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Ex-Googler here. I was a SWE L4 and left after four years in frustration with the promotion process (https://mtlynch.io/why-i-quit-google/).

Since then, I:

* Moved out of my $3.3k/mo Manhattan apartment and bought a home for $200k in Western Massachusetts. Paid in cash so I no longer have to pay rent/mortgage. I feel like my time is much less "metered" now because my annual living expenses are so low, I can pursue things for fun without worrying about how much it's costing me in terms of time.

* Attempted to build a startup on top of a distributed storage cryptocurrency (https://blog.spaceduck.io/). Didn't work because the underlying platform wasn't mature enough yet, so it was more expensive and less reliable than centralized solutions.

* Attempted to build a business with a ML-powered recipe ingredient parsing service. Found out recipe apps aren't really willing to pay for it. (https://mtlynch.io/shipping-too-late/)

* Currently working on toy projects to sharpen my web development skills because I've found that part of my skillset to be a bottleneck with my previous projects.






To quote your article:

The problem, as I discovered at promotion time, was that none of this was quantifiable. I couldn’t prove that anything I did had a positive impact on Google.

If they hornswoggled me into helping them, it’s evidence of their strong leadership qualities. I was just the mindless peon whose work was so irrelevant that it could be pre-empted at a moment’s notice.

Don't take this as an ad-homimen attack because it's not. You fell into the same trap some other people do at stack ranked organizations.

These systems create evolutionary pressure and the people who thrive are those who adapt to the ranking system as much as the job. Right, wrong or indifferent the ranking system is part of the job and in the same situation the people I see getting promoted would have dedicated significant time proving anything they did produced value or they wouldn't have done it.

That's why (IMHO) it was so difficult to get anyone interested in changing our stack ranked system to anything else; because those who thrived under it were in charge of deciding whether and how to change and already knew how to succeed in the old one.


This is spot-on, and it's also true in organizations without stack ranking.

It's actually not a cynical way to view your job. If what you do doesn't make an impact for customers and/or other teams in the organization, was it really worth doing?

I've consistently seen that successful engineers focus on work that has an impact, and they are good at making it known. The first part is obviously good, but a lot of engineers disdain self-promotion. However, self-promotion is not a bad thing if you really are good at your job, because it opens up opportunities to have an even greater impact, which is good for you and for the company.


> If what you do doesn't make an impact for customers and/or other teams in the organization, was it really worth doing?

The problem is that, at review time at Google, you have to be able to "quantify" the impact. Many types of impact are quantifiable (e.g. "Made server request scale from 100 query-per-second to 1,300 qps", "reduced code size by 30%", etc.).

It's much harder to measure, say, the impact of a refactor where you made the code easier to reason about and more maintainable, so that future work can be done on it more easily.

I witnessed the same thing at Google; I worked on a project that everyone joked only existed because the person who wrote it wanted promo, and the best way to get it was to design a very complex system, and convince others to adopt it. (He did get it, and promptly switched teams.)

Some things have been made better, though. I've heard that going from L4 → L5 now involves much more influence from your manager, since they would know and, without quantifying something like a refactor, can speak to the positive impact you had in a project.


> It's much harder to measure, say, the impact of a refactor where you made the code easier to reason about and more maintainable, so that future work can be done on it more easily.

I've also seen refactors that just made life difficult for everyone else with constant non-functional changes. In the end there is a lot of fashion in programming, and while some refactors are worthwhile most are not in my experience.

The refactor is supposed to provide payoff in the future, but what normally happens is fashion changes and someone new comes by and says "this code is shit" and starts the process over. The supposed benefits never accrue.


You quantified what you said is hard to quantify.

Measure commits/authors before and after a refactor.


The problem is that metric, like any metric, is both easy to game _and_ can provide misleading information.

Measuring number of commits? Create fewer, larger commits. Measuring commit size? Pull in more third-party libraries, even where it does't make sense. Author count? Add more/less documentation and recruit or inhibit new devs depending on what your goal is.

Not to mention the number of commits/authors before and after an arbitrary point in time might conflate a successful growing project with a project in a death spiral being passed around from group to group.

It's a good idea, but in practice simple metrics like this often (but not always) devolve into prime examples of Goodhart's law.


Ok, then find another way to measure developer productivity, or reliability in production, or customer features delivered.

If you can’t find a measurable benefit to a refactoring (or anything else, really) then maybe it was not worth doing in the first place.


In science, measuring things until you find a benefit is called p-hacking. Every extra test you do that splits your data along a different dimension, is another independent opportunity for "random chance" to look like positive signal.

There is no programming project in existence with enough developers working on it, that developer-productivity data derived from a change to it would not be considered "underpowered" for the sake of proving anything.


The obsession with measuring is hilarious. There are plenty of things in life (and jobs) that aren't measurable and are worth doing. Probably all of the important things are actually unmeasurable. Think about it this way, if its so easy you can measure it, it probably isn't very important in the grand scheme of things.

No metric can escape gaming when you apply it to rational actors (Campbell's Law / Goodhart's Law). Blind devotion to metrics is just as bad as no metrics at all.

I was just yesterday discussing the opportunity cost of infrastructure changes, as a new team member was bemoaning our out of date patterns...

A high impact infra change will often inconvenience dozens of people and distract from feature work... You know, the shit people actually care about... (this is analogous to how "Twitter, but written in Golang" appeals to approximately no one.)


> find another way to measure developer productivity

And solve the halting problem while you're at it


Normalizing commits number per author is not difficult.

https://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/lsi/sigir04-cf-norm.pdf

Goodhart’s law is not applicable to scientific management because metrics have different purpose.


Goodhart's law is entirely applicable to management (adding scientific in front doesn't actually mean anything). That is one of the prime areas of applicability. People change their behavior to increase a metric at the cost of decreasing other more important things.

> If what you do doesn't make an impact for customers and/or other teams in the organization, was it really worth doing?

If what you are doing isn't making an impact, why is it being assigned to you in the first place?

