The 4P career evaluation system

1. People

Here is something no recruiter or job ad tells you about: the people you’re going to spend your time with — your colleagues and your customers. Sure there’s a line about working with “a world class team” or “top players” but the job ads or recruitment conversations are mostly focused on two topics: “your skills” and “their needs”. Many IT recruitment processes are broken because of this very important factor. I cannot even begin to count my personal observations for talented people who excitedly started a job at a “top company” only to find themselves struggling with team culture or the chemistry with their manager. The manager is so important that I have a separate post about it: The most important decision you make in your professional life and beyond. So let’s talk about the rest.

The “company culture” is a marketing myth. What you’re looking for is the “team culture” because each team is different.

The rule of thumb is to choose a company that lets you meet the team during the recruitment process. If you have the choice, always go for a team that values openness. Why openness is so important? Because it allows people from diverse walks of life to join forces together and create stronger products. Avoid homogeneous teams at any cost (unless it’s your first job). The most common demography for a software team is men in their 30’s. In my experience the greatest workplaces I’ve worked for have a healthy combination of male/female, introvert/extrovert, young/old, straight/LGBT, native/immigrant, etc. They don’t do it just to be nice to the society! This is way more important than that.

Each person brings something different to the table. We are not making products for males in their 30's!

Sadly I’ve learned it the hard way: at one job, the demography was noticeably different from any other company I have worked for: handsome male Swedes born in the 80’s was their formula for recruitment. When I referred a great British friend of mine to work with us, my manager dismissed the application saying: “our first priority is to hire locals and if we can’t find someone with our requirement we may consider people from other countries”. Needless to say all the awkward things Colin Moon jokingly says about Swedes where practiced! I quit and joined a very diverse company. I haven’t regretted a day ever since. The company parties are more genuine and fun (all those immigrants have different life stories to tell), the solutions are more practical (thanks to a diverse range of ideas) and generally I feel happier. (upcoming is a post about the 5 things your immigrant colleagues/classmates/friends secretly wish you knew).

If you don’t get a chance to meet your team during the recruitment process, you’re just gambling with your career.

2. Product/Project

Different companies have different cultures, but what’s common among all is that the type of the product they are building heavily affects the culture (more than people are willing to admit).

Your time is limited on this planet. If you’re working, these are probably the best years of your life with your body at its peak. Don’t sacrifice that quantity and quality for no meaning.

In Hit-Refresh Satya Nadella explains how seeking meaning in everything he does helped this Indian immigrant to lead Microsoft to become one of the world’s top companies. For me, this sense of meaning is very important. When I get up in the morning I want to feel that my day is not gonna be lost to money, but it’s going to be a great opportunity to push humanity forward. Call me spoiled but there’s no other way I can get off my bed.

3. Pay/Package

I’ll happily work for less money to get to work with great people and on an awesome product.

But not everyone thinks like that. We all have bills to pay and who doesn’t like a bit extra money? I have never been good at negotiation. My only strategy is to honestly tell what I make at my current job and usually the employer tops it up 5000 SEK (roughly 500$/month increase). At the end of one recruitment process, I had a strange call from my to-be manager. He said: “Alex we really liked you during the interview and we want to work with you but we cannot match the salary of your previous employer so we want you to go down 4%. I liked their product so I agreed. It was only after I started the job that I realized not everyone makes sacrifices about the money as easy as I did.

Don’t get me wrong: their pays were not higher than mine but I ended up with colleagues that estimated their worth correctly (or adjusted the amount of effort they put to work accordingly).

In The Passionate Programmer, Chad Fawler says: “Always be the worst guy in every band you’re in. — so you can learn. The people around you affect your performance. Choose your crowd wisely.” I really didn’t feel like the worst guy and that started to hurt after a few months. It seriously affected the tech skills, ambitious and potentials that the company had at its disposal to deliver products. Some bad decisions where made and executed even worse. This affected the quality of the product and eventually many people left including me.

If the company pays below the market range, you may end up working with people with the matching it and producing products with average quality.

The pay factor is usually correlated to the product and people:

  • top talent usually doesn’t sell themselves cheap, hence a company that has managed to hire skilled people often pays better to keep its human assets

4. Place

The country matters

For example in the nordic region, all countries enjoy a good educational system but Sweden accommodating almost double the population of Finland or Norway is home to many famous digital companies (Spotify, Skype, Mindcraft, etc.). Even Google, Microsoft and Amazon have offices there to take advantage of the market.

The city matters

The offices in bigger cities usually enjoy a bigger pool of job seekers competing against each other to fill a position. Therefore the employers have the upper hand to hire top skilled people.

The region matters

If the place is central and easy to commute to, it absorbs talented people from a wider geographical range. Turns out not so many people want to work in a corner of the city, even if all the other factors (people, product, pay) are great. Weaker competition means less chance to hire top people. It’s not odd that this factor has a strong correlation with the previous factors:

  • the easier it is to access the workplace from a wider geographical area, the more chance the company has to hire top talent

The workplace matters

The days of open office are over but is the employer willing to go the extra step and give up some of the precious space in favor of efficiency and productivity? Many top workplaces provide decent amount of mingling and meeting rooms, comfortable chairs and raising tables. Despite being the last item in the list, this is probably the one that affects your work life every day. Ideally you get the chance to see the workplace before signing the contract.

The place is not just a geographical lat:long. It’s the definition of territory at the core of a brain that’s evolved for our hunter-gatherer species.

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