Change (B)log

Why I left Carfax

November 11, 2019

Disclaimer

Before I get started, I want to mention that, while I currently feel this way, it doesn’t mean I won’t have a different perspective on it in the future. This is simply the way I see things now. These are the thoughts that led me to pursue work somewhere else.

Also, I will talk a bit about compensation. It feels weird to talk about this, but given that it’s literally what many humans (including myself) give up large parts of their life, passion, and energy for, I think it’s worth mentioning.

Intro

I recently left Carfax to work at EquipmentShare. My last day at Carfax was about 10 days ago, and today was my first day at ES. While Carfax was a great place to start, EquipmentShare is a much better match for me for the foreseeable future.

So why exactly did I leave Carfax? In short, Carfax doesn’t value technology or engineering; they don’t reward ambitious employees; and it’s unlikely, in my opinion, that they’ll stick with a US-based development force in 5-10 years.

On Valuing Technology and Engineering

Carfax doesn’t want to be a technology company. The product that makes all the money, the Vehicle History Report (VHR), hasn’t conceptually changed since its inception. And although the automobile industry is about to go through many significant changes — electric, smart, self-driving, etc. — from my perspective, Carfax doesn’t seem to be interested in preparing for any aspect of that future.

And I hesitate to call Carfax a data company. Although the VHR is all about data, Carfax doesn’t really throw a lot of resources at understanding the data. I’ve only ever known one data scientist to work at Carfax. EquipmentShare, on the other hand, is a much younger company, has less data, and has fewer employees overall yet has a team of data scientists.

Most of the development work done at Carfax is only humoring marketing folks with their pet projects. The core business products, i.e., the stuff that actually makes money, was engineered long ago and does not need a lot of attention.

On Rewarding Ambitious Employees

I worked really hard the first 9 months I was at Carfax. I came in early, left late, and came in on weekends. When I wasn’t spending that extra time doing Carfax work, I was working on personal projects and experimenting with new technologies. The growth I experienced during this time as a developer was tremendous. And after getting extremely favorable reviews regarding my work and growth from the product owners and project managers that I worked for, I thought it’d be a good time to ask for a very modest raise.

So I wrote a page or two of the things I had accomplished in those 9 months, printed out the reviews I mentioned above, and got some documents from Paysa and Glassdoor showing that I was already underpaid. I went in armed with all of this information and was essentially stonewalled with “It doesn’t matter how hard you work here, everyone gets the same raise their first year.”

The joke is that I got even less of a raise after my second year.

In fact, when I compare working food service at Shakes for 2.5 years to working at a white collar programming gig at Carfax for 2.5 years, I not only felt more valued by Shakes’s great leadership, but I literally earned more from raises in percentage and dollar amount working the pizza gig.

Part of it is my fault. I find it hard to speak up for my value. I can be afraid of conflict, and I’m not that disagreeable. But before I blame it all on myself, I know that it’s also a systemic problem at Carfax. Over the years, I’ve talked with many co-workers on other teams about this topic. Many of them were either more talented, more experienced, or more ambitious than me and they expressed very similar experiences.

After being demoralized that first year, I never argued with my manager about compensation. I never asked for ways to advance my career. I never asked him to fight for me. I simply said that if I wanted more money, I would get a job elsewhere. And that’s what I finally did.

On Outsourcing

Carfax has been experiencing good growth for the past few years, but it’s been hard for them to hire more developers in the US, so they’ve been directing more of the hiring abroad: first in Poland, then in Canada.

Some of the motivations behind this are to expand Carfax’s product presence in Europe and Canada. And while some of the developers are focused on those priorities, a lot of those developers are also taking control over US projects.

Although the business never mentions this, the reason is clear to me. Carfax doesn’t want to pay competitive developer salaries.

It finally clicked for me when Carfax shut down the Dallas office. When I first started at Carfax, we had just opened it up. The idea was to have another city to expand its developer base in. However, after opening up offices in Poland and Canada, they shut the Dallas office down. They said that they couldn’t find enough developers in Dallas, and the few they could find “were all seemingly .NET developers.” (Carfax is a Java shop).

Really? Couldn’t find enough developers… in Dallas, Texas, a city with millions of people?

The real reason is that Carfax doesn’t want to pay a competitive wage. Developers outside the US are less expensive (see here and here).

And honestly, I think it’s fine that Carfax wants to leverage the cost of living differences — what I suspect is the primary driver of salary differences worldwide — in its developer force. That’s a valid strategy.

But without mentioning much about the anxiety caused by the fear of potentially having all of our jobs suddenly lost to another country, why would I personally want to work for a company that is continuously striving to pay me as little as possible, anyways?

Note: To date, Carfax hasn’t laid off anyone to my knowledge as a result of a team move. Employees displaced by those events have so far just gone to other teams internally. But to me it still feels like the writing is on the wall for a total outsourcing.

Summary

Anyways, I just wanted to articulate some things that really frustrated me about Carfax. There are a lot of good things about working at Carfax too. But to be true to the title, I really just wanted to articulate why I left.

If I had to say some good things about Carfax, I’d say that I’m glad that company was my first gig in this business. The team I was on, in particular, had lots of freedom to experiment with ways of doing everything. We had a decent balance between wrestling with the consequences of puzzling decisions made by developers 10 years ago and total greenfield projects that we could run away with and make something cool.

I also interacted with a ton of great people and met some great friends — many of whom I’ll be working with at EquipmentShare.

If it was never going to be a place I made a career, at least it was a place where I could learn some stuff to find a better career.


Joseph Weidinger

Written by Joseph Weidinger.