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Ask HN: What are examples of companies dying due to many people quitting?
336 points by mdcds on Sept 14, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 486 comments
Curious what are some notable examples of companies being forced to shut down due to many people leaving within a short timeframe?

I imagine if half the staff left a nursing home, it would be forced to shut down.

Atari in 1983 went from the leader in video game production to completely imploding. In 1979, four of their best programmers left after demanding equity in the sales and were refused. Their CEO Ray Kassar famously said, "You’re no more important to those projects than the person on the assembly line who put them together. You’re a dime a dozen. You’re not unique. Anybody can do ­a ­cartridge.". They left and formed Activision which led to a sequence of failures by Atari until they finally died unable to compete with the likes of Intellivision, Colecovision, and Commodore.

Gaming abounds with stories like this.

A friend of mine went to work for a small game studio in Oklahoma that'd gotten some acclaim for their quake mod pack. They took that momentum and started on their own novel IP as a quake licensee. They made a ahem mildly successful game named Medal of Honor.

Some time down the road, the owner of the studio didn't want to share the wealth.

As a result the top programmers, designers, etc, grouped up and negotiated a deal to become a 2nd party dev studio with a competing publisher. Nearly the entire company left with them. They couldn't take the IP with them so they rebranded their new game franchise as Call of Duty.

That studio owner literally made a billion dollar mistake by not simply being fair early on to the team. Never, ever, treat a team that has achieved rare success as replaceable cogs. If they've shipped, they can find more money people any time they want.

>> That studio owner literally made a billion dollar mistake by not simply being fair early on to the team. Never, ever, treat a team that has achieved rare success as replaceable cogs. If they've shipped, they can find more money people any time they want.

What prevented them from offering bad deals that are common today? Some examples I've seen:

- give lots of equity, but vesting over long timelines

- give no refreshers, if people leave, they lost lots of unvested

- stay private for a long time...equity is almost unsellable and theoretical only

- give lots of equity, but lag on salary and save big

- give lots of equity, but leave people with huge unfunded tax liabilities if they want to leave company

- give "lots" of equity which is worthless if people actually saw the cap table

I dont feel any of the above are good practices, but they are common practices for equity theatre

When I had a job with similar “incentives”, my comment to coworkers was that it wasn’t quite a carrot-on-a-stick, it was the promise of a picture of a carrot-on-a-stick.

Thank you for the term "Equity Theatre"!

> That studio owner literally made a billion dollar mistake by not simply being fair early on to the team. Never, ever, treat a team that has achieved rare success as replaceable cogs. If they've shipped, they can find more money people any time they want.

That wisdom applies to that specific industry. In gaming, the people you hire are the asset. However the same doesn't apply to all industries. Sometimes people are more and sometimes less replaceable. If you are running a fast food chain and manage to piss all your employees, yes, it is likely a problem, but if you hire new people and fix your behaviour it is likely that the business will continue to run as usual.

If that's true (your statement, not mine), this just means that compensation fast fast-food employees get is completely fair.

Not at all. It just means that there is a larger pool of employees qualified to work in fast food.

Sometimes people are simply forced to take jobs that are not adequately compensated.

"The workers are easily replaced" and "Their compensation is fair" are two different statements.

It's exactly the same statement. Fair cost of something IS the opportunity cost of buying the same thing from someone else.

Well, it depends on your definition of "fair". You're going by the market definition -- but the market definition of "fair" is often quite unfair by other definitions.

Considering that markets exist whenever 2 or more individuals gather, without regard to any other factors… it’s pretty much a fundamental force like gravity. In fact even ant colonies experience market forces so it’s practically impossible for it to not exist.

Does it matter if a lot of folks have different definitions of gravity?

> Considering that markets exist whenever 2 or more individuals gather

In the most general sense of "market", this is not wrong. However, you're talking from the point of view of a rather specific market theory. That market theory is not a fundamental force, it's just one of many ways of doing things.

It also has a very narrow definition of "fair", which makes sense within its own world, but I would argue is not generalizable outside of that world.

What's the 'rather specific market theory'? As far as I understand that is the dictionary definition of a market. Here's Meriam-webster:

market, noun, often attributive

mar· ket | \ ˈmär-kət \

Definition of market (Entry 1 of 2)

1. a(1) : a meeting together of people for the purpose of trade by private purchase and sale and usually not by auction (2) : the people assembled at such a meeting

b(1) : a public place where a market is held especially : a place where provisions are sold at wholesale a farmers' market (2) : a retail establishment usually of a specified kind a fish market

2. archaic : the act or an instance of buying and selling

3. : the rate or price offered for a commodity or security

4. a(1) : a geographic area of demand for commodities or services (2) : a specified category of potential buyers the youth market

b : the course of commercial activity by which the exchange of commodities is effected : extent of demand the market is dull

c(1) : an opportunity for selling

(2) : the available supply of or potential demand for specified goods or services the labor market

d : the area of economic activity in which buyers and sellers come together and the forces of supply and demand affect prices

Markets are absolutely nothing like fundamental physical forces like gravity.

Read David Greaber.

If I had a gun to the head of everyone in town, and everyone in town mysteriously agrees to sell their labor for free, does that mean that cost of labor is fair?

There are circumstances outside of the price which affect the fairness of the price.

What an interesting story. It made me look up how medal of honor started.

Could you clarify a few things? I don't think the story adds up.

Wikipedia has the followin information. Medal of Honor was made by DreamWorks interactive. [..] Filmmaker Steven Spielberg Spielberg founded DreamWorks Interactive in 1995. [1] And: Danger Close Games (formerly DreamWorks Interactive LLC and EA Los Angeles) was an American video game developer based in Los Angeles. [2]

This doesn't sound like 'a small game studio in Oklahoma'.



Edit: It seems you were talking about the acclaimed: Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.

Made by: 2015, inc[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Games

Edit 2: Spelling

Yes, I'm talking about 2015.

The first two Playstation only MoH games were not exactly failures, but they were little more than Goldeneye clones with WW2 themes.

The first PC game is really the start of what we think of as the Medal of Honor franchise proper.

The team that bailed founded Infinity Ward, which was the origin of Call of Duty, or at least the first like 8 games in the franchise.

So yes, my story does in fact check out. Which is because I lived it. My friend tried to get me to join the team for 2 years because he knew they were onto something, but I'd fled a childhood in Kansas to build a life on the west coast and wasn't looking to move back to Tulsa of all places. That proved to be a bad career decision but I'm ok with it as a life decision.

Can you have some self awareness of how annoying it is for you to adopt this skeptical fact checker tone when you have so little familiarity with the events and people involved you don't even really understand what to google for and which wikipedia articles to read?

Edit: I'm annoyed because if you tell someone their story doesn't check out, calling me a lair in this case as the story is direct personal experience, you probably need more of a basis for that claim than googling a wikipedia article about a story you'd never heard of 5 minutes ago.

They asked very politely for you to clarify some details after they tried themselves but were unable to verify it by looking it up. Your hostility is unwarranted and rude. People are not psychic, it was quite reasonable for them to ask.

Actually I sympathise with this response. Getting tired myself of people larping as fact checkers and professional skeptics.

Not enough detail in someone's response? Here are some ideas:

1. Ask moar polite. Not, "I don't think the story adds up."

2. Assume the story is yet true and go to prove it to your satisfaction. Post the links and thank op for the interesting nerd snipe.

3. Enter the proposition into your mental database with some lower level of confidence and move on.

Moreover, people often forget that the poster probably took some time out of their life to chronicle something. Starting by acknowledging personal experience and their effort documenting it goes along way towards building a collaborative discussion.

I think there's hostility on both sides here. "Could you clarify a few things?" is one thing, but "I don't think the story adds up" is a direct accusation of lying.

Maybe it's an unfair assumption on my part, but the post starts out exactly in the format of deliberately written /r/IAmVerySmart satires. But it's not. Just because you're using polite vocabulary does not mean bare toothed sentiment doesn't read through.

The problem is that the anecdote, as originally told, was told poorly. This:

> They took that momentum and started on their own novel IP as a quake licensee. They made a ahem mildly successful game named Medal of Honor

... makes it sound as if the studio started the franchise—which is not helped by the fact that it says "Medal of Honor" (which is apparently a thing), not "Medal of Honor: Allied Assault" (which is apparently the thing they actually meant). Anyone interested who tries to follow up based on these breadcrumbs is going to run into an issue. That is anyone—it doesn't take someone with a predisposition to being an asshole to end up here; even someone who read the initial comment and though, "wow, that's cool; I'm interested in learning more", and then proceeded to try to learn more would have gotten tripped up this way. (It's only by starting at the opposite end—with Call of Duty—and working backwards to its origin story that you're going to be able to resolve this.)

