Tech Stories: Hidden Toxicity

One of my favorite companies I worked for was the aforementioned race parts ecommerce company over in Irvine. At the start, it was friendly, had a sense of work/life balance and low pressure. That began to change once the company’s investors began pushing to hire big time with a target goal of around 200 people. As with any company where more people enter, certain personalities start to dominate. But that would manifest down the line in a very chilling manner.

Early on, the people didn’t really bother me for the most part as I was protected from dealing with the usual company politics as a developer. Probably, the only two things that directly affected me were this Australian guy, who kept pushing me to do a job that really wasn’t my responsibility, and an external contractor, who wasn’t a great coder but always complained and was partly responsible for the horrid code base.

Once more people started showing up like the marketing department and increase in data entry people, the company began feeling tighter. One of the data entry people, an Asian guy, just before heading out to lunch, grabbed me and was talking about how the business model didn’t make any sense. We weren’t really pulling in big numbers at the time and were solely dependent upon the venture capital money to keep us going. But the thing that irked him the most was how the entire management team was composed of white people, who probably made over 100k a year.

Now, normally that never really would bother me. But it did strike me as something to examine throughout my career from that point on as the idea of diversity was instilled in me via my studies in humanities over at UC Irvine. However, the idea that the upper management were pulling in over 100k per year while we probably made at best around 100k per month was more worrisome.

I couldn’t really complain at the time about my salary just because I had so little experience and was just trying to survive in this growing industry. Heck when I received my raise, it was huge for me. But I won’t go into detail except that I was probably getting severely ripped off, even at my level of experience.

Anyway, down the line we hired some marketing people, one guy who was the director. They would have the typical marketing parties and none of the tech people nor data entry people would be invited. It was always those closed room type of things where we’d be looked at like freaks and peons for our career choices while the marketing people were jerking each other off in their own little world of self-praise.

Either way, more pressure started to build internally as growth was the key back then. The idea was that the VCs wanted to see young companies like these physically grow to resemble “real” companies in terms of structure. Unfortunately, so few had solid business plans and being that early on in the business meant that you needed something else to stay alive at the time.

For myself nothing really changed as things were steady. We ended up hiring some Perl guru from the OC area. I recall distinctly how he made an uncomplimentary remark about some Perl class I made. While that part was true, I wasn’t all that happy about things and the way I was being treated. So I decided that because I still was earning so little yet having time at night, that I would start looking for side work.

Fast forwarding a bit, I left the company to work for the people search company and later would go to Japan. The following year was just incredibly harsh for virtually every tech company as more and more companies felt early graves as VCs began pulling their funds. The race parts company was no exception in this and they were forced to announce a pretty large layoff.

Now, prior to Techcrunch for dirt sheets, you had Fuckedcompany.com. You can think of it like a Techcrunch with the aids-like community of a 4chan prior to those sites coming out and/or growing huge. Pretty much if you ended up on Fuckedcompany.com, you were dead in the water. Sure, not all companies were completely dead but they might as well have pulled the plug.

Fuckedcompany.com though was a cathartic entity as ex-employees (or even current employees) could vent their frustrations with their anonymous style postings. There were a few really nasty comments that were made between the marketing director and one of the other people in that department. It was borderline slander and made me sad to see how so-called professionals would quickly degenerate into junior high school taunting juveniles. One comment even referred to the more-or-less useless VP’s bald head and dick size as being a key cause in the failure of the company.

Through all that shit talking, I quickly realized the passive-aggressive nature of people. Yet I couldn’t tell at that time how much subtle tension there was not to mention backstabbing. Honestly, I never really started understanding the nature of company politics and truly toxic corporate environments until working in Japan for Nikko Citigroup. But this situation was sad to me because at least from my viewpoint, I really liked most people at that company. Honestly, without them I probably would’ve quit the industry a long time ago because that company gave me the opportunity that most weren’t willing to provide.

It’s a real shame that most of the other people didn’t seem to move up and learn from that experience. Maybe one guy that I know made something from that. But the rest just disappeared into obscurity. It’s possible that most just ended up going back to normal, non-tech jobs just because of how things went down, leaving a poor taste of the growing tech industry.

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