Well, pg has earned our trust and deserved the benefit of the doubt when something so off kilter as this is attributed to him. He did not get it here, and that is a sad testament to how crowd-inspired frenzies can bend our perceptions in such faulty ways. Let us only hope that we can learn some good lessons from this.
pg's response is actually priceless: it is like a soft-spoken witness upending a bullying lawyer who had just viciously attacked him, leaving the attacker reeling for all to see. Indeed, the mob looks pretty much like an ass at this point and kudos to pg for his more-than-able defense. Very lawyer-like, in a way, but far more classy.
> pg's response is actually priceless: it is like a soft-spoken witness upending a bullying lawyer who had just viciously attacked him, leaving the attacker reeling for all to see.
What's with the almost cult-like reverence for this largely pseudo-intellectual entrepreneur?
You are seeing respect for Paul Graham because, as flawed as some of his opinions might be, he also has the experience backing them. Louis CK said this best:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXcWeFn-YYM (NSFW in the latter half)
If you're under 40, I'm largely uninterested in your take on the world. That includes my own; I know I still have things to learn and I make a proactive effort to listen more than I talk. I don't always succeed.
"pg's response is actually priceless: it is like a soft-spoken witness upending a bullying lawyer who had just viciously attacked him, leaving the attacker reeling for all to see."
Which you don't mention at all in your response...
"If you're under 40, I'm largely uninterested in your take on the world. That includes my own; I know I still have things to learn and I make a proactive effort to listen more than I talk. I don't always succeed."
Are you actually being serious? Your brain works in such a way that any person who has lived less than 14,610 days couldn't possibly add any value to your life? I don't mean to be harsh but this could be the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life. Certainly worse than anything I've seen on Medium.
If I was pg and this was these were the type of people and defenses that were coming to my aid, I would be mortified.
If that's the case, then you're a very sheltered person.
Lay off the hyperbole next time.
-Should I listen to anything this person has to say or take value from their life experiences?
-Well I dunno, have they turned 40 yet.
Is very certainly in the top 5 dumbest things I've ever heard if not the dumbest. A human being going well out of their way to avoid learning things and gaining more experience. But thanks for contributing with the random insult. Hope it helped rebuild your self esteem?
See the words 'largely', and 'uninterested'?
Do you understand what those words mean? Fucking hell.
Why would you think that?
Now I am 33 and I tend to ignore what most people my age and younger think about things like global politics or new programming languages. This has less to do with intelligence than perspective. Basically, if the 'Arab Spring seemed like a new and good thing you don't know enough about the situation to make informed commentary.
I'm 25 years old, and it's been one of -if not the- most important discovery of my life so far that compared to those older than me, I know hilariously little about (all aspects of) life.
Of course young people add value, we do after all make our own world by our subjective views, but those older than you generally have had more time to explore more of those views, and have a much richer notion of how things are and can be.
pg isnt peddling his "take on the world". He talks about serious academic topics in a chronically under and misinformed way. My 50 year old plumber knows jack about Metaphysics, Quantum Field Theory or Abstract Expressionism despite - as in a Louis CK bit - his seeing a dead body "one time".
If you want to have a fire-side chat with him - be my guest. But I ain't fetching the scribe because he's had a few decades wandering around.
Well, most of the stuff guys "under 40" think they know about "Metaphysics, Quantum Field Theory or Abstract Expressionism" are a half-understood mismash too (I'm not talking about someone with a PhD in Physics here).
And, as some they will find out later in life, not only knowledge of those "serious academic topics" doesn't matter as much as they thought, but also most of them are inherently bullshit too.
There is a kind of wisdom that arises through knowledge of oneself and other people that comes with age. A kind of knowledge which helps you predict what is going to be worthwhile, etc.
However we shouldnt fall into the trap of saying "academic persuits might leave you unsatisfied therefore you can be blase about them whilst discussing them". You cant dispense with the particulars of physics when discussing gravity because your interest in "the universe" owes to a unfulfilled religious need.
"age" is a different category of knowledge and doesnt excuse or justify glorified amateurism in another.
But that's kind of the point isn't it? We should judge people on their qualifications and achievements, not their age.
I too was very uncomfortable when reading that paragraph. When I read comments like that I can see why it's possible that PG is starting to run into this recurring theme with the outside world. First it was a misunderstanding around founders with accents. Now it's a misunderstanding of women in technology. If he's becoming inadvertently surrounded with such adoring followers he's likely to find few of his assumptions challenged by such a receptive audience. He speaks, no one challenges him, he becomes emboldened. Then he speaks to a third party not under his spell and all heck breaks loose.
1. Keep the interview short and stick to the script. This is what Laura Bush does better than almost anybody. Don't give reporters any "gotcha's" to their tricky line of questions.
2. If possible, do the inteview by email, not phone, videochat or in person. This way, you can give a considered response to their questions, which is what folks like PG excel at.
PG is not a professional interview giver. It shows.
And I'm no PG fan boy. I think his Startup = Growth article is flat out misleading w/r/t startups that start from a base of one user or one cent in revenue (to take extreme examples) and then say a startup is growing if it has 5% weekly growth.
Jefferson was 33 when he penned the Declaration of Independence. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed when he was 39. Marx published The Communist Manifesto when he was 30.
Seriously, this list could go on for ages. Dismissing the perspective of youth is as indicative of an ignorance of history as youthful naivete.
People with high confidence in themselves often over estimate their experience around this time and look silly to anyone with actual experience.
I don't think 40 is some magical number. In fact many experiences that happened over 10 years ago in high tech starts to "fade" and become less relevant.
- Founded a successful web apps company back in the 1990s when that wasn't common, and sold it to Yahoo
- Founded Y Combinator to advise and invest in startups
- Smart investor with substantial success and track record (Dropbox, AirBnB, etc)
In other words, he's earned a reputation for doing some very smart things, and documenting them in clear, easily understood language, over the past 20 years.
I'm not being a mirer or a nuthugger here. I participate in HN because it benefits me and I learn useful things amidst the noise. (And of course pg started this site too.)
That's not ball washing. That's a comparison to the journalists, academics, writers, editors, analysts, etc etc who aspire to that public identity.
Peter Norvig on the book: http://www.amazon.com/review/RRFAH7G81ASUL/ref=cm_cr_dp_titl...
While that is awesome, it is a substantially different game we play nowadays than in the 90's.
Hence, YC, etc.
I'm frankly surprised you've been here for 2 years and never realised.
You see the ycombinator in news.ycombinator.com? In this website?
That's pg's company.
Do you know what ycombinator is? That he started the seed funding movement? That he was blogging about hacking startups before people even really realised you could hack startups? Before lean startup existed? That he's written his own dialect of LISP? That he started and sold his own startup in the early days of the web? And that, now this is some serious respect, it was actually written in LISP?
That's not cultish, it's earned respect and pg's got it in buckets around here.
Little drunk, but crikey, talk about having absolutely no fucking clue. The guy's a machine of intellectualism, most things he turns his mind to he de-constructs, encapsulates and then explains brilliantly. Yeah, occasionally he's wrong, especially when he tries to justify certain aspects of exploitative capitalism, but damn he's good. Very good.
And that response was classic pg as grellas said.
You can see my comment here on his pseud-osity: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6988150 to save repeating myself.
You don't get insights into these by getting a degree from some university on the subject. You get insights into those things by studying them, practical experience, and more importantly thinking.
If anything, the most clueless people in those areas I know are tenured professors.
And REAL thinkers, the kind that leave a mark in history, from Socrates to Sartre and from Kierkegaard to Popper and Wittgenstein to leave it to philosophy, are full of scorn for academia in general and professors in particular, and even if they sometimes happen to be working as such themselves, they are greatly atypical to their "churn papers" colleagues.
Not that pg is on that level, but critisizing him because "none of his achievements as an entrepreneur give him insights into philosophy, political economy or anything else he writes on" is bullshit.
Your a priori abstract attack that he lacks insights has no meat at all behind it. You could just as well have said that "he has tons of insight into what he writes" -- and it would be exactly the same.
If you want to provide something worthwhile, do a SPECIFIC critique of what he wrote somewhere, and tell us what is wrong with it by providing counter-arguments and rebuttals.
