A culture of beer and overtime

I quit my my last job after a little more than 2 months. Why? Did I jump into a position I was not excited about? No. In fact, I faced major struggles trying to persuade myself NOT to take that offer (and ultimately, failed). I had been looking for a job after my second contract at SAP was about to come to an end in May. By the second week of April, I had 3 offers lined up, 2 of which I was giving some serious thought to.

One would mean I would be moving to Palo Alto, California, where I would be joining a well-known, highly successful, technology company. The pay was great, and working there would make any future job hunts virtually non-existent. The only possible downside to it was having to move. A few weeks prior, I had just completed the final steps of becoming a homeowner, and moving to Palo Alto would mean having to put my place back on the market within a few short weeks. Nevertheless, I was not too concerned. Having lived for extended periods of time in Taiwan, Australia, and Canada, I’m very open to moving and even embrace the thought of living in a different country, with major differences in culture.

The other offer would mean staying in familiar old Vancouver, in a company that had one claim to fame (a relatively impressive one at that), and noticeably lower pay. If that were it, I would have moved to Palo Alto in a heartbeat. But that wasn’t all. The product that I was offered to work on was something that I was extremely excited, and passionate about. In fact, it was something that I had been giving a lot of thought prior to hearing about, and not only was I excited to hear about its existence, I was even more excited to be one of the two developers working on it.

After weighing my options and deciding that I didn’t really want to pass up the chance to build something I was so passionate about, I happily took the lower pay (and prestige) to join the team. I was not too concerned about money because it was something I had been dreaming to build. I certainly did not think about much else at that time, I just couldn’t wait.

The team consisted of 5 people. The PM, copywriter, UI/UX designer, myself, and the other developer. Everyone else in the company was working on other products. In terms of the executives, they were very much detached from the operations of the team.

And so began my short 9 weeks at the company. Within days, a big red flag was placed in front of me, but I was still so oblivious and excited that I shrugged it off and pushed it aside. Two unfamiliar names were mentioned in passing a few times. Curiosity kicked in, and naturally, I asked who those two people were. It was always glossed over with something like “they used to be here”, and very little more. After a couple meetings, I was able to slowly piece together some information about those two people. One had worked for around 3 months, the other worked for around 5 months. No one was able or willing to drop hints as to whether they left or were fired. But either way, after the first one left, the second one came, then when that one was about to leave, the other developer I worked with came along.

It seemed weird to me at the time, that for whatever reason, people were coming in and whether quitting or being fired, leaving a product that was solving a big problem, with quite the market — so soon. But I didn’t worry too much about it, as all I could do was speculate and probably come to the wrong conclusion.

Soon after, there was an “optional” beer party. It was a Friday (I believe) night, and this beer party was from 5~9. My mother being in poor health, I stayed for maybe 45 minutes, spoke with a few people so as to not leave so abruptly, had some water (I don’t drink), and left. It was a pretty tame party anyways; there were maybe 8 people sitting at the kitchen table (including our PM), talking loudly about random gossip, 2 or 3 people re-filling their beer cup, 4~5 people around the ping ping table, and the rest were just sitting at their desks browsing whatever they were browsing, and looking bored. After all I thought, it was an optional beer party, it wasn’t celebrating anything within the company in particular, and I already saw some other people leave. Surely it was perfectly fine for me to leave around 6 to look after my sick mother? Apparently not. A few weeks later I would find out that this party wasn’t quite “optional”, but more on that later.

So the next week, it was more code, code, code, preparing a working demo for our investor, code, code, code, racking my brain and its terribly short term memory on what I worked on the previous day for our daily morning scrum meeting. Near the end of the week, we had another push from the development to staging environment. After doing some testing and resolving some bugs, I came across a XSS vulnerability in the product. Now, depending on the vulnerability, XSS may or may not be a huge issue. However, our product was dealing with large amounts of money from customers’ bank accounts, and this vulnerability made it possible to break large portions of the application. Most importantly, it allowed the transactions of users to be skewed, allowing malicious users to cause other users to essentially lose money, or worse yet, put them in a potential dispute, and ultimately, cause our product to lose customers.

“Stop fucking around and get shit done.” tweet

I brought up the discovery of this vulnerability, how critical it was that we resolve it, and the horrifying impact of it. But no one seemed to really care. The other developer said we don’t really have time to fix it, but it was clear he also recognized the potential dangers (and at the same time, the PM was pushing us hard to make more “pretty stuff”). The PM said “stop fucking around and get shit done”. Those were his exact words. Another red flag just whacked me in the face. At this point, I was frustrated, but what was I supposed to do? If I went ahead and allocated time to fix it, I would have to deal with an already ticked off PM who seemed to think fixing critical vulnerabilities is “fucking around” and non-productive. I decided to put it on the back burner and bring it up again when an opportunity presented itself.

