Congratulations! You’ve Been Fired
By DAN LYONS The New York Times APRIL 9, 2016
AT HubSpot, the software company where I worked for almost two years, when you got fired, it was called “graduation.” We all would get a cheery email from the boss saying, “Team, just letting you know that X has graduated and we’re all excited to see how she uses her superpowers in her next big adventure.”
One day this happened to a friend of mine. She was 35, had been with the company for four years, and was told without explanation by her 28-year-old manager that she had two weeks to get out. On her last day, that manager organized a farewell party for her. It was surreal, and cruel, but everyone at HubSpot acted as if this were perfectly normal.
We were told we were “rock stars” who were “inspiring people” and “changing the world,” but in truth we were disposable. Many tech companies are proud of this kind of culture. Amazon keeps getting called out for its bruising environment, most notably in a long exposé in this newspaper last year.
On Tuesday, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, said that people who didn’t like the company’s grueling environment were free to work elsewhere. “We never claim that our approach is the right one — just that it’s ours — and over the last two decades, we’ve assembled a group of like-minded people,” he wrote in a letter to shareholders. Some viewed the statement as a sign that Mr. Bezos at least seems to recognize that it’s not normal for employees to cry at their desks. But it was also a defiant message that he had no intention of letting up. I am old enough to remember the 1980s and early ’90s, when technology executives were obsessed with retaining talent.
“Our most important asset walks out the door every night,” was the cliché of the day. No longer. Treating workers as if they are widgets to be used up and discarded is a central part of the revised relationship between employers and employees that techies proclaim is an innovation as important as chips and software.
The model originated in Silicon Valley, but it’s spreading. Old-guard companies are hiring “growth hackers” and building “incubators,” too. They see Silicon Valley as a model of enlightenment and forward thinking, even though this “new” way of working is actually the oldest game in the world: the exploitation of labor by capital.
HubSpot was founded in 2006 in Cambridge, Mass., and went public in 2014. It’s one of those slick, fast-growing start-ups that are so much in the news these days, with the beanbag chairs and unlimited vacation — a corporate utopia where there is no need for work-life balance because work is life and life is work.
Imagine a frat house mixed with a kindergarten mixed with Scientology, and you have an idea of what it’s like. I joined the company in 2013 after spending 25 years in journalism and getting laid off from a top position at Newsweek. I thought working at a start-up would be great. The perks! The cool offices! It turned out I’d joined a digital sweatshop, where people were packed into huge rooms, side by side, at long tables. Instead of hunching over sewing machines, they stared into laptops or barked into headsets, selling software.
Tech workers have no job security. You’re serving a “tour of duty” that might last a year or two, according to the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, who is the co-author of a book espousing his ideas, “The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.”
Companies burn you out and churn you out when someone better, or cheaper, becomes available. “Your company is not your family,” is another line from Mr. Hoffman’s book. His ideas trace back to a “culture code” that Netflix published in 2009, declaring, “We’re a team, not a family.” Netflix views itself as a sports team, always looking to have “stars in every position.” In this new model of work, employees are expected to feel complete devotion and loyalty to their companies, even while the boss feels no such obligation in return.
UNFORTUNATELY, working at a start-up all too often involves getting bossed around by undertrained (or untrained) managers and fired on a whim. Bias based on age, race and gender is rampant, as is sexual harassment. The free snacks are nice, but you also must tolerate having your head stuffed with silly jargon and ideology about being on a mission to change the world.
Companies sell shares to the public while still losing money. Wealth is generated, but most of the loot goes to a handful of people at the top, the founders and venture capital investors. The Netflix code has been emulated by countless other companies, including HubSpot, which employed a metric called VORP, or value over replacement player. This brutal idea comes from the world of baseball, where it is used to set prices on players. At HubSpot we got a VORP score in our annual reviews. It was supposed to feel scientific, part of being a “data-driven organization,” as management called it.
Our offices were in a renovated 19th-century factory built by the furniture maker A. H. Davenport. Cavernous red-brick rooms where skilled craftsmen once labored on elaborately hand-carved custom pieces — woodworking treasures that today can be found in museums and in the White House — were now packed with young people who spent long days cold-calling prospects, racing to meet tough monthly quotas, with algorithms measuring their productivity.
The “business development representatives,” who were really glorified telemarketers, were paid around $3,000 a month, which works out to $18.75 per hour, if you work 40 hours a week, though many worked more. Grinding out phone calls, trying to make a number, hooked to a machine that watches you work — this is progress? The people who worked in the furniture factory probably didn’t have easy lives, either.