Not about the subjects they research. That is the purpose of research.
> are full of scorn for academia in general
All of those people are academics par execellance. I'm not talking about business-ified institutional academica. I'm talking about spending a long time on a topic, researching it and thinking deeply, clearly on it before you offer your opinion as though it were valuable.
> do a SPECIFIC critique of what he wrote somewhere
I have on one of his essays, but I took it seriously to write that critique.
The audience I would be targeting in a critique of the man (via a critique of his under-informed rants) are those who equate money with success and "money-making" with intelligence. I value my time too much to spend the amount required undoing that confusion.
pg spent weeks on each of his early essays. He spent a solid month writing What You Can't Say. He spent at least a couple days writing this one. They aren't opinion pieces.
Stephenie Meyer spent years writing the Twilight books. Time spent on a work is in no way indicative on the quality of that work.
Reaction from literary critics? Reaction from the target audience? Financial success?
It seems to me that by two of those standards Stephenie Meyer knocked the ball out of the park. It is not clear to me why we should care about the other standard of quality.
Personally, I agree with some of his essays, but on some others he's way off the mark. For instance, his writings on anything Hollywood or copyright-related betray a fundamental misunderstanding of what artists sell. Yet those essays were extremely popular simply because they confirmed people's biases (hence "pop philosophy"). However, if you check the so-called "blogosphere", you can find many others who have posted well-reasoned criticisms of those (and other) essays.
Yeah, I think this is a fairly good characterization of pg's audience.
>>Not about the subjects they research. That is the purpose of research.
They are cluless _especially_ about the subjects they research.
Most philosophy, political economy etc academics are beyond mediocre -- not only in advancing their field, but even in understanding the greats who contributed to it and rightfully presenting their knowledge.
Most real development comes from outsiders to this system -- people incombatible with academic life, even if they happen to work as professors (like Adorno or Wittgenstein did for example). And that was true already in the '40s and '50s, were academic discourse and research freedom in those fields was extremelly better compared to (market driven, low quality, paper churn) today's reality.
>The audience I would be targeting in a critique of the man (via a critique of his under-informed rants) are those who equate money with success and "money-making" with intelligence.
Oh, those poor fools. Because there are other, proven, definitions of success that everybody should ascribe to, right?
>I value my time too much to spend the amount required undoing that confusion
Yep, I expected this part.
The purpose of research is to farm grant money and citations. Any actual learning that happens during the process is beside the point.
Why would you do that?
And furthermore, how can you possibly feel you survive your own critique of "pseudo-intellectuals"? This is you  spouting amateur social science:
> Umm... how about in a capitalist society money is the vehicle of positive freedom... to increase ones ability to do something on has to have more money. Therefore under capitalism there is always a fundamental tie between money and power.
Which, by the way, I have no problem with. A well-regarded logical fallacy is "appeal to authority", the contrapositive of which implies that we should judge arguments on their merit regardless of where they come from. So if people find some writing illuminating, attack the logic, not the writer, and not the readers.
> Why would you do that?
I'm responding to the questions raised in the most convenient way. I'm not going to give a serious critique of the many essays which require it to make a small point about his blase approach to serious academic topics. Far too much effort to spend on a crowd whose faith in pg's intellectual status is based on his money-making ability.
Pics or it didn't happen.
>I didnt because HN comment boxes are not vehicles of long essays. (...) Far too much effort to spend on a crowd whose faith in pg's intellectual status is based on his money-making ability.
So, it isn't backtracking if you pre-emptively declare that you are backtracking. Right.
>It isnt "backtracking" to criticize a person for one thing while you are doing another. Jon Stewart criticizes news programs whilst his program isnt a very good news program. Fortunately he's in the comedy business.
Unfortunately the similarity doesn't hold, because Jon Stewart doesn't also say "I can do a much better news program than them", whereas you did said that you could write a respectable "5k word essay on this very small point" (and then didn't).
>Equally, my off-hand comment isnt a very good essay but fortunately I didnt post it to an Essays section of a website and then go and read it to a conference audience
As if the section of website where something is published matters one iota. It's not like having an essays section necessitates that you only put George Steiner quality material in it. Heck, Zed Shaw has an essays section on his website.
Also, you keep mentioning this conference audience a lot -- Sounds like sour grapes to me.
As if Defcon is some elite philosophical conference, and Paul Graham failed to keep to the level of previous speakers, like Plato or Heidegger.
You have to put what im saying in the context of how his work is read (as some kind of obviously briliant religious text).
It isnt "backtracking" to criticize a person for one thing while you are doing another. Jon Stewart criticizes news programs whilst his program isnt a very good news program. Fortunately he's in the comedy business.
Equally, my off-hand comment isnt a very good essay but fortunately I didnt post it to an Essays section of a website and then go and read it to a conference audience.
Absolutely not the case; here (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6987798, the relevant comment that sparked this discussion), you are simply taking the conversation into new territory and insulting people.
> But jesus,
>> pg's response is actually priceless: it is like a soft-spoken witness upending a bullying lawyer who had just viciously attacked him, leaving the attacker reeling for all to see.
>What's with the almost cult-like reverence for this largely pseudo-intellectual entrepreneur?
They're childish research-lite versions of a 50s-style classical liberalism. It is much the same as Ayn Rand another amateur philosopher who knew very little on the topics she was writing about.
I dislike the "talking head" approach to serious topics. I dont think "giving your opinion" excuses a lack of serious research. Half-baked, under-informed opinion isnt truth or even the attempt to reach it; regardless of whether it is phrased with feigned objectivity. I wouldnt be too annoyed if he wasnt glorified by other $-eye'd idiots.
pg writes candidly (but respectfully) from the perspective of someone who has been very successful in some areas, and has opinions on other areas. His world view shines through clearly and he doesn't seem to claim authority (or not too often, anyways) on the issues. In fact, I started enjoying his articles long before I was even aware of HN or of who he was. He just seemed like a bright dude with interesting articles to me.
I find everything he writes fascinating, and the closer to his expertise, the more 'value' I ascribe to his writing. But he isn't, nor does he seem to want to be, some kind of guru on all matters of life. He seems pretty honest.
The fact that he has a relatively small group of starry-eyed followers exhibiting cult-like behavior is not really his fault, but just a natural consequence of his fame/success. I don't think it warrants mjburgess' response.
But maybe I'm missing something or underestimating the degree of cult-like following going on?
I mean if he wrote an article about race and Cornell West wrote a critique, you'd have hundreds of people coming to defend pg on the back of the cultish Bay Area mentality.
The tech world is meritocratic, politically concentrating on wealth disparity over wealth creation is nonsense, Silicon Valley's problems are minor look elsewhere, etc. etc.
It's a very Panglossian outlook meant to make you feel good about yourself, generally.
I don't know if PG is the right about everything he says or even most of what he says but he has inspired a lot of people to do things (largely for the good of society). A philosopher could hope for little more I suspect (not even suggesting PG would self-ascribe that term but I would ascribe it to him).
Similar to your unsubstantiated comment about Ayn Rand?
This is why Nozick and others are taught in political philosophy and not ayn rand. You can listen to a somewhat detailed introductory treatment by people well-read in philosophy here: http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2013/07/01/ep78-ayn-ran....
One of her greatest sins is her perpetually trashing people like Kant whilst having no idea what theyve said - because she makes many of the very same points. pg does this too.
So I don't see the force of your critique: pg and you can both be right. Wealthy people can have more ability to do things even if there are systems in place to prevent them from corrupting particular processes that are considered worthy of such protection.
To be honest I found your comment shallow and mean spirited. You didn't present a true criticism of the article. You simply alleged that it was lame.
Ironically, whilst you may be correct that being an entrepreneur will not give a person insights into philosophy, he happens to have a degree in philosophy so perhaps that gives him some insight. More specifically, he has a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Cornell University.
As for his achievements not giving him insight into 'anything else he writes on' that appears to me to be patently silly. A good deal of what he writes on is about entrepreneurship.
All in your criticism smacks to me of small minded jealousy. It's a familiar pattern - small petty people trying to boost their flagging self esteem by trying to tear down those who have achieved.
