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I joined a company that was full of "friends and family" of the CTO. The classic example of "nepotism". In fact, the brother of the CTO's girlfriend is the head of software testing and customer support, neither of which he has any training.

The other main guy in testing is the CTO's college pal who did not take any software testing or programming class in college. The main database guy was the CTO's college pal as well, which led to 30 million passwords stolen because they were stored in plain text. I only found out after I had left the company.

But while I working at the company, I strived to do a good job. Beautiful UI, writing code that 99.9999% of the case wouldn't fail unless in some really edgy case (such as using a computer or browser that is more than 15 years old).

However, the CTO favored all his friends and family. Even if they didn't execute some of the tasks, it was "ok", while anything I did would be criticized if it was great but not the absolute "best".

One person, who was a coworker of the CTO in a previous company, even formed an "Advanced Technology Group" within the company. All they do is write 20 or 30 lines of code sometimes, to see if something can be done one way, as opposed to the other programmers who might be developing 1000 lines of code in a week. The Advanced Technology Group even had weekly meetings with the "chosen" people where they discussed which production engineer was at the top or bottom of the list. Just sitting, talking, and judging others while they themselves barely produced anything.

There was even a group of junior engineers who'd play combat video games with the CTO every day at 5:30pm, and for some reason, the CTO always won, and he felt like a million bucks. So that group of junior engineers were considered "cool dudes" by the CTO.

But when I left the company, I realized that doing a job is one thing but without power, I might as well be a "nobody". I really should talk to the CEO and the CTO more often, and maintain my proper engineering discipline, so as to show the importance of my role in the company. Otherwise, both the CTO and CEO might say: "OK, he worked hard for us, doing 8 hours of good work and sometimes even 10 or 12 hours, but it is not like we didn't pay him, and we did get a 20% below market rate when we hired him because he wasn't sure what the market rate was. But hey, that's the way it is and we didn't force him to work for us."

I feel that if I had talked more often with the CEO and CTO, people would respect that and wouldn't disregard or bully me.

So in spite of doing a good or a great job, the power play is quite important too.

Is that the case working for a startup or corporation in a fairly competitive capitalist environment?

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    If you don't ask good screening questions during your interviews, you can definitely end up in a company like that. This is the lesson you should be learning from this experience. Don't be afraid to ask tough questions during your interviews. It's perfectly ok if you get rejected by a bad company. You do not want to work for a bad company anyway. Mar 27, 2021 at 8:09
  • You're going to run into "power" dynamics in any human interaction you have, including your work. It has nothing to do with the type of company you work for and everything to do with the way humans are wired.
    – Seth R
    Mar 27, 2021 at 16:03

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Yes, the power aspect ALWAYS plays a role. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but it is always there. Why?

Because you deal with human people that have this tendency to form hierarchies and support networks.

Maybe it should not be the case in an ideal world - but you better learn to live in the world you have.

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  • As opposed to dealing with lizard people ? Mar 27, 2021 at 8:53
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    @morbo, I suspect power dynamics come into play dealing with lizard people too.
    – Seth R
    Mar 27, 2021 at 16:04
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    Definitely with lizard people. Taking over the world - you better make sure that you know who is in your command line downstream and you can trust everyone. Plus you don't like the other lizard people tribes. And LP are VERY tribal ;)
    – TomTom
    Mar 27, 2021 at 16:14
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Does the “power” aspect almost always play some role in our job?

No, some experts are immune due to the nature of their speciality and/or knowledge. So while it may play a role if you're one of many doing non critical tasks, there are niche positions where it's irrelevant.

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  • I do not think that is true. While some positions are immune in a direct way, their manager or people they interact with may well be hired due to power games, so it DOES affect them. Not to the same degree, but - if you ever walked out of a meeting knowing that everyone else on the table from the client's side was so incompetent that McD would fire them, you will understand what I mean. Still goes on your nerves.
    – TomTom
    Mar 27, 2021 at 12:24
  • Ah, but then you also need a thick skin because otherwise it DOES affect you. If you care about you work, you get frustrated with idiots blocking you - even if no one blames you and you are not replaceable. You "should" be affected - unless you have a SERIOUSLY thick skin.
    – TomTom
    Mar 27, 2021 at 12:34
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    @TomTom I just care about getting paid
    – Kilisi
    Mar 27, 2021 at 12:35
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You call it "power", the books call it "interpersonal relationships".

Yes, they almost always play some sort of role. The question is how much.

If you join a small startup that contains a bunch of friends and family, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, you're starting at a bit of an extreme disadvantage. Some people would rather let their business fail than fire their own wife, for example, but that courtesy does not extend to you.

In more corporate environments it's probably less obvious, and honesty probably a touch less prevalent. Accountability is a much bigger thing. It's certainly not eliminated though.

A fair portion of the answers here in The Workplace (and certainly the best ones) do take into consideration how actions can have effects on interpersonal relationships. It's certainly not some niche thing only found in startups.

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