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What it's like to work with Mark Pincus (sashmackinnon.com)
168 points by joshbuckley on Feb 27, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments



This is an accurate and uplifting account of what it was like for _Sash_ to work with Mark.

The reality for many other people, myself included, is quite different.

And that's all I'm going to say about that.


I am stumped.

That is the first terrible read I had on svtble, the first so excessively positive view of Mark Pincus that it reads like a PR stunt, and the first time I wonder what the hell happened.

I mean, seriously? WHY? What is the point? Why write a bordering absurd praise of a guy that is so infamous for his own admitted horrible things in the book?

If it was more realistic, I mean, praising the good and the calling out the bad is one thing, but I don't see this sort of treatment even with Steve Jobs (even very positive texts on Steve Jobs mention how he had bad temper and people feared to get fired by just being near him, or how he sometimes got stubborn with ideas that were not necessarily good ones).


You are unable to comprehend how someone could have an experience and opinion which differs from the HN groupthink?


I'm surprised you're being surprised, since that post is pretty much on par with everything from svbtle which gets submitted here: preppy energetical pieces, self serving straight-from-the-heart musings on how hard it is to be successful or amusing rants lacking any self-consciousness.

On the other hand, it's refreshing to read something positive on Pincus, who has been crowned as the arch villain of the industry (does that make the OP the arch henchman of the industry?)


Personally, I think it is a PR stunt. Zynga's looking like it is about to die, Pincus' character is perceived in a legendarily bad light - I think that this is a shilling attempt to make him look good/softer so he can move on to other things soon without such a 100% negative rap.

I don't foresee this working out though...


I didn't read the OP, but I did read the other posts in the blog. I'm not really impressed by her capacity for insight.


> Working at Zynga, people always tell me they “had the idea for Draw Something before Draw Something”.

Well, considering Pictionary was first published in 1985..


There was also an extremely popular mobile game in Japan that had the same basic premise, a year or so before Draw Something hit it big.


There was also a browser (flash?) game with a similar premise that I played in the mid-2000s.


And considering "ideas", especially in the games world, mean absolutely fucking nothing.


Well, "she" doesn't have any, considering she is a he.


Really? I thought 'Sash' would be a female name. My mistake.


I thought it was interesting-- Pincus/Zynga have been vilified here and elsewhere-- it was interesting to read a first-hand account of it. Given that the author now works at a different company, there not a huge incentive to write this post in a slanted fashion-- I suspect it's pretty honest.


That's a flawed basis for reasoning.

This was clearly a valuable mentorship with an influential, connected and widely known industry leader. I can envision many scenarios in which the OP would not want to risk damaging it.

Note I am speaking generally, as I don't know the OP.


I think it's one of the best pieces I've ever read on svtble. Very intriguing.


People can have remarkably different experiences with people, and it's possible that this is the genuine experience of this person.

They mention almost dying and Pincus being their first visitor days later when they emerged from a coma...which is very strange.


That bit made me sad. No visitors for two days while lying in a coma? No friends and family?


I am a close friend of Sash's and I'd like to point out that his family were by his side every hour they were aloud in the hospital. By no means was Pincus the only visitor, just the first non-family visitor.


I read it as the first visitor since waking up. It's still pretty sad :(


Why so many negative responses to this post? Are you disappointed that not everyone that has interacted with Mark Pincus had a bad experience? I found it interesting because it was certainly different. It shows another side.

I do not know about most of you guys calling this piece "puff" because it is not bashing Pincus, but i do like balance while learning about people and things.

It is possible to infer from this that Pincus goes out of his way to be kind to talented workaholics and is not an all round devil. Therefore, if you are naturally a workaholic, you would enjoy working for him. If not, you should really consider.

This post brings a balance to the otherwise one-sided narrative about Mr Pincus/Zynga.


I think the negative responses come from the total disconnect with what is known about Pincus and Zynga.

The piece would have a lot more credibility if he acknowledged the issues. He could have denied them, or, better, could have explained that they were legitimate but that there was another side to Pincus.

