I complained, but I eventually gave in. As we grew, it was harder and harder to maintain our informal processes. (I remember a real inflection point at about 50-60 employees, and another at about 100.) We gradually gave up our homegrown way of doing things, and accepted normal HR practices — vacation and sick days, regular reviews, annual salary adjustments — and bit by bit, I let the “HR professionals” take over the job of framing and managing the internal culture. That was a mistake.
The original process reminded me of Bryan Cantril's (bcantrill on Hacker News, creator of DTrace and VP of Engineering at Joyent) recent post on Leadership without Management: Scaling Organizations by Scaling Engineers, and of Yshan Wong's (former director of engineering at Facebook, and current CEO of Reddit) writtings on the topic.
I do think there is something in the number, but where it comes from is unclear.
There are a few other companies organized as "business cells", but Semco is relatively well-known.
1) It started producing mediocre books by the dozens. Gone are the days were the O'Reilly tomes (like the Perl books) were THE definitive books on a language.
2) It started promoting all sorts of half-though marketing/visionary crap (Thomas Friedman means Alvus Toffler style), on Open Source, Web 2.0 etc.
3) The Safari bookstore (which I was on and off subscriber over the years) had BS restrictions and a bad UI. I haven't even bothered to check if they provide a good tablet story nowadays.
The worst book I have bought in the past two years was O'Reilly's Building Node Applications with MongoDB and Backbone.
My quick, capsule review of that book: Piece of Shit. Bad example code, horrific continuity, next to no editing, it had everything needed to be lumped in with the crappy tech books. Ironically, the "Sam's Teach Yourself" Node.js book (which I had already gone through and was hoping to expand upon with the O'Reilly purchase) was vastly superior.
I wish I could get my money back, but I don't think Amazon does refunds for ebooks.
exactly the same can be said about their couchdb-book (first edition)
i have worse things to say about their "Data Source Handbook", the fact that they STILL sell it is unbelievable
but to be fair: the functionalJS book and DOM enlightenment (see http://domenlightenment.com) were quite decent. both books recommended.
There is a one-week window to return ebooks in the U.S.
2) I agree on this. I wrote it down to the spirit of "American optimism" that us Europeans can find a bit distasteful, and sometimes it just seems too self-serving, fanning the flames of this or that technological phenomenon in order to sell more books. However, that's his job, and at least he tries to bring some open debate on the topics rather than leaving big players to come out with The Next Big Thing on their own.
3) All O'Reilly eBooks get automatically synchronised to your Dropbox folder in pdf, ePub and Mobi, which I think is a fantastic story for mobile (could do with better Kindle integration I guess, but Amazon holds the keys to that particular kingdom). I've never used Safari tbh, I'm not a fan of subscriptions.
Tim, you didn't fail. The industry has failed. For the past few-to-several years, books on technology have been obsolete by the time they are written- not just published, so you can't make money off of selling even digital copies of books. Developers read about the latest technology in project readme's (markdown formatted in GitHub), a wiki, one or more blogs, StackOverflow, and so on.
What else could your company do to stay relevant? I really have no idea. Posts on your site that come up in Google are often outdated, so O'Reilly to me is at most a place where developers that want to give talks and lectures can publish a book, which probably won't sell much. Maybe it will boost their resume or help them get more contract work? I really have no idea why people give talks and write books anymore. It seems like a waste of time that could be spent developing. Developing good code makes you relevant now.
I just feel sorry for the whole situation. I would have hoped will all of the publishing money from the 1990's and early 2000's, you'd own your own island, where you'd be on the beach drinking Coronas. But instead, the company has apparently tanked. That sucks. I liked the animal-covered books.
Or shallower (sort of?) you can't sell a cookbook of "whats the regular expression in perl to match the first word of a sentance" because we have google for that, but you can sell a style guide type book like "Modern Perl" where you probably could google everything in that book, but it would take 1000 different searches and not have a common voice.
The article is not about the failure of his company, but about what mistakes he think he made along the way.
I was leery of taking so much time reading it. Most times when people write essays about "How I failed" they're full of self-promotional bullshit, the end of which is usually something like "I was just too awesome", or "We tried too hard" or some other pointless throwaway.
