Sunday, March 27, 2016

Quotes from "My Year In Startup Hell"

I loved this article on (exerted from "Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble"). It covers so many corporate company culture things I've seen or experienced in my game development career in a single article. The article is from a startup perspective, but much of this applies to many other more mature companies. These quotes especially struck a chord with me:
"Arriving here feels like landing on some remote island where a bunch of people have been living for years, in isolation, making up their own rules and rituals and religion and language—even, to some extent, inventing their own reality. This happens at all organizations, but for some reason tech startups seem to be especially prone to groupthink. Every tech startup seems to be like this. Believing that your company is not just about making money, that there is a meaning and a purpose to what you do, that your company has a mission, and that you want to be part of that mission—that is a big prerequisite for working at one of these places."
On people that get fired:
"Dharmesh’s culture code incorporates elements of HubSpeak. For example, it instructs that when someone quits or gets fired, the event will be referred to as “graduation.” In my first month at HubSpot I’ve witnessed several graduations, just in the marketing department. We’ll get an email from Cranium saying, “Team, just letting you know that Derek has graduated from HubSpot, and we’re excited to see how he uses his superpowers in his next big adventure!” Only then do you notice that Derek is gone, that his desk has been cleared out. Somehow Derek’s boss will have arranged his disappearance without anyone knowing about it. People just go up in smoke, like Spinal Tap drummers."
On what I call "Reality Shaping":
"The ideal HubSpotter is someone who exhibits a quality known as GSD, which stands for “get shit done.” This is used as an adjective, as in “Courtney is always in super-GSD mode.” The people who lead customer training seminars are called inbound marketing professors and belong to the faculty at HubSpot Academy. Our software is magical, such that when people use it—wait for it—one plus one equals three. Halligan and Dharmesh first introduced this alchemical concept at HubSpot’s annual customer conference, with a huge slide behind them that said “1 + 1 = 3.” Since then it has become an actual slogan at the company. People use the concept of one plus one equals three as a prism through which to evaluate new ideas. One day Spinner, the woman who runs PR, tells me, “I like that idea, but I’m not sure that it’s one-plus-one-equals-three enough.”
This is so true:
"Another thing I’m learning in my new job is that while people still refer to this business as the “tech industry,” in truth it is no longer really about technology at all. “You don’t get rewarded for creating great technology, not anymore,” says a friend of mine who has worked in tech since the 1980s, a former investment banker who now advises startups. “It’s all about the business model. The market pays you to have a company that scales quickly. It’s all about getting big fast. Don’t be profitable, just get big."
"On top of the fun stuff you create a mythology that attempts to make the work seem meaningful. Supposedly millennials don’t care so much about money, but they’re very motivated by a sense of mission. So, you give them a mission. You tell your employees how special they are and how lucky they are to be here. You tell them that it’s harder to get a job here than to get into Harvard and that because of their superpowers they have been selected to work on a very important mission to change the world. You make a team logo. You give everyone a hat and a T-shirt. You make up a culture code and talk about creating a company that everyone can love. You dangle the prospect that some might get rich."
Umm yea I know the feeling:
"Training takes place in a tiny room, where for two weeks I sit shoulder to shoulder with 20 other new recruits, listening to pep talks that start to sound like the brainwashing you get when you join a cult. It’s everything I ever imagined might take place inside a tech company, only even better."
On the office environment:
"Everyone works in vast, open spaces, crammed next to one another like seamstresses in Bangladeshi shirt factories, only instead of being hunched over sewing machines people are hunched over laptops. Nerf-gun battles rage, with people firing weapons from behind giant flat-panel monitors, ducking and rolling under desks. People hold standing meetings and even walking meetings, meaning the whole group goes for a walk and the meeting takes place while you’re walking."
Personally, I've learned over the years that I really need to live solidly in reality. I can't switch back and forth from "Corporate Enforced Reality #57" to "Real-World Ground-Level Reality" every single day of the week and stay happy and healthy long term.

I've learned that I don't need to associate myself with any corporation to be a "real" developer. If you aren't treated with respect by someone because you aren't associated with a company label, that person may very well not be a person you want to associate yourself with.

Here's a little rant: I think having to rigidly conform to a corporate mental model (like the insane one described at the company above) to earn money is demeaning and even dehumanizing. Folks, 1+1 does not equal 3. This is insane.

Somewhere back in time I must have fallen into some jacked parallel universe where treating workers like utterly replaceable mind controllable automatons is normal, accepted, encouraged, and even something to be proud of. In the universe of 1984, 1+1=3.

And the money the company gives you? It's just binary bits in some bank computer. There are plenty of ways of making money that don't involve becoming mentally insane. Trading off sanity for a bi-weekly set of binary digits added to your account balance actually isn't the greatest idea in my experience. Staying at a job you are unhappy with thinking that, eventually, you will achieve true long lasting happiness during "retirement" is also a pretty extreme way of living life. There are other paths to happiness.

My brain now pushes back when I think about living and working this way again. It basically says "hey that's super unhealthy and unsustainable!". I used to be irrationally fearful of working outside of a corporate bubble. Fear is your worst enemy and can make you much more manipulatable to others.

A long time ago, at Ensemble Studios in Dallas, I was completely wrapped up in our company's special little super insular "tribal" company culture. The company collapsed overnight and we all learned what was actually occurring at the corporate level for the previous 6-9 months. It became super clear that we all were living in a fairy-tale corporate enforced reality bubble. Even many of my "company friends" evaporated overnight into non-friends. It was ugly: even the very personalities of formally awesome coworkers instantly changed.

My ego was tied solidly into this company's culture and products. After it collapsed I had to carefully hit the "ego reset button". I had to strongly resist automatically following the locally exploitative paths laid out for me after Ensemble collapsed.