thinking that way. On the whole, it's an influential and problematic narrative.


There's good people and bad, regardless of how old they are. YC seems like they don't know how to tell which is which though.


Yikes most all of that applies to my current role... But at the end of the day, a chaotic process IS a process. And if the company is pulling in money the process is successful by at least one measure.

I think the trick is to grow past the 'whatever it takes' phase and get to the long term, steady, maturation phase. Which is what we are trying to do.


That was my stance at that final meeting (which was very matter of fact and calm): "I feel you could run this business in a way that's much better organised to grow further, but at the end of the day it's your business, not mine..."


There is a slight point in founders' favor - sometimes when you need to get out and just get the stuff done, you don't write test for every non-essential piece of code. You also just copy/paste that controller, because you know you will probably throw most of the code away anyway. All you want is to know if the business model works. After all, you are not building core systems for a financial institution. And you know that if it takes off there will be more than enough time to fix stuff properly.

That said, I strongly disagree with not paying your employees fully. If you are a founder, you have an obligation to the people you hire. YOU SHOULD PAY THEM! If you think you should pay them only for a month and a half, fire them on time. In the end, bad match should always be founder's responsibility.

EDIT: HN could really use "Preview" button. :)


Fired after 1 month but paid for 1.5 months: seems generous to me.


Depends on the contract - they agreed on 3 months.

The core of the problem is that they didn't hire him for a shorter time (test run) / weren't able to use him for the remaining time.


There is a 60 day period in which you can be let go without further notice ('trial period') so legally they are in the right, but morally, after letting you move from one country to another and without in any way assisting you in cushioning the blow they are jerks (assuming this one-sided view is the unvarnished truth).

But better that you are out of there now than a year down the line, if they are like this then that saved you a bunch of time and a lot more hardship.


As injust as Unbabel's behavior towards you might have been, I feel this story is being told from a rather extreme perspective, wouldn't you agree?

As a 37-year-old who has been writing code since 8, I feel that you should be more used to finding clumsy code, especially in a startup (that I suppose is iterating very fast, trying to make ends meet).

As someone who confidently relocated from Sweden to Portugal, were you aware of the Portuguese economic situation? Didn't you make sure you had enough savings in case it all went down the drain (as it turned out to happen)? I can't help to feel that you took this somewhat blind leap with little to no information at all.

This doesn't all mean that I blame you solely; the situation is, of course, tremendously shameful for Unbabel.


I wasn't surprised to find bad code there. I was surprised that my job didn't seem to include making it better.

Unbabel is based in SF and is unique in offering SF level compensation in Portugal. Perhaps I was naive in expecting them to honor our contract, it does seem like fucking people over is business as usual in Portugal.


Context: I lived in Lisbon four years and know one of the founders of Unbabel. I do not know you, neither your story.

Regarding your comments:

> That's one thing I really hated about Portugal, they just don't offer any information in English

>Thanks, but from the experience I had with both my employer and my landlord in Portugal I'd rather not do business with any Portuguese people ever again. Sorry.

>it does seem like fucking people over is business as usual in Portugal

>Have you had any experience with the Portuguese state or legal system? I'd probably still be standing in a queue somewhere.

Blaming the whole country for a 90 day experience does not seem very proportional to me.

Again, I do not know your story and can not speak for the veracity of your facts. What I do know is Lisbon (and I have lived many years in Spain and Germany to compare with). From that I know that you are just being, at best, exaggerated and I wonder if you have been exaggerating other stuff too.


Yet, as a portuguese, it's hard to dismiss his claims. The queues and slow state services, the "fucking people over" (mainly in employer-employee and vendor-customer relationships), the lack of information in english (unless you consider the restaurant menus as sufficient)... well, you run into this every-fuckin-day.

He may be escalating his issues, but - again, as a portuguese - I don't think he got the wrong idea about the sad state of affairs here.


I feel for you.

I made a similar leap from an OK-paying regional job at an established niche cashcow to a London start-up. The perks: a coffee machine, senior pay cheque.

The reality: a shit coffee machine, low moral, no realistic prospect of a profit and no willingness to pivot. 80% of costs have been sunk on a Facebook clone 'with a spin' while the owners try to sell snake oil to investors. We operate like the bad slides of 'Good vs Bad Startup' are a blueprint for success. The owners, almost weekly, come up with an idea someone has to coach them away from - a long ironically drawn out confrontational meeting of: "we don't have the resources". The bit I expected to pay off (medical monitoring hardware) turn out to be crappy I2C/SPI bridges any e.eng graduate could whip out in a month :(

I've had long look at myself: how could I turn down other offers yet accept this?! I'm still unsure why. For a while I feared that I deserved this - I'm one of them, one of the guys who decided to create their own header based HTTP authentication system key by a timestamp: a crap programmer.

It's been 4 months. Poor tests are still committed despite my best efforts to teach the one doing it that they should test a result not implementation (only 1 test damn it!). We don't use any JS frameworks on the front-end (yet alone my other true love: Typescript) because the last lead dev couldn't understand the immeasurable benefits of model binding. I've done - by no means single handedly - an incremental rewrite of the entire code base (front, middle and back). Although they're paying me on time, they missed my post probation increase :( I could go on but this is probably not the right forum.

In short: it's not worked out for me either. Thankfully I've got an excellent track record so I'm off in 3 days to a proper PLC. I heard large companies, like the BBC have 15 (FIFTEEN) designers in their News division alone... I can't wait to have just one designer unencumbered, available and talented.