Or, to put that another way: a worker is hired to do things. Their comparative advantage is in doing; time they spend in any other role than doing is labor that would have been better allocated/delegated to someone else, to clear them up for more doing. (It's very clear when you think of high-status "workers"—for example, surgeons. Time the surgeon spends inside the OR is worth tens of thousands of dollars; time they spend outside the OR isn't worth anything. If you can hire an administrative assistant for $30/hr to take admin-work off the shoulders of the surgeon, to ensure that the surgeon spends even one more hour inside the OR per week, then the admin assistant has paid for themselves.)

A manager, meanwhile, is hired to prioritize, delegate, lubricate channels of communication, ensure their team of workers has the resources it needs to "do", and then defend the workers from anything that would take away from their "doing" time. These tasks are the manager's wheelhouse; it's where their own comparative advantage lies. Time a worker spends managing themselves is company money wasted, because a manager would have been able to get that work done far more effectively, for less effort and time input.

You don't want a doctor spending time reading charts to triage patients (i.e. assigning work to themselves.) The intake nurse does that. And you don't want the intake nurse spending time trying to diagnose someone after taking their symptoms. That's what the doctors are for. Each role has their comparative advantage. Let the roles bleed together, and overhead goes up while lives saved goes down.

Why do "old" organizations like hospitals understand comparative advantage better than FAANG? Why isn't it seen as a failure of management to prioritize effectively when everybody isn't always doing the most important thing they could be doing at that moment?


What you say is true in general, but in the specific case of Google it’s not relevant. Googlers, even down to individual rank-and-file engineers, have a lot of autonomy and self-determination. For better or worse, what they do is mostly up to them, so they’re expected to position themselves in a way to make maximum impact. Management only provides very high-level priorities and those priorities only affect what’s easier to get promoted for, not what anyone has to do.

There are a different set of disadvantages to this system, but I just wanted to point out that in Google’s case, management doesn’t assign anything, so an engineer working on something unimpactful is not seen as a management failure but a choice made by that engineer. It’s fine to do and you can keep your job forever doing work you believe in even if it’s not overtly “impactful,” but if you want to get promoted, it’s up to you to align yourself with the higher-level priorities.

Edit: That’s not to say Google never wastes highly-paid employees’ time (like your admin example), but the core difference is Google employees aren’t just hired to “do.” They’re also expected to spend a lot of time thinking, prioritizing, and organizing themselves, so that’s not wasted time.


Yeah but there are also a lot of other things that only they could be doing that don’t fit the job description. Like a software engineer having enough people skills to explain his/her solution to a problem so that someone else can take his place. Or a surgeon being able to teach a newer surgeon some of the wisdom he/she has gained on the job.

The real problem for organizations is choosing what to optimize for, and how short sighted they can afford to be to survive. Someone below mentioned that the military in a war time environment is probably something that people who subscribe to this kind of thought would think is the ideal work place. The thing is if you look at these organizations in times of crisis, they may optimize for the quickest way to win the war, when it really should be to ensure long standing peace.


Active FAANG employee here, so a bit of my take on it. Personal opinion, of course, and not any sort of official Amazon statement.

Management DOES do a lot to prioritize/delegate/lubricate channels of communication, etc. That is their primary role.

But you have more engineers than you have managers. You have more people providing a more varied set of insights into what should be prioritized, what general work needs to be done, what opportunities exist, etc.

To a certain extent, you have to be willing to let some people sometimes be working a little sub-optimally to allow the autonomy that results in making some of the crazy cool products and services these companies create. That autonomy being available is one of the big things that drew me to Amazon, and it's something I believe I've taken full advantage of to the company's benefit.

Giving people the latitude to run projects and create PoCs before getting full buy in from management allows people to be creative. But yes, if you've spent a year working on a project, you should be expected to show the results of what you've done. Some stuff is more ambitious, sure - but even when the results aren't immediately obvious, you do need to be able to explain the potential and what data backs up that potential and the ability for the project to reach it.

From my experiences over the past five years, being able to find opportunities for improvement is hugely important to the culture and the promotion process. You need to be able to identify these opportunities, and that generally means some sort of metric is available to work from, and measure against as you try to improve it. (Of course metrics and statistics can be gamed, but I'd argue it's not good to go through life assuming everyone is a bad actor). It's a skill that sometimes needs to be developed, and it's something I work with people on to help them with the process, but I think it's a very good thing in general. I've seen a lot of positive come out of it.

My two cents, anyway.


This is so right and also so different from reality that I had to read it twice for it to register.

Assignment-by-comparative-advantage comes pretty close to existing in exactly one case: a military, in war-time, after the war has gone on for a few years, when opportunities to prove one's managerial competence "for real"† have allowed for a winnowing of the incompetent hired-in-peacetime officers, and gaps in the ranks have been filled by promotions for meritorious service.

This ideal state is what people tend to be vaguely gesturing toward when they say they want "meritocracy." Even this state isn't really meritocratic, but it certainly has a management structure that knows what it wants and is actively steering every action of their subordinates to get the highest-ROI goals accomplished sooner than later; and where there is enough demand for skilled work that skilled workers are reserved to exclusively do the work they do best.

† The assumption (that seems to cash out at least somewhat) being that when two armies of equal size clash, the winner will be the one with a better leader-of-leaders, the one who has instilled a better management philosophy into their officers, such that the army as a whole ends up being run well. If there was some way to make entire departments of a company "fight", the way that two army battalions can engage in mock battle to determine their overall relative competence, capitalism might actually be able to succeed in evading the Peter Principle. Anyone have a good idea of how to do that?


Why do "old" organizations like hospitals understand comparative advantage better than FAANG? Why isn't it seen as a failure of management to prioritize effectively when everybody isn't always doing the most important thing they could be doing at that moment? reply

That's so good i want to steal it for a chapter in my book


Actually it is deeply cynical I have seen:

People aggressively going for promotion and as my team leader said "but he hasn't done any real work for 6 months".

