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Moving On (al3x.net)
216 points by thiele on July 26, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

Alex is one of the most thoughtful students of programming languages I know. I know he's spent time learning countless languages, he literally wrote the book on Scala, and for three years now he's organized the Emerging Languages conference (http://emerginglangs.com/). The conference features talks about interesting programming languages, no matter how obscure, predominantly from the creators and designers of those languages. So far as I know, it is the only conference of its kind, and is a huge service to the programming language ecosystem.

(As an aside, said ecosystem is going through something of a renaissance. The quickly growing need for server-side software (where choice of tools need not impact the end user), the increased availability of low-level infrastructure such as the JVM and LLVM, and the ever-more-important challenges of concurrent and distributed programming have all contributed to this renewed interest in new programming languages.)

If Alex is going to spend his time working on things related to programming languages and developer tools, then I, for one, can't wait.

Sorry, but Martin Odersky, Lex Spoon and Bill Venners wrote the book on Scala: Programming in Scala: A Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide, 2nd Edition[1]

[1] - http://www.amazon.com/Programming-Scala-Comprehensive-Step-S...

Never let a sense of humor get in the way of a good opportunity for pedantry & parochialism.

FWIW, al3x wrote the forward to that book in addition to the one that old_sound mentioned.

I'm sure Al3x will find success wherever he ends up. This is worrisome for Simple though.

I signed up a little over 2 years ago as when Al3x announced he was joining as a cofounder http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1355292, it seemed like a great product, and I couldn't wait.

Now, 2 years later they have begun to roll out invites to what amounts to a MVP. No way to deposit cash, no simple way to deposit checks (specifically the deposit via mobile app functionality), no goals or budgeting aspects, no joint accounts or lines of credit, no android app, just a nice looking card tied to an account you have to wire money into.

Don't get me wrong, simple is doing great things, and it could be huge. Two years of dev time for a product that is completely redesigning one of the biggest industries in the world is completely reasonable. I'm just worried the hype will run out or turn negative before they can ship something with enough value to convert the non early adapters. Having a cofounder leave doesn't help their image, regardless of the reasons for the departure.

I think somebody read your post.

Just got my invite an hour or so ago...Simple has a big section on "what's in the pipeline" for them.

• Android: click the link above and fill out your info through the "device" step. We'll reinvite you as soon as it's ready! • Joint accounts: Sign up with Simple now and add your partner when we're ready! • Mobile check deposit: Coming soon–sign up now and you'll have it as soon as it's ready! • So much more!

Interesting coincidence.

That was there a week or so ago when I accepted the beta invite.

I, likewise, was really excited about Simple. Less excited as time went on, but got really excited again when I received an email earlier in the week.

All of that sort of went out the window when I found out they weren't letting me in because I don't have an iOS device and the Android app was 6-12 months out.

I don't know if there's another way, but that method seems less than ideal.

Were you really expecting all that from a company called "Simple"? :P

Seriously, those are all nice features, and the check depositing is a must-have that I'm sure they're working hard on, but for me and most of my peers, all I really want is a debit card I don't have to think about. That's Simple.

Wow. Okay, this is totally crazy: I also signed up for an invite almost two years ago (when it was BankSimple), and just checked the old confirmation email to see the exact date-- literally as I'm writing this comment I have received, 0 minutes ago, an email inviting me to register. I guess I'll find out how it works :)

I agree that it is in MVP mode now. Practically unusable in my case because joint accounts are not yet allowed, but I immediately jumped on the invite I was waiting on for two years. As Cushman noted, the name says it all – Simple.

The interface is gorgeous and intuitive and unlike anything you find at any other bank. It won't ever be for everybody, but I believe it will be the very best option for many that need only the simplest and smartest of banking options.

I recently needed to write a check for several thousand dollars to an individual for a service provided. This would have been impossible if Simple was my only bank, because they do not issue paper checkbooks. I either could have withdrawn cash each day over a week-long period ($500 daily max) or arranged to set them up to be paid electronically. But I don't think we are to a point yet where paying a local, small-business owner with an electronic transfer for a service is feasible. Can you imagine if someone you were expecting immediate payment from for a service you just provided said "I can't write you a check, but give me your email address or bank routing number and account number, and I will be sure to have that transferred to you, which may take two to five days." No way. Maybe someday.

