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Ask PG: Do you ever get overwhelmed?
93 points by clicks 822 days ago | 24 comments
I just saw the story "Y Combinator-Backed Zenefits Gives Small Businesses A One-Stop Shop For Finding And Managing Employee Benefits" on Techcrunch, and was quickly reminded how difficult I found my short stint in that line of work to be (office side of managing employee benefits). YC is investing in such an incredibly large variety of startups, and getting into many different big industries. I can barely imagine the kind of work it must be to research everything so you can make good decisions

Between maintaining HN, being a VC who many founders look up to for advice, etc., doesn't it ever get a little too much? If yes, what do you do to keep your composure?




There are around 20 people working full or part time for YC now, including 5 of us doing what I used to do alone in the old days. There are 47 startups in the current batch, which works out to less than 10 apiece. So things are actually pretty easy right now.

Last night's server troubles took more out of me than anything I've had to deal with in YC proper.

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A different way to frame the question: "what keeps you up at night?" (beyond the very uncommon event of HN being down)

Massive quantity of emails? YC startups that aren't the rare runaway success? YC startups that are the rare runaway success? Meta issues around YC? Something unrelated to YC? Pressure to live up to the pg legend irl? Not being disciplined about avoiding overworking? Something in your private life that's not appropriate to share? Anything?

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Sick children.

People maltreating startups we've funded.

Any sort of deal involving third parties that might let us down. E.g. fundraising, when we were a fund.

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After Elon Musk mentioned his sleeping patterns on a couple of recent interviews (answer: 6 hours a night), I've been curious to learn about the sleeping patterns, diets and work habits of exceptionally productive people.

I wish biographies on the world's most influential people discussed this (or at least I would like to read scientific studies on this)... Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are famously fond of burgers so I'd expect unfortunately diet habits have more to do with where you live than what you accomplish :(

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When I was at college I read that Margaret Thatcher slept just 4 hours per night, and I was so envious, wishing I had that extra time every day. Three years ago my wife and I had twin girls and that meant very little sleep at night for me (night shifts were my responsibility as my wife still kept her paid job). In the last year the kids sleep fine, which means I get to sleep better, but strangely I still wake up after four hours without any need to. A few months ago I learned that Thatcher had twins as well :-)

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The cynic might say having only four hours of sleep didn't do her any favors, based on some the decisions she made in her time as PM.

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Bill Gates recently said he reads before bed and sleeps at least 7 hours a night. He said if he doesn't get at least that much his "IQ begins to drop". [CBS Interview]

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Well, pg actually said he went to sleep while it was down, so that didn't keep him up.

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It's interesting that you'd say the downtime was relatively overwhelming. From an outsider's view HN seems like it must be a relatively low stress site to maintain. If it goes down, YC suffers very little. Its community views the site as a public service. If anything, a few hours or even days of downtime just serves to remind the community how valued that service is (and by extension how positive our feelings towards YC are).

Is there a hidden downside to the downtime I'm missing? Worried it brings into question YC's technical chops?

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I think almost any programmer running a service used by hundreds of thousands of people would hate the idea of it being down. It's part of building things to want them to work properly.

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I certainly sympathize with the stress, I've been there. But programmers are much more effective at resolving downtime in low stress situations, so the best strategy is neutralizing those high-stress moments and just accepting that "downtime happens".

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Is there anything you believe could have helped avoid HN being down in the way it did?

(Sorry to hijack this post; I doubt you'd see this question in the proper HN downtime post.)

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Quote from pg: "For some reason I didn't check the comments after the surgery to see if they were in the right place. I must have been distracted by something."

Short answer to your question: Test the fix after deploying it on production :)

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Aside from the obvious HN and YC app services, I believe the office hours scheduling and probably any other internal YC service are all part of the same codebase running on the same server. Sounds like it could be a major problem for them.

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Your hard work is appreciated. Thanks.

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Thanks for responding!

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btw, there is a mood, like so-called flow, when you just do it, just as best as you can, without even worrying of anything. It is like surfing - you just keeping your balance and going with a wave.

Being overwhelmed is a side-effect of fears, doubts and ignorance - what they call insecurity. As long as one tames them, uninterfered awareness is what remains.

It is like a performance of professional musician or painter - you just do it out of habit.

Just doing with relaxed mind is also called Zen.)

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That is not Zen. Zen is a state of meditative absorption, that is incomparable to any wordily happiness.

see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhy%C4%81na_in_Buddhism

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Well, it is the way to that ultimate state, and this intermediate state is very useful.

btw, it is not about words or terminology, it is about what those words supposed to refer to.)

edit: lets make it clear.

Buddha taught the cause of suffering (four noble truths) and the way out (eight-fold path) which could be considered as an ultimate CBT.)

It is very important that Buddha taught the way, not the goal. He just claimed that he have reached the that ultimate state.

Zen as a teaching is based on Buddha's (which in turn were based on Upanishads and his own personal insights, obtained through deliberate practice).

So, Zen is also teaching of the way, not of the goal. It is even debatable if the goal is reachable by ordinary person, but it is obvious, at least for educated people, that the way is the right one.

There are countless examples in all imaginable cultures. Famous "Know thyself, conquer thyself" is the same idea.

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Equanimity is one of the effects of Zen practice and also has an effect on daily life.

Wordily life - mental life is a false dichotomy: both are impermanent and inseparable. Is pain in a finger something of matter or something of mind?

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What is actually wanted to say is this: Zen is a blissful state that can be reached during meditation, which is said to feel like a 30 minute orgasm. Thus it is not the same as flow.

I just wanted to point that out, because people seem to be using the word Zen quite liberally for everything that is related to being in the present moment. This might lead to misconceptions.

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"a blissful state that can be reached during meditation, which is said to feel like a 30 minute orgasm. Thus it is not the same as flow."

Nor is that the same as Zen

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I watched an interview with the Reddit founders and at a couple points they were close to tears overwhelmed with the kind of community they had helped enable. When I first saw this Ask PG, I thought that's the kind of "overwhelm" the OP was asking about. This forum alone and the number of people it touches would be enough to overwhelm me from time to time.

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PG isn't alone. YC do have staff, so it's not a one-man operation. If PG were running everything by himself then yes, he probably would be overwhelmed but there are a lot of people PG can call upon to help him out.

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