What I don't miss about big companies
Update Sep 2017: I later wrote about some of the good parts. After you're done here, you should check that out, too.
I got a new job recently. Go me!
The old job was at a very large financial company. I won't say which one, but you would likely recognize it if I did. And I'm sure you could find out if you tried. The new job is with a tech start up. It's like night and day. So here's my take on what I'm glad to be rid of. There are of course trade offs, and I may write about the other side of the coin in the future. But, I want to write down this part while I'm still bothered by the bad parts of the old job.
The Org Tree
Easily the first place benefit is that I don't have to navigate the politics of a large office. I don't have to make up reports and presentations to support my VP's "grand vision". I don't have to play up every little bit of progress as though it's some ground breaking accomplishment. And when some other team starts doing that for themselves, I don't have to explain to my manager that I'm already familiar with that thing, it's not a big deal, and it wouldn't benefit us anyway or else I would already be doing it.
And bad reports on those metrics.
Here's a story: some director of something once wanted to see a trend on how many widgets per quarter his group was producing. So the director reached out to some managers who didn't know and had to run around asking their teams. The teams stopped actually producing widgets for a while to instead dig through their commit logs and sprint plans, made various differing assumptions, and then gave a few numbers to their managers. Then the managers had some meetings where they used those numbers in some spreadsheets along with even more assumptions, and then gave those spreadsheets to the director. And because managers like to feel like they know what's going on, they told their teams to update those spreadsheets every month. Nevermind that the teams work in sprints, not months, or that the data was of dubious quality to begin with. And now there are numbers, and someone can graph them, and everyone looks better when graphs go up; so sometimes the manager asks the team to be really really sure they counted all of the widgets, even the ones over there that don't actually work.
And here's how the story ends: the director predictably decides that widgets per quarter isn't actually very informative, and what would really be useful is a ratio of bugs to widgets. Second verse, same as the first. Except that the first number is a metric now, so everyone still has to keep reporting that, too.
I don't have to live that story anymore. If someone wants some analysis on something, they have they data. If someone wants to track progress on a thing, they can. And if they decide it's not worth the trouble anymore, they can stop.
When I started at the financial company it took me two weeks to get permission to access the git repos and jira boards that I would be using day to day. And that was just expected to be the case. I remember the two weeks number very clearly because my coworker told me on day one that no one gets anything done for the first two weeks. I was skeptical, but he was right. And that was just day to day access. There were tools and systems that in 3 years I never got permission to use. There were people in the department who's greatest contribution was that they had access leftover from before they transferred or before the access rules changed.
Now getting access to something means asking to be invited to a group, or for a password. The only thing I need to do to get access to something restricted is to actually need it, and ask for it.
Speaking of access, the things I'm getting access to now are all much easier to use modern tools. VCS is Github. Productivity tools are G Suite. I can't tell you how glad I am not to have to use Quality Center any more. Or a single company wide Jira instance with the mandated company wide project template that has 5,000 custom fields and takes a full minute to load my active sprint (and often won't load it all before 10am when everyone is having their stand ups). Or how I can use Slack instead of "Skype for Business" or—shudder—Sametime.
Honorable Mention: Meetings
I don't have the same hatred of meetings that most of my peers seem to. Maybe it's because I don't treat meeting invites like holy commandments, and I'll decline or skip the ones that I can't learn from or contribute to. Still I went from spending an average of 2ish hours per day in meetings to less than 1.