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I'm a web developer who previously joined a software company not knowing their value and respect went to big data analysis, not their website. Sure, they needed a public-facing website, but I eventually found that the most exciting, valued projects there went to data teams. Realizing this, members of the web team were picked off and switched teams, making it hard for those left behind to keep up the work load, and making us look bad. At times it seemed the company culture sneered at us, wondering, "What does that team even do here?"

A friend of mine had the opposite problem at another software company. All he wanted to do was crunch big numbers. However he complained that the rest of the company wouldn't shut up about developing the usability of their website. Meanwhile his analytics team languished.

I've also heard of salespeople getting love at a company, while engineering as a whole is undervalued, or vice versa.

As for my story, if I could have known the company was like that, I might have avoided the job in the first place.

So, before I join a new company, how do I gauge its actual respect for my programming role? For its other roles? I want to avoid companies that aren't serious about my particular focus in programming, or, perhaps bigger picture, companies that don't value everybody who works there.

(Note I think gauging the company's attitude toward the basic needs of its programmers is covered by these related questions.)

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Priorities (and favors) change with time, though. It's called corporate (re-)alignment, and it's critical to the company's survival (especially if survival has the same meaning as staying at the Global Top-10). –  rwong Oct 18 '10 at 0:32
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7 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

To get to the best case scenario:

  • At the end of the interview, you have a short conversation with the interviewers about the company's recent goals, visions, values and struggles. Also, ask them this question: given what they already know about your skills and experiences, in what way do they think you will maximize your contributions to the company. This only works if you believe they are genuine and not faking it.
  • During the office tour, watch carefully what the programmers are working on, and try to overhear their conversations. See what books they have on the table. Pay attention to those details.

To avoid the worst case scenario:

  • Read TDWTF. Usually, if a company has a serious corporate culture / alignment problem, your interviewers will be among the deeply affected, and you'll be able to sense it.
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I've had some interviews this week and I got great insight from the first bullet point. Combine this with Joonas's point that, "You have to win the respect by doing well not only what you consider your job to be, but also doing what the company needs," and you have the answer to my question. It was hard to pick just one! –  Bluu Oct 23 '10 at 17:40
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The only possibility that I can think of to gauge beforehand would be to either informally talk with someone there (in practice you should probably know someone personally), or trust rumors. Since these usually aren't very viable options, you just have to try working there, and if it sucks, quit.

Another thing is that the respect isn't readily there waiting for you to arrive. You have to win the respect by doing well not only what you consider your job to be, but also doing what the company needs. Since this tends to vary as a function of time, you should be equally flexible, too. That's what companies value.

I don't think there are too many companies who really don't value everybody working there; in fact, they're already valuing them very much by employing them and paying their salary. Of course, personal and political conflicts can make things look different at times. As can personal expectations; mainly looking for extrinsic praise is a recipe for misery.

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+1. As per your last paragraph, many companies will see software development, and sometimes IT as a whole, as a cost center (ie. necessary evil). That's what results in the lowered perception of their value imo. –  Steve Evers Oct 16 '10 at 6:29
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True; this is one of the jobs where your presence is best noticed when you screw up. –  Joonas Pulakka Oct 16 '10 at 6:45
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I'm not sure I agree with the fact that because a company employ and pay you it mean they value you. Like SnOrfus said, if they see you as a necessary evil they don't value you much in my view. –  n1ckp Oct 16 '10 at 9:15
    
Seems that we're debating about the definition of "valuing someone". If someone is expecting praise etc. to feel valued, so be it. I consider getting reasonably paid is sufficient from the employer (but I don't assume e.g. my friends give me money as an indicator of valuing me). –  Joonas Pulakka Oct 16 '10 at 10:02
    
No I did not mean that value = receiving praise. But I don't see money as very valuable myself (only a necessary evil). What I meant was more like respect. You don't need praise to have respect and is only what I ask. –  n1ckp Oct 16 '10 at 15:57
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Ask the hiring manager flat out, "How does the rest of the company perceive the value of your department? Are we seen as a cost center or a source of growth?"

