The Joel on Software Discussion Group (CLOSED)

A place to discuss Joel on Software. Now closed.

This community works best when people use their real names. Please register for a free account.

Other Groups:
Joel on Software
Business of Software
Design of Software (CLOSED)
.NET Questions (CLOSED)
Fog Creek Copilot

The Old Forum

Your hosts:
Albert D. Kallal
Li-Fan Chen
Stephen Jones

Dealiing with a cheap company?

I work for a company that, while the owners have money, are loathe to spend any of it making the company better.  All of our workstations are refurbished models, instead of good quality routers they use run-of-the-mill Linksys crap you buy at Best Buy.  And today, our network was down and my boss got pissed at someone from the phone company because they said they would deal with the problem within 24-48 hours (which I kinda agree with - we are a web based company, but still in my experience, yelling at someone doesn't help them do things any faster), then when we fixed it, they refused to look at spending $1,200 for a better switch with some redundancy, instead of the several-years-old hub we're using.  We lost much more than $1,000 having no network connection for several hours, but the only thing tangible is the "it would cost you $1,000", not the amount that we theoretically lost.

Does anyone have advice on how to deal with a situation like this, besides the almost certain "Find a new job"?  I don't mind the people, and I haven't been at the job long; it's just frustrating and clunky; these people evidently don't seem to realize that to make money, you have to SPEND money. 

These people really deserve to be taught a lesson, and discover that you can't coast around cutting corners and be successful; saving a hundred bucks by buying cheap crap instead of proper equipment should be punished, not rewarded.  Sadly, the ones who do this usually ARE successful.
Typing this up on a refurb "workstation"
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Find a new job, or stick around and hope that the inevitable lessons won't hurt them badly enough to sink the company (and your job with it). If you stick around, work on not worrying about things that are outside your control.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Being frugal isn't so bad I think. Many startups buy $10000 industrial grade copiers and other crap they don't need on the first day. ("We got funding, we're rich!")

I think it's more frustrating to see your company go down because your bosses keep buying crap nobody needs. (And suddenly become frugal when it concerns salaries!)
Pound foolish
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
I worked for a cheap company. I had to use a laptop at least 3 years old with a built-in 12 inch screen. I had an old CRT, but that was no bigger than the laptop screen.

It took the company 2 years to replace my laptop (the only computer I had) and by that time it was over 5 years old. It was painfully slow for .NET development.

It wasted so much of my time. For some bits of development I did the work at home in the evenings!

Plus my first laptop did not have a built-in CD writer. So when the client (a very wealthy investment bank) wanted a new release of software, they would have to wait until the next day as I had to use my own equipment at home to burn the cd for them. (Yes, other people at work had CD writers, but they either were away that day or didn't like their work being interrupted to burn a disc for me.)

It was very crappy. I guess the two company owners are millionaires, but they were both clueless about software and one of them was mean with software.

Idiocy. I wrote code that helped people at work save on manual work.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Is your salary directly affected by how well the company does? If not, why worry about it?
Danilo Milosavljevic
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
This usually happens when people do not understand the phrase "You have to spend money to make money" or at the very least have no clue about the value of it to the business.

They usually look at IT as a cost center, not as a productivity or income generating center.  So you have to change your angle of attack.

You are a web-based business, that means that you are selling (hopefully) 24x7.  So take your annual sales and divide them by 8760 = hourly business sales.  Multiply by the hours you have been down.  This gives you number "N".
If you have sales trend analysis for specific hours of the day, utilize those.

Then you need to figure out how frequent these outages are on a yearly basis.  0.5/year, 1/year whatever. Lets call it "X". Multiply this by "N".  This gives you "O".   

Subtract the cost of the piece of infrastructure ("I") you want to upgrade.  This give you "P". Ideally "P" should be a positive number.

Then you approach your boss with: Hey, I figured out how we can make an extra "O" dollars a year.
Make sure you let him ask you "How?".  If he does not ask you do not proceed, he is not interested right now.  Bring it back up later when he is in a good/receptive mood.
Once he asks how, you answer:
Based on our annual sales I figured that outage the other day cost us "N".  Given this happens X times/year, we are loosing "O" in sales a year.
Now if we spend "I", that will prevent or reduce downtime to ....  and we can generate additional "O" in revenue per year.  As you can see the ROI is only ...months or Y outages.

