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Need a Job? Build Something Cool.
154 points by kfarzaneh on Sept 10, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 63 comments

Feross (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1678111) gets an offer:

From Chad Hurley's Twitter: "Hey @FreeTheFeross! Loving YouTube Instant... http://feross.net/instant/ Want a job? ;)"

I think this can be true, to a point. The danger is in getting lazy.

Time for my story:

Last October, I released a concept video of a next-generation desktop UI that garnered a surprising amount of blog coverage. Within a week, I had received emails from people at Google, Apple, and Microsoft, as well as a few startups.

As you might imagine, I was rather excited. This was exactly what I'd hoped might be a result of the video: I'd get noticed, talked about, and picked up by an industry leader.

Yet here I am, nearly a year later, still at my old job. What happened? I'd figured I had it in the bag, that all I had to do was put my best foot forward and I'd be well on my way to my dream interaction design career. In truth: I got lazy.

The interview at Google the next month went well, but a month after that, I got the bad-news call. Apple took me through a series of wide-spaced phone screens that never went anywhere, only to restart the recruitment process for a different division several months later, finally getting bumped by an internal candidate. Microsoft got lost in the shuffle, I went through some disjointed recruitment processes at a few startups with a bit of contract work, but finally, even that went quiet.

Where did I go wrong? I think I assumed I'd gone far enough for the time being, that this one video marked my arrival and that was it. But I lost my momentum. Lengthy recruiting processes can make it seem like you have time to kill, but you don't! I shouldn't have missed a beat; I should have doubled down on my concept and explored it even further instead of pinning my hopes on getting hired somewhere cool.

My advice to Feross or anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation: Don't stop now!

I wouldn't classify holding down a fulltime job while doing a side project AND going through fairly rigorous recruiting processes as anywhere near lazy.

"... holding down a fulltime job while doing a side project AND going through fairly rigorous recruiting processes as anywhere near lazy ..."

I'd agree but @mortenjorck probably means "focused". One of the things I noticed reading the description was it sounded similar to how Linux started - Linus stayed on task with the OS but released early and often (with the help of GNU). I bet the "hiring plebs" at SoftCo. would have been going overtime if the idea was distributed and used by increasing numbers of users.

Your 10GUI concept is very innovative! I'm surprise the big 3 wasn't serious in hiring you. Looking back into the interviews, can you tell what may have caused their decisions?

Am I the only one who thinks this indicates a serious flaw in hiring processes more than anything else?

Not necessarily. Hiring processes aren't just designed to identify good candidates. They're designed to identify good candidates who want to work for you.

Someone who's highly skilled but only marginally interested in what you're doing will probably be a worse employee, over the long run, than someone who's marginally skilled but highly interested in what you're doing. When you let the ball drop in a hiring process (as I did when applying to FriendFeed, sigh...ah well, maybe it was my subconscious telling me something), you're saying you're not really all that interested in the company.

I had a similar but less illustrious experience.

Pretty much, if you ARE interested in leveraging such attention into a position, you'd better pursue it wholeheartedly and not just assume you're a shoo-in.

Was this you? http://10gui.com/video/ If not, sorry. If it is, amazing!

Based on his HN profile, yes it is.

edit: I'm not sure who Morten Jorck is. It sounds like it's R. Clayton Miller's alter-ego. mortenjorck's HN profile links to 10gui.com and in the video it says the original concept is by R. Clayton Miller with the voice-over done by Morten Jorck. But the HN profile also links to twitter.com/claymill Are these two names the same person who came up with that brilliant and highly detailed concept video?

Ha, yes, that's me. "Morten Jorck" began as a stage name for my music project (which is the "Presteign" credited with the soundtrack on the 10/GUI video). I guess it was just a particular self-consciousness that impelled me to use that name in the credits, as well as for my HN username.

Now you have my attention, what was your concept? Do you have a link with more info?

I believe the parent is referring to his 10/GUI project, a desktop multi-touch interface concept:


Which was covered by many outlets, including:




I've seen this sentiment expressed here, as well as a few other places.

[1]Nothing matters more to employers than seeing that you actually have a passion for building things. There are a lot of people who have got certifications up to their eyes, but don't really care too much about tech.

There is a huge difference between the person that goes home and spends their nights working on a building cookie-baking-robot, or the next big social-networking website, and somebody that goes home and watches the TV.

I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with watching TV, just that having somebody who likes doing the type of work you're hiring them to do so much that they actually do it even when they don't have to is going to go a long way towards motivating them. It also means that they, typically, are good independent learners. I imagine that this is a hugely important trait in an industry where doing things that might seem kindof insane (like running a data-store that hasn't even reached a 1.0 release yet) is considered normal.

[1]Obviously, within reason. If you've got a passion for building things, but you think that a server is somebody that brings you food at a restaurant, you might not be well suited to a system administrator position.

(Or maybe this is all just wishful thinking. I love building things, but haven't yet gotten my dream job.)

