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This, judging from the fact that it's in bold, appears to be his main gripe:

  "The problem with this particular essay is the way Mr. Graham
  implies the only path to true happiness as a young programmer
  lies in founding a startup."
whereas the essay actually contains the sentence:

  "Working for yourself doesn't have to mean starting a startup,
   of course.
I mean, how much clearer can I be?

As for this point about "participatory narcissism," you can make the same attack on practically every nonfiction writer. Every (good) essayist writes from experience. Most people who have the freedom to work on what they want, work on things they admire. Every book on robotics or carpentry or surfing has woven through it the sinister subtext that robotics or carpentry or surfing is an admirable activity. But to accuse the writer of "participatory narcissism" is to confuse cause and effect: the writer of the robotics book isn't claiming robotics is admirable to make himself look good; it was because he thought it was admirable that he chose to work on it.

A claim you could make with equal justification about any essayist isn't much of a claim. But people will still believe it means something if they disagree with him.

How much clearer? Well, you could have started by not comparing employees to caged lions.

That's a metaphor. The way metaphors work is that they're accurate in some respects and not in others.

The advantage of metaphors is that they help explain things by isomorphism. The disadvantage is that people often take them too literally. Or pretend to if they want to attack the writer.

Strange as it sounds, I expected to be criticized for telling readers what they wanted to hear, not for insulting them. If you actually read the essay, the thesis is that the famous founders who are made to seem like such gods in the press are actually not that different from ordinary programmers-- that the difference, as it says in the last paragraph, is "due mostly to environment." In other words the exact opposite of the summary Atwood quotes: "Oh... you haven't founded a company? You suck."

How can so many people read an essay saying X and come away believing it said not-X? I think what happened in this case was that a lot of people who were already feeling self-conscious about working for big companies read the first section as some kind of criticism of them, and then either read that into the rest of the essay or (this is the Internet) didn't read any more before writing blog posts about it.

I didn't find the essay insulting, but I do disagree with several of the core arguments.

I worked at startups for several years in the late-90's and early-00's, and then set off to run my own company, and discovered one unfortunate and unavoidable side-effect of self-employment that pretty much killed the idea for me: I hate dealing with all of the business BS that comes with working for yourself.

Incorporation, accounting, taxes, contract negotiations, etc., etc., all distract from the interesting work of building things, which as the original essay so rightly suggested is the #1 priority of most good hackers.

I think that there's a smaller intersection of folks who enjoy both the engineering and business sides of building software. Not everyone who like to hack on code likes the idea of picking out their own corporate structure and office carpets, just as not everyone who eats a healthier, more "primitive" diet enjoys gardening and hunting for their own wild game.

It's interesting that you write something like, "How can so many people read an essay saying X and come away believing it said not-X?", thinking that the problem is likely with the readers.

Asking that question doesn't presume the problem is with the readers. Sometimes the reason is that the essay was unclear. In this case my hypothesis is that it wasn't, but rather that some readers read the essay as meaning something they wanted it to, rather than looking at what I was actually saying. (Much as you just did with the preceding comment.)

If something's unclear, I often go back and fix it. But I'm reluctant to start trying to placate people determined to misread what I'm saying; that seems a slippery slope.

Ok. In the interests of providing a data point:

* Even as a startup junkie, with full-time founder role and a 13 year track record, I found your analogy belittling and myopic. You will lose the argument that the best work in software is being done in startups.

* Your essay contributed little else but the lightning rod; you've said substantially the same thing in other essays. We get it. You've also watched tens of $6k startups die; you should write more about the downside of being a software startup founder. You've been there, right? Why don't you start with the "vomiting blood from the stress" part?

PG doesn't say starting anything new will be easy or that everybody should do it under all circumstances. He tries to focus on the truth. Even people who are fully happy working in corporate should be aware of what the truth is.

If a fat lady had an honest blog about healthy food and exercise, then that is great advice to be aware of. Some may think the information is tainted because of the source, but if you can logically deduce it is accurate, then the source doesn't matter. In fact, some may think a fat person should talk about cupcakes. However, the truth is that doing, and talking about, such things an athlete might, is exactly what the fat person should be doing. And no, that's not because they're already fat and need to lose weight--it's because that's the truth and everybody should be thinking about it, regardless of what shape they're in.

Same thing here. Paul is not 22 years old, but he focuses on writing what he believes is truth logically derived from his experiences and those of others around him. Therefore it doesn't matter if a reader is happy working corporate, a janitor, young, old, or lives outside the US. If it's truth, smart people will want to be aware of it, even if they never plan on starting a startup, exercising, or eating healthy.

I could write a blog with the same exact content, and it wouldn't get such publicity. But it wouldn't make what I say less true.

Absolute horseshit. Really. Exactly what "best work in software" is being done by established companies? Practically every innovation in the software technology that really matters has come out of the startup/non-corporate-open-source or academic worlds.

It's fascinating that people are so jealous and insecure, apparently about the success and the moxie of startup folks, that they misread the referenced article. It's like an ink blot. Absolutely amazing..

A lot have actually come out of large corporate research labs, and then been commercialized by startups when the big companies ignored them. Xerox gave us the mouse, the laptop, the GUI, color graphics, Smalltalk, the WYSIWYG word processor, Ethernet, and PostScript. Bell Labs gave us the transistor, sound in movies, six-sigma, the television, photovoltaics, algorithmic information theory, UNIX, C, C++, and plan9 (which is full of innovations that haven't yet been commercialized). IBM gave us the relational database. Microsoft is funding much of the work on functional programming.

