Do IT Jobs REALLY Have to be This Way? Is It Me?
August 13, 2013 5:25 PM   Subscribe

Hello all. I'm a software developer, and I seem to be a magnet for batsh*t when it comes to jobs. During interviews, I've been outright lied to. Once I get on the job, I invariably find the positions I take are just not what the interviewer made it sound like they would be. Ultimately, I find these jobs descending into madness. Literally. I've found myself on the receiving end of everything from disrespect to downright mentally abusive behaviors.

I just want to know, is it me? I mean, I know I'm not the only one quitting these companies, but is there something I'm doing wrong in my screening? How DO you screen out the predatory? It's not like they tell you up front "Oh, yes! We pride ourselves on our negativity. No, of course you'll never make us happy! But we like to throw in those mandatory evening and weekend hours to make sure you keep trying! Oh... Yes, I mean the hours are 8 to 5. Of course they are. Silly me!"

In all seriousness, shouldn't I want better? Am I really the crazy one because I'm expecting better and I expect so-called civilized people to at least give each other a minimal amount of respect?

I have been working with my therapist on the "what I'm doing to cause this" but I was really hoping there'd be people out there who've been there and done that who could shed some more light on the situation.


P. S. No, I have no mental illnesses or any of the like. :-)
posted by Grimmie to Work & Money (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have been working with my therapist on the "what I'm doing to cause this"

Has your therapist given you any feedback thus far? If so, and if you don't mind me asking, what was it?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 5:33 PM on August 13, 2013

I have no idea if you're somehow choosing these places subconsciously. But, have you ever googled these places before working for them, or checked I passed up an interview for a job I'd been very excited about because the reviews on Glass Door were relentlessly negative.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:41 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Tell me the best qualities of the person who held this position before me. What were the tasks that provided them the biggest challenges? How is work prioritized on the team? What are the critical deadlines and how does the team come together to ensure those deadlines are met? How are changes to deadlines communicated to clients and how receptive to necessary delays are they?"
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:05 PM on August 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

You didn't do a very good job of explaining what the problem is other than negativity and being expected to work long hours.

But I agree, paulsc is right. Always ask to see the office where you'd be working. See if you can meet the people you'd be working with, ask them what their typical day is like.

Some red flags are:

"There is no typical day"; chaos and a reactive work environment, with no end ever in sight.
"Flexible work environment"; you never stop working. Always expected to be online and responsive.

Look to see how many young people are there. I'm of the belief that a vital IT shop has a good mix of young and experienced people. Younger people are generally more fun and friendly not as jaded by years sitting in front of a screen debugging some dead programming language.

Is there a good gender mix? Nothing says good vibes more than an inclusive work environment. Do people (other than in the HR and recruiting groups) look healthy and happy?
posted by dobie at 6:06 PM on August 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

Welcome to work?!

Once you get more savvy with this, you'll spot the potential problems in the interview. It will be so tiny, you'll really have to pay attention (certain phrases, certain behaviors, certain micro-expressions). But the red flags will be there. Whether you go along with it all anyway is really up to you (because everywhere has issues).
posted by heyjude at 6:14 PM on August 13, 2013

Yeah, I dunno. Do you have authority problems, either an aversion or confrontation? Are you a pushover? You're the IT brainiac, start telling people how it is. You don't have to go full Nick Burns, but disrespect and abusive? It's a truism in the non-tech professional world that you don't want to make enemies of the IT people, so start wielding that a bit.
posted by rhizome at 6:29 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are sane places to work. They are maybe not as common as they should be.

Startups tend to be crazy, for lots of reasons, the intense pressure and inexperienced management being two. Larger companies can harbor pockets of organizational psychosis.

One rule is that the environment gets more toxic the more trouble the business (or business unit, in a big company) is in. Look for a successful, growing company.
posted by mr vino at 8:32 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hello! It's not just you!

I work in IT as part of a workers' collective.

We screen out the predatory by working cooperatively. It is great to work in an environment where respect and mutual aid are a given.

Also: seconding what others here have said about the necessity of regular hours. You cannot have a just workplace without a clear expectation of what is required of your time. Time is one of the few things we truly have in the world- do not give it up lightly.

