What are you best ideas for finding a good company
April 26, 2015 7:00 PM   Subscribe

I've been in software for about two decades. It's been a depressing ride. How can I find a better place?

My history includes the company where the owner beat his wife. The place where I got a 7 cent raise after two years because "We learned long ago not to trust our employees." The start-up with the nine figure buyout... private buyout, that made the executives millionaires, and the workers hundred-aires ("We're a team!"). The Fortune 500 company that was too screwed up to even begin to describe. And the current place, where management just completed the most vicious purge of good people that I've ever seen, and the accountants are whispering of layoffs on their smoke breaks.

Along the way I've worked with amazing people, learned a ton of stuff, and had a lot of fun, but I'd like to find a place that's a little more managerially functional for my next gig.

I've tried running my own business and it's not for me. I do have a list of things I'd like: 50 to 200 employees, particular technologies to work with, not in advertising, preferably something with at least tenuous social value, etc.

How can I translate that list into identifying companies and sussing out their actual culture?
posted by porkpop to Work & Money (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
My software friends like glassdoor.com. It features rankings and reviews of company culture, some of them brutally honest.

You should add yours, by the way.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:11 PM on April 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

The phrase you're looking for is "quality of life is important to me". This clearly signals "I want to work 9 to 5 in a job that stays in the office when I leave it". In practice, this means a company full of coders in their 30s and 40s, who have kids and houses and lives outside of hackathons. This means you won't be part of the startup world, and you won't get offered equity. But you'll have a steady paycheck, reasonable expectations, and a mature work environment that includes professions other than geeks, which tends to have a normalizing effect on the job.

This is exactly the job I got after leaving the startup that I worked at (I'm a backend dev), followed by some freelancing. It's amazing. It's just so... sane. We get paid overtime, which in practice is rarely paid out because the company is disciplined enough in its projects to not need it (I've sat in meetings where the PM stood firm on "that's a change of scope that can't proceed until we've agreed on a change request"). We do interesting dev work with new technologies. And this is all at an digital services agency that's been around for more than a decade. No one's looking for glory, or bragging rights at the user group, or to win the 'most hours in the office' award. I get eight hours a day of good dev work, then I go home and paint with watercolours.

The two most obvious signs to look for are 1) older coders (i.e., less tolerance for bullshit that twentysomethings can be browbeaten or peer pressured into), and 2) coders who've been there for a long time. In this employment market, good devs have a lot of mobility, so if a decent professional stays in a role for more than a few years, it's probably a comfortable role.

Don't be afraid to ask whether it's a 9 to 5 office or a death march office. Any place that dismisses you as an applicant because you're not flying the "I'll work myself to death for you" flag, is a place that you should avoid. Ask about successful projects and why they were successful; then ask about difficult projects and why they were difficult. If you get straightforward answers, that should give you a good idea about the culture.
posted by fatbird at 8:03 PM on April 26, 2015 [32 favorites]

> Any place that dismisses you as an applicant because you're not flying the "I'll work myself to death for you" flag, is a place that you should avoid

This. A million times this. You need to ask and if the place turns you away because of the questions you are asking, you don't want to work there. The interview process is a two way street. You need to get the information you need to make your decision just as much as they need to evaluate you for their needs. If you don't, you're taking a big risk with something very important.
posted by cmm at 8:25 PM on April 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

Have you pinged your network of folks you've worked with (and liked working with)? In my experience that's one of the best ways to have a real sense of what the culture of a place is like. And if your friend can put in a good word, all the better.
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:07 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to say your location, we might be able to suggest some specific companies.

One thing I've learned is that ALL companies have their pros and cons. You have to choose which cons you're willing to live with, and also convince yourself that the grass isn't always greener on the other side (while also not allowing yourself to be stuck in toxic environments). It's something I'm still working on myself. There are awful situations I've stayed in way too long, and also pretty good places I left too quickly because I was annoyed about something that was pretty inconsequential in hindsight. It's sometimes hard to get a good perspective and strike the right balance...
posted by primethyme at 9:19 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, this is all good advice.

I'm in a medium-sized tech region, not Silicon Valley. I would prefer to not be more specific, sorry. Despite the size of the region, it's still an oddly small world.

To refine the question a bit, how have you found the good companies you've worked with? Before you've even gotten an interview?
posted by porkpop at 10:02 PM on April 26, 2015

I found the software company that I am at through friends. It's a great company that is growing fast and has great work life balance. There are offices in SF and Austin. MeMail me if interested in learning more if you are in Austin.
posted by pando11 at 10:23 PM on April 26, 2015

I found the school I now netadmin through the other school I used to sidekick-netadmin, which I found by virtue of my beloved working there as an aide.

Word of mouth is excellent stuff.
posted by flabdablet at 1:07 AM on April 27, 2015

I've found that educational institutions are very slow-paced, low-stress places, with low staff turnover. I know people who stay just for the work/life balance.

You've been given good advice but if you can get the mindset right, contracting might work. If you're not an employee you can take a relaxed attitude to layoffs, politics etc. (though there are a whole raft of new b2b negotiation/fuck you pay me-style problems to deal with).

(Oh, and to answer your follow-up question... I cultivate relationships - if I hit on a good place while contracting I make sure to keep in touch both with the company and the individuals as they move to other places).
posted by Leon at 3:38 AM on April 27, 2015

Outside of a friend or friend-of-a-friend telling you about an opportunity at a great company, there really is no way to know up front. You have sniff out the culture in the interview, or by talking to existing employees.
posted by COD at 5:22 AM on April 27, 2015

Look for organisations whose output/products you admire and then poke around for insights into the internal culture using the excellent advice above. This may include orgs who (front he public view ) are nothing to do with tech/digital agency culture - nowadays everyone needs some form of development support and in-house work supporting a cause or outcome you have a genuine affinity with can be hugely rewarding.
posted by freya_lamb at 6:33 AM on April 27, 2015

Adding to suggestions that you look for a tech job at a company that is not directly in the tech industry. The happiest tech people I know mostly work in healthcare, for example.
posted by soelo at 1:50 PM on April 27, 2015

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