The Economist peeks under the skirts of the top tech firms and finds what people in my field have known for a long, long time:
However, a career as a software developer or engineer comes with no guarantee of job satisfaction. A survey last year of 5,000 such workers at both tech and non-tech firms, by TINYPulse, a specialist in monitoring employee satisfaction, found that many of them feel alienated, trapped, underappreciated and otherwise discombobulated. Only 19% of tech employees said they were happy in their jobs and only 17% said they felt valued in their work. In many areas they were even more discontented than non-tech workers: 36% of techies felt they had a clear career path compared with 50% of workers in areas such as marketing and finance; 28% of techies said they understand their companies’ vision compared with 43% of non-techies; and 47% of techies said they had good relations with their work colleagues compared with 56% of non-techies.
No amount of talent or effort can make up for having chosen to work at Sidecar, a ride-sharing service which shut down in December, rather than Uber or Lyft, its still-expanding rivals. Moreover, tech startups typically attract talent by offering shares. Employees work like dogs in return for supposedly making a fortune when the firm goes public. However, such firms often use multiple classes of shares that preserve the biggest gains for insiders, leaving the employees with common stock that can easily lose value. In particular, startups have taken to offering later-stage investors guarantees that they will get their money back, if either a subsequent funding round or an eventual initial public offering (IPO) values their shares at a lower price than they are paying. When firms have to pay out on such guarantees, they generally do so by issuing extra shares, which dilute other common shareholders such as their staff.
The tech industry offers fabulous rewards for a fortunate few: almost half of the world’s billionaires aged under 40 are tech types. It offers a wonderful life for many thousands more: they get to make serious money by turning science fiction into reality. But the industry is also rife with disappointments: endless toil that produces meagre returns; and dreams of reinventing the world that turn into just another tough and insecure job.
Sounds about right. It also sounds like the TV business, which, as Hunter Thompson once summed up, "is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason." Tech sometimes looks like that, too.