A couple things to clarify:
I posted the original issue as a minor complaint about the docker cli and promptly forgot about it. I never expected it to get any traction or follow-up. At the time I posted it, I was working as a contractor for my former full time employer. I had left full-time work there in early 2017 to attend the full-time program at the (sadly now-defunct) Furniture Institute of Massachusetts.
I finished that program in early 2019, and split my time between commission work and part time work for other woodworkers. Like software, in woodworking there are things you learn at school and things you learn doing it for money.
In early 2020 (which now feels like a million years ago), my partner and I left the Boston area for her to take a job in the northern hinterlands of NH.
It's been an interesting year to say the least: A lot of the opportunities I was hoping to have to publicize my business have been canceled (craft shows and fairs, open studios, etc) due to the pandemic. I'm fortunate to have brought a couple of paid commissions with me when we moved. Owing to the pandemic, the schedule on them has been protracted. I was going back and forth to Boston to fulfill a teaching obligation until early March. Then the pandemic hit, and all of my suppliers and my shared shop space closed down for a couple months.
Just before the shared shop closed, I grabbed my workbench and set it up in my living room. The place we're renting doesn't have a basement, garage, or anything resembling shop space, so that was the least bad option. I bought wood for a couple of house projects, and got going working entirely by hand. The first project was a desk for my partner. I built it following the design for a staked work table from the Anarchist's Design Book. She's been working at it since, and we've been doing our best to manage my noise and her Zoom calls separated by perhaps as much as 20 feet.
Sometime in late May or early June things started opening up slowly. I bought wood for those projects, and the shared shop space began operating with extremely limited hours. I've wrapped up those couple of projects, and honestly, the next thing on my TODO list is to spend some time doing some business planning, re-shooting some of my earlier work, and updating my website. Bad timing on the pithy github comment on my part; had I known it'd hit the top of HN, I'd have made it after I updated the website!
If you're in the Boston area and would like to see some of my work, the Cabinet on Stand shown on my website is on display at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, MA through November 8th. It feels a bit weird to mention it, but that piece is also for sale through the museum. Purchasing it supports not only me, but also the museum. They were closed for a long time this year as a result of the pandemic, and like a great many of our cultural institutions, they're hurting. They laid off the curator for the exhibit my piece is in due to budget issues.
If I can offer everybody only one thing to get out of this, it's that our cultural institutions live a fairly fragile and perilous existence, particularly the smaller ones. The Wharton Esherick Museum in the Philadelphia area is also taking a beating. Please, please, please take some time to support these institutions. A lot of our shared culture doesn't make it to the MFA. Those headline institutions show a limited subset of stuff; there's so much of value in the smaller museums, galleries, and historical societies.
I've bought a lot of furniture (some custom) on Etsy and people have been surprised by that / think there isn't necessarily high quality work there.
In addition to the larger pieces, if you have work that's easily repeatable you can make a lot with e.g. tissue boxes or cutting boards, etc...
For example this shop made these beautiful boxes with brass inlays and I was able to commission a custom box with dividers for individual tea packets: https://www.etsy.com/shop/SawdustProductionsCo/sold
I've definitely seen quality work on etsy, and I appreciate your perspective as a now former employee.
Secondly, if I can leave everybody with just one more takeaway (besides supporting your local craft organizations, wherever you may be), it's that the phrase "it takes a village" applies to businesses too.
Besides first and foremost my partner, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to everybody who has taught me; everybody who was a student with me at the Furniture Institute of MA, I've learned something from every one of them; everybody I've worked for, I've learned something from every one of them; anybody who's ever written a blog article I've read; anybody who's ever made a youtube video I've watched; my suppliers, especially the knowledgeable ones who've taken the time to not just sell me something but help me learn what fits my needs; my customers, especially the early ones who have worked with me as hiccups have arisen; countless friends both in the trade and otherwise who have provided moral support, gotten me out of jams, and been all around awesome; and finally my partner, who bears thanking way more than just twice.
I don't consider myself especially brave for having taken this step or having any particular wherewithal. For most of us in woodworking, there's an enormous number of people we have leaned on and learned from to get us where we are. I suspect this is true for most of us in software as well. There's a lot of companies built at least in part on open source projects, existing infrastructure, etc.
To be clear, I've never made a contribution of any significance to an OSS project outside of working a 9-5 salaried job. Your point is spot-on, but I can't rightly claim to have been on the sharp end of maintaining anything open source. Thank you to those who do.
Lastly, this all came about because I've been following the Fusion360 news on HN and looking into alternatives. I downloaded FreeCAD, started reading docs, and found a dead link in their README.md. I filed a bug, submitted a PR, and figured if I ever wanted it to be useful, I'd better sort the email account that github sends to. I cleared out a couple thousand github notifications for projects I no longer work on, and that many more bounce messages from my former employer.
Among the several hundred remaining emails was a slew of notifications about the bug that I filed 3 years ago. I figured I should check in, and the rest is (recent) history.
imo whether you consider it art is irrelevant. the main cost is material (wood) and labor.
Oh man, the line between "art" and "craft" is ill-defined. I think of craft as something that has to fulfill a functional need as well as satisfying an aesthetic need, and art as meeting a principally aesthetic need.
Whether you view the cabinet on stand as art or furniture (craft), I suppose depends wholly on what your needs are :-) I built it as a piece of furniture that would suits my aesthetic tastes and also hold some stuff.
The price on it is $5,200 US.
The pricing on anything is a challenge. I have a woodworker friend who is married to a pricing analyst. She works for a sizable multinational corporation, and he feels as in the dark about how to price stuff as I do.
Broadly speaking, pricing for custom work is likely to be at least at the high end of factory made furniture, and by that I mean really nice factory-made stuff. Think like Thomas Moser. Whether you like their look or not, the quality is excellent and as I understand it, there's a lot more hand work that goes into it than is common these days. I'm going to use them in the discussion below, but this applies to any high end commercial maker.
The reasons for this are complicated: On the one hand, my capital costs are (a lot) lower than any factory, I don't maintain showrooms in pricey locations, and I don't have a staff I need to pay.
On the other hand, Moser is buying lumber in quantities that I couldn't store at a price I can only dream of. They have well established lines of furniture that they're set up to make in quantity, or at least know how to build, whereas virtually everything I build is a prototype in some sense.
What you don't see in the final product is the test pieces or the jigs that I built to build it. Project recursion isn't just a software thing, I assure you.
Because it's unlikely that anybody will ever want exactly the same piece, that cost doesn't get spread out over a production run, or even stuck into storage in case somebody wants one in the future. Storage is a cost, and I pay it for stuff I know I'm going to use again and again (a table saw sled, for example). Project specific stuff gets either broken down and reused or put into my wood stove. At best you get the materials back; the time is a sunk cost.
I've talked to other woodworkers about this, and some take the approach of having a line of pieces that they're jigged up to build quickly and efficiently. This is a valid approach to making money at this. Putting some thought into whether it makes sense for me to develop a line at this point is on the list of things on my business planning TODO list.
Even woodworkers who have a catalog of pieces they know how to build have to make choices about how to design and build. Christian Becksvoort has a 15 drawer chest in his catalog. Every tier of drawers is a different height. That means something as simple as cutting parts to rough size involves ripping boards to 20 different widths (for each of the 10 tiers: 3 pieces full height for fronts and sides, and 1 piece reduced height for the drawer back).
And then you have to keep track of those parts. And then you have to dovetail them. I'm willing to bet that Christian Becksvoort would lose money building one 15 drawer chest with a dovetail jig because he'd have 20 different set ups (10 heights, front and back). Could you make it cheaper by making some of the tiers of drawers the same height? Absolutely! Would it retain the charm of his design? For some customers, no.
Before anybody gives up hope on owning anything Christian Becksvoort has ever had a hand in, I'd like to note that he's an author as well as a furniture maker. He's written two books for Lost Art Press, and I recommend both.
The price on the piece is $5,200.
I have not read all the way down the over 800 comments, and if you shared kind words or asked a question outside this thread, I apologize if I missed it.
I'm honestly astonished at how much this seems to have resonated with a lot of people. If it's not blindingly apparent by my comment, this was the last thing I expected to see at the top of HN on a Monday morning!
If you're trying to learn woodworking or are interested in learning it, I'd encourage you to do so. We all started somewhere, and for me that was struggling mightily to get a board flat with a hand plane in an evening class. My first dovetails were as rough as anybody's. Whatever you want to build, go ahead and build it. There's room for all kinds of woodworking in the world, fancy and plain alike.
The instagram woodworking community has been a mostly positive space for folks in the field both as hobbyists and professionals. If I can take a moment to veer briefly into politics, it hasn't been universally welcoming to women and people of color. Laura Mays talked about losing followers every time she promoted a show of female woodworkers. This is, frankly, shameful. There is room in this field for anybody who wants to explore it, at whatever level they choose to. Shutting people out because they don't fit our preconceived notions of what a woodworker looks like makes us all poorer.
Lastly, there are really too many people out there sharing excellent woodworking content to hope to name without some omissions. In addition to everybody I've linked or mentioned in other comments, I'd like to add in no particular order William Ng, Richard Macquire, Paul Sellers, woodgears.ca, seejanedrill on youtube, and artofplants on instagram.
I've doubtless omitted any number of other highly worthy people I've stumbled across over the years. I'd encourage everybody to go down the rabbit hole as far as they'd like and discover those people and more.
