- He's a CEO who dogfoods his own software! Not only that, he seems to be one of its most prolific users. That's amazing.
Having worked for over a decade at Google, I sometimes wonder if the founders still use the products. Larry Page used to always harp on latency (rightly), and now Google products are slower than ever.
- He's a remote CEO, and supports remote working! It sounds like the company was ahead of the curve in this respect.
- He's grown his company to 800 employees over 28 years, and it's still relevant today. And I believe he never took funding. Also amazing! Most tech companies that are 28 years old have gone through a ton of turmoil.
I've heard all the bad stories about Wolfram's personality. Combined with NKOS, that made me think poorly of him.
But maybe has mellowed with old age. People forget how insufferable Bill Gates was 20 years ago too. Gates really rehabilitated his image and maybe Wolfram will too. Despite the ego, he's definitely contributed interesting things to society. And I hope that I'm as excited by my work as he is when getting to that age.
That said Mathematica is a brilliant piece of software and I have never seen a more powerful system for computer algebra and symbolic computation. It is kind of slow but what you can do with it is absolutely amazing, so I think it will remain relevant for the foreseeable future.
It’s not though. You just need to make sure you aren’t computing with exact precision (the default) but use numeric precision and it’s as fast or faster than maple, matlab, R or python. Which are the obvious comparisons.
This kind of arm-chair critic seems to be on the rise on HN as well. People making short, sharp judgements based off very little evidence yet they still feel justified as an expert by their self assessment.
I thought I literally did just that?
> If you think their analysis misses something, then say so.
I've done that in the past and it usually just descends into stupid augments where the ill-informed only dig their heals in deeper rather than acknowledging their mistake. I mean if they weren't someone who was over confident about their own opinion then they wouldn't be the sort to make those kind of remarks to begin with.
> But being against assessment in general is not a good approach.
I'm not against assessments in general. I'm against specific types of non-constructive assessments from people who are just blatant armchair critics.
If someone has a the experience to offer a constructive assessment then odds are they wouldn't delivery it as a passive-aggressive one liner.
The point of my comment is that the discussion should take place on the merits of the criticism, not the arrogance of the person who would dare criticize. The fact that you mixed together the two is not a good rebuttal.
> I've done that in the past...
Bad arguments in the past are not a good reason to abandon the structure of good arguments in the future. Get better debating partners rather than trying to avoid the structure of healthy debate.
> blatant armchair critics
If some people praise "this is a good business practice" and others point out that, on the face of the evidence, it appears to be exact the opposite (i.e., that the conference calls are disorganized/confused), it is not unreasonable to point this out. It does not require special insight.
The world also owes itself more compassion. “Thousand foot” criticism lacks compassion.
Making a frank assessment about the efficiency of meetings is probably of limited value in and of itself in abstractly assessing the overall equation of trade-offs in running a distributed vs collocated business. Even more so when concretely assessing this particular company.
People pay me to do exactly that. Come in with a fresh, unbiased view on things, look at how stuff works and what could be improved.
It's not about telling people that everything they've done before is BS but if there are things that are not working well, just tell them.
Definitely true, but you'd also have to watch the livestream of everyone prepping for and commuting to work for a fair comparison.
I've also seen people be incredibly productive because they can just walk over with a few people to another person and settle something in real-time. Doing that over email might take a day or two. Doing that over Slack could also probably work, and given how many people are in a meeting / out at lunch / OoO / whatever not at their desk, I'd say it's about a 50/50 chance that the unannounced walk-up actually works in person anyway.
Emphasizing public-first communication methods is a big one. Don't just send a slack message to Bob asking about that thing, tag Bob in the #thing channel so others can see and weigh in if needed. Don't just do a code review over a call and leave, write up a quick summary and post it somewhere. Have meetings where people who might not technically be related to the project are involved somewhat.
Sure, it's work, but it's not more work in my opinion, just different. There are absolutely downsides to remote work, but I really truly believe in and have experienced the benefits too.
Just because you (the person before you, actually) are a reclusive jerk, doesn’t mean everyone else also hates people and chitchat.
- run errands
- do the laundry
- hit the gym for a while
- cook a tasty lunch or even dinner for later.
