Do software engineers need adult day care?

Do software engineers need adult day care?

Summary: Silicon Valley companies are competing for scarce talent by offering an ever larger catalog of work perks such as video gaming rooms and music recording studios. Why?

TOPICS: Tech Industry
Delphix (1 of 1)
Jedidiah Yueh, CEO of Delphix says the best engineers want tough problems to solve.

There’s enormous competition for software engineers and many companies offer an ever larger array of work perks convinced that it will help them recruit the best.

Kathleen Pender at reports: Tech, social media employers offer perks aplenty 

Tech workers are being wooed with napping stations, unlimited vacation, free housekeeping and errand-running, yoga classes, on-site doctors and masseuses, and gourmet cafeterias…

Social Print Studio of San Francisco is a good example of the modern startup. Along with health care, but no 401(k) yet, it offers unlimited vacation, napping boxes, and a fully equipped jam room where its 20 employees and their friends can record a song or video. 

Foremski’s Take: Are such work perks really necessary? And do they do more harm than good by competing with local businesses?

Google is famous for its work perks such as hiring top chefs to cook gourmet meals for staff and having games rooms, etc.  But when I attended an Inforum panel about “How to attract tomorrow’s talent,” Todd Carlisle, Director of Staffing, shocked fellow panelists from Cisco, Twitter, and Bloomberg, saying that they were not necessary. 

He said no job applicants ask about work perks, and no one turns down a job based on what perks are available.

Adult day care…

When I met with Jedidiah Yueh, CEO of virtual database company Delphix, one of Silicon Valley’s hottest startups I asked how the company recruits top engineers. I asked if it offers a games room, etc. 

“No. We don’t run an adult day care center. The best engineers want the opportunity to work on solving hard problems and that’s what we do here.” 

So if work perks aren’t necessary why do so many companies insist on providing them? Surely, that’s a distraction from their business? And it’s not good for the surrounding community because they are competing with local small businesses trying to make a living providing basic services such as dry cleaning, etc.

This is especially worrisome when a large company such as Google continues to expand its footprint in the middle of Silicon Valley, and its free food and services are pushing local business into bankruptcy. It’s a situation that will worsen when it opens two large office complexes in downtown Palo Alto and Mountain View.

Twitter’s negative effect on local businesses is even greater because its HQ is in San Francisco’s Tenderloin — the city’s poorest district. Yet Twitter is receiving as much as $55m in tax breaks from the city as part of an agreement it made to gentrify its neighborhood. Instead, it ends up competing with local businesses, making the situation worse.

What’s the point in communities having such tech giants in their midst when they result in job losses and high rents? 

[Please see: Living In The Shadow Of The Googleplex: Communities Struggle To Keep Jobs]

Drinking the same koolaid…

Another aspect of this work perks trend is that staff don’t get out much. They spend less time interacting with outsiders and far more time inside their work environment. This leads to a uniformity in thought and culture.

With less experience of the outside world they won’t be getting many bright ideas that could help their companies succeed in real-world environments. And they won’t be evangelizing their company’s web services either. 

Tech company workers are having to live in a pampered world where they miss out on developing skills of basic self-sufficiency such as cooking, shopping, and cleaning their apartments. It’s just like living at home with mom except it’s even better because mom’s not there to tell you to pick up your room. It’s no wonder that the young engineers gain a reputation for being entitled. They certainly won't gain a reputation for knowing how to look after themselves.

Telecommuting failure…

Todd Carlisle was asked about telecommuting, and he said Google had looked at a lot of data on which was better for productivity: office or working remotely.  He said the data showed no difference.

Yet Google’s massive fleet of white unmarked buses, with their sinister looking blacked out windows scoop up tens of thousands of staff every morning from street corners all around San Francisco and the Bay Area, annoying residents and adding to traffic delays. Why?

Delphix has the right answer. Otherwise, you end up with staff who mostly care about the perks than the work that needs to be done, which is not the way to build a motivated world-class workforce.


Topic: Tech Industry

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  • BlackBerry

    someone tell me not but other say yes! so they do this for what?
  • It's a double-edged sword

    Just wait until all the 'locals' get pushed out... Once there is no competition to overthrow, the perks will erode and become water cooler topics.

    I can agree with perks like employer-provided meals, which would reduce stress and end tacky lunch meetings where there is no lunch unless you bring it yourself.

    I'm also curious to know if there are any tax breaks for offering said perks.
    • Don't know if there are tax breaks...

      ...but I figure they should be treated like any other benefits provided to employees. Effectively, they're indirect wages.
      John L. Ries
  • Do software engineers need adult day care?

    I would be curious to know how often these perks actually get used. The free meals in the cafeteria I can understand being used quite a bit but things like the game room, laundry room, and other facilities. Does anyone actually use those?
    • Depends.

      When I was at Intel, I used the cafeteria quite often and the gym occasionally. I visited the doctor on more than one occasion. There was also a game room, but it was too far from my workspace to really be useful to me. Others used it at lunchtime, though.

      The site also had a dry cleaning service, a spa, a haircut salon, and a few other things. They weren't frequently used (and they weren't free, either), but they did get some use.
      Jacob VanWagoner
  • Really?

    If I understand the argument of the author of this article, these companies that offer "extreme" perks are harming their local economy?

    By extension they should also cut the pay of the engineers, because that would be more FAIR?

    So no longer is it FAIR to try to offer better pay and benefits to attract talent?

    Did we just become Cuba overnight while I slept where the free market is no longer allowed to compete?

    Since when do we look down on an employer because of what they offer to their employees?
    • Perhaps...

