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Don't End the Week with Nothing (2014) (kalzumeus.com)
824 points by mooreds 27 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 268 comments

"Don't try to make a career out of optimizing the SQL queries to display a preference page on a line of business app at a company that no one has ever heard of. That is not the straightforward path to having other people learn you are capable of doing meaningful work."

This is so sad. Optimizing that SQL might require being really clever and can bring enormous value for the company that maybe nobody heard about but might be providing some not so sexy but useful service for half of the country.

I've never heard about company that is building software that runs nearby power plant, but certainly this company is much more useful and have more positive feedback for the society than something "sexy" like Facebook.

What's a funny coincidence is that I've been thinking about almost exactly this for a little while.

Just in the last two weeks I decided to create a podcast where I interview the exact types of developers who optimize SQL inside business apps.

In fact, literally just last night I recorded and uploaded (to YouTube and the various podcast platforms) episode zero. Not an actual interview yet, but a statement of purpose and a placeholder so I can hopefully have a small audience on release day. (I'm hoping for about 50 subs by the time I launch the first)

I was 100% not going to promote on HN until after I had at least 10 episodes published... but fundamentally it was born out of a desire to attempt to solve for the "unsexy" programmer.

Anyway: https://youtu.be/9mmgfxSeqPA

Or you can search for "Ship It" on your favorite podcast platform.

In terms of feedback, any and all is welcome, though I've got a personal preference for constructive feedback as opposed to just telling me that my stupid face looks really stupid.


Please don't start another podcast. Or if you absolutely must, please provide a text version of the content.

Podcasts aren't searchable, they aren't skimmable and their content isn't indexed in search engines. Text is.

Sorry you're getting downvoted on this post. I found your data point useful. Even though I disagree that there are enough podcasts serving the senior developer / corporate programmer niche, being made aware of the existence of "podcast exhaustion" is valuable, and the discussion convinced me that a transcription service is worth it.

I'd hate for negative attention to result in a chilling effect on your decision to voice your opinion in future.

I can't remove your downvotes, but I can say thank you a second time.

I didn't downvote but I think "please don't do X" is really a poor way to frame this opinion. I also don't care much for podcasts and prefer a textual format, but if you think you'd prefer making it a podcast then just make it and theshrike79 and I will find other content to consume. Or maybe it'll be so good and interesting that we'll just listen to it anyway!

Deciding to start on such a project is really cool IMO, and I think if I ever attempted to do something like that I'd really find it very demotivating if the feedback I got was "no wait, not like that". But that's just me.

I agree with this 100%, and just want the parent commenter to see that at least one other person cares enough to say so to offset the toxic dismissal.

It’s easy to shit on work, but hard to create it. You created something, that’s awesome and I wish you luck! Don’t try to make all the naysayers happy, especially in this community, or you’ll go insane lol.

Given a HN post if just some persons opinion, and a podcast is just some persons opinion, aren't you failing your own logic by calling that post "toxic"?

i.e. If you don't like opinion framed this way, find other posts to consume.. Instead you're naysaying a HN comment..

I stand by what I said. The difference in my mind is that someone invested real creative energy into something, and someone else came along and said “please stop making this”.

Yes, I went out of my way to say something here. Put yourself in the shoes of the person making the podcast here. They excitedly shared their work early because it seemed like a great time and place to do it. And one of the first comments is “you should not have made this”. What people say online actually matters, I don’t speak for this person of course, but I know I would be disheartened by such dismissal of my work. I just hate seeing this maybe happening to others and sometimes try to offset the negativity I think I see.

I actually laughed a little at this one

> “you should not have made this”

... because that was 100% my initial reaction. I was like "oh shit, I just got internetted"

I bounced back pretty quickly... for a few reasons. I've been a consumer of podcasts for a couple years now. I know what I like and I know what is missing for the demographic like me.

Further - I went and looked up the "podcast listener" demographic.

Turns out I'm pretty much the prototype. Older professionals in high income families, commuters.

The size of the market is currently around $10b and expected to grow at a 27.5% CAGR until 2027. https://menafn.com/1101605880/81-Billion-Worldwide-Network-F...

I'm confident that both podcasting has a market, that there is a niche I can serve appropriately. Phase 1 is the part I will do for free because it seems like so much fun... but I'm also going to try to use it as an opportunity to prove that I can accumulate enough resources to support the development effort on phase 2 (as Elon Musk would say)

In phase 2, I have further ideas about how to improve the monetization model for the back catalog. I'm not 100% sure if I am going to say it out loud yet, but since I'm going to spend to night compiling the feedback I've received from various sources into a github repo, I may go ahead and in the spirit of openness just say it out loud.

If spotify steals the idea then maybe the ask to hire me so I can help. (Or maybe one of the other any other hosting platforms decides they want to eat spotify's lunch)

While those theories will need testing, I figure that IF I write the scripts to automate the process of increasing the CPM of the back catalog, I can probably move to the next logical step, which is providing them in a SaaS model to other podcasters who make their living from it as Phase 3.

IF 1,2,& 3 clear ... then phase 4 is creating a new sort of marketplace model where advertisers are directly connected with the aforementioned mid to top tier podcasters.

Phase 5 is to combine it all into a single platform, expand into video and, to crush both spotify and youtube before me , and hear the lamentations of their ad managers.

I might not make it to phase 5 - but - you know, it's nice to plan out a few steps ahead. It isn't like I'm going to try and beat Musk to driving the conversion of humanity into the role of a space-faring species, but each phase is roughly 10x on the previous.

As much as some dude on the internet "yucking my yum" was a little jarring as the first comment, the bull case on this party is ~$100B.

In another fun story... I came pretty close to closing my first $500 in sponsorships today. "I know I'll ask my boss and get back to you" is often a "no" ... the dude I was talking to sounded so enthusiastic about the idea it really lifted my spirits.

I'm not at odds with their opinion but rather with their tone and delivery. I'm not a fan of podcasts at all, and I get where they are coming from, but someone's sharing an idea they're clearly very passionate about, and I'm all for giving constructive feedback (that's probably why they picked this particular forum to share their idea, after all), even if such feedback hurts, but I also expect a modicum of positivity to go along with that, and their comment doesn't clear that bar for me.

Let me add another data point: I never listen to podcasts. Ever. I've tried it, and I hate the format. Even when I am forwarded something highly relevant to my interests, I still check for a transcript, and if there is none I move along.

You can't search audio. You can't skim audio. You can't easily hyperlink to audio, copy-and-paste audio, or auto-summarize audio. Audio is not indexed or cached by the big search engines. It's a terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE and inefficient medium to convey information.

Beyond all those very pragmatic reasons, there are also people like me whose personality type (introversion) makes us find listening to audio an emotionally draining task as it simulates interacting with people. I don't get energized by it--it is work. And why should I give you my working energy when I could just as easily have skim-read a transcript or blog post with the same information and gotten energized by the self-study approach?

THAT SAID, you said that you want to do interviews... and that is something that really calls out for an audio medium. Sure you can transcribe it, and people like me appreciate the transcription, but I recognize that the audio is the original source material and transcription is an additional expense. I'd rather have the full interview available than some highly edited transcript... but I would hope that there is at least a short summary of the content in the description of each segment.

I only listen to podcasts that are well-produced and edited. Very few actually are. There are way too many people who think podcasting is just turning on a microphone and babbling away with a friend or guest for however long they can do it.

I only have a few hours a day I can spend on podcasts and I'm not going to waste it listening to some inane meandering chitchat.

"Put it on the background then" ...yea, that's when FOMO hits. What if I miss the good part? You know, the one thing that they said in the description they talk about, but can't keep on subject and keep getting sidetracked.

This is why most podcasts I listen to are from the BBC or NPR, they've got one subject for the episode, it has a clear narrative through-line and the actually get to a point. Exceptions to the rule being 20kHz (audio production professionals) and 99 Percent Invisible.

At the risk of pedantically zooming in on your choice of words:

> I only listen to podcasts that are well-produced and edited. Very few actually are.

I disagree. Good production is a nice extra, but it's secondary. I'd rather listen to Miles Davis on vinyl, than a mediocre musician on high-bitrate FLAC.

Some examples: I recently discovered the Happy Path Programming podcast. It's a good listen as the hosts are knowledgeable and insightful. The production quality is fine, but isn't at the professional standard. The hosts acknowledge this, but make no apology for it, on the grounds that they don't want their podcast to turn into a chore.

In contrast, the Security Now podcast has professional production. Again that's a plus, but that's all. If the podcast were no good, their high production budget wouldn't be enough to save it.

Good production quality doesn't turn a boring podcast into a worthwhile one, and mediocre production rarely spoils a worthwhile one.

> There are way too many people who think podcasting is just turning on a microphone and babbling away with a friend or guest for however long they can do it. I only have a few hours a day I can spend on podcasts and I'm not going to waste it listening to some inane meandering chitchat.

Sure, it makes sense to insist on good quality podcasts. The hosts need certain soft skills to deliver a good podcast. Not everyone has them, but it must be easy to convince yourself you do. People may be tempted to think I could easily do a podcast, or comedy, or acting. The skills aren't as immediately obvious as in, say, gymnastics or theoretical physics.

Podcasting may be the victim of Sturgeon's Law, 90% of everything is crud, but fortunately it's pretty easy to filter out the ocean of poor-quality podcasts and find a few you like.

I think high production value is probably decently correlated to content; after all, people usually won't invest in something they believe to be low-quality. So in that sense it may be good enough a filter for a world awash in crud.

True, there's most likely a correlation. A bit like 'honest signalling' in evolutionary theory.

What I was getting at was more the fact that even if you record 3 hours of stuff, you don't need to put the unedited 3 hours out. It can be recorded on a potato microphone on a clay disk for all I care, just spend some time in the edit and cut it down to a manageable size.

There are very few podcasts that can stay on topic and interesting past the 1 - 1.5 hour mark.

The only exception to this rule are the Christopher McQuarrie Spoiler Special episodes of the Empire Podcast (now behind a firewall). The dude can keep spewing fascinating stuff about his movies longer than the movies' combined runtime =)

One more data point: Personally I only listen to podcasts on long commutes. This only occasionally happens when regularly needing to actually go to a physical office location in a nearby city. Even then podcasts are competing with audiobooks or long phonecalls to people I don't often get enough free time to talk to.

It's not that I don't enjoy the format, I do, but I find it harder to fit into my life.

I'll take that on board! Thanks.

For Episode 0 I did post the full text of my script in the description, but I do think that for the actual interviews I won't be able to afford a transcription service for a while.

For the last few years though, I've been getting a fairly significant proportion of my ongoing professional development via the medium.

I think it scales well in terms of being able to get access to some of the greatest minds I know without creating an undue burden on my guests OR myself as a father to a 2-year old with a mortgage and a day job.

I am 100% willing to commit to writing rich descriptions that address the topics discussed in advance though. As part of the editing process I'll need to rewatch my own interviews a few times anyways, so it isn't a significant amount of extra work to provide a perfectly reasonable value add that I like to see on the pods I listen to.


I use Descript for my podcast, £22 a month gets me ~30 hours of transcription. This probably sounds like an ad but really, it’s one of the best software products I’ve used in a very long time.

This is the most recent episode I’ve published, giant wall of text took a bit of editing but wouldn’t have been possible without Descript. https://www.mql.fm/005-working-in-martech-dan-graap

Thank you! This is exactly the type of recommendation that I was hoping for.

