> One is that companies will inevitably slow down as they grow larger, no matter how hard they try to keep their startup mojo.
He goes on to say that this is a consequence of the tree structure, which may be technically correct, but I think this is actually a consequence of the natural conservatism that develops at a large company making lots of money and paying lots of salaries. This doesn't change the validity of his message, but I think it's worth pointing out the motivations of a large company.
> The restrictiveness of big company jobs is particularly hard on programmers, because the essence of programming is to build new things.
So this is also, on it's face, completely valid. The only exception I take with it is that "new things" is ill-defined. If he means to say, "building entirely new systems from scratch is nearly impossible at a large company," then yes. That is 100% true. If in that he includes, "building critical new functionality into an existing system that will make hundreds, thousands or maybe millions of users insanely happy," then, as you can probably read from my phrasing, I think he's wrong.
I personally prefer doing the second than the first. I think it's a harder challenge to work within legacy systems and make them adapt than to be a full-time greenfield engineer. (sidebar: If any of my colleagues are reading this they may be rolling their eyes given a project we have in motion at the moment because it's perceived as greenfield--come see me I'll do my best to convince you it's not :D)
> But a programmer deciding between a regular job at a big company and their own startup is probably going to learn more doing the startup.
Implicit in my previous comment is that, because it's harder making things move in Big Corp one tends to learn more, both as an engineer and as a human. Finding the right technical path through a heavily used, critical system is an interesting challenge,
and evolving legacy systems, or spawning new work in a large org requires lots of communication, as well.
All that said, I do fully agree that working in such a large corp generates a different sort of stress than working in a small company (I've worked in many). In a small company you're worried, fundamentally, about the company's viability and therefore your paycheck. In a large company I think the major stress is knowing whether you still have a voice that carries any weight.
Anyway, it was a great post and I thank the sharer of it :).
Unfortunately the peril one often encounters in such ecosystems is that "the right technical path" for working with BigCo's system is totally un-translateable to general working knowledge. By that I mean it often means having to work around specific constraints that have evolved and are specific to that BigCo and not to other BigCo's, let alone to smaller startups. It also pushes you to generally work with technology which may be a bit older, which can often mean having to accept that current best practices simply aren't at play.
I do agree with the second part of your thesis, which is that the social challenges of working in a big company are significant and can make one very well suited generally for management and leadership in a way that's not the case at a smaller company.
Having also seen many start-ups fail because they prioritized the right technical path over product-market fit, there's a balance that's generally unappreciated by both pure managerial and pure technical types.
I dont think we should devalue maintenance and maintenance programmers. I know it is popular, especially among those who want to convince programmers to go to startups, but that is exactly what it is.
My company is on that path. It's merging the bad parts of startups like overambitious deadlines and lack of organization with the bad parts of big companies like bureaucracy and lack of flexibility. Management seems happy but from a worker's point of view we have relentless pressure to deliver mixed with a huge layer of politics. It has become really unpleasant over the last few years.
These folks are in the hardest spot in large orgs because they perform hidden feats of heroics all the time, yet they're typically only noticed when things go wrong.
Often it is more about the right political path. Getting something approved like you want it to can mean months of back-channel work to make it become other people's idea.
You certainly will learn more about the politics in a large company but from an engineering perspective you tend to get pigeon holed. You will learn a lot about a very narrow area. Working in a small company gives you a much broader experience, both of the technology and business. I remember a famous poster from this community describing a purchase order as an exotic method of payment. Nobody who has worked for a scrappy startup would think that.
Ultimately though it comes down to horses for courses. You clearly thrive in a big company environment, I definitely don't.
I think this is a reasonable generalization, though organizations can fight this tendency. I tend to think we do, though we have very specific initiatives to tackle this very problem.
> You clearly thrive in a big company environment, I definitely don't.
So “thrive” is a bit of a strong characterization, but I can say I’ve pretty well adapted to my current environment.
Please also don’t let me lead anyone to believe that everything is perfect in Big Corp land (here or anywhere I suppose). As you hint at, it’s all about the trade offs you’re willing to make at any given point in your career.
I guess that’s what I was mostly trying to point out in my original comment.
I haven't and will never be what people tend to call a purely maintenance programmer, but the parts of my job that interact with existing systems are more challenging, more important, and teach me more (from looking at the patterns in existing code) than the greenfield parts.