Whereas in the office, you just use that time for chitchat, HN/reddit, wondering around etc.
And I'm not a reclusive jerk, I like my coworkers and I do enjoy it when we meet up in person, but I don't need to see them every day. We have a short voice call most days, and we catch up irl possibly 6-12 times a year which is already more than I see some of my friends who live further away.
Honestly there's just so much more time in the day for my personal hobbies and activities that I don't think I could ever go back to on site, or even full-time/more than 4 days/week for that matter.
What I do find problematic is when the majority of a company is in the same physical space and only a few are remote, as then the remote people tend to lose out.
Downvoted for tone. You do not need to name call here on HN.
To give a very appropriate example, I think that if I was working in the same office as Wolfram, I may learn about his cool setup in water cooler conversations. In fact, I think it would make me a better engineer having water cooler conversations with Stephen Wolfram. I am not sure I would get the same benefit from interacting with him through screen sharing or phone calls.
I work in research, surrounded by PhD students. These students learn from the interaction with more experienced people, and I have to admit I also learn many things from them. Remote working would in theory be possible for most of us, but it would not achieve the same result.
You can like your remote job. I agree there are ways to make it work, for certain people and certain jobs, and it can even be better than a workplace in some cases. I am not criticizing it, just explaining the advantages I find from working in an office with other people (btw, I have done remote work too, though never in a remote-first company).
I wonder if you have tried socializing in person and via a computer. It's so much better in person, that I don't care about not having logs. If you don't understand that, you may be a robot.
> I wonder if you have tried socializing in person and via a computer. It's so much better in person, that I don't care about not having logs. If you don't understand that, you may be a robot.
Your point would be a lot more effective without the insults. I also wonder if you are unable to see the irony of your assertion that different people have different preferences and then telling me I must be a robot if I don't share your preference.
You may have different preferences, I did not say anywhere you should share mine. What I said was precisely that you should be able to understand that other people prefer to interact with their coworkers in the real world, not that you should do the same.
To repeat my point: I understand there are advantages in working from home, and that for some people the way of socializing may be one of these advantages. What I found surprising was that pault did not understand that I prefer personal interactions when there are slack channels.
Also, you mentioned that you never worked at a remote first company, and I can say from experience that working for a company that has most of its employees in an office and a few remotes is the worst of both worlds. You get left out of all the decisions and social banter and all you get is a few crumbs when someone remembers to check the slack channel and see what you're up to. It's possible that if you worked for a company where everything happens online you would feel differently.
When it comes to hardware, people use whatever headset and camera they have, connected to wifi served by the a cheap SOHO router. More or less the stuff you use to call your parents over skype once a week.
Ironically for a big chunk of the time I've been working as an engineer, people have been falling back to consumer software instead of using broken entreprise videoconferencing.
> When it comes to hardware, people use whatever headset and camera they have, connected to wifi served by the a cheap SOHO router.
I mostly haven't noticed any huge problems here, but maybe I've just been lucky.
Now that I think of it my home WiFi has been getting worse over the years, and getting new top rated gear didn't help.
(I have seen some thread here lately about advanced troubleshooting of wireless networks and I consider getting the spectrum analyzed somehow.)
If there are meetings in person you really need to have a good conference call phone, preferably with an external mic.
For things like screen sharing, the conference room must have a very solid connection as screen sharing typically uses a lot of bandwidth.
For the remote employee, you need:
* Solid headset. I've tried using a USB one but it had interference at terrible times. Once I was on a call presenting to the client when interference started making odd noises. Now I use a USB headset with noise canceling mic.
* Good fast reliable internet!
* Solid voice-over-ip phone if you need to talk on the "phone" a lot. I use DialPad which are the makers of UberConfrence. The quality is _way_ better than using Google Voice, skype, etc.
The difference between the microphones is stunning, I thought I was not going to be able to tell the difference, but the Neumann is extremely more, should I say, articulate? the Rode sounds "stiff." But nobody is going to be singing over a conference call, true.