But as it is, all I can feel about the piece is WTF. Is the guy clueless? Is this denial? Is he kissing ass? Did he just see the hero he was looking to see? Is he right but only seeing a narrow slice? Do we all just have Pincus wrong?

No idea, but the piece gives me no reason to find out.


I would have supported your point if I remember people demanding for the "positive side" of Pincus in comments discussing posts bashing him/Zynga.

I read this as a deeply grateful person writing about his positive experience with a mentor of his. It might have been written because the author wants to balance the solely negative stories we hear of him.

Because this is Svbtle does not mean we should forget that this is a personal blog.


Pincus gets such a slamming every time he is mentioned on HN that his name is (fairly or not) basically synonymous with "bad guy" around here.

So when an article like this pops up without addressing the several elephants in the room it's a bit like somebody writing "What it's like to work with Adolf Hitler" without a single mention of the second world war.

If you are trying to challenge somebodies assumptions about something it is often best to address them head on.


Edit: Since this link was posted to HN, Sash has removed each of his other posts, so those are what I am referring to in the second-to-last paragraph.

> It might have been written because the author wants to balance the solely negative stories we hear of him.

My opinion of the company was not based on what other employees have said; their business practices before all of this alone made them look bad. The employee accounts and admissions Pincus made regarding doing anything to make money just added insult to injury. Additionally, I don't think there's anything worth balancing regarding a CEO who tells his employees to steal rather than innovate because they're not as smart as their competitors.

The OP used the term "groomed" to speak to how many young employees were quickly shot up the ranks without any experience and how this was intentional. I would be grateful to someone that irresponsibly gave me a fancy title and put me in charge of something too, despite the reality that he was using my youthful ambitions to his advantage, working me to the bone under the guise that I was capable of the work I was doing, despite failing in doing so. I also don't know anything about the author's health before the incident where he collapsed, but it wouldn't surprise me if the stress of working in such a way played a role in it. It all seems a little too Stockholm Syndrome to me, but I'm not Sash so I really can't say.

> Because this is Svbtle does not mean we should forget that this is a personal blog.

So then what is the point of Svbtle as an exclusionist platform if at the end of the day it's no different from any other?

".. an invite-only publishing network that brings some of the best things from newspapers and magazines to a network of great people. We focus on the people, the writing, and the ideas. Everything else is secondary."

His first post on the platform was a quote from Pincus from an article written last year about how well the company was doing, and a single sentence agreement with it. The second entry was a few sentences about how ideas are useless (when actually dreamers are just as important as doers, but I guess when you can make money profiting off of other people's ideas, you would hold this sentiment). Outside of the linked entry, the rest were just a few sentences to a paragraph or two on nothing all that earth-shattering.

Personally, I think they should put the answers the authors write in response to the "Expertise + Authority: Who are you? Why should people listen to you?" and "What do you plan to write [about]?" questions they answer when they apply in the sidebar. That's what I want to know before I sink my teeth into the entry.


I'm just an observer of this conversation, but I'm afraid I have to agree with OoTheNigerian with this one. I'm well aware of Mark Pincus's idiotic mishaps, but it's readily apparent your arguments were made up a long time ago to snarkily criticize everything, in terms of framing everything to fit your negative picture of Mark.

Exaxmple: You frame "grooming" as "irresponsibly" giving a "fancy title", when it could just have well been framed by someone with a positive view of Mark as "establishing the best meritocracy," "Mark has a razor eye for the best talent" and other similarly inane and unsubstantiated labels.


If this is an attempt at balance, he should say so. The problem isn't with his core story. It's the poor management of audience expectations.


Sounds like the author was too young/naive/inexperienced to understand the issues. And the mentor meant the world to him. This is like imprinting in ducks and geese.

Doesn't mean the article isn't accurately conveying this person't individual experience. It was still interesting to read.


This is the first time I've read a piece from a Zynga employee that hasn't been a tale of nightmares.

Unfortunately it goes beyond just being a positive story of the experience someone had at Zynga to a nearly comical worshipping of its CEO.