Where the misconceptions come from is it's easier to be "good enough" when you do maintenance, so a lot of people don't try to understand the existing context, don't interact with non-technical people, and don't stretch themselves to understand the business, because they mistakenly think their job is writing code.
When you build products with a shelf-life of 6 years, you care deeply about reliability, and maintainability.
When you have low scale, problems are small. When you have large scale, code gets complex because you can't afford to be inefficient
~40? I'm assuming you're counting your skips. If so, a better word to convey what you meant would have been to say that you were directing them, to indicate you had skips and were actually managing a half-dozen or so managers. If not, how does one manage to keep track of ~40 relationships (plus other colleagues) in a 4\b80h week?
The company later was able to hire more managers and take the load off of him (and in fact he went back to being an IC eventually). But these things happen in periods of rapid growth, despite everyone knowing they're a bad idea.
And whether your voice will do any good in general, even if people listen to it. The organisational mass of a big corp is ridiculous. You can spent your entire day pushing and only manage to shift the course a few meters.
This jumped out at me, too. Learn more about what is my immediate though. Working in a large company you will learn a lot about project management and navigating through existing systems, structures and so on. Less glamorous than what you might learn at a startup but IMO no less useful.
I feel like it is a horses for courses situation where some people will thrive in one environment and flounder in the other.
Different kinds of burnout in both environments, too.
You're on HN and you don't know who Paul Graham is?
- Salaries would be lower, so that people coming for the money wouldn't. There's be more variable pay. This will eliminate the "who cares if the product fails? I get a big paycheque anyway" attitude I've seen in a big company.
- When a product fails, each individual on that team will have something to lose: skin in the game. Maybe he won't get a bonus. Or will get paid less next year. Or gets demoted one level. Or something.
- Each VP would have the flexibility to pay his team the way he wants. The only thing he'll be held accountable for is the results. No salary band for each level, etc.
- He'll also be able to hire people he thinks are better. Maybe people who've been a founder or early employee of a startup more than people who've worked at other big bureaucratic companies.
- Engineering practices won't be centrally enforced, as they're in some big companies. If a team believes that unit testing every class, or code reviews that drag on for weeks, or <insert other practice here> have a low ROI, they'll be able to choose different practices. Maybe each (S)VP would get to define his team's practices.
These are just ideas. Maybe you can come up with better ones.
What would you to do to make a big company more like a startup?
- You will have people unwilling to work on risky projects. Good engineers assigned to troubled projects will be resentful more then normally and leave faster.
It does, when coupled with variable pay they could lose if their project doesn't work out.
> There are plenty of lazy people who don't care who are not paid maximum possible.
And those lazy people will then find jobs at other big companies, where they don't have to work hard and still make more, more appealing.
Valve, for example, seems to take this sort of approach, and while it's not without criticism, it seems to work okay for some people.
I tried it once. The company was an abusive hellhole, and I'm glad I got out.
Edit: Also, if you're working at an early-stage startup and making below market rate, you better be a founder or your employer is screwing you over.
If you're worried about risk and spreading your bets, why not start a venture fund that invests small amounts in lots of little startups and takes a percentage of the success, the way YCombinator does it?
Your salary is below market rate, but not when you include variable pay, in startups, and in my proposal.
You can paint some stripes on it but it's still a donkey. They are fundamentally different creatures.
You can instill some startup practices at a bigco, just like a start up can benefit from some organization and structure, but they are not variations of the same beast
We also aren't meant to use computers, let alone build them. Big and complex organizations are required in order to build big and complex things. And it turns out that it works best by having bosses.
Now, I work most of the time for large companies and what I notice is that you have much more freedom than you might think. But you have to work for it. You may not get to choose a framework, you may have to follow a process, but you still need to make decisions, even if they are on a small scale. You may be handed over procedures and recipes, don't follow them blindly, try to understand them and maybe improve on them.
No matter where you are working, you are not a robot. You are the human, the problem solver, the decision maker, the repetitive tasks are for the computer. As a programmer, there is always a way to make a boring job more interesting in a way that benefits the company. And if your boss is competent, he will appreciate it.
As for what a boss is, I always see my boss as a partner, not a "superior". My boss works for me, he looks at the big picture, meets with customers, and feeds me work. I work for my boss by doing the work he wants me to do.
Is that true? Having bosses has been proven as the best way to organise big and complex organisations?
In a capitalist economy a hierarchical organisational structure is for sure the overwhelmingly most common structure, but there is an alternative; a flat non-hierarchical structure such as in a worker's co-operative.
