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Hey programmers, we need to talk (sealedabstract.com)
149 points by spiffytech 679 days ago | 46 comments



I don't understand how you've concluded that the reward for writing code is lower than the reward for HN comments. I get paid lots and lots of money to write code. So far, I haven't seen much return on the time I've invested into HN comments, except in terms of the internet points you mentioned. The going conversion rate for those to dollars is around infinity:zero.

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Exactly. And it's not just about being paid to write code for your job. My open source contributions have had orders of magnitude bigger effects than writing on Usenet or commenting on forums.

- I made some of my best friends through working on projects in the same open source ecosystem.

- I attribute some of my best jobs to having built some reputation from OSS. Would I have gotten through Google interviews if one of the interviewers hadn't been a user and a fan of one of my projects? I'm pretty sure it, and having a long term public track record must have helped some.

- What little internet fame I have (and it is very little) is all purely attributable to coding something, releasing it, and then writing about it.

- I still get a kick out of looking at some old code I've written every now and then (like old Perl Golf entries). Every now and then I'll get to tell a good debugging war story to friends, or swapping stories with them about cool things we've coded lately. Boasting about the cool forum posts... Yeah, not so much.

And Hacker News? I don't think I've have had one business lead (which didn't pan out) as a result of a comment, but haven't interacted with a poster outside of HN otherwise. There's no reason to believe my HN karma will ever matter for anything. I guess it's nice to cross the downvote threshold.

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I think you need to keep his earlier words in mind:

> So suppose this wonderful community has been a great help to you over the years, and you’re trying to figure out how you can help out around the clubhouse.

In other words, what's the most effective way to be charitable and give back to the community?

> The going conversion rate for those to dollars is around infinity:zero.

That's arguable IMO. I'm not saying it's a straightforward payout, but I don't think they're not worthless, either. Hiring managers and recruiters will attempt to look up your profiles (if you haven't provided any), and having a stellar reputation within a community is assuredly not a bad thing. While it may not net you a larger offer, it might serve as a tie-breaker if nothing else (especially if the other candidate has a lot of negatives associated with their online profiles).

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And yet you can't buy HN karma with money, so the inverse is also true.

What motivates one person over another might be imaginary points or real dollars.

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Ok, beautifully written article, I enjoyed reading it. But you really are downplaying and underestimating the kind of reward and benefit that one gets from writing articles and code. For example, I have written a number of articles and library tools on and in C++. Over time, these things received lots of links from places like stackoverflow. As a consequence, my stuff is #1 on the search engines for terms like "C++ rvalue references". That gets me an enormous amount of attention and exposure. And if someone, like a prospective employer, hasn't found me yet that way, I just tell them, "Hey, search for 'C++ rvalue references', you'll see." Now if someone were to say, "Ok, that's all fine and well, but you don't have a lot of Karma points on HN," then screw them, I don't want to work for them anyway.

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That's been my experience, too. I get much more attention from colleagues and recruiter for my articles, papers and other publications than my HN or Reddit karma. If you want to get your name out there as an expert, you're much better off writing the occasional long form article, chunk of code, paper or conference talk than racking up HN karma in my opinion.

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Starting from false premises makes the rest of your article likely worthless (I can only say likely worthless because I stupidly kept skimming but fortunately stopped carefully reading).

This programming thing is a lot of fun, right? We have been entrusted with the unique responsibility of making pretty much the entire world go round. (There aren’t a lot of industries that don’t need software these days.) And not only that, but we have a lot of fun doing it.

Fun? It can be, sometimes, or at least was for some of us when we started. Making pretty much the entire world go round? No, most of us aren't anywhere close to that. We make happy little sites and apps for rich people to buy jewelry and make fun of their friends and mark posts 'liked' on social networks. I know people who work on the software that runs airplanes, and that's soul-crushing C tweaks and opimization at best. We have a lot of fun doing this? No, I think most people in any reasonable place to comment do this for work, and "fun" is almost always a secondary consideration if it is one at all, at least for the non-independently-wealthy and personal-future-minded.

Yeah, I guess we do need to talk. Because you don't seem to understand what the vast majority of us don't do or what our priorities aren't, let alone that we are pretty much normal people that don't need hyperbole about which comments on which sites matter.

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I am so sorry if programming stopped to be fun for you but please don't extrapolate that to all of us. I would hope that for most there is fun and less work.

In immortal words of Confucius "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life"

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Very cute. I didn't extrapolate it to "all of us;" if it fits you, you're not "us" in the sense it was intended.

Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life? Very petty sentiment from an industry that's swamped with demand.

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Point is I am doing this for last 30 years , I choose this when computers were not 'cool' and 'hip' , internet was arpanet and BBS was well BBS. It wasn't demand or promise for richness what drove my choice of profession. Good question is why you choose/do this if it is not fun to you?