I have found one bank that encompasses basically all the features Simple has promised from the beginning. Believe it or not, it is State Farm Bank. The interface is clunky compared to Simple, but they deliver on the product: iPhone app with photo check deposit, bill pay and transfers. Real-time account balance. Balance reflecting future planned deposits and payments. Through the website you can send money to anyone through PayPal or direct to their bank accounts, deposit checks by scanning and transfer in and out of your own external bank accounts. Reimbursement for all ATM fees. You get paper checks. I've never had any fees issued or any reason to contact support for anything. I have been extremely happy, but would like to see all of this combined with the technology and interface of Simple.

Can you imagine if someone you were expecting immediate payment from for a service you just provided said "I can't write you a check, but give me your email address or bank routing number and account number, and I will be sure to have that transferred to you, which may take two to five days." No way. Maybe someday.

I wouldn't say "infeasible", I think-- it's basically an information problem, right?

If you think about it, it's very strange that we treat checks as "immediate payment" when they amount to a classy IOU: "I can't wire you the money, but here's a piece of paper with my account number on it, and if you take it to your bank they'll call my bank and they might give you the money in a day or two." Initiating an EFT from your smartphone should be at least that credible, right?

But of course, it will be some time before small business owners at large internalize that.

Right. Infeasible in the sense that both parties have to understand and agree to the terms. A paper check is an immediate and clear documentation of the transaction.

I guess one other option Simple and other banks offer is to mail a physical paper check to a person or business. Again, it is unlikely this would be acceptable when the terms are "due upon receipt" and credit/debit is not an option. I think we are moving away from these scenarios, but we still live in a world where paper checks may be a necessity in some situations and certainly very convenient.

I worked for a similar company (affiliated banking) that was trying to put a fresh perspective on personal banking. For hardcore technologist, I think the finance industry is extremely frustrating industry to work in. The amount of legislation (necessary or otherwise) seems to create an atmosphere of bureaucracy; not to dissimilar from you local government office. It's like the keepers of all-things-compliclated in finance, likes to keep it that way and compounds the problem of progressing positive ideas and methodologies. On the flip side, the amount of risk and fraud that faces these companies is mindblowing. We've lost tens of thousands of dollars to fraud in the blink of an eye. It's a tough world, and people don't get excited about "change" because it brings uncertainty to an industry that needs to be pretty damn certain. You can't make like Facebook, "ship fast and break things."

I have a ton of respect for what Simple is trying to accomplish. When I joined a competitive service about 2 years ago, BankSimple was the benchmark for comparing the "new guard" vs. the "old guard". Unfortunately, the old guard progressed faster due to established relationship of 10+ years. But, what really turned me away were falling market caps for major prepaid providers as more and more big banks returned to their core product offering (personal banking, not high risk investment banking) and explored alternative vehicles like GPR cards.

In any event, Simple is something the consumer market needs and hat-tip to Al3x.

Having Alex move to Portland was something that really bolstered our startup community. It was a validation of sorts. And I can't thank him enough for what he did -- for Simple and so many other things -- while he was here.

I hate to be that guy but why is this Hacker News-worthy? (genuinely curious)

Alex was an early Twitter employee, Twitter API lead at a time that many HN readers were writing Twitter apps, and wrote Programming Scala. There're a number of folks here that follow his writings with interest.

Thanks for the info. I'm sure I wasn't the only one wondering despite the down votes.

It's a totally fair gripe. One thing HN's format is piss-poor at is providing context for stories, other than the headline (and that's had its own set of issues with rewrites).

In addition to the credentials that was listed, I'd say it's relevant as its about an engineer thinking he should try founder/executive and realising that it wasn't the right fit for him now. That could be useful for the many people thinking about transitioning down the same path.

Given his affinity towards programming languages, he sounds more like a computer scientist than an engineer, frankly. I wish the two roles didn't get conflated so much.

That's like saying a carpenter that has an affinity for his saws and hammers is more of a physicist than a carpenter.

I'm not sure a physicist is the right term, but there is a difference between your usual carpenter and someone who wants to study hammers and come up with new ways of building them and using them.

Programming languages are a tool for both, computer science means something much different to me.

For more context about Alex, he participates in a good episode of the podcast: This Developer's Life. http://thisdeveloperslife.com/post/1-0-7-audacity.

I think there's something to be said about identifying what direction you want your career to go in. In my last (pre-startup world) job I was being slowly edged into a management role- I was in charge of a team, and had meetings and agendas to assemble. I hated it- I wanted to be programming.

It sounds like Alex came to a similar conclusion. Being a CTO involves less programming than being an engineer. Sometimes it's an assumption that our career paths as engineers will take us toward being CTOs, but maybe that isn't right for everyone.