Nothing matters more to employers than seeing that you actually have a passion for building things

This is as true outside of technical fields. I've been giving talks at Career Centers about communicating passion to find a job after college, and the thing that is most attractive to employers is creating something or communicating passion.

And Feross? Outstanding. In the next talk I give, you're in the spotlight. Congratulations!

If you don't mind my asking, how do you get this type of thing across on a resume?

Some people have told me to wrap my personal projects up as a "company" and say that I am employed by myself, basically list it as a job.

I'd prefer seeing it under a "Personal Projects" section. It's more impressive when you do cool stuff without a paycheck attached. If there isn't enough space to get everything across, list one or two projects and link to a web page that shows the rest. Here's the portfolio page of someone I actually ended up hiring: http://crccheck.com/portfolio

The fact that you have to even ask this question (I've been in same boat) is evidence that traditional resumes and hiring mindsets are broken and archaic. The "X years of experience in Y" concept being probably the poster boy. Because what does X mean? Is X years by Bob equivalent to X years by Steve? What if X years in Y yields greater mastery than A years in B, because the former occurred later in their career, or because B was more difficult?

For example, I wrote a lot of C code in the 90's, but never "professionally" and so I periodically encounter recruiters whose brain just implodes at that concept. How could I possibly know C if I never did it for a paycheck? Is he lying? Talk about an insane world view.

having somebody who likes doing the type of work you're hiring them to do so much that they actually do it even when they don't have to is going to go a long way towards motivating them

I do pretty much the same thing at work and during the evenings but working on my own stuff, with me being the boss is just so much better for motivation that there is no comparison. I do perhaps twice as much during 4 hours in the evening than I do during my work day.

Yes, but that's irrelevant. The question is, how much do you get done during the day compared to other people who don't do anything at home.

I can't agree with this enough. I'm kind of an old-timer web developer and have built about one new web concept every 3 or 4 years. While none of these ventures have made me a millionaire, each one did teach me new skills and lead directly to my next job.

Most recently it was a very fluffy "video sharing" rails app, built in 2007. It helped me get a good gig that buffered me through the first half of the great recession.

Now I'm back to doing what I like doing best... investing time in learning and build-cool-thinging. I really can't lose.

And, as a last note, building something is a very good cover for being, er, "in between jobs"... and a lot cheaper than grad school :)

The question is, if you can build something cool (and importantly get press), why just settle for just a job?

Because if you're hired, you're basically allowing the company that hired to you subsidize your continued learning.

One of the projects that I spend my time working on was originally a way for me to teach myself about mysql, the next one was to learn about ajax, the next about CSS etc. This is all fine, but I'm doing this all on my own time, and I don't have the marketing budget to ever see if it can stand up to getting loads and loads of traffic.

Now lets say that I get hired by reddit, or twitter, or posterous, or couchsurfing, or whoever else. The types of technologies that these people use, while similar to what I'm doing with my personal projects, are on an entirely different scale. Getting to work on a database as large as reddit's would be absolutely invaluable to somebody that has an interest in large-scale databases. This is the type of thing that people typically pay thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars to go to school for. Getting the same (I would say better, actually) experience and having them pay you for it is awesome.

I guess my advice is: disregard money, acquire knowledge. If you do this then, hopefully, the money will come naturally.

I don't mean to cherrypick, but Reddit's database situation is highly abnormal and not desirable. They hacked up a spitshined Postgres-driven KV Store that is little more than cpickle->textarea plus an index.

Their database infrastructure is a major source of their pains and why they have to be creative with the caching side.

It doesn't help that the content is low latency and write heavy, more so than Facebook streams would be, I imagine since people aren't screaming into the void, but actually carrying on a conversation.

It's a damn good thing Reddit has a proper queue setup.

Because 99% of people make more money collecting a salary than they do being bought by Google.

Really? Where's that number coming from?

Seems to me that if you build a startup that's acquired by Google (say for the relatively small sum of $5m after a couple of years) that's still a whole lot more than you would have earned as a salary - even if you're a cofounder with just 50%. And on top of that you end up getting another good salary from Google as well once they acquire you.

The 99% figure is obviously a generalization, but it's well known that most startups fail. Amongst the ones that don't, only a few are bought out by someone like Google, or go on to succeed in bigger ways. Additionally, only those with substantial stock positions in the company make out well on these pay days - the rest of the people who worked for the startup are making a salary.

In short, most people are making a salary, and of those that try to found their own company, most will end up failing and making less than they would have if they took a salaried gig. That is the risk of founding a company.

$2.5m for one successful 3 year startup is 833,000 per year. So let's say every year you spend working on a successful startup, you earn $900,000, adding in a salary during those 3 years and rounding up for fun.

But every year you spend working on a failed startup, you might only earn $50,000 (let's assume you can draw a small salary off of investors or revenue). And let's also say there's a 10% chance of success. The EV for spending a year on startup(s) wound be $95,000, which is probably within wiggle room of what you could earn with a salary.

However, that's average. If you're clever and determined, your chance won't be 10%. At 25%, the EV goes up to $262,500 per year. That's a hard salary to get. But few people are sufficiently awesome to have a 25% shot, I suspect. (It's hard to say because there aren't many truly large sample sizes out there yet.)

