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Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem (nytimes.com)
269 points by metermaid on Mar 12, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 227 comments



I stopped reading this when I got to "Why do these smart, quantitatively trained engineers, who could help cure cancer or fix healthcare.gov, want to work for a sexting app?" - there was the cover article in Time Magazine not less than 2 weeks ago about these very engineers fixing healthcare.gov, and describing why they don't do it permanently (government procurement is awful and almost always unrelated to actual skill for websites, and the healthcare.gov site is generally described as incredibly badly written by the initial contractors).

The whole article reads like a narrative that is grabbing random anecdotes to support a point, even when the facts say otherwise.


It's funny how that line of thinking should boil down to "capitalism, or at least the way we are practicing it, misallocates resources", but the thought-buck always stops with the smart people. There's no "well, I the incentives must say these people should work on sexting apps, and they are acting rationally, I wonder why the incentives are that way?", it's just "Ugh! You're smart! Stop it with the sexting and start with the curing!"

An expression of outrage and disgust with no follow-up -- someone else should work for the good of the world, I'm just a regular person trying to feed my family.


People who believe incentives are destiny tend not to take jobs writing for the New York Times. It's not like journalists enjoy high pay or great job security.

Maybe the author of this piece believes "I don't do X for the money, I do X to make the world a better place / for the love of X". Many people in the arts, education, charities, research etc act as if they believe this.

Perhaps it's never occurred to the author that people with the opportunity to change the world (a) might not care about changing the world or (b) might think a photo sharing app is the best possible way to do it.


There is a third, and far more likely option: they applied, and were rejected. Recruitment process are terrible through out, and world-changing institutions are no exception. Let me know when I can fix cancer or neurological disease: I know how well enough to make a significant contribution. While I wait, three head-hunters have called about that virtual good start-up…

Also: (b) is far more likely than (a).


>Perhaps it's never occurred to the author that people with the opportunity to change the world (a) might not care about changing the world or (b) might think a photo sharing app is the best possible way to do it.

Yet another third option: the people with opportunity to change the world do have the desire, but are working on something else at the moment.

It's a sad fact that the world has an extreme shortage of people with both competence and idealism, because our social system has a strange urge to exterminate idealism at all costs[1].

[1] -- http://www.thebaffler.com/past/practical_utopians_guide


The author does not have a job writing for the NY Times. He is a graduate student at Columbia University, with an internship scheduled for this summer with Uber.


Large portions of our culture have a mental block about thinking that capitalism might be doing the wrong thing. Or rather, they simplistically equate "capitalism" with "freedom", fail to acknowledge that capitalism imposes its own imperative (namely: return-on-investment) on society, and thus end up wondering why these intelligent, free individuals haven't chosen to engage in noble, moral work. Since the presumption of "freedom" cannot be questioned (by noting that the capitalist imperative and the incentive structures flowing from it have a compelling power all their own), only one possible conclusion remains: all those intelligent, free individuals are just not very noble people, actually.

These people then proceed to sulk in a corner at the general suckitude of our species while voting for more capitalism.


Smart people are rational and cleverness is combined with ambition you find calculated risk. As long as you're willing to risk your youth for filthy amounts of money you're being rational since you'll still have a respectable resume and those unsexy jobs will always be there waiting.


You seem to have confused the econospeak-meaning of "rational" with its usual English meaning. It's rational to prefer meaningful work.


Approximately 2296 days ago I started reflexively down voting anyone that starts a comment with 'I stopped reading this when X ...'.

If you didn't finish the article, then I don't think you are qualified to judge whether or not the author has a point.


Did you stop reading the comment at 'I stopped reading this when X ...'?

Meta irony!


They never said they stopped reading. Maybe you didn't read the parent post :)


> The whole article reads like a narrative that is grabbing random anecdotes to support a point, even when the facts say otherwise.

I'm curious what facts you're talking about. The very problems you point out about healthcare.gov support part of the author's argument - that today's tech environment rewards the creation of a sexting app over more groundbreaking work, and therefore youth do the former.

From my perspective, at least, few of Silicon Valley's startups will have a lasting dent in the human world. Funding for spaceship technology is limited, more people are working on note-taking apps than cleaning the air, and the hype is all on Snapchat (which does have a huge valuation).

The real issue is how we change it; change inevitably comes from youth. And if today's youth come out of college excited about sexting apps, I have little trust in a better future. That being said, I'm not in a position to say much, being a college student myself.


