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I don't think this is really about making fun of people's names, or holocaust references. It's about power.

The managers at basecamp were unhappy that their employees asserted power over them in the workplace, and decided to assert their own power in turn over what they view as their personal fiefdom and retract some of the freedoms they had so graciously granted their workers, because those ungrateful workers actually expected them to live up to their words about openness and owning mistakes. At least 1/3 of the staff, when confronted with their true relations with their management, then decided to quit.

I did find it amusing they announced this new policy of no personal/political stuff at work on his personal blog on hey.com, not on a company blog, and DHH continues to rant on twitter about a very political and public fight with Apple, one he chose to enter on behalf of the company.

I disagree. It’s about professionalism. Flame wars at work create a hostile environment where quiet voices are silenced. It’s the same reason HN bans political flame wars.

I think most would agree more professionalism would be nice, in fact getting rid of a list of funny customer names (as employees suggested) would be more professional, not less. But again, that's not really what the core disagreement is here - that's not IMO why people are quitting - it sounds like most of the company agrees that is a good idea.

They are quitting because the founders decided to assert their power nakedly and without restraint, to berate employees, shut down their organisation and discussions and attempt to dictate terms to them in a humiliating public way, that is to break the social contract between employee and employed. In doing that they declared that they alone decide the rules, they alone decide what is acceptable to say and what is not.

Every workplace has some subtle set of rules about behaviour but these rules are negotiated between employer and employee, and if as a manager you lose sight of that, you'll lose your best employees as they decide they don't really want you to decide everything about their waking hours without consulting you.

Maybe the company did negotiate. Most of the company stayed. I know I’d rather work for basecamp now, because they agreed to knock out the BS at work.

> you'll lose your best employees as they decide they don't really want you to decide everything about their waking hours without consulting you.

the company is actually saying they want to not talk about anything outside of work. They don’t want you consulting them, they want you doing your job during work hours. That’s a pretty reasonable trade for money.

Exactly this. What people don’t realize is this move is hardly political. It’s all about building a better business. When work is a safe space free from political flame wars, employees can actually focus on the one thing they were hired to do, and be happier doing it: write code, manage projects, etc.

No, it's about DHH using politics as a stand-in for the actual issue: they mishandled this issue with the name list, they got called out and held to task for it, and they don't like that behavior.

The politics thing really amounts to "don't challenge me" and is a nice diversion from the actual issue.

Do you think that the name list was racist? Because it sounds to me like many people do, and it seems only if it was an act of racism would your comment be justified.

Looking at the reported details, it does _not_ seem to be an act of racism. It was reported very few names on the list were Asian, for example, and the only (not fully revealed) examples I read were European names.

What are Fried and DHH supposed to do, flagellate themselves?

Not subtweeting their entire workforce on their extremely popular blog would probably be a good start.

Even if they decided to go with a “no politics” rule, doing it publicly was unbelievably shitty to their employees. Such policy changes really should’ve been done in private, especially since it was clear based on the phrasing that this was in response to a specific incident.

Basecamp as a company has always been about building in public. If you don't want things to happen in public you shouldn't have joined Basecamp.

Disagree. There’s a difference between being transparent, and publicly implying that your workforce is problematic. Especially when there’s some issue that you’ve failed to deal with. That’s both inappropriate and unwise. This should’ve been an internal announcement, not an external one.

Maybe in a year after things have calmed down they could do a “we banned politics at the office and it was great” post, but the timing was guaranteed to create a fiasco for them.

As a metaphor, what they did is closer to disparaging someone’s work performance in an all hands. It might be “transparent”, but it’s also unprofessional.

They pride themselves on being transparent..

Please read what I said and respond, rather than reiterating someone else’s point.

Admit they made a mistake and address it, rather than institute a childishly overbroad ban on all "political conversation" specifically to shut down criticism related to their mistake.

DHH literally said it was a systematic failure of the whole company but ultimately his responsibility, apologized and asked to move forward. Part of healthy dispute resolution is accepting an apology and moving forward with good faith forgiveness. If an apology isn’t good enough the cycle of conflict just resets because there can be no accepted resolution.

He literally said none of that publicly.

His public response was to post a blog about forbidding politics from work.

Part of healthy dispute resolution is recognizing how to apologize correctly and to the right people. Token apologies do not work for complex situations.

Additionally: he apologized for the list but not for his appalling behavior against an employee who pointed out issues with the list and was childishly dressed down very publicly in the company’s chat.

> The long-running existence of the "Best Names Ever" list that [employee 1] described yesterday represents a serious, collective, and repeated failure at Basecamp. One that we need to learn from together by transparently tracing its origin and history.

> Not only was it disrespectful to our customers, and a breach of basic privacy expectations, but it was also counter to creating an inclusive workplace. Nobody should think that maintaining such a list is okay or sanctioned behavior here.

> Furthermore, Jason and I should have caught this list. We are ultimately responsible for setting the tone of what's acceptable behavior at Basecamp, and in this instance we didn't. I'm sorry.


Have you read DHH's blog? It sounds like they did exactly that, and the instigating employees were unwilling to let things go and insisted on continuing to escalate things.

“Instigating employees” really?

People were hurt by a very obvious instance of the company failing to live up to its stated values, so they attempt to bring it up to its founder.

He’s painted the situation as “troublemakers out to get my skin” whereas from all the reporting it appears that he’s been the one to needlessly throw a childish and very public temper tantrum.

Read his words. They offer a respectful measured tone. They acknowledge and seek to make amends. It is a case study in healthy communication and dispute resolution, and that is saying something for someone like DHH who is prone to bombastic trolling generally. DHH never said instigating employees he merely requested that the apology be accepted and the team move forward. Then he asked everyone to consider the degree of severity of the problem and not give in to the temptation to bring slippery slope arguments into the debate because it actually undermines any possible progress by inflaming the debate, making people’s opinions more intractable and destroying any possible resolution.

I would argue that a mandate to not have societal/political discussions/statements is in itself a societal/political statement.

The mistake was the timing. If they'd started the company off banning that stuff, they'd have been fine. If they'd waited until months after this controversy died down, they'd probably have less than 10% losses. Doing it now was a truly enormous screw up.

With 1.5x more work for the remaining people they’ll need to be focused…or just find jobs that are 1x the work for same or better pay.

1.5x work today. Basecamp will backfill most of those roles, no?

Honestly, a bunch of people quitting probably works out just fine for Basecamp.

Yeah, seriously. It’s Basecamp. There’s a very deep bench of engineers and product people that would love to backfill the roles.

It will still be damaging short term because they lost a lot of depth in cultural and product knowledge, with the marketing and product leads gone. Not easy to replace someone who’s been living and breathing the products for over a decade.

If the response to this is any indication, they've just alienated a significant portion of that bench.

Basecamp seems very profitable, so it may not be fatal. But my guess is that it cuts far, far deeper than Jason and DHH intended. There may well be another wave of resignations next week.

If your goal was to get likeminded people who don't want to discuss politics into the company, and "pot stirrers" out, seems like the post succeeded. Maybe that wasn't the intent and they were naive enough to post something publicly like that and not expect resignations, I couldn't say.

Frankly, at this point I’m inclined to agree with OP that the politics rule was just a pretext to assert their power over the employees. (Partially because the employees learned about all this via the public blog post, which seems uncontroversially dickish no matter how one feels about the actual changes).

I’m sure they expected attrition — hence the severance — but I’d wager they thought it would be closer to Coinbase’s 5% when they announced a similar policy, not 30% and counting.

I don't think they expected to lose 30% of their workforce. That doesn't seem like something you'd do intentionally except in dire circumstances.

30% is like ~a dozen employees

Twenty so far, actually. Including Sam Stephenson, who seems to have been their longest-tenured developer. Also their head of design, head of marketing, and head of customer support. And their entire iOS team.

Yeah, sounds like a pretty big fuck up then on Basecamp's part. Weird that they didn't see this coming, I can't imagine being so out of tune with a large portion of senior, long-standing employees.

