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I am working in a startup. The tech team is small. The company looks like economically is doing fine. So we are hiring new developers. A new one is coming in a month. This person contacted me on LinkedIn and asked me my opinion about the company.

Here it is were the problem arises. The company is not a good place for a developer with a minimum of self-love: the codebase is terrible, tons of spaghetti code, patterns are not followed or are wrongly implemented, no linting, no tests, no peer review, no style guidelines, no continuous integration, huge bugs on production and a technical debt that every day rises and will never be paid (refactoring would require days if not weeks). Unless it is a real blocker tickets about bugs are forgotten.

There are also issues about planning: time needed is constantly underestimated, and often there are big changes made on requirements at the very last minute before the deadline. This had the consequence of having to work some weekends from home. Obviously not paid work.

The technical manager does not have as a priority code neatness. The rest of the team are great work mates, but due to time constraints the code they write is not as great. There are always features to deliver. "Make it work (at any cost)" is the ultimate goal.

I have been working on many other companies and I can fortunately say that what happens at this company is not normal.

Definitively, this company is not an attractive choice if someone was aware of all these issues.

What should I say to this newcomer? Should not I reply at all if I do not want to get into trouble?

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    If you choose to communicate with this person, set up a phone call or face-to-face. Writing an email or linkedIn note where you potentially describe issues that turn away this new hire before he sets foot could backlash against you if the email gets quoted or shared. – teego1967 Nov 25 '17 at 14:33
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    @JoeStrazzere 1) Yes, in my opinion, if a developer would be aware of all these things I doubt they would choose to work here. One thing is challenge, this is chaos. 2) I'm leaving soon. – DunCat Nov 26 '17 at 22:38
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    Consider it this way: just because you have decided this isn't a work environment for you and decided to move on doesn't mean someone else will also hate it. I've seen people absolutely flourish within such chaotic environments... imho, just don't respond. – NotMe Nov 28 '17 at 4:02
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What should I say to this newcomer? Should not I reply at all if I do not want to get into trouble?

You look out for yourself first. If you think for some reason you would get in trouble, then you remain silent. If not, then you can be more honest in your answers.

I've never been worried about being in trouble, perhaps because I wouldn't work for a company where honesty was a problem. On several occasions I was part of the interview team for some new hires outside my department. A few asked questions about the company, their potential manager, the state of the department in which they would work, etc.

I was always honest.

Personally, I think it makes a lot more sense to hire informed folks who want to be in your company and who want to stay a while, rather that hire candidates who will be surprised and potentially unhappy later on.

I always preface my remarks by indicating that I am talking from my point of view only, and that others might view things differently.

But no company is perfect. Many companies are good places in which to work in spite of their flaws. And we all have different tolerances for these flaws.

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What should I say to this newcomer? Should not I reply at all if I do not want to get into trouble?

You tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Although everything you have said seems like a detractor for someone who is incoming, for others it is seen as a challenge, a fun challenge.

If you are concerned that your words will scare away the developer, ask yourself, if they were intimidated by the mere prospect of a difficult development environment, how would they actually fare when they start?

If you aren’t honest, you set different expectations for the incoming developer. Which may or may not cause additional grief if they didn’t know what they were signing up for. You want people who are smart, willing to sacrifice, and are tough as nails when it comes to punching through a brick wall of problems.

If you are concerned about if your words will come back to haunt you. Run this request by your CTO and decide on a plan of action that is both honest (things are messy and should be fixed) and representative of the overall goals of the company (to hire people, slowly reduce the technical debt, and offer better quality code to clients).

I am sure your CTO is knowledgeable of the detriments to poor code, but the bigger picture is that not everything can be covered in a start up. There are limited resources and development cycles that be dedicated to specific tasks (like debugging and testing). Hiring more people is one step of many to resolve the problems in the long run.

Sweeping things under the rug will only cause grief. You are the expert, so is your CTO: plan, execute, revise, repeat.

(Don’t forget to document!)

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Regarding sharing information with prospective employees:

  • Tell the objective truth, do not share your (negative) opinion

    They may very well have a different opinion and the company may believe you're unhappy if they find out about your negative opinions, so it would be better to stick to the facts and let them judge it for themselves.