Code, code, code, demo, meeting, code, code, code, meeting, code, code, code. On it went. Deep down, I felt that something wasn’t quite right, but I continued to ignore the red flags that seemed to constantly appear. But hey, at least the work life balance seemed okay. I mean everyone was leaving after 8 hours a day, and sometimes I would work a bit longer than everyone else, but that’s okay, because it’s on my own will and it’s usually a feature or bug that I just have to get done.

“You are not 100% committed.” tweet

A few days later, the PM says he wants to speak with me. What I thought was going to be a nice conversation turned out to be anything but. One subjective issue, and 3 questionable points. “You are not 100% committed”, he said. Weird, I don’t understand how that can be. Surely I am the best judge of whether or not I’m committed? And it’s quite apparent to me that I am 100% committed and truly care about the product. He would repeat this 2 times before finally enlightening me on why he felt I was not 100% committed:

  1. Apparently, I wasn’t committed because I had not updated my LinkedIn profile since starting this job a mere 8 weeks ago.
  2. My website is still up, and my website is (still) selling my freelance services to clients.
  3. I also haven’t been working overtime on a regular basis (aka every single day of the week). “I’m not saying you should be working 80 hours a week, but 70 is not ridiculous to ask, and if you were committed you would do more”.

I didn’t understand this at all. I asked him if he felt my performance was lacking. No. So somehow, these 3 points are telling him that I am not committed. Here’s my problem with these “points”:

  1. I hadn’t yet bothered to update my LinkedIn, because it takes up more of my time, something I’m not yet ready to do, and I’ve been told that updating your LinkedIn tells an employer you are on the hunt for a job again. I definitely did not want to give that impression. Furthermore, being a co-worker, he stalked my profile multiple times yet never added me? That seems more of an issue to me than anything. The other developer, who I worked quite well with, added me the day I accepted the offer. I’m not saying adding someone on LinkedIn should be a requirement, but if you’re going go off worrying about my profile, wouldn’t it make sense to send me an invite to connect? To each their own I guess.
  2. Why would I take my website down? It’s part of my brand and it gives people easier access should they need to contact me. As usual, it hasn’t been re-designed for a while, because I simply do not have the time. The simple truth is I do work with clients as a freelance developer, so why would that not be on my website? The funniest part about all this, is when I was discussing the offer with the HR lady (the PM was also present), I brought up the topic of side projects outside of work, and my freelance work. As I do have some clients on retainer, it would be impossible for me to suddenly end my agreement with them. They both said “Oh no no, we definitely do not want you to stop your freelance work, in fact, most of us in this company have side projects outside of work, and that’s something we love and embrace”. I’m not kidding. That was part of the reason I didn’t move to P.A too. Yet in a short 8 weeks, that’s suddenly a problem.
  3. I’m not new to this industry. I’m well aware that overtime happens, and in fact, it’s quite common. I’ve worked till 10:30 PM once or twice when I was at SAP. And sometimes some critical bug or release has to be finished at all costs. I get that. There is a reason for the overtime, usually a good one. But what my PM was talking about, wasn’t about any release in particular. It was simply “you’re not committed because you’re not working 70+ hours a week”. It’s been proven time and time again that constant overtime produces less value, and in fact, may even cause you to break more than you build. It’s simply impossible for someone to code for 70 hours a week and not break things and eventually shutdown due to burnout.

I tried to address these points with him in an amiable manner, but it was impossible. All he would say was “well…” then go back to talking about how I am not giving him the impression that I am committed. He also brought up the fact that I left the beer party early and that further reinforced his idea that I wasn’t committed.

A few days prior to this incident, I had already been thinking about that job. And the red flags I previously mentioned, plus a couple other things, made me wonder if it was even a good fit for me at all. It’s against my nature to not work at resolving issues, but in this case it seemed he wasn’t receptive at all to my opinions, or simple logic, for that matter. After this “discussion”, I went home and thought a long time about it. I would speak with him the next day, and try once again, to resolve the issue. If he was still not receptive, I would give notice to leave.

The following day, I worked hard to make sure that if I were to leave, I have left my work on the product in a good place, then I went to speak with the PM again. He was completely unwilling to discuss anything, and repeated the same accusation of me not being committed and the 3 feeble points to back up his statement. At that moment, I submitted my resignation. He was indifferent. He said “well if you don’t hand off your work, some people are going to be fucking pissed”. I told him that I had every intent to make sure all of my work was accounted for and that there would be no difficulties to progress without me. I had already documented large portions of my work, and it was all very transparent. He said come in tomorrow to do a knowledge transfer.

