The worst thing about working yourself to death at Zynga would be knowing you were toiling to produce shoddy little pseudo-games. At least when, say, jwz was putting in insane hours at Netscape he was building Netscape Navigator.
Also those Farmville character cutouts in the photo are possibly the creepiest thing in the universe.
And millions more waste atrocious amounts of time being unproductive--or worse, becoming addicted or going into debt.
Farmville abuses the social guilt that evolution built into our human nature to bring profit to Zynga. Do you really think its net contribution to society is positive because of your grandmother and people like her?
Those 'pseudo-games' keep my wheelchair bound grandmother occupied (and possibly even entertained) throughout her day.
First of all, let me agree with the general principle that in a free country with a free-enterprise economy, people ought to be able to spend their money (and time) in the way that they find most valuable, based on their personal circumstances. I was one customer among millions for what was then the best-selling phonograph album of all time (Michael Jackson's Thriller album, one of the first compact discs I bought). You can argue legitimately that listening to recorded music is a frivolous activity, and argue even more legitimately that Jackson, born the same year I was, was already rich enough in his twenties that he didn't need my money, but I was happy to spend money on something that added fun to my day while I was working hard to establish my career. There's no particular policy reason for any of us to oppose people spending time or money on what helps them get through the day.
With reference to your grandmother needing to be in a wheelchair at all times, you have my deepest sympathies. My late dad had a slip and fall on the ice from a late-season snowstorm (in APRIL!) and then was a quadriplegic from his spinal cord injury for the last six years of his life. Surgery attempting to treat his injury took him from being unable to use his limbs to being unable to swallow and having great difficulty even speaking, both things he could do just fine immediately after his injury. Once people lose mobility, they undergo a radical change in lifestyle, and no decent person will begrudge paraplegics or quadriplegics the opportunity to choose recreation that helps them cope with new circumstances. My dad never took up playing computer games--and of course had no mobility for operating a computer after his injury. I remember spending about a month, in a series of visits, reading aloud to him the book The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition,
which is an inspiring story of human beings facing other extremely tough challenges. I was glad I took the time to do that--reading the book was good for me. My best wishes go to anyone who has a relative not fully able to do the normal daily activities able-bodied people take for granted.
"But PopCap’s founders worried about the company’s reputation after hearing rumors of the company’s rescinding share awards and fierce internal competition, said two people with first-hand knowledge of the situation. Instead, PopCap agreed to a rival offer from Electronic Arts, worth $750 million in cash and stock and the potential of an additional $550 million if certain earnings goals were met."
You agree to be acquired for less money by EA because of the culture of Zynga? EA. Arguably the worst-regarded place for game developers to work.
I have 3 friends who have worked for EA recently, in different offices in different states. They all agree that things are noticeably better since the EA wife lawsuit. It's not perfect, but it's not the constant death marches it used to be. I'd say Zygna has handily surpassed EA in the horrible reputation department.
I'm an EA spouse. The culture depends very strongly on the particular studio. It's mainly the old studios like Redwood Shores and Tiburon that have the really bad reputations, though they have gotten a bit better. I'd say it's partly the lawsuit, but also partly Riccitiello's effort to create a healthier culture.
EA also has some history of allowing semi-independence of studios they buy out if they have enough clout and fight for it. Maxis managed to even stay in a physically different location, partly to maintain cultural independence, and partly because Will Wright didn't want to commute to Redwood City. Admittedly, being Will Wright is sort of an exceptional case when it comes to negotiating clout.
The essence of EA's management style is that they're content to leave studios on their own, so long as the studio is consistently laying golden eggs. When that studio experiences a significant failure (when, not if) EA corporate has no qualms about slicing open the goose to find out what went wrong.
They're better in this regard than they once were, because they have some level of restraint now, but the creative hit-or-bomb nature of the video game business means that eventually they eventually feel compelled to exert control over all of their acquisitions. Wright had a large degree of autonomy for a long time because he made staggeringly massive amounts of money for EA with The Sims, but it didn't protect him from being pushed out when Spore turned out to be an epic flop.
I was in San Francisco a couple weeks ago playing a couple shows at the Independent. My buddy Fritz owns a bar/restaurant called the Connecticut Yankee, and was giving me a ride from the hotel to the airport with a breakfast and Irish coffee stop over at the Yankee on the way. We cruised right past Zynga's HQ, which is a few blocks away.