Two things I noticed a couple years ago:
1. There is a quite expensive furniture maker near where I grew up -- in the more "genteel" area of course.
2. If I still lived there I'd totally shell out three grand for one of their chairs!
I've never spent that much on a piece of furniture, but it sure looks like it's worth it:
Your work is beautiful and I hope you find many buyers. I humbly suggest you include prices on your web site, as many people have no idea what handmade furniture costs these days, and many of those can actually afford it.
Those are beautiful chairs, and I would agree that the price sure looks worth it. Thank you for bringing them to my attention
For a point of comparison, Kevin Rodel designed the side chairs I built (from plans he published in Fine Woodworking). He lists a price of $1,600 each on his website. I think that's also an entirely fair price for what is a simpler chair to build. Ignoring everything else driving cost in chairs, adding arms alone adds complexity.
The question of listing price is a difficult one. Christopher Scharz of Lost Art Press addressed this an an article he wrote for Core77. He's very established (and rightly so) and chooses not to, but he suggests it might be an advantage for somebody starting out.
One challenge to publishing prices that I perceive is that it fixes a price in a potential customer's mind. I wrote to somebody last week about the question of pricing, and observed that a bookshelf for a child's bedroom is a very different piece from a bookshelf for a lawyer's office. The price varies considerably between the two!
What I (and other people doing principally custom work) can offer is the ability to tailor a project to a budget (within reason) by explaining what drives cost and letting them make choices based upon what they're looking for in a piece.
At this point, I don't want to turn anybody away with a price that's outside their budget, but I'm also mindful of the adage that "if you have to ask, you can't afford it".
> I'm going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season.
I believe all of the above is public information about the named people.
If I'm honest, I haven't yet read The Soul of a New Machine, but it's on my list. I did pick up House, also by Tracy Kidder and read it over the winter holidays a couple of years ago. I'm not sure exactly how I'd sum it up, so I'll leave that to the author, linked below. I've also read excerpts of Among Schoolchildren and can recommend it (at least the parts I've read) as well.
Everything on my site was shot with continuous light, but I'll take a deeper look at the site and see what I can learn. Some of the photos definitely make me want to! And let's be honest, strobes are a lot less hassle to deal with than studio lights.
When I look around, I feel woodworking now is what photography was 10 years ago to software people. A hobby that lets you get away from the computer into the physical world, but still tingles all the engineering/math/maker mindset that attracts people to software. Although I got into woodworking because of my grandfather, I see a lot online of software people doing the same just to "get away."
From an economic perspective, I hope you're able to capitalize on that trend of people with lots of disposable income willing to commission this sort of thing (or even classes), if that's partly your intention.
How do you price items?
How do you handle shipping, or is the work all local?
I'm told that shipping via specialist companies that routinely handle art and high end furniture is a much better experience for all parties.
I'm trying to keep jobs within a reasonable drive or the pieces small enough that I can double box and peanut them without driving the cost for the dimensional weight through the roof.
Any tips would be much appreciated!
For the dust I had a pretty powerful airfilter, but I would still have clouds of dust coming out of my pillow/sheets.
I would have said that general noise during the day was ok in my case, but that was before everybody worked from home.
For chiseling you can actually do a lot without hammering. If your chisels are sharp enough, you can push them through the wood for most techniques. That's what I did when I worked in the evenings.
It helps to have a very heavy workbench that doesn't move too much. Sawing still makes noise though, and planing kinda does too.
All in all, less than ideal, but for me it was great for a while! It really depends on what size and type of things you want to make. Feel free to specify and I can give more details.
I think it makes sense to explore other options as well: renting a garage, finding a community workshop, etc.
That’s good to know you can sometimes get by chiseling without a hammer! At the moment I’m interested in making a Danish Modern style chair, likely in walnut or oak.
Part of my strategy for keeping dust down is to do as little sanding as possible. I generally try to get a good surface off of a cutting tool (a plane or scraper), and then sand once at the grit I want to end at. Squirrelly grain, or tearout around knots sometimes requires pulling out the sander. Still I try to limit my use of it. If I can spend 5 minutes planing, and 5 minutes sanding, I'm a long way ahead on time compared to spending 5 minutes each sanding at 4 different grits to get the same surface (numbers from thin air, but the principle applies).
Noise is a challenge. You're right that chiseling is not a quiet activity. Anybody who thinks hand tool woodworking is a quiet and contemplative activity should spend a day in a room full of people chopping dovetails and then maybe reconsider their opinion.
All that said, there are a great many woodworkers who work successfully in apartments or other tight confines. Some of them are even married :-)
If not, use Fesstool tools and one of their dust extractors.
I built a wood bed for my truck in the living room some decades ago. And also a clavichord. Hand tools generate shavings, but little dust.
I have a very good collection of hand tools in a large tool chest. And, I have a very solid, large workbench. Both of these look great in the living room when not in use.
I am lucky enough to live in TN and have access to some great local woodworkers that give classes, specifically some amazing windsor chair makers.
Good luck with everything, I got a good chuckle out of the GitHub comment.
Congrats on the exciting career change, hope you're staying sane while out in the country!
Have you tried out CNC stuff yet? It seems to be a popular thing for people into woodworking too. :)
I'm not far from Lebanon.
“Look, the cabinet did not break down in my living room. So I’ll ship you the cabinet with the whole living room together.”
I am finishing my first piece of furniture today. It's pretty scary to work without an undo button. The physical world isn't just instructions, but movements. A little twitch can ruin a cut. A clumsy movement can dent a piece of wood you spent an hour sanding. You truly experience the meaning of "measure twice, cut once". Resources also feel tangibly limited. You can't just spin up another server, you must drive across town to buy more lumber.
I still enjoy coding though. My passion for it returned once I could do it on my own time, without stakeholders, sprints, meetings, deadlines or even schedules. I sit down and work until the coffee wears off, then go do something else. It's a hobby again.
I don't think programming is the probkem. Anything you do 40 hours a week for other people will get to you just the same. Programming is a pretty sweet gig, all things considered.
Sometimes, especially when I read about people leaving this industry to go work in the trades it makes me nostalgic and miss working with my hands and building real things.
But I also have enough bad memories of shitty work conditions and waking up sore day after day to give me a gut check to stay put for a little longer.
> I don't think programming is the probkem. Anything you do 40 hours a week for other people will get to you just the same. Programming is a pretty sweet gig, all things considered.
Turning my hobbies in jobs killed off a lot of fun I used to have. I think it's pretty universal and why it should probably be more common to switch industries a couple times at least through your career to keep things fun and not stay in a burned out mentality forever.
I think what it boils down to is that, generally, software engineers/coders/sysadmins like to build things. When we don't get to build the things we want, the way we want to, it leads to a desire to get into woodworking. It's building things; its success is purely merit-based; and it's building the things that you want to build. I wouldn't recommend anyone go into construction (especially not commercial construction a la Office Space) from coding. It's joy is fleeting and infrequent and it ruins your body.
> Turning my hobbies in jobs killed off a lot of fun I used to have.
Yep. I haven't really worked on any of my hobby projects like I had before.
Thank you. I have nothing else to add. I just needed to read that today.
Isn't that years of education and work to start at the bottom again? If one has a family to support doesn't seem terribly feasible.
I'd like to have another couple careers before I retire. The best part of a career is learning, getting it, then doing something as a journeyman and looking at your work and thinking, 'I got it'.
I want to add to your description and say that the design part of the work can also be hugely satisfying! I found that there is something similar to software engineering: you can make it as simple  or complicated as you want, but there is something magical about finding the simplest solution that gets the job done.
Consider posting some photos on the woodworking subreddit if you make something cool!
: a minimalist piece that I'm personally proud of: https://www.juricho.me/zurich-table/
if only software were written that way...
It's really incredible how much tacit knowledge transfer is made possible because of youtube. Definitely one of the purely positive aspects of the platform and the internet in general.
From what I've heard from other sources, it's kinda like what people call being a grown up.
Yet, this happens to everyone, including me to a small extent during my last internship. I think everyone can grow tired of anything given enough of it, and I think coming to terms with that is easier for some than others.
I've mentally prepared myself to branch out into different pastimes, and for some reason, it seems we all land on wood working.
Okay.... I assume you're not going to talk about this because then you'll have so much competition you won't be able to pay the bills anymore, but do you have any generalized background information about this?
> "This guide contains affiliate links. When you click those links and buy something, I make a little money. The income allows me to work on All About Berlin full time. All my recommendations are genuine. I want to keep this website useful and neutral."
Isn't dropshipping extremely overcrowded since The 4 Hour Work Week popularised it?
A decent portion of our business used to be dropshipping onto Amazon against others that were doing the exact same thing with the same terms. Margins obviously ended up tiny and the whole thing was at the whims of Amazon. Glad we don’t do that anymore.
Good to hear I was wrong :)
But, I also don't want to start a business doing woodworking. The last thing I want are clients yammering for "seven red lines"; this is something I'm doing as a hobby.
I may offer-up a few furniture items on a local for-sale app or a craft show app... but I will try and resist the urge to create a better local craft show app, or a wood inventory/cut-list app, or a simple CAD app, etc.
But then I also believe that technical interviews should consist of putting software developers in a woodshop (experienced at woodworking or not) with a bunch of power tools and telling them to build anything they like. Those that still have all their fingers attached we automatically hire. Everybody else we write a glowing reference so they get a job with our competitors.
P.S. This is a joke.
But making those things really well and flawless is so very, very difficult.
For example, I can whip together a new drawer, no problem. But making that drawer fit perfectly on all sides and open and close perfectly smoothly. Now that takes a whole other level of skill.
And don't even get me started on paint and varnish.
Dents can be somewhat fixed by getting them wet and ironing them.