I saw some one going for the first management level spend a million pounds of share holder money and 15 man years redeveloping a system in oracle - Because having a project worth > 1 million and with more than 10 staff was a tick box for promotion.


What is deeply cynical is the guy who discovered the corollary to "Never do work unless you can prove its value" which is "If you can disprove the value of someone else's work so much the better." He literally took notes on every employee of his peers and then trotted them out for negative feedback during the end-of-year ranking process.

The resulting brinksmanship guaranteed his employees were ranked exactly the way he wanted. Ironic but he's now the head of a recruiting agency that purports to find top candidates via "big data" techniques yet he did his very best to subvert the system. So what exactly does he think he's datamining?


>...but a lot of engineers disdain self-promotion.

Assuming you're doing good work your boss should be your strongest advocate and trying to help get you recognized and promoted.

But if you're not inclined to self-promote then it definitely hurts and lots of folks on HN say they suffer from some level of impostor syndrome. If someone thinks "Should I really be here, am I really good enough?" they may also overly discount the value of their work and think there is nothing worthy of promotion in both senses of the word.


Change can come. The factors that I saw that effected it : a purchase of a company that didn't have one and were touted as a wunderorg then the material fact of the audited effort put into the system vs. the lack of evidence that it had any positive impact. Two changes of global HR president as well. But then it went.

For now...


It's a good idea to improve your web developer skills, but I think the problem lies within your entrepreneur skills. I'd highly recommend the book Disciplined Entrepreneurship to you. It consists of 24 steps that is focused on product conceptualization, which I think you'll pretty much appreciate it.

Could you share why you think that's a problem in his approach/method?

The first time I built a business, I made the same mistake as the OP:

"Then, it struck me: what if ingredient parsing was the business? If this was a problem for me, then surely other developers struggled with it as well. Hopefully, some of them made money and would give some of said money to me if I solved their problem. Thus, the idea was born for Zestful, my ingredient-parsing service."

Before starting to write a single line of code, you need to do market research and understand the opportunity size. Building a business takes several years of personal investment and you are betting a lot of potential missed opportunity on the "ingredient business" market. This is a common mistake that, again, I have made myself, too.


100% agreed. As a coder, the comfortable thing for me is always writing code. But every unshipped line of code is a bet on what I believe users want. It's only when I have people try it that I find out it's useful.

And really, one can learn so much about what people want without having them use anything. User context interviews are hugely helpful. But my favorite thing is real-world tests even before there's a product. If most of your sales will come via people clicking on an ad and looking at a landing page, test that first! If people won't sign up, there's no point in building anything after that.

A good example comes from my cofounder at a startup we did in 2010. At the time, we had theories about an app that people would mostly discover through their Facebook feed. We used Greasemonkey to do user tests and found out that although some liked our idea, most people hated it. So we threw that out and did something else. But two other startups went on to build the same idea and fail with it. We estimate we saved $2m in learning what they learned. Ignite talk here: https://vimeo.com/24749599


Great conversation here. Sort of a mini-MBA in this thread.

This is a great argument for entering into an existing market, rather than trying to find a new one.

I'm not sure this is really true. The focus of market research can be to find markets that are currently unserved.

I suppose that this is still entering an existing market since the people who comprise the market exist already exist, but it's new in the sense that this group of people collectively have a need that isn't being met. And sometimes the goal of market research is just to find one of those unserved (or underserved) markets.


Zestful sounds like a feature of Edamam (https://developer.edamam.com/).

I think the market is not in parsing, but extracting nutrition information.


Yeah, Edamam probably does something similar to what I was doing.

The project kind of came out of me needing ingredient parsing for a different product and existing solutions being a poor match.

Edamam requires you to display their logo in your app if you use their API[0], which I found inappropriately intrusive.

There's a similar service called Spoonacular, but they don't allow you to store results for more than an hour[1], which is crazy. I wanted to build a search index that let users search by ingredient, so it made no sense for me to reprocess my entire corpus of data every hourly.

But they succeeded and I didn't, so maybe the weird API terms are what they need to survive.

[0]: https://developer.edamam.com/about/terms

[1]: https://market.mashape.com/spoonacular/recipe-food-nutrition


Once you have identified an idea or technology as the basis for your innovation-driven business. Your first goal is to assess the needs of potential customers, focusing on a target customer with the goal of achieving product–market fit—a product that matches what customers in a specific market are interested in buying, which unfortunately he failed accomplishing this step as the customers did not want to buy his product.

The single necessary and sufficient condition for a business is a paying customer. The day someone pays you money for your product or service, you have a business, and not a day before. You cannot define a business as a product, because if nobody buys your product, you simply do not have a business. The marketplace is the final arbiter of success.

Now, just because you have a paying customer does not mean you have a good business. In order to have a good, sustainable business, you will need to gain enough customers paying enough money within a relatively short period of time so you do not run out of capital, but instead, become profitable. And as a startup, you have few resources, so every action you take must be hyper-efficient.

Therefore, you will not start by building a product or hiring developers or recruiting salespeople. Instead, you will take a customer-driven approach by finding an unmet need and building your business around it.


Entrepreneurship is a lot more complicated. Each startup’s failure is unique and has various mix of challenges.

Suggesting a book for someone who has failed running a startup right away is naive and glib. Also, the OP didn’t put too many details of why his startup failed. Asserting that they have poor entrepreneurial skills - how do you know if it wasn't circumstantial?


I didn't take the book suggestion to be naive/glib. It could actually be quite helpful. My brief involvement in a failed startup would have gone differently had I known more about the business side of things, and reading a good relevant book is one of the best ways to learn about something.

I strongly and passionately disagree. I’ve read many many startup books. They are all completely and utterly useless in my opinion.

If you want to know something specific say accounting, read a book about that specific area. If you want to know more about the “general” aspects of startups - listen to interviews of founders about which unique chellenges they faced.

