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Anti-Application video for YC120 (youtube.com)
194 points by puzza007 37 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments

I really don't understand the backlash. It's a simple, 3-question application designed (presumably) to find ambitious people that, for whatever reason, don't have access to the YC network. It's not a treatise on why "family isn't important" or "why you should throw away everything to chase the Silicon Valley dream".

If your response to these questions is to make an angry 4-minute video ranting about how these questions indicate a "lust for Mammon", perhaps consider if you are the intended audience.

I'm sorry, but I have zero association with Silicon Valley or Y Combinator and I find this video completely absurd.

If a potential investor asks you basic questions about your ambitions and you interpret it as "offensive" and "an attack on Silicon Valley", and you end up at William Shockley, I think that says more about you than them.

Bryan is clearly passionate about his beliefs, which probably works great for people who share them. Sometimes I wonder if 2013 Bryan (https://www.quora.com/Why-did-Ben-Noordhuis-decide-to-leave-...) would have fired 1996 Bryan (https://web.archive.org/web/20170328074611/http://www.cryptn...)

Digging up people's distant pasts to use as ammunition against them in the present is a dick move. I don't know anything about Bryan, and I think this particular video is so-so on its own merits, but I don't think that it's appropriate to bring up an email he sent in 1996 to dismiss his arguments.

I would completely agree with you except that this person has made a point of being a zero-tolerance firebrand instead of extending charity and a presumption of good faith. I think it is fair to highlight the hypocrisy of that.

I think we all deserve the benefit of the doubt, and it has made me angry when I've seen Bryan judge others so harshly and unfairly, just as it made me angry when I saw the way he treated David Miller in 1996. For what it's worth I didn't "dig up" anything, I remember these incidents from around the time they happened.

It's particularly disheartening for me because I have huge respect for his engineering skills. DTrace is extremely impressive work.

I agree with this comment. Everybody changes with time, and yet we dig up in the past of these individuals.

We could all possibly fire our past selves for things we currently don't agree with, that's why we call them mistakes and not certainties.

Some of us are able to learn from failures and regrets through trial and error, the consequences and being more aware we could be hurting others. Unfortunately, past blunders are easily referenced, overly embellished + manipulated and quickly judged in the present, as if it were a representation to the entirety of that persons true character. Which is wrong.

> Some of us are able to learn from failures and regrets through trial and error, the consequences and being more aware we could be hurting others.

Is it possible that the making of this video is one of those instances where a person could be hurting others?

Do you think that this video was extending charity to the people at YC?

Since this particular event seems to be quoted a lot, I suppose I'll attach his response to previous criticism of the event. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9041086

> Anyway, your request is entirely fair, and let me be clear that I (obviously?) regret the have-you-ever-kissed-a-girl response (which was actually an obscure Saturday Night Live reference). I was young, and it was stupid -- and I regretted it shortly thereafter, for whatever it's worth. I have never actually met David in person, but if I did, the first thing I would do would be to look him in the eye and apologize.

I'd agree with you if it was someone like Goldman Sachs or HSBC that I wanted to get funding from. I wouldn't criticize them like this because I know it would fall into deaf ears. I think the reason we criticize YC is we believe the people at the top actually care about more than their own quarterly bonus.

I think the issue you're bringing up is valid but is just a dark-side of VC in general than just a problem with YC.

Startups and VCs tend to bang on about community values a whole lot more than they actually care, if at all, in contrast, big corps at least don't pretend as much, though it seems like that is changing with recent shift of marketing trends.

I think the "problem with YC", and in a larger perspective SV, these days is quite specific. What makes, or made, these environments different is that they weren't made for geniuses so much as taking overall average people with an interest in technology and giving them the opportunity to use that interest to build something new instead of it getting lost at some random corporate job. The same way a new music scene isn't usually made up of child music prodigies. But now they are seemingly moving away from that.

In all his rage I think Bryan misses the point that people who are doing valuable work in teams already have access to support networks and have achieved some kind of “insider” status - by virtue of the very fact that they’re doing valuable work in teams.

Such people can already launch startups, receive mentorship, raise funding, apply to YC, etc.

As I understand it, YC120 is specifically looking for people who aren’t already connected to groups/networks who can help them thrive, and the program is wholly designed to connect them to others so new teams of capable people can form.

As for the obituary question: isn’t it obvious that the whole point of this question is to establish that the applicant has noble, benevolent ambitions?

I love Bryan Cantrill for being that classy bad-ass engineer with so much integrity.

His talk on companies principles is a must-watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=9QMGAtxUlAc

> I love Bryan Cantrill for being that classy bad-ass engineer with so much integrity.

