I'm British but recently moved to Oslo, Norway. Until recently I worked at a start-up incubator where there was talk about the 'extreme' start up work life. For Norwegians that meant that they left the office at 5pm instead of 3:30 or 4pm. By 6pm the hot desk office space was normally empty and the lights switched themselves off.
It's a tiny industry here and no-one is looking to build the next facebook, they're just looking to do interesting work whilst also having a good life.
This is something I miss in all the "Europe doesn't have the next Google, Europe doesn't have the next Facebook" discussions: Is this really a problem? We could if we wanted, but why would we want? Working like crazy for .. what?
People make money doing things besides computers. Sometimes I think HackerNews folks forget that.
To quote an EU politician I recently had the random chance to have lunch with: "Europe is realizing that these big corporations, they don't have our people's best interests in mind. We can't even begin the conversation on privacy and stuff like that because the American baseline for what is normal and ethical is so far off what we consider ethical there's no way to have a real dialogue. So we're taking measures to protect our citizens, starting with GDPR"
Perhaps if Europe had more Googles and Facebooks, they wouldn't monopolize the internet and the playing field could be more even.
Asking what's the point of having the Googels and Facebooks and Amazons is like asking 100 years ago "Why should Europe need a car industry"
Because consumers want that stuff and they're gonna get it somewhere. And if they get it somewhere else, that somewhere else gains a certain degree of power.
That equates Google and Facebook with the whole IT industry, which is maybe what both wish they were but aren't.
Huge data centers like OVH?
Pioneers like Nokia, Ericsson and Siemens used to be? (in some ways still are)
Or monopolist companies specifically?
Really, nobody wants Acme Inc. Even if its logo is painted with fancy colors and it promotes youth culture. Google's main business is monopolizing internet advertising and data collection...
The US makes appa that suck down 5MB to display a status update; Scandanavia builds the equipment that makes it possible.
May I ask why ?
That is, these are not woes of globalization, but woes of monopolization of a market, partly due to the natural "winner takes all" dynamics of said market.
BTW both EC and USA have the same sort of problem with a lot of things manufactured now in China, with domestic know-how lost.
I think the following is also relevant, since work stress/craziness is about much more than workload: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pressure-proof/20130...
It's not clear to me how DHH gets the money for his auto racing hobby. Perhaps it has to be crazy at work for others to have a shot at hobbies like this, especially if you aren't the founders.
That unclarity can be solved pretty easily. David is one of the two partners of Basecamp (formerly 37signals). That company delivers a service in the project management space, basecamp.com, and some other web applications. They charge customers a fair amount, and they have thousands and thousands of customers, mainly in the SME segment. With around 50 well-paid employees, a nice office and significant (leased/owned) infrastructure, their costs are still way less than their revenue, so they make a healthy profit. I guess that profit is paid out as dividends to the stakeholders of the company: at last David, Jason and Jeff Bezos (for a minority share). Those dividends are sufficient to buy a nice house, own some sports cars, and enjoy a racing hobby.
Additionally, Jason and David have written some popular books. The author's share of those sales could pay for some other interests (photography, watches) as well.
They don't say how many of the 2,838,046 accounts are discounted or free, but I doubt it's a sizable percentage. For the sake of argument, let us suppose that it brings it all the way down to the equivalent of only 2.5 million full-priced accounts. That's about $3 billion a year.
Although current pricing for Basecamp 3 is $99/month (for unlimited amount of projects), previous Basecamp versions (Classic and 2) had other pricing models. Significantly cheaper when you were managing less projects, a bit more expensive for more than 100 projects, IIRC.
Basecamp / 37signals also has paying users for some other applications, e.g., Highrise (CRM, 10,000+ organizations, but closed for new signups), Campfire (instant messaging, closed for new signups), Backpack (intranet for businesses, closed for new signups). They continue to provide those services though, "until the end of the internet" :-)
So, in short... it's not as simple as 2.5 million times 99 USD.
Ignoring paid accounts for the other products, and severely underestimating the number of accounts at the 99 dollar level as 75,000, the monthly revenue could be 7.5 million dollar per month minimally, or 90 million per year. I would guess the actual number is twice that. Either way, it's impressive by any comparison.
He's a partner, the company makes a lot of $ so he makes a lot of $, go and look at his instagram feed :)
The company is well enough off that the regular workers who work there can work normal hours without stuff being crazy (for the most part) but for David to still get paid enough and take the time out to go racing/create bespoke financial philosophies about Facebook. Remmeber, the company is still (last I heard) only about 50-odd people with one relatively small office in Chicago. The expenses aren't going to be withering, and there's no VC, so there's no frantic push to get huge before an IPO. (source: used to work there)
Me either, and I'm not saying this is the case for DHH at all, but I am aware of one company in the UK where it is/was: one of the founders paid himself a metric ####ton of cash to fund expensive hobbies such as auto-racing. I am way past the point where I'm willing to work my tail off so somebody else can have a lot of fun off the back of it: I'm afraid I want a piece of that pie too. Call it entitlement if you will, but I make no apology.