This will not always work, but it gives you a shot.

More than likely your boss is all about sales = money coming in.  So you have to present it in that fashion.
This also works well with Finance types.

Should your boss be all about process and operations (but given your description, I doubt it), then couch your presentation in terms of quality and best practices.

The lesson is: When you are "selling" your suggestions, always present it to your target in terms that they will understand/think in.

Painful but necessary.
Silent Wing Send private email
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
I wouldn't waste my time with slow computer equipment. I'd just buy my own equipment, get the work done quicker, and spend less time at work... then i'd use that extra time to find a better company to work for.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Are the machines doing their job? If yes, why worry?
Victor Noagbodji Send private email
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Good post, Silent Wing. Any pitch to the boss has to be in terms that appeal to them. "I know how to put more money in your pocket" is a pitch that often works.
less is more
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
all companies are cheap, at least as cheap as they can be without going broke as a result.
Sassy Send private email
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Not true, some companies like Google spend ridiculous amounts of money on dumb things which I can't imagine result in better productivity.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008
"Does anyone have advice on how to deal with a situation like this, besides the almost certain 'Find a new job'?"

No.  "Find a new job" is my only advice.  But I'll tell you why.

As a programmer, I've worked at a half-dozen places by now, most of which had problems such as:

* Extremely buggy code
* Clunky processes (project time-tracking, say) that they weren't willing to update.
* Cheap PCs and equipment that slowed down their expensive developers

I've tried at some of these places to improve things.  After several frustrating experiences in that regard, I've come to realize that you really can't even lead a horse to water.  These companies are the way they are because, deep down, that's what they want.

Consider what happens to the well-meaning woman who marries a loser because she can picture what he'll be like once she "fixes" him.  We all know what happens: He never changes, and she ends up married to a loser.

It's the same way with companies; when you take the job, you need to be happy with what they *are*, not with what you think they *could* be.  You'll get the true picture in a couple of days, and if you realize then that the place is a nasty mess that you *can't live with*, get out.  They're not going to change, or they'd have done it already well before you got there.

I just found out today that a software shop I worked in a couple years ago is imploding due to major losses of customers.  But their root problem is severely buggy code.  It's not that the owner didn't care that the code was buggy.  But he and his staff didn't care enough to do what it takes to fix the problem.  Just trying to get them to put repro steps on the bugs was like pulling teeth.  It just wasn't worth it to them.  Now they've reaped the consequences: Losing customer after customer, and then the inevitable layoffs.

You won't usually find out that a place is a nasty mess during an interview.  But you'll find out in the first week.  If you can't live with the mess, quit.  I heard about a guy at my most recent gig who quit after two days.  I heard about another guy, at the aforementioned imploding company, who quit after a week (again, realizing after two days that he'd made a mistake).  We should probably do more of the same way that the woman who dates a loser should dump him after two dates instead of persisting and trying to fix him.  Let him fix *himself*, and then come back to show her; likewise, let the company decide to fix itself before you sink your futile efforts into it.

(By the way, I'm sure there are plenty of guys who date loser women too.  As a guy, I'm more prone to notice the women who date/marry loser guys.  But since I'm married, I don't let it bother me much anymore. <g>)
Kyralessa Send private email
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
+1 Kyralessa

It's unlikely the management will ever change their ways.  If it bothers you, leave.  Otherwise be prepared for years and years of watching them make the same short-sighted decisions over and over again.
Jason Send private email
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Even if you do manage to get them to spend money they will hold it against you in the future.
You're not paranoid if ...
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Heh.. I was afraid that would be the response.  It doesn't bother me much, but I do have to support the things, so it was kind of a "WTF?!" when they were like:

Boss:  How much will that run?
Tech:  Cheapest you could get it would be about $1,200
Boss:  Oh.. we don't want that, then.

in regards to the switch that would increase network uptime and provide failover in case one of them loses connectivity.  DSL where we are located is a little unreliable sometimes (they sure as hell won't pay for T1, far too expensive monthly).

Oh well.. I guess either deal with it to get some longterm experience (I'm a bit of a job hopper, since it seems every place I find ends up being a WTF Factory; I don't mean little annoyances, I mean major things like "Source Control?  What's that?", or "The network is running off of 10 year old hardware, because we won't pay for new stuff", or "This site is written in JavaScript with flat-file "databases", or "Just hack something together to sell to the customers, who cares if it has a good user experience?", or "Here's your workstation, an 8 year old Pentium II with 15-inch CRT monitor"), or polish up the resume again.

