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For the love of God, YC companies-to-be stop posting ambiguous job description
369 points by startupcto on Aug 12, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 93 comments
I am so frustrated because I am one of those potential candidates that you all YC companies that are seeking - the important first hire but this is the one thousand four hundred and seventy-forth time that I see posting that just wasted 20 seconds of my life reading and got no freaking clue what I signing up for.

If you can't say what your company actually does, I'm sure you can say things like you will be working on solving monetization issues for the laundry machines.

I want to give props to some that are doing it right and here's one: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2877677

Here's one that I'm not really interested in what they have to say. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2878738

I've built cool stuff and awesome systems so I don't need fluff.

YC S11 Company Seeks Uber Python Dev

We're a young company that's so hot, we melt ice in our sleep. Some of our investors even believe we're responsible for global warming. Out hotness is to be expected: our 5 founders hail from top engineering schools, and one even won $5,000 in a single night playing online poker when he was 13 (for reals).

Our users? Cooler than a polar bear's toe nails. Think Tom from MySpace, but even cooler. They're young, they love technology and they all have fat bank accounts. Oh, they're all beautiful people too.

Our trajectory is clear: extreme penetration of a lucrative niche market in Year 1, and world domination in Year 2. We've already grown 500% in our first 2 weeks after launch. See http://yfrog.com/kfu2tcj

We're looking for an awesome Python developer with a big ego and low self-esteem. Someone who knows he's the sheeeeet but doesn't want to prove it at a big company that does lame stuff like QA. Someone who can down a can of Coke and a box of Mentos and then go on to devour a four-course meal of web-scale challenges the likes of which no other startup has ever faced. Seriously.

What do we offer? Put simply, The Life. As an early employee, you'll receive a salary that will enable you to rent a condo in Palo Alto with 3 other startup dude roommates, a huge equity stake that will be massively diluted as we raise new rounds of funding from some of the most respected angels and VCs in the Valley, and the ginormous confidence that comes with knowing you're changing the world one unique visitor at a time.

If you're ready to take your awesomeness to the next level and think you have what it takes to hang, send us an email at socially.awkward.hipster.startup@gmail.com and tell us why we shouldn't laugh at your Github account.

It is unfortunate that you posted this to such a transient medium as News.YC. This is art, of a bitter and brilliant variety that should be printed on crisp white paper with dark bold letters and hung in the MOMA. People would gather around it and claim to "get it".

But they wouldn't get it, of course, unless they'd lived through the same history as the artist.

>Someone who can down a can of Coke and a box of Mentos and then go on to devour a four-course meal of web-scale challenges the likes of which no other startup has ever faced.

what happened to the 6pack of beer and a pack of filterless Camel? Sounds like technology has profoundly changed.

What's funny is it took me a moment to figure out if you were being sarcastic, or just reposting a real job :)

I didn't realize at all it was stair until I read your comment.

I viewed it out of context, through the news:yc iPhone app, from "best comments" page, and there's no link to 'parent' post (at least not that I'm aware of).

I really thought it was a genuine job ad. I think this says a lot.

Same here, I had to keep reading until the "huge equity stake that will be massively diluted" to convince myself it's not real!

Thank you for the Outkast reference: "cooler than a polar bear's toe nails."

You sir, should be a writer for The Onion.

As cynical as people are about postings that sound like this, ploys like free PBR for a year result in 3000 applications for a single job.

So anyone who claims that developers are somehow immune to hype probably doesn't realize the hype he/she is actually falling for.

But... Who are you, and what do you do?

May I post this to a jobslist I'm on?

This looks exactly like some of the stuff I have seen on the oatmeal. Brilliantly crafted sir.

Doesn't quite belong on Hacker News, but still hilarious.

Actually, it belongs to the Hacker News, because it shows the type of "job offers" that YC-companies are notoriously posting here.

Heh, I agree, that second one is rubbish. It seems like they're trying real hard to paint a picture of how young and energetic and fun they are... but then didn't say the first word about the product they're building. I don't know about the rest of you, but all the "young, hip, energetic, red-bull drinking, prank pulling startup vibe" stuff isn't terribly interesting to me, compared to knowing something about the actual, ya know, work.

As they say "it's called work for a reason."

