The last 10 months have been pretty busy for me as far as job searches go. Last year Meteor Games started its decline towards bankruptcy, which it filed for earlier this year (so far as I know). The big layoff happened in mid-November, leaving me and a few others as part of a skeleton crew to wrap things up for the remainder of 2011. I started my job search during this End of Days scenario and ended up interviewing at a lot of places, before starting at Buffalo Studios to begin the new year.
Unfortunately, my job search did not end there. Things were not all as they seemed at Buffalo for me, at least early on. I was dissatisfied with some aspects of my job at the time and rather than try to stick things out, I ended up resuming my job search. To be honest, I probably shouldn’t have jumped ship so quickly, but I did. I ended up at a company called Needly. Due to circumstances entirely beyond my control, I ended up getting hired in for a job that I didn’t exactly interview for. An unintentional bait-and-switch resulted in my extreme dissatisfaction. Again my job search resumed, and through an interesting chain of events, I ended up back at Buffalo.
I’m very happy at Buffalo now. The problems I had at the beginning of the year are not present. I work on internal tools and systems. Basically, I’m a support guy for much of the organization. Need realtime graphs built? You can probably come to me. Need tools to edit player data? Me. Need a custom web board to surface customer service issues? I’m your man, Stan.
So during the last 10 months, I think you can say I’m pretty in-tune with the current state-of-affairs within the LAMP stack tech market in west LA. I’ve had a bunch of interviews and some code challenges. I’ve seen countless job requirements floating about. I’ve had an insane number of recruiters constantly getting in touch with me about possible opportunities – and all of that started a few months after I started at Meteor, so that’s been pretty constant. The companies I’ve interviewed at have been extremely varied in terms of what kinds of software they work on, their business practices, their culture and more. I’ve come a long way and with all of this experience, here I am to tell you one simple sentence that will require a lot of explanation.
I am not a rock star.
Many, many job requirements I came across use marketing-style terms such as “rock star” and “change the world.” Obviously you know what “change the world” means, but in terms of software engineers, a “rock star” is basically what you’d imagine them to me – someone who kicks ass, takes names and blows the competition away. Ideally you’d love to have tons of rock stars all over your engineering organization, right? Well, of course you want quality engineers. Aside from them, you’ll also need a good product, good product management, good executives, good financial backing, etc. But good engineers, yes.
Typically these marketing terms are coupled in with job reqs that have all sorts of interesting benefits and perks. I came across one that said the company offered three catered meals per day. Per day, folks! Shit, you’d almost never have to go grocery shopping for your home, save for weekends, right? Other perks are things like stock options, foosball tables and more.
I interviewed at one place before joining Buffalo the first time that had some incredible talent in the building. These guys knew their shit. Actually, I came across a few different places that had some high intelligence in-house. I felt humbled by one of them – Gravity. Man, those guys have sick skills and knowledge. More power to them. Anyway, this one place I interviewed at in late 2011 had this mentality of really enjoying what they work on. Everybody is excited to be there. To revolutionize the industry they were in. To change the world. Dedicated to their craft. Getting the job done.
This was all told to me, of course. I wouldn’t have been able to make this kind of characterization of their engineers (and other professionals) during the time I was there. I got so much marketing speak out of these guys it made my head spin. I had to actually ask numerous questions, some that I’m not comfortable asking in a job interview setting, just to get pertinent details as to what their environment and culture were like.
Basically, this place worked their engineers to the bone. I know someone who is friends with one of the leads at this place. He told me they’re pulling 60- to 70-hour weeks regularly to get shit done. They’re staying late on weekdays and coming in at least one day on almost every weekend. And their product hasn’t even gone to market yet. This was not an environment I wanted to be in.
See, places that use terminology like “rock star” and “change the world” are trying to sell you a job. In my experience, these places are looking for guys that have some talent, of course, but talent that they can burn out in no time flat. I understand that west LA is a startup scene. Long hours may have to be put in. But that’s not the kind of stuff I’m interested in. And potential employers can’t put “May work 50-60 hours per week” on their job reqs – they’ll never hire anybody. So they market the shit out of these things to get people in the door.
These places are trying to market a job to me, and I don’t like it. I am really good at what I do, don’t get me wrong. But I’m not a “rock star” because I want to work a human work week. I like putting in 40 hours and having the remainder of my week to myself to do what I please. Run OMGN. Hang out with friends. Play some games. Watch some TV and movies. I don’t want to spend my life working for someone else’s product. Even if I’ve got a bit of a stake in it, because chances are you’ll never make big bucks at a startup if you’re not a founder. The chances of making it big are too low.
Do I want to change the world? Sure. But I don’t want to sacrifice my life to do it. I want to live my life. Why change the world if I can’t enjoy the change I’ve created? Seriously, I’d rather have no catered meals at work at all and work 40 hours than have all of my food paid for because I’m spending 12 hours per day at the office.
I’m pretty close to being a 501 developer. Go read that link. In general, I think the idea of a 501 developer is one that doesn’t care about their craft or output. This is not the case with me. I take great pride in my work. If I push a bug out to production, I take it personally, especially since right now I have nobody on my projects to code review me. I’ve got a decent amount of autonomy at Buffalo and I like that, but it can lead to pitfalls in my output occasionally. Working with others is a good thing. Just the same, don’t mistake my pride in my work for a willingness to work forever.
A job is a business transaction. You’re paying me $X for Y hours per week. I am selling you my productivity. If I do not perform, you can fire me, just like you may replace a car that turned out to be a lemon. It’s a business transaction, to me. So why would I just up an offer to give you more and more of my precious time for the same amount of money? By staying late each day, my effective hourly rate drops because I’m salaried. Seriously, nobody has infinite time on this planet. Why would I give so much of it up when I could be making my quality of life better by spending time with those that mean the most to me?
This isn’t to say that exceptions can’t be made. If that critical system takes a shit, you’ve gotta get up and deal with it, lest nobody have a job when the morning comes. That’s understandable. Emergencies happen. What is not understandable, to me, is an expectation of working more than 40 hours per week. Adjust your product schedules if that’s the case. Don’t burn out your employees. Have a human working environment. Besides, studies made back when the 40-hour work week became standard show that 40 hours is an optimal number for human productivity. Anything more and you start getting more mistakes and diminishing returns.
I will always see terms like “rock star” and “amped up” for what they are – marketing terms to try to get brogrammers in the door. Some of us have lives, you know. Some of us have significant others and kids. Families. Family is far, far more important than putting in that extra 10 hours because you didn’t give enough time to create THE NEXT BIG THING THAT WILL OVERTAKE FACEBOOK.
A former boss/coworker of mine shared an article with me and a bunch of other software engineers we used to work with. I couldn’t find it, but he recently re-shared it. This is an excellent read about tech start-ups, and was part of the reason I even thought about blogging in the first place: