Vultures and burnout: the failure modes of a tech career

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


Then I worked for a tech giant, and then for a high-growth unicorn. It shocked me how dilbertesque they both were. Full of politicians, and burnt out engineers in golden handcuffs who can’t wait to get out, and meaningless business speak, and checked out employees who pretend they’re “excited” about everything all the time. The young, wide-eyed engineers seem hopelessly naive to me now.

So the worst case scenario is that you get eaten by vultures and lose friends. And the best case scenario is that you’re in a soulless machine that turns everyone into an automaton. I know that’s not the whole picture. It’s not even most of the picture. But that’s the part I can’t unsee.

For a long time I couldn’t focus on any remotely intellectual pursuit. I even thought I permanently damaged my brain. But eventually I started exercising, went on anti-depressants, and started therapy.

Then I got a job that has nothing to do with technology. Slowly my happiness returned, and with it my ability to focus. I do a lot of sports now and hang out with my non-techy friends and my wife. I cook a lot. I got into knot theory. I find it fascinating and can do it for hours. I’m surprisingly not bad at it. So I know I still have my faculties.

But I still can’t program, can’t write, can’t think of new products, can’t read science fiction. I’m mostly happy, but there is always a hint of dissatisfaction underneath. I miss the creative, optimistic person I once was. I want to see past the cynicism. I want to write programs and make things. I want to work with a ragtag team again to bring something to life that didn’t exist before. I want to learn how to see past the bullshit and be creative again. But I can’t get myself to do it. I hear the call and I know there’s still a spark. But when I take even the smallest step everything turns bleak and mundane. It’s like the magic has been bled out of me and I don’t know how to summon it back.

I saw this on Hacker News and I posted this response:

Everyone who reads Hacker News should also consider if there is a political component to this. The guidelines for Hacker News encourage us to keep politics out of the comments, and most of the time that is an advantage, but there are cases where politics might be a contributing factor that needs to be considered. I see some comments here that say “This is such a USA experience, it is different in my country.” Well, why is that? If it’s true that there is something in the USA that contributes to burnout, would it be useful to consider the political situation in the country? Surely there are cases where the macro circumstances impact people’s personal lives?