I strongly discourage anyone starting a business to not listen to Sam Altman’s advice or anyone who gives generic “strategic” advice. These books are akin to “How to become a millionaire”. Yes, I’m talking about books such as “Lean Startup”, etc.

You get so much value from reading about specific aspects than from general startup books. Learn how each LEGO piece works and learn it well. You know, you’re going to have to rely on these specifics to actually get your business rolling. Strategic advice - you can consult your friends, discuss and determine the best course of action through your own acumen based on data that you have. That startup book on your shelf is not going to help at all.


I disagree. Many people doing startups for the first time have no experience running a business and no idea what the actual building blocks are. I think YC's library of advice are a goldmine for them, because of the simple lessons like "validate the market" or "get feedback from people who are not friends or family". It doesn't seem like they're hearing that anywhere else.

See my comment and discussion in this thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17189254

I’m a big fan of “just in time” learning. When I’m facing a specific challenge I look for books and articles that will educate me more about potential solutions (eg your accounting book example).

However, for many founders, myself included, there’s an aspect of “you don’t know what you don’t know” and in these cases I find the generalist books quite helpful. For these topics, it is extremely helpful to have a wide but shallow understanding of business, strategy, law, etc so if you encounter a problem you at least understand enough to know where you can dive deeper (or know you need to hire someone else). The advice in general business strategy books certainly lacks nuance. But for anyone who is not already enmeshed in the many many aspects of running a complete business themselves, they are great guides to gain a 10,000 foot view very quickly.


I agree with you ,and I also share your opinion.

People usually say that entrepreneurship should not be disciplined, but chaotic and unpredictable—and it is. But that is precisely why a framework to attack problems in a systematic manner is extremely valuable. You already have enough risk with factors that are beyond your control, so the framework provided by disciplined entrepreneurship helps you succeed by reducing your risk in factors that you can have control over.

Both of the things he mentioned didn't really solve problems.

The storage thing is already solved, people have no reason to switch from AWS. As he mentioned his product was worse, so even if it was just for the sake of competition...


Thanks for the recommendation! I'll check it out.

Great article about the promotion process and the employee dynamic at Google. It very accurately summarises much of why I quit there so quickly after coming in via an acquisition.

That conversation made me realize that I’m not Google. I provide a service to Google in exchange for money.

I was very lucky to have a friend who taught me that very early (not about Google specifically, the same applies to any company). Working as a contractor just cemented it - I was sitting next to people earning half as much as I was or less, just because I was a contractor and they were an employee. Once you can see this, it's amazing when employees get sucked into killing themselves working crazy hours because they identify so strongly with the company they work for. Companies go to great lengths to promote the idea that we're all one big family, of course, precisely because it allows them to exploit their workers more easily.

Since leaving Google, I now make a software product I sell online. I have no boss, no employees and no investors. Occasionally I miss having coworkers, but mostly it's great. Freedom is really worth a lot of money, at least for me.


Thanks for reading!

>Since leaving Google, I now make a software product I sell online. I have no boss, no employees and no investors. Occasionally I miss having coworkers, but mostly it's great. Freedom is really worth a lot of money, at least for me.

Yeah, that's the thing I miss most. Not just the social interaction, but being around smart people. Within Google, it was so easy to learn because there were experts in every field imaginable. Outside, there's so much bad information floating around, so if I'm not knowledgeable in a particular area, it's hard for me to distinguish between good advice and cargo cult techniques.


That is true, and the main thing I miss about Amazon. And the very steep learning curve, I probably learned more at Amazon than during my diploma and masters studies combined. Still, they have been a very good foundation.

> the promotion process and the employee dynamic at Google

I'm (apparently) not Google-quality but I can tell you for sure that "out here" everybody else is adopting the same tactics, and it's shifting from "not getting promoted" to "not keeping your job". And then they complain that there's a shortage of "talent".


> I was sitting next to people earning half as much as I was or less, just because I was a contractor and they were an employee.

Was this still true after all the taxes, insurance, and stability factors are considered, or was this just your hourly rate?


As a contractor in the UK, I paid less tax than an employee would. HMRC brought in IR35 to try to combat that, but at the time I was contracting (early 2000's) most contractors were still paying less tax - I'm not sure if that's stricter these days.

I was in London working in web & finance at the time, so it was a fairly distorted market. I did get bitten by the dot com crash, but even so I was only out of work for about 6 months or so and that was a pretty extreme event. Realistically in the current environment job stability in a major IT centre like London is so good that contracting is pretty safe. In a more unstable market there would be a higher element of risk, for sure.


Contractors still do a bit better than employees, though HMRC keep talking about seriously cracking down on the practice.

> Contractors still do a bit better than employees

Curious if that is actually true when comparing to tier 1 banks/hedge funds full time employee salaries+bonus+retirement+healthcare.

Assume 600 GBP/day * 22 day/month * 10 months (realistically) full time work, that's 132k/yr.

From that take out accounting, illness, insurance, healthcare, retirement, travel, possibly more.

All things considered, once you get above 100k base as employee contracting becomes less attractive. Strictly as a money move that is, there's other dimensions for sure.


600 seems low - I earned a lot more than that back in the day, and that was a long time ago. A quick search of jobserve.com for just "java" found roles quoting up to 750 on the first page, and if you're any good that'll be negotiable. And if you get into even slightly niche things (Oracle Coherence, in my case) the rates are much higher.

I don't think it's very far from the reality of your full stack app developer though.

Ie. 900+GBP/day is listed rarely and for very specific/niche things.

Then, the more niche it is the more likely it is that the downtime between contracts becomes longer I imagine.

Curious what your anecdotal experience has been, to the extent that it can be shared.


Cracking down seems like a bad idea.. you lose dynamic flexibility on both sides. What would the upside be?

Its interesting that they are not clamping down a "self" employed barristers, I wonder why that might be.

I suspect IT contractors are not seen as real professionals in the British class structure


Taxes mostly and fairness towards people who are actually employed.