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You don't sound like a hacker. You sound like somebody who types a lot in order to change the patterns of lights on their monitor.

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You really put the ass in assumption. Thanks for your input; this is your output.

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From http://philip.greenspun.com/seia/writeup

Between March 2001 and April 2004 roughly 400,000 American jobs in information technology were eliminated. Many of those who had coded Java in obscurity ended up as cab drivers or greeters at Walmart. A personal professional reputation, by contrast, is a bit harder to build than the big salary but also harder to lose. If you don't invest some time in writing (prose, not code), however, you'll never have any reputation outside your immediate circle of colleagues, who themselves may end up working at McDonald's and be unable to help you get an engineering job during a recession.

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Before there was Hacker News there was Slashdot. Before Slashdot there were NNTP servers (Usenet). Before Usenet there were BBSes. We've been chatting online for the past 30 years and yet have still been able to create operating systems, window managers, office productivity suites, databases, compilers and all sorts of other things.

Not saying our system is perfect, but it's working and besides developers need to let off some steam and just talk about geeky stuff.

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I'm perplexed by this. On HN, karma's purpose is to promote civil discussion. It attempts to do this by providing both positive and negative feedback. If you confuse those points with some universally valuable thing... well, don't.

I will note that I have had many pleasant interactions with people on HN outside of HN itself. Some of these interactions included offers to interview for a position. But this did not happen because of my karma points itself. They happened because of how I conduct myself here.

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Two things:

1) This is based on a false premise that the time I'm spending writing comments is taking away from time I'd otherwise spend programming. I don't know about anyone else but I'm one of those programmers who likes to internalize a problem, absorb it and digest it subconsciously while doing other things and then write code. Guess where internet comments fit into this? Additionally, reading and writing on places like HN has contributed immeasurably to my skills as a programmer over the years. Not so much by teaching me specific things but by keeping me in touch with the community and aware of things I wouldn't otherwise be aware of.

2) There are already real points which we are awarded for programming, it's called dollar bills. Ok, you were talking about free open source projects that we wouldn't get paid for. True, no dollars directly there. But these are things you can cite on your CV/portfolio when job hunting or when review time comes around. Dollars.

Also, Github.

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1) Right agreed with all points, and also:

How much quality programming exists in you per day? 2 - 5 hours?

The occasional 8 - 10 hour quality effort might also exist but it does not happen for me every day. I can try and force the issue but quality degrades.

And like my dad always told me, "Answers will usually come in your dreams."

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[deleted]

If you need more evidence there's books and studies that back it up.

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And also GitTip.

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Based on your #1, I can say the same thing. Grep for my username in both these places:

https://gist.github.com/paulmillr/2657075/

https://news.ycombinator.com/leaders

Now, maybe my GitHub rank would be even higher without my HN rank...

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Sorry man, that is only for people with followers over 187. It stands to reason that the people that are truly at the top are the ones that don't take time promoting themselves on Hacker News.

Not that I think you are wrong, but those things might be related :)

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Of course, that's always possible. It's also only GitHub, there are many, many, many people who develop a _lot_ of open source software on other places as well. Furthermore, the long tail dictates that the mass of people with a few contributions contribute waaaaay more than the people who are at the top.

That said, there's nobody on that list who has an insignificant number of contributions, either, which is more important. #256 is ~3 commits/day.

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This is only true for people who care about "Internet points".

As others have pointed out, there are many other metrics. Number of lives you positively affect, for those of us who work in large-scale projects. Dollar bills for those who choose to get paid. Recognition by peers for those who choose to publish papers/reviewed articles.

And to be completely trite, "you get back what you put in". If all HN is to you is a place to collect Internet points, yeah, that's pretty shallow. If you think it's a place where you can have interesting discussions with people with similar interests, it's a completely different kettle of fish. I'm not here for my karma points, I'm here because I occasionally enjoy the discussions. (And I comment because I wait for my compiler ;)

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I really dislike the phrase "we need to talk"

shudder

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I find that many of the best programmers, and many of the programmers on my Twitter feed, do not post very much if ever here on HN, or on Reddit, or anywhere else really. They're too busy doing what they love, which is programming and not talking about programming.

The same goes for musicians. Name the last Daft Punk comment you saw on Reddit? Oh it's not there? Probably because they're too busy spending 6 weeks on the perfect kick drum sound.

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Sooo true. And although programming is fun, it's not necessarily how a person might chose to spend their leisure time.

As tomphoolery alluded to, maybe the problem is that our society as a whole gives too much credit to how we live our leisure life vs our work life? This isn't a problem related to programming, it's a general critique.