It’s been years since I went through the trouble of setting one up for a conference call. These days I just use my Sony Bluetooth headphones. IIRC, the difficulty with most (not DAW or professional audio) software on Mac and any external audio interface, is that it doesn’t actually allow selecting which input to use, only the device. So while I might select “RME Fireface 802” in Chrome as the input device, I can’t select Input 1, 9, or 12 as the input channel to use for microphone. This used to be possible with apps like Soundflower, though, I’m not sure what the best solution is nowadays.
UA DSP for conference calls, now wouldn’t that be something. Ha-ha.
When my mobile phone has less latency and better sound, I know my VoIP is screwed.
As you might imagine, his son (I think he was around 11 then) takes after his father and was heavily into programming already.
Imagine having him as your father! Lucky bugger.
It was a neat demo of using population data and quickly running it through Mathematica for nice chloropleth maps, charts, etc.
He was pretty cool and answered questions afterwards.
He was showing how the tool is useful for social science, but it’s so expensive.
I hope that if Wolfram ever retires, he will open source it because it’s so useful beyond the current customer base who values it enough to pay.
Is this for real? I've never felt like google's products have prioritized latency. Android latency has been atrocious from the very beginning. And gmail and google docs are easily some of the slowest webapps out there.
When I was consulting at Bell Labs in the early 1980s I saw that a friend of mine had two garbage cans in his office. When I asked him why, he explained that one was for genuine garbage and the other was a buffer into which he would throw documents that he thought he’d probably never want again. He’d let the buffer garbage can fill up, and once it was full, he’d throw away the lower documents in it, since from the fact that he hadn’t fished them out, he figured he’d probably never miss them if they were thrown away permanently.
It turns out that, for me, there are quite a lot of things you suddenly need a year or more later that felt unimportant at the time.. insurance documents, warranties, car related documents that are useful when selling the car, documents relating to house improvements. These should probably be filed better on day one, but this is life :-D
I do this because sometimes it's easier just having the hard-copy around, but if I haven't used it in a month, it's rare I still need the hard-copy.
I use DEVONthink Pro Office which embeds Abbyy for OCR, along with a Fuji SnapScan.
Better than a cheap shredder by miles, and some nice heat that makes it pleasant in wintertime. :)
Maybe, maybe not! I've optimized aggressively for writes (common) over reads (rare) - I don't want to even waste time deciding if I can throw something away or not, so I also keep everything that isn't super obviously recyclable immediately (mass mail, autopaid bills for less 'important' things like internet/utilities, most receipts since I don't itemize my deductions, etc.)
Anything sent to me goes into either a yearly "keep long term" (10+ years - tax docs, house/car stuff, etc.) or yearly "keep short term" (2+ years - insurance receipts etc.) folder in a filing cabinet where it can be forgotten about. Even that's over-complicated IMO - I haven't gotten rid of any folders from either category. If I need my hard copy of something, I probably need it for a specific year anyways. Sorting into more categories doesn't help much - I'd still have to remember which category my 401k documents went in (tax documents? did I have a financial folder? was my system still the same in 2012?)
Hand written notes are slightly more complicated - I actually read my notes enough to optimize reads a little by scanning them in to save me the hassle of opening up my filing cabinet. Still extremely streamlined - I symlinked the default location to a single dumping folder where I actually want them (I:\home\scans\) without needing to select anything. I keep the default sequential numbering naming scheme. I got a sheet fed scanner so I don't have to keep lifting the lid of a bed scanner. I setup a shortcut on the scanner so I press the scanner touchscreen twice ("Shortcuts", "Scan to File"), and a file appears. I don't bother with OCR - my handwriting is terrible, a computer probably can't read it, I probably can't read it.
I kind of force myself to do it, because deep down I think we are all pack rats. It’s in our nature to want to keep things “just in case”, but we live in a world where we can get anything with a few clicks. So why?
helpdesk empties deleted items
Hey! I keep stuff in there!
At least that was my experience with Pocket. Maybe it works for some. I do the same thing with physical books. I don't keep a list of books to read. I keep a bookshelf full of stuff I'm making my way through over the years. Spending the money forces me to choose what I actually feel is important I read vs what I think I want to read.
https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/sidewise-tree-styl... (tl;dr view tabs on the left with some visual hierarchy to indicate what came from where)
https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/onetab/chphlpgkkbo... (TL;DR click the button when you can't see the favicons anymore because you have so many open. It'll save them to a single page that includes all the previous tabs you've saved so you can cmd+f it if you REALLY want to find That One Thing You Had Open That One Time)
Accumulating tabs works for me. I always end up working back through them because they are so visible.
