The American Caliban (substitute) wrote,
The American Caliban

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or how I learned to stop worrying and love the corporation

I enjoy my new job.

I thought I wouldn't. The past few years were spent at dot coms, which present themselves as an employee paradise. Casual dress, flexible hours, innovation, a fun atmosphere, perks, and the lure of possible big money cashouts: everyone wants it! The software tools are sexy and easy open source projects. It's all very cool. And if you screw up, everyone understands and it's all play money anyhow.

Now I'm at a large company. I work a fixed schedule and I wear Office Casual Clothing. There are policies and procedures for everything. Rank is important. Everyone is in a cube, some of us two to a cube. The software we manage is almost all proprietary and runs on proprietary operating systems. The work itself is locked into very specific tasks with step by step instructions. And if I blow it, I'm fired. Large sums of money rest on the competence of the staff.

It's way better.

The dot coms I have known were all doomed. Almost all of them were the classic two-founder startups going after a niche in the market. All of them needed outside money to achieve their goals, and in every case the outside money wrecked the company. Uncontrolled hiring wiped out the competence and the culture of these places within months. Executives who came in with the outside money were out of their depth and resorted to arbitrary decision-making and tyranny, and sometimes deliberately failed at their fiduciary responsibilities.

Here are some examples of things I saw at dot coms: People hired to do nothing to make a company look bigger; openly racist senior executives allowed to carry out their prejudices; nonexistent products fraudulently sold by salesmen who then left with their money; stolen patents; illegal or impossible business plans designed to fail just after an executive had left for a better job; and indecision actually written into the procedures of the company to resolve differences between founders.

These things happen at bigger and better-organized companies, but it's possible for all of them to occur at once at a startup dot com without any consequences for anyone involved. Too many of those places were all the boys playing the treehouse, complete with NO GIRLS sign, with the difference that being pushed out meant real broken bones down below.

In particular, the "two cofounders" startups were disasters. I'll make an exception for the last one I worked at, where both of them were smart nice guys who knew what they were doing and cooperated. Everywhere else it was a disaster: Beavis & Butthead meet Leopold & Loeb. They were all white college grad males. Almost always one was technical and the other was business. They were inevitably rivals and often boyhood friends. Neither one could be completely in charge, and neither one could be seen defeated. I've seen situations where the two actually alternated between winning and losing the argument, so that the company sailed along zig zag for months.

I won't ever work for a two cofounders startup again, unless it's the last two. The rest is just the whole company as fifth wheel in the meltdown of a friendship.

So why do I love my current corporate job? Because it's just plain old capitalism. Real money is being made and lost, and if enough is lost bad things will happen. Policies and procedures are in place that have been tested, and if they fail they are revised. Quality assurance is done by professionals with reliable tests. Software doesn't go into production unless several groups agree that it works. Pay arrives on time each time. Insanity in the office is punished. A real HR department deals with out of control coworkers, even executives.

There's nobody handing out beanie hats or taking us all to Dave & Busters, we have to wear normal clothing and show up on time, working from home is discouraged, the software and tools are totally uncool and often annoying, and there's absolutely no chance of the company being bought or taken public to make us all millionaires. I love it. It's just plain old employment at a regular profit-making company, making rich guys richer and slogging along. And the punchline? I'm making more money now.

With great respect to personal friends who are running their own startups well, the rest of you can keep your dot-coms. I'll stick with the totally uncool skyscraper job working for the Man. He treats us all way better.
Tags: work
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