"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."
"Working for yourself doesn't have to mean starting a startup,
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.
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 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.
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.
* 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?
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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That aside, I agree with your second para.
No wonder the baby-boomers think our society is perfect and if you complain there must be something wrong with you.
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?
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.