If you really want a clue about what life in a new company is going to be like, arrange to have your prospective boss take you to lunch, and let them drive. If they drive like a crazed lunatic, chances are good that they'll run their projects (and you) the same way.
dws, you don't know how right you are. My company works very closely with a demolition company. The owner not only drives his car like a maniac (he did donuts on I93, one of the busiest highways in the state), but he also operates his machinery the same way. I saw him try to demolish a building that even I could have brought down safely and there were bricks flying everywhere. A couple of cars got hit and if humans weren't made with "dodging" capability, many people would have been whacked too.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, your test is an excellent one and not only because it points out the type of work environment. Many people would endure that environment if it meant making more money. But what they don't understand is that if the owner doesn't have the self-control to (drive a car|run a business) it won't matter how much money they make because the job won't be there for long.
The demolition company I mentioned above has actually gone under three times in the past decade. All due to litigation. The only reason why the owner is still in business is because he always has a "backup" company so that when his current company starts to go under fire he just transfers everything to the "backup" and dissolves the old company.
This is a more extreme example of what you're talking about, but whose to say there aren't other bosses like him?
Update: Due to several complaints, removed signature
Personally, work environment is a big deal to me. I think that a company that makes the employee feel more at home and less stressed about being -at- work, is a company that is more productive and just generally a fun(ner) place. And I think thats the longest run-on sentence I've ever written. As far as pants required.. if I work from home, I dont have to wear pants. :)
Languages arent that big a deal. I've always gone along with the idea of "If I dont know it, I'll learn it. What could it hurt. Well, unless its Java"
Offhand, I have no problem with work environment, per se. If they want me to wear a suit and tie, if they're fine with me wearing blue jeans, if they prefer "dress casual", I really don't care. Free coffee, snacks, pinball? Been there, done that. WinNT, Linux? So what? (though I won't do mainframes anymore).
Now I realize that many won't wear a tie or will only work with Linux and that's fine for them. What I want to know is how they develop their software? I'd prefer to work with a company at least level 3 on the software maturity model. Level 1 is strictly individual effort and heroics. All is chaos and documentation is practically scorned at. I have worked for three level 1 companies and I can tell you how excruciating it is.
Now, this may just be me, but the level 1 companies that I have worked for like to offer their employees free beer after hours, some have ping pong and other games available for "stress breaks." Having Quake mini-tournaments in the middle of the day is not unheard of. Why do they do this? For the same reason that many companies offer extra time off when you work overtime: otherwise, the stress will kill you. With no serious organization in place, not only is the stress daunting, but the software quality suffers. It just ain't worth it.
Unfortunately, I'm returning to a company that's level 1 and striving for level 2, but I'm going to take a chance as their new IS director has experience working with much larger organizations and he swears that he is going to improve things. Of course, they're also offering a good salary and I need to get back on my feet after my work abroad.
Summary: Don't let the temptation of an easy work environment or preferred OS/language buy you off. If they don't know how to develop software, you'll hate your job.
I turned down a perl job last year at sportal.com because of the work environment in their london office. They had nearly 100 staff in one huge room. No partitions. No carpet. Telephones galore.
If there is one thing that guarantees I'll hate a job, it's noise level. Give me a quiet little dark corner with no traffic, and I'll work like a demon. Put me in a noisy room full of sales-type-people and I'll barely be able to concentrate enough to look at pr0n the sales-type-people are emailling me.
I worked in that Sportal office for three months last
year. It wasn't the environment that put me off, but the
fact the management weren't particularly clued up. How
much confidence can you have in a company that uses
StoryServer as its content management system?
How about 'what they make'. I help make medical
equipment. Love it. Its rewarding. Its also a level 3
company. I was offered a lot more money to work in a
much more relaxed environment, in a place with a much
nicer climate, and I turned it down. Who wants to make
another damn cell phone?
A very good point. I used to work for a Co that made 3-page websites for tourist operators. Then I'd have to try to trick people to visit/stay on the site - making me feel like a used car salesman.