To make out as if someone is being automatically uncharitable and then airing emotion-driven grievances about it is, perversely, the most uncharitable thing (and, for the reasons just mentioned, perhaps only uncharitable thing) to have actually happened here.

It's easier to start from the end by googling "Call of Duty founders" than starting from Medal of Honor and hoping there aren't too many branches with only one leading to Call of Duty (which is the case here).

"Call of Duty founders" -> first link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity_Ward -> 3rd sentence: All of the 22 original team members of Infinity Ward came from the team that had worked on Medal of Honor: Allied Assault

The tragedy of the written word between people that don't know each other. One could say "Could you clarify a few things?" in anger or "I don't think the story adds up" smiling and with a friendly tone. In writing the intention of the writer is in the mind of the reader.

>One could say ... "I don't think the story adds up" smiling and with a friendly tone. While you can call bullshit in a friendly way, it's almost certainly better to assume that you are wrong if you think the other party is equally or more credible than you.

That's why you have to be extra careful when writing, especially in discussions with strangers.

That’s also why you have to be extra careful when reading, especially in discussions with strangers.

When I read something where the author sounds rude, I try to step back and think if there is another way to interpret it.

It’s unlikely that strangers will accept advice on writing styles, so I try to adapt my reading style while I wait for a perfect world.

It is indeed peculiar that even though humans have communicated over written word for so long, so many are seemingly unaware of this fact.

I could be wrong but it was not so easy to write to strangers until very recently. Except laws, books (with plenty of space to make the context clear) and journalism (same thing) I think that most written communication was letters to friends and relatives. Again, a lot of shared context. It's the internet (forums, comments on sites and social media) that lets us write to strangers maybe more often than we're writing to people we know.

Thanks for the responses, much appreciated.

> They asked very politely for you to clarify some details after they tried themselves but were unable to verify it by looking it up.

Not really. GP straight up accused the OP of lying, under a thick but transparent layer of euphemisms. Coming at someone out of nowhere with accusations that "your story doesn't add up", specially after failing to do their homework, is the opposite of politeness.

This isn't wikipedia; claims on these forums do not need to be substantiated with fact. I agree with the sibling comments that there is too much fact-checking here and it is rude AF

Storytelling does not require that one cites their sources. Especially when that source is, "I lived it"

The response could have been:

Wow cool! Can you tell us more about the story? Edit: Spelling

Instead it's a wikipedia dump.

You may have found it annoying, but I think it's good to have a healthy level of skepticism on the internet about stories whose source is 'a friend of mine'.

I agree OP could have been a bit less confrontational, but...

> The first PC game is really the start of what we think of as the Medal of Honor franchise proper.

> They took that momentum and started on their own novel IP [...] They couldn't take the IP with them

That may be your opinion, it certainly isn't mine, having played both the Playstation games and none of the PC games. I very clearly remember the splash screen for Dreamworks on starting up the first Medal of Honor game. I'm still not sure how the third game in a franchise could be considered 'novel IP', especially as it seems they were approached by Dreamworks[1], so it's not surprising they couldn't take it anywhere else.

Without the explanation above, I would have dismissed your comment as nonsense out of hand without bothering to engage.

However, OP questioned, you clarified, and I learned something. Choosing your own definition of when the franchise started made it very difficult to accept your comment as it stood initially though.

Perhaps you could also have some self-awareness of how often people post about 'my friend who told me this anecdote about this big thing' with red flags in their story, and how much it's important not to believe everything you read?

1: Wikipedia mentions this on the 2015 page with a reference to https://www.tulsapeople.com/tulsa-people/july-2009/powering-..., but unfortunately I'm not able to open that link to verify its contents. https://venturebeat.com/games/the-making-and-unmaking-of-inf... seems to indicate as well that Dreamworks approached 2015, https://www.ign.com/articles/2009/11/06/ign-presents-the-his... suggests EA 'employed' 2015 which sounds about right (Dreamworks Interactive was sold to EA)

The PC games done by 2015 nee Infinity Ward were basically them getting to do whatever they wanted, vs being handed a prepared design bible as was common for 2nd party dev in that era. That team absolutely deserves credit for what people commonly call MoH. Great you loved the PSX games. You're rather alone in considering them the same thing in all but brand.

You didn't really provide that much detail, how are you expecting someone to understand what to Google?

If your suggestion is for people to not question, or be curious at all then I think you're in the wrong place...?

I don't think they were annoyed by the follow-up, they were annoyed by being softly accused of an inaccurate story and not being given the benefit of the doubt. Removing the "I don't think the story adds up." and changing the period of "This doesn't sound like 'a small game studio in Oklahoma'." to a question mark would've have helped make it less accusatory.

In my opinion the original story was a bit misleading though, reading as if the small game company's novel IP was the original Medal of Honor, so I do think the follow-up was warranted: "They took that momentum and started on their own novel IP as a quake licensee. They made a ahem mildly successful game named Medal of Honor."

I also think the response to the questioning was a lot more hostile than it needed to be but ultimately that there was rudeness on both sides

HN is the only place on the web that I know of where someone will tell you--someone who has experience in X, Y or Z--that you are wrong, or "sealion" you, or better yet, attempt to correct you with their armchair experience.

Then, you'll be reprimanded for pointing it out, asking you to "not do that here."

I wish moderation would curtail this obnoxious behavior, because I see HN as a place where experts can detail their experience, and over the years I see more and more amateur butt in or sealioning behavior take place, and people I know have left over it.

Lately HN feels more like a bunch of lawyers quibbling over semantics... It gets really old, really fast.

Whatever happened to assume positive intent?

Intense levels of plausibly-deniable passive aggression, and absolutely god-awful intent being treated as something better to the detriment of discourse thanks to the "assume positive intent" rule, are what I consider some of the core defining features of the HN experience.

I dunno if it does any good, but these days when I smell ill intent beneath the surface of a "just asking questions" post I just flag the bastards rather than trying to help them by answering. Responding is simply feeding trolls, and HN threads are full of that sort of thing. Argumentative jerks who are just trying to argue, while staying just civil enough that they don't get slapped down (not too quickly, anyway).

My kingdom for sigs and blocklists.

The problem is that your figurative sense of smell may not be correct. It really is quite easy to mistake an honest question or assertion as passive aggression or sarcasm in text form.

Maybe, but I can assure you from back when I tried to engage in good faith it's pretty damn accurate. It doesn't hurt that HN's a target-rich environment for such a detector, of course.

I had the feeling my honest questions were not-rarely seen as sarcasms or bad faith arguments. Probably has some overlap with autistic spectrum disorders.

And I often wished I could specify “please read this comment in literally the way I wrote it and don’t try to find a non-existing message between the lines”. Alas.

> And I often wished I could specify “please read this comment in literally the way I wrote it and don’t try to find a non-existing message between the lines”. Alas.

This is definitely a problem, and while typical on the Web more broadly, there are a few flavors of it that are more common here than other places. You have my sympathy, and I do try to be aware of my own limitations and don't just run around flag-happy for anything I might be able to read as having a bad tone. Though I'm sure I mess up sometimes.

However—there's a certain kind of needling, brash posting style that's nearly always just someone trying to tee themselves up for some usually-idiotic rant or series of needlessly-aggressive arguments they have prepared but don't yet have an entry to post without being off-topic, that's often initiated with a question that looks kinda innocent but's just a little off. That's the "smell" I mean, and it's the kind I've learned to just flag without trying to "help" (due to assuming good faith), and I'm pretty sure I have a low false-positive rate on those. This is, from what I can tell, an extremely successful approach to trolling HN (I'm quite certain a few posters do it for that express purpose, though I do think the typical motive is different and not purely aimed at creating chaos and bad feelings), and one that HN has no good defense against except cleaning it up after the fact, which is often after the whole discussion thread's mostly dead, anyway.

It's not unusual for half the posts in a thread to stem from these kinds of premeditated argument-prompts that were never intended to curiously explore the problem space (though they may, for a time, masquerade as such) and to end up acrimonious and/or in massive wheel-spinning flame wars—as there's no other way it could have gone, because the instigator was looking for a fight, even if they weren't trying to troll per se, and were relying on assume-good-faith engagement to let the embers mature into a full-blown fire so they could embark on their righteous crusade or whatever it is they think they're doing, rather than being ignored (again: for god's sake, give us user ignore-lists—that and making poster identity a little more prominent so we can more easily recognize patterns, rather than instances, of behavior would help so much and I bet those flame sub-threads would get a lot quieter) or instantly called out and told to fuck off as they might on other sites that lack strong adherence to the "assume good faith" rule.