You could easily write the same article from the point of view of a 4.0 GPA college student:

Guys, we need to talk. This whole college thing is awesome. Most of you will only get 4 years of this. Why do we give so much credit to the guy who just won the case race but not the engineer who's developing the next rocket? WHY?!?! We should be studying!

I'm going to keep commenting and coding more than the average person.

Great article though.

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If the intention is to reward in terms of karma, judging one liners is a lot easier (and quicker) than judging the quality of a software patch. The feedback is instantaneous, thereby explaining the skewed ratio of one-liners to useful patches. Regardless, those who currently exhibit a superhuman level of programming expertise will continue to do so while us mere mortals seek out cat pictures on Reddit.

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The good news is I suspect the people able and motivated to make real contributions to our field aren't too worried about Internet points.

At least, I hope that's the case, because the Internet seems to reward easy to understand and seemingly witty over real contribution. It happens even when we're talking about actual code—I can't count the number of "X, but in JavaScript! (Because I ran X through Emscripten, which anyone could've done, but hey! I published the output first!)" projects I've seen on the front page here.

At least the person who actually wrote Emscripten got a few Internet points for the effort too.

It's worth remembering though that to some people some things matter more than money. Internet points are a cheapened version of peer recognition, and as such they might matter to some more than they logically should.

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I think this is more perception than reality. People do get Internet points for code, it's just that they get very little feedback that they're getting Internet points for the code. But everybody knows (or can easily find out) if you, say, invented Django or Redis or memcached or sold a company or make lots of money selling Bingo Cards or redesigned the Google search page or various other technical accomplishments. And that does affect how your comments are perceived. You don't see that effect because it's tacky to argue from authority, but people know who the authorities are.

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> There’s no real reason for this comment to exist.

Sure, there is. Someone wanted to state his opinion. And as the internet most likely won't get full anytime soon I don't see why that would be bad.

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Why don't we create an HN like website for writing code. Essentially a member of an open source community would come and submit a need for a function. It tell us what goes in the function, what it should return, and the language necessary. In the "comments" solutions are put into place critiqued and updated, and everything is up voted.

This lowers the bar of entry, increases the points for doing important stuff, and helps people learn. Email me if you want talk more. jonathan.barnes11 @ gmail dot com

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I'm glad I read this article instead of actually working. I'm even more glad that this article made me want to write a response to it on HN instead of working. Wait a second...

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I think the article raises some interesting questions: Can we create a better incentive system for open source software contribution? Why do the rewards have to be imaginary?

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I feel the writer wants me to feel bad about not working 100% of the time. What's so bad about procrastination, as long as we don't overindulge?

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I want to comment, but then I'd feel bad...

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linking to content is absolutely a high-effort, reward-worthy endeavour. perhaps not as much so as writing the linked-to content, but the fact is there is a torrent of bad articles and webpages out there, and anyone who wants to take the time and trouble to sift through it and selectively amplify the good stuff is providing a valuable service.

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hot air blog posts get too much attention here

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But then, let's look at the other side of the equation.

By having places where programmers hang out with each other and just chit chat a community arises. Experience, expertise, knowledge, and judgment is shared.

Developers learn many important things this way.

They learn about new technologies, new languages, new tools, they get a sense for new things to study. And new things to build too.

They learn about security vulnerabilities in frameworks and operating systems. Not everyone is signed up for all of the relevant security mailings that impact them, and sometimes there aren't security mailing lists for some products.

They learn about good practices and bad practices. Everything from how to work, how to bill and interact with clients, how to be a good boss, signs of bad bosses, what opportunities are out there in the world, all that stuff.

They learn about interesting and deep problems in programming and computer science and perhaps think about ways to tackle them.

It's easy to discount these things but they are important. As important as fundamental computer science stuff like algorithms, if not more so. Sure, it also comes with a lot of baggage and bloviation and uselessness, but sometimes it can be more difficult to tell the difference between useful and useless than one might think.

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Certified newbie-programmer here: without HN, r/programming on reddit, and a few other places, there's no way I'd know about half the things I know now. When it comes to choose tools for a project, that's really helpful.

That all said, I think it's reasonable to say "Hey, we should think about motivating people to contribute code too!", but both elements can be complimentary.

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Too many people mistake one-liners for wisdom and/or wit.

... see what I did there?

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You know that the "top" comment you see in a post is not the highest-rated one, right?

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lol. OP is bitching about internet karma. 1st rule of internet karma is it's irrelevant.

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Where are you getting your data from for these graphs?

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We still need karma for linking because Google failed to provide us with the long term value it demonstrated to society when it was established. Had Google been successful, (at something other than Ad Words) then these other forums wouldn't be so popular.

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I agree with the author entirely.

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Wasn't this blog linked to on here recently? Anyone know what it was about, is he buthurt about comments in that thread?

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