Sometimes a Job is a Job

This is a bit of a follow-up to my prior blog Impressive vs Profitable, and was spurred by the recent New York Times opinion piece Congratulations, You've Been Fired! by Dan Lyons. Now, I haven't read his book, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Second Tech Bubble, but I tend to agree with a lot of what I read in the description. I'm too cheap to buy the book, but I've put it on hold at the library, and I'll post my thoughts on it whenever I do read it although that might be a while seeing as I'm number 25 on the waiting list and there are no copies yet.

More on point, sometimes a job is just a job. From my experiences in tech, a lot of young people think that their jobs, which include 'disrupting' and a whole host of ridiculously unsustainable benefits, somehow make them world changing individuals. A person I know fairly well once quipped how they'd saved tens of thousands of peoples time by reducing latency on a feature in software. Well, halving the latency in milliseconds is a good thing, but it's hardly life changing. Being a civil engineer, or a marketing agent, or even an efficient employee at McDonald's could arguably have a similar sort of impact. It is true that code is a tremendously well-scaling thing. One person's code can be used by a ton of people, and it's pretty obvious that when you push something to the newest build that everyone will use it. But a huge percentage of skilled jobs work in this way. There is a tendency to say that "My code is life-changing because x people use it" but I'm not sure that's a good benchmark. Advertising and marketing impacts all of us near constantly but I'm not sure that makes marketing people life-changing. Certainly code can have a lot of positive impact, and I'm not trying to lessen what programmers are doing. But I don't think it's life-changingly positive in the way that software developers and engineers like to describe it.

In the case of HubSpot it appears that Lyons contends that people see their software as innovative and positive and life changing. This certainly is a good narrative, but ultimately HubSpot is an online advertising firm. While it's not quite Don Draper/Mad Men, I don't think anyone would say that he's doing god's work at his job.

From Wikipedia:

HubSpot provides a software product for inbound marketing also called HubSpot.It includes tools for social media marketing, spam, content management, web analytics, landing pages and search engine optimization, among others.

Wow, they make tools for spam. Is there anything wrong with this? I don't think so. There is a market for spam, and somebody is providing it.

But look at their page and they're some sort of transformative wonderful thing to work for. Transforming the world of advertising! Disrupting existing markets! Woo!

I think the most bizarre thing in tech is this feeling that it's a bunch of pseudo-philanthropists in t-shirts. I'm no advocate of Richard Stallman and the "All software must be free software" mantra, but on the other hand, it's odd to me that there is such buyin from employees. Perhaps it's because the work-life separation has merged and people really want to feel good about what they're doing for buckets of money. It's hard to say.

There isn't anything wrong with having a job where you make software for marketers. Or write software to allow ride-sharing, or to implement file sharing or anything else. But these things aren't philanthropic, they're profitable, and they're very rarely truly revolutionary or transformative. More commonly, you're just working for a company, doing work so they can make more money. If you enjoy what you're doing, or the pay is so good you want to, or any other personal reason, you should probably stay there. But if you're working there to make a difference, you're probably doing it wrong.