On corporate life
The following essay is adapted from a social media post. It attracted quite a bit of attention, so I decided to refine the argument here.
I spent more than 25 years in tech. If you asked me for advice today, I’d open with a warning: don’t let a corporate job, no matter how great, become your whole identity.
My view isn’t rooted in resentment or anti-capitalism. I am immensely grateful for my career, I’ve always taken pride in my work, and I strived to do it well. My point is different: losing an argument in the office shouldn’t feel like an attack on your entire self.
The allure of getting lost in work comes in part from the mythos of Big Tech: the idea that we’re changing the world every day, even if it the bulk of corporate life is just grind. The grind is important but it has no end; in ten years, nobody will remember or care about the all-nighters we put in to refactor some code, flesh out a policy, or nail an OKR.
It doesn’t help that many tech companies recruit fresh out of college and ask people to move hundreds or thousands of miles. This severs our social connections and forces us to rebuild them around the workplace. When doing so, it can be difficult to draw clear lines.
I’m not arguing for nihilism or mediocrity. But by the end of the day, your corporate employer is not your family. The pastel-colored interiors, the board games, the lounge chairs conceal an uncomfortable truth: the company will not hesitate to fire you if you bring the wrong “whole self” to work, if they lose interest in your project, or if they need to send a specific message in the quarterly report. You might have a caring manager or wonderful colleagues, but your work identity is just a row in someone else's spreadsheet.
My advice is simple. Be ambitious, but find ways to disconnect every now and then. Save some of that true passion for hobbies, family, and friends.