It's also pretty impossible to build a website that pays the bills indefinitely without maintainence or upgrades. If your website becomes popular enough to pay your bills you WILL eventually have competitors, as well as new mediums of technology, and you'll have to constantly keep up to date.
Be careful with that table saw...
*in not-so-serious side projects
sawing wood these days too I cannot keep laughing alone in my beard thinking how software people just don't understand how the world used to be and how much had to be designed to work before trying .. there's no way back, or to be precise, every wrong turns costs dearly.
Most of the available programming work is really just writing glue code to make big software systems work as intended, to the point where it can feel more like writing configuration files than actual programming. Put simply, 98% of programming these days is scripting.
On the other hand, you have lots of fun things one can do with code, from building weird experimental things that lack any real-world application but are very interesting to think about to simply recreating some of the giants of the software world in creative ways or in different languages to get a better appreciation of their inner workings and the principles behind them. None of that has any value from a busyness perspective and nobody will pay you for it.
The way I feel about programming is in equal parts as an art and as engineering. The weird obsession of the IT industry with treating code as a resource that has no purpose other than create wealth is absurd and, I believe, one of the reasons why many programmers end up disillusioned and simply drop programming altogether, both as a job and as a hobby.
I can order food from hundreds of restaurants and have it delivered in less than 30 mins with the tap of a button.
I can book flights and hotels with the tap of a button.
I can play with friends in virtual reality and actually sweat.
I can watch a live stream of SpaceX launching reusable rockets in space.
I could buy a car that is almost fully "self driving".
I can exchange value with anyone in the world anonymously and with no delays or censorship thanks to cryptocurrencies.
I can land in a completely foreign city and get step by step directions to wherever I need to go.
I can translate almost any language in real time, be it in writing, spoken or taken from an image.
And so on...You can (and most of the time do) get paid to build interesting things. It's just that most of us are unable to look at the big picture and not realize that the combined effort of a team is more valuable than the sum of the individual efforts. And if you do actually work on stuff you don't find interesting there is enough demand that switching is not that hard.
And if you want to solve puzzles for the sake of solving puzzles then there are plenty of resources for that.
Plenty of choice in my honest opinion.
People lived in 1990 and didn't feel that bad to have to call a travel agency to get a ticket, or, god forbid, to actually meet friends and not in VR space...
I'll give you "self driving cars" -- well, I would if they could work today, which they don't...
I recently did a ~1000 mile trip that I used to do as a kid in the 90s. Back then it was literally a weeks worth of preparation. In 2020, I did the same trip on 1 hour notice with no concerns about my transportation, navigation, food, or lodging.
Sure, we made do with what we had in the 90s, but stuff is just incredibly more convenient and accessible now.
I'm glad to see someone else mention TripTiks. I went on long road trips with my family when I was a kid and TripTiks were the coolest thing. A TripTik was a custom-made flip-book assembled from pages that were map segments with everything of interest noted along the way. Your route was marked with a highlighter. It was bit like turn-by-turn guidance in handheld paper form.
>> People lived in 1990 and didn't feel that bad to have to call a travel agency to get a ticket
Travel agencies were awful; people don't realize how good they have it with online tickets. The way they worked is you'd ask for a flight from X to Y. They'd spend a whole minute typing some cryptic database query into their terminal and come up $1000 leaving at 6:45 am. You'd ask if there's a better price and they'd spend another minute typing a slightly different query before coming up with something slightly better. Repeat for 10 minutes, and you feel guilty every time you ask a question because they're doing you a favor with so much typing. Then ask if there's anything better if you leave Wednesday and the whole process repeats. Finally they obtain a semi-decent flight after a huge effort, but you're left with the feeling that you probably could have saved a bunch more if you'd known the right question to ask.
Not to knock down all the real progress, but things were fine 20+ years ago as well...
I arrive in a foreign country.
My phone works as soon as I turn it off airplane mode.
I already have lodging, which didn't involve any long-distance calling or navigating foreign accents over a scratchy submarine cable.
I don't know how to get there. Is public transit an option? One short map query later, I determine that it is, but that would involve more hauling luggage than I'd like, besides, that 20 minute wait for the bus at the end looks dodgy.
Rideshare it is. They pick me up at the airport and I get where I'm going.
I arrive in a foreign country. I have the Lonely Planet guide. I circled a hotel that sounds good. A hawker comes up to me and hassles me about staying at their hotel instead; I pass.
The guide has some instructions for how to take public transit, but it doesn't sound easy, and I don't speak the language.
First, I convert some currency, and get enough change to make a local call, and call the hotel. I think I just got a reservation? I definitely have enough left over to pay for a taxi, so down to the taxi stand it is.
The first few taxi hawkers strike me as excessively aggressive, eventually I find someone calmer. Time to negotiate a rate; Lonely Planet helpfully informs me that it's one of those countries where this is how it works. Once that's done, I get my ride to the destination, and the cabbie asks for twice what we agreed on. I calmly insist on the original price, which he agrees to after a couple passes; I tip anyway, because I'm an American.
Now I'm at the hotel. I'm in luck! I either do have a reservation, or the room and price that I agreed on over the phone is the same as it was then. Not like last time...
Yes. Traveling these days is really that much simpler.
Maybe, but I'm not totally convinced the "simplicity" has really made my life any better?
I have personal experience of travelling both pre and post smartphone era. I've spent reasonable or large amounts of time in San Francisco, New York, London, Bangkok, and Singapore (from Sydney), and a day or a few days in many more places. None of the "pre smart phone era" travel I did was onerously difficult without a smartphone, and I don't seem to have started doing additional travel since smartphones "slowed" all those problems you list.
I was comfortable enough travelling using taxis, printed maps, travellers cheques, and travel agents. I would happily enough fall back on those (well, these days I take advantage of credit card/maestro ATM availability and don't even know if travellers cheques are still a thing.) I will admit the stress levels travelling in Thailand, where I don't speak the language or even read the alphabet, are lower with a globally networked supercomputer in my pocket, but I never avoided going there (or anywhere else) because "It's too hard".
(And given current climate, I'm quite likely to arrive in the US next time I visit without a phone, or perhaps with a minimal burner. Sure, my phone makes a bunch of stuff "simpler", but it also carries a fuckton of intimate personal information, and it makes for a very tempting target for badly behaved or overly invasive border control staff...)
Neither of those stories were made up...
Never argued that it's better, only that it's simpler.
Hard to tell if it's better since I'm older now. You only get to be a twentysomething on his first trip to Asia once.
I did spent a little bit of time in SFO trying to figure out where the rideshare pickup area was last time I was there, more time than I spent finding the train the previous time... But it did get me exactly where I wanted to go which was nice...
There are still plenty of places where the phone doesn't really give you much today. Lots of places without ride sharing...
> to actually meet friends and not in VR space
Nintendo released the Virtual Boy in the 90s, a (somewhat unsuccessful) attempt at a semi-VR thing; they were (and are) a pretty big business, and I don't think that they were just doing it because they thought it was cool; there was demand for something like virtual reality at the time.
> People lived in 1990 and didn't feel that bad to have to call a travel agency to get a ticket
This is also wrong; anecdata, but at least one person (my dad) hated having to call up travel agencies in the 90s to book a plane ticket. I remember as a kid him yelling at the travel agent because he (having done a lot of business travel in the past) knew how much they were marking up the ticket and they wouldn't meet him halfway. Eventually he started calling the airlines directly to purchase tickets, and he complained a lot that there was not an easy way to compare prices between airlines. To stress, this was in roughly 1995.
Obviously this is just one person, but I seriously doubt that this was a unique experience.
We returned it, because it sucked. It was more than somewhat unsuccessful; it is the paradigm case of overpromising and underdelivering.
The only sweat you'd work up with a Virtual Boy would be after puking because of the induced motion sickness. It was impossible to move around, wasn't designed for that, instead you'd hunch over a table and it would force you to take breaks every fifteen minutes in a futile attempt to prevent waves of nausea from ruining your experience.
I remember when the virtual boy came out. It was a disaster. From wikipedia: "The Virtual Boy was panned by critics and was a commercial failure, even after repeated price drops."
And the second one, bringing up that one time your dad was annoyed to book a plane ticket. Not much more needs to be said.
What exactly did you demonstrate was wrong with his original take?
What I was trying to say that clearly the was some demand for the virtual reality of some kind; I'm sure Nintendo did some level of market research; concurrently, Atari and Sega was also working on VR projects, these demos were pretty popular in expos, so my point was that it's not a recent thing to want to VR in the home.
I disclaimed that me using my dad as an example was anecdata, but (assuming I'm not lying), it does prove the existence of at least one person's demand for such a product. The post I was responding to said specifically "People lived in 1990 and didn't feel that bad to have to call a travel agency to get a ticket", and I was giving a counter-claim to that. The last time I checked, my dad was a person, and did feel "that bad" calling a travel agency. Also, it wasn't "one time", it was throughout most of the 90's, though I mostly remember this from 1995-1997 because I was previously a bit too young to pay much attention to this stuff.
Now, fair enough, I didn't link to studies proving my point, so I probably used the word "demonstrably" incorrectly, and I apologize for any confusion that might have resulted from that.
Yeah, and I hate scratching my head when itchy. Doesn't mean an "automatic head stratcher" is the best use of our innovation, or adds anything significant to humanity...
It's not like "innovation" exists in a vacuum; if I figure out, I dunno, a new motor design for an automatic head scratcher, there's no reason that it can't later be used for something you deem to "add something significant to humanity".
Also, who gets to determine what actually adds to humanity? If you really didn't like scratching your head, or it took you a really long time to scratch your head in the morning, then wouldn't having something automatically do that for you be useful?
