Original developers and non-workaholics beware

Here in New York, I'm working at a start-up company that is a few months away from their initial launch. This is a refreshing change of pace from where I used to work. In my previous job, I was the sole programmer, but not for a company whose main purpose was build software. Now, I'm part of a group of people, where we're all working together to complete a software project. It's an interesting experience for now, and I know it's going to be an awesome experience for me.

As many of you should know, working at a start-up that hasn't launched yet is hard. Really hard. Trying to build something that hasn't been done yet will definitely have its setbacks, and there's a high risk involved in the whole deal. Just a look at TechCrunch's so-called DeadPool, start-up companies who had to shut down for one reason or another - usually because they didn't have enough money to finish. Also, since these companies aren't actually generating any revenue while building their product, most of the times there's not a whole lot of people working at any given time. That means a ton of work for those involved.

Of course, I'm not saying start-up life is bad. On the contrary, it's been fun and exciting for me. I'm doing what I want to do for a company that has a great idea that, if all goes smoothly with no major bumps on the road, will enjoy massive amounts of success. And being one of the main persons to actually have constructed part of that success, it means there will definitely be rewards down the road. With this being said, lately I noticed a couple of articles with some people saying some... Well, I'm tempted to say 'stupid things', but I'm not one to pass judgement, especially to those I don't know personally.

The first one comes from Mike Mason, a software consultant, who advises start-ups to fire their original development team when the company has a successful launch. Of course, now that I'm part of a dev team who's with a start-up that hasn't launched yet, I definitely wouldn't want to be fired. But this article offers absolutely no valid points whatsoever as to why firing the original people who helped get the company to the "Promised Land" is a good idea. His main gripe is apparently this:

The problem I’ve found when working at startups-turned-enterprises is that the guys who built v1 of that web site are now running the IT department.

Yeah, this is a problem, definitely. But guess what? Who put the developers in charge of running IT? It's not the developers themselves - it's management. Why on Earth would a manager put a software developer in an IT role - a main position, at that - if they're not actually qualified to do the job? In this case, the developer who built the first version of the site should stick around, possibly as the lead developer for newer hires, while they're making their product better. For IT, hire someone who's actually qualified for what you want. That way, you have someone who know about your codebase actually working with code, while someone who knows about IT tasks can focus on that. Like the ol' lightning rod him, Zed Shaw, said in his blog about this post:

If you want to fire someone, it’s management. Fire the assholes who focused on making everyone cram for some shitty demo to moron VCs instead of focusing on the quality of the mother fucking code in the first place.

You just gotta love Zed, even if you don't agree with him most of the times. If you read Mason's blog post, he also has some more 'advice', like "Hire an expensive consulting company to help you build your systems better, and allow Chief Architect dude to ignore their recommendations" and "The minute you're successful, plan to rewrite your software from scratch". I admit I haven't had years of experience in the software development world, but honestly, it seems like this is just a plain bad idea mentioned by Mike here, and just reeks of being counter-productive to the entire company.

Another article I read that left me wondering what the hell the author of the article was thinking was written by Jason Calacanis, CEO of Mahalo, some human-powered search engine, who wrote some tips on how to save some cash when running a start-up. Most of the ideas sound really good, and I agree with most of them. But there was one item that caused a lot of debate around some other sites. Here's the original quote, as apparently the author noticed he put his foot in his mouth and edited it to sound "less harsh":

Fire people who are not workaholics…. come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. go work at the post office or stabucks if you want balance in your life. For realz

Whoa, so if I work for you, you're going to fire me if I don't work 12 hours a day, at least six days a week? For realz? Sorry, but I definitely wouldn't want to EVER work for you, even if you pay me ten times as much as I'm earning now. This idea of being a workaholic is just plain idiotic. Overworking leads to so many problems, it's not even worth it to mention all of them. Stress, bad productivity, bad decision-making, all of these are caused by people working more than they should.

It's sad to see that in this day and age, there are still people who view borderline slavery (i.e. making them work way too much) as the only way to be successful. People like these shouldn't be running companies at all. It's not about how much you work, it's how smart you work. David Heinemeier Hansson over at 37Signals' Signal Vs. Noise blog gives his take on this, and brings up some great points to do, what he says, "Fire the people who are workaholics!"

Of course, after a backlash around the Internet, especially in TechCrunch's aptly-titled post Calacanis Fires People Who Have A Life, Calacanis back-peddled and wrote a follow-up post where he said didn't actually mean it that way, and that he meant that the TechCrunch headline should be "Calacanis fires folks who don't love their work". This, I can agree with a bit more, but still, the post was just plain back-peddling, even if he doesn't want to admit it.

Calacanis goes on to ask two questions: "Can you have a life and work at a startup?" and "How do you manage stress?" The first one is easy: Yes, I can. I'm currently working in a start-up, and still have more than enough time to explore New York City, keep in touch with my friends and family, work on personal projects, and even write long, interesting blog posts. The second question, about managing stress, it's also easy: Don't be a workaholic. If you work all the time, if work is your life, of course you're going be stressed. Take some time away from work. Go do whatever relaxes you (please don't say work relaxes you, you liar). Take one day off, it won't be the end of the world or your start-up. Come back feeling refreshed and hopefully stress-free.

Working and/or managing a start-up is definitely no easy task. But don't think that working all the time or firing your original people because they'll run the rest of the operation to the ground will help. Work smart, keep your good people around and treat them well, and you'll see that your start-up will be successful. As long as your idea is good and you have the funding, of course!

Written by

Dennis Martinez

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