Judging by his clothes, the answer seems to be "sponsors." And, looking at the things like race tracks and racing schools, it seems like entering auto racing isn't exactly cheap, but for _well paid_ folk - as Basecamp seems to be — it's far from unachievable. No surprise really, I know people working things like support for generic companies getting into airplanes.
And, thanks to the attitude of work/life balance, vacation and health coverage (I mean, obviously I'm not talking about the US), they have the time and security to actually pursue the hobbies.
from what i've seen, most people work 10ish to 6ish under very relaxed conditions like eg a comfortable lunch and a few breaks during the day. i've also noticed that people tend to be available online outside of their work hours, but nobody really expects that nor gets mad when someone isn't.
this was true for all of our employees when i was CTO/co-founder and also for us founders most of the time. this was also true when i worked at a Series A startup and it is true in my team at Google, and it seems it'd be similar in most other teams, too.
note that i'm not taking a stance on whether what i described above is good or bad, it's just what i've observed.
It boggles my mind that some of my friends (mostly in other industries) toil away for what they claim is 80+ hours per week. I can’t fathom being able to do that and actually be productive for that amount of time for more than 1-2 weeks.
There are definitely tech companies with the crazy-hours workaholic culture but in my experience it’s easy to spot this from a mile away and I simply refuse to work for them. There’s tons of great companies where you can do cool stuff and still have a sane & balanced life.
They're not actually productive for that much time.
It's just sad to see people I care about get caught up in that culture when I know they are talented enough to work somewhere else and still make really good money and not have to live like that. But I think workaholism can definitely be addictive and a lot of times it is purely self-inflicted by choice whether conscious or unconscious.
Im convinced most of the long hours culture is an elaborate signaling exercise and “facetime show”.
My jaw drops with envy when I see the impossibly huge allotments of personal space people get in more traditional office spaces. My dad’s cube farm felt like a palace. Fortunately I have two monitors side by side and management doesn’t seem willing to challenge that. Those with only one monitor inevitably get their seats compressed until that’s their entire workspace.
My colleagues assure me it’s no better anywhere else in tech and that if I feel strongly about it, the only thing to do is start my own company.
Meanwhile the company continues to throw money and perks at us. Anything and everything but quiet workspace. Actually there are quiet rooms on every floor! But those are for medication only, no laptops allowed. They came so close to getting it.
My tech office in Indianapolis has offices for everybody that wants them.
But I have worked at places where there was extreme and contrived pressure to meet artificial goals set by managers with no engineering input. For example, I have worked at places that have stipulated no vacation without prior approval, and had multiple-month windows where vacation wasn't approved.
Most places I worked weren't like that, but a few were very unpleasant and not any more efficient for it.
The two that really stand out:
1. Enterprise software firm in the healthcare space with a backend lang/storage system that was so antiquated they struggled to find and retain developers. This constraint was so acute that it forced the few remaining developers into a non stop crisis mode as the situation was often "XYZ hospital is down". I left a long time ago, but apparently it's gotten better as they've finally migrated to a more sustainable platform.
2. A hardware/software Augmented Reality startup that had a very difficult time meeting delivery dates. They'd spin up departments like "customer success" and "support" and "technical documentation" and then would have a 6+ month delay shipping. So you'd have very talented people with more or less nothing to do for that timeframe, so people just sat in endless meetings trying to weigh in on everything and it ground the company to a halt. To throw fuel on the fire, they then had the hardware team start working mandatory 6 day weeks (and then made everyone else come in b/c they were "a family").
A senior to me dev started working nights. I didn't even know he was doing it but I got in trouble for not being there when he was working. Because I "wasn't available when he needed me".
There is also a bit of entitlement sometimes (needs an office exactly this size, with this type of lamp bulb, < 5dbs of sound, work hours from 10:06 to 6:06 b/c that is fits the optimal biorhythm with the moon, etc...). Which can make it hard to know if the company is really a problem, or is the employee just difficult?
Not that everyday was like this of course, but these conditions were happening more often than not.
Sure, some of it was due to impostor syndrome and competitiveness between team members but most of it was just the environment
I had to do this to prevent a customer from having another reason not to renew.
I wouldn't say it's the norm - just that it happens.
