On empathy (or lack thereof) in tech

Updated on Apr 16, 2018

Recently, I've noticed a disturbing pattern among companies I've worked at that seem to care very little for their employees professional development, unrealistic expectations, etc. I keep wondering, is it me? am I a bad developer? Bad at setting expectations? All this seems very soul crushing and I wonder if it might not be time to find a different career.

How do you all deal with it?

Should one just find another job, or should you work to improve the culture?

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It definitely depends on the company and people you're working for and with. I've heard countless stories of people trying to spearhead culture change within their company, only to end up with an additional set of responsibilities for organizing/documenting new initiatives/process/etc.

My advice is to decide both what your career goals are and what you're willing to tolerate. Do your best to communicate those expectations to your manager so you can set up healthy boundaries.

This is great advice but what should one do if those boundaries aren't respected?

I think culture is slowly shifting toward the "we need to keep our people happy" from "people are a resource and nothing else" thankfully. But it's glacial progress and I feel your frustration.

I think it probably makes sense to try and do what you can on your own and in the meantime start looking around for something else. Networking is key.

I think it's getting there through the phases like, "unhappy people keep leaving us which costs us money" and " hey, hipster companies get good PR for token actions which make them look friendly".

Eventually we may end up at "let's be nice to people because we want to be nice", but for now it's still all driven by greed in anything except the smallest private enterprise.

It's commendable that you're being introspective here. If you can look yourself in the mirror and honestly conclude that you're not at fault for the trend you're experiencing then I'd strongly consider leaving and starting over if your current employer is not giving you what you require to grow as a professional. Changing work culture requires a significant amount of time and energy. You'd have to gain organizational credibility and peer trust to start implementing changes. This sounds unlikely in a scenario where you aren't being given growth opportunities in your current role. We're talking years here unless you've started in an advantaged position or the company is small with a horizontal leadership structure. Once you attain the political clout then you have to actually plan and implement any changes which I'm sure is an uphill battle. Do you owe this company such an investment? Are you willing to commit your valuable time to executing these cultural changes that are completely outside the scope of your current role? Just some things to think about. As for leaving the field entirely, don't give up hope yet. There are certainly tech companies out there capable of providing fantastic employment experiences. Check out Keyvalues. It may give you better insight when searching for your next job. I have no affiliation with the site but it looks cool. Good luck and remember that there's a valuable experience to be had in whatever path you choose here!

Thank you. How can I be sure if it is my fault or not?
I mean, I genuinely believe I'm doing the best I can, but how do I know if I'm biased somehow?

Great question. I'd reach out to prior co-workers and talk with them. Ask previous managers about your performance, what it was like working with you, areas in which you can improve, etc. While not always the easiest conversations to have they can help you balance out your internal monologue.

I wonder if it might not be time to find a different career.

There is plenty of variety within this career so I wouldn't resign yourself to that now. But the best way to land in a position that fits your career development needs is when you are not desperate in any way.

If your current position is not ideal but not unbearable, you may be able to acknowledge "this sucks, but if I use it as a springboard to the right thing, it might be worth sticking it out". I'd definitely start making a plan for your future. And there may be some follow-up threads with questions related to what's out there and how to approach all this.

Of course I'm not advocating to stick around in an intolerable or abusive environment, but if you can, I'd try to see the situation as a stepping stone towards the opportunity that is right for you. It will give you a chance to create a plan and not be too rushed, attend meetups, find good people, make connections, discover what parts of the career make you happiest and which suck the most.

Thanks for taking the time to respond, Ben. I've been debating transitioning to infosec, but I do want to start attending local meetups so I can network.

I'm sorry you're in that position! I feel your grief.

The first company I was at were terrible for wellbeing. There was pretty much no HR, I was working long hours for not much more, if anything at all. Eventually, with that experience I could move onto a giant company with a great HR team as expected, and I'm now at a small company (~5 of us) which also takes care of us.

Not all companies will be terrible, and you will find one of them. If you decide to move on, when you're interviewed, ask what the company is doing to keep employees happy.

So in your experience, larger companies with big HR departments treat their staff better?

Yes, although that does mean it's a sample size of.. 1 :p. I think the fact that was a HR department, there was someone to go and complain or talk to, otherwise you'd have to report within your team which could make things uncomfortable and deter people from speaking up. A lot of big companies have the budget for professional development too.

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