To avoid just shitting on the site (I'm not here because I hate it... though I do think some parodies and unkind criticisms of HN are closer to the truth, than its own collective self-image is), if I could pick out one cultural thing I really like about HN, it's the relative lack of value-free posts about obvious typos or accidental word omissions or that sort of thing. You see occasional corrections of actual usage or spelling mistakes, where the poster seems not to have slipped up but to actually have a poor idea of what's most-correct and to have done the wrong thing unknowingly, but on purpose, but those are usually polite and at least convey potentially-useful information. But, very little "did you mean X LOL?" where every single person reading it can tell that yes, they meant X, and simply made a mistake. That shit's really common on some other corners of the Web and it's just the worst. I think that quality's mainly a consequence of HN being pretty decent at policing blatantly low-value posts in general.

> Lately HN feels more like a bunch of lawyers quibbling over semantics...

There is no semantics challenge in a random coming at someone out of the blue with accusations of being a liar. The only lawyering involved is determining if it would represent libel or slander.

> Whatever happened to assume positive intent?

I think positive intent is different from truth.

To make good decisions, I need to drill down to the truth of the situation. People can be super honest and be wrong or conflate ideas.

So for me, I work on being politely skeptical and assume it’s false until substantiated.

"...calling me a lair..."


Sorry, found the typo funny. Not trying to antagonize anyone this morning.

So they didn’t start MOH, thanks for clarifying and I now can understand your post better.

If you go to the souce on the Wikipedia page, it tells a slightly different story than what the OP said -


>Yet 2015 would never get the chance to make another Medal of Honor. EA decided to take all development for the franchise in-house. Morale was low amongst the team and they were looking to start up on its own.

>We had bonded as a team, but decided we wanted to work with new management. Many members of the team were actually going to leave to find new jobs, regardless of potential royalties coming in from Medal of Honor.

>After leaving 2015 we were working with a major publisher. For legal reasons I will say things didn’t go as planned with it. We were left in a situation of unpaid milestones that were delivered and no finances to operate on,” says Thomas.

>The company was potentially going to disband. In a last ditch effort our then president, Grant Collier sent out a signal to all the major publishers in the industry letting them know that the majority of the Medal of Honor: Allied Assault team was available. Within days of closing the doors on the studio, Activision responded immediately with an offer.”

Yeah, I'm giving a simplified version, and also avoiding disclosing some details that might blow back on my friend. It was considerably more nasty than that article portrays via the quotes.

Except you basically said "they quit solely because of money" and the article basically says "it wasn't at all about the money."

Those are very different things. One isn't a "simplified" version of the other.

The money was definitely the root issue. I can't say more without sharing things that could blow back on a friend. Either you believe me or you don't.

Black Isle is another great example. Interplay was going under and selling off any IP of value to get some cash out of the end of the road. The staff, seeing the writing on the wall, quit more or less en masse and started Obsidian together. The name is even a bit of a pun- Obsidian, a black volcanic glass, is what you might expect a Black Isle to be made from.

Funny thing is that the owners did the same thing a second time, going back to the EA, forming Respawn Environment.

yeeeeeeuuuup :P

If they've shipped, they can find more money people any time they want.

Quotation of the month. Devs should have this knitted into a pillow in their cubicles.

I agree with your message though there's a scarier story in there. What if those people never left to make Call of Duty?

Under the boss they would have made more Medal of Honor, and maybe the next MoH's were not billion-dollar products.

Maybe had they gotten equity, we would never have a billion dollar CoD series!


It's very similar with tech startups. Once you've been around the washing machine loop a couple times you realize just how much of this stuff is arbitrary and luck dependent. Unicorns born upon butterfly's wings. Having a certain background lets you buy more chances at the luck part. It's not fair. It is.

Personally my read on this is we should have some humility about how unpredictable this all is.

> Maybe had they gotten equity, we would never have a billion dollar CoD series!

The good timeline xD

I suppose that explains why they felt so eerily similar and shared same engine.

Yeah this story has a problem.

An entire company 'quits' and just 're-does the thing' is almost assuredly theft of know-now and IP, but more than that theft of the operating modality.

It takes in incredible amount of work, risk, investment etc. to 'get something up and going' - with all of the parts working.

Any time you walk into a company you'll see what looks like 'things working' on some level, usually that took incredible trials and travails.

It's a bit like 'decent code' - it takes iterations, after which, it's 'obvious in hindsight'.

Every coder knows it's 'figuring it out' that's hard, whereas doing it a second time is easy.

Employees who tool 100% salary to start, without higher risk equity, and then wanted to 'trade after the fact' shouldn't be miffed - they just shouldn't have taken the job if what they wanted was equity.

It could entirely be the case of cockroach management giving horrible terms to everyone including underpayment etc. but these stories are often one-sided.

I'm working with a company right now that I've discovered has a seemingly 'simple' product. It took this young girl 4 years of struggle (and failure before) that, to get this thing where it is and establish all the sales relationships. I'm sure I could duplicate it quickly with minimal resources (I wouldn't do that to her), but it has dawned on me how much effort it takes to move things forward.

Here is the story, and it doesn't really speak to some kind of greedy action by 2015, the original game devs. More subtle than that. More like the original team, which was assembled by EA, liked working together, and were lured away by another studio as a team.

[1] https://www.mcvuk.com/business-news/publishing/the-medal-of-...

FYI the founders of 'Call of Duty' were eventually fired on bad terms again.

I would reserve judgment on these situations.

Especially in entertainment and creative things, there are a lot of personality issues.

> It takes in incredible amount of work, risk, investment etc. to 'get something up and going' - with all of the parts working.

So.. it's fair if the people who did all the hard work ask for some form of participation? If all it takes to duplicate a product is money and the people with know-how, than the capital is a rather marginal contribution?

And I am deliberately talking about know-how, and not IP here. You cannot apply copyright to the knowledge of your employees.

It's fair for employees to ask, it's fair to be told know.

"You cannot apply copyright to the knowledge of your employees. "

? Absolutely you can, legally.

But the issues is just as much moral one.

The owners put it together and paid for the employees to make all sorts of mistakes etc..

It would be shameful if they did that.

All of that said I don't think that's the case.

I mean, you can call it IP theft, I can call it wage theft. The article quotes one of the devs as saying they had "unpaid milestones", which reads an awful lot like the "major publisher" he didn't want to name for legal reasons had violated the one term that mattered: the part where they pay for the game.

The lesson to take away here, for management, is that you can't get away with everything forever. Whether you view the actions of 2015 as IP theft or just desserts, the fact remains that it wouldn't have happened if the team had A) gotten paid and B) gotten the terms they asked for. I'd be demanding a better deal, too, if my publisher mysteriously forgot to pay for a milestone.

The lesson for 'management' is get better contracts and don't invest and develop people who will walk out with your stuff.

Item 'A' is a bit more reasonable, people not getting paid is bad.

But item 'B' is not. Sorry, you don't just get to ask for a better deal after the fact, because it finally worked out and now in 20/20 hindsight you want a cut.

But why not? Why shouldn't there be a process for renegotiating a contract? Especially in cases like this, where the employees are still producing things for the management--I would understand if you were renegotiating JUST on an existing product, because renegotiating on a deal that's already over makes the deal drag on unnecessarily, but these people were probably working on a new game while talking about renegotiating their contract. They weren't just talking about their compensation for the game they'd already finished; they were talking about compensation for every game they'd make in the future with that publisher.

> Their CEO Ray Kassar famously said, "You’re no more important to those projects than the person on the assembly line who put them together. You’re a dime a dozen. You’re not unique. Anybody can do ­a ­cartridge.".

Imagine any software company CEO nowadays saying that out loud, no matter what they privately thought.

> Imagine any software company CEO nowadays saying that out loud, no matter what they privately thought.

A daughter of my friend was not very happy in her job: a Silicon Valley company hired her as a security pro, but was using as a coder, which she hates. She was going to leave, but decided to wait ten months or so until her stock options vested. She and a big group of other engineers were fired right before the vesting moment.

All this time the CEO was generating absolutely politically correct sounds: people are our best capital, diversity is our strength, etc. She would be better off if he was honest.

> She was going to leave, but decided to wait ten months or so until her stock options vested. She and a big group of other engineers were fired right before the vesting moment.

I'm not an expert in the Silicon Valley ethos, but to me it sounds that both your friend's daughter and the company were playing the same game: trying to extract the most value from the other party without actually having a long term commitment. I suppose she was not going around saying how much she hated the company and that she would have left as soon as it was convenient.

The company had the upper hand, but can she really complain?

You are entitled to hate your job and still do what you're being asked. For lack of knowledge about more facts we should assume the friend was doing the job.

She also most probably had an at-will contract, so the company was entitled to let her go whenever they liked.

Yes, she can complain.

> The company had the upper hand, but can she really complain?