In the US you pay more to freelance in taxes than you do as an employee (because the employer pays some on your behalf) but you can have other deductions as a contractor. So I think fairness is not specifically a sufficient motivator. The UK can have a tax advantage for freelancing but these freelancers lose out on employment protections. Dunno..

US contractors don't seem to get anything - they seem to think getting a 20% premium over FTE is good.

In the UK you would normally expect 3x for a short 6 month contract.


Right but UK salaries are about 2-3x lower than US (at least for software engineers).. or at least they use to be.

I make 3x what I did as in house doing the same amount of work, after all other expenses.

I'm in a similar situation wrt self-employment / consulting after many years of trad. FT roles. Now making more $, and have way, way, way more control over how I spend my time.

When you wrote

> Freedom is really worth a lot of money, at least for me.

it seemed to imply you took a paycut to gain your freedom. To a degree, I would make that trade-off too. But, your point about contractors making twice [it can easily be 3x] what FT colleagues do, made it sound like you don't need to trade money for freedom, rather enjoy both. Hope that's the case for you too! If not, know that it can be!


In my case I was mostly referring to the fact that I left a lot of acquisition money on the table at Google, but it was totally worth it. I've been lucky with what I'm doing now and it's worked out very well financially, and the freedom is priceless, especially now I have a kid.

I have the idea that google enployees are paid a ton of money when they join, so why do they care so much about being promoted?

Because until you get to L5, your job is always at risk. If you spend a long enough time at the company without getting to L5 and without a really good justification, it starts to raise red flags.

Or so I've heard.


Don't contractors typically make more than employees simply because they aren't getting benefits? Otherwise I agree.

Do you feel disconnected in Western Mass? I am not sure how remote you are but I live in a remote area now but work remotely and feel it. Hell, even in the Bay area I was remote-is since the commute was isolating. All I can say about the culture there is that you have to job hop to develop relationships that may lead to future opportunities.

*Btw your cartoon on your blog is good. If that's your original creation you might consider developing it out.


Western Mass is awesome. The environment's beautiful, housing can be cheap, and drinking water is some of the best in the country. People are generally less rules-oriented and clique-oriented than in the Boston area. The art and music scenes are much better. The "progressive activism" community is thriving, but you can also hunt with a rifle on private property. Food is cheap and there are tons of thriving local farms. If you're constipated you can roll through Springfield and get shot at just like you can in East Cambridge or Mattapan, but outside of that it's quite safe and people are super helpful.

You basically get the extremes of everything in Boston at a much lower price.

Possible downsides are long, snowy winters, and far fewer jobs.


> you're constipated you can roll through Springfield and get shot at just like you can in East Cambridge or Mattapan

You should write for the Lonely Planet :-)


One thing that helps is that Western Mass doesn't have to be remote. If you're in Savoy, yeah, you'd better like nature more than people. But the Springfield metro area has pretty cheap rent and is still 600k people with colleges and companies and a great food and music scene up in Northhampton. It's also within tolerable driving or train distance of Boston if there's something you really want to get to.

Working remote can definitely be isolating anywhere, but I think if I were going to go back to it I'd prefer a midsize city to either rural or dense urban settings. Rural settings are obvious just small, and that's made harder by being isolated while you work. But huge cities tend to feel anonymous - if you're not actively engaging and meeting people it's easy to get forgotten or even miss out on finding out about things you'd like to see and do. It may just be a function of my tastes and hobbies, but somewhere Springfield-sized makes it a bit easier to find a stable group of people outside work to spend time with.

More broadly, there's a lot to be said for college towns and non-huge cities relying on safe anchors like 'meds and eds' or corporate research. Boulder's probably too big and pricy these days, but Northampton, Rochester NY, Flagstaff, Ithaca, and the Research Triangle are all inviting. Heck, even Fargo ND was shockingly inviting last time I came through - I'd rather live there than Cleveland.


Wow, you know Savoy! I'm a native of the area. You're correct - my favorite towns are Ashfield and Williamsburg near the Northampton area. I'd make a plug for North Adams right now. Williams College is in the the next town over, and Mass Moca is driving a lot of development that has been quietly happening over the past year or so.

>a great food and music scene up in Northhampton

The food scene in Northampton is great by the standards of rural MA. There are only 2-3 restaurants there that are any good at all.


Now that you say it, I was mostly thinking "you can buy unusual foods and quality meat and produce in Northampton".

Which obviously isn't what people normally mean by "food scene", my brain just approximated the topic as "well, it's better than all those rural places without any good grocery stores".


Would you say Providence is similar?

Yeah, now that you mention it. I mostly wasn't counting capital cities because they tend to have higher rents, infrastructure and gridlock issues, and other things I think of as "big city problems". (Or they're too small or run down to be appealing.)

But Providence is actually a nice exception; lots of events, good food and activities, several colleges, but pretty cheap housing and not terribly dense or gridlocked.


I don't, but I've only been here 7 weeks so far, so it's too early to tell. I'm pretty solitary, so I'm hoping the disconnectedness works out okay.

I wish I could draw those cartoons. I work with a freelance cartoonist named Loraine Yow (https://www.lolo-ology.com/). I wrote a blog post about how the process works: https://mtlynch.io/how-to-hire-a-cartoonist/


Well you two might have something! Kind of like a new take on dilbert, phd comics, or something.

This is kind of my question also. I used to live in Springfield, Mass. And when I did there was not that much of a tech scene out there. From 97 to 2007. I was wondering if it was better now. When I left NYC I choose to come to Delaware and not Springfield because of family and the amount of tech jobs available. Between here, Philadelphia, DC and a commute back to NYC if I really wanted there are a bunch of tech jobs available. When I looked at Western Mass there were barely any.

>bought a home for $200k in Western Massachusetts. Paid in cash so I no longer have to pay rent/mortgage

Don't take this the wrong way, I'm sure you considered this, but... why put all that cash down when you almost certainly could have got a low interest mortgage and made more by putting that money in... well anything really?