It is interesting because VC math forces a level of intensity that Basecamp doesn’t have to contend with. So in one sense, the message can be interpreted as “don’t take VC funding”.
The more obvious interpretation is that, regardless of financing, work should never dominate your life. But this is can be argued against, since some forms of financing like venture take away your control of work intensity.
The act of ceding voting power in your company is a step closer towards the work style that Jason and DHH are protesting.
If you're going to work at such a place then acknowledge you may be getting paid to put up with tantrums of the ultra-rich when their money likely goes away (as most startups fail). Don't internalize it.
And engineers are completely in their right to disagree to insane working hours. What's the additional leverage VC:s hold?
I've never understood this propensity to claim that it's impossible to avoid insane working hours. Sure it is. Just don't do it.
How is that? I find it unlikely any VC would go to court just because founder insists on sane working hours for employees. Or is there some leverage here I'm completely missing?
But for VCs with an aggressive stance towards working longer, there are many subtle ways to stop supporting a founder that goes against their working culture assumptions.
Increased combatitiveness in board meetings, reduced support in tapping their network for key hires, and increased attention paid toward advising competitors in their portfolio are a few that come to mind.
Do people really think that a new plumbing firm calling itself a startup would enable them to hire cheap plumbers working 50% unpaid overtime for a half-arsed profit-share promise that maybe this new posh area will cause a great expansion in the future? No, the plumbers would know they're getting shafted.
Anyway, maybe this book can be a step in a humbling direction. The last two books were indeed filled with a lot of common sense that should be repeated.
I like a lot of what dhh says, but I think the weak part of his arguments is probably practicality. There are plenty of people that agree with him in principle, but are destined to make other choices because of the way the world works.
That said, if there ever was a time when quality of life mattered it is now. I am convinced that whichever country can scale quality of life will have success. Pretty much everyone of the established startup hubs, and even the non-established ones, are essentially limited not by knowledge, capital or workforce but quality of life.
When cities say they lack companies, or companies say they lack workforce, or the workforce say they lack salary, it is really that money isn't buying them the quality of life needed to be effective.
I'm amazed by the sibling comments "benefit of the doubt" view even with the hindsight of the game industry, among others, that uses this fact systematically. There's obviously skewed incentives to over-scope when the crunches are culturally normalized together with costs offloaded to the employees since there's no OT pay. The incentives to the individual manager is obvious too. No costs to report for their own incompetence, instead their feature list is completed - and maybe their bonus or promotion goal reached.
Where I live this no overtime pay scheme is usually compensated by an extra vacation week per year. Like clockwork however - every single year - this credit is collected through overtime multiple times over.
This will be repeated as long as they can get away with it because there's simply so much money to make from it.
My boss doesn’t have any direct financial stake in the outcome of our/my work. And yet - my workload and occupational expectations are such that I’m routinely in a position requiring significant overtime. I’m also aware that this is often true in other public school districts, less true in private schools, and even worse in many charter school networks.
Teaching is an emotionally exhausting job; however, it’s the combination of intensity + working hours + low compensation that pushes me toward industry (anyone looking for a UX Research Assistant in the Minneapolis area?)
Maybe because you are a nice guy? I hope I'll never have a boss with your ethics, I'd be gone very fast.
I am merely pointing out that unpaid overtime/wage theft/whatever is probably more common than the OP acknowledges. This is obviously unfortunate and a likely a work culture problem in the US.
I also understand that teaching how the sausage is made is a big part of their marketing strategy. That creates a little bit of a conflict where it's easier not to show the warts than it is to talk about how awesome things are. Companies that market in this fashion do the rest of the world a great service. They show us how things could be. We need to understand and acknowledge that conflict to keep a balanced view.
The only thing I found missing from the nice essay full of pleasing things to read was this: we do this to ourselves. It's not some evil corporate manager-types, although things can look like that. You can get just as stressed out because your stack is whack as you can because your schedule is whack. The schedule is this "external" thing you can yell at. The stack just wheedles away at you, minute-by-minute.
I've also seen a lot of successful teams slowly turn the screws -- on themselves. Ego takes a lot of forms. A little success can make you want a lot more.
I really, really like the calm competence view of creating technology. The best folks I've worked with were smart, friendly, easy-going, and calm. The worst ones were smart, self-centered, authoritarian, and chaotic. Oddly enough, people who aren't-so-smart fall equally in both camps. I've seen some really good teams where nobody looked like they knew a lot. They just made it work and had fun doing it. I've also seen teams that should be building the next Mars base that weren't able to pick the toppings for their next pizza order.