Sure, we all (well, mostly all) want a fun, happy workplace... but if I'm working on something that's mind-numbingly boring, I'm going to zone out and not give a flip about the red-bull and the nerf fights and the after-work LAN parties and all that B.S., in about 2 minutes.

Those types of job postings are like kryptonite to parents, aka, more experienced engineers.

My apologies on behalf of YC. I deleted that job post, and asked the companies in this batch not to post this sort of thing anymore.

I kinda wanted to see it, though, so I had some context.

It was a post titled "YC S11 Company Seeks Rails Architect". It began "We're an exciting young explosive company. Our users are true evangelists—wearing our gear, drinking from our shot glasses, and shouting cheers to our name..." The rest was equally as vague and platitude-filled.

I mis-read this as "We're an exciting young exploitative company". The things my mind does some days. Thankfully, that's not at all what it said.

Still, makes me wonder how many explosives companies at in YC.


No apologies needed :) . I was just trying to point out a disturbing trend.

For me, even the most minimal description is sufficient:

"We're in niche X."

Example: We're in cloud storage. That gives away nothing about your "secret sauce" while still providing the minimal amount of info needed for a hacker to know if they are interested in what you are building.

This is how the second posting came across to me:


Wassup broz.

We're an awesome new startup that totally kicks ass and we drink alot of beer and stufzlol.

Anyway, we need a nodejs ninja rockstar bro to chill with us and write some codez.

We aint gunna tell you what we do cuz thats not how we roll but email us at throw.away@gmail.com ==================================================

It would actually be clever if they are both for the same job and that company is just split testing their job descriptions.

My company is currently doing this with job titles. :-)

Not this time! Although I wouldn't be surprised if the second cited post gets more of a response than the first...


The cheerleaders are beginning to arrive on the scene. Everyone in the company should be outgoing, fun, super-communicative and ready to party. You know: nerds.

In this hiring environment I'm not above the occasional shameless plug. Your point about vagueness is well taken, but I'd have to write 3 pages to really give you a detailed understanding and I'd rather just show it all to you over a beer.

My company is hiring:

We do e-commerce where people can set up their own fashion boutique -- we have a massive catalog full of top-tier designer products. We have made incredible partnerships with brands, the fashion industry, etc. People who set up stores facilitate social shopping via their store and make a small commission per sale. If you don't get why this is cool b/c you wear sweatpants or the same pair of jeans, that's OK, I have data to show you.

Our site, www.styleowner.com is solid on the backend but needs a lot of frontend love. If you like backbone.js, web standards, etc., come join us and help make it one of the best sites on the web. Backend developers wanted too however. We use Ruby, Sinatra, DataMapper, Node, Redis and more. Interest in IOS is also a plus.

We're hiring for 2-3 positions. We are looking to make some key hires right now and the goal is a superb team.

If you're in San Fran let me meet with you over coffee or beers and show you our codebase, tell you in incredible detail what we're working on, etc. I'd also like to see some of your code. The goal is to give you an idea if you want to work on our app and what that would entail over at least the next few months.

We're funded by Accel, have great investors, etc. The only challenge has been in tech hiring b/c if you're good you probably already have a job you enjoy. So give it a shot and meet us and see what you think.

Putting together an awesome engineering team is our #1 priority. We're in the stage where we're making key hires and ramping up.

email matt@styleowner.com

I was hoping this was a joke like the top non-pg comment. It's not, so why do you think it's okay to post a job listing in this thread?

Edit: the OP added the statement about "not being above a shameless plug" after I left this comment. It's still spam if the job market is tough.

The poster is complaining about the lack of specificity in jobs adverts while broadcasting his availability for work. Since non-YC companies cannot post their own advertisements, it is either this or waiting for the monthly "Who is Hiring" thread, which most people miss.

I wouldn't upvote the post in normal circumstances, but it isn't off-topic and downvoting it only makes it unreadable.

It is a good example if a quality job posting, that YC hirers can take inspiration from.

The posting generally complies with the OP's request for a lack of hyperbole.

The OP indicated that if the hyperbole were removed, he/she would potentially be interested in finding a new job!

The OP is interested in a lack of hyperbole in the sponsored YC.news links. This is the comment section of hackernews, not the sponsored link section.