"Wow, Zynga's right there, huh?"
[aggravated grumbling from Fritz]
"Why? What could a bar owner have against a big business full of people making lots of money being a few blocks away?"
"Well, all these tech companies hire their own chefs now. None of those people even leave the building all day. It's totally slaughtered my lunchtime crowd."
I'd never really considered the micro-economic effects of the Google Chef before, but there you go.
IIRC, Google only hired Charlie Ayers when they moved out of downtown Palo Alto to suburban Mountain View. Perhaps the free food phenomenon might have never happened if Google had moved to SFO instead?
I don't think you can run a 3000 person ~1B/y company like a startup. It's one thing if there are make or break projects at a bigger company that people sign up for explicitly, but it's not scalable. Not everybody can work at that pace and people who can't or won't are just as valuable (perhaps even more so) over the long haul. You have to pace yourself for the long term and put in a reward structure to match that goal. Look at Apple vs a place like Zynga and think about who is more likely to be around in 5 years...
Also, I've seen that 4-5 years is about how much time engineers are willing to put into a startup company before they want some kind of a cash out : liquidity : burn your options in a barrel at burning man situation. If you think about the expected half-life of a silicon valley engineering career, you can probably do 2 or 3 of those before you are burned out entirely or prefer to work at a non insane company. Founders are probably not as aware of this because they naturally are 100% invested, but you have to surround yourself with quality employees who won't put up with your bullshit forever.
Bad example. The folks I know at Apple are ridiculously overworked. I've got a cousin who works on FileMaker that's been putting in 12+ hour days and weekends for the last year. I've got a friend who works on iMessage for the iPhone, and his roommates never see him at home unless they specifically arrange a social event with him.
I think that if you want a company in Silicon Valley with decent work/life balance, it'd probably be Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco, or one of the other last-generation giants. Google depends on your team; there're parts of Infrastructure, Apps, etc. that work reasonable hours with little deadline pressure, but people on the money teams (Search, Ads, Android, Doodles) are often there at all hours because they set very ambitious and complex goals for themselves. Facebook has a reputation for long hours and weekend hackathons. Yahoo is apparently very variable: some folks are putting in 12-14 hour days and still not getting all their work done, while others work for like 2-3 hours and spend the rest of the day on Facebook. Apple I already mentioned.
Good point, I have no first hand knowledge of working at Apple. I have worked at some smaller companies (and that's where I am now) that do have a good work/life balance but nobody would recognize those names so I just picked one. Definitely appreciate the insight though. I do occasionally contemplate working at a bigger company, and it's good to think about all the trade-offs. It's also interesting to think about the culture of a company, how that grows and evolves, and how that matches your own goals and ideals. It's not just about the money. I do think it's possible to do good work and be happy at a small/medium sized company that has a pretty cool product but isn't going to be the "next xyz".
Apple gets away with it because they have a fantastic brand, and produce widely admired products. If people will tattoo your logo to themselves, you can probably get them to pitch in a few extra hours. If you tell them the product they are contributing to will be a cultural icon for years, they'll work weekends.
Tobacco companies and casinos look after their staff, because they know their staff are in it for the pay and conditions.
I'm not saying that Zygna is a bad company, but it's not a great one, given the money it's making. The people in it are not there to make a difference, they want a fat paycheque, a big exit, or a relaxed working environment.
1.) Absolute hard deadlines. Robert Bunsen's 200th birthday only comes around once; if you miss it, you missed it, and the doodle gets canceled.
2.) Big responsibility. You're the gatekeeper to Google's front door; if you screw up, a billion or so people will know it fairly soon.
3.) Ambitious quality standards, also because it's Google's front door. Some of the doodles are as big as ordinary projects at Google.
And on the plus side, your work is up on perhaps the most visited page on the Internet, and you have something really cool to talk about at parties. Plus the doodle team itself is really fun to work with and you have a lot of artistic latitude. It's probably one of the more startup-like areas in Google.
Man, this article has the fingerprints of the submarine all over it (http://paulgraham.com/submarine.html). Lots of emphasis on corrective measures, just a passing mention of option clawbacks, with the reassurances that it "affected only a limited number of senior employees."
Company culture can sometimes be stressful. Zynga is no different. What worries me though is that compensation packages are being rescinded. This is generally a bad sign. I am constantly reminded of the spirit and the letter. The spirit of these packages is that early employees took a risk and should be rewarded. Even though the packages can watered down and taken away doesn't make it right.