I'd like to see a study comparing the two and drawing a conclusion as to which is best.
It doesn't speak to you? Ok. That's fine. You aren't the target audience. Obviously there have always been millions upon millions of people who live perfectly happy, productive, successful lives working for large organizations. However, some subset of people have always felt dissatisfied in this arrangement. For some of those, this essay might be the spark they need to look around and find something that suits them better (and maybe Y Combinator can fund them.)
I'm feeling old that the average HN reader anymore doesn't seem to know who Paul Graham is.
> There may be a similar problem with the way we work: a normal job may be as bad for us intellectually as white flour or sugar is for us physically.
Could almost hear all the heads nodding in agreement.
If only he'd mentioned intermittent fasting or the fact that the hiring process for developers is broken...
If you didn't know the difference "back then", it was due to ignorance, not a marketing image.
I made more money at my web agency when I had 10 employees than when I had 20. I kept growing the business through inertia and the thought that bigger was better. I decided to sell with 20 employees rather than drop back down to 10, but by 20 it was unweildy for me to manage on my own.
The overhead described in the article from growing beyond a group of 10 I felt everyday. If I had to do it over I'd stay at 10 or less for as long as possible and prioritize connection and profits over revenue and headcount.
The article talks about the challenges of managing managers and my experience lines up with what the author describes.
Then the company got busier and started hiring more people who were less able to manage themselves. As a consequence, I acquired a manager who wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to be doing. This led to situations where he would need to do things that justified his existence, like phoning me every hour to ask 'how it was going', 'where was I, and so on...
Needless to say, I started enjoying my job much less...
Then, when it became obvious my new manager wasn't coping so well, they gave him an assistant. You can probably guess how that panned out?
You missed a great opportunity to manage upwards. Surely you have some meaningless menial tasks in your job that you hate to perform? Excellent delegation material!
You know what they say, many hands make for lighter work. They hired him an assistant? Looks like you just acquired a whole department!
I worked at a company that had an 'individual' service, and a 'business' service.In Spain, Italy and Greece and S. America - our customers were 'individuals'. In Germany, France and UK, they were 'business' accounts. Those economies with more 'business' accounts have somewhat more advanced industrial basis than those with 'individual' accounts.
There are many things that can only be developed at scale, and certain kinds of specialization that only become available at scale.
Only a company with X people can start to invest in Y kinds of things, which is a huge part of their competitive advantage.
Yes, big cos are seemingly more inefficient at the individual level, but their scale actually might imply greater efficiency.
Put another way - someone at only 50% individual efficiency at a big corp, may be 'creating more value' than otherwise.
I've grown attached to projects in small companies and large ones, sure. What you've written can be read as an explanation for why people continue to work at companies even as they grow larger and get worse, rather than any contradiction of what Graham said.
> And when you'll see what a hundred people can make out of what was started by ten, it will be very rewarding.
Really? I don't think I've experienced anything rewarding/inspiring being made by more than ten people; even in large companies, the most rewarding/inspiring projects I've worked on have been those that were worked on by a small, relatively isolated team. Scaling up may be necessary and/or lucrative, but I doubt it could ever be as rewarding as making the thing, and AIUI the economics research backs that up - productivity is concentrated in small companies, successful companies grow until they get too bloated to be successful rather than stable (because if you're successful, growing is the default path) rather than improving through growth.
Why do people contribute to projects like Linux or LLVM without getting paid for it? (Of course lots of them get paid to do this, but many are not.) It's not exactly easy calories for a caged lion, the way Graham describes a corporate job taken by recent college grads. Instead, people choose to work in these large groups because they want to make an impact. You can instead contribute to TinyCC or MenuetOS - smaller team, less impact. Are Linux or LLVM uninspiring? Were they only inspiring when they were too small for most of their current practical uses?
If productivity is concentrated in small companies - or companies of size X - why aren't companies of this size drive the other companies out of business? I think that market realities point in the direction of there being economies of scale and diseconomies of scale, without a single one-size-fits-all procedure for determining the optimal firm size for any particular endeavor.
A 10-person company inherently has a fairly high level of autonomy; the outside world can impose broad constraints but there's a pretty low limit on how much you can interfere in day-to-day activity when you're not in the building. It's conceivable that a 10-person team in a group of 100 could have that much autonomy, but it's extremely rare IME - e.g. I've never known a 10-person team within a 100-person company to have the authority to hire at will; it's rare for a team to be allowed to change hosting providers without that decision being made at higher level.