I think the author is either in love with Pincus or is hoping Pincus will invest in his next project.


that is unnecessarily cynical. i think user:photorized has it right:

> Sounds like the author was too young/naive/inexperienced to understand the issues. And the mentor meant the world to him. This is like imprinting in ducks and geese.


Twist, the author IS Pincus


HN is not reddit. So please no more 'twist' comments. :)


"I did every horrible thing in the book to, just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this zwinky toolbar which was like, I dont know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it. laughs We did anything possible just to just get revenues so that we could grow and be a real business…"

http://techcrunch.com/2009/11/06/zynga-scamville-mark-pinkus...

Not to mention the stock option scandal [1], and notoriously horrible working conditions [2]. I haven't met the guy, but it seems to me like the ship he runs is pretty fucked.

[1] http://news.cnet.com/8301-13506_3-57322150-17/zynga-to-emplo... [2] http://www.itworld.com/software/228383/more-why-it-sucks-wor...


notoriously horrible working conditions? really? I work here, interact with plenty of the teams and it is very far from horrible. Yes things get a little hectic when deadlines are due but thats the nature of things. Zynga cant teach you a work life balance, you do, and that seems to be respected by managers.



Even if I gave you that I'd still be 2 for 3. Zynga would still suck and Pincus would still be a bastard.


I found this to be an interesting read, simply because (1) it rings true, and (2) it's contrary to everything I know about Pincus and runs up against my personal ire towards Zynga's apparent M.O.

Concerning (1) -- Yes, "rings true" is subjective. But even if the story's exaggerated emotionally, it still managed to generate empathy in me towards someone I previously would have written off (and maybe unjustly) as, well, scum.

Which leads me to (2) -- Contending with competing notions of persons one hasn't met is a valuable thing. Human subjects should ideally be humanized, which means engaging the idea that people are sometimes very contrary beasts.

Whenever that idea is buried over, wrong thinking. Whenever that idea is illuminated, better thinking.

That said, the write up could be disingenuous, false or true. Even so, I took value from it simply because it humanized someone I previously would have cheered being thrown to the wolves. No longer, even if he is a total dirt-bag, as others contend.


This reads mostly like a content-free puff piece, where Pincus' former assistant is kissing his former boss' ass. Typical corporate cheerleading.


Aw, come on. I hate "typical corporate cheerleading" as much as anyone, and your comment is totally unfair. This is a kid writing about an experience of mentorship. It's natural for someone to be grateful for that and want to express it, and it's natural to be effusive when doing so.


Yes, but we all knew it was going to be 100% positive, even before clicking on the link. He might as well have not written it in the first place.


So from your vantage point, how is anyone supposed to write about Fabrice Bellard, or, for that matter, Wire's "Pink Flag"? Do we have to make up negative things about them, or are we just not allowed to write about them at all?



I call BS; they routinely break rule 5.


#4 too, though not routinely – "Mannequin", a song I suspect we'd disagree on, definitely "choruses out".

Edit: hmm, I'm not sure what kind of BS you meant to call this but I'm starting to suspect it might be made up. The few Googleable instances of it all go back to a single source that posted it without attribution. Plus, "negative self-definition" sounds suspiciously PoMo... You realize what it means that I posted this, don't you? Must now explode.

Edit edit: Saved. The image is made up and the caption was added later but the substance did come from Graham Lewis. http://books.google.ca/books?ei=YMQvUeffEsKWiALI4YG4Aw&i...

Edit edit edit: since when else will this ever be apropos, here is some of the most uncomfortable television ever: http://dangerousminds.net/comments/truly_post-punk_suzanne_s...


Crap, forgot who I was talking to. Should have known a silly comment about Wire rocking out might send you into a fugue state of attribution hunting. I DIDN'T MEAN IT!


You can't take the literature grad school out of the boy.

But isn't that Suzanne Somers - Wire interview seriously... whatever it is? Come on, who else am I going to get to watch that? :)


That was I think one of the greatest videos I have seen in the last 5 years, despite it capturing Wire in their ill-advised Public Image Limited phase.