The whole saga has left me with the strong suspicion most startups are a joke (no I don't want to be a DBA/CSS/JS and C# guru who maintains the iOS codebase!).

Inept owners who're unwilling to pivot, often trapped by the sunk cost fallacy, or owners expect to create a market with their 'one true solution [to a problem you no-one has]' plague the startup scene. No product should ever be a Facebook clone :(

For what it's worth, if I was hiring now I'd interview you solely on your written language skills (which are better than most native English speakers, myself included).


... the last lead dev couldn't understand the immeasurable benefits of model binding

So if the benefits can't be measured, you're suggesting that the front-end should be rewritten as a matter of pure faith in model binding?

(Honestly, that's my impression of how most people decide to adopt a JavaScript framework. "Yeah, we don't really understand the whole, and there are all these edge cases where you have to work against the framework, but overall it's immeasurably better because of philosophy and purity.")

I can't wait to have just one designer unencumbered, available and talented.

Good luck with that at a large corporation, I guess... :)


I think, in this instance, the 'immeasurable benefits' should probably read as 'measurable benefits so great they break the scale (but measurably better than the mess imperative JS creates)'.

Recently, especially at a startup I've felt the need to use libraries and frameworks more and more just to hit deadlines and meet the desired user experience.

Model binding is a prime example of this: on the web today everything has to be dynamic and reactive. Rather than do something (i.e. animate) and tightly couple the onComplete handler to N other things to do afterwards (via callbacks/promises etc) I prefer to compose my code around n-event subscriptions and react to changes.

Thanks to things like model binding (and their frameworks/libraries that offer this) the 'immeasurable benefits' of decoupled and composable functions trump the spaghetti soup reactive Javascript requires.

(P.S. one designer is a step up from none!)


Not to change topics, but FINALLY a note of sanity in the cacophony of JS framework fandom! Could you tell me what you recommend?

What I find is that each framework works really well for about 80% of a project, and then the last 20% get really painful. I haven't found anything that's elegant, flexible, simple, and native.


Facebook has a market cap of nearly 200 billion, some of the most talented engineers in the industry, a world-class AI lab, nearly unlimited perks and over a billion users.

So unless this startup can start where FB is right now, no one will "clone" FB.


You'd be surprised. FB is large and that often means conservative and ossified. How long does it take for new ideas to end up on the web page? I don't see that happening much, certainly not daily. The back-end I can't see but I wonder if anybody cares; its not part of what makes FB attractive to users.

So replacing FB means recruiting some niche of customers, and providing something fresh and useful. That can be done without unlimited perks.


But that's not "cloning" it. I was in a similar position years ago when my employer decided that they wanted a piece of what AirBnb was doing - the design specs they sent me were almost exactly AirBnb, only with the logo changed.

With thinking like that you will never displace the #1 company, because you're not thinking ahead of them, you're only ever trying to catch up.


It's very, very rare that someone successfully takes on a big, entrenched competitor like IBM or Microsoft, and wins a head-on fight.

It's much more likely that they exploit some new thing.


Sorry, what's a PLC?



Public Limited Company, UK equivalent of publicly traded companies in the US.


I'm not sure either. The first thing that came to mind was "programmable logic controller", but that makes no sense in the context :S


If you read between the lines, it seems like this job definitely wasn't the right fit. Hence, they were probably in the right for letting you go.

But they're definitely in the wrong for how they handled it. In particular, knowing that you moved to Portugal for the job, they should have given you severance sufficient to cover relocation back to Sweden.


> they were probably in the right for letting you go.

They violated his three month contract. They are not just morally wrong, but legally so as well.

If anything it sounds like they're pushing him around because they don't think he'll make the legal effort to get 1.5 months of pay.


They probably didn't.

Again, without knowing the contract, I can't say for sure, but what most likely happened was he was hired with a fixed term contract (Contrato Termo Certo), which is a kind of employment contract very common in Portugal. This doesn't mean he can't be fired for 3 months. There are various provisions for the company to do so (from probation period to lack of productivity or unfit for the job) but they do require some process (the employee has to be informed by writing, is entitled to some severance, etc). On this, and if the account is true is where the company maybe in more trouble. If he worked for 1 month and got 1.5 months of pay, that .5 maybe the severance he is entitled to (not sure about the values so I can't specify if that is correct or not)

As for the generality of the Portuguese employment law, you usually have 3 kinds of contracts:

- independent contractor/recibos verdes: This is usually a business to business contract, where the 'employee' has little rights regarding employment law except the ones provisioned in the contract itself. Employee also has to pay all taxes/social security. There has been some crack down on these as employers were abusing employees and avoiding paying taxes. There are similar provisions to this in the UK for example with their IR35, which means even if the contract is of this nature, they will be taxed as full-time employees.

- fixed term contract: An employment contract with a set end date (can be renewed for a certain amount of times). The usual rules apply regarding vacation, pay, firing processed etc. These regulations are law and while there is some margin to tweak the amounts, they can't be modified or you can't sign of your rights away.

- non-fixed term contract: This is what most countries have as standard employment contract but in Portugal it is a bit harder to come by. While things changed recently, up until a few years back, most employers didn't want to do this contracts since firing an employee in this cases is next to impossible without paying a huge settlement amount. So employers usually did fixed term contract with new employees, renew them for the allowed number (usually in total used to be no more than 18 months) and then either let them go (with no severance) or move them to this kind of contract.