Because of the federal real estate capital gains exclusion of half a mil, 20% marginal long term cap gains tax rate, and the difference between historical real estate appreciation vs SP500 returns being maybe 2% at absolute most, an average rate of increase of about 5% on a house, the average transaction cost of obtaining a mortgage is maybe 2% (stock transactions are practically free in comparison), S+P return after inflation is about 7% the median duration of owning a house being about nine years, extremely sloppy back of envelope calculation for $200K would be (200e3 * 9 * 0.07 * 0.8) - (200e3 * .02) or 96K for owning more stock with a mortgage for $200K and a 200e3 mortgage at this time would cost 9 * 12 * 946 in payments (assuming no PMI) or 102K for owning less stock with no mortgage so in the big scheme of things "not having a mortgage" saves about $6K over nine years or $55/month. (Edited, sorry I had to mess with this ten times to get it right)

You gotta look out for people who argue real estate transactions are as cheap and frictionless as stock market transactions, or insist on weird date ranges in historically bubble economies or rapidly changing demographic economies, or insist tax policy does not exist. Not everything is fundamentally an income stream and you need a plan when a simplification to that fails and you take a massive capital hit. If the error bars on the numbers are large enough, the same number can be interpreted to prove anything. Finally look out for people who confuse average/median with "everyone". All of those are HUGE effects when making financial decisions.

I'm not OP, but I have no mortgage and its worth pointing out that my personal break-even income is obviously twelve times the monthly payment lower than someone with a mortgage, and given a realistic 1/3 of income going to mortgage for most folks, obviously my runway is 1/3 longer than everyone with a mortgage. Also immensely lower stress.


I just learned so much right here, I think I might take a nap now. Thanks for the thorough reply.

Mainly it was just that I didn't want that much debt hanging over me. I could theoretically invest in other stuff, but if there's a recession that affects all of my investments, I don't ever want to have to worry about foreclosures or selling investments at a huge loss to pay my mortgage.

It was also convenient for making offers. I don't have to jump through the hoops of involving a bank in the process. And for most sellers, a cash offer is more attractive because there's no chance of the bank stalling or killing the deal.

The house I bought, I saw it the morning it came onto the market and offered cash on the spot to seal the deal. Seller might have accepted with a mortgage anyway, but I think cash was good incentive for them to proceed with me immediately instead of waiting a couple days to gauge interest from other buyers.


Not having debt can be very, very freeing. Same goes for expenses. I'm still a software developer because it pays well, not because I really want to be slinging code anymore. If I didn't have a mortgage and child care to worry about I would have a lot more freedom to switch jobs to do something I would enjoy but pays significantly less.

Sure, that's certainly valid, but it's an emotional perspective. From a financial perspective I'd rather have my money working for me.

A lot of times the emotional impact trumps the financial impact. If thats one less thing I stress about then that makes more room in my mind to make more money if I wanted to.

"Life is to be spent, not saved."

TL;DR - there are other things to optimize for than the maximum amount of money possible. It might not even be a sensible goal.

An extremely common theme heard from people with a lot of money is to get your money working for you.

Another extremely common theme is you hear from the same people is after a while they realized it just didn't make them happy like they thought it was going to.

Theoretically there is a certain maximum level of feeling good that's possible in a day. My goal these days is to optimize for that. I'm not there yet, but I can see a path to it. At some point the pursuit of money puts pressure against some of that happiness in one form or another. At least that's been my experience and observations. It's not an absolute rule but a reasonable hueristic.

If from an emotional perspective it wasn't possible to feel any better than you did, what would more money actually do for you?

IMO a lot of people need to dig much deeper on their 'why' for chasing the maximum amount of money possible. It's not 'wrong' to do so, nor am I judging anyone for doing it, I just think it's quite a one sided perspective that that should be the goal and that alone.

It's mostly about status and getting laid at an instinctive level. I realized this after already having a child, so I've technically passed on my genes and recently a vasectomy, so I can't even pass on any more genes. Yet my instincts are still the same. Chase after status, position yourself to be the fittest mate possible. We just can't turn those drives off, so once we've earned enough money and our happiness is no longer increasing as a function of getting more money at some point after that we actually hit an inflection point and things start to go the other way.

I can totally see how a roof over your head that can't be taken away from you and low AF overheads makes life feel like a breeze. That's actually worth a lot, just not in Dollars.


A mortgage (or the lack thereof) has a guaranteed rate of return. Any investment that would beat most mortgage rates doesn't.

Two years ago a CD would have beat it. Today it's not quite there, but there are very safe invenstments out there that will almost certainly beat a mortgage rate.

That would only be true for non-traditional loans (ARM etc). I don't believe you could have obtained a CD APR > 3% two years ago.

I've never had a mortgage so can't speak for OP, but I would imagine for some people the stresses of debt and recurring repayments outweigh having a bit of extra money from investing elsewhere.

It's not about the extra money, it's about the opportunity cost of not doing anything with all that cash. Mortgage rates are still relatively low, you could easily beat it with most any investment.

It seems mad that something like "ingredient parsing" could ever be a business; on the other hand, a decade ago I was sharing a house with a PhD student who was trying to do effectively the same thing with chemistry papers to extract relevant formulae. Worked well for clearly defined things like "1,1,1-trichloroethane", less well for colloquial things like "formaldehyde" or, god help you, "lead".

(Is a "lead researcher" the head of your team, a person researching the properties of the metal Pb, or a researcher made out of that heavy grey metal? This is practically an unsolved computational linguistics problem)


Lead (/leed/) researcher - most senior of your research team.

Plumbologist - a person researching lead (/led/).

Plumbous researcher - researcher made primarily from lead (/led/). Probably an AI that deeply resents the materials-based engineering flaws in its processor core and robotic reality interface.

Lead (/leed/) plumbologist - most senior of a research team investigating lead (/led/).

Plumbous plumbologist - aforementioned AI, but dedicated to self-improvement.