I'd have been happy with the mention even if it was an ad.

If you give it a try for audio editing make sure you record different podcast guests on separate audio tracks, makes the whole thing significantly better.

I wrote a few thoughts on my blog about how I went about starting with the podcast including tools used, might be useful? https://www.jacquescorbytuech.com/writing/starting-a-podcast

You don't even know how valuable this is to me at this exact moment in time.

My first interview is tomorrow night! Fortunately, it is with a friend and co-worker who has the hacker mindset and will be willing to work through hiccups in technology.

I'm trying to pick a video conference platform to try. Do I discord? Zoom? Try to find a way to set up audio line-in from my android phone.

I need a solution for tomorrow night so the blog post has found me at exactly the right time.

Thank you.

Edit: having read the blog, I thought that free zoom ended after 45 minutes! I didn't realize that one on one would allow longer sessions. Great!

The best part of zoom from my point of view is that people don't have to log in to anything to join me on a call.

If I wanted to use discord for example if have to make my guests install it or make an account there. I'm pretty sure that some of the big-time grizzled greybeards I know would probably sooner pull out of the interview than sign up for a new service.

And they're some of the ones that I'm most interested in hearing from.

100% zoom, if only because it lets you record a separate audio track per speaker. Make sure you’re both off mute when the recording starts otherwise the audio tracks won’t be the same length

You might want to try UberConference, which is free and also automatically transcribes conferences with high accuracy (note this may be a paid feature I'm not sure). It also does some extra neat NLP stuff to detect sentiment, topics of conversation, etc.

I’ve had decent luck using Squadcast: https://squadcast.fm/

Yes, a 100% this.

Even better if you can get the interviewee to record audio on their computer too, this way you can get proper audio without compression issues for editing.

Doesn't work for "video podcasts" because sound sync is a bitch, but for audio only it can enhance the quality immensely.

This is brilliant!

Especially for those times when you have internet issues on one end or another.

At the very least you don't lose your content.

On the other hand, podcasts can be listened to in the background, while text must be actively read. There are pros and cons to each format as a consumer, not to mention differences in production workflow.

To add, I think we should leave it to the machines to start indexing podcasts automatically. They're some of the easiest mediums for speech recognition and Google has been indexing YouTube transcripts for a few years now.

They have been doing it badly for a few years know yes, it’s not solved by any stretch of the imagination.

Sure, they keep getting some words wrong all the time, but it is likely good enough to get the general subject of what a podcast is about.

This is why most of the stuff I listen to as a podcast are just random factoids and trivia. (No Such Thing as A Fish, Cautionary Tales, 99pi, etc)

If it's something I actually want to learn and retain, I prefer text so that I can go back, pause, skip etc as I please with an intuitive interface - my eyes =)

The same thing with interviews of interesting people I may want to store quotes from. With text it's just C-c C-v to copy stuff to my notes. With audio I need to transcribe it by hand, which is tedious work.


Naively I would think that there must be a service out there that auto-generates transcriptions from podcasts. Youtube already do this for (some) videos. The output isn't perfect, but it gets about 99% of the words correct.

So my suggestion to OP wouldn't be "don't do the podcast". Instead I would say "do the podcast, but consider that it might not be searchable without a bit of extra effort".

100% there are services! I believe that Azure ML/AI has a natural text transcription service.

In theory I could try and tweet at Seth Juarez@microsoft to see if I can get a sweetheart deal.

But the more I think about the previous poster's position on the text, the more I convince myself that it might be worth a few bucks an episode for me to pay out-of-pocket if it means improved accessibility for users with disabilities.

Not really because it's good business, but more because I've really come to believe in the value and power of implementing accessibility features.

I'm actually starting to get a little teary eyed thinking about that blindness activist's viral video where he broke down physically sobbing the words "thank you" when he saw all of the accessibility features that Naughty Dog added to The Last of Us 2. (I'll hunt the video for people who haven't seen it, but be warned that you will probably bawl your eyes out like a school-child).

From a cost perspective, I'll be putting in hundreds of fake dollars worth of time. The people I interview will be effectively donating hundreds of dollars worth of their own time.

The least I can do is put some serious thought into plunking down dozens of dollars of pocket money for a transcription service.

I'm more sold on the idea than I was in my previous post (5 minutes ago)

Edit: the tweet in question. https://twitter.com/stevesaylor/status/1271404306697158659

I haven’t personally used it but heard good things about Descript (also their demo vids are hilarious)

IBM Watson, Google, Azure, and AWS all have speech-to-text APIs. IBM's claims to distinguish between different voices, although when I used it a couple of years ago for Japanese it was a little lackluster. It's pretty inexpensive: IBM gives you 500 minutes free per month and is a few cents / minute thereafter; Google you gives 60 minutes free, and it's 4c/min thereafter. It's an API rather than a service, so you'd have to write a client to use it. IBM's API (and maybe the others) allows you to request time stamps on the output, so you could let people click on your transcription and seek directly to the part of the video they are interested in.

I suppose you could always do it on your own machine with Sphinx, too, although I don't know how they compare to the others in accuracy.

The best podcasts in my experience are:

1. Those that are tightly written and edited. That is, there is a script (which can then, of course, be posted).

2. Are discussions (lectures, interviews, conversations) about a text (book, article, concept, etc.) which itself can then be referenced for more detail.

3. Are narrations of short stories.

Examples of these would include:

- Numerous history podcasts: The History of Philosophy (Without Any Gaps) by Peter Adamson, History of Rome, History of Byzantium, History of China.

- The New Books Network, a series of author interviews on recently-published academic books. Here you're listening to the author and an (almost always academic) interviewer discussing the topic, effectively as an advertisement for the book. It's a great way to be introduced to deeper material.

- A few deeper / prepared podcasts. WNYC has numerous professionally-scripted podcasts, as do other NPR / public radio / government media affiliates in the US, Canada (Ideas), BBC (Tim Harford, various), and elsewhere. These blur the line between traditional podcast and commercial broadcast, but are quite intelligent and informative.

- Stories or nonfiction narrative. "Selected Shorts", "Soundprints", "This American Life", "Reveal", and others come to mind. Here the idea is to simply be entertained or caught up in the narrative.

- Various interview programmes. I'm fond of Terry Gross's "Fresh Air", the Santa Fe Institute's "Complexity" podcast, and others.

None of these is the proverbial dude/chick (and optionally friends) blabbing incoherently into a mic. All are scripted, most have either transcripts, extensive show notes and references, or both (the fiction / narratives being the exception). For the record, the unorganised / low-content flavour of podcast is one that drives me nuts as well. Sturgeon's Law applies. Seek the non-cruddy end of the spectrum.

For times when I'm read out, or otherwise engaged (kitchen, chores, driving), or want to zone out, these are worth listening to.

For conveying infotech content, I'd generally agree that podcasts aren't the best medium. I also generally stray away from anything that's strongly focussed on news, current events, or current topics, and the list of academic, historical, and philosophical programmes above have been quite the useful informative distraction from the moment for me, for the past several years.

Better yet, feed your podcast to an AI for transcription. And host the transcriptions in a wordpress blog. The cost is minimal.

Not every format is for everyone.

I personally listen to podcasts or audio books every day when driving and in my lunch break.

People are different, and I like to learn about other people's methods and the potential benefits thereof.

So let me ask ... when you're listening to podcasts, do you ever take anything away from them that is actionable? Do you take notes? Do you summarise?

How do you ensure that the lessons in the podcast don't get lost?

Do you "Listen with attention" or are they mostly just background?

I find that podcasts are there, then gone, and nothing remains. When I read I take notes, summarise, and use the results to enhance my personal version of a Zettelkasten. I can't imagine doing that efficiently with podcasts, and I'd be interested to know how I can change that.

Kinda depends upon if it is educational, informational or entertainment. I never use podcasts to just fill out the background, I generally use heavy metal music for that.

I tend to either remember how/where to find the information again or the actual thing. So with podcasts I will either remind myself that I can't easily reference it and therefore remember the lesson, or sometimes I will write it down later in the day.

What do you use for your Zettelkasten? I still haven't found a notebook software that I actually like, so my notes are kinda spread between a few different solutions.

I've been using a ZK-like thing since the mid-90s, so it's very much a "roll your own" solution. Over the past 12 months or so I've started to try to de-couple it from the specifics of my setup so I can share it, but it's proving difficult.

It's essentially a wiki, but it's how I use it that makes the difference. A true ZK requires a conversation. You take notes, but then you spend time inter-weaving them into the ZK. Most people use note-taking systems as, well, note-taking systems, and never return to make the connections between the notes. Hence they get lost.

Here are my thoughts about that "conversation":


There's a link in there to take you out of "Neighbourhood Mode" if you want to see the whole thing at once.

Thanks, that is quite interesting.

Not all podcasts are for work / learning.

May be just listening for entertainment

> So let me ask ... when you're listening to podcasts, do you ever take anything away from them that is actionable? Do you take notes? Do you summarise?

I can answer this a little from my perspective.

There are three major inspirations for tech podcasts that I use personally.

The first two: https://www.interactive.org/Interviews/the_game_makers_noteb...

and https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes

are both in the format of "veterans talk to each other about their careers and the things they've learned". They always roll in the format of two old friends catching up, but in a guided way in terms of their life, experiences and learnings from along the way.

These are the ones that I want to emulate, but with a focus on programming for enterprise, business and startups.

I'm personally most excited in talking to what I think of very respectfully as "cogwheel" or "workhorse" developers. I think developers are vastly under-celebrated when compared to other creatives ... like some person who can cry on demand gets a tiny golden statue and applause ... but the person who re-writes 1500 lines of SQL into a one liner and reduces a week long job down to seconds DOESN'T?! You're telling me I have to go out and buy my OWN tiny little golden statue and play an applause loop on my cellphone?

That's bullshit!

At least that's where I want to start, I've seen some interviews in the last few days with people like

Ton Roosendaal - the creator of blender - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJEWOTZnFeg

After I've developed the interview skills to talk to the people who genuinely make me feel a little like a programming fanboy. Uncle Bob, Douglas Crockford, Carmack, Hanselman, Jeffrey Snover, David Fowler? I've got way too much respect for them to even ask until I look at my own stuff and say "I'm good enough at this to do them justice" (edit, not that I don't respect my friends, but I think I have enough capital with them that they'd do it as a favor and be willing to re-take any technical mistakes)

But seriously ... go up to idle thumbs and listen to the Sid Meier podcast https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes/episodes/sid-meier-... (four parts!).

Or listen to Ted Price (founder of insomniac games) talking to Amy Hennig https://interactive.libsyn.com/027-amy-hennig-tgmn-v2

Back to your question - I don't actually learn much that I would use in my day to day. Sometimes there are nuggets, but mostly it just gives me a "warm feeling" to listen to masters talking to old friends about their craft.

NEXT there's the other type where I hop on to the GDC vault and download some of their panel discussion videos as audio files: https://www.gdcvault.com/play/1024856/VR-Best-Practices-Maxi... so I have 48 minutes of industry experts talking about the things they think about when they're designing for VR.

That might be directly applicable in the work I'm doing, or I might have additional questions to ask the next time we start with a VR project. I might have additional possibilities to offer the next time the creative, UX and, strategy teams come to me and say "we want to build for VR, what can we do with a budget of XYZ?"

