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It doesn't have to be crazy at work (basecamp.com)
300 points by kristianp 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 128 comments



The workaholic side of me used to like the crazy but the aging me likes a better work/life balance.

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.


> 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?


You may be surprised. I was talking to an American friend who works in the maritime industry and he was completely jealous of the Norwegian start up scene. In the maritime industry.

People make money doing things besides computers. Sometimes I think HackerNews folks forget that.


Maritime is huge in Norway due to decades of oil and gas exploration and extraction projects. Very prone to the industry boom and bust cycles however.


> We could if we wanted, but why would we want? Working like crazy for .. what?

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.


> 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"

That equates Google and Facebook with the whole IT industry, which is maybe what both wish they were but aren't.


Those discussions/articles are mostly started by Americans, not Europeans.


These are not the same. Yes, not having Google-like companies, even with their recent turn for the worse, is a problem. Not having a Facebook reflects rather positively on us.


What do you mean? Household names like IKEA? Service workhorses like SAP? Car manufacturers?

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...


> Huge data centers like OVH? Pioneers like Nokia, Ericsson and Siemens used to be? (in some ways still are)

The US makes appa that suck down 5MB to display a status update; Scandanavia builds the equipment that makes it possible.


Big platforms are a strategic asset that Europe is missing. Hardware production is a strategic asset that USA is missing. In case of a prolonged trade war, I'm not sure Europe is in the worse position between the two.


The USA is way bigger at hardware manufacturing.


> Yes, not having Google-like companies, even with their recent turn for the worse, is a problem

May I ask why ?


Because you're going to use what these companies produce, since their products dominate the market. E.g. your smartphone is going to be either Android or iOS, no matter how I abstractly would like Sailfish / Jolla to succeed.

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 a lot of craziness in the industry is caused by a rush to get rich. That doesn't seem to be on the table for Basecamp employees, who get fixed salaries by grade, no real stake, etc, and apparently no plan to go public.

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...


Yes, this is a good point. DHH had some rants recently on Twitter about Brian Acton selling out his company to Facebook. I found it interesting that the lifetime financial security for all WhatsApp employees wasn't mentioned.

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.


> It's not clear to me how DHH gets the money for his auto racing hobby.

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.


According to the bottom of the web page, they have over 2.8 million accounts. That is especially remarkable since an account is usually a company. Basecamp does not charge per user. The price is $99 per month --- although for nonprofits it's 10% off, and for teachers and students it's free.

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.


https://basecamp.com/customers mentions "100,000+ companies rely on Basecamp to run their business." Since it does not mention "1,000,000+ companies", I think that "2.8 million accounts" refers to users, not companies.

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.


It probably is a fairly sizeable percentage. Basecamp changed pricing quite a few times, and as far as I recall this iteration is one of the highest it has ever been.


> It's not clear to me how DHH gets the money for his auto racing hobby.

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)


> 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.

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.


Which is fine, as far as it goes, but consider the very high likelihood your equity in a start-up isn't worth much.


About 2 years after starting Basecamp DHH & his biz partner sold a minority stake to Jeff Bezos for "a few million dollars each".

https://m.signalvnoise.com/the-day-i-became-a-millionaire-55...


> It's not clear to me how DHH gets the money for his auto racing hobby.

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.


Are the majority of developers in start-ups? I'd think for most of us there is "no real stake" in the sense of lottery-ticket equity.


honest question: is work that crazy for most people in the software industry? it really doesn't square with my personal experience.

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.


Same. I’ve never worked anywhere where I had to work more than 8 hours. Startups, mid-size, and FANG alike. I have occassionally done stretches of 60-ish hour weeks for 1-2 weeks at a time, but mostly by choice, and this is the exception. 40 hours is typically ample time to get things done. 60 hours is a lot of time to be spending at work.

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.


> 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.

They're not actually productive for that much time.


That's basically what I've concluded. I think it pretty much boils down to status signaling (creating the appearance of "putting in longs hours"). There was another article posted here last week that touched on that phenomenon.

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.


At the few places I’ve worked where long hours were the norm, these “long hours” people were not working all 12+ hours they were in the office. You’d walk by their desk and this rockstar was picking his nose, or browsing Facebook, or playing a video game (on his workstation!).

Im convinced most of the long hours culture is an elaborate signaling exercise and “facetime show”.


No one is outright pressuring me to work long hours, but if I had 8 hours of real work to do, I’d have to work 16. Business hours are fully saturated with bullshit, mostly open office distractions and anxiety.

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.