That night, I was going through my email, Trello board, and JIRA issues to see if there was anything I still needed to hand off to the other developer. While I was looking through my email, I was suddenly disconnected from all services (Google Apps, Trello, JIRA, Bitbucket). This left me a bit confused as to whether my fob still was able to get in the door, I did not want to travel 1.5 hours just to realize I was locked out. But I went the next day anyways, assuming he was just trying to protect company resources.

The next day during scrum, he announced to the team that I would “no longer be working here”. I did not care much about it, but it brought me back to thinking about the 2 previous developers on the team. I guess that would be how things would be explained to the future developer too. When I sat down at my desk, he told the other developer to make sure I didn’t make any code changes. At that point, it really felt like he was giving the impression that he had fired me. But I chose to remain as professional as possible, doing my knowledge transfer, not causing any drama explaining to people why I am no longer working there. Around noon, everything was done, and he told me to leave, and give my (personal) password to the other developer. I told the other developer that I would like to wipe the desktop myself (with his supervision of course), and change the password, then give him the new one.

It was time to leave, and the HR lady came to me and said I would have to sign a release letter and send it back within 2 work days (the following Monday was a holiday), otherwise I would not get any of the remaining pay, including my “stock options”. Apparently instead of full-time as stated in my offer letter, I was a “Contractor” and the agreement between us was “terminated”. I guess that’s to protect them somehow. And the “stock options” that she said I would be paid amounted to $0 (as expected).

To this day, it remains difficult to explain to people why I left that job after a short 9 weeks, and I make sure not to paint anyone in a bad light, and not name the employer or anyone else. Yet somehow, I feel that everyone else besides the PM thought that I was fired instead of leaving. I’m pretty sure that’s what he’s been telling people anyways. Oh well.

Join the discussion on HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6693066

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43 thoughts on “A culture of beer and overtime

  1. Joe

    Sorry to hear what you went through, yet another typical example of a modern, immature workplace completely lacking work/life balance.

  2. Jay

    Glad to hear that you quit, and I really admire your professionalism.
    Never work for any bosses that only cares about themselves! Getting reprimanded for not doing overtime should be illegal.

    1. P

      I have worked for four years and already experienced this two times. Basically owners/bosses have been total fascists and of course had this “get shit done” attitude, bullied people to quit etc.

      It is problematic though to just leave, although I did this also. You should instead try to fight it with your co-workers, even though it is hard work. Comparing with countries and democracy, if we were treated this way but just left it is called “voting with your feet” since you just “walk” to another place. That does not solve the issue at all. At best you get a new winning lottery ticket for the next place (winning meaning it is better than the old place). I personally got two loosing tickets in a row…

      Nothing changes in our industry if we just turn the other cheek and accept everything that is shoved down our way. Eventuelly too many places will be like this then.

  3. q

    I’ve left similar jobs several times over the years, with less professional consideration than you exhibited, and it hasn’t hurt my ability to find work (and that’s outside SV). If it’s an abusive environment, then leaving is appropriate.

    I always make sure to at least email an official resignation notice, usually to the head of HR.

  4. Pingback: A culture of beer and overtime | Enjoying The Moment

      1. Jay Huang Post author

        I don’t want to have to deal with defamation claims, although in theory, that wouldn’t affect me.
        Perhaps I will write a short bit on Glassdoor.

        1. Ron Skufca

          Please name names so no one else has to go through what you and the 2 other went through. We need to ferret out these companies so we don’t get swindled into working there in the future.

        2. Jesse

          Well, if you added the company to your LinkedIn profile work history, *like any committed developer would ;)* then you wouldn’t have to name names…

          You made the right choice leaving, in my opinion.

  5. Engineer

    First off, you were right to leave. So many people put up with this kind of junk and never stand up for themselves.

    However, I think the professional thing to do would have been to make it clear to everybody that you were resigning. You probably should have talked to the PM’s boss at some point to make it clear you were leaving because the PM was incompetent. (and yes your PM was incompetent.)

    Also, any company that has daily scrums is run by incompetents. It’s just a waste of programmer resources… you mention Trello and Jira… more than enough ways to know the status of issues between those two tools. Scrum is just wasting time at that point.

    I think it’s a good idea to interview people like the PM and his boss, especially for a startup before working there. Even best if you can get some engineers aside and talk to them before taking an offer…. you would have been better off to know this stuff before taking the offer.