The truth of it is that the startup life isn't for every engineer. Startup code is messy. You don't have architects who draw UMLs for you, you don't have the luxury of time to do things right. At a small startup everything is often falling apart at the seams. Morale can rise and crash, repeatedly, like a roller coaster. Small startups often have to visit the iron bank of technical debt and take out a huge loan to put in that feature a very important customer wants right that second. Tests are very important, but spending too much on them can waste precious time. You're always flying low to the ground. You're looking at the short term: days and weeks, not months and years. That said, technical debt sucks and should be avoided at all cost, but priorities aren't the same when you're a three or four person team with about a year's worth of runway.


>At a small startup everything is often falling apart at the seams... >Morale can rise and crash, repeatedly, like a roller coaster... >You're looking at the short term: days and weeks, not months and years...

None of this rings true to me. Not at any startup I've worked at/founded at least(6 in total over the last 12 years). In reality good startups are relatively even keel.

Hell I would argue that startups, almost by definition, think MORE in the long-term than their larger counterparts. In a startup you are always progressing towards a long-term goal, constantly taking in feedback and making adjustments.

It's much like sailing to a small island thousands of miles away. A mistake in navigation in the beginning that goes uncaught will put you farther off course than one farther along on your journey (although sometimes that mistake means you discover North America and then pretend like you meant to do that all along).

The point being, if your startup is constantly in panic mode or is constantly trading long-term stability for short-term satisfaction then you should probably be thinking about leaving. At least from my point of view.


Did you ever work for a “non-startup”? Like, you are a car manufacturer, have to create some telemetrics software that has to work reliably in all kind of conditions, and hopefully not kill people, and has to be supported for the next 12 years minimum?

Compare to the startup that can just “pivot” at will and/or just end it with one of those “it was an amazing ride” blog posts.

Not trying to be smart, just presenting some perspective.


While that is absolutely true, I don't follow how that relates to my post? There is nothing inherent about the flexibility of a startup that means it has to be the frenetic roller-coaster that the thread starter referenced.


"You don't have architects who draw UMLs for you"

You better not, who cares about UML diagrams?

But startup code doesn't have to be messy. I don't write messier code (to be used in a company that pays me), just because I'm in a hurry, and neither should anyone.


This is the antithesis of lean.

If code is particularly messy, unplanned, and untested you might be feature searching as opposed to having a vitamin or medicine feature that a customer will pay for.

Release early, get feedback often. Choose a core competency.


As terrible as this experience was, what's most alarming is that you're 37, have been working for nearly 20 years in this field, and don't have enough savings to tide you over even two months without work. You really need to learn to save your income and cut your lifestyle.

I hope that if it turns out your story is true, that these guys are in some way brought to justice, karmic or otherwise. Best of luck.


This guy is a symptom of an alarming trend I've seen in the field. We're all riding high, spending every $ we make because we think the end will never come. I think it will, and a lot of us are going to be bankrupt.

I don't care what financial disasters may occur - I very much doubt they'd occur in such frequency that over 20 years of working in a high income job this guy wouldn't have 15,000$ handy for something like this. If he made 80k per year for 20 years, that's 1.6M dollars. Let's say 800k after taxes. You're telling me in 20 years, he couldn't save 15k out of 800k? Less than one half of one percent of all money made?

Also, I'd expect if he didn't have that much handy, he wouldn't have been naive enough to relocate without any kind of backup funds in case things went south with a startup, which often happens.

It all points to a certain ignorance when it comes to financial matters with this guy - the fact he relocated without enough funding to fall back on suggests not that he has weathered several storms over a 20 year period, one every year wiping out all his savings, but that he has a pattern of monetary mismanagement stretching back to the beginnings of his career.

EDIT: Accidentally replied to my own comment but meant it to be to the "you dont know me, you don't know my problems" naysayers below.


The thing you have to understand, 80k USD is a very very very high salary for most people (even developers) in Europe. And the ones that make that can most likely see 1/2 of that go away in taxes/social security. Cost of living will probably be higher than the equivalent salary in the USA.

On the other hand, people should get unemployment benefits when situations like this occur, unfortunately for him, the moving countries may have prevented that (for Sweden employment agency, he quit his Swedish job, not fired, and for Portuguese one, he didn't work enough months to qualify. I'm sure there are some international provisions for these situations but they are beyond me).


$80K is not so much at it might seem when you're living in the Bay Area. Rent for a small apartment $24K a year living outside of San Francisco, and up to $30K+ inside the city. Everything is very expensive. When I lived in another city I could get by at $500 a month for a similar apartment.


That is an excellent point, and very fitting. If you take in account 80k is current salary, and most likely started at 40k and over 20 years raised it (lets say linearly), making an average of 60k over those 20 years, and paying high taxes, I doubt many would be able to save much as well unless your partner also worked. Also, Stockholm has quite high rents, looking at [1], studios start at around 1000 usd and small apartments at 1600 or so (not in central Stockholm, but suburbs)

[1] http://www.bostaddirekt.com/Private/default.aspx?custType=0&...


Whether or not you can live comfortably is not in question. If you're only making enough in your city to live comfortably if you use all of your money to do so, then you need to live uncomfortably. There are plenty of poor living in all of these major cities and they get by on less than 80k, or even 60k, so it stands to reason if you're making that much and you can't afford a burn-fund then you're probably making bad choices.


It's not a new trend with engineers. It's been around since the mid-20th century if not earlier. On the other hand, you still also have a lot of engineers living like college students with a lot of savings and investments.