I was afraid of that.
Typing this up on a refurb "workstation"
Thursday, February 28, 2008
> I work for a company that, while the owners have money, are loathe to spend any of it making the company better.

+ ∞ Kyralessa

Basically, a lot of companies are like that, big and small. I might even say the majority. They look at the bottom line only, and don't care that they could save/make more by spending a little.

Thursday, February 28, 2008
+1 Kyralessa. Very good post!

Just accept, that you have different philosphical differences with the owners and move on.
Patrick From An IBank Send private email
Thursday, February 28, 2008
+1 Kyralessa.

I have worked for a company like this and thought that I could lead the charge to fix things.  Invariably, the environment will change you more than you'll change it.  If quality isn't important to them, then that attitude will start affecting the quality of your own work.  Find a place that is a better fit for you. Good luck!
Thursday, February 28, 2008
"they said they would deal with the problem within 24-48 hours"

that is based on the level of service you buy. sounds like they have average residential service. if you buy business class service they will respond immediately. Its more expensive. I know consultants who have this at home and on their home internet services so they can always talk to clients and get to their servers. Its not very expensive.

nothing you can do about a cheap boss. Its their business. People will complain, but in the end they need jobs. they won't get or keep the best people, but all they need is the good enough people.

you also don't know if they have plenty of money. you have no idea what the financial situation is. This is usually a sign that the financial situation is bad and the company could go under.

I was on a project once where they would not even give us phones. they wanted us to use our personal cell phones. I refused.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Oh, I know they have money.  They're always going on trips, and they drive nice fancy luxury cars.  Just like 98% of small businesses, they don't really care about the aspects of the business so long as it provides a decent income to live richly.  The business itself has cash flow problems, this I know for a fact, and it's usually related to the inefficiency of their systems (the ones they won't pay to upgrade/do properly)
Typing this up on a refurb "workstation"
Thursday, February 28, 2008
"t wasted so much of my time. For some bits of development I did the work at home in the evenings!"

"So when the client (a very wealthy investment bank) wanted a new release of software, they would have to wait until the next day as I had to use my own equipment at home to burn the cd for them."

The company could afford to be cheap, because its employees gave it free use of their private resources and unpaid overtime!

If you bend over without asking, accept the inevitable consequences.
Roman Werpachowski Send private email
Thursday, February 28, 2008
I agree that "Get a new job" is the only real answer here, and I'll tell you why. Let's say you do talk them into making a minor investment to prevent downtime due to switch failure. There are two results that can occur:

1. The new switch does prevent the problem, in which case it will be perceived that they spent n dollars to solve a problem that, in their minds, *never happened again*, and you have cost them money to fix something that really wasn't going to happen, or

2. The problem recurs because of some other weak link in their infrastructure and you just caused them to spend n dollars on a solution that didn't fix the problem.

Either way you are now costly, incompetent, and a pain in the ass. You are now much closer to "the door" then you were before. Might as well line up the new job now, while you have the time and leisure to do so.

Note that if they were reasonable people there would be more than the two likelihoods I listed above. But clearly, from your description, they are not.
Paranoid Android Send private email
Thursday, February 28, 2008
"nothing you can do about a cheap boss"

Logic usually isn't a factor in situations like this in small companies - so I probably wouldn't try a carefully reasoned proposal full of ROI calculations!
Thursday, February 28, 2008
This is a characteristic of many small companies, and one reason they are career poison.  Half your energy goes into fighting the cheap junk you must work with.

Money comes straight out of owner's pocket (yes, yes, I know there are tax deductions, but still, 70% or 50% will come out of pocket).

This also tends to mean the products slip into obsolescence.  On any giving day, there is always more revenue to just sell the old product, instead of hiring the people and taking the profit reduction of investing in the future.  Result is a slow loss of customers, with no new ones to replace them.  Long term, company goes out of business.

For every small company like Fog Creek, there are 10 like the ones described in this thread.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
For me personally, I can't stand the Jackass that doesn't understand that in the final analysis, YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.....there are VERY FEW exceptions to this rule...and when there are exceptions....I say (as quoted from the great Francis Bacon), the exception proves the rule to be excepted......the exeption, in other words, proves the rule.....

