After graduating, I spent five years working software engineering jobs, first in a global hedge fund, then a VC-funded AI startup. In both jobs, things were going great at first, but at some point, I started being chastised for not taking the job seriously.
It became a recurring theme in my performance reviews: Kacper is strong technically and works well with others, but to advance his career he needs to take on more responsibility.
To be fair, my managers were always friendly and genuinely tried to help me. After all, any employee should want to grow and not stay a junior developer forever. But my attempts at taking responsibility always ended up being half-hearted. Even when I initiated projects that were by all appearances a good fit for me, over time I would lose interest and gladly hand them over to somebody else.
What was the reason? I always felt that the effort I would put into the job would not be proportional to the reward. If I spent more time and effort on working harder, what would that give me? If I’m lucky, a promotion with a 15% raise — hardly life-changing. Not worth the investment.
The real beneficiaries of my hard work would be major shareholders: the hedge fund manager who’s already a billionaire, or the startup founders and a bunch of VCs. I had stock options in the startup, but my share was minuscule. Even in the case of a very good exit, my profits are unlikely to be life-changing.
The system of getting a fixed monthly salary does not incentivize giving your best performance. It incentivizes putting in the minimum effort necessary to meet expectations. Hence various motivational mechanisms: stock options, bonuses, promotions, kudos… For me, that always seemed like a band-aid solution. I knew I could never thrive in a system that doesn’t incite me to do my best, and one that stifles my creativity by forcing me into a specialized role with a narrow focus.
If I don’t do something, it doesn’t get done. The product doesn’t get built. The users do not come. I don’t get paid. I don’t become successful.
It’s challenging and exhilarating. I wear many hats, work on every aspect of the business and learn a lot. I am looking forward to the joy of turning an idea in my head into a product that real people use, love, and gladly pay money for.
Most importantly, I reap all the rewards. I finally have skin in the game. The future looks bright.