Oh, I'm glad I checked back in here to read that. A month or two ago Dangerous Minds posted a late 70s Wire concert from Rockpalast (German TV show which is now perhaps the greatest archive of punk-new wave bands at their peaks) and it was stunning. It's been taken down, but there are still clips up.


In my view (having never met or worked for him), Pincus will always be the guy who bragged about making money no matter what it takes, even if it means screwing over users with mal/spy/ad-ware. But it is important to remember that people are multifaceted, and might treat some people well, even if he treats others like crap.


Yes, I'm sure his kids love him.


This sounds kind of like the Valve circle-jerking, except Valve is actually profitable.

Given Zynga's balance sheet, I'd do the exact opposite of what Mark Pincus does.


I can't help but wonder if there's a correlation between "spending many late nights at the office" and the fact that the OP had a heart attack at the age of 21...


Not sure why people up vote and then trash it in comments. This is good read and something positive about Zynga's master mind.


An up vote is not a sign of agreement. It means that the subject matter is interesting and merits discussion.


I reads mixed to me. Pincus can be both a ruthless businessman and a nice, caring person at the same time; it's not what you expect but it's possible. I certainly don't think this guy is lying about any of his interactions.

On the other hand, who knows to what extent the author's medical condition was related to job stress. There was nothing in this piece about Pincus stopping by while they were all frantically trying to meet his deadline and saying "you guys are working too hard. Go home and tomorrow we'll reevaluate when this project can realistically get done".


Because morality is a consistent trait, and when it's not it s considered erratic behavior.


It has been discussed numerous times that the people who comment often differ substantially from the people who vote (uparrow, kudos, whatever). I would take it even further that there's a much larger -- 10x+ -- group that doesn't even vote if they like the content.


Regardless of the truth of this story, I hope someday to have a manager/mentor that works with me with such care and talent.


We seem to want everyone to be one dimensional, but nobody on earth is.In the 90's Gates was synonymous with evil in the tech collective consciousness, yet now he relentlessly works to improve the lives of millions. In the last decade jobs was elevated to near deity status by many, despite his status as a legendary dick. People are complex, deal with it.


At my first startup, the founder was a legendary dick to almost everyone, but he was always cool to me.


Most of the time people think things are necessarily black or white, but often it is somewhere in the middle and may also depend in the context. I believe he genuinely thinks what he wrote and it might be his truth. Of course, it doesn't discard all the justified criticisms on Marc Pincus, it is just another side, there are not mutually exclusive imo.


You know what else you saw while at Zynga? The stock price drop like a rock. They spent two months teaching you things someone in your position of Technical Assistant to CEO of a public company should already know. This is an example of poor allocation of resources.


This is not a pro Zynga blog post.

The main point of the story that the OP was highly valued by Zynga, but he left anyway. It details his rapid access to key people and that his old boss begged him to stay (multiple hour convo at boss' house).

It's sort of like saying your old girlfriend was super into you, and begged you to stay with her, but you left her anyway. Most people might agree that making a public declaration of this would not be doing her any favors.

A reasonable person could consider this post unprofessional. Zygna (whatever your personal opinion of the company) was singing his paychecks and could be considered to deserve the sort of respect many people give former employers in public.


Just as a little side-story, it would appear as though Sash is the same person from dcurtis's The Fight blog post: http://dcurt.is/the-fight


I find the reaction about the text interesting

For one, apparently no one saw "The Devil Wears Prada"

Oh I am sure Pincus is everything (bad) they say of him. Every word.

What we were missing is someone that's capable of adapting to his style and seeing the things beyond that.

Yes, sorry, 'his style' is usually an euphemism for 'making people cry and being awful', but there's more to it than that usually (because of what he did).

"Angry bosses" are a dime a dozen, but only few of them manage what MP has achieved (with a lot of moral issues, I'm sure).


He came into the room and sat on the arm of a chair with his feet resting on the seat.

I have to assume that wasn't a typical conference-room chair -- or it was really well engineered.


Cool, I just realized I'm doing something very similar for my job.


I read it and my first thought was: YMMV

(Your Millage May Vary)


Obviously it was a positive write up. If it was negative he wouldn't be posting it. The post was useless.




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