My ideal job

When I left my job as a software engineer, I tried to figure out what I really wanted in a job. There were a few options that seemed ideal, but don’t exactly have websites with giant “APPLY NOW!” buttons. You know, things like getting paid $10,000-$50,000 to tweet, or getting paid to travel and write about it.

But since those jobs are hard to find, I started thinking about the components of those jobs that make them attractive. Here they are:

Rewards efficiency

At my old job, being efficient meant you got more work. Even if you had a set number of tasks assigned at the beginning of the week, finishing them didn’t mean you could have the rest of the week as paid vacation. There was no incentive to work efficiently, besides that maybe after doing this for months or years, someone might notice and give you a raise. That process is opaque and subjective though, so it didn’t interest me. I want a job that explicitly rewards efficiency. Such as tweeting for money: if you think of what to say and tweet it in 1 minute, you’ve made $10k in a minute. If it takes you longer, your rate is lower.

Work as much or as little as you like

I used to have “unlimited paid time off*” — and you know what the asterisk means. It means “with the permission of your manager, so probably only about two or three weeks per year.” I don’t want that. I want the ability to decide each week, or even each day, whether I want to work. If not, the process should be as simple as emailing “Not coming today / this week / this month. Please find a replacement. Will return on [date].” And my job, when I return, would be right there waiting for me.

Does not require thinking (about anything I don’t want to think about)

If you’ve ever tried this, you’ll know it’s hard. Some people are lucky, and programming questions happen to fascinate them. But imagine if the world were turned inside out and the high paying jobs in the world involved dreaming up different ways of applying makeup. All day. That would get mind-numbingly dull pretty fast, right? I didn’t get paid enough to think about things I had no interest in. I can’t do it again.

Zero unnecessary commute time

If I don’t get paid to commute, there’s no point in me doing it. I find that working in an office setting is distracting, and commuting takes up some of my best thinking time. I get zilch out of meetings I couldn’t have gotten through a quick instant message or email exchange with the relevant party. Now, if I were getting paid to review a resort in Thailand, then yes, the commute is necessary. If it’s possible to do all of the work remotely but I’m not allowed to? Not the job for me.

High hourly salary

Clearer Thinking has a great quiz to get you started on evaluating how much your time is worth. I took the quiz and my time is worth about $100/hr to me. So it doesn’t make sense for me to take any jobs that pay less than that, as long as I’m managing to survive otherwise. Nb: I had to edit this section’s title from “high salary” because generally, high salary jobs reward presence rather than efficiency. (Think of investment bankers and lawyers who have to be at the office 80+ hours a week).

Does not benefit someone else more for working less

What’s this about? Well, think of the bulk of tech companies, where engineers make the product and the CEO earns several orders of magnitude more in salary/stock. What does a CEO do to justify this discrepancy? I haven’t heard any good explanations, but I’m all ears if you have one.

So, what exactly does that leave? 

These are the things that matter to me, personally, in a job. I’ve been trying to figure out for the past few years where this leaves me, and I have a few non-obvious ideas I’ll link here as I add full posts about them:

mystery shopping


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