I do find that my older relatives/older friends not in tech are a mixture of appalled and amazed when I say I would kill for a cubicle. They equate that with the worst sort of soul crushing jobs, but none of them have gotten to experience the open office


My tech company has individual desks in the open office. I don't think this environment you describe is the norm but I don't have numbers. That just sounds like bad management.


We do too, nominally, but the headcount kept growing and the real estate didn’t.


Ah yeah we're getting there. We just moved to this bigger office too. Frustrating.


Get a new job?

My tech office in Indianapolis has offices for everybody that wants them.


Well, I haven't worked at any places that expected me to work more than 50 hours a week. And none of even explicitly said an amount of hours.

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.


This is all anecdata, but I'd describe roughly a third of my past software employees as "crazy" with respect to working hours, etc.

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").


The making everyone else come in is the worst.

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".


I think every company is just different. Some are really hard driving and milking their employees. Others are too chill (I had a friend quit a place because people played so much he felt his skills deteriorating). My guess is that what you and I have experienced (mostly relaxed environment, get work done, nothing crazy) is probably closer to the norm.

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?


The last three companies I've worked at stated it something like this: you work an average 8 hours per day, we want you to be in the office between 10 am and 4 pm from Tuesday to Thursday so it is not impossible to schedule meetings. Works pretty well for everyone involved.


This doesn't square for me at all, or for many of the people I know. Granted, I don't live in SV, but I and most of the people I know in tech have a pretty relaxed working environment 90% of the time, far more than comparable positions in consulting or finance. I probably have about three or four weeks per year that are serious crunch time where I will work more than 40 hours, but for the most part it's loosely 9-to-5 and very amenable to work-life balance.


Yeah definitely doesn't square with my experience. My first 3 years as a software engineer was filled with late nights at the office, horrendous office politics and an extreme amount of stress. Got so bad I started to get random heart palpitations.

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


This is just an anecdotal generalization, but crazy work hours seem to be correlated with the percentage of H1B employees. Late hours, Saturdays, etc. Have a few colleagues now that left a company like this and tell the stories. The pressure comes from the managers who's entire life is work. My neighbor is a manager at that same company my colleagues left. He is never home, and when I see him outside, he is on a work call, or reviewing work documents.


No, but we pretend it is.


I just pulled a fourteen hour day of straight coding minus lunch and commute (15min commute). Then after six hours of sleep had to finish off the fire in the morning.

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.


I think probably not for many or most of us, although there are some extreme cultures and every office seems to have someone who works day and night. But BaseCamp is selling to a much wider audience than just software developers, right?


Your insightful comment reminds me of the Seinfeld when George acts all pissed off and it telegraphs to others how busy he is. Maybe similar in these scenarios to justify the phat compensation?


The sentiment here is a response to a minority opinion that has deeper pockets than the majority opinion.

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.


Exactly. VCs' self-interest will always be to extract maximum work out of engineers, hoping to make themselves from 100-millionaires into billionaires.

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.


"VCs' self-interest will always be to extract maximum work out of engineers,"

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.


"some forms of financing like venture take away your control of work intensity."

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?


I don’t have hard evidence, and certainly not every VC would act this way. There is a great episode of Startup where they seek additional funding and eventually settle on an investor with a long time horizon. YC itself is known for having a longer horizon than most.

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.


VC will not participate in the next round, or vote favourably with founders in next board meeting, or spread false news about work ethics or some other crap, which can lead to a down round. Have seen all the three happen.


I'm sorry, but I can't help but feel disheartened at the sad state of affairs when 8 hour days, 40 hours per week can be sold as something pseudo-revolutionary. This industry is in dire need of some humble pie, and for employees to realize, to a greater extent than today, that they're workers, not business partners.

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.


Decent working condition have always been revolutionary for a large part of the world. Overall things haven't changed, at least not for the better.

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 suspect overworking is more prevelant than you’re acknowledging for salaried workers. For instance, I’m a high school teacher. I and many of my colleagues are routinely working 50-60 hrs/wk. If you’re not being billed for hours, why wouldn’t you keep expanding your workers’ obligations until the cracks appear?


"If you’re not being billed for hours, why wouldn’t you keep expanding your workers’ obligations until the cracks appear?"

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.


As long as work is required to survive, employers will be calling the shots. They don’t have to employ you but you have to work. So they will do whatever they can legally get away with to exploit this and keep as much as they can for themselves.


Because you care about the well-being of your workforce? Greed doesn’t _always_ have to prevail.


In my specific situation, greed isn’t exactly at play.

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?)