She is a bright girl, so she is not actually complaining, she knew the risks and trade offs. It was her first job after a college, btw. It’s me who is a bit bothered by her story. You see:

1. She was hired to improve diversity targets (her estimate).

2. After she was hired, her brains were ignored - a rather painful situation for a person with brains.

Would have this bright girl been better of if we as society put less pressure on companies to hire girls?

> All this time the CEO was generating absolutely politically correct sounds: people are our best capital, diversity is our strength, etc. She would be better off if he was honest.

Honestly rarely pays and is also unthankful. There is only a little benefit and lots of downsides, such as people getting seriously pissed at you. It is not a wonder that corporate leadership roles are filled up with people who see no problem of talking bullshit all day.

They meant honesty from the CEO would be good for her, not the CEO. Because she could have found another job instead of waiting ten months to be fired.

> Imagine any software company CEO nowadays saying that out loud, no matter what they privately thought.

Comarch CEO famous quote: "any developer could be replaced with finite number of interns"

This is Polish software company (quite big, one of the biggest) and since this quote went public, they don't have best reputation among developers. You go to work there only if you are actually intern fresh after uni.

Do you have a source? I couldn't find it in English at least

Quote 3 from https://pl.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Janusz_Filipiak

Sadly only in Polish.

I don't think there are any online sources. I don't think I've met a polish coder that wanted to work for them. Some companies won't even hire a candidate that spent more than a year at Comarch (they would argue - if a candidate could withstand that company for that long there must be something wrong with them).

My mom, who's a programmer, once worked for Computer Sciences Corporation, which she jokingly referred to as "the whorehouse of the computer industry".

But she was just being charitable, because they were into so much more that just that!


>The company has been accused of breaching human rights by arranging several illegal rendition flights for the CIA between 2003 and 2006, which also has led to criticism of shareholders of the company, including the governments of Norway and Britain.

>The company has engaged in a number of activities that have resulted in legal action against it. These are:

>Its so called WorldBridge Service (Visa Services), which processed and issued millions of visa applications to enter Britain, did not involve British authorities.

>CSC was one of the contractors hired by the Internal Revenue Service to modernize its tax-filing system. They told the IRS it would meet a January 2006 deadline, but failed to do so, leaving the IRS with no system capable of detecting fraud. Its failure to meet the delivery deadline for developing an automated refund fraud detection system cost the IRS between US$200 million and US$300 million.

>- if a candidate could withstand that company for that long there must be something wrong with them

Or just being exposed to a architecturally dysfunctional organization breeds negative behaviour and mentality.

Privately I consider this kind of behaviour espoused by executive management to clearly qualify as harmful to society surpassing criminal threshold. This needs concerted study however to form the basis of anything more than a grizzled opinion.

today they have their scrum masters whisper it in our ears at the daily stand up

I feel like software developers have either the biggest or the smallest egos; the majority is in the last category and will keep their head down. But in companies, all the managerial staff - including these days scrum masters, which is now a dedicated role by a non-developer - will strut around like they own the place and everything would fall apart if it wasn't for them.

no scrum mumbo:jumbo in daily meetings; only engineers

Ahaha this just made my day :)

To me honest and harsh conversation, even if it is wrong, is still better than firing 100s of employees in a zoom call with corporate speak.

I agree 100% with much of the sentiment here that creators deserve respect and a cut of the spoils

At the same time, it really depends.... I'm pretty confident that there are very few engineers at FAANG that can't be replaced. I'd also expect there are very few engineers at Epic, Activision, Blizzard, Naughty Dog, Sony, Rockstar, Ubisoft, Valve, etc... that can't be replaced. Sure, if 30%-70% of the team left on any particular project it would probably die, but at least for AAA titles, there's usually no one person responsible for that title's success? Or maybe there is but it's limited to a few key people and not every person on that team.

IF you're at some indie firm with 5-15 people that's probably less true.

I mostly made this comment because in 1983 most games were made by 1 to 3 people max. By the end of the 80s there weren't many games that had more than 20 people on them and usually they took less than a year to make. It was only in the mid 90s that we started getting 30+ people teams trying to fill a CD with data and it arguably wasn't until the 2000s that we had games that it was common to teams of 30-100+ people multiple years to make.

If you take the truly non-performing folks, well sad to say you can probably get rid of most of them and improve performance.

Otherwise, get rid of any engineer and the minimum impact is 3-6 months code and culture familiarisation before they get up to speed with your particular application/code base/equipment. Can easily be more than a year - especially with some of the big systems.

So yes there is an impact on business performance, and a highly damaging one, far more often than is realised. Companies compete - and companies go under and get replaced, all the time.

>get rid of any engineer and the minimum impact is 3-6 months code and culture familiarisation

On a big project, say 100 devs over 3 years, 6 man months is 1/600th of the work, so a single person is replaceable and it's not even noise. If the replacement takes 6 months to get up to speed the replacement is certainly not a very good developer, even on the biggest projects. At that size, there's lots of small side projects, testing groups, and the like, so there should be plenty of smaller pieces to work on, and some on those small projects are always happy to jump into the main work, not needing 3-6 months to be useful to it.

This is not highly damaging on any but the smallest, shortest projects. And even there people move around all the time and don't destroy projects.

>If the replacement takes 6 months to get up to speed the replacement is certainly not a very good developer

I think you're mistaking 'becoming a contributing member of the team' for 'contributes at the level of the developer that left'.

Often the person leaving has not been that good of a contributor due to wanting to leave, while a replacement is new and likely more inclined to work hard.

On a big team, people fit a bell curve, and most likely those leaving are not going to cause much harm (otherwise no big project would get done - all have people coming and going over the lifespan of the codebase).

> I'm pretty confident that there are very few engineers at FAANG that can't be replaced. I'd also expect there are very few engineers at Epic, Activision, Blizzard, Naughty Dog, Sony, Rockstar, Ubisoft, Valve, etc... that can't be replaced. Sure, if 30%-70% of the team left on any particular project it would probably die

The thing is these two things are linked - one engineer leaving and 30-70% of a team leaving. The quantity of who leaves does not matter as much - a project may be able to handle 70% of consultants, interns, junior and regular programmers leaving, but might die if the 30% (or 25%, or 20%) leaving is entirely senior/staff/principal.

One of the lead programmers who has been at the company for many years leaves. He is friendly with some of the other senior programmers and says he thinks the company is slowly going downhill, and he got a new job with better money, and with a saner schedule, work environment and work-life balance. Maybe one of the other senior people leaves for the company he left for. Then other senior people start leaving.

It's like Steve Blank's essay about how a company deciding to start charging fifty cents for soda led to an exodus of its best senior programmers. One lead leaving can be a catalyst for others leaving. So they are in a sense irreplaceable.

If a company is an oligopoly like Verizon/AT&T or the like, then they are privy to revenue and profits they don't have to compete for, and for companies in that situation people are more replaceable. Not for companies that have to be competitive though.

I see stories like this a few times.

But oftentimes management ask if the project will be completed at all. And yes, the project will be completed.

But the real question to ask is often:

Will it be completed on time? On budget? With the same quality level?

And this is a complete different story.

Most developers working on products, not just at FAANG, can be replaced but it's very costly.

You need to find a developer in the specific niche he was competent. Not easy because there is a shortage of developers. Then he needs to get up to speed with the stack and the processes used in the company.

So in theory yes, engineers can be replaced. In practice it's costly, with no guarantee of getting the same productivity, and the process to find someone will leave you with one person less for many months. When you have competent engineers that you want to keep, the last thing to do is to play the "I don't need you anyway" card.

Blizzard lost their entire RTS staff to Frost Giant and will likely never release another RTS again. Sure they can probably survive on lootboxes for Hearthstone and Overwatch, but it's not the company it was. Even WoW is basically dead and is just rehashing with classic. Diablo got turned into mobile lootbox garbage as well, and it's too early to tell if Diablo 4 is going to follow the same path, but I wouldn't hold out hope on it being a critical success.

Large game companies have now essentially become casinos.

what's incredible about this is that Activision remains an industry leader whereas I'm not entirely sure if Atari even still exists.

Ironically however modern day Activision has the exact same attitude of Atari that caused their founding.

Video game studios taking advantage of young, naive people who will burn themselves out working unpaid overtime for the privilege of working for a game studio? I'm absolutely shocked, shocked I tell you!

Some of them probably get 50 applicants for every position they advertise. It's a meat grinder.

Video game developers (and working class in general) desperately needs to unionize, young folks are too naive to realize they're working towards chronic health conditions.

My sister is a vet. She works in a normal vet practice in our city dealing with mainly cats and dogs. Once I asked her why she doesn't work as a vet in the zoo, an extremely prestigious and wealthy institution with zoological research, wide variety of animals, etc. She just said that all young vets want to be a vet in the zoo. So they have much worse pay and conditions than other vet jobs.