> if you have any serious reading on the last two hundred years of economic, political and sociological critiques of capitalism, wealth and power
It seems like you're calling Paul Graham a pseudo-intellectual not because he's posturing, but because you disagree with him. You don't address any of the actual claims in the article, but you do call them "silly".
Here's the problem with your response to that one quote you took out of context:
>"The problem here is not wealth, but corruption. So why not go after corruption? We don't need to prevent people from being rich if we can prevent wealth from translating into power."
>Umm... how about in a capitalist society money is the vehicle of positive freedom... to increase ones ability to do something on has to have more money. Therefore under capitalism there is always a fundamental tie between money and power.
It's a matter of degree. Many countries which rank low on various measures of corruption are nonetheless capitalist (New Zealand, Sweden, etc). Many countries which are socialist nonetheless suffer nepotism of the form Graham described in his previous example (Argentina, Zimbabwe, etc). Sure, it's a "small off-hand point", but it's the only part of your comment which isn't simply an insult without any backing.
>One's ability to make money - to have one's skills suit the market; or to be lucky - has nothing to do with the value of your opinions or how frequently/prominently they should be offered to the rest of us.
This is not related to the essay you had claimed to respond to. It apparently represents drawback of inequality, but it is left up to the reader to magically grasp your intuition that this drawback exceeds the benefits Paul Graham claims may be derived by rewarding those who are successful in business endeavors.
One way to phrase this comment in a mature, reasonable way would be the following:
"I think that the lacuna between the abilities of rich and poor to communicate to a large audience makes the level of inequality Graham advocates in society unacceptable."
I might respond as follows: since people can only consume a finite amount of information, there will always be a situation where only a tiny minority have the ability to broadcast their views effectively. It is not clear to anyone how to identify in an objective manner who is most deserving of a wide audience, and so no society which has attempted to restrict this has ever succeeded in improving the quality of media reporting (but please provide examples!). In fact, essentially all societies which replace "communication by the rich" with "communication by the community-endowed-communicators" have even less reliable media than capitalist countries, consider e.g. Pravda. Thus your claim about inequality does not really provide much basis for an alternative, nor is it a problem specific to monetary inequality per se.
>None of his achievements as an entrepreneur give him insights into philosophy, political economy or anything else he writes on.
Actually, a great deal of the essay Inequality and Risk focuses on the motivations of entrepreneurs, which, considering that he has worked with dozens of them, one would expect him to be in a uniquely important position to address. He usually does a pretty good job sticking to what he does know in this and many other essays.
I downvoted you. In this and your subsequent comments you show little willingness to contribute to the discussion in any but a superficial way, and you provide little substantial argument or evidence to back up your repeated insults. Since you have been commenting on this thread (we can see your timestamps) for over an hour, one would expect it to be worth your time to write a comment that is worth reading.
> It's a matter of degree.
It has nothing to do with "degree". "Corruption" has nothing to do with the mixture of wealth and power: in extremely capitalist societies the Law codifies wealth as power (eg. Citizens United) and in extremely Socialist societies it codifies the opposite. "Corruption" is perceived to be prevalent in societies (eg. italy) in which the public and private sphere are blended and the Law tracks this lack of clarity.
This is why its not sufficient to say "abuse of wealth" is corruption and we need to fix corruption. Because "corruption" is defined by and against the norms of particular societies and does not measure how much wealth distorts the political landscape. Americans do not see owning many news outlets as "corruption" for example, but it is arguably an abuse of wealth to gain political power and influence.
To treat his articles seriously and engage with them (I have written about his essay on Philosophy before) is to give them too much credit. If i wanted to contribute substantively to this debate I would go and find someone informed on the matter and reply to a essay they have written. To reply to pg is to educate him.
It is easy to dismiss PG's entire article -- from its foundation to conclusions about transparency -- if you've already concluded that democracy does not exist; that votes do not translate to power in any meaningful way; that capitalism has become the real foundation on which political power is merely a simulacrum. In doing this we've hit philosophical bedrock with the shovel of pessimism, and the discussion ceases to be productive.
The law only codifies what the people, through their votes, decide to codify within it. Capitalism does not a priori codify wealth as political power. The law merely aids the confluence of capitalism: money, a signifier -- to represent resources: the signified. Capitalism is contained within the theater of democratically held political power -- until it corrupts that containment. PG's mention of secrecy in a democracy is a useful one: secrecy subverts the power of the informed voter, it is a breach of that containment. It allows the potential for capital to slip out into the realm of realpolitik -- which is reserved for the people alone through their vote.
I think if you review what PG is saying about corruption through the prism of philosophy without the distortions of politics itself (and all its frustrations) you might not consider it unsubstantiated idealism or what have you.
It's pretty creepy calling people "intellectuals" if they babble on about "political economy".
I am disinclined to acquiesce to your assertion.
Listing accomplishments is okay. Listing accomplishments paired with fawning and idolatry is cultish.
But anyway, given that I actually pointed out I disagree with him in some aspects, how is that fawning?
The guy's got a history that reads better than any of us here could probably hope for and he writes some amazingly well thought out and well reasoned essays.
I'm don't idolize him, I think he's more intelligent than me.
Which I say about very, very few people.
I think it's absurd to call him a pseudo-intellectual.
Going by your personality as demonstrated here it seems you idolize intellect so when you "think he's more intelligent than" you you're going to put him on a pedastle. This may seem natural to you, but it comes across as fawning and misplaced.
To dig into word choice here a bit. You attack someone for placing a value on "intellect", but criticize pg for being a "pseudo-intellectual". One interpretation of this is that you regard an "intellectual" to be something other than person who effectively used their intellect. Instead, you seem to regard an intellectual as a person who expresses conformity with the majority view of American academia (i.e., a modern liberal who isn't fond of markets.)
Your argument does not make any sense at all. It's a string of words ordered to seems to mean something rational, while it is in fact complete gibberish. Listing accomplishments paired with fawning and idolatry is ... exactly that. Reverence, not cultism.
> That he started the seed funding movement?
Um, people were doing seed rounds before YC. For like, decades. They weren't blogging about it, because there was no HTTP and HTML and always-on broadband, but crikey, how the hell do you think half of silicon valley started?
> That he was blogging about hacking startups before people even really realised you could hack startups?
I don't even know what this means. Every true startup is fundamentally a hack; it's probing at the boundary of the risk frontier. (I'm not talking about those VC dice rolls on the flavor du jour, manifest as a bunch of brogrammers with zero understanding of the time value of their own risk profile.)
For "hack startups <v.>" to make sense, one would have to infer a new usage of the word "startups", namely, to refer to the pattern-matching herd mentality of tech VC dealmaking and The Great Game of Deal Flow. Partially driven by real opportunity and partially driven by the wealthy exodus from equity markets in a post-HFT world, the modern funding bubble has led to a difficult climate for seed-stage companies, and Paul & YC are merely taking advantage of that impedance mismatch between them and traditional VCs. But to imply that there is some fundamental new structure that Paul discovered with YC is absurd. Incubators & incubation is a decades-old concept: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_incubator
> Before lean startup existed?
The term "lean startup" started being popularized in 2011 by Eric Ries. This is less than three years ago. There are innumerable things older than this. Actually, there are few truly noteworthy things in the technology space that cannot be described as existing "before lean startup".
> That he's written his own dialect of LISP?
I think many LISPers have done this. Isn't the whole point of LISP to write your own dialect of it for each problem?
Anyways, I just wanted to point out that your list is not very impressive at all, and the fact that they impress you doesn't really reflect well on you.
2. He has mentored a great many startups. Granted, he gets his pound of equity for cheap cheap but nonetheless this devotion so the cause of helping other geeks start companies is very admirable. Note that this is not the same thing as what the parent poster claimed: "hacking startups" and "starting the seed funding movement".
Also, building HackerNews is a very cool badge of honor but frankly it is nowhere near as sophisticated as Reddit (c'mon, "Unknown or Expired link" and hellbanning?). The fact that there is a driving function behind pageviews to it makes it a go-to place in the tech world, but the technology and codebase of HN itself is not anything terribly impressive.