"why wouldn’t you keep expanding your workers’ obligations until the cracks appear?"

Maybe because you are a nice guy? I hope I'll never have a boss with your ethics, I'd be gone very fast.


You misread my comments. These are not my ethics, nor am I in any sort of leadership position.

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 saw a sign on the highway advertising productivity software for your commute! The fact that someone finds a market need for people to work while they're driving is a sign we really jumped the shark at some point.


What exactly is being advertised? It would be interesting to know what kind of work can be safely done while driving.


some people car share. if you're sitting in someone's passenger seat for 75 minutes, but you can get some stuff done that's not small talk or radio time... why not?


"...for employee to realize that they're workers, not business partners." Absolutely. This is, in my opinion, the biggest issue in all this.


I think that, in many ways, a transparent and inclusive compensation model that allows people to CHOOSE to share in the company’s profits can be less exploitative than Full Time Employment:

https://qbix.com/blog/2016/11/17/properly-valuing-contributi...


[flagged]


Please don't post fluffy sarcastic flamebait here. We'd like to have discussions from which we can learn something.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I admire these guys for their values. I wish more companies were like this.

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 wish more companies were like this.

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.


I had a team a year ago in SV where I had to walk-off the gig for a couple of days.

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.


Did you hear from that team lately in regards of how they're doing? Do they still put in 60+ hours a week or did they switch to a more balanced work life?


If company expects 60+ hours per week, and not just in some rare bursts, they will almost never come to senses and scale back to some normal work/life balance. You just need to leave.


And if there's rare bursts, then someone made a mistake.

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.


I read Rework and Remote (previous Jason/DHH books) an although full of common-sense ideas that I applauded, they were quite similar in terms of content.

This new book seems to be kind of a mix of those previous books.


Some people still haven’t heard the message.

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.


It might take 10's or 100's of years for the culture shift to happen (in a similar way to political opinions changing).

Peopleware [1] 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.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peopleware:_Productive_Project...


The message may be heard, but putting it into practice is the more difficult task in my opinion. Changing a whole company's (either big or small) policy regarding meetings/working hours/etc... is quite a challenge

Still, the new book's cover may attract an audience that is not familiar with DHH/Jason/Basecamp's opinions on work/life balance.


Yes, company dynamics are really complex and this book will only have an effect if the people reading it are the company leaders. But they're also reading "10 habits of successful CEOs" articles that tell them to wake up at 4am to send emails!

Ultimately correlation isn't causation. Working 40 hours doesn't guarantee success by itself and neither does waking up at 4am.


How much overlap was there really? I vaguely remember it being maybe 20-30% overlap.


But the best of all was their first, Getting Real.


> Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity.

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.


From what I hear that is not a norm in FB or Google, maybe in certain teams. They actually have good work-life balance.


Few people would disagree with having a healthier work/life balance, but you need to be careful to not conflate the approach with the success of the authors. People who've gone from nothing to becoming wealthy by not having meetings, working less, and maintaining a relaxing lifestyle are the exception, not the rule. If you want a shot at being as wealthy as they are, their advice is not going to help your odds, although you may well have a better life by other measures.


> If you want a shot at being as wealthy as they are, their advice is not going to help your odds, although you may well have a better life by other measures.

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.


Rather than money grossly gathered, they propose a life well lived.

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.


> 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.]


Do you have any proof of that? Are there studies that show companies that work "crazy" vs. "not crazy" are more successful?

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.


Are there studies that show companies that work "crazy" vs. "not crazy" are more successful?

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.


I've only ever worked in the UK public sector (almost-a-civil-servant), at two places which were partly government funded, partly academic and partly a business. I've heard lots about this "proud to overwork" style culture but never seen much of it; not from most of my friends either.

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?


I'm also in the UK and my experience is similar.

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.


If there is anything I can criticise about Basecamp it would be their Graphics Design Style and Layout. First being too cartoonish and second being something isn't quite right.

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.


> First being too cartoonish and second being something isn't quite right.

What do you think is the significance of that for Basecamp? Poor branding? Poor conversion? What's the business impact?


I don't have a number to say as a percentage, but it definitely have some impact. Not the first time I precent it to upper management and Asana won purely based on "looks". ( You see, those in the management don't actually "DO" anything, they look at things and if they dislike it they will disprove it, whether a tools is decent to use is not their problem )

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.


I think Basecamp reflects what happens when smart, sensible people without a chip on their shoulder, simply live their life.

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.


> ...without a chip on their shoulder...