The bane of the IT world is the belief in 24-7 sustainability. It is predicated upon exploitation.
posted by jammy at 8:35 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I absolutely believe that there are more insane workplaces, and that you can learn to screen for some of this.

I don't directly work for companies now, but when I did, here are a few things that I did to screen the workplace environment (or ask: is this the job for me and what is the truth?):

• Nthing Showbiz. Google the name of the workplace and add on words that you want to know about (i.e. I know a person who dodged certain workplaces because she googled company name plus layoff and ... she identified which companies did and did not have these problems preinterview). She even asked the question in interviews,"Do you have a problem with layoffs" and would watch how they reply .... but the person already did the research in advance.

• Ask to interview with and meet a colleague who has the same job title. Do this before accepting a job.

• Make a list of questions that are important to you and questions that are likely to be important to a typical employee. Ask the same identical question to the people who interview you, including president, supervisor, colleague, etc. Notice discrepancies. As an example, I used to ask, "Do you promote from within and if so, how is this done?" A real life example of answers showed that there was a problem, i.e. A potential supervisor said- "we absolutely promote from within and we have a checklist that we share with you". Potential colleague said, "No, we do not-we wished they did and a former employee left because they do not." The follow-up question to the colleague was-"You don't have a checklist?" and the potential colleague looked surprised and had never heard this before. The goal was to identify who was telling the truth/stretching the truth/what were there problem areas.

• Develop a network of colleagues in your industry and ask them about job offer from company X with supervisor Y. Many pple know and flee companies that have problems, or will tell you the negatives in advance so that you know what you are dealing with.

In all seriousness, shouldn't I want better? Am I really the crazy one because I'm expecting better and I expect so-called civilized people to at least give each other a minimal amount of respect?

This is a more individual type question. If you are looking for anecdotal experiences, there are things that I won't put up with and have left for those reasons. However,over time I changed my attitude from "What do I need and what can I get out of a potential workplace?" Interview to confirm that you will get those things, too, because then you can take those skills to another workplace, even if it is a bad work environment. You can make changes inside a workplace, too, when you are there: Ask for them.Some workplaces will work with you and let changes happen, others will not, but if they work with you then you may be able to stay in an environment for a bit longer.

I don't know if this last paragraph answers that part of your question, but I became less miserable at questions when I made a list of skills that I wanted to develop and 1) interviewed to make sure they truly offered those opportunities 2) at the workplace, pushed to acquire those skills by training/working with people in other departments, pushing a supervisor to get the chance. Somehow, doing things on the checklist helped make the crazy part of a work environment okay.
posted by Wolfster at 8:44 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

"I just want to know, is it me? I mean, I know I'm not the only one quitting these companies, but is there something I'm doing wrong in my screening? How DO you screen out the predatory? It's not like they tell you up front "Oh, yes! We pride ourselves on our negativity. No, of course you'll never make us happy! But we like to throw in those mandatory evening and weekend hours to make sure you keep trying! Oh... Yes, I mean the hours are 8 to 5. Of course they are. Silly me!"


"But I agree, paulsc is right."

Of course, if you're reading this after the time stamp of this response, "paulsc is right" might not make the sense you'd hope it would, perhaps due to bit bucket gravity.

At any rate. I'm of the opinion that anyone seeking an IT position, of any stripe, ought to ask to see the hardware that will support their position. If that hardware is not reasonably current, or is installed in poor circumstances, or is 1000 miles from the work site, a person seeking a position in that organization ought to be cautious, and feel free to ask for proofs that necessary hardware to support the position is, in fact, in place. Hardware costs, usually under long term contract, with support options.

Software folk, on the other hand, are relatively short term expense, when the worm turns.
posted by paulsc at 11:47 PM on August 13, 2013

Long term (which means old) software developer here. It's hard to distill all my thoughts, but I'll start humorous then get serious. You realize "Office Space" and "Dilbert" are non-fiction, right? But seriously, I have heard it said that programming draws many people who have musical talent because it is at core a performance endeavor. You work and fret and practice and adjust, and it's never really finished but it is satisfactory for opening night. Performers come and go and the group has to adjust, and the "managers" are often unsympathetic or unaware of the details. Also, just like a performance some of the stuff is just for show. And there are prima donas everywhere (me too on my bad days).