This is a nice demonstration of 'framing': you frame pg as not deserving cult-like reverence because of his 'pseudo-intellectuality' and people respond by explaining how he is a true intellectual. Except that the arguments they give for that assertion are wrong, because that is not the assertion for which they have arguments. Their arguments actually explain why pg is revered and they are now contorted to be arguments that seem to be meant to explain why is he is cult-like revered for his intellectuality.
The result is that it seem like people are tacitly acknowledging the 'cult-like reverence' and are giving completely ridiculous arguments in support. The ridiculousness of those arguments is pointed out and we get into pointless discussions about what things mean, completely losing sight of the original point.
The bottom line is: pg is revered and reasons for that reverence are given. There is nothing cult-like about the reverence and the pseudo-intellectual part of his writings (I would use another word to describe that quality of the writings, but that is beyond my current argument), are not the reason for the reverence.
It sounds like you disagree with his ideas; what qualifies someone as an intellectual in your book and not a pseudo-intellectual?
Here's a randomly picked example: http://paulgraham.com/inequality.html
Randomish quote from end of article,
"The problem here is not wealth, but corruption. So why not go after corruption? We don't need to prevent people from being rich if we can prevent wealth from translating into power."
Umm... how about in a capitalist society money is the vehicle of positive freedom... to increase ones ability to do something on has to have more money. Therefore under capitalism there is always a fundamental tie between money and power.
That's a small off-hand point.
But if you have any serious reading on the last two hundred years of economic, political and sociological critiques of capitalism, wealth and power that whole article will just seem silly.
I'm sure he means well. But it takes a certain kind of "pseudo"-something to think that this kinda hackney "thought-lite" material should be delivered at a major conference (Defcon 2005). If i were asked, on the back of my reputation, to speak on this, I would at least spend a week watching/reading/etc. as much as I can in the area.
If you have any "erious reading on the last two hundred years of economic, political and sociological critiques" you'd know that ALL articles and books will just appear silly in isolation. Especially since most of the important critics are vehemently opposed to the ideas of other important critics.
The role of an isolated piece of writing on some topic is not to provide a summary of the ideas ("the last two hundred years of economic, political and sociological critiques") on the topic -- that's just what you do for a bad academic paper.
Its role is to showcase the ideas of the author in a clear light and within his frame of thinking.
>But it takes a certain kind of "pseudo"-something to think that this kinda hackney "thought-lite" material should be delivered at a major conference (Defcon 2005).
Then again, it also takes a certain kind of pseudo-something to value Defcon as a venue for intellectual thought, as opposed to a mostly technical conference and get-together.
That said, I'm one of those who "don't see the problem". I reread his essay about inequality. I tried to imagine your thought process. I agree that money, freedom, and power are joined at the hip. I don't see how this contradicts pg's quote.
Here's how I understand things. Corruption implies power by definition. But does power necessarily imply corruption? Lord Acton believed power consistently causes corruption in practice. But it doesn't have to be that way. I think we can agree on this.
Here's where I imagine our disagreement lies (best guess, low confidence). Corruption connotates "immoral behavior". But pg's examples indicate (to me) that he wanted to address not immoral behavior per se, but the double standard society imposes between the privileged and the less fortunate.
This distinction frames the discussion in a more actionable way. Like you said, power enables people to do what they want... which isn't always moral (or fair ). It's inevitable. So society won't be able to prevent this consistently, lest reality resemble Minority Report. But one thing society can prevent is punishing offenders according to a double standard. Another thing society can prevent is lack of transparency. I imagine either would decrease corruption while allowing the privileged to enjoy their power (money) in more socially acceptable ways.
Personally, I'm especially upset with the U.S. lobby system. In theory, democracy is supposed to afford one vote per capita. In practice, the lobby system allows the powerful to undermine this principle.
One's ability to make money - to have one's skills suit the market; or to be lucky - has nothing to do with the value of your opinions or how frequently/prominently they should be offered to the rest of us.
pg doesn't even begin to engage in anything like this critique of inequality. I dont really think he knows anything about why serious academic researchers and writers have seen inequality as a serious problem for democractic societies. Because he hasnt spent the time to find out.
btw WTF is a 'vehicle of positive freedom?' This is not a term of art in any serious social science or philosophy that I'm aware of but apparently it is important to your theory of money and power in a capitalist society. A theory, incidentally, which you don't take the trouble to outline. You simply state that 'under capitalism there is...' It is indeed a small off-hand (and unclear) point.
And why the heck shouldn't he be able to give a talk like this at a tech conference? Defcon isn't an academic conference. Unlace your girdle and give yourself a break from your half digested pomposity. :)
Determining which definition is in use, in a given case, is not always straightforward.
By making the comment you will assuredly elicit the response you expect, imply, but it is not necessarily for the reason you state.
pg was misrepresented and held out as a misogynist. We think highly of pg, why should we not defend what is merely slanderous nonsense?
I'm the first one to disagree with many ideas in our echo chamber ... That's healthy. But the idea that pg said anything wrong is ridiculous.
Who, pray tell, are the real intellectuals?
People worship and idolize their heroes all the time.
If you can do better, go for it.
Note: I don't think that he actually is a pseudo-intellectual, just giving you the example you were asking for.
Just entering an opinion on a subject you don't know 'enough' about is not pseudo-intellectualism. Pseudo-intellectualism is making it seem like you have significantly more intelligence on a subject than most other persons or have put significantly more thought into it, often connecting a subject to other subjects, and are thus qualified to make more informed comments on these subjects. You can lend more credence to your comments by using the correct academic vocabulary, but can be caught as a pseudo-intellectual by using it in the wrong way.
1: I'm not trying to argue with you. You plainly qualified it as a clarification, not a position. I just think your definition falls short in some respects, so thought I would clarify your clarification. :)
I would think that the validity of the argument is what matters!
Seriously, wtf. What does this even mean when talking about a person, and not a particular essay? Do you honestly not think that Paul Graham embodies a life of the intellect?
On a second note I'm also curious as to what exactly you're referring to when you say he has the credibility that should make us know that he isn't sexist. I'm not saying he is sexist, I'm just saying that all of his credibility lies in making good business decisions, not gender relations.
I agree. This willful blindness to bias and prejudice because smart people are not biased or prejudiced prevents us from examining our thoughts and behavior.
More importantly, it's not about some beloved leader besmirched by a drive-by interview. The focus is best on YC's track record — and what it'll do to fix it — not a quote/misquote.
Personally I don't trust anyone, I've been burned too many times. Yeah that makes me paranoid, but it comes from too many bad professional relationships were I was backstabbed by the other person to further their career goals. I must state that this does not happen in every organization, and that there are a few people I would trust if they showed some good faith and helped me out with things. But since nobody I know wants to help me out, and once I reached the age of 40 I get old I am too old for this industry.
But PG is worthy of my respect, he has paid his dues in this industry, he knows what he is talking about and has experience, he hasn't backstabbed anyone that I know of so he has credibility, yes he is one of the few that I would trust had he helped me out in some way.
Look there is a lot of jealousy in the industry for experienced people. We get called nerds, geeks, dorks, etc by all of the people in other industries. They claim they know how to use a computer, and sure maybe use a Wordprocessor and write on a blog using Wordpress, but every once in a while one of them gets a bad case of jealousy that 'hackers' or 'IT workers' know more than they do, so they lash out and do a hatchet job on someone who got some attention in the media. This is basically politics, and how one person can backstab another.
I've had my words taken out of context a lot as well. It is but just one way to backstab someone. It is not just the Internet trolls who do it but the news media and these people writing blogs that hate the startup community.
In street terms, these people are 'haters' if I used that term correctly.
My sister who got into discoranism calls such people as 'greyfaces' and here is the Urban Dictionary definition. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=greyface
You can use either the first or second definition, and it would define the person who did this to PG quite accurately.
I think that is what grellas means by "trust".
People I respect I give the benefit of the doubt and interpret it as charitable, but I still have to verify what they say by checking other sources.
People I don't respect, I assume they are lying to screw with me and in 90% of the cases when I try to verify what they are claiming is true, ends up being untrue. The other 10% of the time I had a mistake and had misjudged them.
I have a respect for the Hacker community here, because most people are honest about their feelings and speak from experience and cite sources and stuff.