Good point


You don't know what the OP has been through it done. I'd avoid giving financial advice without knowing more about their situation.


I think this critique is meant mostly for us, readers. Anyway the author decided this is related information so i don't see why it should not be discussed


That's fair but then I would ask why take the risk of working for a startup and moving across the continent?


Good point. To add to that, I must say that something is odd with this story.

Honestly, if I hired a 37-year old, that started programming at the age of 8, I would have thought that I was hiring a “senior developer” (or hopefully a “wizard”).

Salary would be, appropriately, much higher than that for a beginner, or an intermediate.

What I would expect is, that the “senior developer” will look at our code, understand what is right, and wrong, and tell us what to do to fix it.

What I would not expect is, is that the “senior developer” is twiddling his thumbs waiting for a “guidance”. And is bitching about the quality of the code. Well, you were hired to tell us what to do, and to make things happen. What we expect is advice and leadership. If all you can offer is bitching & random complaints, thanks, but “this is not a perfect fit”.


To me, being employed as a senior developer doesn't imply being able to figure out the whole system and assigning tasks by yourself from day one. I didn't bitch and complain, or twiddle my thumbs for that matter. I asked for help, told them what I thought didn't work and how we could improve it, and here we are.


Did you read yourself?

What do you know about his life? Could he have lost all his savings due to a a divorce, or an accident, or some other type of tragedy? What if he always had to support others?


I hope he didn't take the decision to leave a good job in a country with one of the best economies in Europe for a start-up job in a country with one of the worst economies in Europe - while having no savings and/or having to support others.


Unbabel is unique in that they offer Valley level compensation in Portugal. From what I could see at the time, this was a good move.


I cannot speak for the OP, but we are more likely to make "bad" decisions when the situation appears desperate.


With all due respect, my personal finances are none of your business and have nothing to do with this.


I'm sure there are two sides to every story, but you can guarantee that if they did this to you they'll do it to someone else. I'm consistently amazed by people and companies who operate without integrity. I think about Paul Graham talking about startup founder factors as people who break the rules. I'm fairly certain this is not what he's talking about.


On the other hand, and this is really the point of the whole thing to me, maybe next time they'll think twice.


I see a clear lack of management, communication and leadership skills here. For how meaningless those words might seem here on HN, it really shows when startup founders do not have them. And it's not even a culture fit issue, dealing with people that are not a 100% fit is part of the challenge of managing a business.


"part of the challenge of managing a business"

Part of the benefit, you mean. Although we're only hearing one side, sounds like the culture there is pretty screwed up, so bringing in a guy with higher standards is obviously an epic culture fit fail but possibly the only way to repair the companies culture.

Although "pretty screwed up" sounds subjective, there are objective observations, and if they're not fulfilling contracts that's a rather objective measure (did a bank deposit occur or not?)

If you have a screwed up situation, and hire a guy who fits right into it as a perfect cultural fit, you haven't solved "the" problem, you now have two problems.


Yes. Allowing situations like this to arise is an indicator of future troubles.


I agree with many of the other comments here: If this story is true, Unbabel's behavior is reprehensible. That said, look at Andreas Wild's G+[1]. He has another recently-created blog in which he spouts off some weirdness about consciousness and astrology[2]. This makes me think he is a somewhat unstable person. And it reinforces my initial feeling that we should wait for both sides of the story to emerge before forming conclusions.

1. https://plus.google.com/108299200044097592336/posts

2. http://esoteric-keys.blogspot.com/2013/12/consciousness.html


You have got to be f*cking kidding me! I've studied more Esoteric literature and practiced more Yoga than most. Have you considered that maybe, just maybe, you have no idea what you're talking about?


The consciousness article is from last year.


When I was a few years out of school I went to my second job and inherited a huge code base with 4000 line java files, no tests, no one who worked on the code still around, etc, at a big non-tech company. I was young and stupid to think I was a bad programmer that I couldn't fix it all in a few weeks by myself.

I know it's in the past now, but try to avoid situations like this. If you can't, talk to your boss about what can reasonably be done in what time frame. Now I would try to figure out which parts can realistically be refactored and which can be isolated and rewritten iteratively make things better. I wouldn't take on new features unless I was confident I could deliver with spaghetti around.


This is a bit of a cliché but I wonder if there are some cultural differences at play there. Like the hectic and chaotic pace for a Swede, would be business as usual for a Portuguese. This is likely not the root cause, but it probably did not help the miscommunication, maybe even during the recruiting phase. I also assume that if OP is not a native Portuguese speaker, it was harder to fit in, and it was easier to miss a critical info you're colleague could be discussing. I expect UnBabel to answer that OP was not communicating enough, etc. which could only be due to cultural differences.


From having lived most of my life in Sweden and three months in Portugal I'd say it's mostly the opposite. The further south you go the more things slows down.

But I agree, some of the parameters that got us here are probably cultural. One thing I did notice was that a lot of the communication in the office was in Portuguese, which obviously means I didn't get that information.


I don't know about European labor laws or your contract, but by US standards I don't think they did anything wrong and a blog post such as this would be perceived negatively.

edit: I mean no offense but just wanted to make you aware how this would be perceived by US readers potentially. US is lacking in a lot of labor protections.


Well, "being a jerk" is not a legal concept; there are many things that are perfectly legal, and still something - to quote Eric Naggum - "that you do not do if you want to be a moral being and feel proud of what you have accomplished".