My ex-girlfriend thought like that.....she could stretch a dollar beyond its rubberband-like means but I swear to God, she took it to some incredible extremes.....

If I had an employer like that I would play a little game with them......which is, I would waste as much time as possible during a few work days just to justify the fact that no matter how much you try to cut spending on something...there will always be something that must be paid for which you are NOT getting a cheap ass free ride on....

I won't work with people who are excessively penurious - I steer clear from these hacks...
Brice Richard Send private email
Thursday, February 28, 2008
+Infinity for Kyralessa. Well put.

I worked at a company that had serious problems. The group I worked in (Customer support) was fine, but our work was badly hampered by a combination of office politics and a complete failure for the upper management to comprehend how badly out work was impacted.

Our group was effectively starved for resources because the Engineering team had to do everything, not us. Forget the fact that we had a customer paying 6 figures for some customized code and was waiting 9 months.

I brought up my concerns to my boss, and I know that she was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The company was trying so hard to push out their new product that they forgot about their existing customers.

In the end, I left in disgust after a couple of months. The resulting "new version" that was released was a complete turd and within 2 weeks roughly 90% of the Engineering team was laid off.

I know they implemented some of the changes I had suggested, but I would never go back there in spite of it...
Anonymous Coward Send private email
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Penny wise, pound short.

You'll NEVER be able to make them understand that some things are worth investing in.  I find their use of cheap routers for mission critical use outright comical, it exceeds simply being a "bad decision".

Are your servers running on common workstations too?!

I've been in your shoes, the company's SQL server ran on a Celeron Shuttle desktop (it's like a laptop in a small box, and performs as crappy as one too) and when he dedcided to buy some LCD screens it late 2007, he managed to find 17"s that were so horrible, my 20" Dell CRT actually was clearer (I never know it was possible to have a LCD that could look worse than a CRT).

Let's just say I'm no longer there, and that's truly the only solution you have.
TravisO Send private email
Thursday, February 28, 2008
PS: Paranoid Android's comment, a couple posts up, is the best advice you can get in this situation.
TravisO Send private email
Thursday, February 28, 2008
PPS: Using home grade DSL isn't a totally bad idea if you also get a cable modem and then a network load balancer.  Between the two services, you'll never loose both.  And you've also got the extra speed if needed.  Actually if I had to choose, I'll pick two cheaper services in load balancing any day: faster, cheaper, more reliable.
TravisO Send private email
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Google is spending money like a drunken sailor. Last time I was at the Googleplex I noticed that they now have heated toilet seats in the bathrooms.

Heated. Toilet. Seats.

Give me a freaking break! It's California, not Alaska.

Your AdWords dollars at work.......
Thursday, February 28, 2008
>I find their use of cheap routers for mission critical use outright comical

I once had to do support for a client that was using ancient routers made by a company long out of business.

Rather than spend $1,000 or so to replace them, they would call me (or whatever poor chump was on call that month) whenever the routers needed to be reset.  The client was in a 24/7 business and so the calls would came in at any time of the day or night, any day of the week.

The very cheap owners of the very small company I worked for did not have the nerve to tell the client they really needed to buy new routers, so this went on for quite a while, and, for all I know, is still going on.

He was cheap in part because he did not charge enough for support, which is another failing of small companies.  They have so few customers they don't dare alienate a customer by charging enough for either the product or, especially, for support.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Don't worry about that which you cannot change

(ps you can't change them on this)

Thursday, February 28, 2008
just because they drive nice cars and go on trips does not mean that have alot of money. could mean they run up the credit card.

anyway, even if they have money they are showing you dont matter to them. what were you looking for some magical response on how to get them to spend money?

go buy a book on hypnosis and command them to not be cheap bastards.

either that or quit. its their company. just go somewhere else. its not a big deal.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
I was only wondering if others had been in similar situations and found a good way to deal with it - I enjoy my job for the most part, aside from the cheap equipment and the fact it doesn't really let me expand my core knowledge since 95% of it is maintaining their legacy system (although I'm using spare time and my free time to learn something new, which is good)
Typing this up on a refurb "workstation"
Friday, February 29, 2008

This topic is archived. No further replies will be accepted.

Other recent topics Other recent topics
Powered by FogBugz