The Overemployed and Startups
TL/DR - Startups prefer missionaries mode engineers and avoid mercenaries in their early stage of existence. Over-employed engineer is the worst case of a mercenary engineer for a startup.
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A new phenomenon of folks with more than one job is upon us. COVID-19 has normalized the phenomenon of a remote position, and folks, especially in the IT space, have taken to it enthusiastically. The anonymity provided by not coming to the office in person has spawned a new employee known as the“overemployed” worker, who works at more than one establishment simultaneously.
I personally encountered this myself while staffing for my gig. The first-ever candidate who interviewed for a backend engineer job had offered to work a 20-hour workweek. I had noted in my job description that I was looking to hire only a full-time employee. To my surprise, my candidate calmly reasoned that since startups are usually low on capital, this could be a win-win situation for both him and the startup. My next question was obvious:
“Has your current employer approved this arrangement?”
“No,“ They replied and continued on. “I will work on the weekends for you and on the weekdays for them. In the remote work culture, no one needs to know.”
I initially thought that this was a one-off case. I was, unfortunately, wrong.
NBC News recently covered this phenomenon with an example case of an over-employed engineer earning almost 1.5 million from working 11 Jobs.
In a post-COVID India, this trend of overemployment has caught like wildfire. As part of my hiring work, I have encountered many overemployed engineers who, to their credit, were upfront about their promiscuous ventures. Numerous engineers spread their workload evenly over the day, dealing with their Indian startup during the early hours and looking to their western employment during nighttime.
“Take it or leave it,“ They say.
There are many times when I’ve had to end a conversation with astonishment and surprise that such a conversation was happening.
Here is a tweet that recently went viral:
A subreddit, website, and book cater to the over-employed phenomenon.
Missionary vs Mercenary
From a startup perspective, over-employed working is a highly problematic phenomenon for multiple reasons. The foremost and the most important is that you are looking for hiring missionary founding engineers, ones who believe in the mission of what your startup is trying to do and are constantly living and breathing the purpose through their work.
On the other hand, a mercenary engineer is focused on the short term improvement. An overemployed engineer is a more severe case altogether, as they are trying to maximize their earnings without considering the depth of their work.
It is very easy to get caught
As a result, overemployed engineers rarely work well with a startup. Furthermore, they are highly likely to get caught - it would show up in their lack of involvement, inability to perform deep architecture, odd work-hours, and general lack of communication. In fact, it would show up in their GitHub history as checking the code in 2 or 3 private repositories in the same month.
Overall, overemployed engineers are a loss of productivity to startups, both during hiring process and eventual productivity to the organization. In my experience, some basic sanity tests can be a good idea.
Getting your contracts to state clearly that overemployement is not something your startup will approve
Having these conversations during the interview cycle so that the preference of the organization is communicated well in advance.
Serious background checks (based on the country’s legal framework) can be good expense to help you avoid overemployed engineers.
In other things
This thread caught my eye - Bootstrapping vs funding debate continues
And some evergreen motivation during recession years - 20 million to 3 billion in 4 years.
I have two articles to recommend based on recent readings and I enjoyed them a lot. I hope you enjoy them too.