I've only been following Alex since he left Twitter, but [Bank]Simple always struck me as exactly the kind of dream company I'd want to be at (never really considered myself good enough to pursue it though).

Given his previous posts regarding how much he likes Portland compared to San Francisco, I'm a little bit surprised to see him moving back to the Bay Area. Regardless, I'm excited to see what he does next and I wish him the best of luck.

>>never really considered myself good enough to pursue it though

Self-doubt is an evil, evil thing. Don't let it hold you back. I landed an opportunity to interview at $REDACTEDBUTITSATOPINTERNETPROPERTY. I didn't even want to fly out for the interview - I thought it would be a waste of time. It took lots and lots of convincing by my wife and other friends and family just for me to go out and interview. I guess you can see where this is headed - I start there in 2 weeks.

tl;dr self-doubt is evil.

Engineer @ Simple here. Don't psych yourself out. Before I applied I figured I wouldn't even get a call. I was some rando from the midwest without much on Github and very little internet presence. I figured the worst thing that would happen is that I would get interviewed and they'd just pass. If that's all you're risking, you're not risking much. As it turns out, the team and I clicked and I've spent the best working year of my life cranking on this. I look forward to many more years of the same.

Worst we can do is say 'no'. https://www.simple.com/careers/

Why do you consider yourself not good enough to work there? I don't know you, but I find that most developers that say that do just fine.

Oh yeah, we're hiring too: https://cloudability.com/jobs/

I agree - quite a few of our current employees told me that they thought the same before they were hired at Simple. You should check out our open jobs at https://www.simple.com/careers/.

He's pissed because he hasn't gotten an invite yet, either.

Are there misconceptions with what a CTO actually entails? I've not heard of a CTO that does any physical programming with respect to their job. This might be different in a small startup but my understanding of a CTO's role is to guide architectural and development goals of the company as a whole - and to hire great people to implement that vision. It sucks he would have to leave but part of me wonders why he thought the CTO role involved a fair amount of programming and why he wouldn't just move into a lead developer role as opposed to leaving entirely?

This depends on the company and stage it is in.

At HelloWallet, our CTO does indeed do some programming some of the time. Since we are still somewhat a bootstrapped startup, everyone that has the ability to help out does at some point. Is it the overwhelming amount of time? Well, no, but still...

In regard to architectural and developmental goals, that job is the responsibility of our Chief Architect...who also does a very substantial amount of programming as well.

TLDR; Titles are not always one-to-one with roles.

So I've got to ask Alex.. is it coincidence that you decided to leave after 2 years when you were most likely fully vested or was it a strategic move? Did you retain your shares :-P

Its unlikely he's fully vested. Its damn near standard to have 4 year vesting, with month-by-month vesting after the first year.

At any point in your career, it is important to think about the future. It is crucial to know where you want to be in the future and how to get there, whether it is your career, family or both. Whether you leave a job by choice or not by choice, your career is long and there are usually several paths to get to where you want to be.

I have worked in investment banking and private equity for a number of years and decided to make a switch to corporate development for a company (ie - doing acquisitions for them), so that I could spend a bit more time creating side projects such as http://drivingtests101.com/, a free driving test prep website for 11 countries, with apps in 4 countries and rapidly expanding. I was very fortunate for my driving test app in Canada to be #2 ranked education, #19 in Australia and rapidly catching up in the US and UK.

Life is short. Do what you want to do as soon as you can so you can enjoy what you do. It's that simple.

Couldn't he have taken on the lead role of R&D? Of an experimental dev arm etc...

There are lots of opps he could have taken.

Sure, It might not have been a good role, but sounds like there were relationship issues as well. I wouldn't imagine his cut and run solely on "I cant program enough" -- He had to be either under performing or frustrated with the others' lack of leadership/performance/flexibility/ability to listen/you-name-it

There are too many reasons to leave a company, but who knows the truth....

Haven't looked at simple since we speculated over their biz model ~12 months ago on HN... and frankly, as i still perceive them as a simple proxy to Big Evil banks (TM) - I'll still never trust them....

Though that is not related to the story... I still have nothing to convince me to think they are not just trying to find a way to cash in on the most despicable industry in existence... banking.

So, Alex writes something, but you, Sam Stave, you can tell he's not telling the whole truth. He speaks warmly of everyone he worked with there... but to you, it "sounds like there were relationship issues". He writes that he's stepping down as CTO, but you can tell: he's "cut and run". He HAD TO BE either "under performing" or "frustrated with the others'".