Before you started working together, did you discus what would happen if things did not work well? Was your salary closer to that of the norm in Sweden, or that of the Portuguese? The difference is substantial. Did they think you where amazing at first and had too high an expectation? If you salary was closer to the Swedish norm then they may have thought that 2 weeks pay was a very substantial amount.

In Portugal, I believe, that unless you let people go before the trial period is over, then a whole lot of protective measures kick in.

For anybody looking to hire anybody abroad it is having the conversation about what happens when things don't go well.

It would be good to hear the Unbabel side of the story.

[Disclosure] Two of the founders are what I would call acquaintances of mine.


It was unclear to me what the terms of the contract were in terms of early termination of the agreement by either party. If you're moving for a 3 month "try before you buy" agreement, it's good to have that clause in the agreement or at least discuss it.

Say something like, "You guys seem like you're pretty organized, but I've heard a horror story or two about startup hiring... Companies pivoting and laying people off/etc. Given that I'm moving for this opportunity, can we have a clause in the agreement that spreads the risk around a bit? Say, if you guys let me go for any reason before the end of the contract, I get $X as a severance in consideration for my moving expenses, etc."


I see two sides to this:

- Is Unbabel making money? If they haven't shipped yet, bad for them, but on the other side, the software may be doing its part (of generating revenue)

- People sometimes come with an idealized view that in a perfect world all code is fully tested and follows all rules and conventions. Most often than not, it doesn't.

There's a balance between improvement for the sake of code and adding new features and bugfixes (not necessarily related to the lack of unit testing or stuff like this)

" I repeatedly asked for more guidance but all I got was reprimands for not taking every little detail into account in the code I wrote."

Here's the thing, no one will hold you by the hand. There's a lot of things you'll have to find out by yourself.


I'm all for finding stuff out by myself if the company culture embraces failure as a method of learning. Unfortunately, at Unbabel that's not the case.


This is why I never take these sorts of stories at face value. I'm not casting aspersions on the author, but at the same time I'm not willing to blindly accept the same against others. In these sorts of situation, invariable both sides feel they were wronged in some way.

I've hired, and directed, people who just didn't work out, and many of them could write something very similar to what the author submitted.

Because what I was hiring were people to help propel us forward in short-order, and did everything possible to filter and convey expectations of the same, but some hires needed so much direction, so much hand-holding, and so much oversight that they ended up literally being a net negative on velocity of the whole. So it just wasn't a fit and we had to split ways.

There are different companies, at different stages and sizes, where that sort of thing is perfectly okay. But at anything where the word "startup" might be applied, it just isn't the case.


That's why I'm very suspicious when it comes to stories about "wonderful work environment" at startups. I'm sure there are quite few startups where people really like to work, but I've a feeling most startups are chaotic, unorganised and ego-driven by the founders. To me it's the extreme opposite of big corporations, where everything is over-managed and run by well-defined processes, whicih may be sometimes irritaing, but at least you (usually) know what you're standing on.


I started ignoring most of those "my workplace is so great!" posts after having had a few startups under my belt. It typically is a giant clusterfuck, but if you believe in the business, enjoy your responsibilities, and can handle the nonsense thrown at you, you'll be fine.

Every workplace has its ups and downs, would be weird if it were 100% perfect, eh?


I hate to say this but whenever you relocate that is your decision. The company isn't really in any obligations to keep you or pay your move back unless you pre-negotiate that either with a signing bonus or as a clause in your contract. Generally a relocation is offset with a signing bonus and higher salary which is why the risk is worth it, but never doubt that it's a risk you have to take. I know because I've done it myself before, moving countries and all.


OP had a 3 month contract which was not honored (according to this side of the story). That's why he lost his deposit on the apartment that he'd let for 3 months.


But did it have an early termination clause he omitted. Every single contract I've seen has an early termination clause in it.


Kind of hard to tell when the entire fcking contract is in Portuguese and you depend on someone else to explain it to you. I still have no idea if the clause is in there or not.

What I can't get through my head is why you'd write a contract at all if both parties are free to do whatever the fck they want anyway...


You can write fuck - writing f*ck causes italicization.

Did you take the contract to someone outside Unbabel to check?


No, the contract was presented and explained to me by the founders, at the time they treated me like royalty so it didn't even cross my mind to question them or waste money on a Portuguese lawyer. And where I come from, having a contract means you need a good reason to break it.


And I'm sorry about the cursing, reading the comments brought a lot of stuff up to the surface again.


I just read the comment by the company and there was an early termination clause...


Why do you hate to say it?


Hi I think they are legally able to do this from my understanding of EU law. It sucks especially if you have had to relocate for the job but you obviously were not enjoying working for them. It sounds as if the lead dev might be feeling overprotective of his own work and does not want to let go.

I am sure you will find another job easily enough as good devs are in demand. Hopefully at a place where you are valued and can contribute your skills


If the contract has a minimum period, then they have to show ' cause' when firing someone.

Not being a good fit won't be good enough. If it was, the minimum period in a contract wouldn't be worth anything as that's easy for an employer to say with no backup.

This issue is a major difference between typical contracts in the EU and the at will employment status which is typical in the US. It makes it 'easier' for startups to operate in the US, and means that international companies will hire slower in the EU, but are more likely to let US staff go if they have to change staffing levels quickly.

Depending on the rental contract - if it's anything like the UK, the author may have a cause of action against the landlord as well - normally there's a minimum notice period.