> Why do people contribute to projects like Linux or LLVM without getting paid for it?
Leaving aside that most contributors are paid by employers to work on those projects, unpaid contributors to those projects won't be in the kind of boss-team relationship Graham is criticising. Open-source contributors inherently have a much higher level of autonomy because there's no "the company pays your salary" dynamic.
> Are Linux or LLVM uninspiring? Were they only inspiring when they were too small for most of their current practical uses?
Yes, exactly. (Specific subprojects within them might still be inspiring)
> If productivity is concentrated in small companies - or companies of size X - why aren't companies of this size drive the other companies out of business?
They do, all the time; the normal business lifecycle is that an innovative company outcompetes the bloated incumbent, but gradually bloats up itself, until a smaller, more innovative company outcompetes it.
I hope that this kind of article doesn't promote the mindset that if you're not financially successful by the time you turn 30, then you're either lazy or unskilled (I.e. thinking that leaders are fundamentally different than employees).
There are a lot of business leaders today who harbor significant contempt towards their own employees; you can see it by how they talk about their employees and how they interact with them.
It might seem like some employees aren't ambitious, don't take initiative and don't want to step outside of their comfort zone but that's rarely true; most employees do want to take control of their lives and they devise plans to make it happen; but dumb luck is just a much more powerful force. You can't beat dumb luck.
From 2011: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2760732
And twice from 2008:
On the other hand, people need other personalities to complement their personalities. Organizing this environment is not simple for most people, as it requires a complete different set of skills than most technical work.
People will have to enter a company to get this environment, as it is already created for you. Usually not well created, but something is better than nothing.
IMHO Paul Graham acquired these skills from his now wife, thanks to that they created YC and you have all this environment of mutual support, the "family", the "Church".
It always surprising when you go to the US, how isolated most people is from each other.
This makes PG advice extremely damaging for most people in the US. The technical people that will listen to it are already not very social. Without social support, you will perish. No matter how good you are, people are social creatures.
In the corporate world I completely agree. I feel like a vegetable. I am numb and stare out a window. I enjoy taking long walks and picking fruit on my corporate neighbor's property.
In addition to working for a Fortune 50 company I am also an officer in the army. In the army this idea about bosses is and large organizations is mostly (not completely though) upside down. In the military this can really work for you if you are engaged and your primary leader isn't a criminal.
This is perhaps the biggest difference between these worlds, and I cannot put it into words in a way that could possibly relate until you have shared a similar experience yourself. Seeing and living this difference shapes your world perspective more than any other objective quality (there are catastrophic subjective qualities that will shape anybody's world).
Being a numb vegetable is spending 16 hour days in Iraq guarding a fence. Nothing in the civilian/corporate world comes close. Also you can always quit ;D
Could you try? This is really interesting!
In the corporate space many of the younger people I have worked with feel, to me, extraordinarily fragile. We all have fear and we all make mistakes. Sometimes I would rather shoot myself in the face than point out a minor shortcoming. Sometimes the result is a long series of excuses and justifications (deliberately not listening and having a one way conversation with themselves to you) and on rare occasions the response is immediate hostility. I don't know everything, but I have been in this line of work for 20 years and I do feel justified in thinking I might be able to offer advice or technical guidance to somebody who has been doing it for 6 months or less.
Older developers I have worked with in the corporate world tend to be a bit rigid and stuck in their ways, which is completely expected. Although this is not a surprise it does prove a bit frustrating when it comes to exploring newer technologies or open-mindedness to new approaches.
In the military you often don't get a vote upon the technology, the environment, the people you work with, or really anything. You realize you are an adult. You suck it up and try to make the best of it. As crappy as that may at first sound it is a forcing function with some really positive results. You have to be flexible. You have to embrace new things. You have to work with all kinds of people.
Confrontation is common in the military. There really is a such thing as positive confrontations. Positive confrontations are necessary to develop people. This exists in the corporate world as well, but its generally hidden behind directors and senior managers where tiny contributors like me don't see it.
Ownership of work is vital to motivation. The military has figured this out. Some of the corporate world has figured this out, but usually not. People have to be allowed to fail in order to feel the pressure to grow. Let's not forget corporate employees are adults and they need mentorship not helicopter parents.
Sometimes new things very clearly flashes in the pan, and sometimes people are clearly on their way out the door, and applying a forcing function doesn't change that, though.