      ...Google is actually paying local vendors to provide those services. Regardless, someone is being paid for them, so I doubt anyone will be going to the unemployment line over this.
      John L. Ries
    • Keep up

      We all know that for-profit companies are evil menaces to society that treat their workers like 19th century coal-miners and would happily give them all cancer for an extra $1 profit. What's that? They're giving their workers all these free benefits on site? Greedy evil bastards trying to destroy the local economy by giving their workers things that they would otherwise have to buy elsewhere. Is there no end to the horrors those nazi profiteers will perpetuate upon us?!?
      • Chuckle

        Maybe the author's uncle used to run a restaurant down the street from Twitter, but then... if the Twitter IPO doesn't work out too well, maybe the uncle will be back!

        Just don't ask me (taxpayer) to bail out Twitter's wreckage. I'm still burned over the (ongoing) GM debacle.
  • Prima Donna behaviour

    The worlds best programmers used to happily work alone through the night in a room lit by the green glow of a phosphor tube, provided with a stream of caffeine, pizza and adult diapers.

    Video game programmers for example are now mainstream and occupy a new social structure. Game creators used to look like Jeff Minter - bearded, asocial and obsessive, but it wasnt long before the Bitmap Brothers started driving Lamborghinis and wearing shades because of their relative youth, and the millions they made as a result of their skills.

    It created an industry in its own right, and nowadays gaming is big money business for the management structure of a successful games company. Coders are 10 a penny and are paid a wage rather than running their own companies and have become cubicle slaves unless they are clever enough to be promoted to executive status, regardless of their programming skills.

    These are the type of people those benefits are aimed at - not necessarily the best programmers, but certainly the most successful. Great coders code. Wannabes play at coding, and executives just play.
  • Its a business, they do what then need to do to make a profit

    Why try to micro-manage businesses ? They do what they need to do in order to be profitable. If they want to tilt the life/work balance a bit more in one direction, and it improves their bottom line, why would folks outside this business be so concerned ? If this is a fad, it will go away on its own. If it improves the business bottom line, it will likely spread to others. It might even make it into the case studies and into the text books for business college.... Employees that fail to notice missing 401k or medical coverage, will figure this out, and in the end, the balance will move towards satisfying everyone's needs. Again, no need for external micro-management here...
    • Perhaps it's because...

      ...certain Talkbackers (and others) are mortally offended if non-executive employees are treated as if they were really valuable. Perhaps it's for ideological reasons.
      John L. Ries
  • Once you've done

    what these successful companies have achieved, then you'll have earned the right to post your opinion. Otherwise you have no idea what you are talking about. Business is all about talent, and whatever it takes to attract and maintain that talent is what an "executive's" job is all about. If it works for one company, great. If not, they'll think of something different. Either way though, it is of no concern to "reporters" or other people that believe they know best.
  • The best food ever, but a short commute beats any perks

    Back in 1985-6 I worked for Sinclair at Milton Hall, just north of Cambridge, UK. The lunches provided free of charge were the best meals I've ever had. The theory was that an excellent lunch would seriously reduce the appeal of a pub lunch with the associated alcoholic drinks, thus improving work efficiency an the afternoons. A coffee mug with your own initials on was the only other perk but it was a good place to work while it lasted.
    For me, the best perk of all is a short commute. My present job entails a 5-10 minute drive, depending on traffic but my best job in this respect was 2 minutes walk from home. Until 18 months ago, I worked a mile and a half from home; this meant that in snow or whenever I preferred not to use the car, I could walk to work. The amount of time saved by a short commute is priceless and effectively increases the real money per hour that an employee gets paid.
  • This is how you get more techies

    If it's clear that they're in demand and are paid well (directly and indirectly) for their work, then more people will choose programming as a career. No need for Big Bad Government to artificially inflate the supply at taxpayer expense, unless of course, you think our future prosperity depends on an abundant supply of cheap labor.
    John L. Ries
  • Please clarify - Telecommuting failure…

    Todd Carlisle was asked about telecommuting, and he said Google had looked at a lot of data on which was better for productivity: office or working remotely. He said the data showed no difference.

    So why is it a failure? Or does it mean that Google's productivity sucks in the office or remotely?
  • Perks not important, Quiet is

    I've been a software engineer for over 25 years. I don't generally care about perks like free laundry and video game rooms, etc. To me, they are just a distraction from getting my job done. I've been primarily telecommuting for the past few years, and I get so much more done in the peace and quiet of my house than I do in the office. I go in to the office when I need to.

    Another trend I see that I am not keen on is "open offices", or as I call it, "a hundred programmers in a room". It's just too distracting. To me it's a huge cost savings to a company, masked as "it's a new concept!". There's no way the productivity of the people is not impacted. I used to work at a company where I had my own (albeit small) office. If I can't telecommute, an office of my own plus a short commute is worth more to me than all of the perks you can think of put together.
  • There does appear to be a logical flaw in the article

    When there were reports about Yahoo no longer allowing telecommuting, one Talkbacker (ironically a self-proclaimed Conservative and devotee of the market) suggested that this would boost the local economy by causing people to spend more money on gasoline or eating out, as if telecommuters weren't already spending it on other things. It's not like there are a lot of techies who can afford to put cash under their matresses and the ones that can are more likely to invest it, which makes it available to to others to use (thus helping to boost the economy and boost our pitiful savings rate). Money not spent eating out tends to be spent on other things; it generally doesn't disappear into the ether.
    John L. Ries
    • and...

      ...if there are appealing restraurants close by, employees just might patronize them with spouses or significant others after work (same goes for shops, theaters, etc.). After all, as much as some employers don't like it, many techies have lives outside of their jobs.
      John L. Ries
      • ...and...

        ...prices in lower income neighborhoods tend to be lower, potentially making them appealing to people who work nearby, assuming the merchandise is good.
        John L. Ries