Video game developers don't have terrible conditions and relatively low pay because of some anomalous lack of bargaining power which can be fixed by unionization. They have lots of bargaining power, most of which they use to choose the industry they work in. There are lots of young men who want to work in games, and far fewer who want to work in financial software. So pay and conditions are far worse in games, to the point where supply meets demand in each type of development work.

In a sense, some do - by quitting and/or going indie. There's some good studios out there; Team Cherry (hollow knight) famously doesn't do crunch. They also don't (need to) make any announcements about games until they're ready.

Isn't Team cherry like 10 people though?

I'd argue that's part of what makes it work. You can get ten people into one meeting room (or one zoom call) and still be able to talk to each other clearly.

But they might be right this time.

Many game devs are fungible cogs, implementing a well-defined blueprint. Especially Activision games like Call of Duty. It doesn’t help that there’s just so many devs these days that they can seemingly abuse them for decades and nothing has collapsed.

Devs are definitely no fungible, the difference in the productivity, team moral and new bug introduced by just changing one person in the team can be huge.

Even simple boilerplate is done differently by people. Some will automate them, some will do them manually forever. Some will naturally organize to discuss how to limit or improve them, some will stay with the status quo ad vitam. Some will document how to do things, provide templates to limit mistakes and mentor new comers. Some will just do their job.

And that's not even touching the fact some are simply bad at what they do.

In all the successful projects I've seen, hiring the right people or replacing the one leaving were critical processes, not just swapping.

This idea you foster is probably half the reason 2/3 of IT projects fail.

Big games will have a small core team - engine programmers, creative leads, etc - and a large section of 'grunt work' - modeling, texturing, animation, etc. The kind of thing someone puts on a very long todo list to be picked up. That's likely more work where individual contributions become less important.

It's also an area where there's more and more outsourcing happening these days.

if you'd ever worked on a call of duty you'd realize how foolish a statement this is.

Try not to take it personally, there are both devs who are replaceable and devs who aren’t, and with ~40 Call of Duty titles on almost as many platforms, a million and one people have worked on it, some doing more mechanical port work than others. There’s truth in there; the games industry is tough, and it’s relevant that some studios that (for example) demand lots of overtime haven’t seen any large exodus, or sometimes there is high turnover and the studio still survives, to parent’s point. There’s a higher level layer to this, that from a publisher’s point of view, there are a lot of smaller studios that are easily replaceable, and I’d speculate studios go out of business over contracts lost to other studios far more often than over employee walkouts (which of course fuels the need for overtime to be competitive). This is true for games and for VFX production in the US, enough people want these jobs that high turnover doesn’t seem to slow the business.

It's particularly ironic that you mention CoD as an example of how you can treat gamedevs as replaceable cogs. Here's the history: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32833895

Call of Duty then and now are very different. Back then, it was more like an indie movie. Now, it's Disney size. Their animators are cogs.

Well for what it's worth my friend is still with them, or at least what you could call the main descendant of that team. They don't treat him as a cog. In fact he was their first full time remote employee as I understand it, as he got sick of living in Tulsa. No offense Tulsans, but when you've lived in the PNW for a while it's kinda hard to give up all the trees, mountains, etc. I do miss thunderstorms though.

That is a great story, and should be an inspiration to aspiring gave devs. As you can clearly see in the thread, I did not bring up CoD. Two comments above me were discussing it. I was just pointing out that it’s now a huge franchise. All the franchises, large and small, have cycled through many, many programmers and artists and designers. It does not disrespect your friend to point out that there are multiple studios he didn’t start that are now developing CoD, or to point out that it has been ported to so many platforms that there has been a metric ton of unsexy porting work alongside the original content work. Having worked on both game and movie franchises, I can safely say that there’s less room for individual input. Not none, just less. I’ve witnessed whole studios (both in games and films) push and push to work on an original non-franchise production, because everyone knew it’d be more fun and felt less like being a cog. The fact that your friend made a wildly successful franchise is absolutely great for him, and for his business, but you can’t claim that it’s creatively great for everyone else involved, even if it does support them financially.

you mean like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered? or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare from 2019 not to be confused with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare from 2007?

Games have seen incredible growth as an industry over the past couple decades. It works because everyone and their grandma wants to play CoD, not because what they're doing is sustainable. Let's see how they fare once the markets saturate

Their games are fungible too.

Pretty much, yeah. Annual sports games become obsolete when the next one comes out.

Clearly the situation is very different. Activision is much much bigger than Atari was. 4 of the top developers leaving wouldn't cause the company to implode.

The more I learn about game dev the less I think this is true. The number of programmers that can work on bleeding edge game engine tech is incredibly low and the learning curve has only gotten more severe over time.

I mean, I'm sure they wouldn't implode, but I bet they pay their core engine devs a more than decent wage.

The majority of devs don't work on bleeding edge game engine tech, though.

Of course, but presumably the top coders at a game shop are involved in whatever inhouse tech they're building.

A top developer leaving also functions as a signal to others in the company.

I once left a company quickly after a senior leader had left. That proved to be a good move since the company was going under and sold a few months after.

percentages duh

No way they don't pay bank the bulk of their irreplaceable programers.

It’s justified though. Games are basically a solved problem these days, and the developers of today are most of the time just building on abstractions and best practices that didn’t exist during Atari’s time.

Once a particular domain of software becomes sufficiently mature, there is no real opportunity for heroic programmers to emerge who become too valuable to replace. Eventually more people emerge who are just as good.

>Games are basically a solved problem these days

I... have you played games at all recently? Have you seen the recent major releases? BF2042, Cyberpunk, etc. Even the highest quality game studios (not the aforementioned) have trouble making good high quality releases, especially with consistency.

Games are certainly not a solved problem.

people in the tech industry like to overestimate their own skills.

we see the same attitude in software industry - somethin' that has existed since the 60s that software is solved problem. yet everyone has difficulties in shippin' software that actually works whether that's titans like Apple / Microsoft to small mom and pop shops.

Games the difficulty is two-fold. 1: games are an art - and making art to good taste is a complex problem. 2. games are software - thereby suffering from problems encountered by the regular software industry etc lack of labour / resourcing etc

re: Cyberpunk, they tried to solve it again - over-estimating their own abilities to build a game engine (like they did with the Witcher games before) and ending up getting the basics wrong (e.g. resource loading on lower-end systems like the PS4).

Performance is by far not the only problem with Cyberpunk, although the most visible one.

Games SHOULD be a solved problem. There is no good reason for us to have to reinvent the wheel over and over. There are compsci white papers that neatly solve all of the big problems games run into.

But games are not a solved problem. There are multiple overlapping reasons why.

One is that gamedevs often just don't do the research. Why would they? The deadlines loom, the milestones have to be delivered, nobody cares if it's a hacky mess right now, surely management will give us time to fix it once they realize that it's broken--but if we don't deliver anything, the publisher cuts our funding.

This overlaps with scheduling and management issues. It turns out that writing good software takes up time[1], and the problem with games in particular is that they don't make money until they're released.

You don't write games like you write business software, where the other company paying for your milestones is the company that's going to use the software; that company usually has a revenue stream even without your software, so they don't have to care as much. For a game, though, there IS no revenue stream until the game launches. Every year that a game is in development without a release is a loss, and that pisses the board of directors right the fuck off, so that means the game needs to be out ASAP.

Because of this, games are often not given enough room in the development schedule to be made correctly. There's no time for research, testing, planning, or any of the other important parts of software engineering--we have to write this code NOW, or it doesn't ship. And if you read that source I linked in the footnote, you'll know that this produces rotten software.

This is compounded by the kind of one-upsmanship that is created by such an environment--leading to a phrase I've heard from friends in other companies: "Very optimistic people who are no longer with the company made this decision". You get into a situation where people made promises to impress the publisher, claiming that they can turn out a game in an impossible timeframe, and that got them fired--but now you're stuck cleaning up the mess, and the publisher has already wasted a lot of money on the years spent thinking it wasn't a mess.

Mix in the siloing of information (because all of this shit is proprietary) and, despite all of the problems being solved on paper, nobody's solved video games.

[1]: https://jacobian.org/2022/sep/9/quality-is-systemic/

There's plenty of unsolved problems in gaming and that's usually where indies make their money. Games like Dwarf Fortress, Minecraft, Stardew Valley, Rimworld.

I'm genuinely curious, what money did Dwarf Fortress make? The game is very cool, but I think it's a bit unapproachable to the majority for it to make any amount of serious money like Minecraft, Stardew Valley and RinWorld did.

I could be out of loop, but the last time I played Dwarf Fortress, it still used terminal graphics and white I believe in gameplay > graphics, my brother and the majority don't and probably won't even touch the game. (Not to mention the _menues_)

Okay, maybe DF is a bad example. It seems to be roughly $15k/month on donations for two people now. It is coming on Steam with a major graphics and UX overhaul, so I guess we'll see eventually.