I think the loss of culture is the intended effect, and the loss of product knowledge is the cost.

I'm not going to argue about which culture is better, but the split between people who wanted to get their jobs done and make a good product, and the people who wanted to use their job as an avenue for social change/partisan warfare (depending on which side of the split you're on) sounded toxic.

I suspect there will be a lot of highly-qualified people who will want to go to work at Basecamp who wouldn't have wanted to work there before. We're in the middle of a culture war:

* A lot of people like wokeness.

* A lot of people hate it.

Most SV companies have gone for the woke side of the current culture war, and so my perception is that there are a lot of people who hate it and don't have good places to go. From a purely supply-and-demand perspective, running a non-woke firm seems the way to find good employees. Conversely, being a woke employee seems the way to find good jobs.

To be clear, I'm not advocating employees be overly woke -- this is all more about social signaling than actual advocacy.

Only those who still cling to their cult (I mean their marketing gimmick). Many have moved on for a while...

What happens when customers leave the platform in response?

FWIW I'm not saying this is a good thing, or purposeful, but just that if the goal was to eliminate dissent, a whole bunch of people quitting is probably more or less accomplishing the goal.

Person you're replying to was mentioning customers quitting, not employees (and I have seen a number of people mentioning they've cancelled their Basecamp or Hey subscriptions today).

Why do you assume the "activist" personality types left?

Maybe people that never discuss politics at work want the right to do ot too.

Common sense, I guess.

Product managers are not exactly a time critical position. If the iOS app falls behind the Android app for a few months, will many users even notice?

And it won't take them long to re-fill these roles. There's a ton of unmet demand to work at a place that's purged the activists. You aren't gonna see them much on Twitter but Basecamp just gave themselves a massive recruiting advantage that FAANG cannot/will not match, and they already had a good reputation. Lots of people read DHH's blog post and thought "excellent, that's what's needed". Any impact on the firm will be transient at best.

Or just ship less features. I doubt basecanp is feature constrained right now.

“Most” of the company staying is cold comfort when that “most” is a slim majority. Losing a third of your work force at once, effective immediately (or close to immediately) is a catastrophic outcome that’s really hard to sugarcoat. Especially when the company has just gotten into a very ugly public fight with their employees, and remote work is no longer a rare benefit to entice talent.

I would not envy being a hiring manager at Basecamp right now.

The cynical side of me thinks this is just Fried and DHH not wasting a crisis and turning it into an opportunity to quick pivot and flush out the deadwood.

I do agree with others, though, that I'll bet Basecamp is a better place to work now than it was a week ago. If people want to quit because they'd rather engage in struggle sessions than focus on the work, I won't be sad to see them leave and take their distracting socio-political griefer wokeist cloud with them.

Stop politicizing tech. We are in the technology industry, not the humanities faculty lounge and our jobs should be free of virtue signalling and cancellation.

I doubt this was planned, the whole thing seems like a bunch of bad impulses rather than something done on purpose. Especially since this has absolutely trashed their public reputation.

I completely disagree about Basecamp being better after this. Attrition, no matter the cause, is awful for company morale. Finding out that several teams are just gone without any notice or time to transition is going to make life kind of suck for those who remain. Sure hope their docs are good.

As far as stopping the politics in tech; Basecamp got a glowing write up in Breitbart. “No politics here” is political. There are good and bad ways to handle such things, but blanket bans and “here’s the door if you don’t like it” is hamfisted and clearly bad for retention.

> Especially since this has absolutely trashed their public reputation.

Definitely this has trashed their reputation with people on the left. Some of my friends have been posting on Twitter that they wouldn't work for Basecamp now, whereas they used to aspire to work there.

But it is far from clear to me that my friends are in a majority. Many people on the right, or people who are apolitical, or people who just don't like politicisation in the way that has been reported, may be perfectly fine with this.

In terms of reputation, it wouldn't surprise me if this is a net win for Basecamp.

For sure losing a third of employees is an existential risk, but I suspect senior management would have accepted that risk.

(I consider myself to be left wing, but not woke).

I think people who are viewing this through a left vs. right wing issue are missing the forest for the trees.

The issue is not the new policy. The issue is the way it was rolled out; in an extremely public way that was basically a subtweet of their entire workforce, all while they knew there was a ton of internal drama they’d failed to control. That was unbelievably bad leadership, and I think anyone focusing entirely on whether or not the specific policy is good or bad, to the point where it makes them want to join or not, has been fighting the culture war way too much for their own good.

I’d be fine with a no politics policy, I would not be fine with the blog post, especially if I felt that the internal problem hadn’t been dealt with and instead I’d been crapped on publicly by my boss.

> Stop politicizing tech.

If you're in the business of "changing the world" or "changing peoples' lives" then your business is political. Politics reflect how people feel about things.

You're using tech as a shorthand for "technology company" -- companies are also organizations of people with feelings. People function best when they are treated with respect and given psychological safety. People need to have room to discuss how they feel about things, so you can build better policies that make people happy and motivated to succeed at the mission. Sometimes those things are lumped into what a company might consider "political" and it's not an easy line to draw.

For example, gender imbalance is one of the most important "political" things that I think every healthy company needs to look long and hard at; how do you do that if you clamp down on that as "political discussion?" Similarly if racial injustice is impacting a segment of your workforce more than others, don't you think it's worthwhile for management to do things like make statements of support, check in on their employees, and basically be a bit human and accommodating? Or wait is that political discussion?

Folks like you who say employees should just "focus on the work" dismiss the idea that people shouldn't just be viewed as cogs in these money-making machines. Tech, where company profit margins are fat and where actual productivity is not measured in SLOC but in the ability to generate ideas and focus on how those ideas affect users, is actually one of the only market segments we can actually point at and say "you have the means to do better." It's really sad when founders like Fried and DHH give their employees the impression that they are no more than pieces of a money making machine after clearly fooling a lot of them into thinking there was some semblance of a social contract there. So no it's definitely not a better place to work now than a week ago.

By the way, people aren't stupid for thinking that there's a social contract, especially at small companies. There's always a loose contract -- and one of the powerful things about equity and its presence in SV companies is how it aligns the incentives for management and labor. But trust is also a component of that alignment force; trust is one of the things that has always made silicon valley magical. So it's really disappointing when that trust is violated.

If you're in the business of "changing the world" or "changing peoples' lives" then your business is political

If you're Apple or Microsoft, that would apply. But Basecamp is a company that makes office productivity apps.

so is Microsoft :)

Officially having policy to not discussing politics is very good. In my experience, it is rarelly imposed but there is always someone who crosses line and it comes handy.

On side note, sadly in my (unpopular) opinion, north americans are focused too much on being politically correct in speech instead of being correct in action and thoughts.Hope this will not be their downfall.

“I’ll bet Basecamp is a better place to work now than it was a week ago”

I don’t know, if my week at work concluded with one of the founders going on a blocking spree and leading the Rails community to start discussing disassociating itself from him, I wouldn’t consider that “better”. :)

I think there’ll be a lot of people applying for jobs there now. I know I want to

Me too! I haven't even heard of Basecamp before, but now it has made it's way onto my whitelist of "sane companies worth working for." I really hope they survive this debacle and keep making good products.

Damn, I’m going to have to face some competition! I wouldn’t say what they’ve done was a master stroke but now everyone knows their name and as you say it’ll be top of the list of sane companies to apply for

You do you, I wouldn’t want to work with someone who just showed their ass to the entire internet like that.

I think it was good leadership actually

Good leadership doesn’t result in you losing 1/3rd of the company’s workforce.

Or, since I know that the common retort here is “they’re better off without the troublemakers”; good leaders don’t build organizations where 1/3rd of the organization is troublemakers; that’s a failure of hiring.

There really is no way to spin this in a way that makes them look good. The PR hit is really just the cherry on top of losing so many people, and paying 6 months of salary for the privilege to boot.

Well it might not take them that long to hire 20 people.

And even if they couldn’t, having a smaller but more productive workforce might be a win.