> Depending on the rental contract - if it's anything like the UK, the author may have a cause of action against the landlord as well - normally there's a minimum notice period.

"kicked out" could include "followed all the legal procedures and evicted me".


That's not really what happened though. I had a contract for a minimum of four months on the apartment. Which wouldn't have been a problem for me even if I quit after three months. I deposited the last months rent when I signed the contract. When I informed the landlord that I could only stay two months, she kept the deposit and forced me to leave the apartment in the middle of the second month.


Your landlord treating you illegally is not unbabel's problem.

Did you seek help from Portuguese legal system for your landlord problem?


I don't really think my landlord was treating me illegally, unethical perhaps considering the situation. Unbabel helped me set up the contract for the apartment. They knew that I was stuck with it for four months when they fired me.


Have you had any experience with the Portuguese state or legal system? I'd probably still be standing in a queue somewhere.


So, it's never you?


It comes with the startup game. What would you have done if the startup ran out of money in a month? You pack up and go home, this also happens, where sometimes they think they have money, and perhaps weren't paying enough taxes or a deal that was going to come through fails.

The reality is that if you join a startup, you should take your job day to day. You should consider it an adventure. Do not expect it to be organized like a corporate job. There is going to be a lot of GROWING PAINS, for young folks with no real world experience, they don't know better. For someone experienced in the industry, man, is it painful! But with that experience, you have to figure out how to lead, your work is not just to code, the bigger puzzle to solve is how to slowly bring about best practices, and you will get a lot of resistance.

You lead by showing. Don't worry about others, they don't wanna write tests? fine, write your own tests, write extra for others if you can. They don't want to document or use revision control? Do so, one day, someone is going to read the comments in your code and realize that it makes sense to document, or read a process document. It might take time, but they will see the light.

In a startup environment, do not complain! It helps nothing, you must wade through the garbage, that's just the way it is. I'm much older and I know this reality. I work for a big company, it's "boring", it pays great, a lot of startup's court me trying to get me to get on board for half the salary and promise of fun, but nope! I'll work more with less discipline and less pay and no stability. I know this. Should I ever join one, I can assure, I won't cry if they shut down the next day after I joined, that's the gamble. Startups fail more than they succeed.


Again, this isn't about the lack of safety nets, this is about behaving like total jerks and getting away with it.

I did try to flag problems, I added more tests, I proposed improvements and went ahead and implemented them. And here we are. Seeing the light implicates seeing anything at all besides pieces of paper with funny faces on.


According to Unbabel website:

>We are a fast growing, fast paced startup who is trying to change the world by making comunication seamless in any language. Source: https://www.unbabel.com/jobs/

#Comment:

Well there is something wrong with their communication.


>I arrived in the final stages of a big rewrite of the core architecture that was already late. The code was a tangled mess of mindless duplication, half-implemented features and misleading comments. Of the few automated tests that existed, most didn't even run anymore.

I feel for you. But with your experience, this shouldn't be a surprise for you??

The focus in Startups is to get the code out and get a (paying) customer and the priority is not always on the quality of the code/tests. In the Enterprise world you have some more time to do more tests, code review et. al and may be you got used to it.


Mindless duplication shouldn't be a part of any software project, full-stop. It takes only slightly more time to refactor code into functions than it does to copy and paste, and the difference in comprehensibility is massive.


The surprise was that my job didn't seem to include flagging problems or improving the code.


After one month of insanity and abuse I was called to a Friday afternoon meeting with the founders. They told me that they felt that we had a difference in style and that they didn't want me to work there anymore. Just like that, no further explanation.

A bit curd perhaps, but following the rest of the story I suppose it makes sense? This sounds very much like a culture misfit to me.

(To be clear: I am not passing any judgement on the handling of the matter here. Or on who to blame on the misfitting)


I've often wondered why incubators like YC don't have sessions that say 'from experience, these are the sort of behaviors that are counterproductive for your startup - watch out for and avoid them.'

I know that as a first-time founder I screwed the pooch in all sorts of ways I could've avoided with a little more guidance.


I fear that if the OP was portuguese, what happened would probably look kinda normal. In the last 10/15 years or so most labour laws have been destroyed or made irrelevant and the crysis just made it even worse. With the scarcity of money it appears to have grown a culture of chaos. To me this story is just another one.


The real lesson to be learned: don't jump out on a limb without pre-established safety net.

Moving to a new country seems like pretty big risk to take on a 3 month contract. Heck I wouldn't move from a current job to another one in town without a signing bonus to cover the risk.


The problem here isn't that I didn't have a safety net, I'll survive. The problem from my perspective is they behaved like total jerks and were getting away with it.


Did u change the content of your article since originally posting it?


I removed the reference to my current financial situation as some people took it as an invitation to speculate about my private life and start giving financial advice. The point I was trying to make is that I'm not trying to get rich by squeezing more money out of Unbabel.


As I remember it, your original write up painted a picture showing that you were in dire straights as a consequence of the situation. That came across, to me, as going too far. The outcome of your situation was certainly impacted by them, but really you put yourself in the situation and therefore it's outcome. While I do think they were being cheap, they did not land you there - you did.

I hope it works out better for you in the future. I'm pretty sure it will, you obviously have the skill... just need to find a better fit.