On Facebook there was this guy on a friend's group who asked me to prove what I was saying, so I cited seven peer reviewed sources. He said he didn't need to prove anything he said was true and that I was wrong for simply disagreeing with him. He then went into a rage and sent me threats via private message. I then blocked him and reported him for abusive behavior, he then accused my friend of censoring the posts to hide the truth because when I blocked him all of my comments vanished from his view. My friend explained to him that he had been blocked by me and that he could no longer see the comments of a user who blocked him. He still refused to believe it. This guy claimed to be a programmer, had no clue how math and science worked, couldn't even figure out how the block feature of Facebook works. Guys like him I have no respect for.
For example, how does the non-credibility of the press work? We all know from experience that the actual business of the press in general is to produce catchy headlines based on a forced interpretation of the "facts" (or based on no facts at all).
And yet, we're always ready to trust an article and get all upset as if the press was doing its theoretical job of uncovering some hidden truth (last sentence of PG's post: "even now I'm still fooled occasionally.")
Why is that? Why does the press still have any credibility left?
In a similar vein, I'd love to see YC take on one or both of the following:
1) Do at least one application cycle completely blind. How could you accomplish this? Much like in the concert auditions where this was first tried, put people behind a curtain--and then use technology to change their voices so every voice sounds the same. I think it would be a really cool experiment to see if different types of companies or a more diverse founder set would get funded.
2) Publish more stats on the success of YC companies, and publish stats on % of female(, black, ...) founder applications submitted, % accepted, % funded after acceptance, etc. Of course, I'd fully expect that this would be "opt-in" from the founders as well--i.e. each set of founders would need to agree as part of the application to have their data anonymously shared. You could also share data on % who opted to not have their data shared. (Techstars is doing some great stuff with their stats here: http://www.techstars.com/companies/stats/ )
I've talked to many female founders and YC does have a reputation as a "frat house" (I told one of the YC partners that personally when he asked me to apply.) I decided to not apply to YC and instead was in the first Techstars Austin cohort, which was a fantastic program overall. Techstars definitely seemed more welcoming to women from my perspective as a geek-turned-tech-entrepreneur.
I'm hoping this is the start of breaking down the "frat house" reputation around YC and getting more women actively involved with it.
I'm not sure where this "frat house" thing comes from (scare quotes, not direct quotation). Have you ever been to a frat house? Believe me, they have nothing in common with a summer at YCombinator. I've described yc dinners as being "like a high school lunchroom where everyone is happy to see you and every table is the cool kid's table". Women are utterly and completely welcome. Minorities are welcome. Bring them your nerds, your socially inept, your ambitious hackers yearning to be free. Frat houses are all about pecking orders and childish humor. YC is genuinely about mutual support and an open exchange of ideas.
If "frat house" means that there aren't many women present, I can only guess as to why. There are a variety of social and cultural factors that push the majority of women away from hacking at a young age. I can't point the finger of blame at anyone in particular, but I can report on what I have observed. Women are generally underrepresented in computer science departments, engineering programs, computer clubs and yes, startup incubators. It has nothing to do with Paul Graham or the YC partners. We're all responsible as members of society at large.
I understand your reasons for not appliyng to YCombinator. TechStars is a great program, and I'm glad that you've thrived there. But there's something to be said for seeing things with your own eyes. I would be very unhappy if someone dismissed me out of hand because of something that they'd heard. I can only believe that YCombinator’s positive reputation will outweigh whatever negative reputation that they have fairly or unfairly received.
Well, that's not actually true, because she didn't apply to yc to begin with, so we don't know whether or not the choice would have been available.
Oddly enough, I think I met ericabiz (hello ;), she briefly stayed at my house through airbnb. I totally agree that she is talented, and that if people like her are not even applying because of such a perception, it is a problem. I feel it's a false perception, but not well-addressed by statistics trying to prove or disprove a lack of bias (as she had suggested).
But, really, it's a one page form and it was designed to be useful for founders whether or not you are accepted. The worst outcome (which 95%+ of applications receive) is not getting an interview. So apply! (erica and every other female, male, white, black, green, 40-something etc in this thread).
Fear of rejection (not just from YC) is simply a dumb fear if you think about it, particularly if your doing a startup. Because you are going to be rejected over and over anyway, and ultimately no one can save you from building something no-one wants (the only rejection that means anything in this context).
1. Being accepted, signing over equity and giving up on the chance to move to another accelerator.
2. Getting to YCombinator and realising that all of the group bonding indeed happens over heavy late-night boozing sessions.
3. Trying to find a way to remain part of the group experience without participating in the boozing, but failing and becoming disillusioned and demoralised.
4. Abandoning your startup because you can't join another accelerator anymore and are afraid having to explain why YCombinator didn't work for you.
Erica: "I've talked to many female founders and YC does have a reputation as a "frat house"
"Genuine question: Did you reach out to any female founders who went through YC to ask about their experience?"
Erica: "The straight answer is no. Here's a slightly longer version of the story..." goes on to ramble about unrelated bs.
So the decision you're facing as you're applying, knowing what you know, having the conversations you've had, is not "Will I get in?", but "Do I really want to do this?" And that's when I found the frat-house aspect of YC to be discouraging.
(Edit: I suppose I should expand on that since people will invariably have questions. I'm a 32-year-old female. I'm in a different stage of my life than a 22-year-old who just got out of college. I didn't really want to deal with keggers full of falling-over-drunk guys, jokes about "chicks", guys hitting on me, etc. I'm just kind of over all that, and I'm weary of fighting battles I have no inclination to fight over casual sexism--I'd rather focus on growing my business, so I choose not to be around those types of people. Yes, you could say I'm painting YC with a wide and potentially unfair brush, but that was my impression.)
This year, I decided to do Techstars instead, and have no regrets about that.
Today, having gone through one accelerator with my company, I'm done with accelerators for this business and I'm moving on to doing a seed round. If I have another business that might be a good fit for YC, and they've made an effort to change (this article by pg is a good first step), I'd potentially consider it again.
This is weird. What should YC change? Tech Stars doesn't do blind apps or publish all the stats you request so that's not it.
"I didn't really want to deal with keggers full of falling-over-drunk guys, jokes about "chicks", guys hitting on me, etc." "I have no inclination to fight over casual sexism"
Very difficult to work with if you're concerned about imaginary things or looking to read into things that aren't there. This sounds much more about you than YC. Good luck.
I'm going to repeat what I said above: "There's not much more I can say that I haven't already said, as some of the conversations I've had were explicitly off the record." I'm not going to repeat things that aren't true or that I don't have data for. But I also can't break the trust of people who've spoken with me privately. I will say I did my homework on YC. I've reached the limit of what I can say publicly.
Ugh .. disappointing to say the least.
(just to get more tangled the fact that she was accepted into a well known accelerator probably means she's not in the 'so low" category of acceptance)
The acceptance rate is now ~1%, so according to you nearly all those applying are irrational (the vast majority of even high quality applications will have a less than 80% chance).
The order just doesn't make any sense. Even the best students don't assume they are going to get into a particular dream school (MIT, Stanford etc), unless they are nuts. And those have about 5-10 times the accept rate of YC.
I don't think women have to even be pushed away. I would assert (and am more than happy to be proven wrong) that in many if not most
undertakings where the ratio of hours of fun to non-fun (I wish I had a better way to describe what I'm thinking) are low, you will find a lack of females. One example is "hardcore" personal investing, I'm talking investing forums, twitter, etc - if you are familiar with them, once again you will notice it is a sausage-fest. Women aren't pushed out of these communities or discriminated against, they simply are just extremely disproportionately not present.
For whatever reason, I think woman who choose to excel in a field tend to focus on endeavors with clearer and more structured formal paths. For example, you will find plenty of female representation in finance in universities and as career professionals. But after quitting time, the people putting in the extra hours in forums and on twitter are disproportionately male, as are the people who have been coding multiple hours per day since under 10 years old, or multiple hours after quitting time once in their professional lives. These are simple facts. Only when race or gender is involved would anyone ever suggest this not relevant to success.
The person you responded to offered two doable action points. A litmus test is if YC moves on at least one of them. YC does not have the excuse that it doesn't have the technical know-how. And it would be a laughingstock if they didn't have the hacker spirit to figure out how to implement them.