Irregardless, I think they’re going to have an increase in job applications and do very well in the future

> And even if they couldn’t, having a smaller but more productive workforce might be a win.

I wouldn’t want to work for a company that somehow managed to get dragged down by 20 people. If losing those people is making the company better, then it sounds like leadership is deeply incompetent and let things fester for way, way, way too long. Keep in mind that some of those people worked there for 12 years; if losing them is a net positive why weren’t they fired a decade ago?

I also think the idea that the remaining workers will be more productive is laughable. Events like these crush morale, even if you ultimately agree with the policy decision being made. Never mind what happens when you lose so much knowledge, including entire teams and directors, with basically no warning or opportunity to transfer knowledge.

Hope their docs are world class, or their replacements are gonna have a bad time.

There's 58 employees at the entire company (or was)

That's almost more surprising to me. In small companies I usually expect most people to stick together because everyone knows everyone. Having 1/3 leave isn't something I'd ever imagine.

I think with more and more remote work social ties get weaker - at least from what I have seen people are easier to leave because the group isn't as tightly connected when everyone knows each other just from some remote meetings and PRs.

I doubt it. Basecamp has extremely long average tenures. The people who are quitting are often 9-12 year veterans. If social ties were that weak there, they would’ve been pealed off by recruiters before.


I'm guessing more people will leave in the next few weeks.

We will see if most of the company stays after losing a third of its staff including several directors and some of its most senior and longest-tenured engineering talent. Would you? I’m not sure I would.

Is the company still going to exist after this? That's quite a lot of severance, unless they manage to renegotiate it all.

They’ll live. They just kneecapped themselves for no obvious reason, but they’ve got enough cash, remaining talent, and customers to live. Especially since they’re not VC backed, and slowing growth isn’t fatal.

I’d wait until you hear about customers quitting before you assume that they’re in trouble, and I don’t think it’ll happen.

I don't think they kneecapped themselves, I think they're just not letting a good crisis go to waste.

I’m not sure how losing 1/3rd of your staff, including the head of design and the entire iOS team could be seen as anything other than a massive issue.

An issue, yes, but we don't know what else could be going on behind the scenes at Basecamp. You can replace a head of design and an iOS team quickly at a company that small (58 employees before the purge).

If anything else is going on behind the scenes that makes losing 1/3 of the company a better outcome, I would lay blame for that directly at the feet of leadership for letting it get that bad.

Some people have said they'll abandon basecamp products because of this. My gut feeling is that this won't be a significant number but it is happening

People always say that though. A few weeks go by, hype dies down, no one cares. Boycotts are rarely effective. Most people just want software that works, and migrating creates time and effort that affects business. I’m sure most people who cancelled were already on the verge of it before.

Tools like Basecamp are much harder to boycott than consumer goods because they’re so sticky. I’m not even sure “boycott” is the right word here, as I think if they lose any customers it’ll be more of a “loss of faith” problem than a political one.

Personally, while I’d find the list of “funny” names offputting, I wouldn’t cancel. I however would take the buyout if I worked there; leadership there seems genuinely incompetent, and it’s not like remote jobs are rare anymore.

They lost the entire iOS app team. If they live I think it'll be because they convince the people to stay, not because they replace them.

That really depends. Where they activists? Then hell yeah, because it will be great from now on, like a calm morning with the sun shining after a stormy night.

A company I'm involved with fired their lead developer and it really was cartoonish how everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Others are stepping up, discussions don't take forever because that person needed to be at the center of everything etc. They've picked up a lot of velocity since then, simply because a problem-employee is gone.

Did they knock out the BS? Or did they just get dragged into a massively political and now massively open fight? What do you think the average productivity of a Basecamp employee is right now?

Even after the dust settles, will you trust that DHH and Jason will keep their promise of no politics? What a company says about its culture and the reality are often quite different.

> Most of the company stayed.

That’s an oddly mechanical way of expressing that a third of the company didn’t stay. If an asteroid hit the planet and a third of the population died, it would be very weird to say “most of the population survived”.

Are you sure “most of the company stayed”? Over a third has already publicly announced they’re quitting, and the changes were only announced like a week ago, so...

And there must be employees who privately made a decision to leave.

They’re not just hemorrhaging employees, they’re hemorrhaging customers too. I know I will never give them money.

This looks like a fatal blow, not a place someone would want to work. I’m sure they’re hiring though so you could probably get a job there and ride it out to the end.

> they’re hemorrhaging customers too

I doubt that, most companies could not care less about the internal affairs of their tools' companies, unless it impacts the tools' performance and featureset, something we still await to see regarding Basecamp, whether they can successfully plug the employee hemorrhage wound and get new employees working on the product.

they’re hemorrhaging customers too

No evidence of this whatsoever. A bluecheck on Twitter loudly proclaiming that he's not going to pay $99/yr for email (HEY) or never using Basecamp again doesn't count. Citation needed.

Bluecheck Twitter we’re the only people using Basecamp in the first place. They just destroyed their core market.

> most companies could not care less about the internal affairs of their tools' companies

Most might be broad. Lots of companies absolutely care about the interal workings of their vendors. They can and do make decisions on these kinds of factors, especially if a large contract is on the line or they are looking for that last thing to separate 2 viable candidates. All companies doing manufacturing in places like Asia are constantly being looked at by human rights organizations to ensure the employees are being treated as humans. Personally, I won't do business with companies like Uber (even with new leadership), Wal-Mart, etc based on things reported about them.

Sure, depends on industry, I was talking about tech specifically. And in tech, many might care, but most will not.

Apple, Google, Amazon isn't tech with their manufacturing in Asia? Uber lost a lot with revelations of the fratbro leadership and corporate culture. Theranos lost everything when people looked into the fradulent practices. Lots of tech companies have felt blowback because of internal policies.

Companies do definitely care about PR, however, and can easily get called out for associating with known bad actors.

Most companies do actually evaluate their vendors. Basecamp built a brand on “management” and just proved they’re maybe the worst in the industry at it. Only on HN are people supporting them. It’s a dead company walking.

What is it that you object to specifically that would motivate your decision not to do business with them in the future?

If a vendor we were working with lost a third of their employees, I would question whether that vendor would be a good long term relationship, regardless of what caused the exodus.

The founder’s egomania and the customer name list. I’m not going to give a company run by people stupid enough to put a bullet in the head if their own startup, any money.

I don't want to worry if my name is funny enough to be included in a list of jerks. That's ugly behavior and I don't want to have business with people that are looking for reasons to disrespect me.

I respect your position.

When I was a kid my best friend called my sandy toes because my last name was Santos.

If my name sounded like a Swedish curse word I wouldn’t be mad because a Swede laughed at my name.

Maybe part of healing division as humor and laughter. If we can’t take a joke we can’t share the connection of humor with others.

>If we can’t take a joke we can’t share the connection of humor with others.

As an adult that has spent their entire life hear the same old tired jokes about their name, I could easily see/sympathize with them for no longer being amused by something that would make a 10 year old boy chuckle.

It is one think to have a laugh at something unexpected. Such things happen. Trying to maintain such a list and to keep it around for years is another level of objectivizing that is far from professional.

In addition, if they are so easy to one's name, it is likely that they will try to look for other sources of fun: accent, looks, type of issue.

I don't think we know why these people resigned, since the severance package was so generous that many of them may have just taken the excuse for a long holiday.

I would count myself as someone who would simultaneously be thrilled with management's decision to ban political discussion at work but also quit to get the six months pay.

I mean most of then say explicitly that it’s because of this decision in their tweets. Would you really go out of your way to say something like that if you didn’t believe it?

If it makes your interview for the next position go a little more smoothly on why you suddenly "abandoned" your job, then yes, I could easily see people taking a mere thirty seconds (if not less) to fire off a tweet.

None of this is how companies or teams work. Rules are not created through negotiations, at some point a leader makes a decision.

What I think it is missing here is a concept I discovered very late in my career, after a burnout which took me over 1 year to pass over: psychological contract.