Then blame consumers and investors that fund sexting over space travel or cancer cures, because that is why all the entrepreneurs jump on it. If there were monetary demand for a cancer cure, and I mean real billions a year in venture capital into R&D on the subject, that nobody was using - you would see a dearth of sexting apps, at least for a while, while that VC funding is consumed.

Effort goes where the money is, because your legacy is a long term problem, and your ability to eat is todays issue.


Sure, but that's a culture problem. If you give people drugs, they get hooked and want more, so you sell them what they want and make a lot of money. "Dumb-tech" works like drugs. How can you stop consumers' addiction to those drugs without making them illegal? That's a hard question. But the thing we must remember is that something the market wants and pays a lot of money for is not always good for society – it is often harmful. You can easily turn most people into junkies; putting them all through rehab is hard (but worthwhile).


I can't help but be reminded of the quote: “You are going to let the fear of poverty govern your life and your reward will be that you will eat, but you will not live.”


This hits home for me.

It took a lot of courage for me to leave at&t when I did. It was my first job out of college, I just got saddled with a mortgage and was soon to be married to a lady who would be 100% dependent on me at first since I was bringing her to USA from Nigeria. When I told my soon-to-be-wife and the rest of my family that after nearly 6 years, I was leaving the well established corporation AT&T for a San Francisco start-up of less than 20 people.... they were not on board. This was back in 2007. Today, everything worked out.

Outside of this debate about tech, in general people should avoid living simply to survive. You will regret it later when you're 60yrs old and realize all you've done with your live was... not die.


> Effort goes where the money is, because your legacy is a long term problem, and your ability to eat is todays issue.

I completely agree with you. I suppose that the angst comes from the idealism that always surrounded Silicon Valley, that we were here to build big things and change the world. And that arguably isn't happening right now, with the exception of the efforts of a few well-established companies.


Huh. Hold on. Let's go check the "Who's Hiring" monthly job listings here on Hacker News. Usually, when I read those, I see about 40% stupid-but-sexy bullshit, 40% dull but genuinely significant companies whose product does make life better for its users (for example: healthcare analytics companies), 15% awesome idealistic ventures, and the remaining 5% is either complete weird bullshit or the awesomest, coolest radical ventures I've ever seen.


Not all youth wants to work on sexting apps. I'm 20 and working on a group problem-solving platform using a bug-tracking approach to address real world issues. And it's open-source :-)

Would love to hear from anyone interested: http://maybethismatters.org


I'm one of the engineers working on fixing healthcare.gov with a whole bunch of other Silicon Valley engineers. See relevant Time article and Hacker News discussion a couple of weeks ago:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7312442

There are certainly problems here, but that's why it's even more important to have talented people (especially engineers or SREs) come help. If you know anybody who'd like to help on a temporary rotation or permanently, please point them to:

jobs@hcgov.us


Since the SRE dream team fixed healthcare.gov so quickly, it seems it must have been mostly done decently well, but lacking a bit in QA and followthrough. Or do you think you could have put a web/db system in place from a cold start just about as fast?


I don't blame people choosing to work in other business areas rather than putting their efforts in fixing government, curing cancer, improving medicine, rebooting our space program, fixing education, etc.

Why? Because it's honestly very hard work, often with little recognition and less pay. People trying to innovate or 'disrupt' these fields are up against deep rooted political institutions, large corporations with millions to spend on lobbying efforts, and a broken legal/patent system that favors those who exploit its many loopholes.

That said, I have great respect for people who devote their time and effort for the greater good.


"fixing government, curing cancer, improving medicine, rebooting our space program, fixing education, etc."

I think a big part of it is less pay. Important things pay very little compared to frivolous metoo.io apps and social advertising and whatever.

Capitalism is a greedy optimizer. When it finds a local maximum it goes all in. It does not explore the fitness landscape.


I think another part of the problem is that there aren't really any important things in the public sector right now. The last public sector thing that engineers got excited about was the Apollo program.

Fixing government? Yeah you might be able to modernize a lot of the tech stack that runs various governmental entities but you're not going to actually fix the entities. You'll be implementing failed or broken policies in node.js instead of cobol. It's a step in the right direction but it doesn't actually fix the core of what's broken.

