Exec summary: There is a “burnout” meme that is gaining momentum in the valley. Scroll down for a not-insignificant collection of HN burnout posts. Startup employees choose startups for less job security and harder work because there’s the promise of a future reward. If the risk/reward/security/life balance doesn’t work for you then the Valley is filled with a rainbow of other options. Working very hard is not fun, but sometimes it’s necessary. These days we have the luxury of choosing whether or not we want to work hard.
Preamble: Before you unleash on me what was unleashed on Arrington, know that I don’t invest in startups and I have no vested interest in Silicon Valley employees working harder.
One of the early Netscapers wrote a scathing post responding to Michael Arrington’s claim that Silicon Valley startups are whining too much. While I disagree with much that Mike Arrington does and says, I do think he has a point.
The debate raging on hacker news claims that “VC’s” are making “employees” work crazy hours to enrich themselves. It leaves founders and early employees who own large chunks of stock completely out of the picture. In most early stage startups, the people working 80 hour weeks actually own the company. So suggesting that they are being exploited is absurd. In fact, even after a Series A round of investment, the founders often still own more than 50% of the company’s stock.
If you’re an employee in a startup, you have chosen a job with very little security, presumably because you are hoping for a large payday. If you don’t want to work long hours with high risk for the chance of a large reward, then you should choose a job that provides you with the work/life/risk/compensation balance that you want. If you’re in a startup and you didn’t make the conscious decision to work very hard for a company that could go bankrupt at any moment, then you weren’t thinking when you took the job. If you did make the conscious decision, then it’s because you wanted the chance of a large reward. In other words, you have a high appetite for risk and hard work and you’re greedy, and that’s OK.
In case you feel you’re alone working long hours, medical residents work extremely long hours that were capped only recently to 80 hours a week after a class action lawsuit. And they don’t get stock. They’re simply hoping to earn a doctors salary.
Arrington does not have the monopoly on imploring his countrymen to work harder and whine less. Christine Lagarde, the current head of the IMF implored her countrymen in 2007 when she was French finance minister to “think less and work harder”. She caught hell from a culture that works 9 to 5 with a 2 hour lunch break when almost the entire country shuts down. Of course she was asking them to increase working hours from 35 to 40 hours a week.
My advice to you is this: Working very hard is not fun, it doesn’t make you feel good and it is bad for your health. But sometimes in life it’s necessary. In our lifetimes with no world war raging, surrounded by prosperity, good health and free access to education and information, a little extra work won’t kill you. If you still feel like a victim and you’re in the Bay area, go take a tour of the USS Pampanito – a World War 2 submarine – and find out what “hard work” really means. [Make sure you check out the awesome KitchenAid mixer in the galley. I'm hatching a mission impossible plan to steal it.]
The burnout meme has been gaining momentum in the last 4 months. These are a handful of burnout related HN posts that made it to the front page with their date and their front-page rank. One absurd post caught my eye that tries to parlay a passing comment by Linus Torvalds into proof that he too has had a burnout.
2011-10-04 09:40:01 Am I burnt out? Or just not suited for this job? – 4
2011-11-21 11:30:01 Ask HN: How do you know if you’re burnt out or just being lazy? – 3
2011-09-24 03:20:01 Burnout Prevention and Recovery (the MIT stance) – 8
2011-11-29 05:50:01 Burnouts, VC Cons And Slave Labor: A Marxian Drama – 5
2011-07-11 23:00:01 Hire me: a story of developer burnout and how I want to turn it around – 2
2011-09-01 15:20:02 How I got a burnout – 1
2011-09-01 08:50:01 Linus Torvalds and Others on Community Burnout – 3
2011-09-02 08:50:01 Part 2: How I dealt with a burnout – 2
2011-09-01 16:50:01 Startups: Live longer, don’t burnout – 16
And here’s some stuff that did not make it to the home page:
2011-07-08 17:50:01 Ask HN: Dealing with Burnout
2011-07-15 20:30:01 The burnt-out generation
2011-07-28 01:20:01 6 Ways to Battle Stress & Burn-Out On the Go
2011-08-02 00:20:01 Burned out on programming?
2011-09-01 23:30:01 Ask HN: Going Through a Crisis/Burnout – Advice
2011-09-02 20:20:01 Burnout, Crunch, and the Games You Play
2011-09-05 09:30:01 How a burnout changed my life
2011-09-07 02:40:01 Fatigue and burnout: drop-outs, deprived, or the vanguard?
2011-09-22 03:50:01 Solyndra’s burnout burdens other solar upstarts
2011-10-21 16:00:02 Ask HN: Finding the perfect job for the burned-out developer
2011-11-14 19:10:01 Why Millennial Women Are Burning Out At Work By 30
2011-11-17 15:20:01 Burnout
2011-11-23 02:40:01 CEOs: Burning bright or burning out?