For the past 3.5 years I’ve worked for a large company, an airline to be precise. It was my first experience working for such a large corporation. My experience was okay overall, but as time went on, I learned that this was not the environment for me. I worked with some smart, hard-working people and was exposed to an interesting industry. I also got to fly free anytime, anywhere (and I’m going to miss that the most). But, after those 3.5 years, I came to the conclusion that big companies are not for me.One of the key issues I have with my former employer (not unique to them, it’s an industry-wide thing) is the lack of innovation. For the first time in my career, I didn’t have to sign an intellectual property rights agreement. Why? Because there’s nothing to protect. We really didn’t innovate, or create anything short of vanilla back-end management systems. In short, I was a “head” or a “resource” in a “cost center”. This means that the type of work I did as well as my reason for being employed was the result of a necessary evil; one of the many costs associated with operating a large company.
In that environment, technology, software, those are not the primary drivers of the business. As a result, software development is not a priority and innovation just doesn’t happen. Many of the projects I worked on were just reading and writing data via web forms. This is not a place where one’s career thrives, at least not mine. The big corporate environment does work for many people, that’s why so many people work in such places. It offers security, comfort and predictability and that goes a long way for many.I had a lot of freedom in that job. I knew what would happen from day to day. I could have done the little that was required of me and gotten by for years and years. Things moved slowly. There were few surprises and little to no risk. It was comfortable and that’s the problem. For me, and many others in that environment, comfort breads sloth. Never in my career have I felt so lazy and found myself mindlessly chugging along, giving each day so little effort. I didn’t start out that way. I was ambitious. I wanted to build grand things, but that environment changed me; over time, I assimilated, conforming to the slow grind of the organization.
But, it’s not just the size of the company that kills innovation and saps ambition. No, there’s something else. Something deviant. Something dark. A shadowy office occupied by a single ego with limited, but sweeping authority who has to continually justify its existence by making arbitrary policies and mandating reorganizations at will. This beast has something to prove because the creature is neither directly in touch with real work, nor meaningful leadership at the upper-level. It’s not at the top, but it wants to be so desperately and it despises the workers below. The beast is stuck in the middle of real work and a C-level fantasy. The Beast is Middle Management.
In my time at this large corporation, I learned that nothing harms real productivity, innovation and individual satisfaction with work more than the egos in the middle. They are good at one thing: destroying moral. Of course, not all middle managers are beasts breathing fire, but the existence of this position lends itself to autocracy, for better or for worse. As you can tell, my experience was for worse. I’m biased because I was affected negatively by every decision middle management made. Each mandate from the middle was like a kick in the stomach bringing me lower and lower to the point where I had to ask myself why I was still putting up with it. I get 5 calls a week from recruiters who want to employ me. Why am I here?
Job satisfaction, career growth, innovation? The truth is, I had none of that, but it sure was comfortable. And those paychecks kept on coming. I had become a lazy, cube-dwelling plebeian, content doing the bare minimum. This is not who I am. I wasn’t like this when I started. There was no reason to continue. I received a call from a friend who had a job for me at a small software company that fit who I was, before I assimilated to corporate culture. How could I not take it? After I accepted the offer and put in my two week notice, many of my co-workers naturally asked, “Why are you leaving?” After giving a short answer to that question a few times, I realized that the question was all wrong. The real question, the one I had to wrestle with for a while was, “Why are you still here?”