" the organization thrives on numbers, relentlessly aggregating performance data" Enron had a system like this, designed to retain top level staff and lose the dead wood. It actually created an obsession with short term gains and an effort to get good 'review' scores. It also led to employees shitting on each other in an attempt to stay employed.
I work, tangentially, in the games industry. A reasonably well-known programmer, who had a monster hit in the Atari days, works in my office. The topic of Zynga came up on an internal list recently. He had this to say:
"Zynga continues to set precedents in the high-tech field. This ranks up there with a friend of mine who, while working at Zynga suffered a heart attack without warning one day (in his 40s).
In the 3 days he was in the hospital, his boss was replaced and his new boss reorganized the department. The new boss called my friend on the hospital room phone and fired him.
(Yes, there was a lawsuit. And yes, Zynga settled while – of course – denying any wrongdoing.)
While such a culture is not uncommon in the game industry, it can create problems. Employees at Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard have filed lawsuits against their employers, with claims of hostile work conditions and withheld compensation. In 2006, Electronic Arts settled two class-action lawsuits by game artists and programmers for about $15 million each
On the other hand, Zynga is actually addressing these issue. If they integrate that self-reflection into their company culture, they may end up being a better place to work than so many start-ups that only have a "cool" company culture because the owner is cool.
At a certain scale (and this comes very quickly) you need to actively maintain a company culture. So many companies forget to do that, and then fall back into old school corporate methods to manage the problems that come with growth.
Not surprising to any of us who live here and have been hearing the stories for quite some time. While hard work is essential and data driven decision making critical; when it crosses the line into abusiveness without offering any of the benefits of a steve jobs, it's over the line. What happens when investment bankers run amok. there's a reason profits are flattening....
I think most people here on hacker news understand that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and it's execution that counts. There are -plenty- of things to dislike about Zygna before complaining about the fact that FarmWhatzit works just like Uncle Bob's MyFarmifier or whatever. "But x did it first" arguments on simple things that anybody could up with simply don't help anything in any way.
I think you should read more about exactly what the parent post is referring to. Zynga's history of one of blatent theft -- there is a hair's breadth between their games and the people whose originals they ripped off.
It's a -facebook- game. See: Myspace, Friendster, Six Degrees.
I'm familiar with the fact that Zygna's web based farm simulator plays like somebody else's web based farm simulator. But that's a very similar argument to "bing is just like google is like altavista is like yahoo" - you type in a search box, you get back a list of web pages, every time one adds a feature the others do same.
Also: If you come up with a better dating site tomorrow, should you need to apologize to match.com? Many of us here are hoping to come up with a better mousetrap, and have no intention of saying "oh, well, I guess Acme made mousetraps first." We intend to build a better mousetrap. If we succeed, if Acme has any brains they will do likewise and everybody wins.
So I just don't think 'they are stealing ideas' is the right grounds to assault them on. If the idea mattered enough, the first fake farm crop clicker would have won.
Much better places to start:
"It's not a game", "wall spam gets in the way of real friendships", "their founder bragged about getting profitable off the evilest ads they could find", "they took away options from employees", "all of their games are reskins of the same exact thing", and "is there an ethical bound where speeding up timers in a virtual click thing is charging too much for too little? (zygna vip = smurfberries = cow clicker?)"
I disagree. Your analogy doesn't work. If you took DOOM, re-created the graphics in slightly different colors and styles because you didn't want to get sued for copyright infringement, but implemented the exact game mechanics, the story, controls, and all of the major concepts of the game, and called it FLOOM, you'd be crossing the line in a way you are not by simply creating a search engine.
This is basically Zynga's methodology for creating products that they've clearly used a number of times with clear evidence. I don't think they see themselves in the business of designing games since they leave that to the companies they steal them from.
I think it's a false dilemma to say that we shouldn't criticize Zynga for this because it comes at the cost of being able to criticize them for other reasons. For some, this is just as an important reason (if not more important) than the ones you listed.
As much as I don't like Zynga and probably would not enjoy working there (too intense all day every day), it is actually nice to read an article that seems balanced. People do work there, and people do like it. It's different than most companies, and it's not for everyone .
I am intrigued by the merit-based systems they are experimenting with.
