My principles when chosing a job

This is an assembly of aspects in a job that are not attractive to me. It is part of the “navigate life by avoiding bad paths”-approach that I describe in this post.

The list is quite exhaustive and might look like cherry-picking. If finding a job in the tech industry was hard, I might not be able to afford the luxury to be so selective – but it’s not – and so I strive to chose a path that is aligned with my personal values.

Organizations & Fields

  • Banks – be it traditional or fin-tech startups. Money is neither good nor bad. Banks are necessary and add tremendous value to the economy and society. However, banks also serve enough customers who use the bank’s services in ways that the money creates harm or injustice. I do not want to contribute to that.
  • In ad-tech and online marketing. Monetizing on the web is necessary, but I strongly disagree with current practices of privacy-invasive, performance-costly user tracking and automated ad-bidding.
  • Security agencies. Behind the straw-man argument of fighting terrorism, people’s privacy is continuously being invaded. Sadly Snowden’s revelations did not cause governments to stop those practices. Spying on the scale of nations is dangerous (as German history and Chinese present show) – people can be pressurized into compliance, there’s a concentration of power that can and therefore will be used in anti-demogratic ways. The military belongs on this list too. While the ability of nations to defend themselves is necessary, most missions of western military today are active interventions into foreign matters that come at cost of innocent lives.
  • At automotive companies, unless the position is pushing mobility forward. In Germany working at a German automotive company is considered the “holy grail”: The jobs are well payed, stable, prestigious. But German car manufacturers have actively hindered necessary progress when it comes to environmental policies. Lobbyism from car manufacturers skews politics drastically into their favor. Even after having driven down emission reduction targets again and again, German car manufacturers chose to try to cheat their way out of making technical progress (with the diesel scandal). They got away with it and made nice profits in the meantime, selling overpowered and overpriced cars to wealthy people. German car manufacturers also did not push forward on autonomous driving. Mobility is a hugely impactful topic – positions driving forward greener mobility and autonomy are interesting to me.
  • At e-commerce companies: There’s nothing wrong with selling items to consumers. Selling online has a few negatives though, like complex logistics with badly payed and -protected workers, a negative environmental impact due to extra packaging, logistics, and high return rates; in addition, consumers are manipulated in subtle ways, with blackbox algorithm product recommendations, persistent newsletters, and data mining to optimize conversion rates.

Company Culture

  • A culture where the quality of the work is not valued. I would not be motivated to work somewhere where other factors are trumping the attempt to create good quality software. Obviously the definition of quality is strongly dependent on the situation.
  • A culture where there’s no empathy for humans, or a lacking recognition of responsibilities and impact that a company has by employing people and creating something that affects others. This includes ignorance on aspects of social and environmental impact.
  • A culture of short-termism. Short termism imposes high costs both on micro as well as on macro level. On micro level, employees produce work output that is worthless. On macro level, companies optimize for short term gain, even if the actions are clearly imposing costs in the future. There’s two subtypes of short-termism that I experienced close up:
    • Startups skimming VC money: There’s tons of startups around which don’t solve a real problem. They still collect two-digit million amounts of VC money - the VC money seems to be really dumb these days; probably there’s too much of it that needs to be put to work – those startups typically hyper-scale their teams, while chasing the next investment round harder than progress of product-market-fit. It’s the type of startup where there’s luxurious offices, parties, and ridiculous benefits, even before there’s any sign that the product solves a need. The cynic in me is attributing the existence of those companies to some charismatic hipsters trying to strike it rich quickly. Berlin is full of those companies. Show me a startup that plans to solve a hard problem, where the economic viability is realistic, and I’m all fire.
    • Sales driven short-termism: In those companies the sales team must be made happy. Energy is poured into building flashy features. No one will ever use them, but they are easy to demo and can close the deal. Never-mind that the customer talked into purchase by such a feature will churn soon, as work on the core value of the product is usually not a priority. Such a culture makes for a hollow product with high churn. This pattern is also common at companies with a self-serve product. In those cases it plays out in that every team is working hardest on satisfying the online marketing team’s requests. Tons of money is poured into google and facebook ads to trick people into sign-up funnels, which are well-tracked, and covered with dozens of A/B test. Often this is done before the product is there, and because demonstrable growth to investors is the highest maxim.
  • Work hard-mentality. “Work hard” is an euphemism for “work a lot”. It’s scientifically proven that work hours, like anything else, have a diminishing return. In any company there should be an appreciation that the health of employees and their family life come first. I’ll not participate in frequent all-nighters to make an artificial deadline. I obviously want to get sh** done, but I’d claim that optimization of how\ people work is more impactful than changing the amount of hours.

Position

  • A position where I’m payed to follow orders. Like anyone else I need to understand and agree with the why of the problems that need to be tackled. Then I like to define the how of the solution myself. I’m striving in a low-hierarchy environment with a shared sense of responsibility, where everyone gets enough space to live out their creativity and mastery.

Technical Culture

  • I don’t like to work in teams where there’s strong fixation on a paradigm. Usually this idealism that FP, or TTD, or whatever is driven by engineers who are not occupied enough with delivering business value, or who think they are cleverer than others. Buy in into specific technical paradigm becomes dangerous when the mental flexibility is lost to recognize that there’s a lot of valid approaches, and that any problem and situation might lead to different choices.
    • I’m not buying into the “all code must be covered with tests”-doctrine / TDD for most use-cases. At DemoUp we ran system delivering over a hundred thousand videos to dozens of online shops in a two person team without any test coverage, any QA person, and everything ran smoother than most other IT system I’ve ever seen. There’s value in testing core user flows with E2E tests (even though those can be difficult to integrate and run in an efficient way in multiple pipelines), and unit tests for complex and high-risk business logic. Once those are covered, most UI and backend code does not need to be tested though. The lock-in costs that tests incur on code changes are usually much higher than the benefit of infrequently catching a bug here or there.
  • Engineering teams where there’s an obsession with removing technical debt. An engineering team mostly chasing the removal of tech debt is either too much focused on their craft, and not the bigger picture of business value – or, worse, the business is so stagnant that fighting tech debt becomes the main occupation. The opposite, ignoring tech debt is just as appalling. The latter is acceptable for some time in startups that haven’t found product-market fit yet, but a strong smell of short-termism.