The company indulged a well-known programmer tendency to bulldoze and rewrite code. The company tried to rewrite Arago into dBase for Windows and in the meantime was surpassed by Microsoft Access. It tried to rewrite Quattro Pro for Windows, ended up with few new features to show for years of work, and was surpassed by Microsoft Excel. Joel Spolsky wrote about both cases in one of his best known essays http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000069.html
Rands is making the point that companies need hacking, or, as he puts it, "well-maintained Barbaric chaos inside the company." In this he is right. Facebook is trouncing Google with a more hackerish ethos, and is not making the same "rewrite everything" mistake as Borland.
But Facebook /is/ making some fresh mistakes. If you were to ask yourself, "Is Facebook maybe taking an excessively hackerish view on anything like Borland did?" it would not be hard to find affirmative examples, including a series of features that use private data in a way that tends to offend non hackers, and a series of privacy defaults that do likewise.
By more fully acknowledging the ways in which the hacker ethos burned Borland (beyond the understatement that Borland's products were "running late"), and by acknowledging the problems hacker culture contributed to at Facebook, Rands would have an even better essay, one that both asserted the importance of the hacker way and that acknowledged the potential downsides of hacker thinking. I'd be interested to hear his thoughts on how to embrace hacking while also instituting some checks on the less useful impulses of programmers.
Really? I find it's the opposite: hackers tend to be both conscious of and bothered by Facebook's flippancy toward privacy, whereas non-hackers don't seem to know or care either way.
Also, you cannot look at a single company in isolation. The barbarians at Borland may have been bearded and fearsome, but that didn't mean that there weren't any other barbarians around, hacking away at other companies at the same time. There's just no fool-proof path to success. There's plenty of fool-proof ways of failing, though, and to stop taking risks and attempting to innovate has to be one.
I don't think it's really all that useful to try to learn lessons from individual mistakes made by companies in the past. They made their mistakes because they attempted things they hadn't tried in the past. With hindsight, they probably shouldn't have. Hindsight is the one thing I can guarantee you'll never have access to before you set out on a project.
In fact, I think there are plenty of examples throughout history of how it is the desire to avoid certain previous mistakes that directly lead to new mistakes being made.
I do agree that the lessons to be learned can be found equally among previous failures as in successes. In the same way that I think it is problematic to focus on individual previous mistakes, I also think it is problematic to focus overly much on individual previous successes. Simply copying the strategies that worked for someone else won't lead to similar success, as hundreds of failed attempts at replicating the Apple iPad can attest to.
The company, as in management, took wrong decissions. But the blame still manages to fall on poor programmers :-)
I'd say he was a hacker, in the broad sense of the word, but not a programmer. That would be Anders. A comparison with Jobs and Wozniak comes to mind.
"As a student, Kahn developed software for the MICRAL, the earliest non-kit personal computer based on a microprocessor."
If you want a dense white paper try Boyd's mangum opus: http://goalsys.com/books/documents/DESTRUCTION_AND_CREATION....
and here's his excellent (and quite accessible) biography: http://www.amazon.com/Boyd-Fighter-Pilot-Who-Changed/dp/0316...
I'd love to understand why the downvotes.
The last few days I've rewatched a bunch of my favorite West Wing episodes. In a sense, reading Rands reminds me of that. It's well written, I agree with it and I enjoy it and recommend it, even though it might not teach me anything new.
Apple's idea of hacking? I have no clue, i guess it's "brushed aluminum"
Using some of the ideas and knowledge in his essays has helped me understand people better, and as I said before myself a better person. Through understanding myself better I know what to ask of others around me to accomplish greatness. It allowed me to be more confident and self-assured.
His "Nerd Handbook" is probably one of my favourite essays, if you haven't read it; I suggest it.
I think the bigger problem in major companies is that the engineers are so overburden with work and deadlines that they lose interest to hack or come up with brilliant new ideas.
What disruptive technology came from google's 20%? Companies make a shift from some hackers to a big corporation where you have to report to shareholders: Hey shareholders we are going to burn a lot of money and we hope to invent the next ipod, facebook, … Or maybe not. But’s not our money so let’s do it.
gmail, it disrupted the entire email market (both free and for pay email hosting).