Second, a perfect excuse was provided: for science! Its not that they think they are sexist, but an untested hypothesis is less strong then a tested one.
Or, are we talking solely about the lack of females accepted, and explicitly disallowing discussion of what they brought to the table?
I honestly don't know, but if there's a controversy with no specific examples, at least for me, it's pretty hard to take seriously.
Source? Also, universities are much different than ycombinator so I'm not sure what point you're trying to make.
Not just in tech, but in our entire culture. As noted elsewhere, Americans are sorting themselves by demographics.
It feels awkward to be a woman in a predominantly male organization. It feels awkward to be a republican in San Francisco. It feels awkward to be gay in Mississippi. It feels awkward to be black in Portland. And so we place ourselves in locations (and organizations) where it's less awkward to be ourselves, and the problem gets worse.
What's difficult about this problem is that it's nobody's fault. There's no conspiracy behind this trend. (In fact there is a conspiracy to try and reverse it! But to little avail.) Counterintuitively, perhaps it's the fault of the people who choose the comfort of sameness over diversity, but that feels too close to victim blaming.
Diversity begets diversity. The only way to do that is to set up systems and infrastructure that supports and enables that and it requires support from community leaders.
An example: I'm a gay atheist from Idaho. I have extended family members that look like they belong on Duck Dynasty. Each family event, me and my husband are presented with a choice: we can skip the event and its awkwardness, or we can join the event and face it head on.
Each time we attend these events, we leave with the same impression. "That wasn't so bad," and from my husband, "Your family is actually super nice." And because of this interaction, they become less homophobic, and I grow to understand redneck values a bit better.
Besides, I've learned over time that what I think they're thinking about me is actually much worse than what they're actually thinking about me.
But each time I'm invited to one of these events, my first gut instinct is not to go, because it's work, and it can be awkward, and it's much easier for me to spend time around people who are more like me.
I think nerds and geeks are acutely aware of the costs of being outcasts. The period of their life when they typically turn to computers and programming is the same as the period in which they are socially marginalized (middle school / high school).
THIS. And this is the problem. People don't understand this. It HAS to be somebody's fault. It has to be black OR white. Gray is beyond the understanding of many.
Well, it's not really any one person's fault who set everything up. But we can change it. There are tools to undo the "death by a million cuts" that make it this way.
I would say that the people who don't do these things are partially at fault for not attempting to fix a broken system.
When you evaluate a team, you need to be able to judge their confidence, see how they interact with each other, get a feel for the trustworthiness, the way they look at you when they answer a question, and so on. If you can't see them, and their voice is distorted, then you might as well just ask for a slide deck and forgo an in-person interview altogether. Which doesn't seem like a good idea.
I've long wanted to see in general some more experimental testing of selection variations. What if YC (or some other funder's) candidates were just selected completely randomly from the applications? What if they were selected solely according to some dumb criterion, like take everyone with the most degrees, or the longest CV, or the most GitHub LoC? What if they were selected purely based on the applications (without the dumb-criterion requirement) but without interviews? For a few tens of thousands of $$, someone willing to try those kinds of things out could get some pretty interesting information on how reliable different selection methods are.
My own hypothesis is a negative one: that beyond screening out a few obviously-bad candidates and taking a few obviously-good candidates, the bulk of the YC selection process is randomly related to outcomes, and the YC mentoring/contacts/press/etc., rather than predictive value of the selection process, is the main driver of their generally strong outcomes. But I can't prove that. :)
Also, you have to consider how much quantitative and qualitative experience YC has accumulated, the partners are pretty good at telling in a couple minutes conversation if you're a strong founder. This advantage would be lost with blind interviews.
This is the part I doubt, though, if by "strong founder" you mean "statistically more likely to exit successfully than people selected according to much simpler 'dumb' criteria". These kinds of claims to predictive ability based on un-quantified holistic properties like "experience" rarely hold up under scientific scrutiny.
2.) Paul has admitted to being susceptible to the Mark Zuckeberg effect, at least he was honest about that and should be respected for the fact that he realizes that. Most VC's i believe also fall into this trap but don't admit it.
3.) Now what are we going to do about this? Shrug our shoulders and just say this or that won't work or get to trying solutions and iterating on that?
How many are asking for this? Where are your stats?
I would disagree strongly in that YC has a measurable financial risk of excluding potentially profitable founders solely for meaningless cultural woo woo reasons. For example if some Finnish dudes conduct perfectly normal business transactions nude in the sauna, a prudish American who refuses to participate has an obvious measurable economic loss solely because of irrational cultural woo woo. Now extend that far out example into female communication style.
Now what would work, or at least would be interesting, is having a female partner interview female founders separately from the male partners then study the female partner's impression vs male partner impression. I don't suspect there would be a huge difference; but at least this would be a somewhat more effective way to test the proposed effect. For my ridiculous made up example, you'd need a Finnish partner; probably easier to run this test on the somewhat easier to acquire and categorize male vs female test subjects.
While I agree that blind applications would be somewhat tough for startup founders, conducting seems like a bad example. You could fairly easily judge the resulting music without being able to see the conductor.
Even with world-class orchestras, where performances are regularly put on with guest conductors after only a few hours of rehearsal time, no permanent conductor would ever be hired on the basis of merely listening to their music. It's a leadership position. (Unlike orchestra players, where it really is more directly about musical proficiency.)
What kind of pressure are you feeling about applying to funds now?
You chose not to apply. No one else forced you to walk away from the opportunity.
Edit: Is this a bad question? I was trying to be empathetic.
A lot of this has to do with impostor syndrome which is why the idea of a blind applications would, in my opinion, help many other talented founders think of applying.
Thanks for your comment on empathy. That is something that makes me feel really welcome to comment here.
Which brings up another point: it would be interesting to see a YC batch where the colleges/universities' names were redacted from the screening process. Again, I don;t think this will ever happen...but as a thought experiment I would likely be of equal interest in terms of "opening" access. At some stage, business is as much about trading favours as it is about measuring "competence". There are some good game-theoretic reasons for this (ie, establishing trust in sequential repeated games), but there is more to the story than that.
 Even if this was replaced by a sort of rating system, eg. that placed X schools into N buckets. This could be done so that the information was recorded but never made visible (say by online application). And the data could still be verified later prior as part of due-dilligence/ affadavit to avoid a problem with gaming the system.
Telephone numbers? I found that I identified a lot more with area code 206 than 425 or 253, just as I identify a lot more with an @gmail.com address than @hotmail.com or @aol.com.
- Kaytlyn (female, youngish, spelled unconventionally)
- who graduated from WSU (the rival of my alma matter)
- who has a 253 area code (my least favorite suburb)
- who uses Papyrus for headings (my least favorite font)
- with the email address email@example.com (triple yuck)
I would want to get that person in for an interview and explicitly check the subtle biases of me and other people who are making hiring decisions.
True story: when I was in college I had a classmate in my database class who was so good-looking it kind of hurt to look at her. I never once explicitly thought that she was a dumb blonde, but I was surprised when I found out that she was just brilliant. Similarly, I worked on a group project with a few prototypical "frat boys" with their Abercrombie sweaters and backwards baseball caps, and found myself surprised that they were smart as hell, too.
I just want to give people an honest chance to be brilliant and not have their resumes passed over for bullshit reasons, even subconsciously.
I wonder how a surname like "Lang" would fair. It is either Germanic of Asian, though it seems to be primarily Germanic in practice but seems strongly Asian to people who are not familiar with it. If there is discrimination keyed off of "Asian-ish sounding" names then it might be apparent when looking at these sorts of names.
 I know a germanic "Lang". Apparently he gets asked how his family got that name a lot.
I'd like to think that we could genuinely make a fairly well balanced system for meritocratic selection. Yes, it's a lot of work and there is always room for error however I'd like to think that ultimately the STEM industry favours these kinds of methods and they could be improved on so we'd see some kind of futuristic system that we saw in the Starship Troopers narrative (as a crazy example that in the movie at least, no-one complained about). Maybe we just need a ton more data to be able to make better predictions. But I also think that face-to-face interviews are ultimately needed as others have mentioned: cultural fit is important to a degree as well.