The top 3 things I look for when picking a job:

- The people I'll be working with - The product I'll be working on - The job I'll be doing

These posts are way to ambiguous to answer these real questions. The only questions they do answer is that you were good enough to get into YC. If you want someone to apply for the job just cause you are a YC company, tough luck - the applicants are gonna suck big time.

You should email us about that first post if we sound at all close to people you might enjoy working with. We'll answer any question you have, up to and including my shoe size.

At this stage, most employees are going to be working on a shared vision more than anything, which comes down to how you feel about the people. The goal with our description was to reflect the people and at least define the problem space a little bit. "Non douchebags doing ads" might have been more direct.

That last link has the word "bptumblr" in their Amazon EC3 link. If you Google that term, you get a bunch of porn sites. That might explain their popularity in random bars and early profitability :-)

It's hard to imagine YC funding a porn company, but I will say from experience that there are worse jobs than being a programmer at a porn company. Aside from the fun parties and social work atmosphere, it can be very technically challenging (scaling a Rails app up to 1,000,000+ uniques per day is pretty fun if you've never done it before).

A while back I saw an article on HN that was on the blog of a porn site (something like blog.pornsite.com). It was a blog worth following, it was about building a modern video site on Python and Django and GWT, and all these interesting technical challenges. It just happened to all be for a porn site.

why? pg is a prude?

my understanding was that they funded the people as much as the idea. i doubt the fact that a bunch of smart people were doing something cool with - shock - boobies would stop him.

I have no idea whether or not pg is a prude. What I meant was that it's a hyper-competitive, highly saturated market and most porn companies these days are "innovating" with traffic generation and content, and not with technology or novel business models.

Believe me, I've worked in and with the industry for years and it is ripe for a breakthrough. I actually was working on a project at a porn company that had the potential to disrupt the porn industry but was abandoned due to internal political reasons. If pg wanted me to build it again, I'd be all over it.

I think a lot of people in Silicon Valley don't want to touch it, because of the stigma. Having that on your resume reduces your chances of getting a job with high profile companies or government agencies.

I can imagine that the industry is innovating. If not with standard technologies, they must be evolving their business practices. I am not sure if the magazine sells have declined, but I can only imagine that they have. If so, there would be a necessity to innovate in the realm of business operations and monetizing in order to compete with free offerings.

I don't see anything to suggest that this need be any more than a coincidence of names; there's nothing that that search returns except user profiles that happen to be on porn sites.

I fully agree. I often wonder why the posts are something similar to the following:

Young company looking for C++ programmers to help create a small fraction of the functionality provided by a Bloomberg terminal for a small fraction of the price of a Bloomberg terminal. Financial knowledge appreciated, but not required.

NOTE: If I had more than a few hours a week to work on such a thing, and I didn't have a large amount of student debt, then this would be a posting I would eventually like to make. For now, the above is only meant to serve as an example of how I think a job posting should read.

Allow me to ask what may be a silly question:

If you're looking to hire someone by posting a public job description, why are you unwilling to say who you are?

The older and more experienced I get, the more the notion of "secret companies" (aka stealth mode) seems absurd. The CIA might need to keep secrets. A web technology company does not. Like another poster said, nobody's suggesting that you have to reveal your deepest darkest technology special sauce in your job posting.

But why not at least reveal the name and nature of your business? It's fairly relevant.

I just don't understand why all these announcements say stuff like 'we have 150k users' -- but they won't even mention their name? I understand if you are IN 'stealth mode' but if you have so hundreds of thousands of users -- that's not exactly stealth anymore is it

Only YC companies can make job postings on HN. The companies haven't announced that they're YC-backed yet.

And spare me terms like "ninajas" and "rockstars".

We're looking for pandas. Email us if you're a CoffeeScript drinking panda.

Pandas are cute, but they spend most of their day sleeping. Why don't you look for people, instead?

Because people focused on sleeping will find more efficient ways to get their awesomeness done. (Here, by "people", I mean "pandas".)

I prefer "trained monkeys".

I can understand the various arguments for a need to be somewhat secretive and that's fine. That being said, there's some no-brainer concepts to include in a job listing if you want it to be worth your time.