I very much doubt that. There's a reason why innovation in games often happen, entertainment is not an easy problem to solve, with no set quantity to achieve

I agree as well that technology wise it still isn't solved, but I think it is the creative side that will be the most unknown part of the project these days.

That is why we have so many bland but technically impressive games. Studios want safe bets, an FPS game is easy, making it interesting to play is still very hard.

Writing software is creative.

Agreed, but a lot of industry work doesn't give you much leeway to be creative. You can say the same for a level designer who just has to implement pre-specified designs they had no hand in.

While "solved" is a bit optimistic, it is also true that e.g. sports games get sales every year with mainly updates to the player roster.

Or many locked in formulas. Think CoD, BF somewhat, Assassin's Creed. Whatever Ubisoft does.

Decent amount of BF games flopped. Assassin's Creed had three "reboots" of the formula. Ubisoft recently realized they have to shake things up, since flops are more and more common.

it depends on what the poster meant by "games" - do they mean engine and graphics? Or do they mean game design/mechanics?

Game engines and graphics is "solved" if you stick to popular concepts (which are those that are easily available in commercial engines).

Game design/mechanics is an unsolved problem imho - unless you consider it solved when merely taking an existing game design (like an FPS) and add nothing new to it (aka, those yearly COD military shooters).

Consider a game like https://store.steampowered.com/app/1141580/Taiji/ (inspired by the witness). This game is quite unique, and cannot really be recycled in to another game (without it being just a clone).

Not to mention that entertainment isn't a constant. Meaning people will get bored of X after some time, no matter how good the X is.

As they say: All good things must come to an end.

And: You either die a hero or live long enough to become a villain.

'Solved'? - Take a look at some of the Lumen/Nanite tech in Unreal Engine 5. And that's just a small chunk of what's happening on the rendering side of things. Game tech continues to evolve at a fair pace.

atari very much does not exist, the trademark/name has passed through like 3 or 4 different hands now. whatever corporate entity is now calling itself atari has absolutely no relationship to the original.

This is correct. Nolan Bushnell sold the brand to WMS Industries in 1996.

Looks like they were facing extinction in 1991 until now-CEO Bobby Kotick took over.


>Kotick and additional investors bought Mediagenic for approximately $500,000 in 1991.

Wow,that's one hell of a successful investment.

Atari still exists today.

In 2018 I met Frédéric Chesnais in NY, and learned about the latest things related the company. Here's an interview I found from 2019. [0].

It seems that the current CEO is now Wade Rosen. [1]

Company is still up and running.

[0]: https://frenchamerican.org/interview-frederic-chesnais/

[1]: https://venturebeat.com/games/atari-ceo-wade-rosen-interview...

No, the Atari name exists today. Famous defunct company names regularly get bought by entities wanting to cash out whatever goodwill or positive associations still left in them. Would-be buyers with less extractive ambitions can't compete in the auctions.

So no, Atari doesn't exist today, what exists is a company wearing Atari's skin as a suit, in order to fool you. Don't be fooled by names without the organisational continuity to back it up.

I think of the definitive example as Schwinn bicycles.

Another famous example of this "brand" re-use that I only recently found out about: AEG


Yeah but Electrolux is still a good brand.

Better example is AKG which used to be well respected for making high-quality headphones, until Samsung bought their parent company and started just using their logo from 2017 on cheap crap.

The original engineers formed a different company Austrian Audio (no article on wiki apparently)


It’s just a shell that rents the name to whoever gives them the most, right?

There is “atari NFT” and “atari blockchain casino”

Not really, it's a French video game company (Infogrames) that bought Atari when it was just a shadow of its former self and rebranded itself Atari.

Anyway no relation to the original Atary.

And let’s not forget that the great Woz and Jobs were once Atari employees who left to start a new company called Apple.

Interestingly, this is kind of an anti-example of what was asked for in the OP. Here, few people quit, not many.

This was the beginning of an avalanche that led to most of the remaining engineers at Atari to leave and try to start their own third-party game companies to follow in the success of Activision.

OP here. I assumed that many people needed to quit for a company to implode.

turns out I was wrong!

Atari collapsed under its own weight because of some pretty profound mismanagement, which led to massive layoffs. (you mentioned in another comment that engineers “left in an avalanche.” The word is “layoff”) There were plenty of extremely capable designers and engineers (and researchers) who were let go in a very short period of time, people who had not gone off to do their own thing. Atari was big.

If anything, other companies making good games for their platform aided them, and they were famously bad at seeing that. Engineers leaving to develop Atari software didn’t move the needle in terms of their collapse. Not giving individual credit on games is a tiny footnote in the book of things Atari management did wrong.

the irony is that the CEO probably does less work than the assembly line worker

A lot of CEO's at places I have worked didn't really make decisions. They schmooze the biggest customers. Constantly, 12-14 hours a day.

Making money isn't about making the best product. Commodore proved that. It is about getting people to give you money... So yeah, maybe they are worth it.

It really depends on the company. It sounds like you were working at a B2B/enterprise company? But yeah, getting new business and/or funding is often a big part of the job. It doesn't meant they don't also make decisions - but I guess the bigger the company the fewer different roles the CEO is filling.

It's also on them to manage, handle, and be responsible for everything. Walk a mile in their shoes and then try say it's so "easy" honestly.

I certainly wasn't suggesting they had an easy job. I agree it's quite a hard job.

Just that it's not always the job some people think it is.

Schmooze is a bit of a demeaning word, isn't it? If the CEO is learning from customers and helping the organization react accordingly, that sounds very valuable.

Schmooze comes from yiddish, and it just means to chat or converse. Seems fair to me.

You can chat and converse idly, or with an agenda. Not demeaning at all, just descriptive.

> talk with someone in a lively and friendly way

Demeaning isn't the right word, but it sure seems condescending. Like calling programming "button pushing".

But if schmoozing means their company gets a new big customer or their stock price goes up, they have provided value I guess. It's just not from what we consider "real" work.

I don't know if it's less work, but certainly the assembly worker definitely delivers more value.

Only one of the two killed the company.

That kind of demonstrates the importance and value of a good CEO though. A couple dumb decisions by an assembly worker won't kill a company. A few bad decisions by a CEO can.

> That kind of demonstrates the importance and value of a good CEO though. A couple dumb decisions by an assembly worker won't kill a company. A few bad decisions by a CEO can.

A few dumb (or malicious) decisions by an assembly worker can cause enormous damage and incur enormous cost.

I think most job salaries can be linked directly to how much of a difference the employee can make. A complete dud at McDonalds in the kitchen might cost a few thousand on average but the further you go up, the greater the damage or benefit potential gets.

> I think most job salaries can be linked directly to how much of a difference the employee can make.

I think that the world's, or at least the US's, teachers are a glaring counterexample.

The problem is that the value that teachers create is hard to compute and hard to capture, so in the end, no one is willing to pay for it.

David Graeber, of Bullshit Jobs fame, makes the distinction between service work and caring work. Doing things vs taking care of other humans.

Part of his thesis is that society undervalues the labor of caring workers, because they get so much "job satisfaction". Teachers and nurses are examples of caring work.

I lean towards Graeber's thesis, mostly because I haven't read any other explanation for this pathology, so Graeber wins by default.

> no one is willing to pay for it

parents paying for private schools seem to be willing to pay that for their children

> parents paying for private schools seem to be willing to pay that for their children

Exactly—people aren't willing to pay for someone else's education, but everyone needs an education, so teachers who care enough that they are willing to teach for minuscule pay wind up squeezed between societal apathy and societal need.

Private school teachers are often paid less than public school teachers, and do not have a union or a pension.

Except the bad CEO still gets a big salary, and a golden parachute when he leaves the sinking ship of the company he killed. And then proceed to get hired as CEO for the next company.

The effects of a CEO is often lagging. If an assembly line worker stops working, you see the results immediately. If a CEO stops working or does something very negative, you might see the effects years later.

You'd think that losing key staff would kill the company overnight, but even in this situation, it took 4 years between being doomed and actually dying.

i thought there was an industrywide videogame crash in the early 80s that was blamed on the atari consoles being too open. (everyone was making cartridges, even companies like ralston-purina, quality fell under the flooded market and consumers gave up).

my understanding is that this gave rise to nintendo's tight control over developer licensees while atari was sold off and pivoted to home computers (specifically the st line) under jack tramiel.

The story is more complex than that, Atari split in 2 (the games company and the consumer electronics company) and neither really exist anymore (and haven't for a long time now). But basically yes - they never replicated the success of the VCS and arcades stopped being a major part of the industry in the 90s. All of Atari's biggest hits were in the 70s and (early) 80s.

it's really complex, and quite interesting!