I'll have a bit of general knowledge on hand for the next time I have to make a decision... or not ... I actually don't do that much VR right now. For some reason the idea of hundreds of people sharing a facemask in a crowded conference hall isn't selling very well right now.

At the very very least, listening to professionals talk about these sorts of things counts to me as a deliberate act of professional self reflection. Asking myself if I'm doing things in the best way I can? Are there better ways to do things? Are there things that I'd like to start working with, but can't fit into the budget of the current projects?

And so on...

Which again, is all stuff I'd like to try to help solve for with this coming podcast.

One other format that a friend and I started talking about being interesting might be to run "architectural differential diagnosis" where we formulate a problem statement and ask 2 or 3 experienced developers to come to a consensus on what technologies they'd use and why.

Though that's unlikely to happen within the first 10 episodes.


Have you actually tried searching "Ship It" on a podcast platform?

There is absolutely zero chance that I can find the correct one without knowing what the thumbnail looks like.

Search results in order:

  - I Ship It
  - Ship It Show
  - We Ship It Podcast
  - The Ship-it Show
  - Print It and Ship It
  - Ship It or Skip It
  - I Can Ship It!
  - ...
edit: I realized the above might sound a bit harsh. Sorry. Please do some branding to make the podcast easier to find. I was trying to find it in Overcast as I am actually interested in listening to it.

Not at all harsh! And super super valuable. So genuinely, thank you for this.

SEO and discoverability are critical.

It is abundantly clear to me that I've got to workshop the name.

The categories are

- "say-able" can a listener hear the name and find the right one without a spelling mistake?

- is it unique enough to have a top slot search result?

- does it explain what it's about in the title?

- Would someone in the target audience instantly know what it was about if they saw it in a list of 800,000 podcasts? (The number of different pods out there according to a research report I read before deciding I still wanted to do it)

"Ship it" is a reference to the thing they (sometimes) say on GitHub when your pull request is accepted.

The icon has the "ship-it squirrel"

I thought that was cut and referencial so people in the know would recognize it instantly.

It also has a special place in my own heart because I first learned about it when a pull request I sent to one of the Microsoft as-net docker repos. In the version of the story I remember Scott Hanselman himself commented on the PR and said "lgtm :shipit:"

Which on GitHub translates into a picture of a squirrel dressed up as a gangster.

Based on the rules above I rename to "LGTM: the podcast about delivering code for professional programmers"

Maybe just "LGTM - the programmer podcast"

Thanks again. I'm going to work on it.

Edit: or maybe I rename to "LGTM shipit"?

Note: I wanted to thank you again for these data points. I appreciate that you didn't have to put that effort in and I have now officially decided to go with "lgtm: shipit"

And I even made an issue in the github repo to thank you for this effort.


I expect this repo to be a really good place to write readmes, articles in the wiki, put the transcripts, if at some point I get enough money to pay github for LFS ... maybe I even upload the raw content? I have to think about that last bit because I'm considering just going with the MIT license so maybe I don't want my raw content released under MIT.

Who knows? It seems a lot more appropriate to put a programmer-podcast into github than a wordpress blog.

Cool, I have subscribed.

You should probably also add it to Apple podcasts. (edit: I added it as an issue on github)

About using the Github wiki for articles, I think you would be better off having the actual content on your own domain. It will give you more flexibility down the line for monetization or just moving things around.

Sounds interesting. However, I already found two other podcasts with the same name.

I have searched on Spotify and Castbox, but didn't find yours there.

Thanks! I've been able to find it on a few platforms so far, but I'm distributing via anchor.fm


I'll have to find a way to differentiate my ship-it from others for people searching.

I'll probably have to rename it, but in the short term I'm going to let it ride.

Better to focus on quality interviews for now. (I think)

Edit: I just looked over the emails that anchor sent me and some of them say it could take as much as a week for the first listing to appear.

It's probably not showing up because it was like 1am last night when I finally hit the publish button on a non-test episode for the first time.

I'll keep an eye on this though. Thanks.

It's the exact type of hiccup that had me not wanting to self-promote before I had 10 episodes online.

edit - per the other discussion in the thread I've gone with renaming the podcast to "LGTM: Shipit!" which will hopefully make it a little more discoverable.

I don't expect as many people have the acronym for "Looks Good To Me" in their title, I removed the space in "Ship It" and hope that search engines trigger for both "shipit" and "ship it".

What's more is that without the space it's even more true to the inspiration for the title ... which is the :shipit: emoji on github.


OK, you got me, as I've been in those trenches myself. Subscribed.

Thank you!

I think you misunderstand the thrust of that argument. It’s not the nameless company that’s the problem, it’s the business result of your work.

What looks better on a resume?

1. I optimized SQL queries for Nameless Corp to improve admin interface load times by 20%

2. I optimized SQL queries for Nameless Corp to increase profits 20%

If possible, always work on some version of option 2.

Counterpoint: when every developer is urged to build something with "measurable impact", you end up like Google, where people launch something visible, get promoted, and move on, leaving the service to wither away.

Arguably that means you have bad easy-to-game metrics. I wouldn't call what many (most?) Googlers do "impactful". More like "Let's keep a bunch of smart people busy so they don't get hired by our competition"

If the service you built withers away when you move to a different team, it was a pet project that The Business doesn't care about (because it has zero impact). Literally the definition of a bullshit busywork job :)

How is this a counterpoint? The above is advice to developers seeking to improve their career, not executives at large public companies making hiring policy decisions.

The fact that goog is well known for starting projects then killing them, suggests to me they don't really appreciate the measurable impact of their work.

How do you even know the actual impact you had on revenue/profits? Engineering is often many layers removed from customer interactions, sales and accounting. Some companies have complex and opaque revenue channels. Frankly I take any claims of direct revenue/profit growth/generation with a grain of salt. Typically at best, you're wildly guessing, at worst, you're outright lying.

The PM you worked with should be able to answer this question. If they can’t, your project is likely a waste of time.

The signal from a hiring standpoint is that you asked and cared about this. Engineers who will just do whatever are less useful/impactful than engineers who push back and care about the value they’re delivering. Even if it’s sometimes fuzzy to estimate.

Your original example is very specific, but your follow up clarifies that the reality is that it is vague guesswork. I think you could claim contribution, but very hard to define that line x of code written last Friday resulted directly in y% of profits.

To me it signals you're probably exaggerating. You better be able to back up your reasoning behind your claim. Bold claims require bold explanations.

It’s not vague guesswork at all. If you can’t measure the success of your project, why are you doing it?

It’s okay, even expected, if the answer is probabilistic. What’s not okay is doing stuff for no reason.

Bonus points if you’re able to tell a story like: We did X to achieve Y, but it didn’t work because Z. So we tried ...

This goes back to the tying of a SQL query directly to profits. That would be an interesting story if it were true, but such a story is probably an extreme rarity.

We're talking about calculating the impact of your weekly or daily work directly to profit generation. There is a level of granularity and detail to your claim that is likely impossible to realistically calculate, so it would be very hard to accept such claims at face value.

"I made the query for X, an operation that is performed Y times per day, Z% faster resulting in N% increase in Xs performed daily. This meant we could (defer hiring additional headcount|do more <profit-generating/cost-limiting process dependent on X> per day)."

Many teams don't invest in the tooling required to measure this kind of impact, but it's possible to ballpark it.

That’s a good example. The math doesn’t need to be precise, and you don’t need to track it down to lines of code. “Part of team of X developers who delivered product Y that produced $Z in revenue.” is enough for anyone to very roughly ballpark-estimate impact.

This is counter to GPs initial point, where there is a specific claim of direct profit generation. The advice is now just getting watered down into vague ballpark estimates and tossing in a revenue number onto your resume. The advice might as well just be "work on successful projects", which is "thanks captain obvious" advice.

The success of the project as a whole is measured, of course.

But it's 20 people working on it, from design to sales to ops to customers relations to devs. How could you possibly pin 20% of the profit (not even the turnover, but the profit) on one guy?

Even if he improved the SQL queries and that immediately led to more sales, making the choice to work on that over other things was probably not his.

Nobody is asking to pin all that on exactly one person. That’s a silly overly engineery way of looking at it.

It’s a team effort. Being part of the team who did X is enough. You can then talk about your specific individual contribution when appropriate.

Just like everyone in an NBA team “wins the championship” and gets to put “winner” on their resume. Or how hockey players say “I won the Stanley cup”, even though they did it as a team.

This seems to be completely counter to your initial post tying weekly/daily work directly to profit to determine what is worth your effort and what to put on your resume. You even give SQL queries as an example, so I don't see how that's not trying to tie it down to the lines of code.

There's a big difference between:

1. I optimized SQL queries for Nameless Corp to increase profits 20%

2. I optimized SQL queries for Nameless Corp on a multi-million dollar project.

> The PM you worked with should be able to answer this question

Most software devs work on tiny fragments of large projects. Let's say I work in Microsoft on Bluetooth stack in Windows 10 - how do I translate that into increased Microsoft profits?

How does the PM know? Are they told or is it something they are required to ascertain?

This should be part of the product spec or even tech spec. If you cannot measure the impact, why're you working on it?

You are talking about the project/product itself. Does your company sit down each quarter and crunch who specifically was responsible for the revenue and profits that quarter, down to the employee or lines of code? Doubtful.

Some things can't be measured.

Challenge accepted. Do you have an example?

Who exactly was responsible in a company for the company's profits going up by 20% in a quarter.

Huge grain of salt. More like a red flag. I don't want BS artists like that anywhere near me.

it’s _very_ easy to calculate your impact, or the one of your team, when you work on meaningful projects. if that’s not the case, you are probably working on non-essential things.

I think that's rather naive. A lot of work engineers do involves either keeping systems afloat or minor alterations that in cohort lead to a new feature but each minor alterations itself not doing anything meaningful. Evaluating individual or even team impact in those cases is _hard_. Yes, product people or in some cases managers do it but most of their numbers come with five asterisks to cover their asses as they are largely bs.

There are definitely people who are impactful enough and deserve to make bold "I" statements but they are in the vast minority.

Down to the lines of code written? Your product may get millions in revenue, but you wrote a single module out of hundreds, how much % do you take credit for?

Also it sounds like a toxic culture if you have to constantly try to tie your day-to-day work directly to how it impacts new revenue and profits or else your work is considered worthless.

If the takeaway is, "never work on internal tools," I've worked at companies where the internal tools were more valuable than anything customer-facing.

If you're great at optimizing SQL, probably just doing that in any place you can get your hands on will make a pretty big impact.

Overall impact is more helpful than resume points, IME, especially when references are involved.

If optimizing an internal tool can raise profits by 20%, I don't understand your disagreement. The comment you're replying to mentioned profits vs. unnoticed efficiency, not internal tools vs. consumer-facing software.

If it makes a big impact, it makes a big impact.

> If you're great at optimizing SQL, probably just doing that in any place you can get your hands on will make a pretty big impact.

This seems like an argument that there are no priorities and no things that are more important than other things. I don't think you believe that.

> This seems like an argument that there are no priorities and no things that are more important than other things. I don't think you believe that.

On the contrary, I'm arguing that making an impact wherever you can is better than avoiding things that don't meet some criteria of "things that are likely to help my resume." The priority I'm advocating is, making an impact by applying your skills (or even better, learning new skills) to solve problems that you can find (or are brought to you).