#1) Don't just say what the job title is, be clear on what it means to you. I've had job interviews for a "frontend developer" be anything from a PSD-slicer to a 95% backend coder.

#2) If you want a passionate employee (you do), you need to give enough information about your company so they can tell if it interests them. I could care less what cool technology you use if I don't know whether I'm reforming healthcare or inventing new ways to impose banking fees. You can say what you do without providing any sort of specific information.

#3) Sarcasm online can be very easily misinterpreted. I suggest being upfront and professional in any job posting but if you must use some kind of sarcasm, be sure to note it.

Note: This is by no means a complete list, simply some reoccurring issues I've seen during my recent job search. Edit: Formatting.

I actually liked some things in the "YC S11 Company Seeks Rails Architect" post. Not the hyperbole and fluff, but the details on growth, trajectory, culture, current team, etc. I'd be more specific, but since the post was deleted, I can't reference it.

The "Summer 2011 YC company seeks CoffeeScript drinking frontend engineer" post seems very generic to me. It's nice that they mention the industry they're working in, but otherwise, I didn't pick up on much differentiation in the job description from other companies looking to fill a similar role (and the post nearly admits that itself, at the end).

I know rock stars. Rock stars are friends of mine. Programmers are not rock stars.

Seriously though, whoever started the whole rockstar/ninja thing should be punished. This is programming. Forget sex, drugs, rock-n-roll and throwing stars. I want to work with people who always know where their towel is.

Ruby coders are rock stars. Perl hackers are sorcerers. PHP coders are ninjas. This must be what they mean in their coded job descriptions.

Clearly the company in the second example is making gigawidgets.

Thank you for saying this more bluntly then I did:


I was trying to be a bit more diplomatic but my feeling was the same. It serves no purpose to be so discrete all the time.

Agree 100%. Whether a job description, Web page, brochure or any other vehicle, real communications say what they mean and don't use euphemisms. These generic descriptions are probably copied and that's pure laziness.

I agree, they want to remain stealthy and keep the prying eyes of journalists and rivals out but need to be able to convince potential employees to actually contact them.

Maybe it's just because I'm "old" or have been around the block, but hyperbole in a job description really turns me off. The harder the sell, the less I trust the seller. Actually this is true everywhere.

Further, you can tell us what the business is, and what is compelling about it, without giving up the secret sauce. You can even mention the secret sauce without giving up the secret.

EG, if your startup was google: We're building a revolutionary search engine using the social proof inherent in the web to give people results that are far more relevant than Yahoo and Inktomi. There, did I give away the page rank algorithm? No, but I did reveal the compelling advantage that google had: they figured out how to derive social proof from the web... which at the time was unheard of.

Even if that's too revealing.... at least talk about your technology stack. If you write a 500 word essay and the only mentions of technology is that you use "rails/node.js" -- something at first blush seems like not a choice but a pair of choices-- you're being evasive one something you have no reason to be evasive on. "We're using rails to host the primary web app, and node.js to run a really nice realtime updating system, blah blah blah."

You can talk about that... and you are giving candidates an opportunity to know what you're like based on your technology choices and how you talk about technology.

I am also old and have been around the block. There's a chance I hold the record for having the most kids of any founder in a YC batch, which I think is astonishingly cool...

I think it's rare that startups have anything as ground breaking as page rank, and even rarer that it seems ground breaking to anyone else at the time. If we had some specific formula for growing environment saving bacteria from leftover banana peels, we'd tell you for sure.

What we really have is a set of guiding principles, indicators that tell us we're pointed roughly where we should be pointed, and lots of things we want to try to get there.

The tech details weren't meant to be evasive as much as de-emphasized. They're there because we think good candidates might find those specific technologies interesting. We had variants on the description with many more specifics, but none of them seemed entirely important at the time. I do like talking tech, though, so here's an exhaustive look:

* We use CoffeeScript at several levels and happen to think it's pretty awesome. Anything that we could have done in JS has been done in CoffeeScript instead, this includes super tight ad serving javascript, the frontend code for our user facing apps, etc.

* We have two major classes of users, those who use our tools to do better advertising, and those who see ads. The "magic" for the first class is whatever the latest release candidate of Rails 3.1 is (rc5 maybe?), the second is the Node.js version that Heroku's Cedar stack supports (0.4.6 I think).