Which is defined as "Psychological contracts are defined by the relationship between an employer and an employee where there are unwritten mutual expectations for each side. A psychological contract is rather defined as a philosophy, not a formula or devised plan."

So I don't know what happened at Basecamp but here is how breaking a psychological contract feel to the employee from my experience: A leader representing the company does something, an action, takes a decision. You, the employee, feel that a wrong was done to you, even if the rules, law and contract says the one who took the action has the right to do it.

And in the beginning no amount of explanation about the action will alleaviate this feeling. Logically you will agree that they can do what they did, but emotionally (psychologically) at the end of every meeting or discussion you will still feel that somehow a wrong was done to you, a balance is unbalanced ...

Shortly you lost the trust in the company that what they will do has your best interests at heart.

It takes a big amount of effort and trying to put yourself in the shoes of your leader to try to understand how they got to that decision/action and if indeed was done in good faith you might overcome this. If not, then the best is to leave.

A "leader" makes a decision and the people under him decide whether to listen to that decision, to push back against that decision, or leave. So in reality, the company's direction is influenced by people both at the top and at the bottom of the totem pole.

True leaders realize the importance of cultivating those underneath them, and adapting their direction to pushback or input.

And when there's a dramatic split on how to move forward, they apparently generously buy out the minority.

Managers of high-performance teams recognise that they're not the talent; the job is to enable the talent. You are Brian Epstein, not John Lennon.

Hire good people, give them goals, and the resources they need, then get the fuck out of their way. Let them make their own processes, rules, norms, even mistakes. Most organisations have a prevailing culture, so they'll operate in context anyway; create boundaries by application of Conway's law. Intervene by guidance and with pertinent and impertinent questions, not with directives and fiat. Authoritarianism is the death-knell of ingenuity.

It’s one thing to solicit feedback and be open to the input of your team. It’s another, often ineffective, thing to let your team lead you. How would a leader make a decision when there are conflicting views or recommendations.

Brian Epstein made lots of decisions without the bands opinion and many more when they disagreed.

Well, here's the rub: I generally try to avoid saying "my team", because I don't regard them as possessions.

I'll make N-way decisions between conflicting ideals when I'm invited to adjudicate, but refrain otherwise. My guidance would be to workshop apparently dissimilar preferences extensively, because 99% of the time there is a synthesis to be found, and creating a focus for conflict tends to encourage loud voices to get louder, drowning out alternatives. I'll treat any administrative decision-making as being on behalf of the team, i.e. as having been delegated the authority to do so from the members. I learned years ago that governing by consent of the governed is the only form of respectful leadership, and this extends to organisations and corporations, and it's never more apparent than when a manager switches jobs and people follow to the new gig because they liked working with you.

The most important function, in this management style, is hiring, and in some organisations, talent acquisition has been half my workload. Regarding which I was once told, "hire people smarter than you"; the only issue with this maxim being the corollary, viz. that the CEO is, by induction, the company dunce.

Interesting perspective. What is it about my team that is possessive? The work my?

Why is it that you avoid possessiveness?

I am not asking from judgement but genuine curiosity.

I think there are some valuable ideas in your post. And I generally agree with your perspective. I also think nothing about governing with consent of the governed alters the existence of an actual power structure unless you would resign in the face of a team member not consenting to your decision.

> my

Yes. The primary meaning of "my" is the individual possessive. The secondary meaning of association, or membership, is something one cannot reliably communicate, even to oneself.

> Why is it that you avoid possessiveness?

I don't own people. They have individual agency.

> resign in the face of a team member not consenting to your decision

That's bonkers. It's still thinking in terms of a command authority. It's not me that has to consent, it's the rest of the team. Or more precisely, don't make decisions on behalf of a team if it hasn't agreed to recognising their validity in advance. The most important consent to obtain in this regard is hiring (nuance: compensation/levelling is best left to a separate corporate organ), followed by seating (yes, really) and allocation of day-to-day work.

Frankly, a manager whose team doesn't recognise the validity of their decisions, or who can't handle being challenged to qualify and explain their thinking, should go. Continuing the earlier analogy; if the band is unhappy with their manager, they can get a new one.

Command authority is for temporary dictators in situations required real-time skilled decision making, like a surgeon in the OR, or the emergency controller for a downtime incident. It is not for deciding which continuous delivery tool we'll use, whether we're including SSO in the next release, or buying standing desks, or who gets to sit next to the window, or has to refactor a problematic query.

The hardest thing to do in this context is fire someone, but then, it always is.

The easiest thing to do is actually extinguish the team, because the quid pro quo is that it spends company resources.

Who said they were high performing? They had the best team money can buy almost but I'm really not sure it was high performing. Looks like it had a lot of problems and I'm sure it affected productivity.

The funny thing about leadership is that those under you hold more power than you, because it is up to them to accept your decision.

In any marketplace, there are always people who decide not to deal with any given participant. That doesn't mean they have more or less power. There are still others to deal with.

Sure, ending a relationship is disruptive. But moving on is perfectly feasible.

I'm referring more to people -- leaders in a position of power and influence over those below them, like a CEO or manager.

And the thought here is not novel -- it was taught to me as part of an Organizational Psychology class in b-school

One's ability to lead is only as good as their ability to get followers to follow their lead. Hence why so many people use fear to keep others in line -- it's the easiest and simple way to ensure compliance

In Political Science, Neustadt’s seminal Presidential Power (1960) makes the point that the President’s power is mostly exercised through persuasion.

Yes, because B-school is exactly where people learn to become good leaders... please, tell me more ;-)

Knowledge-wise my BS in global business isn't worth the paper its printed on, but it keeps the "you have to have a degree" assholes at bay

Considering that most b-school students go on to become MBAs, I would hope they teach some leadership skills

This is true but it doesn’t change the structural reality that a leader makes a decision.

The leader makes a decision, but usually that decision is either fully defined or heavily constrained by the wishes of the team. Being in charge often feels more like figuring out what your subordinates want to do and putting out some compromise in a way everybody can agree to than coming up with directions yourself

Do you always do exactly what your boss first tells you to do? You never negotiate a delivery date?

Leaders make decisions but good leaders take account of the views of their teams.

Somehow negotiating a delivery date feels different from feeling free to use company resources to discuss outside politics...but I'm old fashioned, I know.

It wasn't "outside" politics though. It was discussion of things going on at the company, that the owners decided were "politics" that would be banned in the future.

I'm old fashioned enough to know that when you impose changes overnight that lead 1/3 of your staff to leave on the spot then maybe a little bit of consultation might have been a good idea.

Agreed, especially if things are slipping BECAUSE of all the time lost to political battles.

This is obviously wrong: decisions are negotiations. Rules are merely the next step in a continuous process. Rules change, participants change, environments change.

Ok, so why do we accept that companies are run like autocracies, but we expect that societies are run like democracies?

If we say that employees should be smart enough to autonomously do their jobs well, wouldn't their collective intelligence be better at running the business in its entirety? Why isn't it smarter and more financially sound to run a business like a democracy?

You should give "The Alliance" by Reid Hoffman a read. Excellent book - the first half, anyway - and I think it might give you a different perspective (or at least some food for thought).

America - land of freedom and democracy, where all are created equal... you must do exactly as your boss says without question though. The workplace is a magic alternate dimension where totalitarianism is suddenly good, for some reason.

You fundamentally do not understand the definition of totalitarianism which is why, you, simply lofting that word at everyone in every direction to blanket disparage things you don't like results in 90% of your comment history being greyed out.

I know I'm wasting my time here but here is the first three definitions of totalitarianism I was able to find :

(emphasis mine)

> Britannica: Totalitarianism: *form of government* that theoretically permits no individual freedom and that seeks to subordinate all aspects of individual life to the authority of the state.

> Google : relating to a *system of government* that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state.

> Dictionary.com : of or relating to a *centralized government* that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life.

A business is not a government and you are using the term in a meaningless context so you are going to have to forgive everyone else for pointing out that what you are saying makes absolutely zero sense.

