Have you ever mentioned something that seems totally normal to you only to be greeted by surprise? Happens to me all the time, when I describe something everyone at work thinks is normal. For some reason, my conversation partner’s face morphs from pleasant smile to rictus of horror. Here are a few representative examples.
There’s the company that is perhaps the nicest place I’ve ever worked, combining the best parts of Valve and Netflix. The people are amazing and you’re given near total freedom to do whatever you want. But as a side effect of the culture, they lose perhaps half of new hires in the first year, some voluntarily and some involuntarily. Totally normal, right?
There’s the company that’s incredibly secretive about infrastructure. For example, there’s the team that was afraid that, if they reported bugs to their hardware vendor, the bugs would get fixed and their competitors would be able to use the fixes. Solution: request the firmware and fix bugs themselves! More recently, I know a group of folks outside the company who tried to reproduce the algorithm in thea paper the company published earlier this year. The group found that they couldn’t reproduce the result, and that the algorithm in the paper resulted in an unusual level of instability; when asked about this, one of the authors responded “well, we have some tweaks that didn’t make it into the paper” and declined to share the tweaks, i.e., the company purposely published an unreproducible result to avoid giving away the details, as is normal. This company enforces secrecy by having a strict policy of firing leakers. This is introduced at orientation with examples of people who got fired for leaking (e.g., the guy who leaked that a concert was going to happen inside a particular office), and by announcing firings for leaks at the company all hands. The result of those policies is that I know multiple people who are afraid to forward emails about things like insurance updates for fear of forwarding the wrong email and getting fired; instead, they use another computer to retype the email and pass it along, or take photos of the email on their phone. Normal.