I have never worked with Bryan. What's the general opinion about Valerie's statements about working with him.



I'm not trying to defend Bryan Cantrill. Far from it.

I think people in silicon valley often forget how privileged they are. The application question is basically asking

What have you personally done in your life? Why should we give you a chance? I think Bryan Cantrill suffers from a lack of perspective. Like if you ask Taylor Swift about how to be a successful artist and she says just follow your dreams and everything will fall into place, I imagine Bryan hasn't had to justify his personal contributions anywhere in a long time likely because they are just obvious and do easy to see. Now compare that to someone like me who has only worked on line of business applications. I try to be honest which in my mind sounds like I'm being humble but from the other side it just sounds like I'm unaccomplished and have poor listening/comprehension skills.

In any case, I think this thread needs to be less about Bryan Cantrill and more about YC.

Bryan Cantrill's Wikipedia page says he asked a kernel developer if he had ever kissed a girl as a one line reply to a technical discussion. My instinct whenever I hear accusations like those by Valerie is to say maybe there's a different perspective but I don't think there is one in this case. Regardless of all this (and his association with a company that stupidly offers lifetime hosting to paying members and later yanks it which is essentially fraud), I think the arguments he makes stand on their own. These aren't arguments I could make because I'm a nobody but I'm glad someone is making regardless of how flawed they are.

> if you ask Taylor Swift about how to be a successful artist and she says

Just have your father buy a record label.

> I think Bryan Cantrill suffers from a lack of perspective.

I think it could be interpreted in a lot of ways, god forbid anyone criticize the language and connotations in YCs questions. The questions asked so broadly/abstractly open them up for this type of thing and if there are problems more people should speak up, until there are better questions being asked. This can all still happen while also still loving what YC can provide.

> These aren't arguments I could make because I'm a nobody

This is exactly why you should express how you feel about these things, as much as you also want the conversation to be less about Bryan and more about YC, you're basically saying you have the same passionate nature but choose to be silent. And if you did speak up, it would be without the bulk amount of negative attention if you were wrong, but all the benefit if you provide something of value and were right.

Misdirected, not over the top, it's very appropriate especially when it was a sponsored project and they were getting called out as if Ben was their employee and they were cosigning whatever Ben's views were.

Regardless how you feel on gendered pronouns, if you're writing documentation regarding all users it seems like a no brainier to actually involve all users in the language, something which Bryan puts great significance into. Bryan's talks[0] usually involve tone and messaging (as well as being triggered and raged) as key points.

But back to the drama issue. The problem about this whole thing isn't about the pronouns really, it was the actions that Ben took even after it was explained and the hard stance Joyent felt it needed to take on the issue in the aftermath.

Ben, if we're giving him the benefit of the doubt (because he isn't a native English speaker) to word something 'wrong', is a simple fix, who cares.

- The real part of this whole mess was because he tried reversing a commit that was made by the project lead after it was worded to include more users. Ben was the main agitator in this almost 6 year old mess regardless of his amount of contributions.

[0] https://youtu.be/9QMGAtxUlAc

The acceptance of this declaring people as "horrible human beings" by mostly anonymous decree, and then creating a fashion where "the worst thing this did/said" is brought up by people who are X degrees removed from even that, every time the unperson does or say anything, I find much worse than being a caustic prick, which at least is hard limited to the actions of one person. Even if the person should be really bad every now and then, they're already sometimes just kinda-bad-mumble-mumble -- and the habit that is being formed here is just waiting on being used on all sorts of people.

That I know, the rest I can't speak on. I wasn't asked to work with him or be his friend, I find his talks valuable, very lucid and much surprisingly easy to follow even with subjects I don't know much about, and in that way they feel much more respectful to me as "the" audience than a lot of the material out there.

So because someone is privileging you over others, you find it easy to forgive harms they might have committed against others.

I see reasons why there might be value in a more nuanced approach then erasing all work of someone who unrepentantly behaves poorly, but this doesn't seem like it is the right reasoning.

> So because someone is privileging you over others,

What? What does this have to do with anything I wrote?

> this doesn't seem like it is the right reasoning.

Then simply quote me, instead of totally butchering what I said and then calling that not right.

I would agree with him that the last couple of questions are BS, but perhaps the point of it is to evaluate how good you are at convincingly BSing your way through a situation?

Most people don't have the luxury of being brilliant or well-known enough to be able to be unapologetically blunt all of the time.

Especially when dealing with customers and/or investors.

The vast majority of cities in the world are nowhere near Silicon Valley in terms of the availability of talent, drive, deep technical expertise, and supportive environment. This is even more true in developing countries where over 80% of the world’s population live.