> A business is not a government

Yes it is, hence the existence of concepts like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_governance and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workplace_democracy

Employers have a great deal of authority of their employee's lives - to that extent they govern their employees. This is all straightforward, conventional usage of these words and terms.

Government also makes the rules about how businesses operate (property law, contract law, and so forth), and give businesses the right to enforce them - in this way, businesses are an extension of government in the control they have over our lives.

All you're doing is question-begging the exact premise I'm critiquing in the first place: That the workplace is in a magic separate dimension where principles usually agreed to be good (democracy, equality) are no longer desirable or even applicable.

That is honestly probably the single dumbest things I've ever seen written on hacker news. Congrats.

Instead of insults, perhaps you could explain what you think is wrong with it or what you disagree with.

I'm not sure why this has made you angry - perhaps you've become irrationally attached to certain ideological beliefs, and my pointing them out has triggered you.

>A business is not a government

>Yes it is

Some things reach a point of idiocy where no one is going to be convinced and you just need to call things what they are. And that is fucking moronic. So let's just stick with that.

Imagine being so convinced you're correct that you call others idiots and morons, when a cursory read of the relevant wikipedia article would show that you're obviously wrong.


Emphasis mine:

> A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, *generally* a state.

> While *all types of organizations have governance*, the term government is *often* used more specifically, to refer to the approximately 200 independent national governments and subsidiary organizations.

So you are simply ignorant of the broader meaning of the term. I look forward to your apology. But do please try to interact with more humility and politeness in future, and be familiar with the very basics of a topic before debating it.

> you must do exactly as your boss says without question though.

You left off "if you want your boss to give you gobs of money every two weeks".

It’s a two-way street, though. If you’re a half-decent software engineer there are tons of bosses willing to give you gobs of money. And smart bosses recognize that.

Absolutely. But the idea that this is a "totalitarian" deficiency in the country's provision of negative rights is ludicrous.

"Do what I say or I'll cut off your income, depriving you of food and shelter" is exactly the kind of authoritarianism I'm talking about.

Basecamp isn't the only way on earth that these people can make an income

So as long as you can take your pick between a number of different authoritarian situations, that's OK?

Are you a socialist/communist? I've only heard socialists talk in these types of terms, "authoritarian" "totalitarian" etc when referring to the workplace.

I'm simply trying to get to the heart of people's beliefs, and understand why they think the way they do.

No you aren't. You are hurling pejoratives around to win a point. As noted above, you are not even using the pejoratives correctly.

Well I'd say that companies, unlike governments in a nation, are myriad, and one has choices as to where to go. Similarly, the founders should retain as much control as they wish, as do the employees, as it's a bilateral contract. Now, for companies that essentially force workers to work, such as minimum wage shops, I have no sympathy for them.

Governments are myriad, just like companies are. There are hundreds to choose from, and one has choices as to where to go.

Sure, and if people don't like one, they are free to move to another country as well. Although this is harder by at least an order of magnitude than switching jobs of course.

This is in no way "authoritarian". Basecamp is saying that if you want to sell your labor to them, they have a few requirements. Plenty of companies have this. Is making employees wear or uniform or wash their hands when they leave the restroom authoritarian? After all, if they don't follow those rules, they'll be fired and their income streams will be cut off.

It's fine for a job to have requirements, but why shouldn't those requirements be decided in a more democratic way?

Because the employees aren't buying their own labor. Why should they get a part in the decision about how someone else spends their money?

Because that's called plutocracy, which is bad. Things should be governed by democratic principles rather than plutocratic principles.

Particularly in the context of a workplace, where the workers are the ones actually doing all the work.

> Because that's called plutocracy, which is bad. Things should be governed by democratic principles rather than plutocratic principles.

This is a value judgment not shared by everyone. One/few person rule can be quite efficient in certain tasks such as rapid development and deployment of resources, because you can cut through red tape. At the same time, it can be inefficient in other tasks.

> that is to break the social contract between employee and employed.

Well actual contract is do your job and get paycheck. People try to ignore other stuff you do until it becomes mess.

> In doing that they declared that they alone decide the rules, they alone decide what is acceptable to say and what is not.

Well legally yes as long as they dont brek any law. If you read correctly they consult labour lawyer for their words

> you'll lose your best employees as they decide they don't really want you to decide everything about their waking hours without consulting you

You're honestly exaggerating situation. Nobody want you to consult with them for anything. They expect you to work in office hours.

You mean the professionalism of the founder going off on people in petty ways after they pointed out that making fun of customer names is bad and the company should review it's culture? Or where they banned any ability to give negative feedback about management under the disguise of banning political discussions?

If anything, I see everyone who is leaving as being the professional ones in this situation.

I agree that a leader should not single individuals out in a public way. That’s wrong.

However, if DHH’s verbatim quote of his response is accurate, it sounds like things had gotten out of hand with this company’s culture.

If a leader says “this is unacceptable - we will do better going forward”, that should be enough in this kind of situation. But apparently it wasn’t for the employee that you allude to.

A third of the company had joined some D&I committee and that committee apparently felt that its scope extended to the entire operations of the company. It sounds incredibly disruptive.

And I'm reading the company was ~60 employees, all remote. In a business that small, it's difficult to imagine how far the culture was off the rails to have 20 people focusing time and effort on something like a D&I committee.

If you don't think DE&I is important, than of course you think it's "off the rails" to have 20 people spending time and effort on it. If you do think it's important, then there'd be nothing "off the rails" about having mass participation in it.

Oddly, according to the coverage, the owners had previously said publicly and internally that they thought it was important.

The owners had previously been very publicly and assertively taking very "liberal" and "progressive" positions. They have been on the "wrong" side of the "culture wars" for those who think it's "off the rails" to be spending signficant time and effort on DE&I. "Hansson had encouraged employees to read Between the World and Me, a memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and The New Jim Crow... Both founders are also active — and occasionally hyperactive — on Twitter, where they regularly advocate for mainstream liberal and progressive views on social issues."

I wonder how it will feel to them to become the darlings of people very opposed to those positions they had been taking, as seen in these threads. I wonder if the owners will become born-again to the right-wing side of the "culture wars".

> I wonder how it will feel to them to become the darlings of people very opposed to those positions they had been taking, as seen in these threads. I wonder if the owners will become born-again to the right-wing side of the "culture wars".

Speaking as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, right wingers are not the only people opposed to woke insanity.

You're posting this anonymously because you know that's not true. Right wingers are, by definition, the people who speak out against the woke insanity. That's how the culture war works.

I am not posting anonymously. I identify as a liberal. My other posts probably indicate that. But I think any ideology that divides humanity into a group based on social or racial factors is unfair and perpetuates harmful divisions rather than inclusion. If “woke” arguments divide according to race, class or social history then such arguments are simply inverting racism and classism rather than moving forward to a more inclusive unified world.

There is a whole class of not only liberals but leftists (socialists, communists) who oppose identity politics: r/stupidpol. I know because I frequent that subreddit. So you're not correct, it's not just right wingers.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's a 2D plane of opinions: liberal/conservative on one axis, moderation/extremism on the other.

This is a far more accurate take, I'd say. People are analyzing this incident using old political/social categories when in fact identity politics doesn't fit cleanly into these classifications.

That's great. I'd probably subscribe if I still kept up with stuff like that.

If that sub were defining things, you would be right. But the people they're making fun of are defining things. My vote for the new axis goes to individualism vs. collectivism.

You're very wrong on this point. I've been left-leaning all my life, yet I'm utterly dismayed by the rise of Wokeness. In fact, I'm increasingly coming around to the idea that Wokeness is an elaborate psy-op by the rich and powerful to divide and conquer the poor and powerless.

I missed this last week. Just because what I said doesn't apply to you, doesn't mean I was wrong. Simply using the term "wokeness" and describing a suspected conspiracy puts you squarely in the group I'm talking about.

The only difference between me and you is that you think it means something when you say you've been left-leaning all your life. It doesn't. You're in the outgroup, just in denial about it.

So DHH is a right winger now?

Pretty much yeah. Any coverage (left or right!) of him from now on will include this stuff and paint him in that light. I think he's one step away from people disrupting his events and not being able to speak on college campuses.