That dev who "cried" and was "hostile" for not being able to use a framework, was it really hostility or just frustration?
Just something to think about! :) Thanks for sharing.
EDIT: I removed most of my reply because it really was too much.
> Did you ever consider...
Well, yeah, they probably have given 20 years thinking about this. And the nuance of a reply would probably take time and several more paragraphs.
I am genuinely interested to hear this view of the military, since I've heard that sentiment elsewhere before (that it is effective specifically in ways that corporate entities fail comically), but having no experience (no interest) in joining-up, I haven't understood what's behind it. I would _love_ for the parent to elaborate and welcome more. Sure, a lot of software isn't life or death, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from effective teams and organizations, wherever they are.
This reminds me of a piece I've read on Habr, a Russian platform in a format similar to HN. An older dev was talking about how the younger-gen devs he's working with act as if they feel personally attacked (perhaps they do) after their mistake was pointed out to them. He mentioned the not-being-able-to-work-with-favorite-framework bit, but the focus was elsewhere.
The older dev was mostly talking about bearing one's responsibility and being able to take it – as in, withstand stress and suck it up when necessary – which the younger devs have a problem with.
> In the army this idea about bosses is and large organizations is mostly (not completely though) upside down. In the military this can really work for you if you are engaged and your primary leader isn't a criminal.
Does that means that in the military people lower in the ranks are much more self-motivated and self-directed?
The minimal expectation is that low ranking service members have the proper pieces in place to make good decisions. When they make bad decisions it is them plus their boss (and sometimes the boss's boss) that gets destroyed. This puts pressure on the boss to ensure their people are well informed. In the corporate world if a contributor fails horribly you simply fire them and wash your hands of it. It is highly unlikely the boss will receive legal prosecution for the contributor's failures even those failures result from a lack of governance or proper policy.
Does Paul Graham have cooties? What happened?
What grates me about Paul's writing is the sheer pomposity of it all, coupled with a tone that deals only in absolutes. There is no space for doubt, for hesitancy, for understatement. It is grandiosity dialed up to 11 in a way I've seen precious few "essayists" do. Even that word grates me. Oh, no sir! Paul is above mere 'blogging'. He is an "essayist" because his blogposts feature more than 2500 words. Look at what he claims:
> And founders and early employees of startups, meanwhile, are like the Birkenstock-wearing weirdos of Berkeley: though a tiny minority of the population, they're the ones living as humans are meant to. In an artificial world, only extremists live naturally.
> It will always suck to work for large organizations, and the larger the organization, the more it will suck.
My god! One must have a super limited and convenient worldview to inflict such idiotic statements onto the world with such a wanton disregard of anything approaching sensitivity. Here's Jeff Atwoods take on it: https://blog.codinghorror.com/paul-grahams-participatory-nar...
It's an opinion I sympathise with a lot more than PG's.
I work for a big company (CERN). Group of thousands upon thousands. It's wonderful here. I wouldn't trade it for the next "Uber of...". My 'boss' is just someone who has worked on my topic for a lot longer than me, and is therefore a veritable treasure chest of knowledge. I LOVE working for him because I learn a shitload on a weekly basis, and the projects that he is responsible for align with my interests. I LOVE working in my 'group of hundreds', because that group of hundreds can accomplish a lot more than a full-stack developer straight out of Stanford thinking he can disrupt everything just by ignoring zoning laws. I also imagine there are a significant portion of people working for places like NASA/ESA etc who share my view. Where does this jive with Mr Graham's World Of Absolutes?
Further, even if we limit ourselves to the corporate world, 'groups of hundreds' can afford to do more than one guy. A large group can, for example, dedicate resources to lowering the environmental impact of the product chain, in a way that a three person startup couldn't. They can have customer service that a small startup just cannot match. Is all of that worthless?
And if it isn't, just what is Graham getting at in this article? Is it limited to young graduates? Then why the far reaching claims and the excessive overreach? And if not, is he genuinely so delusional as to think he can speak for everyone?
I will give another example, at the risk of outing myself, just because this article is still fucking grinding my gears. My mum is working on the Polio program. In a couple of years, they will have rid the world of this killer disease. Millions of lives saved. It's not necessarily the glorious work environment that gives Paul Graham a hardon. Doesn't mean it 'sucks'. Just means that most of the people working there are capable of understanding that there are some necessary evils involved in taking on such an enormous challenge. You need to talk to Politicians the world over. You need to coordinate the door to door vaccine distribution. You need to balance the books for millions and millions of dollars in funding. You need to set up secure enclaves for staff that are going into dangerous zones and risking their lives for the project. I would like to see some fucking bossless Ycombinator graduate try their hand at that.