Here there's a fair bit of patting himself on the back, but Tim is honestly trying to get somewhere. Where, I don't know. In parts it reads like he's finally figured out that he was way too loosey-goosey with feel-good ideas that he wasn't ready to fight for. In other parts it feels like he's compelled to make lists of people or groups he should have treated with more attention.
In short, it needs an editor. I'm plowing through 3000 words where a better structure could probably cut that in half. Is there a thesis? Or is this just a mashup? I'm betting on the latter, but I'm still not sure.
I love the ideas Tim espouses but not because they make me feel all warm and fuzzy. I get the feeling this is his criteria. I love the ideas because they work, they have functional and financial value. Not sticking with them would be like not paying the electric bill because it was inconvenient.
I liked the essay and voted it up on HN. But I can't recommend it. It's rambling, it's honest, and it's missing the kind of structural and cognitive analysis that could have turned a thoughtful recollection into something more consumable and immediately usable. Sorry to be so negative. It just hit a weird spot with me where I know there's something really good in there, but I don't believe the author hasn't done the work of teasing it out for himself, much less the rest of us.
Ah yes, like an O'Reilly book...
That page hasn't changed or really been updated in a few years. Sigh. Moved on to greener pastures...
If you do not know about Safari Books Online , do yourself a favor and check it out! You pay a smallish monthly fee, and get access to digitized books. Want to learn about XZY tech, just head over to Safari Books Online and read the latest and greatest books, pick the chapters you want, and move on. Most university libraries will have access agreements, so this will most likely be free, or ask your company about a corporate membership!
I am not affiliated with them, just a very happy customer. This is the perfect use case for me, since I typically will read tech books only once, never looking at them again, and just google from that point on.
There's something that just... isn't there anymore with most of the oreilly books.
Morozov's article is a complete roast of O'Reilly. Though certainly entertaining in style, the real gem of the The Meme Hustler is Morozov's basic theory of PR: Those who control the "discourse" (the words and phrases used to describe and name new phenomena in books, magazines, blogs, newspapers) have incredible influence across industries — especially when there's little opposition. As a niche publisher in the esoteric (but simultaneously important) field of bits and bytes, O'Reilly has capitalized on this and has faced little criticism from other industries.
Politicians and Fortune 500 CEO's face pushback to their BS all the time, sometimes initially led by Critical Studies departments. This Baffler article was one of the the few times I've seen a technologist explicitly called on his ideology (beyond the profit motive).
I suspect Mr. O'Reilly wasn't too pleased about it.
Edit: Another way to look at it: Don't you get value out of it by reading it even if you don't attend the conference ?
They have solid experience in classic publishing and online publishing and a culture rooted in openness. They also have the brand to attract enough peer reviewers and the like.
And they know how to "fill the gas tank" via conferences if they want to go that route so maybe they should just prototype a couple of academic conferences and see how it goes.
Your customers at the end of the day define your business, because they spend the money that enables you to continue. While you believe you have great thoughts, as a commercial entity you do not have the luxury of such things because the market speaks louder than your own ego.
I like Tim, a lot, but at the end of the day he vainly spoke as O'Reilly media and not as Tim (a guy who has some smart things to say but is independent from a company) and that has an impact. If Gates spoke as MS HMFIC about vaccinations he would get roasted in the market, but Tim never divorced himself from the company and thus made the company suffer for his own personal conceits. If you're a sole propietorship then you can afford such luxury, but Tim had a larger vision for the company yet confused himself with that vision.
You have someone that understands the market way better than you do, as his extensive track record supports.
Who are you to talk to him like this? I mean the insulting part "Shut the fuck up".
I admire this person because I have a company and I know how incredibly hard is to do what this man has done, he is talking about the real problems that real companies have. You talk about luxuries as if what this person has was given to him in a silver plate.
"Tim never divorced himself from the company and thus made the company suffer for his own personal conceits"
When you have a company your company always suffers from your personal conceits, whenever you realize it or not. For example if you made a company your beliefs about "what the market wants" will be as subjective as Tim's, only that probably Tim's will be better adjusted to reality, because he has proven that he is good at it and you don't.