Travel websites are an example of something that did solve a problem; despite what you said before, people didn't like having to deal with travel agents (I googled around); they didn't like having to book tickets during office hours, they didn't like how hard it was to compare prices, they didn't like how much of a cut the agents took, etc. Buying tickets online save consumers time, money, and probably helped businesses book flights more easily. Businesses that "add significantly to humanity".
I know you didn't say this, and I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but I think that the binary mentality that you either are working on "useless" or "revolutionary" things is really harmful. I think it puts a lot of pressure on newbies with the thought that they have to change the world, and they might withdraw from STEM stuff because they don't feel like they're making significant enough contributions.
Everything doesn't have to.
A lot should have, though. Most, if possible.
And the reason is opportunity cost.
1. People didn’t mind meeting with travel agencies.
2. Actually people hated meeting with travel agencies. Never mind number 1.
3. Automatic head scratchers are a waste of time.
4. Therefore online travel websites are a waste of time.
sometimes innovation looks like 1000 small improvements that only save us 30 seconds of our day, but once they're all built we suddenly have whole hours freed up that used to be taken up by things like spending an hour on the phone with a travel agent
These technologies really do solve problems for some people. Ignoring the temporary problem it’s solving for most-everyone right now, VR lets quadriplegics and house-bound invalids go places that aren’t accessible, e.g. the middle of the jungle. And VR is also useful for assisted visualization in the treatment of PTSD and other associated disorders.
This is also the thing that everyone who makes fun of those “as seen on TV” products needs to be reminded of: they’re not really for you. For many products, there’s a smaller core of people who actually need the product, and then a much larger halo of people who might want the product if you sell it the right way. For the As-seen-on-TV products, the core market is usually “old people who don’t move around well, or have the grip strength/dexterity necessary to operate hand tools.”
But even the core market doesn’t like being advertised to in a way that points out their problems. They’d rather that you wrote your pitch to target the larger halo market, and then they will see that ad, and notice the particular benefits to themselves as a core-market member.
So in the end, you get things like the ad for the Snuggie (whose real point, IIRC, is that it’s a robe that someone can put on an infirm person without having to lift them to get it around them) that instead markets it as a sort of weird throw-blanket with arms; or ads for VR headsets that market them as being for Beat Saber. In both cases, the advertising is ignoring the core market with a need for the product, knowing that they’ll discover it on their own once they see the advertising aimed at the larger market.
Yeah, that's a valid market. But they're touted as some ultimate revolution / need, to everybody, when they're trivial in utility (outside that niche), few asked for them or would care about them without heavy marketing, and all at the same time basic needs (like health, a job, housing, education) get increasingly shitty...
(And the further thing that nobody likes to mention in casual conversation, is that many people—men, almost always—have an addiction to visiting prostitutes, that can be as costly as a drug habit; and that a good VR rig, coupled with this extensible, customizable VR sex-sim software, can manage—much more-so than regular porn—to mostly sate the same psychological needs that made them retain the services of escorts in the first place; and thus save such people a lot of money over the long term. These people tend to become big proponents of VR.)
Anyone who is into this sort of thing, but doesn’t want to [or can’t] mention it by name in the social milieu that pertains, will just say they’re “really impressed by VR” and “think you should give it a try, too.” You can differentiate this sort of person, because they struggle to come up with any examples of the VR games/experiences that so impress them.
1- Are men really replacing flesh & bone prostitutes with VR sex sims?
2- Is this really a "good" development? At least with prostitutes there are two human beings involved. With VR sims, aren't we going to a Brave New World kind of situation, and would this be a good thing at all?
About point 2 though, prostitution and even just hookup culture is actually more BNWish than sex sims are. If you are using a sex sim, the taboo is still very much present. And that opens up having actual relationships whereas having systematic, mindless sex with random people will give you the illusion of that being all there is to it.
Everyone belongs to everyone else is the primary difference between the world of Huxley and our own, not that we don't have sex chewing-gum.
People sating their urges with some VR simulation doesn't seem like an improvement to me. It feels alienating, out of a work of dystopian scifi: people no longer even need to touch other people, they engage with simulations. I don't know, it feels terrifying to me.
Someone else mentioned Real Dolls. It made me think of the pretty good and touching movie "Lars and the Real Girl". We like and pity Lars in his delusion that his Real Doll is a real woman, but the character definitely has issues.
It's also interesting: why is human connection considered good? People connect because it makes them feel something, but if you could achieve the same result w/o human connection, would it be that much worse? It feels worse to me, but not sure why. :-)
Considering people are already buying Realdolls. I don't doubt it.
> Is this really a "good" development?
Maybe in some niche cases. But I'd say it wouldn't be good considering how damaging porn/sex addiction can be.
The cheaper, more reliable, and easier-to-build VR is, the more likely you’ll see stodgy old companies (of the kind that build and go through FDA-certification for accessibility aids) becoming interested in working with it.
Sort of the same idea as Tesla: sell people a Veblen good (fancy EV cars), to fund the development of a technology (batteries) to drive the commodification of the EV industry, such that everyone non-fancy EV vehicles will become affordable, and such that EV technology will become something “obvious” to even the stodgiest auto-maker.
Or, to put that another way: you’d never have seen a direct evolution from mainframe computers to the modern PC, because the grass-roots demand for doing what a mainframe does on your desktop just wasn’t there (until it was.) The industry needed to start with calculators, evolve those chips up into microcomputers and kit them out to play games, and sell those as whiz-bang consumer electronics. Progress in that game-playing microcomputer space then carried PC technology along for the ride, until they just-so-happened to become able to do what mainframes could do.
Games give a relatively straightforward "pass-fail" criteria to test out new tech. Instead of a nebulous "does this tech directly help people", it's much easier (and more objective) to say "can I get this graphics API to push N fps to make the gameplay more pleasant?". Virtually any time I learn a new programming language or toolkit, the one of the first projects I do to get my grips with it is usually a simple 2D platformer just to stress out edge cases. Is this 'useful'? Not immediately, but it is useful for me to have learned how to code well enough to make a game perform well.
It's not like these optimizations and tools can't be useful for other things after they're developed for games; Unity was primarily made for games but I have friends who use it for developing "useful" iPhone apps now.
If the technology for VR gets good enough (and cheap enough) to get into the hands of the average gamer, I cannot see how that won't be a net win for people with disabilities in the long-run.
> So we've mostly solved trivial non-problems if/not regressions?
While I agree some developments have worsened the experience of particular things. What developments would you rather have seen?
By the way. VR was already a thing in the 80's. It's hardly new, only improved as the tech came available. And popularity of sci-fi also shows the common dream for many of these technological improvements.
As a fun reference. When the mobile phone got introduced in the 90's here in the Netherlands they did surveys in the street. Everybody was brushing it off as unnecessary.
- "I don't need one"
- "Oh, then you get called while riding a bike haha"
- "I have one at home, and if I'm stranded there's always a landline somewhere"
- "They can send me a letter, and if they need me urgently they can call me on my landline"
 => https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNwhIHqM60g
For one, advances in VR have come from hardware advances, not software.
For two - cell phones are not so much useful because they're phones, but because they're miniature computers with (near) worldwide connectivity to the internet.
Why not? Technology has opportunity costs. Usuless "easier" technology makes us slaves to it and to increased infrastructure.
Opportunity costs, diminishing results -- all those are good questions to ask.
I agree that there's a lot of useless tech around. Especially in this startup world where it seems to be all "Uber but for x".
You also haven't answered my question. What would've been a non-useless tech that should've been developed on in the meanwhile?
And just because some commercial companie (travel agencies) spent their profits streaminglining their booking process doesn't mean it's all been useless these last 30 years.
Having navigation on my little device I can fit into my pocket and work pretty much everywhere is a huge convenience. I no longer have to plan trips carefully, drive around hoping I get to the right place or stop 3 times to ask for directions.
This. I get called a Luddite because I rant about the vastness of useless tech, but I love tech. I simply think most of what people focus on is useless and that "the immediacy to which I can do anything" now is actually very psychologically harmful.
As other people have mentioned, it’s awfully reductive to classify these problems as trivial. You think they are trivial because the solutions have been done well. You do not see the millions of man-hours that have gone into fixing these problems because you are not supposed to.
Life today is radically different than the 90s, and for the better. The power of the individual has significantly increased with the last three decades of technological progress.
This comment is being made in the middle of a pandemic. Does anyone believe that video chat hasn't made modern life better? You have a plan to do remote learning with 1990's technology? Talk to my parents about that, or anyone who has children that live more than an hour or two away. Talk to anyone who's wheelchair bound or who lives in a rural community.
> I'll give you "self driving cars" -- well, I would if they could work today, which they don't...
Fully autonomous cars don't work now, but the extra warning systems, backup cameras, lane shift systems, etc... are saving lives every single day. I like that my car helps me monitor my blind spot when I put my turn signal on. And if anybody ever figures out how to get self driving cars to actually work, they will save a massive number of lives in the process.
> I can land in a completely foreign city and get step by step directions to wherever I need to go.
This was such a common problem that there were entire movies based on people getting lost in tourist destinations and road trips. I grew up reading paper maps inside a car. Nobody would ever want to go back to that. I can think of at least one instance over the past couple of years where having a cell phone with almost universal reception potentially saved my life.
Netflix didn't exist until 1997, Youtube didn't exist until 2005. Imagine wanting to replace a laptop keyboard, or change an obscure car part, and not being able to find a video that explained how to do it. Ask my parents whether or not they like being able to find videos demonstrating new crochet patterns or woodworking techniques. Ask my parents whether or not they'd prefer to go back to a time when they couldn't realistically pick up any new hobbies or interests unless there was a local community that already existed in our rural town to teach them.