"Video game crash of 1983 - Wikipedia" https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_crash_of_1983

Is there a book on this you can recommend?

This is all laid out in the Nov 28, 1983 edition of InfoWorld Magazine.

I’d read that Kassar actually compared the programmers with towel designers, having come from Burlington Industries (a textile company) himself.

Or it could have been caused by the whole video game crash of 1983 and not four employees leaving…

Famously, the Traitorous Eight left Shockley to found Fairchild Semiconductor. This was essentially the origin story of Silicon Valley.



Shockley inadvertently by being an asshole created more wealth for more people possibly than any other single person.

"At the time of his death, he was estranged from most of his friends and family, except his second wife, the former Emmy Lanning (1913–2007). His children reportedly learned of his death by reading his obituary in the newspaper."

Well, that says a lot.

Not to mention: "Shockley became widely known for his extreme views on race and his advocacy of eugenics". Sounds like a terrible person.

The question is whether we tolerate assholes for their inventions and brilliancy? What material damage his asshole-ness has caused compared to the benefits he provided to the world? It is quite overwhelmingly clear.

My take is that these are the people that herald the western civilization. The misfits, the weirdos and the, yes, assholes.

They have almost zero chance to convince everyone of their twisted views of Eugenics or what have you.

I am afraid, we've created a society where these people are shunned and IMO it is an overall net-negative. A lot of people in GNU org can be borderline fascist/communist/insert-extremist-movement.

Shockley is the exception to the 'tolerating assholes' rule, he was far enough outside the rails that he was largely shunned by his peers, subordinates, and everyone else.

But not Stanford University, where he continued to teach other students and be a professor until his retirement, and on whose website Shockley still prominently is posted: https://engineering.stanford.edu/people/william-shockley

So perhaps there are communities smack dab in the heart of Silicon Valley startup ecosystem that do tolerate even the most extreme assholes, still. It seems personal asshole-like behavior is tolerated or ignored in lieu of their "other contributions".

That is like attributing the Big Bang to why inflation is at 8.6% currently.

Well, inflation[0] did in fact start shortly after the Big Bang.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inflation_(cosmology)

Shockley deserves as much credit for the creation of that wealth as the wind deserves credit for an amazing photograph of a beautiful summer sky.

How do you figure? He invented several kinds of semiconductors he assembled the team that went on to found an entire industry. Much of that wealth could have been held onto by him, had he been less of an ass.

People didn't leave over equity, or pay, they left because he was an asshole. Without him being a jackass, his company might have invented the things later invented at Fairchild.

Are you suggesting he was intentionally an ass to drive people away so that they could create something even greater? That truly is some 4D chess business.

You can get credit for mistakes all the time. Go speed past a cop, even by accident (distracted), collect your ticket and your credit for making the roadways a bit more hazardous and your police station a bit more wealthy.

He didn’t have to intend for them to leave to get credit for being the asshole that made them leave. :)

PBS has a great documentary about silicon valley that goes into some of this.


Did Shockley die though?

Shockley Semiconductor, the company? Yes, it eventually closed because of this. It took a decade of them floundering, but it did happen.

OK. Close enough!

I worked for a company big enough to be in the HN headlines (sorry, have to stay somewhat anonymous) where development virtually stalled for a couple years after a mass exodus event. The CEO went on a rampage and fired some people on the spot for something they weren’t even responsible for, which destroyed the already fragile morale and created a steady exodus of good talent over a couple of years.

It didn’t kill the company for several reasons, but primarily because:

1) The company had enough momentum, revenue, and cash in the bank that they could go on hiring sprees to replace everyone. The new hires had a lot of churn when they realized what was going on, so they just kept hiring until enough replacements stuck around.

2) Many of the employees who didn’t quit saw this as their opportunity to rise through the ranks and fill the voids. They weren’t wrong and it paid off for many of them in the form of rapid promotions and advancement. The CEO became more hands-off as he realized his micromanagement wasn’t helping, so they basically inherited a slightly better situation.

After this experience, I don’t really see a developer exodus killing any big company with good momentum and decent cash reserves. As long as a company has cash flow they can spend their way into hiring replacements as long as it takes.

I honestly, can't believe how many companies I've seen that have had the problem with new hires churning really quick.

When I lived in the UK, I saw one company that was like that. When I moved to Berlin, it's pretty much been like that at most companies. Various reasons from the tech being crap, the culture being crap, or managers being crap.

While the company normally survives for a while, since if you have the cash you can survive for a while no matter what. The company never really reaches it's true value. Most do end up being acquired by a competitor for very little money or going out of business.

Ah yes, the companies with bimodal tenure distribution; it's either 3 months or 13 years, and nobody with 3 years. You either accept the bullshit and stick around, or you get out of there fast.

So the good ones left when they realized what was going on and the mediocre ones stayed.

I, being Deaf, would have been forced to stay with the mediocre ones because interviewing is difficult for me.

I am lucky that I don't need a job now.

As I’ve posted my story below, I also wanted to point out that I was uniquely Deaf, but nonetheless a rockstar programmer then.

Interviewing is hard. Notably Google’s digital interviewing where they insist that they call you for an interview. I aced all their backend questions so they kept trying to call me until I insisted that I call them. Then it went silent. Their loss.

This approach doesn’t leave us Deafies a whole lotta time to arrange for an American Sign Language interpreter to come and sit with us before the phone rings.

It's not possible to have a Signed Language interpreter around you all the time. Or did you? If not, how did you communicate with your coworkers?

When I was working in companies I just lipread and talked German, and it worked mostly fine except meetings. But a few years ago I realized that lipreading is too hard for me, so I now avoid that. Recently I got interrogated by the police but they put up an additional computer monitor for me to follow the notes. I declined the offer of a Signed Language interpreter because I was not sure whether the interpreter really knows the correct legal terms. The monitor was very helpful. I caught many little misunderstandings this way like I said, he wanted to void the ticket himself, but the minute taker wrote, he wanted to buy the ticket himself.

Anyway, I am lucky that I don't need to work in companies anymore being semi-retired.

Can you play audio explaining the situation asking for a call back number or email?

I imagine this situation comes up frequently and not only with hiring.

My lawyer advised me not to reveal my handicap during any interview process. it really is about the skillset.

It becomes a bonus for the company if HR finds out, but not necessarily for the line management.

Problem is Google does not segregate such sensitive info (race, sex, handicap) between the hiring team and its HR.

Google, however, elected not to use email and I am unwilling to reveal the real reason for me calling them directly … much less by email.

I see, it seems like choosing to not reveal your handicap during the interview process is a major challenge to getting the accommodations you want during the hiring process.

Also not sure how google HR could firewall obvious disability from the hiring team if they are at all involved in the interview.

if and when the design team of Google hiring are not made up of HR personnel, it could be construed as a violation of Federal labor law. It becomes a violation if the hiring (non-HR) team are privy to sensitive info of applicants. and if HR design team and hiring (non-HR) team are one and the same playing fast and loose with privilege info, many lawyers will be all over this.

Of course, I am unwilling to find out because my priorities lies elsewhere but if and when I learn of the next Deaf applicant that got turned away because of lack of direct call support, then my priority of my legal team will change.

Federal law says accommodation must be made … after the hire. No need to tip your hand earlier.

I think you are grossly misinformed.

>when the design team of Google hiring are not made up of HR personnel, it could be construed as a violation of Federal labor law.

There is nothing illegal about the design team participating in or even running the hiring process.

>HR design team and hiring (non-HR) team are one and the same playing fast and loose with privilege info, many lawyers will be all over this.

There is nothing illegal about this either. You have to show discrimination took place. Many companies separate some roles simply for additional legal protection.

>Of course, I am unwilling to find out because my priorities lies elsewhere but if and when I learn of the next Deaf applicant that got turned away because of lack of direct call support, then my priority of my legal team will change.

You weren't turned away. You refused to tell them you needed direct call accommodation, and then act like a victim when they didn't know. Do you expect them to read minds? Do you expect them to accommodate every possible request from applicants without need for explanation?

If you go to court, google will show it's HR policies and process for accommodating applicants that notify HR of their needs. They will point to applicants that asked for accommodation, and all the times HR provided it. They will then point out the fact that you or the next similar applicant did not inform them, and explain to the court that they are not mind readers.

Sure. They’ve neglected to mention accommodation in their hiring website.

That … was on the advice of my lawyer.

Meanwhile, this:


That was on the advice of my lawyer.

You, however, probably need to consult your legal team.

This type of discussion is typical. If all goes well, no worries, Signed Language is so beautiful, how can I learn to sign? and so on. If there are problems, Deaf people are used to rough treatment. And if they complain they are told off not to be so sensitive, that what they say is not correct, or they get the silence treatment.