I presume you don't follow DHH on social media ;)


You should then follow him on textual media as well. Sure, on Instagram it's mainly nice pictures of houses and cars, but I don't see the 'chip on his shoulder'. Au contraire, he remains honest and realistic about his decisions, his achievements and the (monetary) rewards as a result of those. Some because of luck, some because of common wisdom (often against the grain), some because of just being smart. It's a refreshing view.

So, please read some material from him on Medium. Don't judge a person on just an Instagram profile...


What does he say? I follow him on Insta and it’s all cars and office furniture as far as I can tell.


Just follow him on Medium or Twitter. There are hardly cars, houses or office furniture there :-)


By the description here, it seems (like "Peopleware") that this is a book that doesn't offer individual contributors anything they don't already know, and it would be great if we could get our managers to read it, but our managers won't read it, or if they do, they'll say "It sounds nice but we can't do any of that here because ..." Is it?


At least the website is readable. The email I got yesterday was white on red and gave me a headache after about 30 seconds of reading!


You can even see the content without loading a million third party scripts. A lot could learn from this wizardry.


For a really revolutionary way of organizing a work place read

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maverick_(book)

See also: https://semcostyle.org/


I guess they do not mind but looking at the growth graph at the bottom seems like basecamp is plateauing.


And there's nothing wrong with that. Eternal growth (or worse, dominating a market) shouldn't be the goal, sustainability should.


And? If they're a comfortable size and bringing in good money with a good work/life balance and job security like they lead people to believe then fair play to them.


I just noticed.

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.


I thought I read somewhere where they actually stopped all hiring for their company. It may have been this year even.


Yes, that's right, https://m.signalvnoise.com/things-are-going-so-well-were-doi... (January 31), but now they're hiring a data analyst, https://m.signalvnoise.com/basecamp-is-hiring-a-data-analyst... (September 21).


A (rough guesstimate) 25% growth over the span of two years is a very respectable growth for a company nearly 20 years old. It's comparable to Facebook and the chart has a very similar shape to FB: https://beta.techcrunch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/faceb...


If you consider a 35 degree slope a plateau then may I kindly suggest never applying for a job at a mapping company ;)


I think it would be fairer to say their rate of growth is slowing.


You're right. I used the term plateauing incorrectly. I wanted to say that they left the exponential growth regime and display a logistic growth regime that will eventually plateau.


ISTR (I worked there over three years ago) Growth rate spikes after new versions are released, The 2012 jump is Basecamp 2 and that really moved the needle, and late 2015 is Basecamp 3. There's interest and publicity and articles and stuff, and that trails off to a more "normal" growth rate. The leveling off you see from 2016 to present is likely an artefact fo this, the longer term growth rate is probably approximately a line fitted to the graph from 2012 and onwards.


A lot of the things the authors mention are standard in Europe. In Europe you have 25 days of paid vacation. Parental leave of > 6 months. Working times < 40 hours. 5 day work weeks. Payed sick leave. Works councils, etc.


DHH, that's a name I haven't seen in a while.


I think it’s more that people say they are much busier than they really are because it makes them seem important


I like the fact they give away free stickers to promote the book! I think it is a great initiative.


Maybe other people could do that too and we could all start putting stickers on our laptops ;)


Every sticker I ever had was bought or given at a conference, I never saw somebody promoting anything online with a free giveaway of physical items.


I find it amusing that a uber successful and smart person writing some common sense stuff as if it is new. Everything he says is true, but what is missing here is that much of the world's population is not in a position to negotiate. In many places it is simply put up or leave. How much choice does a single parent or a 60 year old person with no special skills have? Those of us in software have it relatively better than the rest, but it is still the same, just on different level.

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.


>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.


Fair enough. I should've phrased it as "one of the ways to fix..."

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.


Yep, totally agree with all that. The way I'd really like to see is that people with this ethos of care towards employees start companies. And as seems to be Basecamp's position, that starts with funding. If you're not beholden to investors demanding certain growth goals, then you have the freedom to cultivate this kind of environment. My opinion is the problem's not collective bargaining or regulation, but that most companies default to taking money from investors for quick growth (which is then expected to be maintained) rather than growing slowly and organically from customer purchases like Basecamp.


Im pretty sure the book wasn't directed at low/no skill workers. It is directed at professionals that work in these retarded environments. And no, there's no such thing not having a choice for a professional. I've gone from one profession to a combination of low wage part time jobs to a 2nd profession and there is ALWAYS a choice for people. Only time there isn't a choice is when you aren't willing to roll up your sleeves and do the work.


there is ALWAYS a choice for people

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 ...




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