Recently I was contacted by a recruiter for a prominent West Coast startup. As I was scanning over the “about our company” blurb provided by the recruiter, my eyes stopped on the phrase “…free lunch and dinner“. I knew at that moment it was probably not a company I wanted to work for.

I’m sure they intended it as a perk. “We feed our employees, just like Google!”. But what “free dinner” says to me is “our employees are expected to work straight through dinner”. Which might sound fine if you’re fresh out of college and looking for experience. But to me and, I suspect, to a growing number of the developers I know, it sounds like a recipe for burnout.

I’m not willing to trade in my family life for a quick buck. And I’m not sure that the teams which have decided to make that trade-off are doing themselves any favors. Unless your plan is to be bought out quickly and leave someone else to pick up the pieces, a sustainable development pace will win every time.

Which brings me to We Are Titans, my new employer. I’ve known Evan Light, c-owner of WAT, for a few years now. We originally met and became friends at RubyFringe, where we were both powerfully moved by Damian Katz‘ talk about pursuing his dreams while also supporting a family. More than any other developer I know, Evan and I see eye-to-eye about the importance of making work one of the pillars supporting the realization of your higher goals, instead of of a competing interest. As a result, WAT gets the importance of family and community in fundamental ways: for instance, by not expecting talent to pick up and move to the other side of the country for the sake of their work.

This afternoon I was sitting in my back yard, cradling my newborn daughter in one arm while talking on the phone to Evan about company t-shirts. I asked for one for each member of the family – all six of us. In some companies this would be a loyalty stunt. But I wanted the shirts for a different reason. I wanted them because at WAT, for the first time, I feel like my whole family has a place at the table.

Published by Avdi Grimm

9 Comments

  1. Sweet, congrats on the new gig! You and Even are both stellar developers and stellar people. I wish you the best.

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  2. Great post Avdi. TBH, the expectation that many companies have upon their developers to give every waking moment of their lives is insane. I would submit that a given developer could be just as productive if not more productive in 5 hours a day as they could in 9. Being fresh and alert but also knowing that your job is helping you live a healthy and full life would make the world of difference. Alas, this idealism keeps escaping me.

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  3. Awesome sauce. Glad you have found the right place and that it is supporting your more important goals of LIVING A MEANINGFUL LIFE… a goal that too many people seem to think of as an afterthought too many years too late…

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  4. congrats on the new baby and new job!

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  5. Congrats on the new gig, Avdi; you're in a good company. I've known Evan for years and we share a deep desire to live an principle-based life where all aspects (including work) contribute to its meaning and further our life goals. I'm always glad to hear from a fellow traveler on that road.

    It's important to recognize that “free dinner” may not imply the expectation of long hours which you inferred. That's certainly not the case here at Scribd, where we cater lunch and dinner; for us, it's actually honoring the fact that our engineers prefer a later start and a later end to their workday, by and large.

    That's not to say we don't have morning crowd; I'm one of them. I'm usually in around 9a and out somewhere between 6-7p so I can be home for dinner with my family (only two kids, but our third's on the way =). I like the flexibility in my mornings — it means I can take my kids to school most days without stressing about early meetings, etc.

    So certainly look hard when you see something that raises your hackles, but look with an open mind. You might be surprised at what you find. =]

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    • Thanks for pointing that out, Jim. It's good to see companies embracing the fact that not everyone is on the same schedule, whether by nature or by circumstance.

      I'm still a little leary of the whole “free food” thing. It has undertones of wanting to become an employee's whole world – to draw a very strained parallel, it reminds me of the old mining towns: live in the company house, eat at the company cafeteria, shop at the company store. And perks like that always make me want to know where the compromise is being made – are overall salaries lower in hopes that the employees will accept cheaper-for-the-company substitutes like stock options and food? Or is it just burning through the VC funding a little bit faster?

      I'm not trying to be a cynic, here. It's just that the older I get the more I realize that the most important perks a company can give are flexibility, transparency, and sufficient compensation to let me choose my own food & fun. Everything else is just window dressing.

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      • …all that said, the first web software company I see to offer on-site daycare will have my instant attention. It's not something I'm likely to take advantage of myself, but daycare would go a long way towards evening out the gap between men and women in this industry. Or, for that matter, between developers with families and the ones with no responsibilities outside their WoW guild.

        Reply
  6. Thanks for pointing that out, Jim. It's good to see companies embracing the fact that not everyone is on the same schedule, whether by nature or by circumstance.

    I'm still a little leary of the whole “free food” thing. It has undertones of wanting to become an employee's whole world – to draw a very strained parallel, it reminds me of the old mining towns: live in the company house, eat at the company cafeteria, shop at the company store. And perks like that always make me want to know where the compromise is being made – are overall salaries lower in hopes that the employees will accept cheaper-for-the-company substitutes like stock options and food? Or is it just burning through the VC funding a little bit faster?

    I'm not trying to be a cynic, here. It's just that the older I get the more I realize that the most important perks a company can give are flexibility, transparency, and sufficient compensation to let me choose my own food & fun. Everything else is just window dressing.

    Reply
  7. …all that said, the first web software company I see to offer on-site daycare will have my instant attention. It's not something I'm likely to take advantage of myself, but daycare would go a long way towards evening out the gap between men and women in this industry. Or, for that matter, between developers with families and the ones with no responsibilities outside their WoW guild.

    Reply

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