Drake Your Job

3 August 2018

I originally published this on Medium in 2018. I’ve made a few copy edits, but the content and intent is the same.


How much do you love your job? You can measure some job characteristics like salary, benefits, or round-trip commute time. But what about the intangibles? Do you have a good manager? Are you learning? Are you happy? Measuring these abstract things seems hard. But if we can’t measure it, how can we improve it?

What if you measured everything about your job and calculated an overall score? You could pick an area to change to improve your score. Or you could compare the score of your current job and new potential jobs. How can you turn this mix of concrete numbers, fuzzy feelings, and abstract concepts into useful information in order to help direct your career?

The Drake Equation

At the birth of SETI.org, Dr. Frank Drake decided to estimate the number of potential planets with intelligent life. And while it’s a very rough estimate, the birth of the Drake Equation calculated a number that inspired scientists to reach for the stars.

What does this have to do with valuing your job?

Michael Dearing of Harrison Metal has a video and a blog post that shares the Drake Equation’s history and suggests that it’s applicable to any seemingly unquantifiable thing. What would it look like to build a “Drake Job Equation,” taking into consideration all the components of your job? Let’s give it a try.

What’s Important?

First, list which job characteristics are important to you. Take some time and make a list. Here’s what I came up with, based on what matters to me:

  • Compensation — Money matters! Base salary, any bonus, stock options or shares, and benefits.
  • Organization — How do I feel about the company or organization? Do my leaders inspire me? Do my values align?
  • Manager — Is my manager helpful in my career? Do we meet regularly? Do they listen? Do they explain the “Why?” as well as the “What?” when I have questions?
  • Peers — Do they have my trust and respect? Do I have coffee and lunch buddies? Do I invite them over for dinner?
  • Commute — How long do I spend getting to the job every day? Does it leave me enough time for the rest of my life?
  • Office location — Is the office in a place that inspires me daily? Is it easy to schedule time with my friends and mentors at other companies? Can I run errands at lunch?
  • The company’s main product or service — Is my work going toward a product or service that I admire or respect? That I would use regularly? Would I be proud to recommend it to friends and family?
  • The work — Is my work energizing? Is it fun? Is it interesting?
  • Opportunity to learn — Are I adding to my skillset? Is this job going to help me get the next one?

The Drake Job Equation

Now that you have a list of potential terms, you need to combine them into a Drake equation. Let’s assume that the compensation is the base of your score. The other terms should increase or decrease that to get a final value. The bigger the score, the better the job is likely to be. A lower score should be a catalyst to do some deeper thinking.

Combining my terms, I got this formula:

  Value.job = 
    Comp × 
    Q.org × 
    Q.mgr × 
    Q.peers × 
    Q.commute × 
    Q.location × 
    M.product ×
    M.work × 

C is compensation. Start with cash salary. Add any bonuses. Add the net gain from any stock options, RSU’s, or an employee stock program. And don’t forget any other benefits — health insurance, discount on public transit, gym memberships, etc. Add those in. If you don’t have exact amounts for any of your compensation numbers — for example, your company isn’t public yet so you can only guess about stock options — just make a reasonable estimate.

The next group of other terms is for “quality” terms. Each of these terms needs a range of values that reduces or amplifies the score based on each term’s impact. I recommend a range of 0.1 to 2. A value of 0.1 maps to “poor quality” or “this part of my job sucks.” This low term should be pulling down the overall job score. Why 0.1? Because we need to talk about zeroes.

Any low term will pull your score down significantly. Be honest as you ask yourself about each term. But a zero will make the entire score zero. If your final job score is zero, it’s probably time to open up LinkedIn. A value of 0.1 serves as a nice floor that sends the right message without screaming “QUIT” and rendering the rest of the formula moot.

A 1 means things are “just OK”. A value of 1 doesn’t reduce or amplify the overall score. A 2 means that things are “GREAT”, meaning it doubles your overall score. And keeping the ceiling at 2 means that any one term does not overwhelm the rest.

  • Quality of Organization: Q.org score between 0.1 and 2.
  • Quality of Manager: Q.mgr score between 0.1 and 2.
  • Quality of Peers: Q.peers score between 0.1 and 2.
  • Quality of Commute: Q.commute score between 0.1 and 2.
  • Quality of Location: Q.location score between 0.1 and 2.

The next group is for motivation scores. Motivation matters a lot to me, so I decided on a higher ceiling of 5. Feel free to tweak these ranges.

  • Motivation from Product: M.product score between 0.1 and 5.
  • Motivation from Work: M.work score between 0.1 and 5.
  • Frequency of Learning Opportunities: Freq.learning score between 0.1 and 5.

Using The Equation

Let’s say your total compensation comes out to $50,000 this year. You love the company, have a pretty good manager, fine teammates, a soul-sucking commute, a great location, you love the product, don’t love the work you’re doing, and you are learning a reasonable amount. Using my equation, we get this:

50,000 * 2 * 1.25 * 1 * 0.25 * 2 * 3 * 2 * 3 = 1,125,000

Now you have a score. What do you do with it?

Just doing the evaluation is helpful. You now have a list of items worth investigating for improvement — those things that are preventing you from getting more out of your current job. Your commute is awful, but you love the location. Can you carpool with some coworkers? Is there a public transit option? Your current work isn’t exciting, but you like the company and product. Can you bring this up with your manager? Could you transfer to another job in the company?

But if the areas for improvement are all outside of your control, maybe it’s time to look for a new job. Evaluate each term as you interview at a company and score each opportunity. Compare these scores as you go.

You won’t have an offer yet, but you can play with the compensation value. What compensation amount would make you take an offer? Haven’t met enough of the team to make a guess about the peers? Schedule a follow-up lunch. Curious about other aspects of the new job? Use your network to find folks who can help you refine your estimates. There will be lots of ambiguity. Resolve what you can and estimate the rest.

Getting to a score is a tool, not a conclusion. So get as close as is practical that helps you answer the question at hand. Do you love your job? How about your next one?

What are the components of your Drake Job Equation?

This article is tagged with career.