This is how you'll build a breadth of experience (which will be valuable for employers) and identify a niche that you enjoy (which will be valuable for you).

> If the takeaway is, "never work on internal tools," I've worked at companies where the internal tools were more valuable than anything customer-facing.

Yes, but they're exceptions.

> Overall impact is more helpful than resume points, IME, especially when references are involved.

The vast majority of the best paying jobs out there (FAANG), don't care at all about references.

It's a big world, it depends a lot in which circles you move around, I guess.

Disclaimer: I do work at a FAANG. I'm not sure what circles you're talking about.

"References" in the traditional sense may not be an important thing. But certainly being able to back your resume claims – whether with skills from that experience, or with people who will vouch for you – is important. If it wasn't, we could all just put "Optimized SQL and improved profit 20%" (or anything else) on our resumes, no?

I participate in interviews from time to time. I don't ask a lot of trivia-type algorithm questions, but I do try to size up where a candidate has invested their effort so far. Have they invested it in trying (and learning) to solve problems? Or have they invested in in padding their resume? I'll take the former over the latter every time, even if they don't have a bunch of brag-points on their resume.

That's just me, though shrug

If you “improve admin interface load times by 20%” do the calculation on what that is in saved time and possible money over 5 years. Then you have both.

You should of course have someone in management agree to your numbers and approve that you can use it on your CV.

Unfortunately saving time/money is not as sexy as increasing revenue.

I learned this once by creating a tool at a telecommunications company I was working at. It made it significantly faster for Technical Support to initiate a Remote Desktop session with a customer. We ran reports on how many RDP sessions we started per month; and recorded how much time the tool saved. At the time it was estimated to save about $2.1M in time savings every year, at a time when the Tech Support queues had long waits.

Couldn’t get any traction with management. Had some grassroots growth internally until we were asked to shut it down since it was an unofficial tool.

Meanwhile they would chase sales campaigns or marketing stunts that might result in $50-100k in new sign ups.

Nobody cares how much you saved in time because it doesn’t get reported anywhere. It shows up on no important metrics. Sales going up by $100K is sexy. Admins handling an extra ticket per day because the interface is quicker isn’t.

This is the kind of inefficiency that startups can use to get ahead of established competitors. So don't be sad, this is just a reminder to be an entrepreneur.

If just was as easy. Although I agree with your sentiment.


> Nobody cares how much you saved in time because it doesn’t get reported anywhere. It shows up on no important metrics. Sales going up by $100K is sexy. Admins handling an extra ticket per day because the interface is quicker isn’t.

I don’t get that. Solving an extra ticket per day should somehow correlate with either revenue increase(indirect) or cost saving(direct), right?

Revenue increase; unlikely. Cost savings? Yes. But does it?

Managers want big teams. It makes them look good. Having 15 direct reports looks better than having 10. That means the manager needs his people to be efficient enough to look good on paper, but inefficient enough that he gets to hire more people. Having a bigger budget and higher headcount makes him look good.

yeah, I've read a lot about automation here where this was a common argument, also I noticed this in the company I work for as well. If you are in IT or the user yourself and automate something it doesn't really get recognized by management. I think the only time automation is recognized by management is when it's on the agenda of management itself, e.g. if it's said that 20% of the people have to go and for that to happen there has to happen automation (and outsourcing). However, in this case the idea comes from management so there would not be much recognition for the ones doing the automation (also with the reduction in workforce it wouldn't be appropriate for mere workers to ask for a bonus/raise! Of course that doesn't apply to management..). Automation really is a good example of how dysfunctional (or averse to change) big companies are.

That’s why I said profits not revenue. Specifically to capture that 1 & 2 might be the same work :)

Just talking in terms of business impact puts you miles ahead of other candidates in many eng jobs. Especially for levels above junior. Very important to have engineers who (want to) understand why they do what they do.

Meanwhile the most wildly successful companies in history did the opposite of that and hired techies to make amazing stuff that printed money.

> hired techies to make amazing stuff that printed money.

you are agreeing with me

Even better: I optimized SQL queries for Nameless Corp to improve admin interface load times by 20%, which boosted profits by 20%.

It's not that maintenance has no marketplace value, but that it's only really valuable when the system is on fire.

I've optimized that kind of SQL statement, and it paid really well, but only because it was at a point where it was causing a whole lot of pain, so the fix provided CEO-visible relief. What is not a great use of your time is to preemptively fix issues like this, unless it's somewhere so system critical that engineering effort is going to be rewarded regardless.

But even then, you might want to do something in a way that is easy to sell later in your career. You want to at least be able to say: Remember how <famous architect> sold his innovative system at <famous conference>, and HN wonder why this talk existed, as there's no way this solution could scale? Well, they were right, it didn't scale, and I was the one that replaced it with something good, piece by piece, without anything falling down.

And that's the reason you don't get a lot of high quality maintenance work happening at most places. The vast majority of systems in the world are just not worth the engineering effort to build very well. And even in companies that can afford to do this kind of work, you will see a lot of effort spent shuffling engineers across projects, as a team that has high visibility tasks in a quarter might not have any the next.

This is exactly what makes the difference between a seasoned and experienced engineer vs "follow the latest nodejs lib kind of guy" ...

I learned a lot exactly when doing non sexy stuff that nobody else wanted to do.

For instance, when it comes to optimizing an obscure query and make the whole system run twice as fast ... you will learn DB internals, and how the DB engine heuristic works when determining whether to use or not and index etc .. All things that are now part of my senior experience and knowledge and for which I am paid much more than a junior :)

My best advice would be : do the hard stuff, the stuff that people don't want to do. Make yourself valuable to the company. People will come and ask for you. That's the best way to learn and also have more leverage to ask for increase+stocks. Knowledge is power.

Everyone can pickup any new shiny framework in just a couple of days. That's not hard.

Some of the most satisfying work I've done has been optimizing very difficult SQL queries for clients nobody has heard of.

I guess I don't really care about optimizing my career in the way Patrick is suggesting.

Patrick uses his tech skills in service of marketing guru with a Personal Brand. What works for him isn't for everyone.

It's a false dichotomy. You can work on deep technical problems and provide lots of value.

Those examples I was giving did provide lots of value, to the client. The section from the article was talking about optimizing for visibility. Deep technical problems with lots of value are not always visible, and I think it's fine to build a career around those types of things.

I wasn't disputing what you said, kind of agreeing with it actually. Although as a consultant for over a decade myself I have to make an effort to make sure my work is visible. I'm not sure I could lurk in the shadows with no one seeing the value I create and still get paid :)

Do you actually get most of your work from promoting yourself to strangers via Github or similar?

In my experience, if you do good work, it's usually not that hard to get more work even without a public showcase of your work. Your clients will come back the next time they need to get a job done. Your clients also tell others about you, and word-of-mouth is extremely valuable advertisement.

I guess promoting yourself on Github and on personal blogs is one way to go about it, but real life personal relationships shouldn't be undervalued in my opinion. Most consultants I know have a surprisingly bare website.

Still don’t really understand what your objection here is. As the parent to your comment said: the OP never said don’t do it, they just said don’t stop once the code is checked in and follow up by pointing out the value to others incase it’s not obvious.

I think the question here is whether this value needs to be publicly visible.

a blog post about it might make a great complement

If you do unsexy work you will get paid unsexy money. If you have a passion for something thats great but if you want to earn a lot of money you will need to play the game.

This is probably the main struggle of my professional life: to see the difference and find the balance between doing a Good Job and doing a Sellable Job.

Creativity and perfection of craft versus efficiency and economy.

This balance is one of the most important things to get right when evaluating prospective job environments, especially when you're more on the thorough end of the spectrum.

I worked on highly visible internal work. Improving your colleagues' quality of life can be highly visible.

I think his point is that working on deep internals (rather than client facing products) is difficult to show off.

I think this is true, because you would have to do extra work beyond what your being paid to do, to make it show-off-able.

However, look at Brendan Gregg for example. He works on deep internals that would be very hard to show off without putting extra effort into sharing his knowledge. But since he does make that effort, he’s seen as an industry leader for his skill set.

I would suspect the company that designed the software for your local power plant is either a huge mega corporation or their name is on the front of the building or both. It’s not like their work is niche to the point of being esoteric. It’s just not FAANG. Also not targeted to consumers.

You’d be surprised how much industrial automation is not built by relatively small contractors. To your point, they tend to use “mega-corp” systems (e.g., Rockwell Automation hardware) but the actual logic is often written by small companies that bid out the project (or are subcontracted to for various reasons not necessarily related to technical acumen).

I haven’t personally worked o power plants but have been involved in various safety critical automation builds related to factories, hospitals, high energetic test stands etc. often, the code is maintained by a technician who isn’t either an engineer or classically trained computer scientist. Not to say those credentials are a must, but it makes more sense why the code I witnessed had so many bad practices in it

I like this framing.

In graduate school, I worked for 2+ years before my first paper was published. In that time, I passed my PhD qualifying exam, took classes, wrote code, read papers, learned math, and so forth. Yet when I applied for internships, I received no interest from employers. I suspect this was because I had no concrete signal that I knew anything in my field.

While working on my second paper, I started blogging. In the language of this article, I started generating public intellectual capital for myself. I have definitely experienced the effects of this capital on subsequent job hunts. Now I can point people to my blog to demonstrate knowledge, technical skills, and communication skills beyond the scope of my peer-reviewed work. Furthermore, there is no question about who contributed to my blog, and when I learn something new, I can externalize that quickly.

This happened to me when I left academia. No “real credentials”. Math expert with strong computer background (phd, published papers, years of experience in research/teaching) didn’t said more than “one year data science ‘masters’ abroad”. It took me quite some time to translate my expertise into marketable skills. Before that, I got passed on even for entry level positions.

While a PhD can do the work, you really want the PhD to direct the work and explore new related things. A lot of this will depend on where you apply. That being said the market for data scientists has exploded in the past 2 years. 3-5 years ago things were different. Part of this is due to maturation of the tooling and the development of data platforms with organizations building out their data pipelines etc...

Thing is, while PhDs are usually by far the biggest domain experts you'll get, the absolute majority of them comes absolutely ill-equipped to lead anything, as university rarely teaches any skills in project, people or resource management skills, business sense, opportunity cost and presentation.

I've had disastrous outcomes going by credentials for leadership positions and these days only hire for demonstrated results on a real-world project.

Just my personal anecdotal evidence points me towards stellar academic success having a slight negative correlation with on-the-job performance. People who prefer building things with impact over citation rubber points usually don't survive in academia long enough for enduring a PhD.

Like I said depends on the company.

Well I had a “math expert” join my team recently and the problems were: they couldn’t work in a team, verbally expressed their intellectual superiority to everyone else, didn’t have the technical ability to get anything into production, could not follow instructions from superiors, thought most of the work they were given was “boring” and invented their own projects to work on, etc. I don’t know if that type of attitude is acceptable in academia, but it won’t work in industry. So now I’m extremely cautious about on boarding anyone without a proven track record at working outside academia. I simply don’t have the time to “manage” someone like that, shit had to get done.

> thought most of the work was boring

It’s my biggest problem, both with people who want trendy frameworks, and myself who was bored with work in my younger years (til I started drinking and made changes and created my company). “From a million dollars, anything is your passion” is quite true (was it Joel on Software?), but IT is quite boring when evolving at the lower levels.