Sure...but you could still have this option (potentially at a cost) working for yourself
> I know graduate degrees can be controversial on HN.
Oh...I've not come across that. If I'm not mistaken I can recall contributions for Masters graduates and PhD holders...
Sounds like pg is only interested in autonomy, whereas you are also taking mastery and purpose into account.
CERN (thankfully) is not a company, let alone a big company. I don't think it's fair to counter argue on this point. I've worked across research, big company and startups.
I would argue that the way researchers work is a lot more akin to the 'natural' way of working (free from such artificial constraints as quarterly shareholder value) that this article is trying to get at.
Thank you for your counterpoint, I wished I'd studied some
branch of physics so I could have joined your ranks, alas
all I could do to stay afloat was to use the one skill I
have, to program computers which put me more on the path
that PG prefers but I still see there is plenty of validity
in humans working in larger groups and feel this blog post
is one that really made its point poorly. Best regards, Jacques.
YC combinator is in the startup business, so of course PG is going to oversell the case for startups.
PG's stuff is hit and miss. Here's an example of a much better article by him:
Don't Talk to Corp Dev
Successful startups require people who will do things that people who naturally gravitate towards big companies just aren't interested in doing. If you take someone (like me) who likes structure, regiment, and routine and idolizes people like Raymond Chen and put them in a key role in an early-stage startup, that's a recipe for a) the startup failing miserably, and b) the employee ending up on suicide watch.
It's in the business interests of startups to filter for those who would actually enjoy working at one, not to pressure the rest of the world into thinking they need to work for one.
He's not much of a "hacker", but his various comments on Reddit and Hubski are on a similar wavelength to yours.
One of my new year's resolution, however, is to quit Reddit, so I am in no mood to have a new network take its place :)
>> It will always suck to work for large organizations, and the larger the organization, the more it will suck.
> My god! One must have a super limited and convenient worldview to inflict such idiotic statements onto the world with such a wanton disregard of anything approaching sensitivity.
Pot meet kettle.
My New Year's resolution: be less polar.
The people in Europe who actually work are suppressed and exploited.
He doesn't explicitly exclude publicly funded institutions. He says working for big organizations will always suck. I quoted him verbatim. And this highlights my problem with him: absolutes.
Also, does your final sentence insinuate that people at CERN aren't actually working?!
Publicly funded people in Europe act and feel like royalty and build themselves Veblen goods. In several German cities, the only buildings that are in good shape are government buildings and universities.
Normal people do not have money to paint their houses (if they have one, that's another thing only civil servants can afford).
Which part of Europe are you talking about?
What constitutes actual work?
How are they suppressed and exploited?
1. You could have quoted Atwood's article briefly to capture his basic ideas rather than just jarringly moving on to your next point. Most people are going to finish your post first, then, if they're still interested, go read supplementary links.
2. You could have just pointed out that you worked at CERN, making that whole paragraph about half as lengthy and ten times as punchy. "My group of hundreds does things Uber could never in a million years dream of doing. Or for that matter, YCombinator." Maybe leave that last one out.
3. Once that sordid bit of egotism is out of the way, you could have dealt better with the obvious "well duh, working at CERN is way better than working at Uber!" C'mon now, PG's talking to the masses, not the guys smart enough to advance the state of human knowledge by the day.
4. More space could have been given to the nuts and bolts of accomplishing real things in the real world that might include third-world politics than continuing to grind your ax on PG. Instead we get four measly sentences! You're already slumming it with us webdev bums, at least give us something to salivate over! Give us an essay of your own, big man!
Also, as to your last point, if it is in refernce to what I was talking about Polio, it _is_ endlessly interesting. UN gets a bad rap for being bureaucratic to the point of statis, but in fact, some of the hardest working people I know are employed there.
Here's more about Polio to whet your appetite, with the MASSIVE caveat that this is second hand, non-expert knowledge vomited out off-the-cuff.