Ok. I have been hacking in startups for 10 years or so. A few rules to note. 1) Startups almost always fail. Pretty much assume at any point you can be let go for any reason. If you can't afford to blow 3 months of salary and be paid in "promise" - don't do it. 2) Startups are not for everyone. Enjoy good code? Like a peaceful atmosphere? Need comments? Love structure and strategy? Welp - you will fail at a startup. In my 10 years: startups are trench warfare with company ending deadlines. As an exercise: Try borrowing money from your best friend and not paying it back. 3) Legal. You are going to sue a former employer? What a great way of ruining your future. Future employers will avoid you like the plague. Try starting a board meeting with: "Our newest employee is in a legal battle with their former employer...".


"Legal. You are going to sue a former employer? What a great way of ruining your future."

Could say the same thing to Unbabel if this story is as OP has written it up. Not going to pay out the contract? What a great way of ruining your future. Future employees will avoid you like the plague.


> Could say the same thing to Unbabel if this story is as OP has written it up. Not going to pay out the contract? What a great way of ruining your future. Future employees will avoid you like the plague.

Yup. Neither party comes out looking good from this.


I have a hard time conjuring up much sympathy for Unbabel in this situation. Work is work, and this person has come to one of the only recourses.

Also, informing the community that a company doesn't seem to value the work of its employees should be valued.


> Work is work

I agree, but in what way is Unbabel not compensating for the work actually done? They just prematurely said no more work would be done for them.


Depends how you're defining work. There's work (production at the desk) and there's work (moving to take up a job, social life with colleagues, all the decisions that come with employment).

As a very small scale employer, I feel responsible for my employee(s). They depend on me for rent payments, mortgages, savings and so on. I think that responsibility extends further for someone moving country to join your company.

I think retaining enough savings to stay fed is on the employee and don't buy that likely exaggeration, but with early termination like this, I think an employer should be looking to accommodate a foreign employee where they can, at least provide a bit more warning or mediation.


"Legal. You are going to sue a former employer? What a great way of ruining your future. Future employers will avoid you like the plague. "

And that leads to contracts not being worth the paper they're printed on unless you're independently wealthy, and without any rule of law or justice, the system goes down the tubes.


Exactly, this is more about not wanting to live in a world where corporations can get away with behaving like this. I'm not worried, I know my shit and I'm sure there are others out there like me.


> 3) Legal. You are going to sue a former employer? What a great way of ruining your future. Future employers will avoid you like the plague.

That's weird.

I would have thought that firms would prefer ex-employees to use the courts appropriately to settle disputes, rathar than using blog posts.


Contractors, freelancers and businesses get stiffed on what they're owed on a semi-regular basis. You pretty much have to take legal action sometimes to get your money and there is no business worth working for that'll look negatively at you for going after monies owed.

That said, even if he had a "3 Months Contract" there's probably a release stipulation with a notice period. As long as he's got paid that, there's no legal recourse.


> Future employers will avoid you like the plague.

What do they know about it, outside of cases that actually end up in the news?


Hi Andreas,

Shoot me an email (in profile); I'd like to help get you some food at the very least.


If the contract says 3 months, he should be paid for 3 months, end of story. I think the blog needs to include the contract to really know if anything illegal is going on.


The thing is we're only seeing one side of the story. It assumes both parties agree.

That being said generally all contracts have an early termination clause. He doesn't comment on what that is. Generally with 3 month contracts, it can be pretty short. It doesn't necessarily mean finish the 3 months.

To give you an analogy if you hire a general contractor to renovate your home for a 3 month contract, you can terminate the contract early if it's not working out for you. Maybe the contractor is amazing but you just ran out of funds. In any case the issue is that there is always an early termination clause in contracts. I would be curious what his is...


The whole contract was written on paper in Portuguese. I still don't know if the clause is in there or not. They certainly didn't mention it when they explained the contract to me. Naive, yes probably, but I prefer not suspecting everyone of being assholes before the fact.


Something I've learned is never sign any work or business contracts unless you fully read through it and understand it. Even if this means getting your own lawyer to read it.

Unfortunately saying you did understand the language is not a valid reason. It sucks but that's also the reason why thee were so many bad mortgages in the recent real estate bust. Too many people didn't read their mortgage agreements.

As the saying goes everything is good while it's good and everything goes bad when it goes bad.


I agree, lesson learned.


Sounds similar to one of my jobs. I worked for 2 months, got paid for half a month. What a waste.


Since many people are making (wrong) assumptions about Portuguese work laws, I'd like to chime in as a Portuguese guy working in IT and with good knowledge of these laws (I like to always be aware of my rights). The critical part of this argument is the "at will" period that Vasco (Unbabel's CEO) mentioned, technically called an "experimental period" (EP). Here is a summary (in Portuguese -- the Google translated version is decent enough) of the relevant part of the law: http://emprego.sapo.pt/guia-carreira/artigo/166/artigo.htm

Also, here is the law itself in case you want to read it (articles 111 to 114, also in Portuguese): http://www.legix.pt/Portals/3/docs/CT09-23_Jul_2012.pdf

The typical way to hire full-time workers in Portugal is indeed a full-time contract with an experimental period (EP), what Vasco colloquially called an "at-will" period. These contracts are called "por tempo indeterminado" (or sometimes "sem termo" or "com termo incerto"), which means "for an indefinite period". The EP can last between 90 days (3 months) and 240 days (8 months) -- non-managerial roles get 90 days, which is what Andreas had on his contract (shorter durations benefit the worker). After the EP is over it is VERY hard, from a legal standpoint, to fire a worker, which is why the EP exists in the first place.