Nobody said it wasn't important, but 20 out of 60 people focusing on it in a remote company that builds unrelated software is absolutely off the rails. You're essentially paying 1/3 of your employees to come up with new ways to suggest the other 2/3 need to stop being so racist / sexist / bigoted. It's difficult to imagine a more self-destructive culture.

> Oddly, according to the coverage, the owners had previously said publicly and internally that they thought it was important.

No owners would publicly say D&I are not important.

> I wonder how it will feel to them to become the darlings of people very opposed to those positions they had been taking, as seen in these threads.

I'm sure these decisions only came about after some hard looks in the mirror.

There's a fundamental disconnect where the way that a bunch of rich, mostly-liberal tech employees in cushy jobs talk to each other does exactly dick-all for people facing the very real social problems in America. They live in separate worlds.

These well-meaning D&I enthusiasts are pushing on a rope -- and then, when another innocent man gets killed by the cops the next week or whatever other newsworthy thing happens, they push harder. That's not how ropes work.

I feel like you have a misunderstanding. Most of the work of a D&I group like this is pushing for diversity and inclusion issues in their workplace, not in the country at large. And why shouldn’t they? There are places and organizations for society-wide stuff as well.

> And why shouldn’t they?

A few reasons:

* They weren't hired or asked to do that

* It doesn't bring more value to the business

* It contributes to a toxic working culture

And it's especially bad in a small company, because you're no longer looking at high level statistics. With only 58 people, you're not saying, "we've got too many white men, statistically." You're implicitly saying, "Mike and Jeff shouldn't have been hired. We should have found people of the race / sex I want to see more of." And, implicitly, "We're going to have to really lean on them to not hire another white guy." Now hiring managers are hesitant to do what's best for the business out of fear of being called -ist.

This idea that employees are entitled to organize privately on company time to try and leverage the company to focus on some unrelated special interest at the expense of being as successful as possible as a business is not as widely accepted as some here seem to think.

The “special interest” is not actually unrelated. A company can become better and more successful while also becoming more diverse. The very fact that you see becoming more diverse as coming at the expense of being more successful shows your inherent bias.

My gosh that's such a great and funny analogy.

It express the reality that having good intentions may have nothing whatsoever to do with outcomes and that misalignment can be exacerbated under more pressure.

The issue at Basecamp and every other socially minded startup is obviously that people don't realize they are pushing on rope, and they lament anyone pointing out the fact as some kind of obstacle.

The clear majority of these kinds of 'social blow ups' are happening at companies where leaders and staff tilt way over to the Left/Liberal and Libertarian/Openness side of things, which should give pause for people consider that maybe those 'pushing back' aren't remotely trump-loving alt-righters, in fact probably the opposite.

The very nature of these threads is exhausting and frankly if I had to work at once of these places I would take respite in not having to deal with it. If there were some kind of pervasive evil that needed to be dealt with, then of course we'd have to do that, but I strongly doubt that this is the case.

Right, if you think DE&I consists of "new ways to suggest everyone else stop being so racist / sexist / bigoted", you're clearly not into it.

You realize those who think it's important don't think that's what it is, right?

If 20 employees were on the "social" committee planning a holiday party, would you consider that as "off the rails", because you are paying them (some here unspecified number of hours) to throw a damn party? I doubt anyone would get that up in arms about it.

I get it, you think DE&I is a mistake, (unless you think coming up with new ways to tell people to stop being racist is not a mistake? But I think you were clear), so the more people involved in it, the bigger the mistake. But if someone thinks it's important, perhaps even more important than a holiday party, then the more people involved in it the better, and having a large portion of the company involved in it is not a mistake. That's it.

> If 20 employees were on the "social" committee planning a holiday party, would you consider that as "off the rails"

The party planning committee would presumably not try to dictate which vendors the company deals with and which speaker is at the next all-hands meeting.

If you think a party planning committee doesn't have real power and influence, bring nothing but carrot cakes and oatmeal raisin cookies to your next party.

> Right, if you think DE&I consists of "new ways to suggest everyone else stop being so racist / sexist / bigoted", you're clearly not into it.

There's no other way for 20 out of 58 people to spend any significant length of time focused on D&I of the company they work for.

1 out of 58? Maybe. But 20? There's only one way this thing can end.

> If 20 employees were on the "social" committee planning a holiday party, would you consider that as "off the rails", because you are paying them (some here unspecified number of hours) to throw a damn party? I doubt anyone would get that up in arms about it.

A party planning committee is not targeting the rest of the company.

> I get it, you think DE&I is a mistake,

I didn't say it was a mistake. I said 1/3 of a small remote company focused on it shows it was off the rails.

Maybe they should have just joined in. Each of the 58 employees could be brainstorming ways the other 57 employees can be less bigoted. Just hope they could find some time to write software, too.

> A party planning committee is not targeting the rest of the company.

Sounds like a pretty lame party if they're not inviting the rest of the company.

Also, that you think discussing how to make a workplace more diverse, equitable, and inclusive is somehow "targeting" the other employees says a lot about your stance on those things.

It's a committee. Not their primary job focus. You seem to be willfully misunderstanding that.

Time and effort put into the committee comes at the expense of time and effort put into their primary job though.

And a lack of time and effort put into the committee led to the expense of having to buy out 1/3 of the staff.

Wonder how that balances out.

The committee had yet to even meet.

I haven’t seen this allegation. It would help the discussion if you could link to someone citing this reason.


> Employees say the founders’ memos unfairly depicted their workplace as being riven by partisan politics, when in fact the main source of the discussion had always been Basecamp itself.

> “At least in my experience, it has always been centered on what is happening at Basecamp,” said one employee — who, like most of those I spoke with today, requested anonymity so as to freely discuss internal deliberations. “What is being done at Basecamp? What is being said at Basecamp? And how it is affecting individuals? It has never been big political discussions, like ‘the postal service should be disbanded,’ or ‘I don’t like Amy Klobuchar.’”

> “There’s always been this kind of unwritten rule at Basecamp that the company basically exists for David and Jason’s enjoyment,”

Well, of course! If you are working for a private company then this is exactly what you are signing up for.

From the article: After months of fraught conversations, Fried and his co-founder, David Heinemeier Hansson moved to shut those conversations down.

If my team spent months debating these issues I would be concerned as well.

You say that as if the team spent literally all their work time debating these issues during those months.

It only takes a ten minute dysfunctional conversation to profoundly damage a team. If the debate became detrimental then a pause is warranted.

Is it too much to ask to read the linked article (and corresponding background info, also linked in the posted article), before commenting?

The parent thread is a link to Twitter so not sure what you are referring to.

The “linked article” was a Twitter circle jerk, wasn’t it?

It’s ironic that “professionalism” is so malleable. We’re talking about misuse of customer data in a borderline racist way, and when employees did their job and raised red flags, the founder dug through search logs in a petty attempt to embarrass an employee - in front of the company.

Tell me again how this is “about professionalism.”

You are leaving something out that seems quite relevant to me, which is that the list wasn’t just objected to as unprofessional but that the conversation was escalated to the highest possible level, linking it to genocide.

One person mentioned the pyramid of hate and you think it makes sense to point that out when talking about a policy that spans all employees? It’s clear basecamp doesn’t know how to handle difficult discussions, but politics is business. The state, laws and political institutions are the basis of all wealth and power. Their cowardice means their business is now in jeopardy.

We have lots of difficult, sometimes racialized discussions at BigCo. It makes us better at engaging with the world outside our walls. It’s not unnecessary or distracting from our work because our customers live in the same world we create products and services for, it’s part of our work.

Look at Apples stance on privacy, that’s based on a lot of difficult political discussions that culminate in corporate policy. If we did away with politics, we couldn’t have come to some of the decisions we have until forced by legislatures or our competitors.

It’s unprofessional to call a coworker a racist or say they are one step from genocide.

The ADL graphic clearly shows far more than one step between the list and genocide.