Polio has been eliminated virtually everywhere on Earth with the exception of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. There are some other places where vaccine-derived (kind of, there is more to it that I don't fully get) Polio sometimes rears its head when ineffective propagation occurs, specifically in Syria, where the war zone threw the entire operation into chaos. But mainly, it is problematic in the three countries. The trouble is, big parts of these regions are inaccessible, and therefore we don't know the details of how bad the situation may be, and how many households are unvaccinated. So one big challenge is how to make sure these countries (with Taliban controlled regions for example) get the distribution sorted.
Further, Polio was unprecedented in the sense that W.H.O. (and others) managed to set up the VERY complicated infrastructure of mobile testing labs, vaccine distributions, but most importantly, door to door canvassing through the enormous amounts of hard work of poorly-paid LOCAL volunteers (MANY women) who go door to door, month after month, conducting surveys and understanding the plight of the local populace. They are the ones who could tell us, down to the household, who had been vaccinated and who hadn't. On a global scale. Imagine the complexity.
And because this infrastructure was in place, OTHER departments could use it too, for instance to study Malaria rates etc. All on Polio money. But now with funding soon to be sunsetted, the issue is how we can maintain the good of the program: the door to door stuff, the mobile labs etc., with no Polio funding?
Other things are complicated too, such as health ministries not being fond of their for-years-guaranteed Polio funding going away. This is perhaps ok in non-corrupt countries, but in less fortunate countries, their representatives must argue for greater share of the funding for THEIR government, knowing full well that that money could maybe be better used elsewhere.
On the other side of the equation, you have to deal with the funding agencies: the Gates etc., who would love nothing more than to be able to see the fruits of their labour paid off as soon as possible, since they've been waiting for a decade. Patience is an ever-scarcer commodity, and it's hard say that I don't sympathise with them, given how many resources they've invested into the project.
And WHO is liable for everything it states, so all outreach must be carefully vetted. So you need a big PR team/lawyers etc. There are just endless complications. W.H.O. has to manage ALL of this, and that is exactly why they require a big staff.
This stuff is not limited to just the UN btw. All big companies face such challenges. By contrast, PG's article seems more to be desigend to caress his ego rather than express something truly useful for the world to consume and learn for.
In the business space, I think there's a sense that everything people are doing is going to line some asshole's pockets and you're going to get none of those benefits. HNers in particular just often seem like they can't see the meaning in plugging away at the company they're working for, and the Silicon Valley dream is predicated on making a startup and compressing your work life down to a few short years.
The dream is inspirational to some because there's rarely any glory in being a cog in a machine. Even guys that work at Google get burned out after awhile. It's just hard in many cases to stay motivated. PG's essay wants to say that it's just working in a big organization is unnatural. I think that's way way off the mark, we would never have society and people wouldn't collect into cities if that were the case, and his understanding of hunter-gatherers seems trite, even for 2008.
But Silicon Valley is a thing and people do flock there from all over the country to chase a certain kind of ideal. I think it's the same kind of thing that encourages young community workers to keep gathering data in their communities year after year. The opportunity to chase a real goal and be a part of something bigger.
Silly Valley wants to unify intelligence, glory, and meaning together. All things that run out of the tap at CERN. In order for that to happen though, there needs to be a healthy amount of creative destruction. Not all companies know how to manage teams. Encouraging those who are feeling burned out and squeezed to find greener pastures can only make it better.
But yeah, I don't think any of the generalizations he makes are at all accurate enough to be stated. Some programmers work better in small groups. But lots of them need lots of structure.
Just curious how the world should work for that article to not exist.
Also, specialization of labor has created this concept. Humans used to provide their own food, shelter and transportation that's all they needed to do. But when one person specializes in transportation, one in farming or hunting, and one in building shelters things start to change.
And we end up with companies that only build pipe fittings.
Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux is one that especially struck my interest.
I this this is a good analogy but I don't draw the same conclusion Paul does. I trained for a marathon last summer, and it sucked. Long distance running and racing has been associated with diminished lifespans , organ damage , weakened immune system , and lowered sex drive . This research isn't conclusive by any means, but it's a lot easier to explain if you believe in an upside-down U-shaped relationship between exercise and well-being than a monotonic relationship. (I personally found that my sweet spot was under 100 km/week, any more than that and I got sick and tired and felt beat-down.)
Same with being a CEO. It's great to be your own boss. It's generally hard on your body, soul, and relationships to work 100 hours a week. If your ambition is to have a 5k/month side project and live on that, that's probably good for your health. If it's to make and sell a billion dollar company, that's probably not.