During this experimental period, the employer can terminate the contract with no advance notice and paying no compensation for the first 2 months. Between 2 months and 4 months (if the EP lasts that long), the employer must warn 7 days prior, or pay 7 days of salary as compensation. After more than 4 months, and until the end of the EP, it is 15 days. The worker can always terminate the contract with no notice during the EP. After the EP is over, the worker must provide 1 month of advance notice to terminate the contract, and the company usually cannot fire the worker at all.

According to Andreas' original post, he was fired after 1 month, during his EP, which means he is entitled to no compensation. Unbabel paid two extra weeks of salary (Andreas admits that in his blog post), which shows that they treated him better than the law requires. If indeed he was also paid $1000 extra (from Vasco's post), that is even further above what the law requires.

Andreas' blog post suggests that he thought he had a 3-month contract, which he did not. Legally, he could even be fired after 1 day on the job, and get paid 1 day and nothing more. While Unbabel may be slightly guilty of not explaining correctly what Andreas signed, I still believe that Andreas has the majority of the blame for not understanding what he signed or searching around what are the typical work laws in Portugal. Heck, if I went to Sweden, I'd ask for an English translation of the contract from someone outside the company, even if the company itself provided an English translation. What happened with the landlord seems to confirm this, since he had the legal right to stay for as long as his deposits lasted, and simply calling the police (no need for a lawsuit) would ensure that he could stay until his deposits ran out. It is, again, very hard to evict a person just like that.

In summary: Unless I'm missing something here, Andreas was treated considerably better than required by law and has no legal grounds for complaining.


"has no legal grounds for complaining."

What is legal an what is right are two separate things. Yes, everything that the company did was legal. Everyone knows that. They still acted in bad faith, though. And this is going to come back to bite them as a developer would have to be crazy to work in that kind of toxic environment.


Now we wait and see how skilled they are at an apologising. (If true).


37 old Java professional from Sweden spends all of his savings in two months? You have 5 kids or something?


Or maybe just not a lot of savings.


Or maybe he wants his story to sound more dramatic

>So here I am, back where I started with barely enough money to eat.

Come on, you're 37 years old Java professional from Sweden (which is not Nigeria or something). Even unemployed people there get more money which I used to make being programmer.

> When I informed my landlord that I wouldn't be able to stay as long as planned she kicked me out of the apartment

What, she kicked you even before your paid period? Obviously you're loosing your deposit but she is not supposed to kick you out.

This story made to sound dramatic, but in reality, I believe, he just wants unbabel's managers to follow contract rules.

Unbabel is wrong, but it's not a reason to say you're starving and it's their fault. You're a grown up man, be responsible for your life.


Yes, we should all toughen up and so on. But shit still does happen and it does not always happen to the right people.

I've seen people be treated in a very coarse manner by their employers and this story does not read 'off the scale' in any way to me, it could very easily have happened as described. I've seen far worse than this.

Yes, the poster has a partial responsibility in how this all happened and turned out, I'm certainly not denying that. But as an employer, before asking someone to move halfway across Europe (which I would cover with a signing bonus) I'd be much more critical about fit before letting them commit to the move. Maybe a few weeks trial staying in a hotel before finalizing things.


I read a lot of burning bridges. Quite unnecessary.

Author calls his former job a mind-numbingly boring Java consulting gig.

Then calls his new job at Unbabel insane and abusive.

As the author does not explain how working for 30 days at Unbabel was abusive, this only reflects poorly on the author. He seems impossible to satisfy.

That code at start-ups is messy is the norm, not the exception. Highlighting this as: "a tangled mess of mindless duplication, half-implemented features and misleading comments" again reflect poorly only on the author. What did he expect as an experienced coder? Why air this "dirty" laundry? How do the people (your former and future colleagues) writing that code feel now?

Then continues to describe the horrible experience: "The team lead was the only one who knew anything about the system". Then seems surprised at that Friday afternoon meeting with the founders.

This may negatively influence hiring practices of YC companies. Want to avoid such culture fit disasters? Do no hire anyone over 30. Do not want fire and brimstone blog posts when you fire someone? Hire someone local or remotely outsource. Taking a chance on someone works both ways.

Yes, I imagine it sucks for the author and I wish such an experience on no one. But I also wouldn't want to be the startup to read this on the frontpage of HN, see yourself be misrepresented and having to consult with legal before you can even think of replying. A bad hire is unfortunate for the employee, but very expensive for the startup too: Too many of these and the company will go down. EU labour laws are far more protective of employees than US labour laws. If this was within the law, it may not have been too nice, but remember: This is (a) serious business.

There is probably a grain of truth in this story, and perhaps Unbabel made a poor business decision, but these stories can never be taken at face value, they are closer to hit pieces. Drama-bait.


Another possibility - if practical for the position - is to do some remote work for a month or so first. No location costs and it gives a good idea of the work culture and codebase.


Completely agree, where are all the money you earned in the last 16 years?


Who cares? He can spend it how he wishes, doesn't detract from the mistreatment he is claiming in any way.


Maybe he has to support a family or relatives - who are you to judge how he spends his hard earned money?


Taxes, cost of living (food, clothes, rent, etc) and possibly loans.


Knowing Sweden... in taxes


None of your business and has nothing to do with this.


My personal finances are none of your business and have nothing to do with this. Get a life.


> Java professional

my money stopped here


So, I know Java, I don't love it but I know it. I also have extensive experience from about 20 other programming languages. Your point being?


They're going for a second round as UnJesus




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