November 18, 2022

My worst job offer ever

A blast from the past.

This thing about Elon Musk giving his remaining Twitter employees an ultimatum to either commit to “working long hours at high intensity” or getting fired with 3 months severance is triggering some funny memories from my student days. I’m still chuckling about them…

Years ago, me and my classmate were standing in the office of this guy, who we believed to be a research fellow. He had invited us over after bumping into us in one of the university’s computer labs, where we were busy doing our programmer internship and carelessly exhibited those traits, Silicon Valley just loves (long hours, sleeping bags next to the keyboard and a willingness to live on junk food). At first, it seemed to be one of those referral things where staff members sneak business contacts to promising students. But this guy was actually involved in a startup and in between jobs, so to speak. Coming to think about it, he even looked and acted a bit like Elon Musk when he pitched us a job offer gig as software developers with a special perk.

The software, his company was going to build was some kind of corporate time management tool and neither I nor my classmate understood what problem it was suppose to solve. But hey, that’s start-up culture, isn’t it? Trump up some ridiculous value proposal, nobody understands (so nobody can tell you your investors why it won’t work) and your investors will happily allow you to burn their money, as long as your business plan spells out the word “growth” on every page. I mean, back then UML was the hot shit. Nobody wanted it, nobody needed it, but if IBM could sell a useless tool like Rational Rose for big money, who were we to argue that, with the right marketing, this time management tool wasn’t going to be a huge success? Call me pragmatic, but I don’t have to believe in the thing, I’m building, as long as I can believe in getting paid for it. Color me interested.

The special perk was flying over to sunny Spain and doing the coding in a beach house, the company owned. For those, who have never been to the University City of Siegen, Germany (i.e. everyone): it is framed by mountain ranges that block wind and weather, resulting in the local byname “the arctic rainforest”. So while I’m not big on travelling, that was an actual value proposal. Taking the offer, would have meant loosing the semester, though. Not desirable, but doable, given that the money was right.

“What’s the pay?”, I asked. “Pay?”, he replied, with a wagging finger, “We offer you an all-inclusive trip to Spain (pocket money not included).” - the special perk was the pay?! My classmate and I looked at each other’s face and immediately left laughing. Sadly, I didn’t bother keeping tabs on the guy or the software, if it was ever made…

So, what’s the moral of the story? Frankly, there is none. I didn’t take the offer, so I didn’t get burned by it. But I’m pretty sure there is plenty of devs who get roped into jobs because the special perk is getting paid in company stock (“will be worth millions, once we sell the company to… someone!”), without realizing that making you own stake is actually just an incentive to self exploit and a gamble that will not pay off with the majority of startups.