Theranos and the Sins of the Company

Recently for the Binc Book Club, we read Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. If you haven’t read the book, you really should, it is about the rise and fall of Theranos and its CEO/Founder Elizabeth Holmes. If you want to read it before reading this, go ahead, I will be here when you return. There is also a documentary on HBO regarding Theranos and a full-length movie coming out starring Jennifer Lawrence. The book, however, really made an impact on me. Not because I was shocked that such a company could be in existence nor that Elizabeth Holmes was able to get so much funding and stay in business for 15 years. It made an impact on me because it really brought back bad and vivid memories I had repressed after working as an Engineer for 12 years.

I want to discuss something that I saw recently on LinkedIn. The exact headline that caught my eye was “Ghost of Theranos haunts resumés.” This led to a CNN article I read, titled “Theranos employees struggle to put scandal behind them,” and it made me realize that I really wanted to write about what bothered me the most about the story of Theranos.

Before I went into recruiting I was a software engineer, and my last two roles in engineering were manager level roles. I worked for early-stage startups all the way up to big Fortune 500 companies.  It’s amazing how little you know about the people you work with day in and day out as well as what the executives of your company are doing or planning. Think back to a company you worked for where they had a round of layoffs, acquired a company, or didn’t release a product; how far ahead did you know about it? Unless you were a C-level employee, my guess is, it wasn't that long before. When I worked for a Fortune 500 company, I found out that they were laying off 700 people from a rumor that was talked about in an online article. The company had an all-hands meeting and told us nothing except that they weren’t going to answer any questions and we would all know what was going on soon. I found out the day I got laid off. I also worked for a startup where the CEO/Founder was arrested for actions that were done outside of work only a year after I had left the company. Employees found out the day after he was arrested because he didn’t show up to work. It was all over the news. Yet, while I worked at these companies, I met really smart and amazing people. We joined these companies because we believed that the product they were making was super cool, life-changing, or had confidence in that the company was going to make it big because they had great leaders.

Going back to the CNN article, I find it sad that so many people who worked at Theranos are struggling to find new jobs as those who didn’t get out earlier now carry the burden of having worked there. Just like people who worked at Enron. Why should the people who worked at those companies pay for the sins of the people running the company? Don’t get me wrong, no one should employ the CEO, Elizabeth, the COO, Ramesh, or anyone else that had a hand in the scandal, but why punish the rest of the staff who just wanted to work for a company that was run by the “next Steve Jobs”, as many of the publications had called Elizabeth Holmes. As Lancelot says in The Merchant of Venice “Yes, look, it’s true that children are punished for the sins of their fathers,” but I have never seen anything that says that we should visit the sins of the company upon its employees.

I have heard many hiring managers and coworkers at various companies throughout my career as both an engineer and a recruiter say that they would never hire someone from X company. When I ask why, I am told that those companies have a low bar, don’t make anything exciting, use old technologies or they make a bad product, amongst countless other excuses. The excuses, however, are always based around the company and not the individual person that works there. The article even talks about how some ex-Theranos employees will crush their interviews only to be denied the position because they worked there. So I ask again, why should the individual employee suffer for the sins of the company? What if the employee is looking to leave the company because they want to work on something new and exciting and feels the same way about the company as the person who is making excuses? All they are hoping for is someone to give them a chance. I worked at some really good companies alongside some brilliant people as well as completely incompetent people. I have also worked at some small startups that had the same type of people. Sometimes people are just looking for a job and find a company that makes a product they think is cool, have a friend working somewhere that entices them to join, or a very charismatic CEO or founder that promises they will make a lot of money and change the world. So why punish them if it turns out to not be the case?

Ultimately, we need to stop punishing people for choosing the wrong company to join and start interviewing and considering people for who they are and how good they are at their job. Everyone deserves a chance to prove they can do the job you need them to do regardless of where they worked before. If your interview process works, then it should weed out the candidates that can’t do the job no matter what company they worked for before. I mean, how many people have you interviewed from top companies and top schools that failed your interview process? Just like every company and school, there are talented and untalented people. With the number of startups and money that is being piled into Silicon Valley, it is just blind luck when someone doesn’t end up working for a company like Theranos or ends up working for a top company. So let’s stop making employees pay for the sins of the companies that they work or worked at and instead help people get better jobs and work for better companies.

About the Binc Book Club

The Binc book club was originally formed after a handful of Bincers started to get excited about a new book being released relating to the Tech Industry. As word spread throughout the company more and more people began to show interest until there was a quite substantial little group of us forming. Every couple of months we choose a book that relates to our lives and our jobs and then we meet to discuss what we learned.