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Andrew Lucker
Andrew Lucker

Posted on • Originally published at Medium on

Work Ethic and Culture

Right now there is a discussion going on in the Machine Learning community about what constitutes an abusive work environment with regards to hours logged per week. The target of the discussion is Andrew Ng and a recent job post.

Having worked in a variety of highly-productive work environments ranging all across the scale of abuse, I thought I would add my two cents. My opinion is simply that there are a variety of environments and you need to find those that fit you personally. That is all. It is hard to classify any singular pattern as abusive, because cultural (read ethnic) expectations are very different.

I encountered my first difficult work environment while completing my undergraduate degree in Computer Science and working with a professor as a Research Assistant. When I started he told me straight away that “I don’t work hard until deadlines draw near, then I’ll expect you to keep up with me”. True to his word I worked part time for eight months learning C++ and reading networking journals. It wasn’t until about three weeks before the IEEE Infocom deadline that he started demanding more of my time. The last 4–5 days before the deadline were basically no sleep trying to finish the simulations and final draft of the paper.

After finishing school I moved on to work at very lax startups that despite having no difficult time demands went on to be fairly successful. Performance is certainly not correlated to dedication.

Starting with another younger company I found myself in a totally insane environment with founders who were so abusive that they would put Andrew Ng to shame. They burnt themselves out despite random trips to Vegas. I’m not sure what background created that mindset, but I left quickly.

To me all I can see are the stereotypes. People from different families, countries, class status, and race, naturally have different expectations about what “hard work” means. The problem is that most communities and companies value hard work despite having conflicting definitions of that cultural trait. I come from a background of working class work-an-hour pay-an-hour ethics. Naturally for startups and research this doesn’t fit well and as such I’ve tried to adjust.

Some people take positions of power and let it go to their head. I don’t think Andrew Ng is like that. If your supervisor is there beside you working the same difficulties, then they probably don’t mean to take advantage of you. Cultural expectations are wildly different around the globe, and tech spills it all together and we expect cookie-cutter management from the start. Anything to cut the stress is good in my opinion, but then again maybe my culture is wrong. I don’t know.

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Top comments (1)

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Javier Guerra

I used to accompanied my father to work at his printing shop when I was 10, I liked to help him on the tight deadlines he had. Delivering work with all nighters. I fall sleep, and wake up, and I remember him finishing the job. When I started working on publishing on my own, it was seen as normal for me that sometimes you just have to stay and finish the job, but always with a clear goal. After I got into development jobs and start seeing this culture where people expects you to work al nights or extra time on ideas that are not even clear and that tomorrow can change, it was a shock to me. I am mexican, we work most hours a week than any other country in the OCDE, but you always expect a clear goal. This startup culture that expects people to work on sand castles just for fun, is uncompressible to me.