They certainly didn’t have a beer garden, as workers at HubSpot do. On the other hand, they didn’t go through weeks of training that felt eerily like a cult indoctrination, being told that they could use their “superpowers” to “change people’s lives” by spreading “delightion” to their customers.
Given the choice, I think I’d rather make furniture.
And that model is what the technorati want to bring to all industry, from education to medication. The data driven, 24/7 fueled workforce that charged up on free coconut water and the ability to live in pods adjacent to work, will ensure a growth model that will enable America to be "great again."
Oddly that is not the Trump application of that phrase but the Technocrat in Chief, Obama, who has embraced this model as the prototype of the new American economy. God help us Tiny Tim. I did laugh again when I read this moron's response to the article, confirming for me that yes Virginia they are idiots.
To the Editor: Dan Lyons takes issue with the idiosyncrasies of start-up culture. Unfortunately, his essay fails to understand the millennial zeitgeist and what young people really want out of work and life. While he craves normalcy, stability and hierarchy, our generation seeks out adventure, progress and meaning. A start-up provides these things in abundance. Change is a constant, and no one knows whether the company will be around in six months. Despite the risk, this is an environment where we can truly feel alive. JEFF PAWLAK San Francisco The writer is a growth marketer for GrubMarket, a start-up.But in reality that model is simply a tool for the Oligarchs to continue to secure their place in the pecking order of faux meritocracy and the belief that they are "changing the world." To that a big whatthefuckever. The idea that failure is a type of notch of success, to be "graduated" versus be fired is just another whitewashing or "rebranding" that this generation have mastered well. Need a car? Why rent one when you can borrow one and have the owner even drive it? How about tools, food, stuff? Someone will do it for you. So this is the reality of the world and I think it shows you the world from the other side.
We love 'disruptors'. But it's regular people who keep the world afloat
|‘Someone had to make Elon Musk’s latte this morning and make sure it got to him in a clean cup’ Photograph: Devon Knight for the Guardian|
I used to be a dishwasher and have endless respect for people behind the scenes keeping things together. If only everyone did
This week, Fortune magazine pointed to a provocative essay by Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell titled Hail the maintainers, which says that as a society, we are overvaluing innovators and desperately undervaluing the engineers, cleaners, repair technicians and service personnel that keep everything running.
Waves of “disruptive” new technologies and business practices may be giving us successive generations of maverick entrepreneurs, but someone had to make Elon Musk’s latte this morning and make sure it got to him in a clean cup. If he falls off his hoverboard and breaks his arm, an ER nurse is going to help diagnose him and patch him together again, but when will we get to hear her Ted talk?
I have endless respect for people behind the scenes keeping the world together. I remember the pride I once took in being a restaurant dishwasher. Yes, the job is, in some ways, at the bottom of the food chain. It’s typically the lowest-paid position in any restaurant, and yet there is a simple, satisfying power to it. To customers, you’re invisible, but you’re ultimately the person who is keeping them safe from germs and cross-contamination, an invisible lifeguard at life’s watering hole.
Each morning, you show up, put on an apron and then tackle the day’s mound of dirty dishes. It’s sweaty, sometimes backbreaking, work, but the core mission is always the same: make it all sparkle and put it back where it belongs. Keep everything moving. Everybody’s got to eat and if they’re going to eat, they’re going to need some dishes.
Not everyone appreciates the amount of work it takes to keep the things as they should be, though. I learned that right out of college, when I was working as a ward clerk on a pediatrics unit making $5.75 an hour. At the time, I was singing in a rock band and staying out all night. Being a young 20-something-year-old, one day I just didn’t have time to iron my white dress shirt. I decided to wear it crinkly and call it a look.
Halfway through my shift, one of the doctors on rounds asked me what kind of a shirt it was, that he hadn’t really seen one like it. With a start, I realized that he had probably never in his life seen a dress shirt that wasn’t fresh and starched on the hanger or disappearing into his clothes hamper at the end of the day. He was completely incapable of recognizing a white cotton dress shirt in its native state.
I said a quiet vow to myself on that day that I would never take for granted the labor going into keeping my world running. Doctor what’s-his-face, I realized, probably doesn’t even know the names of the workers – undoubtedly women and given that this is the South, probably women of color – who pressed his shirt. He probably thinks shirts come out of the dryer that way, if he thinks about it at all.
So maybe janitors, line cooks and hotel workers think I’m strange for thanking them on my way by. I don’t usually word it, “Thank you for holding the world together,” or at least I haven’t yet. But that’s exactly what they do.