The parent comment here is inscrutable to me, how can anyone be this nostalgic for the early 90s? I grew up in the 90s, it wasn't good. We wanted better technology. There are a lot of problems to solve with modern technology, and a few regressions to address as well, but talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater...
In 1997, you were avant garde if you listened to MP3s.
Apparently, Netflix was an online DVD rental operation then, haha.
It's very hard to think of future inventions at large. We are absolutely not done and programming + Computer Science has just started.
Imagine civil engineers giving up their craft in ancient Rome because everything that will ever need engineering has already been engineered.
Now we inherit the overhead of the software, demand pricing, apps that are made of shit and string (uber eats I'm looking at you) and zero customer service...
“Live streams” of rocket launches were on TV :)
And driving, step-by-step directions, and translation were services provided by human beings. For the richer of us, they still mostly are services provided by humans, because the machine versions still aren’t quite as good.
There have been VR systems at arcades since the 80s. The main difference today is that they’re consumer electronics you can bring home. (Not that that’s necessarily better for everyone; not every home has the room.)
Cryptocurrency is fairly novel in the universality of the access it provides to such services. Before, you and your counterparty had to both have fancy Swiss bank accounts or Bahamian shell companies to exchange the funds through. Still possible, but you couldn’t just send the money to anybody, so it limited what you could do with dirty money. Now dirty money is almost as useful as clean money! :P
Now, that being said, there are a few unique advantages to apps, like being able to order taxis in a foreign country (as you said), or being able to share your GPS coordinates with the taxi.
I say this as one of those people, and still struggle to phone people when I know it will bring better results :)
I used to buy the new Thomas Guide (the 1 inch thick paper map book to find my way around Los Angeles). Having Google Maps on my phone has massively changed that. In the middle we had Nav systems but even then I now live somewhere where public transportation is the norm and being able to ask Google Maps how to get somewhere as been a life changing experience. As one concrete example, from 2000-2010 I pretty much never took the bus except for the one that went by my house. Now, since Google Maps will tell me which bus to take it's so trivial just to take whatever it tells me.
As for VR in arcades in the 80s they were remotely as good as 4 yr old VR today. not even in the same league. That's like comparing a 1970s calculator to a smartphone.
Machine directions are still not as good as the service a good guide provides in navigating an unfamiliar city. Especially, no navigation app I’m aware of has an inbuilt intuition for avoiding the “bad parts of town” in its routing, that differentiates between what’s safe to drive through vs. walk through, and differentiates between safety levels at different times of day.
So previously, travel to foreign destinations was something few could afford, since it required sourcing and hiring a local guide. It would seem our current solutions scale much better and at a lower unit cost, opening up the world to more people than could have experienced it before.
What I wanted to highlight, was that technology making something possible, that was previously impossible, is actually quite rare.
There really aren’t all that many innovations that come along and change the world in such a way that a time-traveller from the past, would need to learn an entirely new conceptual framework to understand how we do things now. Almost always, what we do now, maps in an obvious 1:1 way to what we used to do. Hailing a cab? You could hail a cab in Ancient Greece!
In fact, it’s pretty hard to think of genuinely-novel things humans only started doing in the last 100 years, due to some technological enabler. Playing single-player interactive story-games, maybe — even the progenitor of the medium, the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, is AFAIK a 20th-century innovation.
> You could hail a cab in Ancient Greece!
Depends on who the "you" is. And choosing a super rich person as your point of reference is a pretty arbitrary choice (with underlying assumptions about society that are worth examining, I might add).
But this misses the finer point of how much is lost in the process of scope-narrowing, formalization, and automation. Or rather, of how losslessly you can truly make such a conversion.
For each well-established technology, it’s interesting to ask this question: given an unlimited budget, is the technology still used? Or is raw manpower used instead? Or some combination of the two?
Truly useful technologies, to me, are the ones that are still used in some capacity even by the ultra-rich, either directly, or because the manpower they hire will themselves use the technology to make their job easier.
A good example of a truly-useful technology is a washing machine. Nobody is hand-washing (cotton) clothes any more, no matter how rich you are. Even if you have a professional laundry service, they’re putting your clothes into a washing machine.
Navigation isn’t quite at that level yet. Your Uber driver uses a GPS auto-nav, but a city guide usually doesn’t, because a city guide is asking a different question — not “how to get there” but rather “which well-known route would the client favour, if I took a few hours to lay out the differences in fine detail.” Which is a question both of subjective inference of the client’s tastes, in a way that would require learned personalization in an automated equivalent; and of a bunch of context factors unique to every city, in a way that makes it hard to reproduce in a narrowed-scope app (rather requiring individual city-by-city coverage, the way only a monopolistic behemoth can achieve.)
So, theoretically possible, but not likely something we’ll see done for a long while, at least until we see some other meta-technological advance (e.g. GPT-4) that makes one or the other part dead simple.
So, its still fairly common to see people hawking guiding/etc services inside or just outside of airports in central/south America, Africa, etc.
If your going to places where the cell phone service is spotty, or your going outside the the main urban areas hiring a guide/translator might be the only way to get around.
Only if you were born fairly recently.
"[...]Where, in short, are the flying cars? Where are the force fields, tractor beams, teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, tricorders, immortality drugs, colonies on Mars, and all the other technological wonders any child growing up in the mid-to-late twentieth century assumed would exist by now? Even those inventions that seemed ready to emerge—like cloning or cryogenics—ended up betraying their lofty promises. What happened to them?" (https://thebaffler.com/salvos/of-flying-cars-and-the-declini...)
Kinda makes your list seem like an indictment. Today's world is the world capital wants to make. When you do open your awareness to the scale of effort and the broadest results, technological optimism in the future is deflated.
That wasn't really the claim. The idea is that the ends of technology have been chosen by corporations, rather than what would have been most generally useful to humankind. Hardly an earth-shattering observation.
In his essay, the the particulars of technological achievement (e.g. flying cars) are rhetorical. If it isn't our current economic system with for-profit corporations driving the direction of technological evolution, what is? The question that interests me, however, is how should we, as a society, make those kinds of decisions?
The answer to "what happened to them" is the same as "what happened to curing cancer?": those things are hard. And assuming that we would have solved them by now if people had spent their valuable time on those problems instead of making ads better is just wishful thinking. Throwing more brains at a problem won't solve it more quickly, especially if those brains weren't interested in solving that particular problem in the first place (if they were they would be working on it).
>That last word—simulate—is key. The technologies that have advanced since the seventies are mainly either medical technologies or information technologies—largely, technologies of simulation. They are technologies of what Jean Baudrillard and Umberto Eco called the “hyper-real,” the ability to make imitations that are more realistic than originals. The postmodern sensibility, the feeling that we had somehow broken into an unprecedented new historical period in which we understood that there is nothing new; that grand historical narratives of progress and liberation were meaningless; that everything now was simulation, ironic repetition, fragmentation, and pastiche—all this makes sense in a technological environment in which the only breakthroughs were those that made it easier to create, transfer, and rearrange virtual projections of things that either already existed, or, we came to realize, never would. Surely, if we were vacationing in geodesic domes on Mars or toting about pocket-size nuclear fusion plants or telekinetic mind-reading devices no one would ever have been talking like this. The postmodern moment was a desperate way to take what could otherwise only be felt as a bitter disappointment and to dress it up as something epochal, exciting, and new.
This occasionally strikes me as true when reading some of the comments in this thread about how it's easier than ever to deploy because of a new tool, easier to create a website or app because of a new framework, easier to order a car, easier to buy an airplane ticket..
I can't help but consider that we expected so, so much more.
The other half mostly exist in a century after the 21st, in most Sci Fi.
The nonexistence of tractor beams is no cause for pessimism about immortality drugs, since even when the trope of tractor beams was invented, we knew that physics as we know it allows for no such animal. By the same token, we know of no hard reason why effective immortality isn't in reach.
I don't expect to see it before entropy takes me. But that's just realism, not pessimism.
Where do you live? I would say the same but in under an hour. Is this a little hyperbolic?
And when the finite cognitive capacity of every human being must manage that complexity just to survive (let along propser), it sure feels like it's getting worse.
The notion that all the interesting work was done in yesteryear is just looking at the past through rose-colored glasses. At any time in history most software work was glue code. Because the low-hanging fruit is always going to be taking existing systems and applying small tweaks to extend their functionality to a slightly different domain.
Truly innovative software has always been done by the tip of the spear. Building something new and valuable is risky and difficult. 95% of the time the end product is worthless. And that's assuming that everyone on the team is highly competent. You either have to be willing to take a lot of personal risk, or have a good enough reputation that someone's willing to pay you to take crazy risks. In other words, work that never has and never will be done by the median engineer.
But this is pretty much true of any job in the knowledge economy. The average lawyer is just writing templated boilerplate contracts, not arguing Constitutional law before the Supreme Court. The average accountant is just filing personal and small business taxes, not uncovering high-level corporate fraud. The average doctor does the same simple procedure all day long, not working on a cure for cancer. The average academic does by-the-number meaningless research to get his publication count up, not research deep breakthroughs in his field.
I remember showing off the role based permissions structure we had in place to allow an admin to control what sort of endorsements users could make. I quipped something like "this is so granular that we could even allow insureds to make endorsements to the policy." The response I got from the head underwriter was "we will never allow insureds to make endorsements on policies".
When was the last time you had to speak to an agent or underwriter on the phone to make changes to your insurance policy?