Lead (/leed/) plumbous plumbologist - most senior of a group of lead-constructed (/led/) AIs, investigating the mystery of why the human progenitors chose such a bad metal for building robots.


Well that clears that confusion up :)

Congratulations on buying your freedom and having the ability to work on projects that interest you.

Thanks! I much prefer this to having a job. I hope I can find a way to make it work forever.

I recommend reading The E-Myth book. It's super insightful I learnt a lot from it and thinking outside the technician box...

Thanks for the recommendation! I've heard great things about it, so it's definitely on my list.

>"Will we be able to maintain this for the next 5 years?” to, “Can this last until I’m promoted?”"

If that mentality is widespread, it explains so much about Google.


Interesting how many slots where open for each promotion round /board (in Uk terminology)

I have been in a similar situation at British telecom where the competition was even more intense.

In systems engineering (where most but not all the engineers and developers sat) you would have 16-20 promotion slots from MPG2 to 4 every 15/16 months.

Several hundred people would get through the paper sift to even get an interview - as my boss said get an interview the company was 100% sure that you where capable of performing at that level I had three successive boards and didn't get it.

MPG2 was the entry level grade BT had a super flat structure. Some people where so desperate they would join payphones to get a promotion.

More savvy ones joined the mobile side as they where known for having serious grade inflation


It's a great article. But, I'm always surprised to see people are surprised by this: "That conversation made me realize that I’m not Google. I provide a service to Google in exchange for money." And it's doubly surprising when highly educated/smart people don't understand this.

I think there's something fundamentally flawed about our education system that isn't teaching or preparing people for the real world. I think every child should grow up with a basic understand of economics and how our economy works.

here's some advice about doing an indie business: When you build your own software business: the rewards are not proportional to how much effort you put in. You may put relatively little and get a huge reward or may work day and night for years with 0 revenue.


I think that's oversimplifying it a bit. I minored in Economics so I'd like to believe I have a decent understanding of it.

The problem isn't that Google just says, "Hi, donate time to us, your corporate overlords, in exchange for nothing." Instead, they make a very reasonable argument of, "You should help your teammates and colleagues."

Imagine that you're on a team with a junior developer. Their feedback is basically worthless to promotion committees because they're low-level. If they say, "Hey, can you help me understand why my code is crashing?" the selfish answer is, "No, if I spent two hours helping you, the benefit I provide to you is not measurable or quantifiable and won't help my case for promotion." But it would also be kind of miserable for everyone if you constantly avoid helping your teammates and only do the absolute minimum required to avoid standing out as egregiously unhelpful.


"You should help your teammates and colleagues." is not, by itself, an argument. It's a moral precept.

"You should help your teammates and colleagues produce more value for the company because we hired you to produce value for the company" is an argument.

Now if the company's employee evaluation process doesn't recognize the second-order value you produced here then that's the company's problem, not yours.


>Now if the company's employee evaluation process doesn't recognize the second-order value you produced here then that's the company's problem, not yours.

I think I personally skewed too far into trying to do unmeasurable things, but I feel like it would be miserable to live on the other extreme where you only do things that are measurable and benefit your career.

Where does that thinking end? If I don't feel like finding a garbage can, should I just throw my trash on the ground as long as nobody sees me? After all, it's the city's fault that they haven't set up incentives to prevent me from littering.


The education system isn't flawed. It's working as intended. You just don't see what its design goals actually are, or you disagree with what they should be.

I would argue if you aren't able to see why the education system produces that result on purpose then you don't understand how the economy works.


> bought a home for $200k in Western Massachusetts. Paid in cash so I no longer have to pay rent/mortgage

Thanks for sharing your experience Michael in that blog post. Can I read that "$200k paid in case" as in all paid off without loans even from family/friends? If so, $200k seems like a high saving amount considering average American household are in credit card debts. In other words, Google job did pay really well with RSUs and bonuses so that you can save up to buy house in one shot?


There are literally hundreds of developers in FAANG companies putting down payments a lot more than 200k in the Bay Area. The median compensation including RSUs is over 400k. If you're in a critical org your RSUs can be an order of magnitude more than that.

Considering the salary offered by FAANG and other big tech companies, saving 200k$ is very doable. Yes some people are in credit card debts, and that proportion is higher than it should, but saving that amount of money is not unheard of. Most people just spend all they have (and a little more), which leads to not having that kind of savings.

Doing so in just 4 years may be harder (again, depends on your spending), but if you have a little nest before then I don't see what's so strange about it.


If his total comp was $300k, which is normal for a senior google dev, it's entirely possible to save $100k per year, even if the rent is $3.5k/mo.

Yeah it is except tech workers in the Bay Area working at FAANGs are nowhere close to average Americans. Senior engineer (5+ years, some leadership, even technical leadership) total comps range from $250-600k plus insane benefits a year at those companies, managers make more. Most FAANGs pay for everything you could want, your only expense paid out of your earnings could be your rent. Those are starting too, excluding refresher grants and assuming zero appreciation over 4 years in the equity.

My Google pay and rsus were definitely enough to buy a house, just not in the Bay area. A coworker who couldnt buy in santa Clara did a transfer to Ann arbor and was able to buy a massive home in the country.

That is correct, this is fairly typical compensation for the OP's level.

That was my signing bonus, nevermind pay or RSUs. It's not hard to acquire that much money.

>It's not hard to acquire that much money.

As a privileged developer, this is an extremely untrue and privileged statement. Developers like myself who don't live in SF are lucky to receive any signing bonus, and would be lucky to earn half of that as a yearly salary. Outside the US it's not possible. You are part of a very small and very fortunate group.

Source: https://insights.stackoverflow.com/survey/2018/#salary


The original question is: "ex-FAANG developers...".

In that context, it's definitely priviledged but far from being extremely untrue.


How do you pay for your living expenses ? Do you work remotely ?

I had pretty substantial amount of savings when I quit. I expect my annual expenses for the next few years to be $15-20k, so I can either pay that with returns from my investments or drawing down from my savings.