* Both apps feed copious amounts of information into a backend Mongo replica set, and the Node layer leans on Redis for some things.

* We've done limited data visualization with that d3 toolkit I mentioned. We feel that data viz is often underrated, but an extremely useful thing for us to devote resources to. If we could justify buying the entire New York Times data visualization team we'd do so.

I agree that startups won't likely have something as ground breaking as page rank. I only referred to that example because I knew everyone would know the algo. I merely meant to illustrate "show us how you're doing a new take on X" rather than "show us you've got something ground breaking". I also free that something that is groundbreaking may not seem so at the time.

If my rails/node reference was to you, it wasn't meant personally. Just as an example that struck me, and one of many.

The four bullet points are very useful, and more importantly they are genuine. That's really good about them. They give me a good perspective on where your business is at, and where you're thinking right and where I think you've made a wrong choice.

I think I didn't mention that one of the more important piece of information one can get form a job listing is whether the owners of the company have their heads up their asses. Seeing that you made what I consider a "wrong" choice reminds me of that. (And I don't think you have your heads up your asses, but that's the kind of situation that developers really want to avoid... ad asks for "rock stars" and mentioned cutting edge technologies and languages, and then you find out you'r doing ASP programming.) Those four bullet points make the company real in my head.. if that makes any sense.

> Maybe it's just because I'm "old" or have been around the block, but hyperbole in a job description really turns me off.

It's not just you being "old", and it's not just job descriptions. The negative effects of obvious hyperbole in web ads is well documented.

FWIW, I think both of the job ads cited in startupcto's original post are poor, though one is clearly much worse than the other. (I'm willing to provide specific criticisms, but I won't do so here unless someone asks me to.)

Please email syncretic.sausage@gmail.com with any helpful feedback, particularly about things that seem hyperbolic.

The irony of our post sounding hyperbolic is that "dragging advertising into the modern world" often means getting rid of ads that make peoples' eyes bleed, visual hyperbole just doesn't work that well.

You have mail. :-)

Good point. If your startup requires utmost secrecy to succeed, then you are going to have a hard time. And there are often many startups pursuing similar projects. A market without any competitors might not be a good market.

And, please, no job descriptions involving rock stars or code ninjas! :)

One of the big rules of YC is "being in YC is newsworthy, don't waste that unless you're getting news".

YC is awesome, but it definitely causes scrutiny where it wouldn't otherwise exist. Having to be a little sneaky with job posts is one of the few downsides of that attention.

Also, we're hiring gourmet code chefs if you prefer them to ninjas.

YC is losing it's cool factor IMO. The startups are a letdown, especially this year. The ideas and business models are weaksauce. They're paraded out like rock bands but haven't earned that distinction with many of us.

YC startups aren't newsworthy until they earn it.

But we're building a Facebook for bartenders and hairdressers as soon as Dispora releases something that works and we can theme it with ads. It's not the Moon landing, but how is that not newsworthy?

Add taxi drivers to the mix. I've got the theory hairdressers and taxi drivers have a better sense of the moods and attitudes of society than anyone, even politicians.

In aggregate, their opinions and predictions might be a peek around the corner of time.

I like your idea too (sorta) although I think you'll pivot into a matchmaking service in time.

Every social app is a dating site.

When any company says they want to hire someone who thinks they'rea rock star it actually gauarantees they won't be able to hire the real thing.

Agreed. #2 appears to be very concerned with interesting they see themselves while #1 appears to understand that a) finding talent is hard and b) they need to convince someone to work for them based on the interesting things they're working on (or they're just savvy on what keywords to use).

You also have to consider that many of these YC companies are young, small and inexperienced, regardless of their job descriptions, so take it with a grain of salt before you commit to anyone. These guys could pivot at any given moment, change technology stack on a dime (just happened to me), fire you because you don't fit in, etc.

You should definitely apply to that first job if having technology stacks yanked out from under you sounds annoying. It sure sounds annoying to me.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I wrote the first job description.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I wrote the first job description.

You had me at "syncretic.sausage"! Please promise me that you'll make .sausage a custom TLD someday!