20 years ago was a very exciting time as many businesses were going online for the very first time. We were getting away from writing websites in C with CGI and using higher level languages like Perl, PHP, and ASP.
today, and every time. Would like to switch to geico / someone else with web interface but the rates aren't as good and the customer service isn't as guaranteed
It's that the entire purpose of programming, though? To abstract away the repetitive stuff? I personally see this as a good thing.
Even with all the configuration and scripting, there are still plenty of lower-level programming tasks involved in piecing together systems.
I'd rather save the difficult programming for the actual difficult tasks instead of re-implementing the already solved problems like CRUD.
If I had a dollar for every time I've heard the phrase "XXX is a solved problem," indicating that there's a dependency that "solves" it, I'd be rich.
People think that, just because we can google up a dependency that does what we want (sorta/kinda/mostly), the "problem is solved."
It's been my experience, that, when our "solution" is to bring in a massive dependency to address a very basic issue that we could solve, ourselves, by banging out a bit of code in a day or two, our problems are just beginning. In some cases, that's exactly what I have done. For example, I use dependencies to handle SOAP (yuck), for ONVIF work, and keychain access for login Face/TouchID validation. These are small, atomic dependencies, written and maintained by reputable authors. The SOAP thing would have taken me a couple of months to write something not as good, but the keychain thing is something I could write, myself, in a couple of days. I just find that I don't really need to, as there is an acceptable alternative.
In fact, when I have been dissatisfied with the choices, and have decided to write my own solutions, I have encountered derision.
I feel for the OP, but I am sad to hear they are leaving the industry. Maybe it's for the best, or maybe they will always look back in regret.
In my case, I have just realized that I can't look to others to validate my work, and have to work on my own. It is not my preferred choice. I worked on (often, huge) teams, my entire career. But I won't compromise my personal ethos to be "down with the kids." If writing good software is no longer in fashion, I guess I'll be unfashionable. I won't deliberately write bad software. I couldn't live with myself.
For me, I'm never leaving, but that may mean that I'll need to work on my own. I have a pretty good record of creating stuff that other people value, so we'll see how that goes.
More will be revealed...
May be there's some layer above SOAP which requires more implementation. I have no idea about OVNIF. But SOAP itself is pretty simple. Basically you're firing SoapUI, figuring out protocol details and write code to deal with that particular XML-based format.
I tend to be fairly anal about testing; especially low-level stuff. It can be a bit excruciating, working with me, as I insist on pounding away at everything. That's why it's taken a week and a half to get to the place I'm at now. I'm working on the login and initial user edit stuff. Basic (but critical) stuff, and I keep encountering edge cases. I'm also debugging the backend SDK.
Maybe in that case you could call the core product "domain expertise" but it's not how they position themselves
This is true in plenty of occupations. I've seen it in mechanical and electrical design, for instance. With that said, I know a lot of good people who actually enjoy the work of piecing things together, so I wouldn't disparage it. Something for everybody.
A pleasure of working on something for fun at home, or maybe in an R&D setting, is that it can start out a lot simpler.
Same thing with airplanes. Boeing is pretty much Honeywell+GE+Liebherr to name a few.
I am unsure why people find componentizing and integrating unrewarding in IT. I didn't hear my dad (a sound engineer) complain that he no longer spins a wire onto a metal to obtain a speaker. :)
He knows he could build better components than the ones he uses if he put the time in, and create a better overall system design with a better price/performance by applying state of the art knowledge, but people prefer to pay him to combine commodity parts of questionable design in the standard, proven, but clearly suboptimal way.
Now where is his job satisfaction?
If you really wanted to stretch the analogy, maybe imagine the expensive DSPs he is expected to install all forward a record of any audio played on them to a shadowy government agency.
I understand the frustration of not doing things optimally from a theoretical point of view. However, the unoptimality is offset by using battle-tested, robust components.
However, in my experience, the best integrators are worth their weight in gold. It requires a mental organization, patience, and discipline that I don't possess. The ones who do it badly are the ones who are racking up dependencies and technical debt.
It wouldn't be Hacker News without such ponderous pedantry!
From my experience, if you find a post startup small business with fewer than 10 developers, you end up wearing many hats. Both times I've been at large corporate jobs, though, it's exactly as you describe.
In construction, you could do cool stuff, and do things perfectly, but people want "normal" and time is money so you need to work fast.
If you have an auto repair shop, you could build an EV from scratch. But you're getting paid to fix other people's cars. Even if you do tuning and modding, it's all just standardized shit that you buy and install.
Woodworking, farming, networking, accounting, anything really is 90% grind, with a select few getting the chance to have fun while getting paid.
Sounds like you haven't tried or you haven't stumbled on an actual issue. There are lifetimes of problems out there, and many existing solutions are poor or non-solutions.
I run into them all the time and cannot possibly dedicate my one lifetime to all of the problems I see viable commercial solutions to.
So what? Then it becomes just a normal job. Most jobs out there arent that interesring, just problems or doing tasks that people don't want to do themselves.
Getting interesting tasks while being well-paid is not any way normal or common, and I also think hasn't been ever.
LOL. What a silly comment.
I got burned out badly by a string of gigs that effectively came down to helping clients fight some self-inflicted business complexity and connecting yet another stupid website to yet another stupid database, but instead of quitting the industry I decided to slowly fire clients that wanted that kind of work, and build my own products. It took a while to get things rolling since I did this as a gradual shift, and financed it by doing smaller and smaller consulting gigs, but I strongly recommend that as an alternative to quitting altogether to anyone who feels the pain outlined in the the original post.
For me, immersive coding is an activity that brings a lot of joy. Building software is the closest thing to modern magic - you turn ideas, keyboard clicks and caffeine into something that people actually use; potentially making a positive impact on someone's life/work/day.
By building my own stuff, at my own pace, I rediscovered the joy of coding. As much as it was in pre-2000 work and before web.
If you build your own stuff, then there's nobody to tell you to connect a RSS feed to a RDBMS system. For me, the key to keep programming enjoyable is to be able to control the pace and business requirements. In my case, this translated to focusing on business-to-consumer products at a very low cost to the consumer, so I'm in charge of the product, not the customers. With B2B, especially at a high single customer price, people feel entitled to ask for stupid shit, and whoever manages the product feels compelled to accept it. With low average lifetime customer value, saying no is very easy. I assume that's not the only way to keep full control of the product, but it worked for me.
The web is an application development platform that's split into two pieces with a critical security boundary in the middle, which causes basically all of its problems because every web app has to be a distributed system. If you can constrain what you want to build to either a set of pages and forms or a single client-server app that sits in a sandbox and uses the browser as its display buffer, that makes it manageable.
The default (and indeed only) language for the web not enforcing type safety is also a handicap. People will eventually build a shell inside it where compile time type safety can be mostly enforced.
On the other hand, the alternative is worse: a proprietary platform which shifts unpredictably and from which the owner can ban you.
I'm not sure that's the only alternative. I would actually describe the web as shifting, unpredictable at the behest of one company with the controlling browser and search engine.
Linux might "shifts unpredictably" too (looking at you Gnome ;) but at least the owner can't ban you.
Then there are people who work on compilers, image recognition, AI, browsers, server work of all kinds, etc etc. the variety, depth, and scale of work is much larger than web and can pay better as it can require a deeper level of expertise. I’m sure there exist web developers who make more than people who work in these spaces just as the converse is true. I don’t think it’s possible to say which pays more. Web dev may be an easier avenue to break into things with a low amount of experience though.
Compiler/AI work and the rest exists where I live as well but it's strictly in academia, not in private companies and has a high barrier of entry as it's mostly PhDs or post-docs and is also paid poorly.
Web dev work you can find in pretty much any major city in the world.
For example, in a city nearby to me there's a major VR/AR headset company which I'm pretty sure solves really interesting problems. The issue is, what happens when you want to change jobs but want to stay in the same city as that city has no VR/AR hub so there's no other demand for specialists in this specific niche.
Genuinely curious as I'm open to a move.
If you look around a bit, as an in-demand (meaning - chasing the latest tech fads, maybe some tech lead experience as well) senior backend developer, you can get take home 250,000 PLN per year on a long-term (meaning usually multiple years) contract basis. Assuming 60,000 PLN of that goes to living expenses, it takes less than 16 years to save up the required 3m PLN to retire. And, if you're really hot in terms of CV, you can take home much more than 250k per year. Also, there are options to contract in Western Europe or get six figure remote US job (this one's harder than the other options) for more pay.
Also, I myself happen to make over 400k net PLN per year, but I didn't want to use myself as an example, as I only know a handful of people who make that much - so it's perhaps not something you 100% can count, whereas the 250k per year number is absolutely attainable by any senior dev with reasonable/modern CV and good negotiating/job hopping skills.
I have worked on mobile OS, PC software development, web, machine learning problems, and now VR. I’m not particularly worried about getting pigeonholed because any company I’d want to work for can recognize the value of a generalist - I’m not going to solve hard domain-specific problems but I can architect the SW and plug all the pieces together and dive into domain-specific problems when necessary. To be fair though I’ve heard this concern from other people who want to move back to Europe, but the framing was different - how do I explain to them what I do in a recognizable manner.
However some places are 10, sometimes 20 years behind into best practices, be that in coding, tools, PM practices, innovation, etc.
There's a reason a lot of mobile phone companies closed down (as an example).
As much as I like the area I don't miss staring at a hodge-podge of C/C++ code done in weird style that might or might not have been auto generated and will as many memory bugs as possible.
My team's responsibilities include configuration management, fault management, and certain KPI monitoring. We don't need to write webapps for that (though we do integrate with them) :)
Not sure if I would make more doing webdev, but am not in US so it would be normal middle-class income anyway.