I don’t throw the second pail away and just put it in a storage bin, forever (so far). About once a year, I fish out a document. To me, it seems cheaper than the time I spent trying to think about how to sort or keep stuff.
Max replies, "Why don't you ask the Priest?"
So Jack goes up to the Priest and asks, " Father, may I smoke while I pray?"
The Priest replies, "No, my son, you may not! That's utter disrespect to our religion."
Jack goes back to his friend and tells him what the good Priest told him.
Max says, "I'm not surprised. You asked the wrong question. Let me try."
And so Max goes up to the Priest and asks, "Father, may I pray while I smoke ?"
To which the Priest eagerly replies, "By all means, my son. By all means. You can always pray whenever you want to."
He also works remotely, and it’s important to take the opportunities to move around while remote. It’s easy to stay in the house all day, especially in a snowy winter, but getting some movement in is important for many people to have a happy and healthy life.
I would say the alternative is to not work 18 hours a day, but obviously that is his choice.
> I'm assuming he doesn't take the laptop like that when we he wants to walk to the shops at the weekend.
I wouldn't put my bet on that. He has said in the past that he uses his weekends to grid down his e-mail backlog. Rather, his graphs in past posts show him not talking on the phone on weekends, but still pretty constantly emailing.
Also, a lot of people listen to podcasts/audiobooks while walking/jogging. Is that a "distraction"? I'd say it's actually even a plus and those two activities are complementary to each other: Being in the wild helps you concentrate on the audiobook, and being able to read something uninterrupted motivates you to go out and do some exercise every day.
Some of the huge amount of functionality stuffed into Sage:
This right here, I believe, is the biggest problem facing software today. How do you pay for it? End-users expect software to cost $0, yet it takes a lot of time and effort to build anything.
The most successful software projects and companies I see today are those which figured out innovative business models: advertising, hardware, free for open source / paid for business, make it all open source and get a job maintaining it.
There's no one correct answer. For any business model you pick for your software today, half the world will be upset with you. I wish Mathematica was more affordable, but I can't fault someone for creating a sustainable business. As Joel Spolsky said, good software takes 10 years (at least!), and most software dies long before it gets 10 years of development, so we never even get the chance to see if it could have been good.
There might be way for software like Mathematica. For example, having marketplace that sells professional plugins like aerodynamics simulation for aircrafts or autonomous trading library etc. You can also have special classroom edition that charges nominal amounts or the enterprise edition that has cloud and IT support. The large chunk of platform can potentially be free and open source.
You find the people who are making money with it, find conveniences that those people would appreciate, and put them behind a paywall.
Or, with the same group of people, offer them a support contract. Sell them the “premium” version of the software with 24-7 support and contractors who can solve any problem they might come across.
Or, host the software as a service and let people pay for that.
Or, host the software as a feee service and use your users’ data to market products at them.
Or, use the software to solve a social or governmental problem, apply for grants to do more of that, and use some of the grant money to improve the software.
Or you can always sell virtual hats.
There are lots of ways to do it.
I think the chance for him to be that hero, is to opensource everything, and then lead that project (linus way) or retire.....
My desk has to have exactly, 1 keyboard, 1 mouse, 1 A4 5mm graph paper pad and that's it.
I used to struggle to work on a slightly cluttered desk but these days it has to be basically empty.
In terms of paperwork, it goes behind me on shelves sorted by "Important, will need soon, Important, will need later, Not important" everything else goes in the bin.
Periodically I rip the pads apart and put them through the bypass scanner on the MFP in the main office and store the resulting PDF's.
First time my partner saw my office at work she was positively shocked because at home (other than my work space) I'm a messy, "leave it where I had it last" type.
He presented it, looked content, and invited questions, when someone asked, "ok, suppose now I know what I should be doing now. But what happens if I just don't feel like it? What then?". The presenter was dumbfounded, seemed confused, and had basically no answer (that I remember).
