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