So I've had a series of really bad experiences and am wondering what I'm doing wrong.

I started out as a part time programmer at a major university. I developed a problem with my wrist and asked (nicely) for some help with my ergonomic accomodations.

My boss started screaming at me, then later claimed I screamed at her. When questioned about it, she just started sobbing. Luckily, there were others around who heard the screaming and knew I was telling the truth. She was eventually let go.

My contract went up and I switched jobs, this time to a startup. Well, we went several months without my getting a development machine. When the economy tanked, they started asking for insane amounts of overtime. I complied because I was afraid of having to look for work. The final straw was they contacted me right before my father's funeral to fix a problem.

I was laid off, didn't receive my final check on time and the company screwed my COBRA up to the point where I couldn't get prescriptions for months. They recently were fined by the State of X for what they did. Now, even though I worked my heart out for them and they were willing before being fined, they are refusing to provide a reference.

I took a new job quickly, mainly because I really needed my health insurance set up. They wanted me to do several months of work in a couple of weeks. They had no project plan. Their customers were seriously not doing well, as whole sections of the application would stop working if someone ran a spell check. Even though they had completely unreasaonble expectations about my work, they were happy to say it would take several months to repair the spell check bug. There was virtually no training.

They had me interviewing candidates and I selected one. Apparently, that person was my replacement because I was let go after a few months.

Recently, my former boss called my current employer and made up allegations that I am discouraging people from applying to open positions at his firm, which is insane because I didn't even know they were hiring.

I feel like I have a T-shirt that says, "If you're insane or would like someone to kick around and treat badly, hire me!".

Then again, when I look at some programmers' resumes, I do see horror stories, too.

So are there things I can do differently to avoid these problems? Is it part of our profession that people do not have standards? Perhaps it is a personality issue, that resides purely with me?

Has anyone else had a series of bad experiences and turned things around?

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    If a former employer was calling a current employer and making false accusations against me, I'd call a lawyer. At that point they are crossing the line from simply a bad boss into the realm of defamation. – GrandmasterB Oct 29 '10 at 20:26
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    I did call a lawyer and he sent them a Cease and Desist letter. My current employer thinks highly of my work, so that has mitigated any damage I think. But I'm still pretty shaken over it. – q303 Oct 29 '10 at 20:49
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    This is better asked on a career-centric exchange - careeroverflow.com – JBRWilkinson Oct 29 '10 at 22:20
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    @JBRWilkinson such as SE's own workplace.stackexchange.com (though the question is still likely too broad/advice oriented) – Chris G Jul 12 '17 at 17:00
  • It was reported on workplace, that some manager (so employ with a normal salary) was ordered to pay $10,000 a year for the next 25 years as compensation for spreading lies about a previous employee. – gnasher729 Jul 13 '17 at 15:49

I think you need need to start doing more research on the company before taking a job and ask more pointed questions about the company in the interview. Since Health insurance is important to you, I would stay away from start-ups altogether as they can crash very suddenly leaving you in a similar situation (they usually aren't great at bureaucratic stuff like COBRA either). Don't take the first job offered because you are panicked about being unemployed. How did your old boss even know where you are employed now to call them up? You are under no obligation to tell them.

Decide what working conditions you need before starting to interview. Then ask questions to ensure you get those conditions. Don't accept a job that doesn't meet your minimum. I once had a horrible job where my shortest working day was 11 hours and every week I worked over 18 hours 1-2 days a week. You can bet I used that experience to ask about their normal overtime policies and to make it clear that while I would work overtime in a crunch, I was not interested in a job where overtime was a way of life. Screen out the companies that don't do things the way you need them to. You'll be happier and so will they.

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  • "How did your old boss even know...?" I've even sent postcards from a different city to a previous place of employment so that people would think I had moved to one company, when actually I'd moved to another. (I didn't tell a lie, I just let them jump to the wrong conclusion from the postmark.) Or perhaps you've been posting information too freely on Facebook/LinkedIn/... – MZB Oct 29 '10 at 18:04
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    But you still wouldn't hire him, would you? ("A person who accepts more than two crap jobs in a row has suspect judgement..." programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/3272/…) – P Shved Oct 29 '10 at 19:34
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    @Pavel: The first one was a contract position, which ended with the contract, the second a startup. Then came the real stinker; you'll notice that the OP isn't complaining about job four, only what the old job three boss did. That's one startup that didn't work (big surprise, that), and one crap job. I don't think that's over HLGEM's suspect judgment thresshold. – David Thornley Oct 29 '10 at 19:46
  • He called the company that represented me and I guess they told him where I had been placed after his shop. Where I work isn't publicly available, so he had to do some legwork. – q303 Oct 29 '10 at 21:19
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    Just terrible luck; not uncommon, just look at me: like 5 jobs in 5 years: Fired #1 for reporting boss for harassing a co-worker and telling co-worker to talk to a lawyer, fired #2 for not being a go-fer and getting to the store for snacks for the executives and not moving furniture, another cheap job I quit, job that didn't want to pay anything and refused to pay me after 2 years when i worked for the owner' startup, fired #3 for wanting to improve the code with a senior and CIO that didn't care. It can happen. – Wayne Molina May 20 '13 at 19:29

You sound like a reasonable guy. I think you may have just had monumentally bad luck.

