Beyond the Bonus: Finding a Tech Job with Meaning

Careers in Canadian tech have never seemed sexier.

The sector has surged to become Canada’s fastest-growing industry, with tech jobs paying 75 percent more than the Canadian average. Perks — from stock options to yoga classes — have become de rigeur.

But building a fulfilling career in technology isn’t as easy as these numbers suggest. In fact, I’d argue that these enticements can make it all the harder to find real satisfaction.

This sounds like a cliche, but — especially in a hot market — it’s worth the extra homework to find a company that fits you, in terms not just of skills but also ideals. Companies can try to buy talent with pay packages and benefits, but they can’t buy foundational values. For new grads and people switching companies, finding the right fit starts with asking the right questions.

Will I actually be comfortable working here?

It’s easy to get caught up in a company’s size or name recognition. But ask yourself: Can I get behind its vision and values? Do I see a path for the company to reach its goals? And if I see a path, can I help accelerate the journey?

How do you get a sense of a company’s bigger vision? Mission statements — as bland as some may be — are one place to start. Tesla, for example, aims to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Not every company can be so ambitious, but you can still look for one that has values beyond the bottom line. Is the company focused on innovation? Keen to grow? Committed to its employees?

Of course, actions speak louder than words. Does a company actually follow through on its lofty intentions? News reports can tell you details about a company’s behaviour, but use your judgement and take them with a grain of salt. Ask people in your network about their experiences with the company. And make sure your job interview isn’t a one-way street. You’ll want to meet and get to know the people on your team — the people you’ll be working with or reporting to day after day. You won’t get that if you’re just answering to the HR screeners.

Will I add to what I already know?

Time is your most valuable resource, and most of your waking time will be spent at work. So don’t just trade that time for cash. Invest it. Ultimately, learning will drive more long-term happiness and wealth than anything else.

Lots of companies have dedicated personal development initiatives for employees. Analytics software leader SAS, for instance, is known for continuous training to help employees build technical, management and interpersonal skills. Close to home at BuildDirect, we offer every employee an annual stipend to put towards any kind of learning they want.

But I’d argue that far more important learning takes place every day on the job, not just in training sessions or extracurricular programs. A position that constantly challenges you and teaches you new ideas is more valuable than one that doesn’t.

If you’re interviewing for a position, ask questions about who you’ll be working with the most. Is this individual someone you respect and can learn from? Hands-on mentorship from superstar talent can be more valuable than any diploma.

Will I be able to make a dent?

Having Apple, Google or Amazon on your CV is an awfully shiny badge of honour. But if you’re just going to be a small cog in a giant machine, you may not find opportunities grow your skills or use the skills you have.

At a smaller company, for instance, you’ll generally have the chance to wear more hats and face more diverse challenges. If you’re the 11th employee of a 10-person startup, you’ll likely make a much bigger impact on the company’s fortunes than if you’re the 1001st employee in a 1000-person unicorn.

For example, our VP of Marketing, Joseph Thompson, joined us after working for Procter & Gamble, then Amazon. He found that at our company he could make more consequential decisions happen more immediately. In your job search, don’t underestimate the satisfaction of going home at night knowing you’ve created real change — and of coming back to work the next morning knowing things will be different.

Of course, there’s a financial component too. It’s true that many big firms can offer fatter salaries than cash-strapped startups can — often a difference of 30 percent. But in a smaller organization, your opportunity to win big with your stock options is much greater, and you can have a much bigger hand in that win.

Is everyone really on the same team?

If a company is unfocused, or if its leaders can’t get everybody on board with its mission, what sounds like a dream job can easily turn into a daily grind. Poor internal communication and competing priorities translate directly to less satisfaction and more frustration. Instead of one boss, you might have two — or twenty — each with different expectations.

Nor is this just a function of company size. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has more than 72,000 employees. And yet the company has continued its decades-old practice of holding weekly all-hands meetings to pull everything together. It’s a custom that we’ve borrowed. Once a week, I stand and honestly answer questions from anyone who asks. It helps keep me accountable to everyone who works for us, and fosters trust throughout our organization.

Things like weekly meetings don’t grab job seekers’ attention like weekly, in-office massages or free lunches do. But if you’re evaluating job perks, look for ones that say something about a company’s deeper values and your long-term prospects. Ultimately, a job isn’t just a paycheck. It’s how you spend your life. No benefit or bonus — no matter how lavish — can compensate you for wasting your own time.

Jeff Booth is cofounder, president, and CEO of BuildDirect.