And you can tell all of this because of your superior insight and the feel you've gained from participating in places like HN for how engineering teams really work.

Youre very snide. This is the Internet, I am posting an opinion, and further I stated it could be for any number of reasons.

This is a forum for discussion, and as such, speculation happens.

You appear to be more personally offended by whatever I said in a speculative comment than maybe you should be?


You are posting nonsense about real people that you don't know and then getting indignant when people call you on it.

If you don't like being called out, consider starting future comments with the words "I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about, but just for shits, here's a theory:".

It was a speculative comment, I'm happy to be wrong and free to admit it, thistle you no less snide, which is something I've seen from you in the past.

Do you know Alex?

Do you know anyone who works at Simple?

Do you have any other sources for what's going on at Simple?

Alex is a real person. He is not an Xbox game. Internet or not: he is not up for your review. If you're going to "speculate" about his "performance" or "relationships", you should be ready to go to bat for what you said.

If he doesn't want people to discuss his actions and motivations, he shouldn't write them up on a blog.

That is about as convincing an argument as Stave's "it's the Internet, I'm allowed to speculate about anything" argument.

If he hadn't written a blog post, HN would be all abuzz about his name vanishing from their web pages.

There's no way to win this.

All I speculated in my post was that there could have been more reasons that were stated on the blog post.

You're attacking me for not necessarily taking it for face value. Your language is belittling and confrontational and I'll just take it to mean you're probably an asshole, which, honestly is the only personality judgement I have made in this whole thread.

You've acted like I made some sort of character attack on Alex...

I've seen you do this before on HN, as I stated.

No, you speculated that Alex's post was dishonest, since your "speculations" directly contradicted numerous things he actually said.

I concluded a few months ago that writing like yours (not yours in particular; it's an annoying HN trope) is actually more rude than a similar comment that outright called the author a liar. You not only did that, but in such a way as to imply that he lies so often it's a casual affair. "Of course", the sentiment you're expressing goes, "there's more to the story than he's telling us. Why would he tell us anything but what makes him look good?" That's what you've communicated.

Alex, I am 1000% sure, does not give a shit about what you (or I) think about his most recent career move. But comments like yours, as you can see, drive me up a fucking wall.

You added more here since I replied...

Again - I think you're a little emotionally touchy. And thats totally ok, but let me address a point you are making:

you are equating my belief that there could be more to the story than what i am reading in a blog post with accusing the poster of lying and that you find this really annoying.

Further you are using quotations around phrases that I never typed to imply that these quotes were my true meaning. This is a pretty low debate tactic. Why not mention that I also implied he was gay, or racist, or stomped on kittens for sexual pleasure.

I meant nothing of the things that you "quoted" -- I simply said, and I'll quote:

"Sure, It might not have been a good role, but sounds like there were relationship issues as well. I wouldn't imagine his cut and run solely on "I cant program enough" -- He had to be either under performing or frustrated with the others' lack of leadership/performance/flexibility/ability to listen/you-name-it

There are too many reasons to leave a company, but who knows the truth...."

Read that a few time, whilst leaving your emotional attachements behind and tell me where I am calling him a liar.

When i say "who knows the truth" I mean the empirical truth - as in the truth that takes into accounts absolutely all factors.

Not "this guy is lying and so I don't have the truth"

Anyway, I'm done with this thread, hopefully you'll cool off on the things that drive you up the wall and I'll be more specific in my language :)

Right on. Thanks for being so patient about this.

Dude - I think you're awesome... and I am here to learn as much as I can!

Then for that, I apologize. I was not trying to say he was dishonest - but in my experience - I tend not to take every thing I read in the valley for face value (yes, I know they are in NYC).

I am happy to be wrong, but given that I do not, as you pointed out, know Alex - or anyone at Simple, I have no option but to speculate on motives and things going on in the spaces I follow.

What I was upset about is the level at which you attempted to censor me, call me indignant and berate me discussing this online.

If we were in a room face to face and i disagreed with you in person would you have conducted yourself in the same manner? I doubt it, you probably would have been more polite in telling me how you disagreed with me.

You're welcome to come over for dinner any time, BTW.

Also - I'll teach you how to throw knives.

Have a good night. (the dinner offer is still open)

I have no snide response to this comment.

We would not have gone this many rounds on this in person. I'm pretty sure (as everyone who works with me will tell you) that I'd have used the same words as my first response, but regardless of how you took that, it would have blown over. Conversations don't hover on a screen in front of you after they're concluding, begging you to push them forward.

