It is so very refreshing to read one of these stories which ends with (paraphrased) “I realized that staying was hurting my career prospects, so I quit on amicable terms and my next job was much better.”
Perhaps I’m just not used to enterprisey workplaces, but I’m amazed the whole thing was approved to begin with. The author guesses they spent a “seven figure sum”, including hiring a compiler expert, to get the project off the ground. But apparently no one talked about what to do next in those business meetings?
I mean, this guy could probably have collected his paycheck for a year doing zero actual work and they probably wouldn’t have noticed. Good for him on getting out early, and what a delightfully byzantine tale he got out of it! :)
I’ve seen (well, second-hand) something along those lines. It sounds like insurance related to a hard dependency they’re trying to transition away from. This toolchain from an external vendor has probably been deprecated or obviously in the process of disappearing for years. If all goes well, the client won’t need it in a few years. But the vendor either goes out of business, or is discontinuing the product right now. Then what do you do? Either you bet 100% on the transition completing ASAP, or you exercise something like a source escrow clause or other contractual terms letting you buy the toolchain from the vendor, and keep it on life support for a few years until you’re really sure you don’t need it.
In this case, he says like the big company had already spun off their own internal tools group to a separate company set up solely for the purpose of maintaining them. So when they bought this toolchain from the defunct vendor, they assigned maintenance to the existing spinoff that was already set up as the place for their “in-house” tools to get maintained. The third company can then try to milk it for as long as they can, but is in the awkward situation where none of its users really want to pay for more than is needed since the sole reason it’s sticking around is insurance in case transitioning off it runs into problems.
I mean, this guy could probably have collected his paycheck for a year doing zero actual work and they probably wouldn’t have noticed.
Wally from Dilbert was inspired by a real person who did just that ;)
Big companies make big mistakes - or rather, view certain big inefficiencies as a cost of doing business.
They hired a compiler expert to build their compiler when really all they needed was a vaguely competent tech person with an interest in old hardware? Shrug, mistakes happen sometimes - probably a non-expert manager misunderstood what was necessary. Maybe the policy needs review, but probably not.
Could some one take a guess at companies X Y and Z?
I’m sure somebody could (actually, I have a guess that I can’t substantiate), but do we really need that kind of gossip?
Interesting. I would consider gossip about people bad, but about companies useful career information. I suppose most people get it through private channels.
Yeah, I’m not exactly sure why I feel that way now that you point it out, but I do. :) I need to think about it now. :)
Same here, at first I was thinking gossip, but on second thought maybe not. And even if the names of the companies are incorrect, if the descriptions fit it may still prevent someone from getting a job there.
Just as I was writing that though, I have another thought. Could the author get in trouble for disclosing those names? Is there a reason that he decided they should be anonymous? Maybe it feels like gossip because the original author didn’t intend for the names to be disclosed…
That’s true. There’s definitely an issue of respect for the author’s wishes. I think that’s pretty important; I saw a similar case of a blogger writing about coworkers who had agreed to be described anonymously, where people felt entitled to speculate in the blog’s own comments section, and the blogger stepped in to say please don’t do that, and people ignored it, and the blogger was angry enough to delete the post. It’s in the category of things where I’d respect that clear intent unless I understood the reason for it enough to know it didn’t apply, or unless there was some really large external good.
Another reason does occur to me. Even if I’d heard this story with the names, and had permission to repeat them, I’m honestly not sure I’d give them in public. I’d definitely tell it privately to a friend who was considering working at any of the companies in question. It’s just, I mean, I work at a large tech company and I have a fair amount of respect for most of my coworkers, and I know how things like this can be isolated incidents, or at least confined to one small product area. To speculate about a company where I haven’t worked would be inviting people to generalize, not itself libel but encouraging people to repeat it in a way that would be. I don’t want to be a part of that.
Companies are made of people. If Bob is a manager at X, there’s little difference between saying “management at X is stupid” and “Bob is stupid”. Now, you can argue that technically there were four managers at X and therefore the meanness was diffused, but I’m not sure calling four people stupid is better than one.
I don’t really care either way. Name and shame, or don’t. But it’s the authors choice, and I think we should respect that. The omission of the names wasn’t an accident.