    "X is terrible" is an example of something you should not say, "spaghetti code" is also fairly subjective, tending towards negative.

    Sharing positive opinions shouldn't do much harm.

  • Try to phrase everything in a neutral or positive way

    "Most bugs are just forgotten" might be true, but that still sounds very negative and conveys a negative opinion (refer to the above point).

    Try to find the positive in that way of doing things.

    "We don't do a lot of bug-fixing, we tend to focus more on new development" sounds a whole lot better, but still conveys the fact that low-priority bugs may just be ignored.

  • Consider just answering their specific questions

    While you could just list everything that stands out to you, a better approach might be to just give a vague answer about liking working there (or give a short answer focusing on the things you find most significant) and ask if they have any specific questions.

    If you list a bunch of things they see as slightly negative, but not particularly important, this will probably (unjustifiably?) push their overall opinion towards the negative (the same applies to positive things, for that matter, but that has less potential to be harmful to you personally).

    If you instead let them ask questions about things they care about, this should give them a more accurate opinion of whether they'd like working there.

    Of course you could also argue that they might not think to ask about things they do care about.

  • Consider how far along they are in the process

    If they've already signed a contract, I imagine the company won't be too happy if you do something to make them change their mind.

    If this is the case, I might recommend only giving a vague positive response.

  • Don't share anything confidential (without explicit permission)

    Someone who has not yet started working there should be treated as any other non-employee, unless you're told otherwise by the company.

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It seems you have two or three questions.

Should you reply? Yes it would be polite to answer their email in a timely manner. You may be working with them soon or in the future. How you respond to people reflects upon yourself and in this case upon the company too.

Do you want to answer the question? Basically it's yes or no.

You can avoid conflict with the company, both from a point of being in trouble and from a point of being a potential interviewer or one whom is consulted about the candidate, by declining to provide references where a conflict of interest might arise.

You can choose to answer the inquiry, then it comes down to what you would say.

In the event that you do desire to answer there are a few choices.

They have asked for your opinion, from the sounds of it the truthful answer is that your opinion about the company is poor; if you want to make a quick and truthful reply then that's it.

You don't owe them an answer but the decision to answer truthfully or not is one that reflects upon your morals and in this case the morals of one person employed where this person might work.

Perhaps your opinion is better than a poor opinion, maybe your answer is that at first you enjoyed the challenge but now you are looking for change (whether you mean change in the company or change for yourself is something you can include or leave out - potentially inviting follow up questions).

You can give an incomplete and misleading answer, tell only the positive; again in this case it would seem that the reply would be short.

An alternative response is to lie and encourage them to work there. That seems like a bad idea since you may work with them soon or in the future; what are they to think of you?

I remember to this day the owner of a company asking me to come in for an interview. I asked if I would be able to ask him a few questions before I replied. He said he was quite busy but that the manager was able to answer all my questions when I come in. I mentioned that I had been to school XYZ and taken a particular course to which he responded that he knew all about that. Fine, when ...

So when I get there the manager doesn't know if my qualifications were good enough, didn't know if I could do the work ...

I asked "How much do you pay?", he said "What?". I asked much louder, everyone certain to hear.

He replied "Not very much". To which I responded "Then you know I can do the work, the owner said he knew all about this". Then I left, his mouth hanging open. I wrote the owner thanking him for the interview and to let me know his decision.

I didn't hear back from him directly but they continued advertising for the same job for almost two years - that was my answer, which the owner could have given when I first spoke with him.

Instead of being knowledgeable and honest they came across as the opposite, at least in the case of the owner; his son with whom I spoke was quite young and probably had to do as he was told.

Weirdest thing was that while I was waiting they had a sign on the wall outlining how they were a great company and that the owner's family is religious, adhering to religious principles and also charitable; donating to various causes.

Politely, I will say one last thing: Dealing with them is a big waste of time, I'll do nothing for those people and recommend against them.

You need to carefully balance your own interests, those of the company, the people you work with and those with whom you may have future dealings.

In this case you might reply that you've worked there X months and prefer to not give references for current employers. It's quick, truthful and honest (assuming you'd prefer not to answer).

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