If one in ten Internet startups were acquired by Google, I'd short Google's stock. The likelihood of being acquired is closer to one in one thousand.

I've been thinking about this, but really I'm not so sure we're talking about the same number. It's close to one in one thousand to have your first or second startup acquired, maybe, but at a certain level of competence it's not unreasonable to expect a $5m exit somewhere within your first ten startups.

It's very unlikely you'll get through 10 startups without having to spend your own money since a three time loser is not going to get investment very easily.

Your average net income over the period of time it takes you to get a $5M exit will probably exceed your earnings from that exit, which will likely be less than $1M.

The point is that startups are not an easy or guaranteed way to make killer money. That's gold rush thinking. Think about how many startups (thousands) are in Silicon Valley right now and how many have exited in the last 5 years (dozens).

Don't get me wrong. Live the dream. I'm working at my 6th startup, and I just started my first one. But don't do it for the money. Do it because you're creating something you believe should exist in the world.

- Assuming that Doubleclick was the largest company Google has acquired - Assuming that Doubleclick had 5,000 employees (generous estimate, I believe) at the time of acquisition - Assuming that Google has only acquired the 75 companies listed in Wikipedia for Google acquisitions - Using August 2008's census data

No more (and likely SIGNIFICANTLY less) than 375,000 people have been acquired by Google,

There are 154.9 million people in the American workforce (collecting salaries).

The actual number (based on the above information) leads us to believe that 99.998% of people make more money collecting a salary than they do being bought by Google.

It's worth noting, perhaps, that I might be counting the wealthiest 2% of Americans within the 154.9 million census number (or that there are dramatically fewer employees in the workforce since the bubble burst), but those wealthy folks were almost certainly not acquired by Google (although, if they were, it doesn't skew the numbers that significantly.)

He probably wanted to say is that on average people make more money from salaries. For each company that is acquired by Google many others don't go anywhere.

Agreed. Counting on getting bought by Google as an exit strategy is like saying winning the lottery is the retirement plan.

That's not the terms that jrockway used though. He said:

Because 99% of people make more money collecting a salary than they do being bought by Google.

He directly compared collecting a salary to being bought by Google, he did not compare earning a salary to starting your own company. The latter would be a fair statement, but if you are going to get bought by Google, chances are you will make more money than by earning a salary (unless you're an investment banker).

99% of people who make up statistics post them without a reference.

Also 100% of people who make a error in their joke get corrected by the people on Hacker News.

What do the remaining 1% do? Rig a study?

This is probably because 100% of people who make up statistics don't have a reference, since they made up the statistic.

Not at all. 95% of references go unchecked, which allows people to just make crap up. [1]

1 - http://arxiv.org/abs/1009.1080

I would try to verify any of the above statements, but i'm not 100% sure where to begin.

Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. 14% of people know that. -Homer

Steady income can be... useful if you are living on ramen.

Working for The Man also helps you do things you could never do on your own, because the company can fund things you could never hope to afford to tinker with.

I'm currently working for someone else to learn how to manage others. Coming from a purely technical background, I wanted to make my newbie manager mistakes on someone else's dollar.

This? Works so well, though not necessarily as written.

I built and launched Bill On Site about a year ago (http://www.billonsite.com/), and it's leading the top of my resume. I've gotten every job I've applied for largely based on the strength of having done that.

The fact that you can start AND finish a large project on your own speaks volumes over other guys who are basically unproven quantities without similar references.

"The fact that you can start AND finish a large project on your own speaks volumes."

It totally does. Passion counts for much, and it's just so hard to find.

For other people who don't know who Chad Hurley is, he is the CEO of YouTube.

And Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of Facebook.

Need to Build Something Cool? Quit your Job.

Hi everyone, I'm the author of YouTube Instant. Thanks for all the nice comments. This discussion has been quite interesting to read.

Very nice. Congrats Feross on your success and serious offer?

The other side of this is having the company duplicate what you did and you are still out of a job.

I'd say kudos to the lad for his work. It's a fairly decent idea but I personally wouldn't use it. Never really like any of those "play something random" stuff. Someone out there might love this idea though. With Google Instant, I felt that the speed of change was quite drastic. Every single letter I typed caused the UI to change. Don't really fancy it now but we'll see!

I did go down this path with http://www.errorlevelanalysis.com/, hoping that the development time would pay off and bring in future work. So far it's just been a tool that reddit and 4chan use to spur on comment wars.

Building something cool that has actual utility to someone, may be a better strategy.

Screw degrees, screw fancy pants resumes.

BUILD and build it now.

Ever heard the phrase MAKE WHAT PEOPLE WANTS?

And....... go!

Such a sentiment presumes programmers have all the cool ideas.

How's that, exactly?

Can Feross get a job in YouTube had he gone through the usual recruitment process? I'd say a big no.

do we know if @FreeTheFeross is on HN?

I am. :)

Was this a serious offer?

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