Meeting Discussion

How Much of Working in Startup Tech is a Scam?

Earlier this week I posited that the tech industry specifically, but all industries in some way, are playing the wrong game and causing everyone who works there to be stuck in a quagmire.

I’m not the only one looking at this industry and wondering why anyone works here.

On a recent episode of Work Appropriate, host Anne Helen Petersen had a guest, Ifeoma Ozoma, who had previously worked at Google and Pinterest. She pulled no punches in talking about the industry and answering questions from workers.

First off, let’s be honest. The reality of working in tech is no different than other industries. They talk about how being in Big Oil, Big Pharma, or at a place like Goldman’s your life is hell but you knew that going in. In tech, we aren’t honest about it. We tell people things are different in tech. We’re special. We don’t even need HR departments, because we’re so special and the work we are doing is so innovative and important.

It’s not that innovative or important.

Working in tech is no different than working in other big industries. Working in small startups is just a miniature version of the same thing. We’re innovating so fast, and you’re an important piece of that speed so don’t worry about employment laws, just “dig in” to the work.

It all sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

A couple of other areas where the scam shows up were also covered.

1. Many workers don’t do anything to change the workplace or hold billionaire owners accountable because they think they are one job away from being a billionaire themselves. Both Anne and Ifeoma pointed out that you don’t become a billionaire through a job. Ifeoma even points out that unless you own the company, you are a worker. Too many people in tech think they are going to get rich when the company goes public or gets purchased, but again, if you don’t own a significant part of the company, you will not be getting rich. As they were discussing this point I couldn’t help but think about all the people who are against things like tax increases for billionaires because they think they will be one someday. Workers don’t push for change because they think they’ll be the ones running things one day and don’t want to make it harder on themselves. The tech industry sends this message, that we’re all one good idea away from striking it rich and being the next Zuckerberg or Musk. Nah, they had a lot of help most of us will never get.

2. The promotion scam also makes an appearance in this episode. You know the one. To qualify for the next job on your career path, you need to be doing that job. Which is really just doing a job you’re not being paid to do, for as long as “they” think they can get away with it. That one bugs me personally because I’ve worked in places where you couldn’t even get an “exceeds expectation” grade in an annual review unless you were at least partially “doing the next job”. It didn’t much matter that you weren’t being paid to do that job, or that there may not have even been an opportunity to do it. You would never be more than just an acceptable employee without it.

Again, this is a practice that has grown outside of the tech industry too.

Check out the episode. There’s some interesting discussion. Sadly, even when asked for something positive to end on, the guest had nothing. That’s kind of what working in tech feels like, doesn’t it?

Update – Later in the day I came across some similar thoughts by Ed Zitron on how the tech industry views itself and how we hold founders on underserved pedestals.

You are not the Man in the Arena


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