Also it's hard to keep lying to computer programmers because in the end management needs to have the programs work as per spec or as per client unstated assumptions. The more management tries to take a "don't ask, just do" attitude, the more likely they will get something fragile that will not stand the test of time. Then starts the quick fixes and finger pointing spiral into bad times.

C. S. Lewis once said something like at the core of an organization are people who have almost no power but do the most work and know the most about it. I think programmers are like that, not by choice or brilliance but just by the nature of the enterprise.

So with the above said, and realizing I have sometimes felt the same way as you, I think the answer is to find managers and other people you speak with at a prospective employer who seem to "get it". You talk about programming and software development in general, and you see what they say. If it sounds like a rehearsed speech or excuses they give to their own manager, then they're spinning plates on sticks and they will fall. Try to keep a poker face and don't lead them on. If they seem to be skirting details or topics then try to assume they're smart and just ask them how they are OBVIOUSLY ALREADY dealing with this or that pressure in the IT Industry, and ask how it's been going. Which brings me back to my first point, your interview should NOT seem like a Dilbert or Office Space episode. That said, it's not like the job market is great these days, which only makes it harder. I hope this helped in some way.
posted by forthright at 5:27 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lots of workplaces are dysfunctional, but part of their problem is blindness to their own problem so they aren't going to lay out these problems. There are however some canaries in the mine to watch for that you may be able to discern through questions and good old fashioned looking with your eyes:

* Swing by the office at odd hours. Empty lot? Good. 10% or more cars than you see during the regular work day? bad.
* Be wary of them in some way flattering your experience in a way that makes it look you coming on board will be a knight in shining armor.
* Try to find out how long people, on average, have been working there. Companies who have 10+ year veterans are generally happy to talk about this because it means they are doing something right to retain talent.
* Ask about some recent training or conference staff have attended. This is a good indication if they invest in their employee's ongoing education.
* The best is if you can talk with past employees.
posted by dgran at 8:34 AM on August 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was always brought up to believe that respect is earned, rather than to be expected. That said, I've had many jobs in the IT area that have sucked. I try not to think about them, and instead focus on the great IT jobs I've had, and when I interview for a new job, I try to look for telltale signs of those qualities that I appreciated so much before.

Remember that YOU are interviewing THEM, too. Talk to the people you'd be working with, if/when they give you a tour of 'the inner workings'. Try to read between the lines as to why they're looking to fill the position (exponential growth, or former person in this position melted-down?). See what the area where you'd sit looks like. Does it look like a real office, or a closet, or is it in a hallway, cluttered with random boxes?
posted by destructive cactus at 9:07 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I find that one helpful thing for me to weed companies out is saying, "A work-life balance is really important to me. Sure, there are times when working longer hours is necessary, but I don't like to make a habit of it. What is the typical work-week like here?" If a manager is automatically turned off, GREAT! I just dodged a bullet. I'm serious. I want to work a 40 hour work week and I'm pretty protective of it.

Another great interview question is, "what is your biggest frustration here?"

Treat the interview as a two-way street and be upfront about what you need and want.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:01 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

(Lots of wisdom above so I just wanted to add something that hasn't been discussed yet).

As a software developer, there are many types of companies that you get to work with, each with its own idiosyncrasies. Consultancy/agency business model is centered around under-cutting on price (unrealistic project bids), then billing elastic (hourly) while non-elastic resources (full-timers) pick up the difference. Established product-centered companies have lots of politics and techies are treated as second class citizens. Start-ups constantly change product direction so you can never get anything done. Engineering firms have entrenched software experts/inventors who have poor social skills and free rein of the land. And so on, and so forth.

What you have to do is figure out what's important to you, first. Is it money, is it hours, is it technical excellence? Then interview for that. If it's reasonable hours, you can ask, what is a typical work schedule here at [x]? Is [their answer] typical? How often have things deviated from this schedule in the last month or year? What is your release process/schedule? Who sets estimates/deadlines, the programmer or the manager? What happens when deadlines are not met? Etc.