On that note it reminds me of the Declara article I read (about the founder Ramona Pierson), where data is working to pair relevant people.
The successful among us are the ones who operate even though they are afraid of failure. Otherwise only the people that were born with a perfect hand dealt to them would ever succeed.
“Fear is the greatest obstacle to learning. But fear is your best friend. Fear is like fire. If you learn to control it, you let it work for you. If you don’t learn to control it, it’ll destroy you and everything around you.
“You think you know the difference between a hero and a coward, Mike? Well, there is no difference between a hero and a coward in what they feel. It’s what they do that makes them different. The hero and the coward feel exactly the same, but you have to have the discipline to do what a hero does and to keep yourself from doing what the coward does.”
When I read this, it exactly encapsulated what I was trying to say. You are allowed to fear everything, but if you let fear control you or decide what you will or will not do you will not become great. You may even regret bitterly not taking the jump off the cliff.
If you're unsure about applying, I recommend doing so. No matter what happens, you stand to benefit.
"Do at least one application cycle completely blind."
Sorry but this comes off as insulting (I know that wasn't your intention), you applaud and agree with him then turn around and pull a "but I still don't trust you". As if PG can't be trusted, or you think that he's secretly sexist and want him to change his successful interview process just to prove himself to you.
I'm positive that women get discriminated in many fields, I've heard my mother's own stories. There's something about seeing a strong woman succeed that makes men feel weak. But this assumption that women are absent or less represented at Y-combinator simply because they are subconsciously discriminated against by Paul and Jessica Livingston just seems absurd. Especially seeing has how politically correct everyone's trying to be now a days. Many people (especially those running Tech Crunch events) are purposely looking for that unicorn female developer to rid themselves of male guilt. The one that's worked on algorithms, programmed since a kid, and coded up numerous apps.
Rather than focus on discrimination ask yourself this: How many times have we seen a female coder's blog? How many frameworks/api/apps have we seen created by females? Is it discrimination or lack of ambition? Take a look at the 10 industries that women rule http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2009/01/26/10-industries-where-.... Are men being discriminated against (one can argue the day care industry) or do they lack the desire and ambition to get into these industries?
Just because we're in pg's house, it doesn't mean we have to treat him like a god. He's a fallible human being, just like the rest of us.
The whole point of a blind interview is to prevent implicit bias that the bearer might not even be aware of.
1. Isn't a woman, Jessica Livingston (Paul Graham's wife) on the interviewer panel and a part of the application process? It's not just Paul Graham himself.
I'm quick to defend Paul in the same way others are quick to blame him. It seems we as a diverse society are so conditioned to enforcing equal extremism that any time we don't see an industry, a workforce, or a group equally divided between male/female, black/white, gay/straight we immediately sound off the alarm and go on a witch hunt. All of this without considering that certain groups of people are better at something than others. For instance, African Americans make up only 12-14% of the population but over 60% of the NFL. Jewish people make up less than 6% of the population yet they make up almost 100% of entertainment industry executives (see Joel Stein article in the New York Times if you don't believe me). We hold up the majority to a level of standards that the minority cannot even reach. There's this stigma that if you have nice things, you cheated to get them, didn't earn them, and must divide them and share them with everyone else or else you are sexist/racist.
The solution isn't bias in the other direction, but to look for ways to remove the bias. This is why in science we have things like double-blind studies, for example. In music, doing auditions behind a screen seems to have been effective.
Putting systematic measures in place against bias also tends to help with self-selection, since it assures applicants that they have a fair shot. I believe that's what the original poster was asking for. I don't know what the best solution is for something like Y Combinator, but it seems worth giving it some thought. Of course, it's not going to be so easy as performing music behind a screen.
The percentages you cite show this is a problem in many industries. I doubt that 50% is achievable, but I also don't think it's helpful to either say "these people are sexist" or "yeah, but everyone does it." Those are both examples of moralistic thinking. The solution is to move beyond that sort of thing and treat this as a problem to be solved.
So the reason why I'm not on the football team isn't because I'm 5'8" and 125 pounds and can't compete with the other players but because football has a bias against my kind? So instead of me trying to bulk up, gain muscle, gain weight, and try to better compete with the other players I should instead blame the recruiters and coaches for discrimination? Maybe if they lower their standards and we implement some sort of forced quota more little guys like me will feel more welcome in the NFL.
Football has a lot of numbers associated with it so I'd guess it's pretty fair, especially since Moneyball was published. (Assuming football coaches learned from it; I don't actually follow football.) I was actually more interested in your other example of entertainment industry executives.
I am pro-analytics: I think you should measure all the things you can because the numbers can be interesting. But just as you wouldn't judge programmers by lines of code, raw numbers about hiring are only a suggestive data point. To figure out if there's a real issue, we would need to go deeper and look for other things to measure. (But obviously we're not going to do that here in a chat room discussion.)
We all have some biases, and taking reasonable efforts to mitigate them has worked very well in other fields, the typical example being the screen for orchestra auditions.
One interesting place to start is Harvard's "Project Implicit". They have a massive publication list and you can even test your own implicit reactions.
There are plenty of other scientists testing things like whether people judge women as less competent. A quick google search pulled up a PNAS paper where they did an experiment on women in science, for example.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. There is a whole host of related work, testing other sorts of biases and using other methodologies. I'd suggest a search on your favorite academic search engine for "implicit bias".
You disappoint me, sir. I had such hopes of finding something new and interesting, only to discover that your mere vagueness led me astray.
So even if we arbitrarily exclude a perfectly valid psychological technique because it "doesn't impress you", there's still the matter of my third link. Didja click it?
EDIT: The most surprising part of the PNAS study, to me, is that people who agreed with statements like "Discrimination against women is no longer a problem in the United States" were statistically more affected by implicit gender bias.
On the other hand, I must concede that I previously failed to look closely enough on first inspection at your third link. In my opinion, it does a great deal more to substantiate your statement than the IAT stuff does. I'd like to see similar studies with much higher n, but it's hard to argue with the analysis.
Your response was filled with bitterness, like someone who was flustered at having been proved wrong. It sounded just like a child crossing their arms and yelling, "Well citations are stupid anyway!"
"You assert that these studies exist, but you don't bother to identify them for those of us who are not au courant with the journals in which they presumably appear. Would you care to link at least a representative example of the studies to which you refer, so that those of us who are unimpressed by argument from authority may examine them for ourselves?"
The semantic value of these two rather long sentences being identical with that of the two words I actually posted, the only apparent reason to choose the former over the latter would be an interest in pandering to your prejudices. I harbor no such interest, and therefore feel no urge to replace what I did post with what you seem to prefer I post.
All that aside, the request stands. Do you intend to cite a representative sample, &c., or do you prefer to settle for the bare-faced argument from authority you've made so far, without even bothering, as I gather is customary in the use of that fallacy, to name the authority from whom you are arguing? "Studies suggest," after all, is rather weak tea.
Finally, there's probably a name for the fallacy inherent in tossing out an unsupported assertion followed by " -- now prove me wrong!", the way you're also doing; I can't be bothered to look it up, though. Between trying to find the studies to which you cannot possibly have referred more vaguely, and trying to do the impossible by proving a negative, I've got too much on my plate already; you'll just have to find the name for that fallacy yourself, I'm afraid.
I'll be the first to agree with this, but I don't believe the guy owes anything to anyone. This idea that he should go out of his way to up-end an interview process to appease the writers of a hack-job and other whiners might be PC, but it's ludicrous.
My advice to PG: Leave it for the next person. If there is systematic sexism in tech incubators, that means there's economic profit to be made by targeting female founders. Someone else should hop to it!
Right off the top I would say I don't like that for the simple reason that you can't tell confidence (and I will assume that is a factor) or even how full of shit someone is if you disguise their voice.
I do negotiating over the phone, in person, and by email. I dissect each and every nuance to try and determine what is under the hood. I've had good results with that. I make money that way. To me how someone sounds is important on many levels. If you are going to do this, why have them speak at all? (Not suggesting this.)
Along the sames lines I've had a theory for a long time that it is much harder to tell if someone is truthful if they have an accent (even american from a different regioin) that you are not used to because you can't tell nuance like you can with an accent that you know.