 I'm actually a lot smarter than my college self, I tested few years ago when wildly sick trying to do proofs from scratch on stuff I knew nothing prior (theorems on fibonacci series). And after a bit of sweating and pencil twisting I managed to have insights and solutions. So it's not a linear decrease in brain power, it's more like a rotation or shapeshift.
Beats doing it by hand.
This would be a Nigerian scanner then? ;)
“Dear sir or madam, I have come in possession of a very valuable document scan which I am unable to get out of the country...”
The goal isn't to have everything meticulously organised (that becomes a task that takes more time than you save, it's yak shaving for me at least) but to be able to find it quickly (few minutes) if I need to and crucially out of my sight line, at my desk it's completely out of view.
Are you sure you wouldn't like to try a plain sketch pad rather than graph paper with all those nasty lines?
I'm a chemist, and I definitely think spatially. Creating images of physical objects in my head and reorienting them is a major part of my job, and the "memory palace" has been the most valuable memory tool I've found.
I can't think if there's an extra set of papers on my desk. I tend to organize my tasks using the physical space on my desk, so the most urgent item is about 3 inches from my keyboard at any time. I start to get anxious if too many things pile onto my desk without intentionally organizing them into priorities.
oh, NKS. https://www.google.com/search?q=when+was+wolfram+nks+release...
>The big empty spaces are when I’m asleep, and, yes, as I’ve changed projects—e.g. finishing A New Kind of Science in 2002—my sleep habits have changed; I’m also now trying an experiment of going to sleep earlier
>The first thing one sees from this plot is that, yes, I’ve been busy. And for more than 20 years, I’ve been sending emails throughout my waking day, albeit with a little dip around dinner time. The big gap each day comes from when I was asleep. And for the last decade, the plot shows I’ve been pretty consistent, going to sleep around 3am ET, and getting up around 11am (yes, I’m something of a night owl). (The stripe in summer 2009 is a trip to Europe.)
Meetings while walking, and assuming nobody notices? Questioning the practicality of time spent outside? That's kind of... really... sad.
I might be a little biased though, WolframAlpha got me through countless hours of college homework assignments.
This is particularly candid moment I happen to find: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGjvFyRk_4I&feature=youtu.be...
edit: I wasn't aware of the negative opinions regarding his ego, but from listening to this meeting I can say they aren't unsubstantiated!
Second, I didn't hear anything unreasonable in that meeting. SW has a reputation for ego, but honestly this particular extract just sounds like frustration with buggy/messy documentation. I mean, the fact that the CEO is personally going through documentation is telling in itself.
It's toxic. He's being nasty. He could say everything he does without the snapping, blowing up at questions, dramatic sighs, 'oh boy's. It's all so incredibly passively aggressive.
And that's actually the worst bit! It's hard to call him out when he's not explicitly calling them 'idiots' or something. It's like it's some kind of plausible deniability of being horrible to people.
But I don't know these people and maybe they're all fine with it. And Wolfram is paying the bills so it's his style if he wants.
Once I hurt my back, had to drive for three hours, park far away, hadn't eaten all day, and when I stopped at a restaurant, having hobbled there with my bad back from a distant parking spot, the hostess was absent for ~5 minutes and when she finally showed up she was distracted and talking to other people multiple times while I tried to get an answer to how long the wait would be and if I could get served. So far, I've lived a fairly easy life, and I've always tried to be polite and even keeled - but in that moment of discomfort, tiredness, hunger, and disrespect, I genuinely wanted to be rude to the hostess.
The point of the digression is, I imagine that's what being the CEO is like, only it's not once. It's every day. And the more committed you are, the more hours you subject yourself to this kind of thing. You just want things well documented, bugs fixed, quality high, you want people to answer questions etc. When you've been dealing with this all day for decades - I can see how easy it would be to be a bit impolite.
Have you ever dealt with bad docs? Seriously!!!
There are no personal attacks, just critiques on the thought process, output and plan (or lack of planning), all of that is fair game. The dev(?) even admits at ~25:40 that they should be taking notes and fixing what is pointed out.
I see nothing "toxic" about this conversation, as others have mentioned. He is completely focused on the work; there are no personal attacks. The main interlocutor sounds like he is taking things personally.