I’ve loved the book “Tribal leadership” which defines levels of career,

1-Almost dropout;

2-Bored worker (apathetic victim, but delivers work - This was me);

3-Working like an as but executing on your own skills (“lone warrior” - This is me now);

4-Executes well with a mentor above and mentoring below, which pushes the organization forward by “belonging” to the social fabric;

5-Executes for others - Creates relationship between people so they can execute together - that’s the “startup ecosystem” or corporate leader style, those people often look like gurus amazed by the smartness of people in their ecosystem, which, if they are contagious and humble, becomes true leadership.

I believe these attitudes are somehow commonplace along academia, but I think it extrapolates to several disciplines, including software development or engineering.

There is a misunderstanding between where on the abstraction layer you are standing and how smart you are. The commonplace along mathematicians is that, as we are standing pretty low, we are the smartest of them all, and since there is basically no interaction with people in other layers, this belief gets comfortably reinforced.

Smarts comes in different flavors, and realizing that yours is just one of many and does not work at all in other contexts is hard. Treating others like morons and acting bored is a lousy way to deal with it.

>didn’t have the technical ability to get anything into production

This is the biggest problem with fresh graduates.

your blog is very high quality and i've enjoyed it in the past (Metropolis-Hastings post especially).

however there's a problem if everybody is going to do this, if it becomes standard that you want to have a blog in order to promote yourself during a job hunt.

i think this is why search results are cluttered with a proliferation of largely useless "awesome X" GitHub repositories, repetitive bad Medium articles on basic ML topics, and so on.

I hope we don't end up in the world where everyone has to do this... there's certainly a diminishing social utility.

> "i think this is why search results are cluttered with a proliferation of largely useless "awesome X" GitHub repositories, repetitive bad Medium articles on basic ML topics, and so on."

This is such a sad way to view blogging and Github contributions...

There's nothing wrong with people writing bad articles. In fact everyone writes badly to begin with.

The same goes for Github contributions, everyone starts off with demo repos and broken projects.

The beauty of the internet is that it is infinite and you can build up your skills in blogging and coding over time.

It's the job of search engines to reveal quality results, not for people to only contribute quality results...

i see what you're saying and perhaps i shouldn't have been so negative in my original post.

I think that people who want to write or code shouldn't be afraid to put imperfect work out there.

But if to apply for a job you also have to produce "content" to build your brand, I maintain that this is not a good outcome.

> There's nothing wrong with people writing bad articles. In fact everyone writes badly to begin with.

It's ok to write badly in the beginning. It's less ok (to say the least) to publish the bad writing in the Internet and decrease it's mean quality level in result. Of course, by now the cat's way out of the bad and Internet is mostly low-effort, low-value crap. Arguably, it's been this way since the very beginning. In terms of quality and curation it's basically the digital equivalent of a wall in a public restroom. But still, I find scribbling on such walls to be in poor taste...

> "It's less ok (to say the least) to publish the bad writing in the Internet and decrease it's mean quality level in result"

This presumes that the "mean quality level" of the internet is actually important. With the scale of the internet now, it literally doesn't matter how many bad articles are uploaded, as search engines filter what is good/bad for you (whether or not search engines are good is another story). 1,000 results or 10 billion results you'll only look at the top 15 anyway...

> "In terms of quality and curation it's basically the digital equivalent of a wall in a public restroom"

This analogy assumes that there is limited physical space and people will be subjected to reading it, the internet is much different and a lot of content will never get advertised or even read.

So my question for anyone with this line of thinking is, how would you know when your writing has improved and ready to be published? I think the best way is to write and publish often and look for feedback.

I think it becomes a problem when people do those things because it's required to stay competitive, and not out of genuine interest.

Civil engineers don't have to build bridges in their back yards or write blog posts about I beams; their education is presumed sufficient for an entry level job. Why can't tech work like this? Do students need to form some kind of union and agree not to talk about extracurricular programming to interviewers for their first job?

We understand and can certify how bridges are constructed. Someone from the government can come in and check your work reasonably quickly and make sure it’s up to code. There’s a “trust” step and a “verify” step. And it often takes a lot of time to do iteration.

Software engineering isn’t like that. Not only are the tools changing every year, but 95% of the work in a project isn’t actually design or construction, it’s figuring out what the client wants or the product should be! Requirements are discovered as construction happens because most of the time software is solving a business problem not a physics problem.

There’s no certification because there isn’t something to standardize. Every company has different problems, technical solutions are always changing. Interview processes are trying to look at generic problem solving + communication + ability to translate some easy algorithmic idea into code. They don’t do a great job of assessing that, but the point is that two CS degrees can look identical on paper but there’s so much fuzzy interpersonal/business/requirement-assessment work that basically isnt captured at all by a degree, and is really hard to demonstrate on a resume.

You also can’t become a civil engineer through a 6 month boot camp or from studying and building things on your own time.

You can surely become a very poor civil engineer that way. Perhaps nobody wants one, because the average quality is so much higher, but nothing stops you from calling yourself that.

As someone who has interviewed hundreds of entry-level developers, the range of skills/talent/ability is enormous.

I expect you would have a hard time getting top students to join your union.

(On the other hand, I don't care at all about side projects or seeing code on GitHub. I want to see how you solve a realistic problem that I have seen dozens of other people take a crack at for comparison.)

If you want to make as little money as a civil engineer does, go for it.

Not necessarily. OP wrote a blog about their research paper. That is by definition a nov or rare topic.

If people use any kind of horse sense when choosing blogging topics they will either choose something:

1. Unique, or

2. Where what they have to contribute beats what already exists

To be sure, anything poorly done is clutter. But this applies to the work product itself too. If someone writes garbage, superfluous blog posts, why would you expect good research from them?

Despite the massive amount of information that exists the world certainly does not have enough good, specific information yet.

I don't think this is entirely true. Getting in the habit of writing, even if a lot of it is things other people have said better, means that when you do have something novel to say you will be much more practiced.

My experience is that when people try to only write the good posts they don't end up publishing things, but if they write hundreds of posts dozens will be good.

I agree, and you’re actually supporting my argument with additional reasons against OP haha.

But in the case of a research blog about a new research paper I think my point above trends closer to true, as the novelty of the subject guarantees novelty of the blog.

Then Google will need to build a better search engine, otherwise people will just move to a search engine that can get them the better results.

I totally agree and had a very similar experience in graduate school. Writing about my experiences and things I had learned (technical and project management) had a huge impact on my ability to demonstrate my knowledge and is without a doubt why I quickly received two job offers before defending my phd (biology/neuroscience). I think papers are a really poor way to demonstrate the huge amounts of work you've done unless you stay in academia (and probably not even then).

This is one thing I messed up during my grad school studies. Now that I have a "real job", getting the ball rolling on blogging about what I'm looking into / learning about is harder (although that is still a convenient excuse).

Thank goodness I have been meticulously keeping track of what I've learned in Org mode for years. I've just gotta dredge that old database for some blog posts (starting with why folks who are similar to me should really consider not going to grad school...).

I work on a well established, closed source, trade secrets style e-commerce site. I can never seem to think about anything I could write up that would not involve me reworking everything to be more general. I also think it would largely boil down to a Stack Overflow link. I am doing more management now, so that might make this problem a little easier to solve for me.

I had one of these blogs years ago and I found the questions I had to look up were great subjects for blog posts. Many of them wound up being pretty basic: thread safe singleton in java, sort a list, etc. This isn't a PhD thesis, it doesn't have to be profound, you're just trying to demonstrate you can write some code and communicate.

I don't think I did a good job of articulating my point. By the time I wash out all the domain specific stuff, I believe I am left with a post that is even less valuable than a link to a Stack Overflow discussion about the same issue. Does that make sense? What value am I adding to the world if I spend an hour typing up my thoughts on this and I could have just linked to SO? Also, my blog traffic is effectively 0 people. I don't think it is wrong for others to do so, it just isn't the right thing for me.

EDIT - sorry, I missed the fact that we are talking about producing a blog as a proof that I understand and think about programming in a certain way (e.g. as useful to people evaluating me)... You are absolutely right, then, and I withdraw my objection.

I am not currently looking for work but if I were, I think a blog focused on dev would be more valuable than my collection of half-baked github repos. Food for thought.

I’d be interested in hearing those considerations.

The pithy way I tell people is that they should only do a PhD if they can't NOT do a PhD, i.e. they feel so compelled to work on a specific thing and have found an advisor who will advise them but ultimately let them do their own thing to a great degree. The only other viable option is to find a tenure-track junior professor who really has their stuff together (including their work ethic and emotional intelligence; often the latter can be lacking).

One also has to consider the time cost of doing a PhD, and whether spending the equivalent time working would have gotten them further not only in career, but also salary. Between a) people who go from undergrad to a job and don't really keep pushing themselves, b) people who go to grad school to hopefully skip to a more interesting job post-PhD, and c) people who go from undergrad to a job but really push hard to learn new skills (e.g. presenting at conferences, blogging about it, etc), option C is generally leaps and bounds ahead of the other two.

A PhD is worth considering if the thing you're interested in most is not really used widely in industry (perhaps some PL stuff?).

Also, prospective PhD students need to consider that there is a very asymmetric relationship between advisor / advisee compared to a normal job. If my job starts treating me like dirt, I can tell them to shove it and quit ASAP because I know that my skills can get me another job in short order. With a PhD, it is almost impossible to quit a PhD and then pick it up again if you and your advisor have some sort of falling out; every future PhD position will look at the prior "failure" with suspicion, losing the nuance of issues besides the actual work that triggered the separation.

Basically you need to really understand why you want a PhD (and whether you could do better towards your ultimate career goal without it), and if that's a "yes" you need to really make sure you can get along with your advisor for years. A strong advisor can "compensate" for a weak student (i.e. get them through the program), and a strong student can compensate for a weak advisor (e.g. students who basically do their own thing from the get go, and have high-ranking perpetually absentee advisors who do more research bureaucracy than research and advise by way of ominous single-word emails), but if both are weak it's a recipe for disaster, and only the student gets hurt.

Getting a visa into a country via graduate studies is definitely a good reason (especially in the US it seems), but often an MS is sufficient (except if one tries to get in on the green-card fast-track via the O1 visa, which requires an exceptional PhD track record).

Really insightful, thank you

Your blog is pretty cool!

How did you "[generate] public intellectual capital" though? Posting your blog places, or just by virtue of being able to refer to the blog in your resume it helped your job hunts?

I mean, what the hell is with all this 60-90 hours per week stuff going on? Am I an incredibly defective human being or something - I cannot even fathom working anything even CLOSE to that (in software/tech, maybe if you're in med school or work an an ER I can see it). There is no way in hell I could ever even be close to productive for that period of time for more than, say, one week a year or something (and even then I'd need weeks to recover). I'd guess I'd ask everyone, "Really?". When you work those kind of hours, are you _actually_ doing value-adding or value-optimizing things, or just engaging in work theater?

I've found the most incredible thing is just to say "no" to things. Not doing things has this fantastic side effect of not causing more work. When you don't do more things, you don't cause more problems, which doesn't need more work, which doesn't need more staff, which doesn't require more money, which gives you less stress, and gives you happier staff, happier customers, and a happier self.

