You say your employer's name, and everybody says "uh, what do you do?" or "don't know them".
You're paid only in stock options, pizza, and beer.
Everyone laughs at the idea of UnitTests. (This happens an awful lot in big companies, too, perhaps even more.)
The boss single-handedly created the application you now develop. He made it using drag-and-drop tools.
The application code is so poorly architected and was developed with so poor of a process that adding even a simple feature includes weeks of puzzling over legacy code followed by more weeks of debugging.
Everyone's afraid to fix any part of the architecture because they're afraid of breaking something else in some subtle, undocumented way.
Everyone, including the boss, is on board to redesign using a better process. However, despite the fact that all work on the legacy code takes several times longer than it should, everyone is so busy working on the legacy code that no one has time to work on the new design or even to think about how to migrate to a new design and better process.
The average age of the employees is in the low twenties.
The graphic artist has a beaver shot on his desktop background, in plain view of half the company, yet no one complains.
You make sales and customer-support calls on a regular basis, though you don't work in the sales or customer-support departments.
The customer-support department is a guy in a 10x12 office.
Company meetings feel like high school pep rallies.
Company meetings include free pizza for everyone.
Performing regular backups is limited to having a RAID on the fileserver or rsyncing between two desktop machines.
Your apartment is the company's off-site backup storage facility.
All of the software tools used are either OpenSource or pirated.
There is one license of Microsoft Office, intended for opening documents sent by third parties; for everyday usage, you have to make do with LibreOffice.
The company is in the process of "validating" their Windows licenses.
The corporate security solution is Avast! Free.
Your company relies on freely available collaboration apps like Astrid Tasks, Evernote, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Google Drive, Dropbox, Mediafire, and corporate-only Twitters.
The IS department is one-third each of three engineers.
The IPs on the company network are real IPs the CIO chose at random.
HR, benefits, and office administration are all handled by the person who takes messages for the CEO when he's out.
She's also responsible for buying the coffee, paper towels, and toilet paper.
Most of the engineering staff personally use the company's product. (That's product, singular.)
You have personal meetings, parties, and band practices in the conference room after-hours.
Everyone's kids love visiting, because free hot chocolate in the caf', that's why!
There's a piano in the caf', too.
And whoever took the last cup of coffee from the pot forgot to put a new one on to brew.
Nah, every company does this.
Beer. Don't forget the beer on tap.
Ex-employees still attend the annual holiday party (and other company functions) years after they left. [Umm...years after they left?!? This "firm" has been around long enough for that?]
The CEO, COO, and CTO are all the same guy.
In general, there's one or more employees who hold more than one title of the following form: Chief <foo> Officer.
One guy quits, then suddenly there're several projects that no one knows anything about.
But because he quit in the middle of a project, he's vilified in perpetuity and is voted to have his face painted on a pumpkin for the next annual company October pumpkin-smashing gala.
Some employees stay because quitting makes them eligible to become a pumpkin.
Guys who quit are regularly hired back as contractors at 4x their salary because they are the only ones who knew what was going on.
Morale among developers goes up faster when new version of Quake or Unreal are released than when milestones are reached.
The company president personally organizes after-hours matches.
After passing the doob around.
The three words that company salespeople hate to hear most of all are "Dun and Bradstreet". (Dun and Bradstreet, or commonly D&B, is a corporate credit rating firm which assess businesses for their creditworthiness. D&B are also frequently used by large corporations to vet their suppliers, in order to filter out small companies -- like the subject(s) of this page -- that pose a potential risk of going out of business. LargeCompaniesHateDoingBusinessWithSmallCompanies?.
And despite all of this... when the company meets with (potential) customers, it puts on airs like a Fortune 500 Corporation.
Hosts and volumes on the company LAN are named after characters from TheSimpsons? or FarScape?.
... or brands of beer.
"We will test no software before it ships." (I know I've mentioned this one a few times already, but it is such a memorably bone-headed line -- doubly so because it was clearly stolen from an old Paul Maisson wine commercial -- that I felt that repeating it was justified. -- JayOsako)
The primary means of distribution are hand-labelled CD-Rs, half of which don't work.
Bug tracking consists of writing dates on the distribution CD labels, and each copy sent out is slightly different from all the others.
There's no installer program, or else the installer doesn't work right.
Most client systems within 20 miles of the company office were installed on-site by one of the developers -- And it still doesn't work.