It's not enough to live the rest of my life on, especially if I want to start a family, but I'm set for the next few years.


What about healthcare?

Private health insurance is $3k/yr here, so it's part of the $15-20k/yr.

with spending like that if a decent chunk comes from savings rather than income, you probably qualify for MassHealth.

Possibly! I don't think I'd qualify until 2020 because my 2018 income is over the limit because of my earnings at Google in the beginning of the year. My understanding is that it's based on the previous year's income, so I'd have to earn nothing in 2019.

I'm not sure if I'd apply in any case. I feel like it's questionable ethically to take public assistance when I could earn a high income if I chose to work for an employer.


this is how the rich turn the middle class against the poor, by attaching shame to public goods. healthcare should not be means tested, but if you can actually pass the test then by all means do it. you are not better than anyone else.

Nah, I think you’re being pessimistic here. I’m not OP but I’m in the boat and I turn down public assistance because it’s not what it was made for and the system is strained enough...also, I wouldn’t judge anyone else for taking it.

yes it is me, the pessimist, encouraging you to accept free healthcare. not you, the ideologue, who so deeply believes in your place above the poors that you self-impose austerity.

He specifically said he doesn't judge anyone or attach shame to accepting free health care. He doesn't accept it because he doesn't need it as much as others and does not want to take it from someone in greater need. Your position is anti-social and akin to attending an event where there are treats available for children, but you take them as an adult and some children get none, but you feel no shame.

I don't judge you, but* you're naive to believe what someone says, not what they do.

* this is where you can usually tell someone is judging

And your metaphor of the poor as children you wouldn't steal candy from is exactly the kind of ideological superiority i'm talking about.


> Currently working on toy projects to sharpen my web development skills

Could you talk about what those projects are about and what languages/frameworks you are using?

What's next? Are you looking to start another business or taking some time to just learn and work on projects that you find interesting?

Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your blog posts and forum posts on IH. Good luck!


>Could you talk about what those projects are about and what languages/frameworks you are using?

Sure, I'm working with Angular now. I might switch to Vue.js because I'm not crazy about Angular and I've heard very good things about Vue, but I'm also wondering if I'd like Angular more once I reached proficiency in it.

>What's next? Are you looking to start another business or taking some time to just learn and work on projects that you find interesting?

The project I want to get back to is a keto recipe search engine (https://ketohub.io/). I put it on hold for other projects, but I have more ideas for it and it's a good project for me to stretch my web development skills.

I may also consider projects targeting customers in Western Mass that nobody else is really going after. When I tell people here I'm a developer, many tell me that the software they're forced to use at work is terrible and old but there's no replacement, so maybe I'll find one I can tackle.

>Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your blog posts and forum posts on IH. Good luck!

Thanks!


> Sure, I'm working with Angular now. I might switch to Vue.js because I'm not crazy about Angular and I've heard very good things about Vue, but I'm also wondering if I'd like Angular more once I reached proficiency in it.

I am probably preaching to the choir here, but if you are looking to sharpen your skills, it's almost always better to stick with a single tech and learn it really, really well. That doesn't mean it's harmful to step through some Vue tutorials to get a feel for how it is different, however, if you're not careful you can end up losing a ton of time learning about the JS framework du jour and not actually making progress on anything. Especially if you are not in any hurry to build something useful.

Just about the only constant in JS frameworks is that any decision you make now on which one to use will probably be wrong in a year.

That's not to say optimizing for development speed isn't a good thing, especially if you are looking to bang out POCs as quickly as possible to vet startup ideas. But if you're not careful this can devolve into "funtime with tech" that could be a major distraction which might not even look or feel like one.

Speaking from experience :-)


I want to do something with AI/ML and recipes also but monetizing a passion is not always possible. Have you seen the NYTs open source recipe ingredient parser?

+1 for moving to a less expensive area and ‘buying back’ some of your own time. I did this a long time ago and have seldom regretted it.


>Have you seen the NYTs open source recipe ingredient parser?

That's actually what I based mine on. I wrote a series of blog posts explaining how I did it:

https://mtlynch.io/resurrecting-1/


Have you tried selling your recipe parser to retailers like Kroger. Many of them are firing up features to order online and they’ll have pickers pull your order together so you can grab it later.

I think there's a bit of a delta between where my service is and what they'd need. There would have to be logic to do fuzzy matching from the parsed ingredient to the items in their inventory that customers can purchase. There are competitors in this space that are already far ahead of me in terms of building shopping lists from ingredients, so it would be difficult to compete with them. My idea was to start with smaller developers who prefer my service's improved accuracy and more liberal licensing terms.

Interesting! I’d been noodling with this idea earlier this summer while chasing a lawnmower about the yard. The SKU match seems tricky. Guess I’m way late to the party haha.

Hey Michael - have been following your story for several months. Disappointed to hear that the recipe parsing idea didn't work out for you.

Thanks for reading! Yeah, it's a shame but I expected that I'd have lots of ideas that don't work out. I'm trying to maximize what I learn from them and minimize the amount of time it takes to find out if an idea is viable.

I don’t follow your blog but I keep running into it, and it’s a really cool story. I hope you figure it out and keep documenting it because I’m trying to do the same and would love to maintain this level of autonomy.

Unlike you though, I think I’m taking too long to execute rather than failing to monetize something.


Mike, I did not realize you moved. We should meet up one of these days.

-Ty


Hey Tyson, yes definitely. I do plan to come back for IH NYC meetups on occasion.

Mike and Tyson. Mike Tyson.

Which part of web are you learning?

>Moved out of my $3.3k/mo Manhattan apartment and bought a home for $200k in Western Massachusetts

You have no idea how much the people of Vermont appreciate this. Be sure to tell all your friends who want out of NY how great Western MA is. ;)


Are there a lot of tech jobs in western Mass? I am working in NYC and really not feeling the whole big-city vibe.

Ssshhhh don't let anyone in on the secret! This is from a native! :)



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