    You don’t owe them a release… you resigned. You are owed your pay. It has nothing to do with any release, and holding your pay hostage to you signing some additional contract is a crime (at least in the US, and probably in canada too.)

    I agree with others, you should name names. What are they going to do, sue you for telling the truth? The truth is an ultimate defense against lawsuits.

  6. Engineer

    PS- Pretty sure that “release” you signed is not worth the paper it was printed on. It is not a valid contract, because it was signed under duress. The threat of withholding pay you were owed is a crime, and classifying you as a contractor when you aren’t is tax evasion.

    If there are any terms in that agreement you don’t like, get a lawyer, but if you don’t want to spend the money, after cashing the checks write them a letter (to the CEO) saying you assert that the contract is not valid and that it was signed under duress and you are disregarding it, and they need to contact you in 30 days or you’ll assume they agree. ]

    Their lawyer won’t write you back (unless he thinks you’re stupid). If he does write you back, just keep asking him (in writing, certified mail, etc) under what law is a contract signed under duress for a company threatening to commit a crime against you valid. Its fundamental to contract law.

  7. Mark

    Why aren’t the owners/senior management questioning people about why they are leaving?

    I’ve worked with PMs like this before, they get fired quickly.

    Sounds like the PM is probably painting a picture to senior management that doesn’t quite match reality to get away with this.

    If what you wrote is true, you should go above his head and have the discussion at a more senior level.

  8. Anonymous

    You really tried to analyze it too much. Some people are jerks and that’s not going to change. Just forget it and move on, make sure you mention what a shit hole it was to other people with the names. You seem to be a good guy.

  9. Chris Mapes

    If I were you, I’d try to write an email to the Owner(s) and/or CEO, linking to this story. I am a tech entrepreneur myself and I’d be mortified if I had a PM acting this way. Needless to say, he’d be brutally fired. I can tell you’re a true professional and probably have no interest in stirring the pot, but the owners deserve to know what’s going on. As a side effect, a little bit of justice may also be served.

    1. Paul

      You make a reasonable point, but I have to disagree. Jay’s rightly severed his ties to the organization in question, and has absolutely no further responsibilities on their behalf. If the person running the place is that far out-of-the-loop, frankly they deserve whatever nasty surprise may be coming. And if he/she actually supports the PM in that behavior…well then, let the universe drop its heaviest hammer on them.

  10. Dude

    You need to tell us what company it is, even if you obscure it, so none of us fall to the same fate. It’s your duty. Thanks for writing.

    1. Jay Huang Post author

      I don’t want to have to deal with defamation claims, although in theory, that wouldn’t affect me.
      Perhaps I will write a short bit on Glassdoor.

  11. This other dude

    Well, at least it wasn’t a culture of blackjack and hookers ;->

    Anyway, good for you to get out of there. There are some good suggestions in the reader’s thoughts about letting the owners know, invalidity of contracts signed under duress etc. I don’t know if I would bother pursuing that myself, but it is certainly something to keep in mind the next time these issues pop up, as they surely will unfortunately.

  12. Bob

    Nearly the same happened to me a couple of years ago in Germany at a large car rental company base d in Bavaria (should be enough to find the company name…).

    The culture was the same, in the first week after I joined the company, someone else was forced out and every 3-4 months another one was fired and replaced.

    “You should do some overtime, at least 20-30 hours per week to show your motivation” my boss said a couple of days after I joined…

    They fired people every quarter, I was due after 16 months, 2 months after receiving a small rise.
    When they laid me off, they told me that I was not motivated enough and, anyway, they didn’t like me from the beginning. WTF?!

    I went to court and got some money (they couldn’t provide a valid reason to throw me out).

    With hindsight the picture became clear: They were looking for “underrated” talents, e.g. talented people with experience. but w.g. without a formal degree, foreigners, 40+ developers, females… People who, in their opinion, “should be glad to get this job” and be willing to burn-out over a period of 1-3 years for the profit of the company. Because they “know how hard it is to find another job”. That’s why they pay low. They’re out to catch desperate people and others who undervalue themselves.

    You’ve done the right thing. The only right thing!

  13. B

    Sorry to hear that you leave, but maybe it is better for you. If you are excellent programmer (I suppose you are), then it will be easy for you to be rehired in some other company.
    I can understand that sometimes you work overtime, it is just normal, but working 70+ hours to “be committed” is stupid… I assume that you could just sit 30 hours (40 + 30) and you will be great “team” member… eh…

  14. Darshan Gohel

    Why not name the company, so the same thing will not happen to other person like you? You should be open about the names, because it will help others to stop doing the mistake of choosing companies like this.