Now I feel like I'm always spinning my wheels. Even worse, I'm more capable of learning and understanding than ever, but the amount I need to know is increasing faster than my abilities to learn it.
It doesn't stop me from moving forward (it hasn't yet) but there are those occasional days...
I've wanted one-way data flow (React, Elm) forever.
We just have rose colored glasses because we were younger, dabbling, all tech was new and non-web tech was just what was available. And we confuse that for some sort of obvious tech superiority. I'd say those were the worst times for application development, not the best. Makes me wonder how many people actually worked on a production client application back then.
The platform that the web was designed on (NeXTSTEP) was much nicer to develop on. VB programmers had a much easier time than web development now. The web was designed as a document delivery platform and it continues to show how hard it is to get basic functionality going.
How is that different from MVC patterns in desktop development?
True, a lot of that could just be the change in scenery. But I really appreciate that just about everything about the platform exists in order to create software, rather than trying to jump through the bizarre hoops that browsers created. Not dealing with Webpack is an absolute god send.
But with all that said, I think wasm has the potential to bring us sanity again. And if not wasm, then possibly tools like Rome will make web dev a bit more sane at least.
Web dev was especially insane during the IE era, more than today.
Most people just hate their jobs, it's nothing unique to the tech sector and i would argue that tech is still a pretty comfortable niche to work in compared to most other fields.
Doctors have extreme debt and work crazy hours, teachers get way too little, manual labor is very tough on the body, journalism is dead etc. - it seems to me that everyone i know just "has a hard time" because of information-overload, 24/7 connection, lowered real wages etc. I.e systemic issues at the core.
That said i also want to get more zen, cut back, transition to more resilience - but tech is not uniquely bad, and while i also have dreams about transitioning to more entrepreneurial roles or "moving into nature" - i still can enjoy "the chaos" of modern development / design - and this really is the key i think: to accept the mess, the imperfection, that no one knows what the hell they are doing in most sectors.
Drop the fake self imposed yuppie consumer self policing and perfectionism mindset and just accept that we live in a crazy part of history where everything is obsolete after 5 minutes, so just do what you find acceptable, try to scrape some money together and remember to appreciate the fact that at least you are in a sector where it's pretty easy to be an entrepreneur if you want to - compared to a lot of other people who have no idea about how to get started or jump ship.
Years ago if everything went awry i would stress out, be afraid of angry clients, be angry at myself - today i relax, i am interested and laugh at the complexity, and if someones angry i don't care, the world is crazy, we are monkeys living in a world not made for our biology, it's future tech dystopia/utopia right now, no one is able to piece something together that works for a long time anyway, it's mostly not my fault, but i still try to do my best. This mindset has helped more than a lot.
Internet comment sections have always biased toward people who hate their jobs, are unhappy with their lives, or are otherwise trying to escape into virtual distractions.
Not everyone fits this description, of course, but the negative comments are over represented relative to what the general population thinks. Never interpret any internet comment section as representative of the norm.
Growing up, my internet commenting activity was highest when I was least happy with my jobs. It was lowest or even non existent when I loved my job. (Currently I enjoy my job, but I have 10-20 minute periods of time to kill on my phone daily for other reasons now).
Also, don’t forget that HN comments are heavily biased toward cynical interpretations.
> Drop the fake self imposed yuppie consumer self policing and perfectionism mindset and just accept that we live in a crazy part of history where everything is obsolete after 5 minutes, so just do what you find acceptable, try to scrape some money together and remember to appreciate the fact that at least you are in a sector where it's pretty easy to be an entrepreneur if you want to
If you hate work, becoming an entrepreneur is the last thing you want to do. Dealing with grumpy customers directly will only make things worse.
The majority of people I meet in the real world have no problems separating their personal identity from their home life and well being. For some reasons developers are particularly bad at mixing their work and their personal identity while chasing perfectionism. I assume it’s because we grew up in front of computers and many of us spend our leisure time on computers as well.
Even the smallest bit of separation of work and personal life can fix this. In other words, learn how to disconnect from technology and do literally anything else for a few hours per week. We don’t need to go all in on quitting the industry to get a break.
I miss excitement, enthusiasm and humor - and yeah the world may be plummeting into tech dystopia and climate collapse but throughout time aid workers, firefighters, war time doctors and myriads of other people have kept their humor, interest and skills despite chaos around them and so should i.
About the entrepreneurship, yeah i agree but i still think "knowing how the internet works", how to make a website and how to learn by yourself is still a pretty good "extra skill" you get to have as a tech worker than can easily work as a stepping stone into new fields.
Teachers have guaranteed job, good income and many benefits. Salaries are usually set nationally not adjusted per location, it's not great to live in the most expensive tech hub but it's pretty good everywhere else in the country.
You have no competition from abroad and no shortage for demand, like seriously, do you know any area that's lacking sick people?
Not to mention status.
If you google "being doctor sucks", you will find very similar complaints (see link below), and it seems some doctors were envious of nurses, but I didn't bother googling "being a nurse sucks" because I know what to expect.
and here is another one about being carpenter sucks
and this one is about how hard is it make money from woodworking
here is an interesting take away from that last thread:
"I have built maybe 6 pieces I really liked in the past 10yrs. Thats someting you’ll face in any craft business. Making crap you don’t like."
Well, welcome to modern capitalism, adulthood and work. The underlying assumption here is life supposed to be fun and easy, it is not, it has never been and perhaps it will never be.
You can say that about all desk jobs(even bus drivers) since they all sit on a chair the whole day but at least in some cases we get paid better and have more free time to take care of ourselves. And unlike the bus driver, I can leave work or take a coffee/toilet break whenever I want.
And labor jobs that don't require sitting are usually even worse for your body long term(landscaping, plumbing, gardening) and sometimes pay worse as well. If I'm coding, I can constantly shift my body position if it gets uncomfortable while a plumber/gardner is just stuck in that straineous position until the job is done.
Maybe athlete or personal fitness instructor is the only job I can think of where you earn money while staying in shape.
If work was easy then we wouldn't need to be paid for it.
"work" in its natural sense is indistinguishable from play. Animals play as a way to practice "work". Lions etc play hunt. The problem is that "work" in modern times has little to do with what we are genetically-inclined to want to do.
Which, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.
The existence of Dilbert says you're wrong.
Oh, and it's real plumbing...
Now that is a standout line right there. It perfectly describes some of my own personal projects. Sometimes—oftentimes—they go nowhere but I had fun.
One such task was developing a secret Santa system in python with an auto mailer and “paper” backup while in Hawaii last year. It took me part of a morning during breakfast before we went out for the day. I refined it when we got home. There were others already out there and it did nothing more then putting names in a hat, but it was fun. And it’s reusable. And it had the added benefit of needing no moderator—nobody in on the secret.
The metaphor of a wood working project just seems to fit so well. Nice one.
Hate your job? Maybe it's the job, not the profession. Developers have an enviable amount of mobility; use it.
Maybe you aren't taking care of yourself in some other way? Sleep, diet, exercise, possible clinical depression: these are all things to try.
Perhaps you're burned out? It's 2020, that's a very real possibility. There's a whole literature on what to do about it, and "abandon your career" is dead last.
Both of the preceding paragraphs have a "talk to your boss" component. Don't think that's a good idea? Great, you definitely have the wrong boss, GOTO LABEL "Hate your job?".
Good reasons to stop developing software: a) there's something else you really want to do, and you have rational confidence you won't starve, and b) you're ready and able to retire.
Bad reasons to stop developing software: literally anything else.
If you're currently on that trajectory (i.e. you're able to save a large percentage of your income every year) then I'd recommend it. If not, then yeah, you might need a second career if you want to get out of development soon. My plan is not to need one.
You get to talk worth a bunch of people in sales and still exercise your problem solving skills.
Meeting users, finding out about their problems and working out how software can solve them?
In the agile world, the analysts were basically replaced by product owners, but I assume there are still places where they exist. I've done it for a while, it's quite cushy job if you're good at talking, writing, presenting (same as product owner but without the "ownership" part, so much less stress).
So essentially we became figureheads. Our work rarely was used in any significant way or provided much value, but we were kept around because the company wanted to be able to tout its “data driven” culture.
It was so bad that at one company I worked for, they had the data science/analytics department start putting on a yearly intracompany conference on analytics that became a huge deal. One year they got Stephen Levy, the author of Freakonomics, to be the keynote speaker. At one point he shared a story about how he was consulting with a company on their marketing, and they found that they had accidentally not been running ads in a particular metro area, and were able to leverage this to act as a control to assess the materials effectiveness. But when asked to intentionally do something similar moving forward, the company balked. It was so close to home that my colleagues and I wondered if the head of our department had fed him the need to talk about it. And yet, not a single thing changed at the company during my time there.
I currently work in a role much closer to software engineering, and I have all of the same problems described by the person in the original post and that many are describing here. But I consider it a strict upgrade over my time working as a statistician.
The situation in research is exactly as you describe -- we are figureheads who are put into place and highly pressured to confirm whatever hypothesis a PI wants for their latest grant or paper. They would never ask us to commit fraud, only perhaps to "double check" an analysis 10 times until it shows what they want to see.
If I were working for a company, this would at least be understandable, as companies don't even have a theoretical commitment to truth and scientific integrity, and there are no real consequences to a faulty analysis.