There are good companies out there to work for; you just have to find them. Start wearing suits to your interviews. Be a professional. Talk to people who have a job with a good work environment, so that you know what that looks like, and know how people at that kind of company behave. Then, pick a job that has that environment.

Remember, at an interview, you are interviewing the company as well.

Look for these things:

The ideal job

  1. Has enjoyable and meaningful work
  2. Pays fairly
  3. Has a pleasant, mentally positive, productive work environment
  4. Is challenging, but not excessively stressful
  5. Allows you to do your job well
  6. Has learning opportunities
  7. Has advancement opportunities
  8. Has sensible leadership
  9. Has minimal office politics
  10. Has a reasonable commute
  11. Provides the opportunity to work with motivated, like-minded peers who respect each other
  12. Has adequate work-life balance
  13. Provides an opportunity to work towards long-term goals such as retirement.

I should point out that my current job has most of these things, but it did, in fact, take most of my adult life to find it. I've been in some pretty screwy work situations as well.

The thing that seemed to make a major difference for me: I went back to school and got my degrees. I began to be treated differently after that, like I was somebody.

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  • You mind defining "degrees"? for example, I've only got an associates degree, and as I look around, I wonder if you don't need a bachelors minimum in most places... – Aeo Oct 29 '10 at 18:27
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    Careful about the suits. At the best places I've worked, suits are definitely out, and I was feeling out of place on the first interview. If you feel like you're expected to wear one to the second interview, you're dealing with a place where techies are low on the totem pole. – David Thornley Oct 29 '10 at 19:39
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    If a company is that 'anti-suit' they should tell applicants because the rest of the world expects you to be the best dressed person in the inteview not because you are trying to fit in but because you want to show you care and have a clue about what is considered professional. Don't hate the player; hate the game. – JeffO Oct 29 '10 at 19:55
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    @Jeff O: I'm not hating anybody, I'm explaining that suits have only limited uses in finding programming jobs. Wear one to the first interview, if you like, but notice what everybody else is wearing. Don't go more than one step up from them. You do want to let them know that you will fit in, because that's a critical part of working there. There is an art to dressing effectively, not just one unbreakable rule. – David Thornley Oct 29 '10 at 20:21
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    +1 for the second paragraph. I read it as "Don't find a job, find a company." On the topic of suits, I generally ask on the phone what the expected attire or dress code is on the job, and dress one notch above that. "Really Casual" = Khakis and a Shirt, "Business Casual" = Slacks with a Jacket, "Formal" = Suit – Steven Evers Jan 19 '11 at 22:37

as a rule of thumb one thing i make sure to ask is how the turnover is on the tech team. If you ask around on your interview with the team members and the longest anyone has been their is a year or two then watch out. personally, i pass on these jobs and only look to be hired by teams that have people with Grey hair... if everyone looks like they are under 30 then that's another red flag.

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    This might be helpful...when I started, it turned out that the tech team had a great deal of turnover. – q303 Oct 29 '10 at 21:17
  • well then you should not be shocked. – kacalapy Nov 2 '10 at 20:56

I don't believe in series. Maybe you should start to ask your former coleagues how they perceived you, what you could improve. Call your old bosses also, this might help.

Why do that? Because you may find out that the problem was you!

If it's the case, you can improve things, but only if you know there is a problem.

However, if the problem is not you, you will stop asking yourself (and us).

Now there is another solution I like:

You are only 28 year old, you are at the beginning of your life, you may have done some mistake in the past, but who cares? You have the life ahead of you. Don't fill your mind with such unhelpful thoughts. You imagination is probably creating them. It's normal, all you have to do is ignoring them.

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    That only works if the OP was the unreasonable one. If the OP was just picking the wrong jobs (or attracting bad employers), it would be asking the inmates in the asylum if you're insane. – Robert Harvey Oct 29 '10 at 18:26
  • @Robert: However, it's worthwhile for the OP to try to figure out why such bad jobs. There are a series of bad things going on, and the only common factor is the OP, there's reason to think the OP was doing something wrong. To his credit, that's exactly what he's asking. – David Thornley Oct 29 '10 at 19:42
  • @Robert, @David: Right, that's what I'm trying to figure out. I can ask some coworkers what they think. I wonder if part of it is that I had to "break" into programming. I have a liberal arts degree and had to just build experience. Maybe that led to more quesitonable jobs? – q303 Oct 29 '10 at 20:59

I think you need to think about leaving before they force you to. You'll look better to other employers, and it conveys confidence ("I don't have to take your crap.").

Also research the job before you even go for the interview. Avoiding start-ups might also be helpful, as those are very hit or miss.

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The bad bosses/companies really make you appreciate the good ones. It's good that you had the experience when you are young, so when you find a good place (which is a combination of examination and luck) you'll know what you found. The last job I had was pure misery, but now I have the best job I've ever had, and I know it.

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