Right? Who's being hysterical here? The coworkers who rightly recognized the harms of racist speech or those who crow that such recognition is tantamount to an accusation of genocide.

That clearly is not the meaning of the graphic displayed however.

That it is about professionalism doesn’t seem to be in dispute.

Who’s professionalism might be, though.

It’s possible to ban flame wars instead of politics. Dealing with differences of opinions (or lack thereof of this skill) is what causes flame wars. Politics is not the only thing people disagree on. Should they also ban discussion of potentially contentious improvements to the codebase?

Edit: reading some of the comments below, it does also say they banned discussion of certain past decisions. It’s not just politics. Interesting.

> It’s possible to ban flame wars instead of politics.

I find this statement idealistic in the US, as so many issues, political or not, are turned into good-vs-evil moral confrontation. Universal care is taking freedom from citizens. Taking vaccine is big pharma's conspiracy. Wearing masks is eroding civil rights. The left is not better. J.K Rowling is already a Nazi. Any Trump supporter should be hunted and punished. Questioning Faucci is anti-science. Questioning Biden is supporting Trump. Asking a person not to graffiti on my house means losing my job for opposing the right movement. And how much hate did Bari Weiss get from her staff for an editorial decision?

> Should they also ban discussion of potentially contentious improvements to the codebase?

Sometimes, yes. For example, if your company is riven by endless flame wars over tabs vs spaces or where curly braces go, it can make a lot of sense to publish a style guide and cut off further discussion.

In this context it sounds like an engineer who joins the company and suggests an improvement to or asks the reasoning behind why the style guide says something would be fired or receive reprimand. In an idea meritocracy on the other hand engineers are empowered to understand and question things. I have found that by questioning things, it helps me disagree and commit to things. I have found open discussion is what build alignment. I don’t think I would be happy working somewhere where I cannot question the reasoning behind a decision.

As an example, when I first joined Twitch, it was an uphill battle initially to get buy in for automatic code formatting, however through questioning and understanding their past decisions the team came around to implementing it, as well as numerous other improvements I still have engineers reach out to me thank me for years later. If they had this policy, it’s possible I would not have been around long enough to actually champion the improvements.

Are you familiar with the term Eternal September? That’s the downside to what you are suggesting.

I don’t say there’s no upside, only that sometimes the downside outweighs the upside (and sometimes it doesn’t.)

In other examples I received constructive coaching from a manager “the team feels like while you had valid points, you yak shaved/took it personally, in the future please write a doc instead of doing X”. No one was fired or reprimanded. No company wide policies were created. I can look back at my career at Twitch and honestly say I grew as an engineer, because they used positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement.

Such an awesome example. I didn’t know this phrase. Thanks for that.

In your opinion, when do such "improvements" tread the line between important and related philosophical questions to ideological glory-hogging and metooism? What you describe generally sounds like technical issues and computational philosophy in relation to the backend. That's appropriate to discuss even if there is confrontation involved. But what do think about Twitch's policies with regards to its frontend? Should employees have a say in how they get to interpret Twitch policies? Is it hypocritical that Twitch's moderators should go after unflattering speech (pogchamp, etc.) in the name of improving the platform when hiding behind a veil of ignorance with regards to so-called "booba"? A company can do what it wants and, in a more limited context, so can its employees. But shouldn't there be a point where a company's higher-ups or a single differing employee can do their business without being required to buy into the koolaid that ever improvement is supposed to be for the perceived good of the company/fellow employees/the cause/the world/etc. in every way possible? Especially if such a way is outside of one's actual depths? In short, when should people stop expecting "more" out of you?

I’m honestly not quite sure what you’re getting at, but employees at Twitch could indeed dissent about the moderation policy without being subject to termination as a result.

As an example, I was in charge of deploying the website the day we hosted a Trump rally. I made it well known to my team and manager that I did not like this, as did others, but I did my job anyways, and there were no flame wars, nor did anyone get fired. Although I disagreed with Emmets wishes, I still hold the utmost respect for him. The same cannot be said for Armstrong or DHH.


Should an employee have to accept ideological points for his company at face value even if it goes against his sense of workmanship or integrity? What about vice versa (companies vis a vis employees)?

How much does (or should) anyone's say diverge at Twitch especially from the dominant ideological creed (whether such a creed was employee-fostered or company-fostered)?

Where does one's technical achievement end and "the cause" begin?

No an employee should not have to accept anything, and in the US does not have to.

My key point here is that in companies that allow discussions, I can ask questions of the policies I disagree with to understand what motivates the policies. I can propose alternative viewpoints. Often, via having open uncensored discussions I find that it is much easier to disagree and commit

In the Emmet / Trump example, he explained the reasoning (we are a platform) and allowed us to grumble. Had there also been a policy that anyone complaining would be terminated, I’m not so sure I would have deployed the website that day.

Hope that answers your question

Thank you for answering my questions. I appreciate your insight.

In your opinion as a professional, what should Armstrong and DHH have done without kowtowing to their employees?

And while I still have your attention on Twitch, what is with the company's hypocritical stance on scantily-clad women (a la Alinity) and copyright abuses while claiming that it isn't allowed? Your employment seems to have been contemporaneous with those episodes, so it seems like you would know a few things.

I just deployed the website and worked on dev tooling, I don’t have any comment on Twitch moderation.

I’m not convinced Armstrong and DHH had such a drastic flame war problem, for example after banning politics, Armstrong made several public political rants including endorsing Kanye West - http://modernconsensus.com/politics/ceo-of-apolitical-coinba...

Perhaps they should have done what most other companies do, and ignore the “problem” if employees are otherwise productive, and if not then replace unproductive employees with productive ones. Whether an employee is productive is tangential to their political beliefs, and an employee who is causing waves over politics will just cause waves over something else if you ban politics.

I would work for someone who I disagreed with, but if an employer tries to silence me and turns around and advocates for their own political candidate, it seems to me the employer is being narrow minded, underhanded, and hypocritical

Saying "I don't think we should make fun of our customers" isn't a flame war. 1/3 of employees don't leave because a few unreasonable people are told to tone it down.

DHH says the trouble didn’t come from objecting to the list. In fact, he’s disavowed it repeatedly. He said the trouble was that the employee said that the list was not merely unprofessional but was one step on a ladder of racial oppression that leads to genocide.

It’s one thing to say someone is acting unprofessionally. It’s another thing altogether to accuse them of being on a path to genocide. If I did that to someone when it was so clearly uncalled for, I would be an asshole and my relationship with that person would be strained from that point forward.

If you don’t like that strain in your workplace, you try to draw a line on speech. It’s not something I’d want from the government, but it seems appropriate for a workplace.

But isn’t this also DHH making a strawman of a strawman?

I’m led to understand the graphic in question was about how long-term tolerance of micro aggression can lead macro-aggressions over time, the ultimate form of which being genocide.

To share such a graphic isn’t to make a point that “your actions lead to genocide”, it’s to highlight the important of being diligent about not allowing micro aggressions to become commonplace and accepted within a culture. Because the long term society-wide effects of that can be genuinely terrible.

Except it's a fairy tale from the minds of social scientists with lots of research funding and zero experience of real world genocide. The simplest response to the diagram would be a free copy of Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago for all employees.

Exactly this. Graphics like this serve to educated about how an environment tolerant of small things can eventually become tolerant of bigger things, and then much bigger things, and that's why it's important to pay attention to the small things.

The employee wasn't accusing anyone of supporting genocide, even though DHH clearly took it personally.

> an environment tolerant of small things can eventually become tolerant of bigger things, and then much bigger things, and that's why it's important to pay attention to the small things.

Huh, sounds like the "broken windows" theory of policing. Did not expect that.

The list was clearly unprofessional and made some people uncomfortable, that is enough for it to be gone. It would be worthwhile to discuss explicitly what was wrong with the list, opening people's eyes to perspectives they hadn't considered and to take a little time to foster shared ideals for the workplace culture. Even alluding to genocide is wildly over the top and I can understand if it offended some people, regardless of whether they had anything to do with the list.