Admitting that it's clearly bad and saying you'll fix it by tomorrow would be a neverending pursuit, because the micromanager's meddling is constant and touches everything.
No doubt somebody else will now be confused that this third parameter is suddenly documented when it was a task delegated to them, and somebody else is confused because they were told to deprecate the parameter.
I've always thought it best to just cut straight to the core of issues like he's doing. I suppose it's a jerk move to corner people into admitting they're wrong even when it's obvious. Maybe there's a nicer jedi-mind way to do it.
His staff didn't even seem engaged in the subject.
"Often I’ll do a meeting where I have lots of people in case we need to get their input. But for most of the meeting I don’t need all of them to be paying attention (and I’m happy if they’re getting other work done)."
So they're not paying attention because he enjoys having excess people on calls and wasting their time.
Sounds like torture. The CEO wants you on the call, probably won't need you, and you're supposed to feel comfortable disengaging when he's berating coworkers about a missing third argument in a function's documentation.
The people on that particular call didn't even seem to know what they were talking about half the time though. It's entirely possible that they're both asked to passively participate in oversubscribed meetings and neglecting to do their jobs creating further frustration.
It seriously doesn't sound like he's happy when he snaps at them to unmute and start responding!
The criticism leveled (which I do not actually any insight to the truth of) is that essentially people have to follow his "whims" and are micromanaged, which does not bring out the best of employees and can be very stifling.
But that said, I don't know the truth of that criticism.
Another interesting tidbit that plays into this...the syntax coloring is programmatically derived from the documentation (yet another consequence of the documentation being the specification). This wasn't mentioned in the meeting because most or all of the participants already knew this, but it's an important part of the subtext of the discussion.
Speaking as an insider who wasn't present at that particular meeting, but has been present in some other live-streamed meetings.
> Usually we (which quite often actually means me) will write documentation for a function before the function is implemented.
> Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy.
That does not sound like Newton ar all.
There are several factors I see that are or have been impeding implementation of such setups. Firstly, many of the most common tiling WMs have only existed since the 2000s resulting while the current, mature segment of highly successful individuals likely started with the tools available in the 80s & 90s and by then both Windows and Mac OS were using desktop metaphor (floating) environments.
The use of floating windows (even with snapping, etc) increases use of the mouse and decreases the relative benifit of highly specialized keyboards like the ergodox. And a lot of membrane keyboards nowdays can /feel/ decent w/o mechanical switches.
The choice of OS is likely whatever they have been using since the 90s with some bias towards switching to OSX/MacOS and since it provides many linux-like capabilities in terms of shells for scripting(albiet often horendiously out of date).
Finally, likely the largest factor contributing to having relatively normal setups is that the more involved tasks can be delegated to employees whom may or may not have highly customized setups.
By physical comfort, I mean that I rely on my hands too much to not take care of them to avoid RSI and personal taste, well, I like not having to reach for a mouse, being able to have what I need side by side with the press of a button and just the minimalist look of tiling window managers.
Does it also make me more efficient or productive? Maybe, possibly, who knows! It probably does, as it removes roadblocks from my workflow, but its not something I pay a lot of attention to.
> It's interesting to see how relatively rare these setups are among CEO's (in tech) and how 'normal' the setups of successful people really are.
Saving a odd second or two because you're using a split mechanical ergodox or whatever dvorak keyboard with no window manager and scripts to automate the wazzoo out of everything adds up to... not very much at all unless you're doing very repetitive tasks where seconds count.
I mean, I think folks should just use whatever makes them happy, and it is interesting to see what people end up using like on usesthis (https://usesthis.com/). But really, people can be productive with almost anything.
Honestly, that's just swag. I must have a box of them, plus 10 t-shirts, cardboard spikeys, bags from various conferences.
Anyone know any products / tools to create a simple one consisting of essentially an organized collection of links? I guess any static site generator could work, but would be nice to have an out of the box theme and can show RSS Feeds.
Source code is @ https://github.com/joshbuchea/chrome-ext-swifttab
Alas, I don't think Facebook in particular allows for such deep integration with one's feed - because yes, that would essentially replace me the facebook website/app.
Currently, I have a cronjob that greps my todo files in org mode, and puts the currently scheduled task below a picture of General Sherman.