I wonder if I've totally lost my marbles if this kind of thing only makes sense to myself...

I used to occasionally worked 80+ hours at a time in my younger days, during a period where I was working for an oil services company, building tooling for migrating different business systems to SAP.

The company has several locations across the globe, and each was using something different to be migrated to SAP. One time I flew to Brazil to build SAP integration tooling for the local division of the company - 3 flights over 20 hours (all in economy), and I was expected to go straight to the office on arrival. I then worked feverishly, drinking gallons of local coffee to sustain me. Everyone else was doing the same. We ended up making some bad decisions (I think because we were all so tired), and at one point I totally lost my shit with the Brazilian project lead, coming close to getting violent. I'm absolutely not a violent person, but that amount of sleep deprivation, pressure and caffeine are not a good combination.

I'd do this for 2-3 weeks at a time, and feel completely fried at the end of each stint.

I simply couldn't do that anymore, but I'm also convinced it was a false economy - if we'd just worked normal hours without all the pressure from above, we could have achieved the same result, without all the mess along the way.

> it was a false economy - if we'd just worked normal hours ... we could have achieved the same result, without all the mess along the way.

Nearly 100% of the time I was on teams that grinded down to the bone, things turned out poorly.

Nearly 100% of the time I was on teams that have tons of slack time, we absolutely crush it. If you're "busy" all the time you can't reflect, put things in perspective, consider alternatives, etc. It is, exactly as you say, a false economy (probably a better term than work theater, which implies slacking off, which is not what I meant)

Well said. The biggest products I've designed for my employer came from times when I could sit around and think. Being a little bored means having time to try things and build some MVPs. Having every minute of my day scheduled means I don't do anything creative.

> just engaging in work theater

I do not have firsthand experience at this, but from my understanding being a salaryman in Japan means staying in the office until the boss leaves. It does not matter if you are producing value or not in that time, it is more about appearance and company loyalty.

I agree with you 100%...I think the most I've ever worked in a week was probably in the 50-60 hour range and that was one of the worst experiences of my life. I cannot fathom doing 90 hours for SEVERAL YEARS without wanting to drive into oncoming traffic.

I would think if some of these companies really had cracked some kind of method to double the productive output of their employees that they would have a massive advantange on their competition and grow to be some of the biggest companies in the world.

The other aspect is that the lower the value of an employees time the more the business will be happy to have them undertake repetative tasks as the cost of them doing it is lower than the cost of the work to automate.

> and grow to be some of the biggest companies in the world.

Japan does have some of the biggest companies in the world and it's not a free market here, not by a long way, competitiveness isn't something particularly needed internally (monopolies and cabals abound) and possibly not externally either, if conditions are right.

> The other aspect is that the lower the value of an employees time the more the business will be happy to have them undertake repetative tasks as the cost of them doing it is lower than the cost of the work to automate.

The stereotype/joke about fax machines being prevalent isn't based on a myth. Don't assume things work the way they would in the West.

I'm young, single and without children, and even 40 hours a week feels like a tad much, even when I realistically worked 5-6 hours a day.

I can't imagine a life of 60-90 hour weeks be worth whatever carrot they dangle in front of those poor sods.

People lie.

Drug addicts claim to spent 1000s a day on their habit. They don't, but it makes their loss and frowned upon habit seem less so, "I'd be a rich, upstanding citizen if it weren't for this one thing!", with perhaps the added causality chain of -> "this isn't a big hurdle to overcome" and -> "I can stop whenever I want to".

Same with work. Working is likely a negative experience for a lot of people, so anything that frames it to be less so, is memed. "Well this was exhausting, but I was so productive! I worked like what 80? 90? hours this week?", when in reality much of that time was typing long winded comments like this one.

The real magic of the "4 hour workweek" and similar books isn't finding the one idea that makes it possible, but to make working enjoyable. That seems to happen automatically with a shorter workweek (Kelloggs, Microsoft Japan) but you can get there with a regular job and being honest about productivity and I say that as somebody who thought it was impossible with a 40 hour workweek. I now do that and have a lot of energy to spare in the evenings.

We aren't "poor sods" or carrot-led horses. We're just motivated by different things than you. In my case, fully mission driven

I think when this conversation comes up, a lot of different things get overloaded. There are classes of "work" where output linearly scales (more or less) with input: For example, if you;re a truck driver, time spent with your butt in the driver's seat probably corresponds very tightly to your mileage per day and even deliveries per day (and therefore profit)

But given this is mostly a software-centric message board, software engineering and tech in general I have not observed much correlation at all between amount of input (work) and output (profit, success, happiness, etc). The expanse is wide open, the decision-tree of ways to approach a problem is nearly infinite, and choosing an approach to go down almost always incurs an opportunity cost of solving the same problem in a much better way. I've seen this a lot with lots of founders: They are so motivated and have enormous reserves of energy to "work", and while they are legitimately "working" in a certain sense (writing code, hustling for investment, planning business strategy, etc), it's often work that functions like a greedy algorithm: Stuck in local maxima, stuck in ruts, inflexible, etc and having a very hard time pausing, reflecting, and being judicious with their time, energy and focus. I call this the "Bias of Doing Work"

What mission is this important?

A lot of things, in my opinion. If you do work that can save even one life, it's worth it on a utilitarian level. It's not that hard to think of life-saving things to work on. You could imagine, perhaps, COVID vaccine distribution, solar energy technology, suicide hotlines, lots of food solutions (impossible meat perhaps), even autonomous vehicles if you've drank the kool aid, etc.

Of course this assumes that the 40th-80th hours provide marginal utility (perhaps a big assumption).

Workaholism is an addiction and a mental health problem. I have worked for 50+ hours a week for 4 years and last year I became a manager and have worked 60-80 for the last year. On bad weeks, I joke to my wife that I am headed to my 9-5... because I sometimes work 9am to 5am and get up the next day for another 9am meeting.

I am absolutely doing real work, if anything, it's my non-work life that is "theater." I won't check my phone, or even eat because I'll lose minutes of work. It's clearly bad for me and my productivity.

I'd love to "work on" my workaholism but...

Have you considered therapy to try to get to the bottom of this? Not being snarky -- you yourself seem to realize that this is really detrimental to your wellbeing.

Yes. It's hard to find a good one.

It sounds like you may need help, and I hope you find it.

>I mean, what the hell is with all this 60-90 hours per week stuff going on?

What do you mean "all this"? Has there been a trend of posts here with people talking about doing it that I missed?

Specifically with this author, he used to be a Japanese salaryman. Can learn a little more about that here:


> When you work those kind of hours, are you _actually_ doing value-adding or value-optimizing things, or just engaging in work theater?

You're going to be doing a similar total amount of productive work to elsewhere (possibly less because you're so tired), and engaging in work theatre for the rest of the time.

As I wrote just last week [0], Japan's worker productivity is not good but that's only one measure and possibly not the most important to those who set the rules in Japan.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26450579

Hey Patrick! Thanks for the article.

"Producing Artifacts" is definitely what we called that at Fog Creek, and I think our cousins at Stack may have used a different term but followed much the same spirit. I didn't realize until now that that was a term from our little software microcosm, I had assumed it was one of the terms that was known broadly in the startupverse.

I definitely came to my opinions around it through my interactions with the Business of Software conference and (later) Microconf, and I think in parallel Stack Overflow came to much the same conclusions as we did at FC. Stack also lead with something in its early days which pushed us to go further, which was that they had a "default open" policy on all their artifacts-- code, company writing, etc. This specifically was inspiring for us at FC and many of us sort of implicitly adopted it. We doubled-down on our artifact publishing, leading to a bunch of open source contributions, blog posts, conference talks, etc. Interestingly (and to your point!) I think that those public artifacts for the most part didn't impact the company very much (as much as we did try to harvest the artifacts for blogging/marketing/recruiting purposes), but they unquestionably strengthened the careers of the folks who created them.

"Make sure your work is creating artifacts; Collect and share your artifacts to multiply their impact." Remains among my top items of career advice for software folks.

In my experience, I have pointed people to a vast array of shipping (and formerly shipping) software, and even hardware. I have a StackOverflow story (check my ID) that is a mile long.

There are complete, top-to-bottom, ship-ready apps, with localization, testing, documentation, provisioning, etc. Someone can, literally, clone any of my repos, and produce a full-feature, ready-to-ship application.

I have many, many, articles and blog posts, explaining, in great detail, how I work, think, design, test, collaborate, and develop. I'm a fairly decent writer.

Also, in my experience, no one has ever actually looked at any of this, when it comes to evaluating me. I'm not famous, I'm not young, and I guess I don't "present" too well, so I assume that my work is not compelling (I think it is, but that's just me).

After a few of these, I realized that I am better off, not looking to work with someone else. Makes me sad, but accepting that was one of the best things I ever did for myself. As it turns out, I have found a team, working on a 501(c)(3) startup, that gave me a chance to develop an application. They seem happy with the work I'm doing (ecstatic, even).

These days, I never go a day without working on ship. I have been shipping for decades. My GH id is pretty much solid green (and it's not gamed). I just love to code, and there are few joys more comprehensive, than releasing product, and seeing it used.

Even my small projects (like the one I just released) involve full branding, testing, and documentation. Even my test harnesses are full release-quality applications, with localization.

It's just that, these days, I do it for myself; not someone else. I'm fortunate, in being able to do that. The scale, out of necessity, is much more humble, but it feels quite gratifying.

- I'm not young

There's your answer.

Yeah, I know. I just don't feel that it's constructive to complain about it. I don't deny it; I just won't let it stop me.

Despite all that, I have it real good. I am able to do work that I love (and not get paid a dime for it), and live a life that includes friends, health, wonder and joy.

I may not be a TED-talkin', man-bunned, skinny-jeans-wearin' jargonaut, but the folks that end up working with me are very, very happy to do so.

I've (not exaggerating) been shipping (as in "delivering finished product") software my entire adult life.

That tends to make my work speak for itself.

Thanks for sharing, Chris. Honestly it sounds to me like you're living the dream-- you're secure enough in your abilities that you can pursue the projects you're excited by rather than having to play career games as an employee for someone else. I hope it keeps working out for you :-)

Well, lots of people would write me off as an idiot for following my own muse, but I worked long and hard, to be where I am, and I don't think I could be coaxed back into the rat race again.

The biggest thing that I miss about working on tech teams, was being surrounded by people that made me feel like the dunce. Being the smartest guy in the room is overrated. If I wanted hero worship, I would have become a Cub Scout leader. It has no place in my tech work.

FWIW it's definitely a term I've heard in the same context in multiple FAANG companies. You want to be able to show people what you've done.

As is typical of patio11 this is all great stuff. One subtlety I'd venture to emphasise for people just getting started with building things and putting stuff out there, though, is that you should expect the impact of and return on any one of these things to be far from linear.

That is, the 'stacking bricks' metaphor may not apply so much. Yes, you should produce stuff on a regular cadence, and everything you produce is a learning opportunity of some form, but the fact is nobody will care about the majority of it, and it will therefore have very little concrete (pun intended) capital value per se.

Don't get put off by the fact that nobody cares about the first few (several, dozen, hundred...) things you put out there, just keep going til you hit on the thing that does catch on!

> Don't get put off by the fact that nobody cares about the first few (several, dozen, hundred...) things you put out there

Your first few things will suck. Keep going. Practice takes time.