There's an easy way, actually: Don't do publically visible things in the first place. Certainly, this limits your options in life, but if you simply can't tolerate other people speculating about you, reasonably or otherwise, you don't give yourself much choice.

I believe the motivation for the scorn is because you have no evidence for your speculation, and that speculation is tarnishing a person that we respect.

I speculated on reasons for leaving, I was not talking about his character as a person.

but sounds like there were relationship issues as well. I wouldn't imagine his cut and run solely on "I cant program enough" -- He had to be either under performing or frustrated with the others' lack of leadership/performance/flexibility/ability to listen/you-name-it

That's personal, and you have no basis for it.

Stop doing that.

Companies at this stage--startups hitting stride--don't need "experimental R&D dev arms." The need laser focus on their main product, no distractions.

I think it's completely plausible that he doesn't get enough time programming and he's leaving because of it. Simple is growing. At this stage, he's a manager, not a programmer. Sounds like he isn't too interested in managing.

They have a lot to ship, still. It seems that being a CTO and moving down the chain to program more is a precarious road to traverse.

Most people seem to leave their respective companies and hang on as advisors. Maybe it's just too awkward?

Too awkward? He wrote explicitly about why he was leaving: Simple has challenging problems, but they are not the challenging problems that light Alex up. Alex is interested in programming languages and dev tools, not tracking and routing money.

I don't have to speculate about that or wonder if there's "awkwardness" behind it. Alex said so. Just read the post.

You wonder whether people write posts like this because they anticipate speculation about why they're leaving or how the company is doing. Of course, there's no win to be had in being honest and direct, because people are just going to invent their own stories. The narrative that eventually sticks is the one that is most fun to bounce around, or has the most resonance to people, or is most congenial to people's ideology.

I think it would be tough to go from CTO to a lower role in the same company. Strange dynamics would follow. He is staying on as an advisor though :)

Sometimes you need to spend a bit of time with your head not quite so high above the parapet, just learning, not being the Great White Hope for lots of dependants.

I left a well paying job where I was expected to be the exciting bright young thing who will change everything, for a job I greatly prefer, earning half as much, where I can learn from two or three really bright people, where I am the bottom peg, and have the time to mess around with things, sometimes highly speculatively, and get a few wins under my belt.

I would analogise this as being a bit like the difference between becoming a pop singer via a TV talent show and becoming a pop singer via years of gigs from pub to pub in a van with your band.

Also, '....' is not the dramatic rhetorical flourish that you seem to think it is. It just looks silly....

> Couldn't he have taken on the lead role of R&D? Of an experimental dev arm etc...

A startup generally is an experimental dev company. Startups execute their roadmap. If they don't have focus, especially when they're tackling something as big as banking, they die.

> There are lots of opps he could have taken.

Sure. But it's hard/impossible to move down the food chain once you've been at the top.

> Sure, It might not have been a good role, but sounds like there were relationship issues as well.

I didn't get that from Alex's post. I got "not doing enough programming, wife and I miss San Francisco"

> I wouldn't imagine his cut and run solely on "I cant program enough" -- He had to be either under performing or frustrated with the others' lack of leadership/performance/flexibility/ability to listen/you-name-it

You got all that from "personal reasons"? :)

No. He got that from thin air. Unfortunately for HN, most of the time, when people leave companies after 2 years, it's for boring reasons. So just making shit up helps enliven things.

consider also that in the last month, their director of security also "moved on": http://www.linkedin.com/in/s7ephen?_mSplash=1

Stephen Ridley is a friend and a former teammate. He "moved on" from Matasano as well, to BankSimple. He "moved on" from Simple to full-time security research. Because he's a security researcher. Since he left Simple, he's been doing research and teaching classes on ARM exploitation. Because that's what he likes doing. How much opportunity do you think there was for developing ARM exploitation classes at Simple?

This happens all the time with very senior security roles at startups. People take them because they fit a career arc, but then realize that the day-to-day of those very senior roles just isn't as fun as research work. Since security research work pays like f'ing crazy right now, people bounce out of demanding corp roles pretty quickly: even in a very strong outcome at a startup, you might not give up too much money opting for "funemployment".

(Alex and Stephen are also good friends, from long before Simple).

He probably wants new challenges that don't mesh with what Simple is doing. It makes sense.

It's great that he decided not to jump immediately to another job. Unless you are in a financially tight situation, you really need some time to decompress your mind, and clear it of any company-dynamics residue.

I guess this means BankSimple is in trouble, or not growing as fast as projected.

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