You really need both. Startups are an essential part of the economy, but they're not the only part of the economy, and many brilliant inventions have been discovered by researchers working 9-5 at a big company.

"Xerox gave us the mouse,"

No, Doug Engelbart gave us the mouse. You may wish to go through the rest of your list and fact-check it. There's a nice on-line encyclopedia you can use at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ ; I forget what large corporation invented wikis and later funded the application of them to encyclopedias.

Let me help you with that: Apple. The c2 wiki was inspired by Hypercard.

Speaking of Rorshach Tests. Your example of a CS advance isn't. Wikipedia is an application of a PHP script designed 5 years before the site launched. But you probably wrote that comment using a CPU that is the product of N generations of CPU research at Intel corporation.

Let me help you with that: Apple. The c2 wiki was inspired by Hypercard.

Ward Cunningham invented wikis. Apple didn't. The c2 wiki was inspired by an app he had written in Hypercard, which was itself inspired by Hypercard. But inspiration is not invention.

As fabulously successful and widespread as wikis have become, Ward's name is rarely mentioned in connection with them. That strikes me as a shame, because this is one case where there's a clear and unambiguous inventor.


I started to object to this with a reductionist argument about what wikis actually are, but thought the better of it and concede the point. Ward's wiki is a good example of an indie CS advance.

Yes the wiki was invented by an "uncaged lion", but it was built on over 3 decades of advances by employees of large organizations: Andreeson was an employee of NCSA at UIUC or some other university when he wrote Mosiac. Tim Berners-Lee created the WWW while employed at the big European organization for high-energy physics (CERN). The TCP/IP stack was first added to Unix by grad students and faculty at Cal Berkeley, funded by the US government. Almost all pre-WWW internet software was written by employees of large organizations. E.g., the traceroute utility was written by an employee of LLNL. Sendmail, a grad student at Cal. Earlier mail servers and user agents were written at RAND Corp (which is only medium-sized but is funded almost entirely by the government). The first mailing lists, SF-Lovers and Human-Nets, were started by employees of large organizations and populated almost entirely by them for the first two decades of their existence. The end-to-end argument and the notion of the IP layer were formulated in the early 1980s by employees of large organizations. The father of the internet, J.C.R. Licklider, worked for large organizations his entire life (MIT, Dept of Defense). The first internet hosts were developed by medium-sized defense contractors: BBN was one.

The first entrepreneurs to significantly influence the evolution of the internet were probably the founders of SUN, most of whom came from Cal Berkeley and worked on those government contracts to add a TCP/IP stack to Unix. (The main contribution of SUN to the internet that I know of was to accelerate the number of internet users: every SUN workstation came bundled with internet software -- probably the first time that a marketing department helped drive internet adoption.) After the founding of SUN, not much entrepreneurial influence on the internet that I know of till the internet gold rush starting 1993 or 1994, which was 33 or 34 years after (planning and research) work started on the internet/Arpanet. I know UUNET was an entrepreneurial venture of the 1980s: I am unfamiliar with whether or how UUNET influenced the internet though. In 1992, entrepreneurs/lawyers Canter and Siegal invented spam, but spam is hardly a distinguished contribution.

Also, Engelbart worked for TRW or some other defense contractor (a large organization) and then SRI (medium-sized but funded almost entirely by the government) so pointing out that he was never an employee of Xerox does not exactly score a point for the uncaged-lions side of the ledger.

Funny you mention that, because that list came straight off of Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xerox_PARC#Accomplishments. The mouse was invented by Engelbart, but Xerox PARC was the first research group to really adopt it and see what it could do.

Hmmmm. Pretty sure unix started as an unfunded side project for a couple of lads. From memory, research on transistors began well before Bell Labs had a hand in their development, IBM didn't give us the relational database; the honor belongs to a university I've long since forgotten. Oh, and Microsoft is funding some of the work on functional programming.

That aside, I agree with your second para.

Hmm. Pretty sure Unix is universally credited to Bell Labs, originated in another operating system built by Bell Labs, and received substantial funding from Bell Labs. If your best argument is that Unix is an example of non-corporate research because Richie started it in his spare time, you don't have much of a case.

Ted Codd is usually credited as the inventor of the relational database. He was employed by IBM at the time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.F._Codd

Ouch. Nearly all of those things you listed happened before I was born.

No wonder the baby-boomers think our society is perfect and if you complain there must be something wrong with you.

Ouch. You seem to think Ethernet, Postscript, and C are inapplicable to modern computer science. Where did you go to school?

Remove "academia", which is a feeder for both startups and industry --- disproportionately favoring industry, of course.

Now, defend your argument. Maybe we should start with processor cores? I hear there's some open source HDL you can download for that. Or how about routing algorithms?

Which meaning of "isomorphism" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isomorphism_%28disambiguation%2...) do you have in mind here?

3 of those say basically the same thing, "a similarity of structure or form"...

As long as it's not #1...

Oh my god. Lions.

I'd have compared them to caged gophers.

Since we're talking about animals so much, it's Interesting how some really prefer weasel words. Obviously there are some tender sensibilities here.

3 people who have had disrupted the normal thinking track: DHH, PH, and AS, and many people hate them for it - defending their hatred or anger by accusing these people of arrogance or narcissism. think about it.

David. Got it. Paul. Got it. AS???

arnold schwarzenegger

aaron swartz

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