You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss

Paul Graham says The guys on the scavenger hunt looked like the programmers I was used to, but […]

Paul Graham says

The guys on the scavenger hunt looked like the programmers I was used to, but they were employees instead of founders. And it was startling how different they seemed….
I was in Africa last year and saw a lot of animals in the wild that I’d only seen in zoos before. It was remarkable how different they seemed. Particularly lions. Lions in the wild seem about ten times more alive. They’re like different animals. And seeing those guys on their scavenger hunt was like seeing lions in a zoo after spending several years watching them in the wild.

Well, other than the fact that anyone willing to get sucked into a company team-building scavenger hunt is already a different species….

but yes, employee-ship is different. You see it over and over again; company acquired, employees leave as soon as contractual handcuffs fall off (and some before that.)

But there is one theme is his essay I dislike: the use of the word humans (I dislike his emphasis on prgrammer as well, but one fight at a time.) Are all humans alike? Uh, no.

One big mistake I made when I was first a manager was assuming all designers were alike, and that they were all chomping at the bit to make crazy big things. In particular, there was one designer who just churning out banners. I figured s/he was dying to do something a bit more meaty; but when I moved this designer onto an interactive project they were simply miserable and no amount of extra mentoring time made a lick of difference. Only retuning this person to their 9-to-5 ad slot job returned their equilibrium and — yes it’s shocking– joy. Since then I have seen many other folks suffer; big problem people stuck on a website when the redesign was over slowly going mad with “optimization,” and optimization people getting the deer-in-a-headlight look when it’s time to start a big project for a new product line.

More recently, I’ve seen employees star-struck by the silicon valley startup stories suffering in silent embarrassed misery, able only to leave by proclaiming the company f*cked up, which –even if true– is an excuse for getting the hell out. Is joining a tiny startup a good idea? Hey, we promise you roller coaster thrills AND all the visits to office depot for ink cartridges you can eat (literally, since we can’t really replay your expense account. Want some more stock?)

When you are in a start-up and like it, it’s hard to quantify why it’s so awesome. No health insurance, you get to figure out what’s wrong when the network doesn’t work, you get to deal with the blue screen of death yourself, you get to answer the six a.m. east coast what’s this on my credit card call in exchange for what? Freedom to make your own crappy decisions?

It’s worth it for me.

I’m like a cat, only slightly domesticated. I’m not a wolf, I won’t die inside a company, but if you dump me on the side of a highway I’ll be fine. Perhaps a bit wilder than that: every so often I have to go walkabout, with no guarantee of return to my food dish.

But there is no shame in being dog-people, and I hate that Paul Graham’s essay suggests there is something wrong with you if you are.