Everybody believes to be more objective in his decisions that others, like everybody believes to be more intelligent than everybody else. It is very easy to see the straw in someone else's eye.
What is your point? That nobody is perfect?
Tim O'Reilly changed the trajectory of my life and probably countless others how self-taught themselves using the famous O'Reilly books into a job or often much more.
oh god yes. money is like a blind spot to me - but this line speaks to me best in a whole article that reeks of good advice.
thanks Mr Oreilly.
That must have kept Tim from taking on the HR challenge and other lesser problems on his list.
I only get advances on delivery of milestones. I sure that was a key reform, based on what he wrote regarding late and un-delivered books.
The only raises we had were merit raises, as you improved your skills and impact. You were expected to manage your own time, with no set hours, and the only responsibility around vacation time was to make sure that no balls got dropped.
Eventually, I hired an employment lawyer to review my draft, and he said, “That’s the most inspiring employee manual I’ve ever read, but I can’t let you use it.”
We ended up building a culture where managers too often compensated for the failings of employees by working around them, either working harder themselves, hiring someone else to fill in the gaps, or just letting the organization be less effective.
As an employee, observing these indicators should probably push you to change to a better situation.
SO : O'Reilly :: web : print
I worry about this with my own "company". I have two different projects right now, one that brings in money and I'm starting to add people to, one that has a couple of people and might soon bring in money. I see them separate only in so much as the people of the second one aren't interested in the work of the first one at this time. There will be opportunities in the future to merge the two.
I started working for myself because I hated working in modern office culture. I was always interested in being more than just a code-monkey. I wanted to understand the business and work practically and efficiently to create good value for our clients. I saw that a lot of programmers where architecture astronauts and a lot of project managers were unchecked salesmen and I thought I could be the best of both worlds by being honest with both the customer and myself about what could and couldn't be done. I didn't want to delay releases just because I was more interested in scratching an intellectual itch than getting the work done. But I also didn't want to over-promise on deliverables knowing that it would lead to an even bigger argument in a month's time when we didn't get 6 months worth of programming done.
And I got sick and tired of my health issues, fundamentally created by my overly demanding employers, being treated like they were a personal problem that I shouldn't bother them with. I'm sorry, you keep me in the office overnight, I'm not coming in on time the next day. It's not "unprofessional" for me to fall asleep in a meeting in which I'm not even expected to participate the day after you dumped last-minute changes on me, changes I know you kept to yourself because I overheard you on the phone talking about it and how you knew it would be easier to convince me to stay if the situation seemed dire. The chemical depression I experienced as a result of the poor nutrition, lack of sleep, and lack of sunlight you imposed on me through feeding me at my desk and holding my job over my head was fundamentally your fault, as was the resulting complete lack of productivity. You can't work someone 100 hours one week and expect them to be as fresh as a daisy the next.
Ahem, sorry, got lost there for a minute.
The last thing I want to do is be responsible for creating a business that becomes the very thing I despise. But I won't be able to oversee everything. I'm going to have to hire people who will be responsible for hiring more people. The fundamental structure of the company will have to be built on the understanding that treating employees with respect is not just a phrase for the promotional material.
The problem is that it's a whole litany of problems. You can't just focus on the vacation time or core hours or snacks and games in the break room. Frankly, even when I was in my early 20s I didn't care for snacks and games at work. I wanted to work at work and play at home. It's hiring practices, it's how you communicate with your customers, it's how you organize work, it's who you hire for work, it's the sort of work you do, it's 100% of everything that a company does, and if any one part of it is out of whack it's going to corrupt it all.
In O'Reilly's example of his "Rules of Thumb" manual, he hired the wrong lawyer, a lawyer that was only interested in viewing the problem through the lens of common corporate lawyering. He needed a lawyer that was just as devoted to recreating the work place as he was and understood that it was his (the lawyer's) job to protect that environment, not completely destroy it just because it wasn't easy to protect it.
And it scares the shit out of me. How many of my former employers started their own companies because they hated working for their own former employers? How do I avoid being ultimately responsible for someone's terrible work-life balance?