Ira Glass, advice to beginners: http://www.zenpencils.com/comic/90-ira-glass-advice-for-begi...

Great comic and great link

Nobody cares about a brick wall one brick high, but you're not going to make a wall 20 bricks high without a row of bricks on the bottom.

Another way to look at it is - you can work on those SQL queries and deep technical problems, but you can't stop short at checking in the code and not telling anyone, or only mentioning it to your colleagues for engineering cred. Show people the performance impact, how much better the user experience is now. Especially those who are likely to trumpet it to the rest of the company (managers, sales people, marketing people, executives).

I used to be an engineer and now I'm a product manager (since 1 year ago). It's so funny being on the otherside and seeing how engineers claim "well not everything is demo-able, it's hard to quantify customer value" and in reality, I'd say 80% of the stuff they work on could be explained in a way that still has a visible outcome to me and to customers. But they want to write user stories like "As a developer, I want to refactor the controller manager to use new rust traits from the bind system blah blee bloo". But then during demo time, they show that actually now, a new feature that wasn't working before now works.

Guys. Lead with what you are going to actually change in the product that you can show me, not the technical change you are making. I know it's hard to get out of the details/weeds - but if you can uplevel a bit to what is going to be different when I'm done with this - sell that!

I was hoping that we were moving in the opposite direction where people aren't expected to show off side projects, ship something every week or work for a famous company in order to be successful. If this article is good advice, that makes me a bit sad about the state and direction of the industry.

As far as I'm aware, working for prestigious companies will always be prestigious. I don't think that will ever go away, for any industry. I don't think it's necessary, though.

Unfortunately there is still pressure to work on open source projects and/or blog about programming-related things in one's free time. I think this article has a lot of bad opinions from someone who works way too much, and expects other people to work full work weeks (or 90+ like them) and still do personal projects on the side.

I mean this is like saying models don't need to be beautiful, or "beauty" doesn't mean being attractive. Those things are ridiculous, of course.

If you don't have anything cool to show or talk about, and other people do, obviously they will get more attention and money. How are people supposed to know how valuable you are?

Totally agree. To me it feels like it’s talking around the problems in the industry. The solution to good work being ‘unmarketable’ isn’t to stop doing good work. We can’t all be fighting to do the kind of work that ‘looks’ good, and we shouldn’t have to.

Search Engine Optimisation has destroyed the usefulness of search engines. If you search for a recipe or you’re looking for blog posts about a particular technology, you’re more likely to end up on something useless that _looks_ good according to x criteria (or has paid) rather than what you’re actually looking for. Good work gets buried because of the process. The problem isn’t the good work.

Valuable work being perceived as not valuable highlights that the ‘market’ and the processes are wrong. Something isn’t right here if we have to dedicate al our time to SEO-big our careers. I don’t want to bend over backwards to cater to the ever changing fashions dictated by a market that doesn’t know or care to separate the wheat from the chaff. If I have to focus my career on work I hate and/or spend a significant amount of time building a portfolio of ‘side projects’ to ~hack my career~ to impress ...someone who can recommend me for a job (based on work I hate), I’m going to end up doing work I hate for a company who doesn’t understand software or developers, and who is part of the problem. Realistically I’m not going to (and I have no desire to) be one of those ‘rockstars’, so where does following the ‘completely lean into the capitalist crap’ advice leave me? Nowhere I want to be.

I hate being subservient to an algorithm, but I'm trying to build a business, what choice do I have?

I'd argue you don't, depending on what you consider "successful"

It's very good advice, but you should understand that not all good advice applies to everyone or in every situation.

Idk most of this fell flat or feels outdated.

I’ve never had issues getting jobs without externally visible artifacts. During interviews they ask you to describe projects you’ve worked on. A few companies will also call references. My experience is in the usual Bay Area tech cos, maybe this advice applies better elsewhere.

As far as side projects, most broad clauses are to protect the company. You don’t even need to bring it up to your employer if you’re not competing with them. They don’t care. Even non competes are mostly non enforceable in some states including Cali.

I do agree with the sentiment of being an owner rather than employee though.

I agree with this too. The overwhelming majority of people writing software today have no public code or other artifacts. That means most companies have to assess a potential hire’s skills without seeing any public work and are therefore used to doing this.

That doesn’t mean pato11’s advice is bad. This can be an effective way to have a career. It’s just not the most common or even a particularly easy way. It just seems that way because operating in this open source world is more visible.

"This could mean working on particular projects within the organization which like external visibility (e.g. Android) rather than projects which don't (e.g. AdWords plumbing -- presumably Google will pay you a lot of money to do that, but consider it compensation for not being able to talk about it)"

Perhaps counterintuitively, as far as I know, people who work on Ads internals aren't paid any more than people who work in more visible/desirable parts of the business.

This maybe just an observation that life isn't fair. Some jobs both pay more, are more enjoyable, and look better on your resume. Some people are attractive and successful. It is definitely worth keeping this in mind when considering your career, a difficult job doesn't automatically accrue karma faster than an easy job.

"Write about those lessons as you learn them. If at all possible, publish what you write. Even if it is published to an audience of no one, you will be able to point people back to it later."

I think everyone unemployed or employed should be building side projects and just putting things out there. Companies are slowly embracing it too, I've been surprised how lax companies are in making exceptions for IP clauses. Almost as if its in fear of the employee leaving otherwise.

Also tucked in here, a great negotiation tip: "That way, if they say 'No side projects', you'll say 'OK, in lieu of the side projects, I'll need more money.'"

In case anyone else is wondering, it looks like this piece was originally published in 2014 (or earlier): https://web.archive.org/web/20140205003105/https://training....

Year added now. Thanks!

"If you cannot build things you can show at work, you should build things you can show outside of work."

BS. This line of thinking is why our industry is so toxic.

If you want to work on programming-related topics in your free time, great! If not, great! If an interviewer expected me to work on programming-related projects in my free time, I would immediately end that interview and probably never work at that company. We need to normalize people doing other things in their free time.

You also don't need to be productive each week(end) on top of work. There are times when we're more productive and times when we're less productive- and that's perfectly fine. Some people are more driven, which is fine. But there is more to life than work.

Japanese (and Korean) work culture is highly toxic even by American standards. It should not be the basis of anything for deciding how to live one's life. It's sad to see this rhetoric coming from someone who actually has a family.

Great read, as usual.

One point rubbed me the wrong way: "And you stand an excellent chance of shipping a success -- people greatly overestimate how difficult this is."

Do you? Analysis of projects on Indie Hackers [1] casts a bit of doubt. Not saying it's not possible, but "excellent chance" might be a stretch.

[1] https://www.indiehackers.com/post/holy-heck-this-is-hard-8eb...

Surely it depends on how you define a success? Although I do agree with you, there are loads of apps in app stores with very few users, and so can't really be considered a success by any metric other than maybe the author found them personally useful and/or it gives them something to show employers

I think he meant the artifact or small thing you ship may be a success.

But, for Indiehackers, consider two things:

1. A site devoted to making business will attract lots of wannabees

2. Many successful businesses are too busy to bother with such things, especially if they get no marketing benefit from indiehackers or face risk from competitors knowing their revenue.

Indiehackers also misses the vast graveyard of failed businesses that stopped operating and went nowhere, but it is far from an unbiased sample.

$20,000 a month for any bootstrapped business with actual expenses (contractors etc) is actually not that much yet it puts you near the top of the leaderboard.

I think he means eg a viral blog post or a popular NPM package, not a billion dollar startup.

Another way to get noticed is to work on a civic project. Not only is it open source but if it gets used in your community more people know about it - and you. A way to get started is to see if there is a Code For America brigade in your community.

If there isn't maybe you can get together with a couple of friends and start one. Ever wanted to try some new technology or learn a new language but can't do it at work? Do it for a civic project and you have proof you know x because it's out there on GitHub.

I would love to see Patrick address the fact that he now works as an eng manager at Stripe, in the context of a lot of his previous writing like this piece.

For all he has written about side projects and building sustainable lifestyle businesses, I bet he makes more in a single year now than he ever did from any of those projects. Not that that negates his previous advice at all, it’s great that people can figure out a way to make a good living by minimizing their work hours, or not having an employer, or whatever makes them happiest.

And maybe I am projecting based on my own journey a little bit, but it sounds like the place he was at in his own life 5-10 years ago and his bad experiences some pretty toxic Japanese megacorps, probably made him overly pessimistic on the prospects of a 9-5 tech job in general.

But the opportunities that arose over the past decade, and appear to still exist for the foreseeable future, at large public or nearly public tech cos are just incredible in terms of the level of return employees can get for relatively low risk. And I think most young people starting out still don’t fully realize this. The numbers you see on levels.fyi are very real, and on top of that these stocks have been doubling every few years. You can pretty reliably, say, work hard for 20 years and then retire at age 40 with 10 million dollars in savings. For the vast majority of people, there’s just no way a side hustle can compete with that. Any theoretical arguments about labor vs capital don’t really make sense for the top paid 1% of labor.

If you're young, ask yourself: is your time better spent on playing the interview game trying to get into a FAANG exactly like one million other people? Or doing something that feels more uniquely yours but can't guarantee retirement at 40?

The first path has only one road to success. If you keep trying but don't pass the bar, you may be depressed because the challenge here is a purely external one — you need to constantly meet rigid expectations set by faceless others.

The second path has many hidden roads to success, and the challenge is an internal one — you need to discover something about yourself that could eventually unlock value to others too.

I took the latter path and still ended up at a FAANG in my late thirties without a CS degree. It's been a more rewarding life than if I had postponed all my dreams by twenty years.

You’re definitely right that the path to, say, $300,000 total comp is more straightforward if you go the route of working toward a career at a top Bay Area firm.

But the route to a SaaS business that brings in something like $100,000 profit and can essentially run on autopilot most of the time is not a tremendous amount more work that all that leetcoding and FAANGing, over the 10 odd years you’ll need to put in to either one to make it happen.

Given that, which end lifestyle would you choose for yourself?

Personally, while I’m pretty happy with the road less taken, I did take a quick 5 year break from it to grab that brass ring, pay off a house and put my future kids through college, before returning to the slacking entrepreneur lifestyle. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the author is in a similar phase at the moment.

All those lifestyle side projects are why he's an ebg manager at Stripe now.

I'm going to venture a guess that:

Patrick is smart, gets things done, writes very well, and attracted an audience -- and that is why he was a natural hire for his role at Stripe.

And for what it's worth, Paul Graham is all of those things, and that is why he was able to start YC.

"Smart and gets things done" are table stakes. The key differentiators are "writes well and attracts an audience" so that your influence exceeds your personal energies.

...if that's the kind of life you want of course. There's lots of SQL optimization work that needs doing too, and some people find that much more satisfying.

Idk, it seems like all the blogging about those projects and the building of that into a tech influencer persona are why he’s a manager at stripe. And that’s, by definition, not something everyone can do. And it’s certainly not the most direct or easiest way to get into that job.

Exactly. "Tech influencer" worked for patio11 much more than "creator of Bingo Card Creator"

In case anyone's looking for the presentation referenced at the end (broken link), I found it here from a previous HN thread's comment: https://vimeo.com/74338272

I agree with the post for the most part. It's important to feel that your work is acknowledged to feel worthy.