    Any ways I am agree with Engineer that you should be talk to the boss of your manager, so that he will get the clear picture, not the one shown by your manager. You have the rights as well as the medium to do the same then why to wait?

    1. Jan

      I think the purpose of this post was to identify an anti-pattern and learn to recognise it. Quitting on the spot might give upper management something to think about. Eg. when the turnover under this particular PM is higher than elsewhere, then perhaps he/she is the problem and needs to leave and reflect on it. All that is assuming that the CEO actually cares. Many don’t.

  15. Javier Pastor

    You did the right thing for sure, and did it really quickly, which is the best thing to do to move on. I’ve been in a similar situation –the problems were only clear during my last year there– and I finally took the same decission you did. I can’t be happier with it, and I only regret not taking the same decission much earlier.

    It’s strange, but the end was the same: the rest of the team probably thought all kind of things about my reasons, because my associates only told a part of the story. Their part, of course. I thought of revealing some interesting facts and my vision of the story to let them (and others) know that me leaving was pretty logical, but time has passed and I no longer have that need (almost). Maybe someday I will tell, and maybe that will make me be in peace with myself about that finally and completely.

    Congrats for your blog and your post. Regards from Spain.

  16. Alex

    Well written article, it really gives a sense of how things can spiral downward in away that you just don’t notice the red flags. Good thing you managed to prevent going too far, this is the kind of story where people can keep going until they can crash and burn… Thanks for sharing.

  17. Anonymous

    Those guys are some serious dicks. Fuck them. The project manager that treats me like that, and has the balls to demand… 70 hours?! What?!

    Oh man. I get angry just thinking about that.

    Pffft!!! I’d be angry enough to punch my fist through some gypsum board.

    …and receiving verbal warning, in relation to a 3rd party, unpaid social media site? Jesus H. Christ!

    This is the sixth reich, and the whole hep world is now behaving like this. We need to fight the good fight. We need to stop these bastards cold, and make them think twice before letting these stupid suggestions (compulsory hints to “plus one me on twitter!” or “like me on okcupid!”) slip past their food holes.

  18. carlos

    I had a similar experience. I will name names, it was Niksun. I posted on Glassdoor and the next comment was “some people just can’t handle it”. I think this is a bad mindset. I could have handled it if they planned better, I had days where I had nothing to do and was asking for work, then Friday comes and it turns out we are all working this weekend – on bugs that existed for weeks, so they could have just been assigned to me earlier in the week.

    I decided that despite whatever I could learn from there, it was not worth the loss of my freetime. I had to stay up late sunday nights to do laundry and foodshop. All the original architects had left (big red flag there)/. Other people were quitting, but I did not think ti was a red flag because they were so professional about it. Now that I look back, they werent leaving because they were so good that better offers were being thrown at them, they were leaving because they wanted work/life balance.
    The people who got promoted there, got it because they worked those 70+ hour weeks, not because they were smart. That aint me. 50 here and there, maybe even 60 once in a while, but constant 60 hour weeks, threats of working over every holiday.

    There are bad companies everywhere – avoid them, let them burn.

  19. Marc

    Wrong company, wrong job, wrong manager…..it’s all wrong! Just move on and they can continue to suck without you. PM’s like that are tools.

  20. dave

    I know we all want this guy to name the company so we don’t end up working there. I want him to name the company so we can find out what banks run software with major XSS vulnerabilities. 😉

  21. Shane

    I’m dealing with a similar problem now. Moved from NY to SF. Red flags were almost immediate and I had to just power through them. Now, coming up on a year later (next week), it’s become almost unbearable. Working on getting out has become a top priority. It’s a real shame because the product is spectacular.

  22. Darryl

    I’m curious, it sounds like the position adverstised was a full-time salaried role. Was it clearly articulated in your employment contract there was an expectation you would routinely be putting in 70+ hour weeks? If not, sometimes you can gauge company culture by asking questions during the interview phase to find out if the position you’re considering would be a good fit.

    I think someone else mentioned this earlier in the comments thread, but did you ever discuss concerns with your PM’s boss? In the end it’s unfortunate you felt compelled to leave the company because of one person on the team.

    If anything else, move on and learn from the experience. Looks like there are many positive take-aways.

    1. Jay Huang Post author

      Yes, it was a full-time salaried role. There was no expectation in the contract of 70+ hour weeks.
      Given the structure of the company, the PM’s boss was essentially the executives/board. As mentioned in my post, they were very much removed from the goings-on of the team.

      Disclosing anymore information would likely reveal the company, which is not my intention.

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