Lastly, consultant-to-hire is always welcomed by employers. Nothing like dating before marriage.
posted by rada at 10:57 AM on August 14, 2013

Response by poster: I want to start by thanking all who responded, especially those who give interviewing advice. I'm adding much of it to my laundry list of questions and such.

I JUST found out about Glassdoor recently when it was mentioned on the Motley Fool. It would have saved me from 2 of the last 3 for sure. The third, this particular job, doesn't have reviews at all. I'm thinking maybe it should. Of course I Googled the companies. All you can find about the one I work for now is the owner did a press release on how he made a big donation to a charity. Nothing about the fact that he won't give his workers PTO or match their 401Ks (just found that one out today). The company is small, and I think that's a lot of the problem. The whole thing has just played out like a bad novel where I find out more and more awful things as time goes by.

I don't quite understand paulsc's comments. The laptop was brand spanking new and top of the line??? Was it about the work area in general?

I should have seen the work area ahead of time. That was a mistake. I would have seen the giant camera above my desk. I'm serious. I should also have asked to speak to coworkers and scoured LinkedIn to see if I could meet some past employees. I'm learning. I'm taking this all in.

And, yes, I say the laptop "was" because I lost that job today. For something miniscule. Now they have these code changes that are making them money, which is what I think is all they really wanted in the first place, and the second they're deployed I'm out. Why? Because of fluff. Because I'm not perfect and wording on something internal wasn't perfect. FLUFF.

I'll get something else. Hell, it's been 2 hours and 2 recruiters are already sending me jobs. I'm going to keep working, alright. I'll keep a tight budget, sock away a bunch of money, and work on doing my own thing on the side until I can get out. Most importantly, I'm ditching the recruiter that put me in the last 2 positions. (They got HORRIBLE reviews on Glassdoor from employees and contractors! Holy crap!)

It's sad. I really did like coding when I first learned to do it back in the day. Now, there are days I'd almost rather do anything else. My fiance and I were toying with emergency plans for if I did just quit, and he was saying he could probably get me on at his side job. He does security work for extra money. I could probably get a lot of hours and OT if I'd be willing to do overnight shifts. You just sit there. I'm thinking, ok... I can sit there and write and be by myself without a bunch of drama from other people and I don't have to code and I can actually do something that's more conducive to my body clock. Pretty sad when that's actually starting to sound GOOD.

As I said before, I'm not giving up on software development entirely YET. There were some things about the work I did on this job that I did like, and I do need those paychecks for now. Not having this job does allow me free time to look now (did I mention I had no PTO and had to fight to even go to a dr appt?) and take a little time finding another job. If we do run low on money, there's always security work, which I can do at night. I don't think it's going to take me that long to find something else, though.

So, I'm arming myself with a plan, a backup plan, a budget (thank you, Dave Ramsey), and all of the interviewing and screening advice I've got here. And courage. I need the courage to know it's ok to walk away and say no if I see those red flags. And faith. My particular path teaches that the Universe provides. I need to trust in that. The Universe will provide. I just need to use its blessings wisely now.

There are gems on this page. Again, I can't thank you all enough.
posted by Grimmie at 9:31 AM on August 15, 2013

Well that sucks. Apparently they fired you and didn't give you severance? Tells you something.

However, with the abuse and the whatever, I would think more that they were just waiting for this task to be done and there's really not a lot that you could have done to avoid it, and I'm not sure there's any use in spending effort figuring out what went wrong.

In the future, "what's your management style?" and "how does project management play out there?" will give you a lot of opportunities to ask about the corner cases where process falls down and the employee is left in the lurch, not to mention revealing expectations that employees not be treated well. "Fire fighting" and "technical debt" are both good terms to ask about in the IT/software context. You can also ask about turnover, how the need to fill the position came to exist, and how much they promote internally.

From the sound of it, though, you can certainly do better.
posted by rhizome at 11:58 AM on August 15, 2013

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