I disagree with this statement however:

> I prefer being upfront with people rather than doing the "It is easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission" route a lot of folks suggest.

Asking your employer if you can work on a side project is like asking them if you can play golf on the weekend. It's your own time off-work hours and you're free to work on a project without begging for permission. If the side project directly competes with you're employer's product then that's a definitely a gray area but you'd know if you're purposely taking intellectual property or not. If you're not sure that your employer will screw you over then get something in writing.

I think you misunderstood the context of that sentence.

It's about the IP property ownership, and many employment contracts have specific clauses about IP ownership. And those clauses are sometimes draconian. For example, the preceding paragraph has this sentence:

> Companies in our industry are gradually becoming more reasonable about IP assignment clauses -- there's less of the "we own everything you think of at any point in your employment" nonsense these days. Even at my very straight-laced Japanese megacorp, they were willing to write an exception into the employment contract for a) OSS work that I did outside of company hours and b) Bingo Card Creator.

I think patio11 is saying you should be on solid legal footing for your IP ownership of your outside of work projects. If your employment contract already gives you control over your IP, then there is nothing you need to ask for. But if your employment contract may ambiguously give some control to your employer, then it's better to ask for an explicit point in the employment contract about the project.

So, "forgiveness" in this context is less about getting permission from your employer, and it's more about ensuring you truly own free and clear the IP you generate.

> If you're not sure that your employer will screw you over then get something in writing.

That's exactly the point patio11 was making, I think.

This. Concretely it's about negotiating the most draconian IP clauses out of your contract before you take the job.

As somebody who has been on the receiving end of an employer (well it was a university system, but still...) coming after my IP, it is absolutely worth having total clarity, in writing when it comes to ownership of side projects.

It seems like a lesson most developers learn. I took a job at a startup that decided after they'd started hiring to pass around an employment agreement covering personal projects. Without talking to each other, apparently 3 of us 4 developers there had all politely refused to sign due to the side project clause. The only dev who did sign was the one fresh out of college. Ultimately developers were given a different contract than everybody else that made clear we owned our side projects and everybody happily moved on, but it was good that we all stood our ground on the issue and had clarity.

> If you're not sure that your employer will screw you over then get something in writing.

This might be a good indicator that you should leave your employer. If you don't trust that they won't screw you over...

Granted, I know that's easier said than done. But we should all aim to put up with less of this kind of shit from employers.

Never forget that a company is a group of individuals. All it takes is for one of them some time in the infinite future to decide they own the IP you developed during the time you were employed at the company. Making sure that no one can easily make this claim is sort of basic hygiene at this point. Do this by making sure you have a copy of the employment contract, and that it either doesn’t have any crazy IP ownership clauses, or that you have explicit exceptions to said crazy ownership clauses.

I agree we should all aim to put up with less of this, but even with an employer you trust there’s no guarantee they won’t run into money trouble and sell to a larger company which takes a harsher view.

Even family and friends can act in unexpected ways when money enters the picture.

Obviously there's no need to ask permission just to have a side project, but if you have any intention of making money from it and there's an IP clause in your contract which might get in the way of that it's another matter

Unfortunately this is not correct.

The IP clause is in effect regardless of your intent to make money. So when the contract says “everything you create while employed here belongs to us” that’s the deal.

If you want to own something you create, then you either have to already have a contract that allows you to retain ownership under certain very clear circumstances or you need to ask the company in advance and get it in writing.

(When you negotiate employment you should consider the additional compensation you require in exchange for granting them exclusive ownership over everything you create.)

Similarly, "learn in public" is the maxim in Coding Career Handbook by Shawn Wang.

Knowledge without proof is a conjecture not a theorem!


"The social expectation is that the company insulates the employee from all risk..."

At a cost of 30-50 extra hours per week, what exactly does this mean and what does it get me that I don't already get at my North American job?

https://www.kalzumeus.com/2014/11/07/doing-business-in-japan... has more background on this and other aspects of business life in Japan. A few excerpts:

> Need to file paperwork with City Hall? Someone from HR can do it for you. Salarymen don’t file tax returns — the National Tax Agency and HR work out 100% of the paperwork on their behalves. Insurance? Handled. Pension? You’re sorted. Immigration, for those very rare salarymen who are also foreigners? Your CEO has written a letter to the Minister of Justice for inclusion with the paperwork that HR has put together, and you won’t even have to carry it into the office.

> We’ve mentioned that your company considers it its responsibility to see you appropriately married. That is not the sole way in which the company may try to arrange companionship, but let’s table that issue for the moment. When you get married, your boss will give the longest speech at your wedding, praising your diligence on that last project and bright future with the firm. Perhaps eight or so coworkers will show up. They’ll also take up a collection for you if a parent should pass away, come visit if you’re hospitalized, and offer to intercede if you should have trouble with your wife or children. You are, after all, one of the family.

> The stability is superior to even tenured professors or civil servants in the United States, though. Eliminating your position will result in, at worst, your transfer into a division optimized to shame you into quitting. Incompetence at one’s job bordering on criminal typically results in one’s next promotion being to a division which can’t impact shipping schedules and has few sharp objects lying around.

> "Japan is famous for its "lifetime employment" system, and the law here is very protective of employees. Many multinationals have tried to fire an unnecessary or problematic employee in Japan, only to see that employee sue for reinstatement and damages (and, in most cases, win)."

- one of the summaries from https://duckduckgo.com/?t=ffab&q=japanese+companies+don%27t+...

Thanks. Was not aware of that side to Japanese employment.

This is related to Japanese work culture, not extra work hours. It just happens that Japanese work culture also has much higher hours worked compared to the US or Europe. In my opinion it's absolutely insane.

Reminds me of one of the 48 laws of power:

Law 6. Court Attention at All Costs

I had forgotten how sleazy many of the 48 laws of power actually are. Important to know them to recognize the tells in others. A pertinent example is the very next “law”: “7. Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit.”

> 48 laws of power

Where are the others?

In the book titled "The 48 Laws of Power."

I recommend this book. It is literally Woo ("winning over others") but in the best way. It's advice for the softest, least-scientific domain I can think of, namely navigating the social dynamics of life, including the poetics of other people's egos. Each "law" is illustrated vividly with examples from history and given caveats/inversions, so that it could be called "48 dynamics that you should think about if you want to engage in the social sphere more effectively". Of course, "laws of power" is better marketing. The author really sells it at the beginning, too — you don't have a choice but to engage in games of power: abstaining from power is itself a power play, and an inauthentic one at that.

I have mixed feelings about the book. On one had, I can see the value in all of the laws but on the other hand it seems that the author tries to force laws around past events and just make the laws "fit" the narrative.

It got a little boring after like 20 or something, so I just stopped reading it.

I was reading it through Audible, and the narrator had a great voice that brought the stories to life. I probably wouldn't have finished it either if I'd been eyeball-reading it.

Frankly, this looks like the playbook of sociopaths. I would use this book to figure out what bad actors would use to manipulate me.

If you want a book that teaches you how to get what you want while also not being a shit person I would recommend "How to win friends and influence people". The thrust of that book is that people helping each other results in mutual benefit that is greater than the sum of its parts.

I think of the laws more like "The 48 Laws of Humans". You don't have to be sociopathic to use these "laws" to your advantage.

For example, here are a few excerpts from the "Law 6 - Court Attention at all Costs" section:

"Barnum understood the fundamental truth about attracting attention: Once people’s eyes are on you, you have a special legitimacy. For Barnum, creating interest meant creating a crowd; as he later wrote, “Every crowd has a silver lining.” And crowds tend to act in conjunction. If one person stops to see your beggarman laying bricks in the street, more will do the same. They will gather like dust bunnies"

"Society craves larger-than-life figures, people who stand above the general mediocrity. Never be afraid, then, of the qualities that set you apart and draw attention to you. Court controversy, even scandal. It is better to be attacked, even slandered, than ignored. All professions are ruled by this law, and all professionals must have a bit of the showman about them"

"The great scientist Thomas Edison knew that to raise money he had to remain in the public eye at any cost. Almost as important as the inventions themselves was how he presented them to the public and courted attention ... He did everything he could to make sure that he received more attention than his great rival Nikola Tesla, who may actually have been more brilliant than he was but whose name was far less known"

Here's the a link to the book if you're curious: http://free.epubebooks.net/ebooks/books/48-laws-of-power.pdf

Law 6 starts on page 72, and it's quite an interesting read.

Yeah, it does look like that. But it's really not. It's really just about acknowledging and engaging authentically with power dynamics, which are unavoidable.

The darkest one I remember off the top of my head is something like "don't just beat your enemies, destroy them", where destroy = remove their ability to get back at you. This sounds sociopathic. But if you're doing something like fighting a war for survival or trying make sure that your firm is the one that survives the next filter, thinking this way will help you achieve your goals. Is it sociopathic to really try to win? Eh, I would say that someone who tells you not to try to win is playing a power game with you ;)

What’s it about?

To reference back to the article about Goldman Sachs analysts from yesterday, I think this helps explain why investment bankers can always change jobs. You market yourself off of deals you have worked on and offer a nugget from each one to a potential employer. “This IPO showed that investors value growth over cash flow right now, I can help position your company for growth investors”. That resonates if you are interviewing for a Corp dev, c-suite role or if you want to be hired as their banker.

I like the general thrust of this text, but not all of the individual pieces of advice, e.g. the go sexy, go work for a FANG company advice.

Aren't FANG companies fairly aggressive in their employment contracts with regards to side projects?

What are the chances that a Google employee can work on something on his own time that lawyers won't be able to see as reasonably related to one of the lines of business or research of Google?

I have been working on a little Gemini server project this week just to get familiar with it. I am worried no one will see it, or care.

How do I make sure people actually see it assuming I "finish" tonight? Seems like GUS is not updating anymore.

Great post from patio11 as usual! Reminds of the notion of taking small bets that Taleb often talks about. A side project might only take 20 or 30 hours of your time over the course of a month or two, but it can give you great upside.

> "One of the reasons developers have embraced OSS so much is because it gives you portable capital between companies"

Portable capital is a sumptuous term. patio is a fantastic writer.

i wrote a bit more about this recently which seemed to resonate with others: https://www.swyx.io/part-time-creator-manifesto/

basically, you want to create something you control on your own. the minimum viable version of which is a blog or newsletter, but it could easily extend to youtube or teaching on egghead.io or lynda, up to and including a full fledged side business.

> [W]ork at higher profile companies/organizations -- AmaGooFaceSoft, startups or small companies with anomalously high profile (locally, nationally, whatever), or in positions where by your nature you're exposed to lots of people.

This advice is generally already followed. It's far more competitive when applying for roles with high visibility or companies with high brand recognition.

> It's far more competitive when applying for roles with high visibility or companies with high brand recognition.

The work is also often terrible. The companies know they are desirable and know they can treat their people like shit and get away with it because they've got a queue of suckers happy to replace anyone who has had enough and quit.

A similar concept in business: Core Product vs. Full Package. As unsexy as the non-core product stuff is to developers/engineers, it's still important for the company to survive (marketing, legal, sales, accounting, etc.).

Discussed at the time:

Don't End The Week With Nothing - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7179098 - Feb 2014 (101 comments)

This was a great post and I remember reading it back when patio11 first shared it. It was genuinely helpful.

There's so much to be said for just keeping up a minimum level of output every single day (or week, in this case).

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