Every job is going to suck if you're an engineer for hire. There is no mythical good place to work, and if there were, someone like these guys would be working overtime to make it suck for you. If you're an engineer you need to be working on selling your own products and services and working within the framework of being a business owner. Once you accept a permanent salaried position, no more negotiation is possible and you will have to weigh each new set of terms dictated to you with the cost of quitting. Setting up a business allows you to renegotiate with clients and you will never have to take the career hit of quitting a salaried position again.
I'm a counter example. I've run my own successful businesses in the past, but now I'm an Engineer at Google and I often worry that my life is just too good to be true. I look forward to Monday morning, and have to stop myself from working on weekends and the evenings. It's too much fun! Honestly, being paid good money to work in a supportive environment with great people is hard to beat.
So google has been canning several projects lately. How will you feel when your project gets canned and your work thrown away? How would you feel about a 25% pay cut or being forced to move to a different state, or free food being cut? What if you're put under a micromanager who forces you to work weekends and nights to cover his/her ineptitude? Do you think GOOG shareholders would not rather keep the money that you cost? Shareholders and management will eventually alter the deal you are currently getting in their favor. If you generate value, other people want that value and it will suck at some point in the future if you continue on as rank and file.
The prospect that Google could one day be a bad place to work does not invalidate my claim that it is currently a great place to work. The premise of your original post was that the only way to have a good working life is to work for yourself. I don't think that this is always the case.
To be honest, the doomsdays scenario you outline is ridiculous to me. It's so far removed from the current culture at Google. I think I'd be long gone by the time such things were taking place.
It's also worth noting that the majority of Google shareholders are Google employees (including me), and that the managers in Engineering at Google are all engineers. You should also investigate the conditions of Google's IPO - the shareholders don't have a lot of influence at Google.
Of course, these things can all change. But like I said, it's great the way it is now and I'm having a blast. If it changes, I've got plenty of cash and experience under my belt to get started on something else. There is no downside here.
(Addendum: If they cancelled my project (Go) I'd just quit and work on the code from somewhere else. That's the benefit of working on a project where all your contributions are BSD-licensed. ;-)
>The premise of your original post was that the only way to have a good working life is to work for yourself.
The premise of my original post is exactly what I wrote, "Every job is going to suck if you're an engineer for hire." I didn't say every job sucks now, just that the natural tendency is for forces to work against any good working life for rank and file engineers who stay in the same job.
Things are going good for you right now? Great, you're an outlier working at Google. The vast majority of working engineers more than probably face declining benefits, compensation, and working conditions in the future without changing jobs. For example, most companies don't offer cost of living salary adjustments even though company revenues would presumably increase by a similar amount.
My point is simply that such job changes are costly in time, money, and effort and can be avoided by working for oneself and that it is a good and desirable goal that engineers should pursue.
> My point is simply that such job changes are costly in time, money, and effort
And that's where I disagree. When I said there's no downside, I meant it. Changing jobs has been only an enriching experience for me. As long as you're savvy with your finances, it's no sweat to find another job. On the other hand, if I ran a business that started to tank, I think that would be far more stressful (thankfully mine never did).
I agree that running your own business should be a desirable goal, but I think you can make a great living working as an employee. It depends a lot on your interests. Both approaches have their benefits and pitfalls.
"If you generate value, other people want that value and it will suck at some point in the future"
this is only true, if you don't value your own contributions. It is on your own onus to value your contributions. Say google stopped the free food - you are now free to leave google, or you are free to ask for the equivelent in added salary to cover the food.
Why would you not negotiate it? why would an engineer, who have valuable contribution, be taken advantage of by others? The only reason I can think of is, the person didn't care enough to value their own contribution and hence, get stepped over.
Which is exactly what I argued was the only recourse an engineer has, so I agree.
> or you are free to ask for the equivelent in added salary to cover the food.
That's extremely unrealistic. You don't understand that the hypothetical food was cut to save money. If they just pay out that money as cash, the company won't save anything.
> Why would you not negotiate it?
It requires two willing parties to negotiate. Employment terms are not negotiable once the job starts. What exactly do you think will happen if you say "give me my food back, or more money, or I quit." In the best case you will be laughed at and ignored, in the worst case you will start being pushed out of the company. Everyone is replaceable.
So you're off running your own business. What if you get a crappy client? How about a demanding one or one who doesn't pay. Or, worst of all, no clients at all?
There are risks in everything. Running your own business is inherently more risky than working a salary position but the rewards can be higher. And really, either will suck at some point. There is a reason it's called work.