Since then, the most rewarding work I've done is on community websites. There, (like here), you can pop into the chatroom and meet the users. I find it much more fulfilling to actually be producing something that the users enjoy. Vroom, you've got a good job :)
I think that dress codes or the lack of say a lot about any company or organization.
I don't care what I am offered. I don't want to be told how to dress.
Or "talked" to because I wear my favorite shirt with african masks printed on it with my
Winnie the Pooh Bermuda shorts and some sandals.
Especially if I don't meet the "public".
A couple of other non-obvious things to screen for when interviewing:
Bureacracy. Ask people what the procedure is for buying a work-related book. Assuming that the answer isn't "we can't buy books" (bzzzt!), ask what the procedure is for being reimbursed. It's not uncommon to in Silicon Valley to have a "if you need it, go buy it and submit and expense report" or "ask me first" policy, but some places go overboard in how much time and expenese they'll incur to basically tell you "no". If a company is going to burn through an hour of administrative time to tell you that you can't spend $40 on a book that might save you 10 hours of work, they're being stupid. Life is too short to work for needlessly stupid companies.
Lighting. As your eyes get older, the effect of florescent lights + basic, low-refresh rate monitors becomes harder to live with. If you're starting to have problems, make sure you won't be living in a veal-farm of cubicles, with no direct outside light, and no way to turn off the florescents. Life is too short to go home with eyestrain headaches every day.
After much thought, it does seem that i really wouldn't want a job with vroom.
This is in no way associated with vroom himself, but more the fact that if the company has someone as good as vroom (who we know is good, because of this fine specimen) and they settle for someone as poor at perl as i am, they must be desperate.
Which means they could be a web-startup (read: going down in flames in 6 months or less nowadays).
Or it could be a non-web business that undertook such a large project with such a bad manager (hiring people to help after the project's begun can be a really bad idea :) that the business is sure to go down. If not the business, at least the department i got hired in. So some people will be downsized (like me), and that would make it a temp job which really isn't that worthwhile to me right now...
Mwahhahahaha. I didn't realise I was the only one who went to work without pants. I have even done phone support completely stark-as. I hope the clients couldn't figure out why I would giggle randomly during the conversation.
I didn't believe in evil until I dated it.
Work Environment all the way, though I can see tie ins to
the other choices.
Is their flex time "Be here by 8am, 1 hour lunch, and you can take
off at anytime after 5pm"? or is it actual flex time?
What are the politics like? Do people seem to be in fear of
something? Are they happy?
I think dws's question about
book buying is brilliant. It shows how they act in
other areas as well. I had to write a five page
report on why the company needed large capacity backup once.
Bottom line: Pay $10/hr to pay someone to stuff tapes
~$300/week or pay $1000 dollars for a backup that would
work everynight. I don't know why I stayed there as long
as I did...
These companies tend to overspend money
at the last minute, but not when it can save money in the
Cube farms: I really truly hate them. It's not the
noise factor as much as t might just be
me being paranoid, but I can't stand having people walk up
behind me and wait for me to notice them. Or loudly say
"Hey!" and get offended when you wheel around like a mad
Vacation time: I'm sick of the standard two week
arrangement. I'm actually on a quest to get a decent
wage and decent vacation. (My last job died due to
complaints that I took too much time off. Of course
I had given them when I'd be gone before being hired...)
Hours: I've done the jobs where heroic measures are
rewarded. "You worked over Xmas break? here's a
crisp $100 bill!" It's rarely worth it. When the whole
company is like that, why would they want to hire more
people to get everyone down to 40 hour weeks?
Programming language is always a consideration, of course, but I absolutely hate working for people who think that as you are a professional you must wear a tie. Why? Does the pressure around the neck trap blood in the brain making you think better?
Well, the reason that I would have wanted to pick would be:
The company that is offering you the job
I have refused work in the past for companies that I would not work for - notably a large tobacco company. Not that I am rabidly anti-smoking, but I would not work for a tobacco company. I guess even if we have sold out bodies and minds, we still don't have to sell our souls or ethics.