Ok, but how is that relevant to making Basecamp better?

If he's disavowed and apologized for the list then this genocide point is just a big waste of time and a distraction. I can't see how it would achieve anything productive.

I'm not surprised you don't see the point. But then you probably aren't the subject of racist microaggressions in the workplace.

I do see the point, it's an argument that there exists a plausible slippery slope from (allegedly) quasi-racist jokes to genocide.

I just think it's sanctimonious, a total waste of time and a distraction to throw such incendiary and flamebait things out into the workplace's communication channels, especially if it's been apologized for already.

Yeah seriously. I’m the first to complain about wokeism (e.g. I disagree with a lot of claims of cultural appropriation), but there wasn’t anything unreasonable about the graphic there and dhh is really strawmanning it.

And yet, it's possible to have a direct conversation with someone where you say, I appreciate where you're coming from on this and I hear what you're saying, but in this place and time you escalated this conversation in an unproductive way and I'd like to talk to you about bringing more light than heat to what is a difficult conversation.

Going from "someone posted an ADL infographic about the pyramid of hate" to "we're cancelling all external benefits, DEI discussion group is cancelled, and nobody can talk about politics anymore in our office ever" is an insane overreaction.

This. Get these people out of your workplace and away from any position of power before they burn it to the ground

It sounds as though the commity was trying to push a critical theory agenda, and the founders came down on it.

I agree.

On the other hand, it does sound as though basecamp is actually just a lifestyle company for the benefit of the founders, and once everyone realized that is the true 'mission', many left.

He disavowed it repeatedly, once he was criticized about it. He and Jason Fried were aware of it for years and had no issue with it until the dirty laundry started to smell.

I agree with you...except that I don't think this ties in to what's happening at Basecamp at all.

I don't think that Basecamp had an issue with "flame wars", I don't think that the company tried (or succeeded) in banning them, and I don't think the company's actions represented (or increased the level of) professionalism at Basecamp.

So while in general, yes, sure, professionalism is great and we should try and stop destructive flame wars, if you dig into what actually happened at Basecamp, and the timeline, and, eg, the exact reason DHH was reported to HR internally, it becomes rapidly clear that this was something else entirely, in my view.

The policy change was not triggered by people behaving unprofessionally or having a flame war, it was not tailored to prevent unprofessional behaviour or flame wars, it was executed in an unprofessional way, and it has now itself caused flamewars. In short, I think your argument is correct, but is a damning indictment of Basecamp/DHH, not a defense of them.

From what the founders and employees have said publicly there is no indication that flame wars were a problem at Basecamp

In the US almost all political conversations descend to flame wars very quickly.

There are on-record accounts from both DHH and employees of what the actual disagreements were, and they were not political discussions. They were discussions about the list of "funny" customer names.

> they were not political discussions. They were discussions about the list of "funny" customer names.

They were not political in the sense of being about politicians or political parties. They were political in that they were motivated by the agenda and language of the activist left.

A subtext in many responses from said activists is that this is “not politics”, but something more essential or “above” politics. I agree insofar as they are treating their ideas more akin to a religion now.

How is "don't make fun of our own customers" an 'activist left' agenda? It may have been couched in liberal terms, but ultimately it's a pretty politics-free motivation.

Did you read anything about this? Nobody thought this was a good thing. Jason/DHH apparently addressed it multiple times over the course of months. A group within the company refused to move on, including someone who participated in making fun of customers.

DHH is the guy who defended porn as a suitable metaphor for a CouchDB talk. I don't think professionalism is his north star.

So it's impossible to be a professional programmer who works for pornhub?

He's Danish. Danes are wonderful people but they can be very blunt.

It's not an exclusive option. It is both. You don't have to be "professional" if you're a Supreme King - in fact, you don't need to be anything, the more power you have, the less limitations are placed on you for the sake of others. If you have a lot of power, you can demand from the management to expunge everybody from the company that dares to support wrong political ideas, or demand the management to perform acts of supplication to the right set of political ideas, or turn the profits to causes that you want to be served - instead of causes the management wants to be served. Being able to do that is a power, and we have seen exercise of this power before. Some company leaders are ok with giving a vocal minority of their workers this kind of power, some are not. As a member of a non-vocal minority that does not want my work to serve the power of vocal minority, I would sincerely hope there would be more of the latter.

Deplatforming loud voices under implicit threat of termination doesn't reduce "silencing". I have never ever bought the "we have to silence people so people can have free speech" line of argument, which I've mostly seen over the last 5 years being used to justify banning conservatives from college campuses. Quiet voices are deciding to silence themselves voluntarily, they aren't victims we need to protect by silencing others.

I'm not saying such silencing doesn't have benefits, but ensuring people aren't silenced isn't a benefit of silencing people. Bombing for peace generally doesn't result in peace, just more bombing.

I would not ban conservative voices from college campuses. The work place, however, is not a college. I would prohibit any inflammatory speech that was serving to divide and distract the team. We share more in common that we disagree on. In a team setting we need to be United and aligned full stop. If you’re in the army and heading into battle you don’t debate philosophy, art or sports you focus on the mission and unit cohesion.

In college you debate and explore ideas. Different contexts. Different purposes. Different rules.

Right. The part where the leaders started a flame war, dredging through old posts of employees to publically discredit them was very hostile.

Has nothing to do with "politics", or at least those that were trying to be banned.

HN nerfs the position of submissions with any flame wars (high comment to vote ratio) rather than political ones specifically. Those are not the same situations.

But you might remember the disaster as HN as an experiment tried to get rid of those by banning all politics topics... Of course not 100% identical, but some analogues hold. Going against flamewars is quite different than banning topics wholesale - and if you are a "quiet voice", are you going to dare touch anything potentially political now?

And if it's about professionalism, you probably shouldn't communicate your policy change to your employees through the personal blog of an executive...

lobste.rs is going very well banning any off-topic subject like politics. Might be because is invite-only or because the rule was enforced from the beginning

Flame wars at work were not happening in this case.

Professionalism if you live in North Korea.

Professionalism like... mocking customers' names? On company time? Using company assets to do so?

Then say that is reason resigning, I haven’t seen a single person report that. All reports have been focused ENTIRELY on the prohibition on political speech.

Have they? Most of the tweets I've seen have simply said "due to the recent changes".

The company leadership is framing those changes as a ban on political speech, but clearly there's disagreement about what the changes really are.

It's only a flame war if there is a war. Management should be on the same page as any DEI initiative, especially considering who management is in this case.


Edit: I was too aggressive, have rephrased in grandchild comment.

Part of what makes HN great is the good faith, respectful discussions. Please stick to issues rather than personal attacks. If you disagree with my opinions I welcome a debate in the ideas. I am a leader with responsibility for a large team. These issues are complicated and warrant thoughtful debate.

We have lots of difficult, sometimes racialized discussions at BigCos that are political. It makes us better at engaging with the world outside our walls. It’s not unnecessary or distracting from our work because our customers live in the same world we create products and services for, it’s part of our work. Look at Apple's stance on privacy for example, that’s based on a lot of difficult political discussions that culminate in corporate policy. If we did away with politics, we couldn’t have come to some of the decisions we have until forced by legislatures or our competitors.

I totally agree. It is important to have debates and foster a culture of civility, while recognizing that there are times where the debate breaks down, becomes dysfunctional and can escalate. In those moments a reset or pause is appropriate to again foster a healthy dialogue.

One of the most valuable investment I’ve made in my life is counseling focused on functional, healthy communication and dispute resolution. It has allowed to respectfully resolve areas of disagreement and reach consensus on difficult issues.

P.S. thank you for engaging. I found your follow up comment helpful and important. I think it is critical we as a society build companies that can engage in difficult debates and take normative positions to improve society. Your example of Apple is an excellent example and I think added something important to this thread.

PS. I did think your original response was super funny and laughed pretty hard.

For posterity, birdy told me to go back to smoking my digitaltrees.

I am going to try my best to incorporate your egoless attitude into my life, not being a dick, I mean it. Thanks.

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