But it is immensely galling to see in research. Here we are, paid by the public to supposedly pursue truth and improve human health, and instead the job is to constantly be finding ways to avoid fraud and fabrication without pissing off the collaborator. The result is, as you say, useless analyses if the analyst is honest, and fabrications if they are not.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is one of the key reasons the ROI on science has declined drastically in the last few decades. It makes me laugh bitterly every time I see (increasingly frequently) political exhortations for plebeians to "trust the science".
Nowadays there seems to be a lot more software engineering skill around generally, and a big yay! to github and Stack overflow, and the thousands of developers who freely provide code/frameworks and knowledge to give all developers a leg-up.
It's good to no longer be in the thrall of the large software vendors (sun/apple/MS) to provide frameworks, tools & documentation.
Music was not better back then, people were not any more polite, educated and rational, and trying to fix bug in some big-ball-of-mud visual basic codebase on a 640x480 screen without access to Google was not any more enjoyable than debugging an overdesigned React application is today.
If you enjoy a challenge and have a great team in a well-run organization, developing is enjoyable, then and now.
Sure, one doesn't have to be able to write an operating system from scratch and there is value in high level libraries not requiring to reinvent the wheel all the time, but basic understanding of HTTP or such should be there for web developers as well as basic understanding of data structures or algorithms (while computers are fast enough and data sets small enough that so many people get away without knowing for quite some time)
- Most of the teams were not using SCM, but connecting to the same network drive and daily copying the whole folder as a backup. For those who did it was CVS (ugh). Even during the 2000's the best you got was SVN.
- So many Visual Basic projects
- For web projects: deploy by copying the files with FTP, getting shouted by a colleague because you override the hotfix he did using SSH and VI on the production file
Now there were good projects back in the day, and there are good projects today. You just have to take control of your career and not just follow the flow of the first company who hired you in your area.
Also remember that you can pivot within software development, there are so many different kind of software, you just have to accept to get out of your comfort zone.
That said, I've done a lot of other things over my career, and one reason it's stayed interesting is the variety. If I wanted a change right now I'd probably look at small embedded systems work.
With all the AI, IOT, scientific, real time control, and robotics software being developed these days, I think there are a lot of interesting directions available!
I'll add a shameless plug for Julia, which I think could become a major general purpose programming language, and which makes for some enjoyable development!
(On the "best use of one's body", I have some sympathy there, but "balance in all things". Or just up your rates and work 32 hour weeks. heh)
A lot of people just starting out don't see this immediately and it is often too late in a project when it appears. This isn't their fault, and it's sad people outside of the field don't recognize this at all. I think it puts a lot of undo stress on new people when non-developers expect them to build things effortlessly and quickly all the time and when something doesn't work, the developers ultimately blame themselves, because they've been led to believe it was easy too.
Is this not a contradiction to you?
10 years ago we uploaded the server/backend binary to a VM, installed postgres/mysql and configured nginx/haproxy as a reverse proxy/ssl termination.
Now, if you want to deploy a modern SPA while using some buzzwords like k8s and devops you need:
* complex frontend build process with things like webpack which have huge config files
* Build docker images for all components (each microservice, frontend, etc)
* Build zips for deploying your lambda functions
* Configure docker repository for storing images
* gitlab/bbpipelines/githubactions/whatever pipeline configuration for automating all this building
* Setup a production-ready k8s cluster
* Write the kubernetes yaml files for describing your services
* Figure out how to hookup a cloud load balancer to your kubernetes ingress
* Figure out letsencrypt certificate renewal and make your ingress aware
* Figure out CDN configuration (and invalidation) because apparently we don't serve the frontend from the backend server anymore
* Some network config so your lambdas can access the backend
* Since we're using microservices we're going to need some service discovery, and depending on which SD solution we choose we might need to build this into each individual microservice (Consul)
* And probably lots more as I haven't even touched service meshes, or JWT authentication, caching and cache invalidation
But I think it would be a terrible idea to be reliant on just one server because downtown, latency are real-troubling issues.
There are three overlapping issues in what you talk about:
* Moving from bare metal servers to VMs to containers, with cloud deployment optionally thrown in there somewhere.
* Moving from hand deployment to continuous integration.
* Moving from monolithic applications to microservices.
Lambdas expand infinitely, k8's can easily autoscale stateless docker containers out forever.
All for starting under a 500 dollars a month?
150$ for EKS, lambdas first X million are free, and are cheap as hell from there, cloud LB is 50 bucks a month, etc.
Not to mention all the other benefits that containers provide Infrastructure as Code, no dev environment incompatibility problems, etc..
That is UNHEARD OF historically.
I think you may have some rose colored glasses or I'm just idealistic and naieve, but it's insanely exciting what's possible for a small enterprise nowdays.
The problem nowdays imo is management. The business people have taken over tech instead of tech people running things. And people without knowledge of tech, running a tech shop always makes the job suck.
You cannot simplify something by adding overly complex layers of abstraction on top of it.
Are they not understanding costs and scaling?
But that doesn't mean it's creative. Plumbing, like web development, may have all of these complexities and constraints, but typically there is really only one solution that can be considered "right" and your job is to go through the steps and do the math to find it, there's not a lot of room for creative thinking, despite the complexity of the problem.
Look at the broader job market. Compare the pros n' cons of any career against software development. Compare the barrier to entry, demand, and other market conditions. Software dev comes out pretty well.
Money isn't everything. If you can do a job that pays less but doesn't depress you as much, you probably should go for it. You won't keep your job as a developer forever anyway, age discrimination is very real in the industry.
At the top of the requirements list of any job, is How Well It Pays.
Having comfortable amount of money frees you to to enjoy other aspects of life/personal passion/family building. That's how the global economy works, for the time being.
For a job that doesn't require overtime, consistent schedule, a solid 9-5 type position. What is there to complain? Looking at the big picture, the economy is filled with people who are barely getting by, laid off due to pandemic, and working overtime or multiple jobs, to generate enough income in attempt to sustain life.
If "I no longer build software" doesn't resonate with you, you just haven't "been there". Again, you're probably in your twenties. Don't expect your rationalizations to last you into your forties.
If you're still a developer at the end of your forties, chances are you will lose your job and your spouse anyway.
> That's how the global economy works, for the time being.
Curiously, people in the less affluent countries report being happier. Also, in the US, most of the money you earn goes into someone else's rent: Your lease or mortgage, your car, your insurance, your loans, your taxes, and so on. It's the American Dream!
> Looking at the big picture, the economy is filled with people who are barely getting by, laid off due to pandemic, and working overtime or multiple jobs, to generate enough income in attempt to sustain life.
If you think those are your two options, that's fine. I'm not telling you to quit your job.
Yes. 1 monitor running the editor full screen, no constant interruptions from IM, documentation in books that actually was accurate, programming the actual machine not piecing together other people’s crapware libraries.
This is my biggest concern about the state of my profession. It might not be the right analogy, but it gives me a house-of-cards type vibe.
Frankly the tools really sucked back then. Build systems and IDEs were awful. Just go play with an autotools-based C project sometime to remind/education yourself. Visual Studio 7, horrible. No mainstream refactoring IDEs to speak of. C++ compilers across multiple platforms were horrible at standards compliance consistency, and you could barely get a working STL, practically everyone wrote their own string and containers classes. CORBA -- some nice ideas, bad in practice. Java was a dumpster fire of EJB/J2EE heavyweight, with slow an d expensive application servers. Expensive Oracle installs dominated the database world, with the rest shored up by MySQL installs that were only partially ACID. No CSS HTML, pre-HTML5 so a mess of nested tables to make things lay out properly. Most sites were a pile of spaghetti code "type 1" JSPs or ASPs or really bad PHP sites making database calls and queries right in the page source, horrible to maintain.
Then the serving or hardware infrastructure, in the world of web stuff... forget about cloud or even reasonably priced hosting services. Most shops, even small ones, I worked at ended up having their own sysadmin team managing an owned or rented fleet of expensive Sun server hardware, etc. Closets full of hot and pricey hardware etc.
And as for languages... I learned Python in 95 or 96, back when it was pretty new. But almost no shop would have considered hiring me to work in it. Erlang, Python, OCaml, various Lisps, Smalltalk, all that good stuff all _existed_ but pretty much nobody would ever consider letting you write production code in such "weird stuff" until Ruby kinda broke the barrier. Perl was everywhere, but "serious" shops started to push Java, but Java was frankly awful back then around 2000. As I allude to above C++ was painful to work in at the time. C# didn't really exist yet. Visual Basic was all over the place, but was frowned on for "serious" stuff.
I think people forget how dominant and awful "enterprise" development is/was. It's still out there, but HN in general doesn't seem as exposed to it. Back in the late 90s, early 2000s, the accepted "enterprise" stack was the aspirational crap _so_ many shops adopted... it was for that time what "microservices" and "bigdata" other dogma are today. People didn't need it, but they thought they did.
Frankly, everything took longer to get done. Simple things are quicker to get done now.
Nah, it wasn't a particularly good time to be doing software dev.
I guess if you were employed in the right place, and were lucky, you would at least get to work on pioneering work building the tools and infrastructure that we now take for granted and complain about. Being at a Google building Bigtable etc. or Sun Microsystems working on the innards of Java etc. back then would have been a dream job. But the vast majority of us never got that chance. We were plumbers, too, just with really crappy pipes.
Funny you should mention autotools. It reminds me a lot of webpack, especially in the way nobody really understands how it works, but you search around for examples and copy/paste what works for you.
 a hyperbole; i'm sure someone does, just as I'm sure some people dreamt of M4 macros back in the day
It wasn't autotools per se that was horrible. It was the the fact that you had to pollute your system with random libraries, often no longer available from the operating system vendor repositories. Docker has been a lifesaver with these older projects.