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I dropped out of school a few months ago to work at a tech startup without realising how demanding the job would be. The company culture is passion-first. I'm frequently told I'm doing great work and enjoy several perks (private office, free meals, reasonable pay). I'm the only developer that's been asked to move in (because my commute is the longest) - though everybody is working 10-12 hours a day.

Supporting the team is critical, but can such a narrow focus damage my personal career? Or is this a valuable experience in itself? Can I expect to be rewarded for this work after I've left the company (i.e. are career benefits temporary)? How long should I work at a company before asking for equity? Should I be studying independently and trying to grow my external influence instead?

E is for Edit and Elaboration

The team is tight

The company is small. Everyone is indispensable. This is a critical point in time and the company would fail if any team member were to quit now.

  • Anyone with the means to do so has invested in the company
  • Family and decade-long business ties
  • We fire 90% of new people

How I fit in

Known to be nervous and lacking discipline but productive and with good intentions. I've noticed programmers at other companies describe some tasks as taking a week which I would be expected to complete in an hour.

  • Newest permanent addition
  • Only dedicated front-end developer
  • Does data/marketing in spare time

This situation is temporary

Some days I'll leave an hour or so early to socialise with some objective (find an Ember developer, organise a talk..), my primary concern is that there will be more and longer high-intensity phases.

  • Normally everyone works 47.5 hours a week
  • Until mid-January we're working 60 hours a week (about to become 84 w/ weekends)
  • Most days everyone leaves work at the same time

Resolution

After seeking clarification I found this was meant only as a casual suggestion. Asked about moving into a nearby hotel temporarily to reduce commute, founder seemed to think this was a good idea.

Asides

Doormat analogies have been made, I'm not sure whether these apply as everyone in the company is making the same effort as me.

I certainly have leverage to ask for equity but am concerned using it would appear as coercion and violate the company culture. Should I expect to be offered equity?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Jim G., gnat, Jan Doggen, Joe Strazzere, Joel Etherton Dec 14 '14 at 14:15

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Asking for overtime pay is entirely based on your country and your contractual relationship with the company. An independent contractor in country X has different rights than an non-exempt employee in country Y. – mhoran_psprep Dec 14 '14 at 11:17
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    If you don't want to be exploited never take another job billed as passion first. That is s a key sign that they think you aren't entitled to a personal life. Only bad companues expect you to work more than 40 hours on a regular basis. It is the most ineffecient way to get work done as tired people work more slowlyand make more mistakes. And everyone is entitled to have a personal life. – HLGEM Dec 14 '14 at 16:42
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    You're setting yourself up for burn out and disillusionment. It is perfectly normal to occasionally work long hours to meet an exceptional deadline, but to "move in" and give your life to the effort is something that a founder might have to do under certain limited circumstances. Doing it "for the boss" without equity means you're offering yourself as a doormat. – teego1967 Dec 14 '14 at 21:45
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    Unless my job title were 'founder/co-founder', no way would I put in 10-12 hour days on a regular basis. You're sacrificing your personal life/health/future/etc. to make somebody else rich. – James Adam Dec 14 '14 at 21:56
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    @JoeStrazzere There are jobs where it's normal for obvious logistical reasons (e.g. if you work on a ship); however, programming is not normally one of those. – cpast Dec 15 '14 at 6:11
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No, it's not normal, and you're being exploited.

In a startup environment, pulling the odd all-nighter might very occasionally be justifiable if you're doing something absolutely mission critical (eg. your server room just caught fire and you need to restore everything from backups before 9 AM). However, it sounds like this is both your first job, in which case it's unlikely that this is the case, and that they're expecting you to put in crazy hours on a regular basis, which is not healthy at all. And based on your other question about regular panic attacks at work, your body is already finding this seriously unhealthy.

Also, "reasonable pay" is not a perk. Many fools people choose the startup grind because they hope their stock will mint them untold millions, although realistically this is about as likely as winning the lottery (you should probably read the whole thing, but start at "How to value an equity grant" for the TL;DR). If you haven't even been offered equity, then you're just being exploited, plain and simple.

So stop being a doormat: cut your hours back to 9 to 5, say "no" or channel up a little Goodfellas if they ask you for more unpaid overtime, and above all start looking for a better job immediately, since this situation is not going to improve.

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    Hit everything I was going to say, especially this line "reasonable pay" is not a perk – Burhan Khalid Dec 14 '14 at 11:56
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Supporting the team is critical, but can such a narrow focus damage my personal career?

It may. If the lack of personal time/life changes you for the worse, then that can certainly impact your career down the road. If you burn out and need months of recovery time to work productively again, that can certainly impact your career. If you start being a workaholic due to "getting used to it", that can harm your career.

Or is this a valuable experience in itself?

It can be. It can make you appreciate normal work again. And of course, the entire point of doing this for a startup is so the startup is successful and your equity in the company pays off handsomely.

And can I ask to be paid for overtime?

You can ask... This will depend on your jurisdiction and your employment contract, but you're likely out of luck.

Can I expect to be rewarded for this work after I've left the company?

It would be exceptionally unusual for you to be rewarded after leaving the company (unless you have equity in the company - vested and exercised stock options, which are yours and your work indirectly contributes to them becoming valuable down the road, even though you're no longer at the company).

As for other companies hearing about this sort of thing and paying you more because of it... No, I can't imagine that happening. It will go one of two ways:

  1. The new company hears about it and questions your decision making ability. That does not make a good employee, and would not lead to more compensation.
  2. The new company hears about it and thinks that it would be great if they could get an employee that would work tons of hours for a normal salary. I suppose that's a "reward" compared to no job, but...

How long should I work at a company before asking for equity?

It depends.

If all the good things (salary, benefits, commute, opportunity to learn/advance/network, friendships, perks, etc.) about the job are enough for you to trade your labor for those things without the equity, then you perhaps don't need to ever ask for the equity.

Then again, if the work is causing you to sacrifice your personal life and put in far more labor than is fair, then equity can help compensate for that loss (assuming you think equity in the company is actually worth anything).

Start ups are about taking a risk. You'll often get lower pay for the potential windfall that comes with sale or IPO. You'll often have to deal with the pain of an immature company for increased potential advancement.

If all you're doing is taking on the pain without any of the benefit, then I would recommend re-evaluating your arrangement.

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Every cool sounding perk you have been offered has been because tech companies have found they keep some tech employees in front of their computer for more hours. Offer food they stay through dinner; offer entertainment they hang around on weekends because it is fun. They have found that the expense is treated as a business expense but you don't pay taxes on the benefit and it can be cheaper than extra pay.

Giving you a place to a stay may save you money, or only commuting time. Of course if you move 100% into the corporate housing you may find it impossible to easily move out again. Getting a new job would require an immediate move.

Is crunch time experience valuable experience?: Yes. Is extensive death march experience valuable?: not so much.

Extract yourself from the excessive overtime, and extensive use of the cool perks. Determine what rights you have to overtime pay, and if you should be getting it, request it. And it might be time to look into positions with other companies.

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