Allowing passionate people outside of Silicon Valley the opportunity to meet others who might share their passion and have complementary skills, form connections, and possibly find matching teammates to work on challenging projects together is a good reason for supporting YC120.

I realize this is a touchy subject, but here goes:

I especially appreciate how there is no talk of innovation or ideas, which in my mind, is what YC stands for. Instead (interpreted as an outsider), a rant on unfamiliar, incumbent (sf?) issues/frustrations. Somewhat obvious that YC is looking for new blood.

Somewhat obvious that YC is looking for new blood.

Definitely, and it should, otherwise it won't outlast the next (looming) market correction. And I don't mind YC trying a new tack; I mind that they still don't get it. Bryan is right. True innovators care only about the problem and their ideas. Few who are concerned about what their obit will say will ever do anything great.

You can fund innovation or you can make money off of previous innovation. Silicon Valley has been doing the latter for so long that it has forgotten that the former is even possible.

Wow, that was an extremely eloquent 4 minute piece to camera. Seems a little misplaced though. YC 120 seems to be about bringing people together who haven't already worked with great teams in SF. It seems to be for those with enthusiasm, ideas, energy, passion and drive but perhaps not a pre-existing network and connections.

I would still consider accepting him on the strength of this video because he seems like he'd be an interesting guy to throw in the mixing pot. And perhaps that's the intention of this video.


Double woosh

Scott McNealy's one-sentence summary of Sun is truly something we should all want in our obituaries:

> kicked butt, had fun, didn't cheat, loved our customers and changed computing forever

"What do you want your obituary to say?"

Is this really one of the questions?

So, it's funny, I tell people there's usually two kinds of people. Those that want to be a <X> and those who want to have been an <X>. The former enjoys the journey. The latter wants to skip to the end. This question seems like it is targeting the latter group. Shouldn't YC be trying to target the former?

Not sure I see the distinction here?

I mean, if you want to invent a flying car, if successful you'll be the inventor of the flying car, and your obituary will say so.

The question just seems like a roundabout way of asking "Tell us how your startup idea is going get huge and stay huge for ages"

I thought I was pretty clear. Some people want to skip the being and go straight to have been. They want to be remembered as being Stephen King, but they don't want to put in the effort of writing on a consistent enough basis to actually be Stephen King. They're the type who always has some plan their working on, but really they aren't.

> "Tell us how your startup idea is going get huge and stay huge for ages"

Then ask that question.

Perhaps the application questions could have been further refined.

But perhaps the questions are intended to raise some people’s hackles.

I get temporarily disappointed every time I’m declined by YC, but I appreciate what they are trying to do in a number of ways:

Sharing everything(well, most things) they have learned with complete transparency.

Constantly talking down Seed/Series A valuations in aggregate because they see the crazy.

Experimenting with universal basic income(UBI) using their own money in what appears to me as an attempt to apply the scientific method to public policy lobbying.

So I can excuse YC for some application questions that might come across as pretentious or more likely to appeal to the self aggrandizing.

Two thins I’d like to see with YC120 are:

1) livestream the weekend as it could help with building attendees networks

2) Use YC120 applicant/application pool(with applicants permission) with data anonymised as an experiment on applicants/applications.

Question 2 is "What have you done so far that shows your potential for greatness, adjusted for whatever life circumstances you were born into?" TBH, I'm not sure I would want a ticket to the narcissist convention that question implies. The obituary question is a great question IMO.

The only way I could comfortably answer that question is "Irrespective of greatness or potential for it, here's a list of projects I've done/been involved in and am proud of:".

The "adjusted for privilege" bit seems to be trying to discourage people from talking about where they went to college. It is definitely an awkward question and I think Bryan was right to skewer it.

This is needelessly contrarian. Really, he's offended because someone implied that individuals could be great? They never said teams couldn't be, but unless he's planning to bring his team of kernel developers from 15 years ago to YC, the question is about him, not them. In any case, I'm sure it would be acceptable, maybe even expected, to credit his team when talking about his accomplishments. No need to be "offended".

"The implication here is that my obituary should say I was at the YC 120".

I see no reason to think this. Does he assume YCers are a bunch of heartless workaholics who value professional accomplishment above all else, things like family and community be damned? This is a "get to know you" type question. They want to know what's important to you. That's all.

I also find the grandiloquence about his heroism in "standing up for Silicon Valley" pretty ironic after he put so much effort into showing how humble he was in the first question.

I don't know what was going through this guy's head, but the sole function of this video seems to be as a soapbox to talk about what a man of integrity he is.