I suspect a great many companies are like this. I have never worked anywhere that any of that particular hit-list was expected. There's a bubble in which all this is "normal", but that bubble is small.
They were putting in 60+ hours a week, sleeping at work.
I tried to counsel the CEO and CIO, both of whom had been quite successful previously and were determined to "win at all costs" this time around.
They both resisted the procedure.
So I left. I told them that once they came back to being sane again, I'd be happy to come back and help them not do that again, but I wasn't going to hang out and assist them in this insanity.
My guess is that it depends on whether you count by companies or developers. By companies it's probably quite prevalent. By developers? Not so much. But these are the kinds of things companies don't admit to themselves or others. On the flip side of this, there's a ton of apathy in this business as well. Neither extreme is healthy.
A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.
Work steady hours, and the "output" becomes predictable (this is what agile methodologies are also about - predictability), which allows for better planning. Working 60+ hours means the output becomes very unpredictable. I mean people will crack and either leave or become overworked at that point, and now there's an even bigger problem.
This new book seems to be kind of a mix of those previous books.
It’s possible that a new book released at a new time can reach a new(?)audience that will have he potential to adjust their behavior.
Peopleware  came out in 1987 for example, so in theory we should have learnt something in 30 years.
Software is also kind of a victim of it's own success. Once a software company has some traction, if lucky, it can be run badly and still be very profitable. The owners may have some hubris as to their business prowess and they know how things should be done. They may not be willing to change and question themselves, and want to change the culture. They'll probably not take time to take in all of that exit interview feedback, and analyse it and improve from it.
I think a lot of companies are run on intuition and not evidence based or well thought out ideas. That is why managers think a noisy office is better, I've worked in offices with the obligatory "why's it so quiet in here, don't you guys ever talk" joke from senior management on many occasion. Belittling of developers and putting them in their place as the 'misfits' of the organization. And as time as gone on time tracking has gone from reasonable to insane. "Why did you spend X hours on this JIRA ticket". JIRA has given management the data to take mismanagement to the next level.
To change this mindset requires these people to retire or go out of business, and for fresh blood who have learned these lessons to take over. That's going to take about another 30 years and hopefully the next generation will do better.
Still, the new book's cover may attract an audience that is not familiar with DHH/Jason/Basecamp's opinions on work/life balance.
Ultimately correlation isn't causation. Working 40 hours doesn't guarantee success by itself and neither does waking up at 4am.
I couldn't have said it better myself. Many young workers don't yet know this and that's likely why companies like FB and the like prefer them. Once one picks up on this and the fact that companies don't care about their employees, one can relax and pick up much better jobs (assuming one has a pick at all). Ruining one's health for a minor bump in the employer's profits (if that) is indeed extremely stupid. Especially when you consider the cost of healthcare and the almost certainty of losing it (in the US) if one gets sick enough to be unable to work. This is the kind of thing that should be taught in high school.
Your point about not conflating their lifestyles with their financial security is well taken. Their point is not about wealth but about health, not about money but about life. Rather than money grossly gathered, they propose a life well lived.
However, it's important to keep in mind the obverse, which is that one should not strictly dissociate their lifestyles from their financial security. Recognizing that lifestyle and wealth are uncorrelated (or loosely correlated) avoids the facile prediction that overwork will yield wealth when, in reality, overwork most often yields a miserable, dissatisfying life without extravagant wealth.
Agreed, but I find such advice feels weird from people who are extremely wealthy.
It's a bit like if a top chef did a book on cooking healthy meals - it might be packed with great practices, but the advice would come from a place of advantage that could cause blind spots in giving advice to someone with limited access to fresh groceries, a tight budget, and perhaps several dependents with varying tastes.
when, in reality, overwork most often yields a miserable, dissatisfying life without extravagant wealth.
I can't really disagree as such, but while I'm only one data point (who comes from a non-rich, working class background) I can't think of anyone I know personally who worked really hard and that made their life functionally worse, although I guess dissatisfaction is hard to measure from the outside.
I certainly know people who've reached a certain point and then improved their lives by working less thereafter, but I still think any advice to work less or chill out early in your career is pretty dangerous ground for younger people to consider.
That's a really good way of putting it, something I hadn't really considered.
I still think it's too easy to find people who work so hard they suffer anxiety, sleeplessness, and ill health all while their personal relationships are neglected and/or attenuated.
It seems clear there's a difficult balance to be struck between living well and living large (so to speak) and advice to the young and inexperienced from those who are successful and accomplished should always be judged critically.
[This is a bit off-topic but my ability to upvote and downvote was nerfed long ago. I still do so, but my voting seems to have no affect on individual users' karma scores. I sometimes wonder if it's because I tend to upvote thoughtful responses to my own comments.]