Bug fixes are distributed either by e-mail attachments sent by the chief developer, or else by driving over to the client's office with a new CD, which still doesn't work.
The developers who are assigned to handle customer support know most of the clients on a first-name basis.
The majority of employees were hired because they were a friend of either the president or one of the developers.
The receptionist, on his first day of work, is assigned to assembling new PCs, as is the president's secretary/accountant.
The chief web developer was hired on the basis that he was able to show the boss how to steal a background from another company's web site.
The current network admin was originally hired as a graphic designer.
... and is still paid at the same rate.
... and that's still his official title.
The company has more business operations than employees.
The chief developer is also the interface designer, system admin, network admin, webmaster and admin of an ISP, lead service technician and junior business partner of the president.
The company is bankrolled by the owner's wealthy older brother, primarily to keep him out of the family business.
The owner hires their youngest brother, even though he was just fired by the eldest for incompetence. (Wow, I worked here. Boris is that you?? ScottElliott )
50% or more of the salaries are paid in stock options.
... as are consulting fees. (I didn't take this contract, naturally. -- JayOsako)
The owners expect you to help capitalize them, while working for them, in exchange for stock options. (I didn't take this job, either. -- JayOsako)
"Benefits? Isn't working for us enough?"
Paychecks and expense payments are both cut from the company president's personal checking account.
... but he prefers to pay in cash for both.
The president forgets to submit the employee tax forms, and when the company is audited, he claims that everyone was a contractor.
... and no one complains or sues him, because the amount of money is too small to fight over.
The president allows you to purchase Nerf guns as company expenses.
The company provides Nerf guns at company expense.
The boss builds surfboard racks for people to use, gives everyone permission to surf during work hours, but then complains you spend too much time surfing (you only went once).
There's nothing stopping you from putting anything on your office. You can literally put your living quarters there -- fridge, coffee machine, stove, bed, blanket, your own posters -- and nobody will say anything. (If your clients say something, you just tell them it just shows how commited you are to your business).
Taking a day off would put both your job and the company at risk, even if you're a junior employee.
If the president or the chief developer is out, the office is left closed for the day.
... because no one will know you aren't there.
... but you still get paid for that day.
... because no one else has the office key.
... because you won't get paid for that day, even if you show up.
... because no one knew you were there.
Your company has been awarded a (single) patent -- a fact which is mentioned prominently in all marketing and investment collateral, as if the patent were for the cure for cancer. (In reality, it's for some obscure improvement to some technology which is easily worked around.)
I've personally seen a company patent poorly factored messes, as if replication automation is worthy of patents. "Weee, we patented the automation of interface bloat!"
It is if you can convince some deep-pocketed BigCompany?, with numerous managers happy to spend company dollars on building their own internal fiefdoms, to spend money on it...
True story: at an open-space job interview at a start-up they asked me what my pay expectations were. I replied, "I'm trying to break into this new specialty, so I'll accept peanuts." A voice then rang out from a random cubicle: "Well, that's exactly what they pay here!"
Despite all of this, you still prefer it to your experiences with larger companies.
My last job used to be like this. I hope to work in a company like that again. This is where the fun is.
So just out of curiosity. . . Why aren't you still there? I was at a company like that (<deleted due to stupid lawsuit-happy culture>), great company, free Steak-Out on thursdays, $50 bills for everyone on record months, got up to nearly 300 people, then was bought out, then "dissolved" a few months later. I got out early, it wasn't writing on the wall. It was more like a giant billboard with big letters saying "they have our IP, they don't need us anymore"
I'm not there because I'm getting a phD and the company grown and right now it isn't as fun as it used to be. But I'll return soon.
[I used to work at a company like this, too. It was acquired, after which we were all laid off. Very sad, and I greatly miss working there. When done right, it's much more like being part of a family than working for an employer.] Yes, and it sure seems to be a good motivator to all employees. It encourages everyone to do their best, because they feel that sense of responsibility that comes from family. At least it has been that way from my experience. :) (I'm now back with another company like this. Something occurred to me today: You know you're back in a wild-west company when Dilbert is funny again.) [Negative. Dilbert is always funny, has always been funny, and will always be funny because it's based on reality. Adams hissef admitted that he got the bulk of his material straight out of emails, 85% of which started with the line, "I am not making this up..."]
Contributors: JayOsako, TimKing, numerous AnonymousDonors