May 10, 2006

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I’ve been thinking a bit about why I’ve had such lousy luck finding good quality jobs. I mean, I’ve moved from a scumware company to an ad agency trying everything under the sun to get minuscule improvements in revenue, then on to a printing company that’s so busy expanding that they cannot see their infrastructure collapsing under its own weight.

The problem with each of these companies (scumware aside) is that they all bought into the “Netscape”-style rapid development model: produce a lot of junk, throw it up on the web, see what sticks. Netscape and the rest of the dot-coms could get away with that in the era when VC flowed like water, but in the post-bubble fund-pocolypse that business model just cannot last. It may sustain a small company (and the two former companies have, in fact, downsized tremendously) but it offers no long-term growth potential. People don’t realize how difficult it is to scale up ad hoc development, especially when your company becomes unpleasant enough that the churn rate becomes noticeable.

But this is not about them; this is about me. Why have I been landing in these companies?

I think the hint came to me last week, when I ended negotiations with a company that was staffed by — you guessed it — old Netscape refugees. I was dearly tempted to ask the question, “What did you learn from your mistakes?” but the answer quickly became obvious: absolutely nothing. The same attitude was there: we just need to keep adding smart people and miraculously quality software will emerge. No concept of the difficulty in throwing together a large number of egos; no questions about the overhead required when large software systems are built from disparate components.

The problem is that it’s nearly impossible to escape the downward spiral. Not only does a bad history lower the quality of the offers, but the very nature of the workplace makes it nigh impossible to resist any offer tended. Which means working in another place that makes the most ludicrous offers appear attractive. Suddenly criminal recidivism seems so clear.

“Most people deceive themselves with a pair of faiths: they believe in eternal memory (of people, things, deeds, nations) and in redressibility (of deeds, mistakes, sins, wrongs). Both are false faiths. In reality the opposite is true: everything will be forgotten and nothing will be redressed.”

— Milan Kundera

Or more simply: Lather. Rinse. Repeat.