Curing cancer? There's no Federal Department of Stopping Cancer, either you work for a big pharmaceutical company or you get a PhD and scramble for grant money.

Rebooting our space program? That happens every administration and it always starts with some kind of dream to do audacious thing X that won't get any significant funding.

Fixing education? I'm not really sure where to start here. You can't fix from within since there's a constant struggle by the administrators to stay in power because teachers don't have any upwards mobility besides administration. And trying to fix it from the outside? That's even tougher, Kahn Academy has some traction with people but little with teachers who fear it'll put them out of work.

Find me something inspiring that's not going to be mired in politics and bullshit and I'm all ears. I don't think any of those are all that inspiring. I'd even deal with less pay for something really impressive.


>Curing cancer? There's no Federal Department of Stopping >Cancer, either you work for a big pharmaceutical company or >you get a PhD and scramble for grant money.

Actually, there is a Federal Department of Stopping Cancer - the National Cancer Institute.

http://www.cancer.gov/


Point taken.

But it's got a $5b a year budget which is pretty small in the biotech world. It's even worse when you consider that 42% of it is grant money. So my statement isn't quite right, but in my opinion, still close to right. Maybe 70% true.

http://www.cancer.gov/aboutnci/budget_planning_leg/plan-2013...

http://obf.cancer.gov/financial/factbook.htm

Inflation adjusted NASA's budget during the Apollo program was $30 billion a year or so. And that was in a realm that's better understood.

I'm not necessarily suggesting that we should start spending $50 billion or $100 billion a year on cancer research. But I would argue that it might take that kind of investment to really move the needle in a meaningful way and provide enough good paying opportunities for nerds to get them interested.

Thanks for the link though, even if it makes me look a little dumb.


<<Capitalism is a greedy optimizer. When it finds a local maximum it goes all in. It does not explore the fitness landscape.>>

Upvoted specifically for this line. That strikes me as a key insight into the free market's strengths and weaknesses.


I've thought this for a long time. Ultimately I think it's that private enterprises must have a low appetite for risk. The only time you see private enterprises investing in fundamental R&D or otherwise really exploring, it's when they are either so huge that they have immense cash hoards (e.g. Google) or they are monopolies with guaranteed cash cow income streams (e.g. the old Bell Labs). The vast majority of private enterprises cannot risk investing in anything without a very high probability of return, and that means being conservative and doing things that have already been proven to work. (Or that are only a slight deviation from things that work, or that build on already proven tech, etc.)

Governments have immense disadvantages too. They are slow and inefficient and are absolutely horrible at taking things the "last mile" from lab prototype to product. Governments flat out suck at "shipping." Yet they have the ultimate guaranteed income stream -- taxes -- and so can afford to invest in "high risk, high payoff" R&D and basic science that might never produce direct payoff (but may produce large indirect payoffs later).

The optimum seems to be, as with many things in nature, a balance. There may also be third options that have yet to be discovered, such as innovations in finance that enable risk to be spread more intelligently.


It's also an Unfriendly optimizer. Capitalism's local maxima often consist of things like Gilded Ages and Great Depressions in which return on investment is maximized to the hilt at the expense of nearly all other values. Yes, once we force it out of those local maxima, it goes back to generating wealth in a way that people actually want it to, but eventually, without deliberate management to keep it out of them, it always finds another damn local maximum to get stuck in.


"fixing government, curing cancer, improving medicine, rebooting our space program, fixing education, etc."

-- There are a bunch of startups already in these areas...


Especially with the way academic science / biotech is run. Some reasons off the top of my head:

-Curing cancer (i.e. biotech/biomedical research) often requires a lot of startup overhead. Engineering training is hard, and I am sure there are a lot of expensive hardware and laboratory equipment, as well as similar levels of bureaucracies and personalities to deal with. But a similar startup training path in bio requires - wet labs, animal labs, and associated support (including feeding, caring, ethics oversight which is important but adds additional time and effort to everything). The medical angle adds both additional regulatory, ethics, and safety considerations, as well as political egos from MD's, hospital admins, university chairmen, etc.

-Pay: in the commercial/private sector, I am sure things are probably a little better, but with more strings. But you can choose to fight in the VC funding space, for bigger pots of money, vs. jumping into the right for NIH R01s, R21s where the politics and competition are brutal. The basics are not dissimilar - VCs like founders with track records and ideally a minimum viable product or proof of concept, NIH grant reviewers like proposals from established labs (who have a lot of money and data already). Just that it seems the pot is a lot tighter for people trying to get money from the government. The DoD maybe better in this regard.