I wasn't assuming consulting/freelancing at all. If you're going to run a business you're going to have customers. These customers need support and can be much worse than anyone you deal with in office politics.
The problem is that you're presenting a false dichotomy. Either work for yourself or slave 12+ hours/day for someone else. There are plenty of good 8 hour/day engineering jobs that pay well and have interesting problems to solve. If 'might make [you] rich' is why you want to do a startup you're probably going to be disappointed. The odds are stacked against you and the risks are high. If you're really good at tech, most of the top companies pay well and give job stability which is what many people want.
"There are plenty of good 8 hour/day engineering jobs that pay well and have interesting problems to solve."
If I can't take vacations whenever I want or have the freedom to come and go as I please, I consider it slaving away. No job will allow you to do this.
"I wasn't assuming consulting/freelancing at all. If you're going to run a business you're going to have customers. These customers need support and can be much worse than anyone you deal with in office politics."
Possibly. However, you can always fire customers. I know I have. Also, when you are consulting, it's just like having another boss. They tell you exactly what needs to be done. I ran a consulting company a couple of years ago..and I won't do it again.
When you are running a product/service, you may take customer input, but you make the final decisions. That's the difference.
"If 'might make [you] rich' is why you want to do a startup you're probably going to be disappointed."
I'm already making more than I was making at a job. I've only been running my company for a year. The reason many startups don't succeed is because many of them don't think about how to monetize it. Making money is almost always my first priority. If I know it's going to be difficult to monetize an idea, I usually move on. Another problem is that many people think the answer to success is getting bought by a larger company or getting VC.
"The odds are stacked against you and the risks are high. If you're really good at tech, most of the top companies pay well and give job stability which is what many people want."
High risk = High reward. Most companies aren't as stable as you might think. At least with my own company, I make the choices that directly lead to my success or failure. I've worked for too many companies that made ridiculous decisions that led to major profit loss or huge layoffs..and there was nothing I could do about it.
If I can't take vacations whenever I want or have the freedom to come and go as I please, I consider it slaving away. No job will allow you to do this.
Not to be a 'me too' with the above poster, but my job allows this also. I'm trying to to run my own business because I think it will be a fun and interesting challenge. I have no illusions though. I will likely work more and make less when/if I ever make the break to being on my own.
I disagree. Motivation is big factor for performance. A demotivated work force will only do exactly what it is being told, and show initiative. So any company - even when acting in self interest - will treat employees well.
No place is just ice cream all day long, there's some dog food too sometimes, sometimes there's stress.
I've been doing software in various positions (some big companies, some startups) for over 20 years, and for the most part I love it... I love my current job. Nobody asks for overtime.
> every engineering job will eventually suck, it is a pattern that is repeated.
And running your own business won't suck? Everything can and will turn to shit eventually. That's a fact of life, so be adaptable and be prepared to do many things. But running your own business is not the only way to be happy as an engineer.
It is not all sunshine and roses for the vast majority of businesses. Everything will eventually suck. I am not sure the world would be a better place if most engineers shifted to becoming business owners. People like Dave Cutler, Linus Torvalds, Dennis Ritchie, etc. may be more accomplished as engineers than they ever would as business owners. Yes, they are outliers, but so are most successful businesses.
"I am not sure the world would be a better place if most engineers shifted to becoming business owners."
I know plenty of engineers that aren't capable of owning a business. They need to be told what to do..otherwise nothing will get done. Owning a business requires self-discipline and many people just don't have it.
"but so are most successful businesses"
It depends on how you define success. There are plenty of businesses that make enough in profit to give the owner a good lifestyle (as good or better than working for someone else).
I've worked for other people for the 15 years (I quit a little over 2 years ago to start my own company). In every single job, no matter how good it seems like in the beginning, it eventually turned bad.
You will almost always be asked to work on something you don't like, work extra hours, or get denied vacation time. I got tired of it. I got tired of being forced to ask someone if I can take a day off of work to go to the doctor or visit family after Christmas. It felt just like when I was in school. I suppose school is good training for real life.
As a business owner, I have more freedom. There are many times when I don't want to work on something, but it's still enjoyable to me because it's mine. Life also seems to pass by much slower. I don't feel like I'm wasting my life.
The downside is that I have more responsibility (if you can call it a downside). I can't just go into work and collect my check at the end of the month.