Work and Value

More about The Quitting Economy

It’s kind of a truism in the tech world that if you want to get promoted, you should just find a new job. It’s way easier to get promoted that way than internally. A few reasons:

  1. Companies tend to tell employees, “if you want to be promoted from level 3 to level 4, start performing at level 4 and then we’ll promote you at the next promotion cycle.” (probably 6 months.) A watchful reader might notice that, if you’re performing at level 4, company B might want to hire you at level 4, and by taking that offer you can get promoted to level 4 immediately instead of waiting 6 months!
  2. “Performing at level 4” is pretty arbitrary. Companies try to make it not-arbitrary by making rubrics. Those say things like “Level 4 scopes work on their own, takes responsibility for large features, and has department-wide impact.” Each of those is still pretty arbitrary, so “are you performing at level 4 at company A?” is pretty arbitrary. One thing that’s not arbitrary: “Will company B pay me a Level 4 salary?”
  3. Sometimes (always? at least sometimes!) promotions are budgeted out. Maybe your team has 2 people who “are performing at the next level”, but you only have budget for 1 promotion. (The watchful reader might notice that this means every IC1 is always competing with their coworkers! Maybe if you’re in charge of Company A, that’s not the kind of culture you’re trying to create. Alas, it is the culture you have created!)
  4. Certain kinds of personal improvements lead to promotions. “Manager-type” improvements are the best! You’ll become a manager, probably get promoted (though “manager and IC tracks are parallel”), and have much more access to higher ranks in the future. “PM-type” improvements are the second best. If you’re an IC but you can Make Big Projects Happen, then you can say “look, I led to us making $1 zillion” and everyone will nod and definitely promote you. “IC-type” improvements are not so valuable. If you just get better at writing code, you probably will not get promoted. (“but Dan, my company has parallel IC and manager tracks” yes but when you wanna get promoted on the IC track, you should do PM-type work.)

Given how difficult quitting/starting is, this seems not ideal! If I owned a company, I would simply promote my people quicker. ok, memes aside: I’ve joked that if I ran a company, everyone’s salary would just be $X + $Y * your age. This might make it harder to hire young people - but think of how nice it would be on the inside!

Corporate Money and Human Money

The world seems to operate on two scales, about an order of magnitude apart: Corporate Money and Human Money. Corporate Money is for housing, medical bills, college. Cars maybe. Human Money is for basically everything else.

If you earn Corporate Money, this is great: those big expenses get taken care of by the “corporate” part, and you can cover the Human Money part easily. If not, then you have to make all the Human Money costs work out, while also covering a couple of big Corporate Money costs!

This is a bummer because it seems like almost the only way to get Corporate Money is (surprisingly) to work for a corporation.

Playing on Fears on Purpose

Pop culture magnifies some fears and perceptions. For example, after Jaws, everyone got scared about shark attacks even though they’re such a small risk. Similarly, so many shows and movies show cops stopping a violent criminal in the act, that we imagine that this is most of what cops do, even though it’s a tiny, tiny fraction. We also overestimate the risks of being the victim of a violent crime.

I was talking with a friend about immigration, and I wondered what has magnified immigration fears. I don’t remember seeing movies about “immigrants taking our jobs” or whatever. My friend suggested zombie movies: they provoke a more primal fear of “my country is overrun.”

If this is what happens, I imagine that this is occasionally (though not usually) on purpose (more with cop shows than zombie movies).

With cops and immigration, amplifying fears supports the right. So what other movies can we make to play on other fears, in positive ways? Maybe dystopias, 1984 and the like, cultivate healthy fears of fascism? Or is the left at an asymmetric disadvantage here because fear is at its root a pretty right-wing thing?


  1. IC = “individual contributor” = “anyone who’s not a manager” ↩︎


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