Ask the people you'll be working with as part of the process. When you're offered the job, you say "I'd like to meet with the team I'd be joining," and then ask them at that point.

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Unfortunately, it seems like most people are too afraid to answer honestly: see Pierre's answer. –  rwong Oct 18 '10 at 0:35
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Ask anyway. Ask pointed questions to help get at the truth. It's the same thing a good interviewer does with you. The attitude of "unfortunately you probably won't get an honest answer" doesn't mean you get a free pass, where you can say "Oh, no point in doing my job as an interviewee just because I might get lied to." –  Andy Lester Oct 18 '10 at 0:40
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There are a number of ways, but as Joonas pointed out above -- if you can have an informal discussion with someone who works at the company you're interested in, that's definitely your best bet in finding out quickly how the company values your profession. It can also save you a lot of headaches of false promises.

A lot of companies like to preach innovation and the chance for you to make your mark with youthful ideas, but in reality -- they stifle you with old ways and insecurity. Those would be things I think you should try to take away from meeting with your future employer in interviews.

  • Do they actually have a grasp on modern technologies?
  • Do they seem excited about innovating and making life easier for their customers and employees?
  • Even simple things like... are they willing to accomodate your needs as a programmer?

You can run down the line of questioning here and elaborate to more specifics pretty easily. To be honest, I normally work my way up the ladder instead of down. If an employer isn't willing to accomodate me with programmer's bill of rights, I'm not really interested.

Perhaps that seems petty, but I actually quit a job once due to the fact that my computer at work simply could handle the work I was doing. That small, minute problem escalated into a full scale ignore campaign by my bosses. Instead of fixing the problem, they ignored it, and it become apparent that other things that I didn't notice before came to my attention. Innovation was actually being stifled instead of encouraged, and web sites became rather cumbersome due to ridiculous demands from management rather than usable.

Like I said, small examples, not true broad suggestions I suppose, but every little bit counts. But one of the things I avoid like the plague is hearing that the applications being built cater to a very computer-illiterate crowd. I know... that's probably not going to happen often, but if it does... run. Normally, that means you'll be sacrificing a lot of standard web usability stuff for things that don't make sense to anyone.

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I would say, it's impossible to know in advance unless you know (well) an existing employee of the company.

From my experience as being a consultant in many different companies, I've noticed that employees start to talk after 4 to 6 months approximatively. So don't expect to get any honest answer when you ask about the company to one of its employee before.

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Another point to consider is how the same title can apply to different departments. For example, some companies may have web developers in both information systems and product development departments, with somewhat different treatments in each.

If there are user groups applicable to your expertise,e.g. a .Net user group for developers that use a Microsoft stack, this may be another way to hear about various companies. Granted there may be biases to note but sometimes there can be useful things heard when a few people from a company get together to chat.

The maturity of the development process is something else to consider in where you work. Some people may prefer little structure and enjoy working in a cowboy like environment, while others may want the other extreme where there is lots of process. Some may want to be consultants that are sent to clients on a regular basis, while others may want to stay in the same office most of the time. Just something else to consider.

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Agree. It is a measure of how much respect a company has for the entire department (IT vs Product Development vs else). A department that gets more respect will receive more resources devoted to improvements and maturity. (Note that maturity doesn't imply heavy-handed processes/paperwork/non-agility.) –  rwong Oct 16 '10 at 23:49
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Try to find out precisely what product / service are they selling, and try to understand what part the specific team you're interviewed in is responsible for. It's likely that the more indirect the contribution is, the less value the company puts in that team.

I've noticed it myself in one of my previous work-places - the work may be very important and even acknowledged as such by co-workers in different teams, but an indirect contribution may not be as visible to the management as a direct one.

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