It seems there is something like an impedance mismatch between Deafies and Hearies and sometimes the sparks fly furiously.

C'est la vie.

C’eat la vie.

That is strategic advice, not advice on the law.

If the intent of hiding your disability is to prevent possible discrimination during the process, you are defeating the intent staying quiet and guaranteeing the application fails.

IMO they did nothing discriminatory.

Don't they accommodate you knowing that you are deaf?

Granted, I don't know where you're situated, and from what I hear the hiring process in the US is sketchy, but this sounds like an easy problem to fix, if it's even a problem at all.

I’m not deaf but have other impairments and most companies literally don’t even know what to do, it’s like an alien just showed up on their doorstep. In my experience most of the time if you’re disabled you’re just quietly looked over.

It's just plain discrimination. If you have to equally skilled people, do you pick the one where you need to make special accomodations? Probably not, even if you are free of prejudices or other malicious thoughts.

Sounds like many dysfunctional startups, many of which have impetuous CEOs who have been handed far too much VC money and have far too little management experience. Just take a look at what is / has happened with DataRobot.

This is kind of my experience as well — lots of times these management mistakes manifest as opportunity costs, which means there might not be much in the way of visible costs. This means that there's often little consequence to the mismanagement, and the organization can absorb the problematic consequences as long as they have sufficient outside reputation and/or resources to attract a critical mass of new hires that will just flow with that dysfunction, or the poor management goes away for other reasons.

The continued success or longevity of an organization doesn't say much about how it's functioning, mostly because it doesn't address how much better it could have been doing or who is not in the organization.

Extremely similar situation happened to me at a startup.

i havent actually done this but just pointing out that with 55k HN karma and 7 years of HN comments, you're pseudonymous at best :) maybe if youre far enough from the company i'd give it like 5 years statute of limitations before you can start naming and shaming?


The wedding photographer/videographer business I discussed in another thread last week. All his employees quit and he went under.

I've personally been involved with more than one general contractor going under. When I was a young carpenter, I followed my best friend from job to job and contractor to contractor. When he walked off a job, the rest of us followed. He and I and a group of Dominicans (from Dominica not the DR) put more than one GC out of business because we'd walk and then we'd tell everyone we knew that they shouldn't work for said GC.

When I became older and my friend moved away, I took his place. It was so satisfying leaving a job and then receiving a phone call from the client a few days/week later asking me and the crew to come back and finish with promises that the GC would be out of the picture.

It's incredibly difficult to find skilled tradesman in the Caribbean that will show up sober each day and perform quality work. We always had the long end of the stick.

Link to the wedding business comment - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32740708

lol that's a delightful story

Sounds like the archetype of "being a manager means being angry at people. business knowledge optional"

It also sounds like an untrue story. You can find photo/video editors all over the internet. As a photographer I'm spammed by the Chinese ones every week. Looking at their portfolios, they aren't even bad (though I don't know how real their portfolios are).

> It's incredibly difficult to find skilled tradesman in the Caribbean that will show up sober each day and perform quality work.

There's a lot to unpack in that sentence. Care to elaborate?

Having just overseen a construction project in rural Spain,...

workers show up sober, that's not the problem. Problem is they are not trained in the trade.

Never heard of vibrating concrete. Or curing times.

Setting pillars by 'eye', not even using a plumb line.

Carpenter delivers the doors unfinished. These are outside doors.

Door lock mechanism installed wrong, such that the door locks (once) but cannot unlock.

The painter was decent, but his background was as a Venezuelan helicopter mechanic. Left Venezuela for economic reasons.

Workers showing up without the basic tools for the day's work, so had to supply them myself. Obvious stuff like blades for the angle grinders.

Oh, and coordinating supplies and work, nah, not really a thing.

I will echo this and share some context.

The biggest challenge I've had is that trade schools and certifications are inconsistent, so it's not easy to vet candidates; a lot of hiring is intra-island, requiring significant up-front investment in people without knowing that they'll work out; and equipment and regulations (especially electrical) are highly variable, making it hard for a crew to deliver consistent quality.

That context gives a lot of room for crews and contractors to take advantage of inexperienced project managers and investors, and since the corrupt teams aren't brought back they tend to be the ones which are available for the next gig. When you find a great team you treasure them and even find work to keep them busy and happy between projects.

It's actually a remarkably similar dynamic to H1B engineer mills in the US. Many H1B engineers are brilliant, the best of the world looking for a challenge in America. But many are pawns in outsourcing meat markets.

I know nothing about the Caribbean, but I can tell you about middle America. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about having a job foreman for the home renovation/whatever project tell them “so-and-so had a beer at lunch, but they’re good. Do you mind?”

FYI, that’s a trap. If there is a jobsite accident that afternoon, you are liable for allowing someone who’s been drinking to work.

Many construction crews in the islands consist of a combination of European and US expats and Dominicans with a few Haitian laborers thrown in.

On all the islands I worked on, it was rare to find people actually from that island who were capable of that kind of work.

The Dominicans and the Haitians were fine, but the US and European guys mostly treated it as one big vacation. They would stay out all night partying and then come to work and do just enough to not get fired.

As another commenter mentioned, those guys knew they could always find work elsewhere even if only temporarily because skilled trades were in high demand. So they could quickly move on until they burned another bridge.

I was on one job in Antigua where the project managers were able to avoid this completely. They flew in hundreds of people from Indian and had them live in a “tent town” where they never left except to go to work each day. No alcohol or drugs allowed.

Myself and two others were flown in to install all the cabinets and other mill work. With the except of the stone guys from Turkey, we were the only non Indians on the entire project.

So they flew in labor and kept them in a pen without freedom or anyway to get home in order to ensure they did quality work. That sounds a lot like slavery with extra steps.

It was a British project management firm and it was the first and only time I ever experienced anything like that. It wouldn't be the most ideal situation for me, but they seem eager and happy to be there.

I don't believe it should be compared to slavery since they chose to be there and they were paid well for their time. I don't imagine there was any other way to house that many individuals on Antigua. There certainly weren't enough hotel rooms or condos available during the tourist season.

They had quite a bit of authority as well. I was on site for less than 5 minutes when one of the safety guys made me leave because I did not have steel toed boots.

> It was a British project management firm and it was the first and only time I ever experienced anything like that. It wouldn't be the most ideal situation for me, but they seem eager and happy to be there.

What was the name of the project management firm? I am curious how you determined that they seemed eager and happy to be there.

> I don't believe it should be compared to slavery since they chose to be there and they were paid well for their time

How much were they paid?

I'm not going to dox myself by revealing the firm; I believe I was the only American on site at the time and I was certainly the only one performing millwork installation.

I determined they were happy and eager because I spent each evening with them eating and watching soccer. I was down there during Christmas, and Liat airlines happened to go on strike so I was stranded there for 3 additional days. They made me feel very welcomed. I would spend the evening with them and then walk the ~2 miles back to the small house that was rented for me.

I don't know how much all of them were paid, but the framers were making a weekly salary of $750 IIRC (or so they claimed) and that was beyond a decent wage 15 years ago. Especially considering all of their expenses were paid. I flew down there on my own with all of my personal tools, did most of the work to secure a temp work visa on my own, and I only pulled in about $1250 per week back then for work that required quite a bit more skill than rough framing.

> I determined they were happy and eager because I spent each evening with them eating and watching soccer. I was down there during Christmas, and Liat airlines happened to go on strike so I was stranded there for 3 additional days. They made me feel very welcomed. I would spend the evening with them and then walk the ~2 miles back to the small house that was rented for me

In my opinion, this reminds me of a course I took about ethics. Slave owners and slave traders would say their slaves were happy because they would sing while working and play games like jump rope and hopscotch. The owners would also say their slaves loved them, especially the ones that were 'house slaves' that tended to be young women. A good example of that would be Thomas Jefferson and the underage child, Sally Hemmings who had his children. More recently Qatari companies caught using indentured/slave labor to build the FIFA stadium made similar remarks about their 'workers'.

Thank you for sharing your experience. It convinces me that people can easily find ways to convince themselves everything is fine.

Eh, it’s not exclusive to the Caribbean. Construction is hard work and my experience is people who work it tend to drink (more).

Im from the Caribbean.

I wonder what can be generalized from this experience to empower workers in other industries. My guess is that the tradesmen you worked with have negotiating power because they can find another GC. That relies on there being many competing companies. That can only happen in industries with low start-up costs and small economies of scale.

Railway operation has huge start-up costs and large economies of scale. I think a long term solution depends on the nationalization of track or at least the separation of train and track ownership, with track operators required to provide nondiscriminatory access. Not gonna happen but one can dream.

Again, all guesses, but I'd like to hear what someone more knowledgeable has to say

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