Everyone knows there is a tone of bullshit at time to recruit, but recruiters, and human resources in general, need to justify their job and authority based on psychological assumptions put out of context. Or even just pure bias.

The range of valid people for a job or a task is always very wide, and they with they could somehow purge the bottom of the applicant pools. The truth is that they have no idea because even the less innovative person, with some apparent red flags, given the right circumstances, could surpass the people who apparently qualified better.

It's true that attitude is very important, but even people working only for a salary can innovate, alone or in team, and accidentally ending up doing something greater than expected. In the other hand, why is this obsession of linking innovation with business success? Steve Jobs damaged the IT culture way too much, and he even wasn't the mythological creature commonly believed.

P.D. Diversity of thought, personality and attitude... does this diversity matter as well?

Could we have a summary for people that are out of the loop please?

If there is anything you need as a founder it is self confidence. Bryan is right that it takes teamwork to do great things, but first you need to convince others to follow your lead. People with good self confidence contribute success to themselves and failure because of things outside their reach. It however helps to have a healthy dose of self awareness, and have both feet on the ground (metaphorically).

How do we get Bryan his own TV/Netflix show? There hasn’t been a video from him that I did not watch all the way to the end.

This is what perspective looks like

Is this a response to highlight issues with the application or a response to applying and not getting accepted or applying and getting accepted (but rejecting on principle?)?

> Is this a response to highlight issues with the application or a response to applying and not getting accepted or applying and getting accepted (but rejecting on principle?)?

The former. This is a guy who already has a lot of accomplishments under his belt, he seems more of a peer of YC than someone who's ever needed to seek it's approval.

That’s so stupid (this video). What’s the point of this? A cringeworthy individual who thinks he’s so right about how the questions of an application are so wrong. Really?

You're right, I stopped watching for about 20 seconds in, it was cringe-inducing.

Great individuals exist, they can do humanity-advancing feats of greatness essentially by themselves. Put a bunch of greats together though, and you can get truly amazing things not possible from a single mind, and what's more create an environment for maximal expression of each individual's greatness.

If YC's goal here is to try and bring together great (or potentially great) individuals, that's fine, but perhaps there are better approaches.[0] Perhaps it's a bad approach having the second and third questions as they are when they're going to filter out great people like Bryan. The second question's qualifier for "life circumstances" is such a cop-out too... Yes it's "great" if you came up from nothing and somehow managed to go to college and get a nice well-paying stable job, surpassing the achievements of at least your ancestors in living memory, but that isn't actually greatness.

On the other hand maybe the two bad questions are by design, Google interview style, trying to weed out false positives for whatever their goal is no matter the (potentially counterfactual) false negatives. It trivially filters me out correctly; I have no potential for greatness, and in the best case I don't plan on dying so there'd be no obituary.

[0] Might I suggest a method that would probably be more effective, at least for collecting potentially great scientists, Asimov's Sword. (http://www.gwern.net/docs/culture/1963-asimov) Target 10-to-15-year-olds already reading good sci-fi.

Edit: a reply highlighted some ambiguity in my usage of "like Bryan" but they deleted it before I replied back.. here's clearing it up anyway.

YC120's phrasing is a problem in filtering out literally Bryan from the 20 if they had plans to ask him, but I was more aiming to describe filtering out people like Bryan from the 100 based on having similar responses.

I knew a guy in high school with a good supply of "intelligence, drive and vision" who had started working with a local university team around something to do with MEMS fabrication. Let's assume YC120 if it was around then would have been interested to have him as part of the 100, and that it'd be useful to him to expand his network beyond that university or academia in general for the grand possibility of getting a group together in the future to do for MEMS what Fairchild Semiconductor did for semiconductors. That sort of vision is all pointless if he were to have a similar reaction to Bryan's or other commenters here, either due to the second question giving off vibes of joining a group of narcissists or the example interests on the page (gene editing, solving physics, etc.) pointing exclusively at a particular subset of SV's fashions. Either he'd filter himself or maybe the reactions are on to something and an earnest application would be filtered by YC for insufficient alignment on greatness potential or SV-compatible interests.

I'm not a VC, but I'd be happy to give this guy the same amount of money that YC gives to their startups. Seriously.

Apparently this guy is a dick.


Also, why does he deserve a Wikipedia page? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryan_Cantrill

Does being a dick remove someone from history?

Primary contributors to projects smaller than DTrace have wiki pages, and I bet at least a few of them are dicks. I suppose wipe those out too.

Why don't you read the Wikipedia notability guidelines, or look at the history of the 13 year old page you just linked and find out?

Usually what happens is that they themselves create their own wikipedia pages. I see that all the time. I don't get why wikipedia allows that, it's becoming a collection of resumes.

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