That's not to say that _working_ at a startup isn't great. I just wouldn't want to start one. And unless you do, you're probably going to have a boss.
On the flip side I'm one of those weirdos who likes working on legacy code as long as I have the freedom to improve it.
In an organization where everyone is equal, adding a new person to the org doesn’t benefit the people who are already in it. Let’s say you have a coop bagel shop- is there any particular reason to want to cut your own paychecks until you have saved up enough to open another one? Or let’s say you live in an egalitarian, peaceful country. Is there any reason to want to invade your neighbors and annex territory? No.
But, if you put one person in charge, then suddenly you have a person in a position of authority with a vested interest in expanding the franchise, since he gets to skim off the labor of everyone underneath him. In a stroke, you’ve invented empire, war, and capitalism. Come back in a hundred years and the organizations that expanded the most are also the most heirarchical.
I don’t think this is a good thing, by the way, just a historical factor to be aware of.
Over the past couple hundred years, almost all full communist/socialist governments have failed, while market-based capitalistic ones have pulled billions out of abject poverty.
do you agree?
It was a mess, sales made horrible promisses to customers, and letting us build demo after demo. The CEO was going round every day pushing people to work harder. And everytime the guy read some tech news we had to drop everything and switch technology to be 'more innovative'.
Right now I'm working in a large company (> 1000 employees)
I have a steady budget for my team. There are targets offcourse, but overall a lot of freedom to do with my team we think is best. Management doesn't get involved in any tech descisions. Wouldn't wanne go back to my startup years...
i feel more free to be creative, to implement interesting stuff, to experiment. not having that management layer on top of you is kind of liberating.
ofc this is not for everyone (just like remote work is not for everyone -- i love it, but i don't recommend that every single developer out there stays at home from monday on), but i do think (from my own experience) that you will become a better professional working for startups.
Of course, it's 10 years on from this piece, and we're seeing lots of correction to this. The youth aren't quite so naive these days. They don't buy this kind of drivel. They want a real job with real benefits, room to grow, mentorship, a healthy org, userbase growth, an interesting roadmap -- they want a career. They're not going to settle for a huckster selling them a get rich quick scheme. PG gets dangerously close to that in several articles.
EDIT: I'm realizing this sounds a little bit more bitter and polemical than I'd like. Let me submit for reference that this view is very, very much colored by my own experiences -- right out of college, I had several early stage startups I worked at and/or co-founded go sideways in manners that I had zero preparation for or help extricating myself from. I found myself wishing at that stage that I had worked at either more established companies, whether they be post series A startups or BigCos. I went on to do just that, but had already burned through 3 years of a spotty resumé, low salary, emotional burnout and having to develop an unnecessarily thick hide to weather all that than I wished. I'm seeing colleagues of mine who took this route out of college, and they seem so much further ahead and well-balanced than I was at their age. It makes me think that in hindsight, it all seems so unnecessary -- had I worked at more stable companies in that period, wouldn't I be three years ahead? Would I have been a more polished and developed professional just as they are now? It's easy to discount the necessity of good mentorship early in your career, but it's so crucial. That mentorship is what gives you the tools to learn how to learn and how to peacefully co-exist with others -- if you don't get that the right way, there's a lot of painful and wasteful unlearning and relearning that must be done. I certainly found myself doing more of that than I would have liked.
For all intents and purposes, there's no guarantee (just a high probability financially) that I would've been further ahead if I started my career off at a big co. But life doesn't work like that. I would have certainly been more risk-averse, and a lot less capable of, erm, smashing through my problems (when I need to) as I am today. I guess that even so, I would still trade some of that off for a more stable early career that let me get to a place of security and learning right out of college.
Being part of a small company that fails sucks while it’s going down, but quickly turns into a new adventure for people that are open to it.
If you look at truly revolutionary making environments like Xerox Parc, they are like this, no bosses and small groups.
However, what you didn't see in Xerox Parc is a market economy. Why? Because competition destroys invention.
Humans are not meant to compete with each other. Markets are another artificial environment, but of course, Paul doesn't see that because he is the fish in the fishbowl.
Some people will have a boss, some people won't and that's all dependent on personal risk evaluation. The 'gig' economy is where really nobody has a boss, the libertarian wet dream where everybody sells their body as a service to be discarded on a moments notice. Having a boss translates into access to social security, welfare, healthcare and other safety nets in many places in the world, and entrepreneurs usually pay in to such schemes but will not be in a position to apply for help if it should come to that.