Bottom line is hiding the voice, for the purposes of getting diversity, is not the way to go. Especially for decision making that takes into account "the team" and/or "the individual" and not just the idea.
The great majority of YC alumni are young white males. Every time the issue is raised of some minority or another being under represented, the answer is invariably that the process is completely fair and that the problem lies somewhere upstream.
That may be so. But wouldn't it be interesting to have some proportion of YC selected purely randomly and see what happens?
To say it would be high risk / low volume / high cost service would be an understatement. And just defining success would be hard. But a hard problem is a good startup problem. And you could probably pivot into (or out of?) employee interviewing.
I guess you could bootstrap as some kind of outsourced HR lady to ask those annoying anxiety producing interview questions (you know the typical HR lady questions, like explain your worst attibute, or tell me about your greatest failure, or the classic when did you stop beating your wife? (kidding about the last one)). This is a legit business opportunity to help small biz do the "HR" questions at an interview and formalize the reporting of multiple candidates, and could pivot into this A/B testing of startup founders once some cash starts flowing.
I'm not kidding about this. Someone else with more spare time that me, take it and run.
I first met pg at SXSW several years ago, when he was swamped by hungry startup founders. The whole scene was intimidating to me--I hate crowds! I finally got to ask him a question, which I can't recall the exact content of now, but was something about women and YC. He suggested I email Jessica about it. I didn't do that--probably because I had been intimidated, and partly because I felt like he had punted on the question instead of giving me an actual answer (I now know that this was just part of his characteristic bluntness, and I definitely don't hold it against him especially given the environment in which the conversation happened, but at the time I didn't know pg and I found it offputting.)
Since then, I've had two good friends go through YC, both young white males. One of the companies is now "Internet famous" and shows up here on HN on a regular basis. The other one is still completely underground. Both of them enjoyed and recommended YC.
Another fellow entrepreneur here in Austin went through YC recently and we sat down and compared notes after he went through YC and I went through Techstars. Our conclusion: Techstars wins in terms of mentoring and support, but YC wins in terms of visibility and fundraising.
So, tl;dr I've met pg (briefly), I know one of the partners and a handful of YC founders, but they're not female. I didn't specifically seek out female founders who'd gone through YC, though now that you ask, I'm really curious to hear some of their viewpoints!
For context: I am male and Indian. There were several female founders in my YC batch and I know female founders from other batches. From everything I heard, they felt quite comfortable and enjoyed and value the YC experience as much as I did.
Having been through it, I know YC definitely treats founders the way great startups treat customers - they pay a lot of attention to what founders want.
If a group of my prospective customers had trepidation about using my product, especially if it was because of undeserved generalizations, I would work hard to fix that. Looks like YC is going to do more of that with the female founders conference they have planned.
I think they are good ideas. So how is that you expect someone else to do the work for you?
As a founder I know how hard is to make an idea a reality, and my ideas had relative success(I managed to get things done and most people look to me now like "all I have was given" to me, or that what I created was obvious and easy, as it is obvious now, but the same person was arguing to me how it "was never going to work" in the past). Most people are not that lucky, but they try anyway.
So if you care about this, why you don't take action?
You expect someone else, who is a man (and does not care, there are more urgent problems to them), to do something you should be doing in my opinion.
The "frat house" is working very well and there is no reason to change what works. Different systems could work, but with different people, and different focus.
You could start working on this. It is impossible to do it alone, but organizing with others there is nothing imposible.
There's a difference between "good idea" and "marketable business." As founders, we have to make that distinction. I'd like to see YC do blind interviews because I think it's a good idea for them to do so. I am not working on that myself because I can't see that good idea, in and of itself, turning into a business--a product a company could replicate and sell to others.
Perhaps other founders have the necessary domain expertise to turn something like what I suggested into a replicable, marketable business. If so, I support them in doing so.
> So if you care about this, why you don't take action?
I did. I took time away from my business to write this comment and make a suggestion. I hope YC takes it into account. I think it would make an awesome experiment for them.
> The "frat house" is working very well and there is no reason to change what works.
I suspect this might have been your real point. Sure, YC has worked well...but could it work better? Those are the questions we as hackers ask all the time. I think it's worth a shot to try something different and unique that could work even better than the status quo. Given the popularity of my comment here, I'm not the only one who thinks so. We'll see if YC (or any other accelerator) runs with this suggestion!
Yes. Y Combinator could very well decide that their current process is offputting to women, but that it is so successful that they don't care, and that they're perfectly happy to keep doing what they're doing even if it effectively excludes women.
But if this is the case, then their only two options are to lie about it or to stand up in public and say that they don't care about including women. The former has significant risk as a long-term strategy, and the latter is a PR debacle that could negatively impact their ability to attract a significant percentage of male founders -- which is to say, anyone who cares about gender equality.
Sorry, but this is a terrible route to go for YC as there's a huge risk of backlash to achieve nothing good. Say, for instance, that black co-founders had received more funding but achieved poorer returns on investment. A very simple interpretation of that data (not necessarily correct, but easy to formulate interpretation) would be that blacks are less successful than whites at getting a return on investment even with odds stacked in their favor. The conclusions and the data would then be deemed "racist" and YC would have shit all over its face. It doesn't even have to be right. There just has to be published data available for there to be a debate about race/sex, etc... leading to a toxic atmosphere around YC.
The reason data like this isn't collected is because VCs are interested in being politically neutral. Data on race and gender are a political powderkeg. PG said that women who haven't been hackers can't see the world as a hacker, and we see the shitstorm it's caused. Imagine if they were tracking stats based on race or gender? They'd be called nazis.
The last thing a successful female founder wants or needs is a quota or lower bar of entry for things like yc. Because once that happens, you're going to have to work twice as hard to get respect, because now you have to prove your place wasn't just because the quota needed to be filled. if you get picked fair and square, then being there is a strong signal that you are worthy.
There are times and places for intentionally creating diversity, but a start up incubator is a bad fit for that type of intervention.
I don't think anyone is arguing to lower the bar of entry for women in YC, instead (as far as I can tell) they are arguing for ways to increase the number of female applicants to YC.
This fratty culture certainly drives away slightly older founders (by that, I mean 25+!) and others who don't appreciate the atmosphere. Ultimately, I expect differentiation in the ecosystem, with different incubators forming to attract talent from different pools of talent.
Creating an atmosphere where your founders feel like they belong is a competitive advantage for an incubator. But no one incubator can make an atmosphere that appeals to everybody. If you make an atmosphere to appeal to 40-year-old females, someone else will lure the 19-year-old males away with beer pong, dorm living, and video game breaks.
The truly break-out companies founded in markets where customers are willing to pay, are started by entrepreneurs over 28. Age is not a hard rule but we talking about averages here. Steve blanks spoke well about how he started up his companies while still managing family life. Check quora for famous tech founders over 30 and their take on it.
An example about how a person over 30 starts a business from Quora:
Marc Bodnick, Co-Founder, Elevation Partners
We did it by starting with a profitable service line.
I was 34 when I founded Arcstone. We had three young kids (we now have four). I was coming off a VC salary of ~$250K, and yet didn't have much savings to speak of. I started Arcstone with $18K borrowed from my brother-in-law, and a couple credit cards to service revolving debt.
We started a service business targeting a specific, relevant pain point, which has a quick sales cycle. We became profitable immediately; with our profits we both fed ourselves and invested in technology and infrastructure. We were careful not to overbuild on our way up, though some expenditures (like our 5-year lease) were taken with a leap of faith.
Three+ years on, we are a nationally respected financial services firm (primarily in the valuation niche) with a healthy top (and bottom) line, and a very happy and dedicated team of seven.
Getting out of the Silicon Valley mindset -- Seed/A/B/C/Exit -- has been incredibly liberating.
John William Meriwether - born August 10, 1947
Myron Samuel Scholes - born July 1, 1941
Robert Cox Merton - born 31 July 1944
Not everyone who works at a hedge fund comes from the cast of Boiler Room. Talk about painting people with the same brush...
I said that I think that people interested in fratty culture tend to be young.
Beanbag chairs and a constantly flowing keg are not meant to attract older talent. Certainly there are some older people who are attracted to that type of climate, but that really is not the target audience.