If you would have had the power to read through the whole comment, he said that he would not work for a place that would go against his moral beliefs e.g. a tobacco company. Don't pass judgement on three words because that is too easy. Stop with the smart comments, and hear the full story before you reply.
All these reasons are important... however, for me if I can't wear flip flops and shorts as they try to run me ragged and pressure me into bad coding (none have succeeded at this yet) to meet deadlines. Then why even try, to deal with the other reasons of not accepting a job?
How about a job where the only person who fully understands the product the company
is producing are the two founders?
Wow, that brings back memories.
When I first got out of school, I interviewed for a
job where I would be doing the programming for a scientific
experiment that was due to fly on the space shuttle.
Sounds great, doesn't it?
I went down to University of Maryland for the interview, and the
folks there liked me fine. Everyone there was really nice,
and it seemed like a good job in many ways. But there
was one glaring problem.
Nobody there could tell me what the experiment was about
or what my programs would have to do. Nobody knew.
They kept saying what a shame it was that I had come down to
visit on the day when Dr. so-and-so wasn't around, because
he could have told me everything. Hmmmm.
I was too green to know whether it would be easy or hard to
get another job offer, whether I was being wise or foolish
in throwing away the opportunity.
I hadn't yet learned that my instinct (Run! Run away!) was
absolutely correct. But
even then I knew the smell of trouble, and I didn't
take the job.
A year and a half later, when their shuttle went up,
the apparatus wasn't on it.
Reading this thread I got to think of a certain fortune
cookie. It goes like this:
"I went to a job interview the other day, the guy asked me
if I had any questions, I said yes, just one: If you're
in a car traveling at the speed of light and you turn your
headlights on, does anything happen? He said he couldn't
answer that, I told him sorry, but I couldn't work for
-- Steven Wright
It is a joke, of course, but I find that it holds quite a
bit of truth in it. It is the tradition that the (potential)
boss quizzes you to find out if your skills are ok. But
(for me, at least) it is also important to find you if my
new boss (and my new co-workers) are smart guys (and gals).
Chances are, that if you are the kind of person who reads
Knuth for fun, you will be happy and work effectively
with other people who share your interests.
I am not bashing people who find physics or math boring --
just saying that people with similar interests usually
communicate more effectively and hence have more fun at
The day before I started a new job I voted for commute,
which turned out to be the right vote. My estimated
3 hour daily commute became a hypothetical 4 hour,
a temporary 5 hour, and a grueling 5.5 hour daily
commute in the 2 days I made it to work. The first
day I didn't even go to work because there was supposed
to be a train strike, which instead took place after
The first day's commute took 5 hours. I figured I'd
be able to trim that down once I got used to the route.
The second day seemed to confirm that theory. I made
it to the office in 2 hours and estimated the return
trip would take the same time. There didn't seem to
be much room for optimization beyond that as I hadn't
missed any connections nor spent a lot of time waiting.
Some waiting was of course inevitable in a commute
consisting of walk, metro, train-with-levitating-room-only,
train, and walk.
I was seriously considering looking for another job by
the time I squeezed in to the train on the way home. By
the time I got off that train I was certain.
The crowded train ride should have been a short trip
from SW Amsterdam to SE Amsterdam. Shortly after the
stop before mine, my ticket was checked without comment.
I was wondering why it was taking so long when the train
rushed through a station without stopping--a station
NE of Amsterdam. When it passed through Hilversum as
well without even slowing down, I started to worry.
Finally the train did stop at Amersfoort, which is about
50 km past the stop I wanted (Duivendrecht).
I got home around 21:30, still wondering how I could have gotten
on the wrong train because I was certain the sign had listed
a stop at Duivendrecht. According to the train company's website,
the engineer, not I, had been on the wrong train.
There's no escaping solidarity, so I quit (by email, as there was a strike the next day).