You can't get married to the stack. When you've been to the rodeo a couple of times and you work with an experienced team, flaws in technologies (Ruby) will become apparent from the start and your requirements will force you to fall back on what's tried and true. Unfortunately, sexy things are often pushed aside in favor of conventions and you have to have a common sense approach towards providing a solution that solves the myriad of problems you're facing.

Locking yourself into a technology choice is a hard decision to make, but if you're living the dream and need to attract a certain kind of person to make that possible and it makes financial sense in the short term, which is what you're probably after, then you have to go with it. Rails and Node.js are a perfect fit for a low-level technology service provider, but beyond that they lack mainstream credibility and when you're dealing with recruitment issues, which hopefully you will, it's always easier to hire someone who has versatility over a guy who just does one thing.

Good luck and I hope to checking out your work some time soon.

I'm not looking for a job, but do occasionally see one here that may fit someone I know, and I pass it on....but only if I don't see (for the 10,000th time) vapid marketing-speak like "join a team of rock stars" or "wanna rock with us?", or "rock our stars" or whatever. I have nothing against actual rock stars (musicians), but if you're basically a bunch of marketing or management suits, you're the farthest thing from a "rock star" imaginable.

This comment will probably cost me some karma but the "for the love of god" makes me feel uncomfortable. I assume it is used as an expression and not as proselytism or whatever.

Replace god in this expression by gays, Allah, children, science, music, bits or whatever and you may experience the same feeling I had. And it doesn't provide any useful and constructive information to the main point.

Are you a native English speaker?

I'm not the OP here, but I'm curious if you've never heard the idiom or the if the idiom just rubs you the wrong way.

> Replace god in this expression by gays, Allah, children, science, music, bits or whatever

That's just it, "for the love of X" doesn't really get a rise out of me for any value of X.

A less common variation of the idiom is "for the love of Mike", which I think points out how arbitrary the object one's affection is in this expression.

> And it doesn't provide any useful and constructive information to the main point.

Without commenting on whether the use was appropriate in this case (frankly I don't have much of an opinion either way), usually that expression is just a way of underscoring the importance of the part that comes after it. For example:

"for the love of x, please stop doing that"

implies more emotion and greater importance than:

"please stop doing that"

I know that. But God is not X. It is not a question of native language but culture. I'm worried that it might completely miss the message with people of different culture. Would it refer to Allah and some people, probably many in the USA, would suspect him to be a terrorist and hate him for using publicly such reference.

I'm not of any strongly polarized culture. I'm just sensitive to respect people of different cultures. Some of them may consider reference to God as offending.

I don't want to give more importance to this than it deserve. This thread is turning Reddit like and reaches the opposite result I wished. I just wanted to draw attention to it and if some people did, than it was worth the loss of the karma points.

When people say "It is raining cats and dogs," I am afraid they will get the message that harm is coming to innocent animals. We must, for the love of dogs, stop this type of communication at once.

God damnit, chmike.

Actually, I had trouble figuring out what to say that's non-offending when someone sneezes. I ended up picking "Gazuntite", which means health (pls. don't ask why I need to say anything at all).

Also, there is a hilarious south park episode that delves into this issue. Here's a clip for some yucks: http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/230805/science-help-us


Why must you say anything at all? This is a centuries-old meme that serves no purpose. It annoys me slightly anytime says it to me, and I don't say anything to anyone else when they sneeze.

It's a behavior that we as a society have decided is polite. It hurts no one, aside from maybe a few neckbeards who have entirely too much invested in Being An Atheist (or the equivalent for your hair-splitting worldview of choice).

That you choose to get "annoyed" about such things is your problem, nobody else's.

I avoid a response after someone says it. Most of the time, I do not think they notice, but sometimes I get a "Why do you never say 'Thank you' when I say 'Bless You!'" from a person. My response is that I would be thanking someone for doing something for me, but the person has not done anything. If saying 'Thank you' was a polite response to me saying something according to the rules of society, people should be thanking me when I say hello. I do not say "God Bless You" or "Thank You" in response to this. I must agree with you that the meme is purposeless. I have no trouble with people saying "Bless You" in any way, but it should not be related to something mundane such as a sneeze.

If I say anything, I usually go with the mangled pseudo-German "gesundenblasten".

Clip won't work in the UK.

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