From my experience working harder didn't get me any further than not. Everything I've seen in life has shown me that who you know (and even more importantly who you parents introduce know, at least when you're younger) will get you a lot farther than how hard you work.
Company policies are a different topic than personal success.
If my kids say they want to do well in their careers and have a certain level of material success (they might not, which is fine), I'm not going to tell them to work less, entertain fewer meetings with people, to never rush, refuse overtime, etc. Those are luxuries they can choose later in their career once they're on their way.
who you know will get you a lot farther than how hard you work
I agree, but if you don't know anyone (and I certainly did not) then working hard does, in my experience, yield better results than not working hard. It's like going to the gym - if you have the right genetics and body, you have a huge advantage, but putting in the work is better than nothing if you don't.
Is this a cultural thing, i.e. we're not so proud about overworking ourselves in the UK?
Or is it because I'm outside of the tech bubble -- my work as a software engineer is mostly supporting science and research rather than pushing business products through the door before the next VC funding round?
Or is it just that we are generally more relaxed in an academic environment, where the salaries aren't so lucrative but we get appreciable amounts of time off?
Part of that may be because I've mostly worked as a contractor, where you tend to be a replaceable cog providing 8 hours of service a day. But most of the permanent employees also went home around 6pm.
I don't think the consequences for going home at the end of your workday are very severe. You don't need to stay late if production isn't down. If production is down at 6pm that shouldn't have happened and you need to adjust your process. At my last permanent role I spent a lot of time telling people to stop deploying the daily build after 3pm. (I understand that there's project managers pressuring them, but that doesn't justify ruining anyone's evening.)
If you can't get your work done during work hours you should fix that, not work longer hours.
I think DHH is kind of visionary and philosophical, you might not agree with every thing about his coding style and Ruby usage. But a lot of things he said tends to make lots of sense from a grand perspective. Idea / Concept Compression, working style, life etc.
Unfortunately not everyone is as well off as him and gets to do whatever he wants. The industry, not just IT but in every other sector in general ( As a matter of fact I don't even know which industry isn't crazy apart form Government civil servants jobs ), are all crazy for more hours and more work.
What do you think is the significance of that for Basecamp? Poor branding? Poor conversion? What's the business impact?
I felt Basecamp are aiming at different market to Asana. Basecamp are for consultants or freelances with many clients. Asana are aiming at SMEs and Enterprise.
They're not stepping on heads to get ahead. They're not in the business of 'motivating' unhappy people who don't like what they do, into fulfilling quotas.
It's great. It reminds me of this coffee-shop that charges 10$ for a slice of pie. It's not busy, polite service, tasty pie. All the while I am well aware that such places will always remain niche.
I can't help but feel a little sad, and yet, everything seems to point to people being fine with McDonalds, Kardashians, and the opposite of what Basecamp preaches.
I presume you don't follow DHH on social media ;)
So, please read some material from him on Medium. Don't judge a person on just an Instagram profile...
See also: https://semcostyle.org/
While they talked about comfortable size etc. all the time they were still explosively growing. It will be interesting to watch how they manage if their products really plateau.
I wish them all the best and I can well imagine that they just manage to launch something new with explosive growth where they can feel cozy and comfortable sized.
Over the last 18 years we’ve been working at making Basecamp a calm company
Awesome. But this is one rare exception. Not many companies are going to do this, even if they can.
The only way to fix this is saner laws, unions etc.
I'm in a union (not by choice, but because they sign off on my work permit renewal forms). They don't represent me. I once almost needed to strike for an issue totally unrelated to anyone I worked with.
I'm not saying unions don't work, necessarily. But I do think "unions are the answer" is an oversimplification. Like any organization, they can be run well or poorly. If software engineers were unionized, they'd be complaining about bad union policies.
I just wanted to say that we can't expect companies to suddenly care for their employees. Basecamp is an exception and a very rare one. Most companies just don't care.
A person I know is super smart but has a felony conviction. I've seen him ace tons of interviews but fail background checks repeatedly. If he mentions the felony upfront, he doesn't get interview calls. I'm sure he'd be willing to put up with 50 hour work weeks, if it means he can get a decent job.
There are thousands of skilled people who are on work visas getting exploited by employers and shitty recruiters. It isn't easy for them to change jobs and they can't start a business on work visas, even if they have the skills to do so.
when you aren't willing to roll up your sleeves and do the work.
When we are healthy, young and single, we can spend 70 hour weeks building our own businesses (or go to school while working etc) until we reach a comfortable level. This gets increasingly harder as we age, start a family etc.
Not saying you are wrong, just some counter points ...