Right, but if the constant is 1,000 instead of 4, the extrapolation becomes a lot less valid. A company with four managers in total would probably have thought a lot harder before spending the amount of money this clearly must have cost, on what was hopefully intended to be an already-deprecated technology. Sometimes managerial behavior reflects what’s happening further up the ladder, but that’s certainly not always the case.
On close reading, I think you’re agreeing with that though? I’d be more willing to insult one person than four people, and more willing to insult four people than a thousand people.
(And, yes, respect the author. But I said that already in another comment.)
Sorry if this sounds combative; I’m trying to sort out my own feelings on a topic I hadn’t realized I had feelings about. :)
But don’t you think knowing the management characteristics of companies is useful information? Many companies vet potential hire’s social media presence, especially for outward facing positions. Do you not think doing the reverse due diligence is appropriate?
One difference is, of course, this is in public. I suspect folks who need to know have asked the author in private, or have made guesses in private. That’s fine: so the issue is not that we should name the companies, but name them in private.
It’s a bit like grad students/postdocs looking for a lab. What you do is contact current and past members of the lab and, in private, ask them what the mentor is really like. You sometimes get candid assessments that can save a lot of grief.
I guess a different question I’d like to ask this crowd is: what questions would you ask at an interview to try and sniff this kind of chaotic management out?
I suspect the closer you are to being hired into this particular group, the better you’ll be able to identify it.
Now, the author mentions he didn’t ask the right questions and ignored warning signs in the interview. He didn’t elaborate, but I imagine one good question would be to ask what you’ll actually be working on.
I’m going to argue that the management wasn’t actually insane, or chaotic, here. They had, from their perspective, a business need to ensure ongoing support for their supply chain. For all that it sounds like a waste, we don’t know what the relative profits and costs were. This may have been a drop in the bucket. They needed somebody to do that job, and it landed on the author, who didn’t really want to be that somebody, but it seems like he could have dodged the bullet just by asking “Will I be writing any Lisp code here?”
I think part of my aversion to the public name and shame is the above. The story was presented to make it sound insane (hey, that’s what makes a good story), but it’s not a well measured account of why. There is a version of this story in which the author gives a glowing review of the company and their neverending dedication to ensuring they will always be able to support their product, no matter the cost.
If you don’t to work on legacy code, I’d say get your contract to say that you are guaranteed to work on the new MegaFun project for at least the first year.
Yes - the management’s decision may well have been perfectly reasonable for the company’s goals. The author doesn’t mention any wildly changing requirements or anything that made the company inherently unpleasant; he primarily had thought he’d be working on something in active use, and was upset to find it was deprecated before he was even hired. It does seem as though they could have done a better job of communicating their goals for the month he spent verifying stuff that they never intended to use. Without more information, it’s not clear on whether management knew it was an unpleasant dead-end job for whatever engineer they found.
As far as what to ask - maybe something simple and direct. “What do you see as the future of this system? What are you using it for internally? What infrastructure does it run on? Where would you like this codebase to be in two years?”
Well, it sounds like the author is fine with people guessing the identities of X, Y, and Z:
I don’t want to start confirming or denying any guesses. The story should work well enough without knowing exactly which companies were involved, and no there’s no point in antagonizing anyone. But it’s either good or extremely depressing that people have had different guesses on the how to fill in the “variables” :-)
but do we really need that kind of gossip?
The lack of gossip and transparency in the tech industry has led a lot of folks to exploitative working situation, to burnout, and to things far worse.
We owe the businesses nothing, and they know that we’ll autoexploit if they dangle a shiny enough problem in front of us.
So, gossip away.
Maybe peruse his LinkedIn? https://ch.linkedin.com/pub/juho-snellman/4/86b/72b
Looks like he left it off the LinkedIn. He says in the post it was between leaving a web-development job in 2005, and starting at ITA to work on SBCL in 2006. Both those are listed, but nothing in the gap in between.
edit: he adds in the comments,
There’s definitely that - the value of it for one’s own career is actually much more in knowing that this stuff happens, and thinking about what questions to ask to stay away from it.