-Culture: Are you going to be a founder or early employee, with equity and potential for higher raises? Or are you going to be a postdoc making $40-60k for the next decade of your life?

That being said, I do know people do it, i.e. the "Craig Venter model". They don't tend to get a lot of press, though, and they often exit to big pharma or big devices (medtronic...)


Its a cop-out. If SV wanted to tackle the big problems, the legal costs of playing in D.C. wouldn't hold them back. Lobbying revenues for the top 10 firms in DC combined are probably $250m per year. Facebook could buy all the top players in DC for a few decades with what it spent on WhatsApp. Citing legal challenges is just cover for the fact that there is more money in sexting than curing cancer.


What people miss is the incredible amount of infrastructure development done at Facebook. While it would be an honest statement that it's behind Google (which takes a different approach to infrastructure) in that respect, it also differs crucially from Google that much of it is open source. As a mater of fact, here is one example of code that Facebook contributed heavily to (and that I've worked on as well) that is being used (amongst many other things) to cure cancer: http://www.slideshare.net/ryancox/20101207-o-connortrihughba...

Not everyone is a geneticist or a bioinformatician. Not everyone who has the capability to write code that Facebook need has the capability to become as good of a geneticists as they are a programmer. Yet, it's not fair to say that this talent is wasted: some Facebookers have contributed to open source, others have joined infrastructure companies (much as others have come from those companies).

Why haven't I instead went to work directly for, e.g., NASA or a national lab? Well first, as an undergraduate I deeply _wanted_ to take an internship at NASA (they had a great program for local students) but couldn't as only US citizens were permitted to do so.

I was already well into a full-time industry job when I became a US citizen (I've also worked at startups prior to attending college: again, I highly doubt NASA or a research lab would just hire a high school student ). Now I've already heard too many horror stories from classmates working for various government/aerospace/hardware/other traditional orgs about the low autonomy, office-space-esque working condition (be in the office by 8:30 AM, or there'll be a "talk", even if you've worked late into evening), but most importantly about how most of the folks working there are not doing the kind of work I am. Those that _did_ do that kind of work first had to expand a lot of energy proving what was apparently at the start -- that sometimes building something from scratch is less work (both now and later) than trying to shoehorn a problem to an existing but ill-fitting abstraction.

Fortunately, I am seeing this change for the better -- and many places (e.g., LLNL) already stand out -- but for now I'll quote Thiel: "rocket scientists go to Wall St for money, but also because aren't allowed to play with rockets anymore!"

Obligatory disclaimer: I'm a former Facebook employee and am holding on to my RSUs, but I've sad much the same long before I've worked at Facebook (indeed, this is why I chose to work there!). I am not speaking solely for myself, not on any company's behalf.


Did you intend to respond to me? I'm sure Facebook does lots of neat things, I'm not criticizing it. All I'm saying is that its a cop-out when companies and investors say that its legal challenges that prevent investment into curing cancer, or whatever it is people think smart kids should work on besides sexting apps or the infrastructure for sexting apps. Its cover for the fact that there's just not much money in saving the world.


Hmm, I think I've mis-read your comment then. My apologies. That said, if you don't mind I'll let it stand as is -- perhaps as a comment on the OP. My point is "cancer research OR Facebook" is not a choice anyone goes out to make consciously: they study a specialty and then seek out the most rewarding (according to their own definition of "rewarding") career options available to them. If one is interested in building distributed systems, there is simply more opportunity to do so at Google, Facebook, or other places in the software/Internet industry than in other industries (that's not to say those opportunities don't exist elsewhere, of course).

I do agree that it's B.S. to say that legal challenges prevent investment in cancer research (unless people mean "coconut oil cures cancer" type of research, in which case they well should). I would probably say that if anything current patent law makes cancer research more profitable that it would be without it (however, I don't have enough of legal background to speak definitively on this).


> Its cover for the fact that there's just not much money in saving the world.

The question for me is why is this true? It seems like there should be.


I think its an issue of discounting the return by probability, and being able to internalize positive externalities. You can spend $10 billion trying to cure cancer, but how much do you have to get in return for the risk that you won't? And if you need to make a 50x return in the successful case to justify the failure risk, how will you do it while society is demonizing you for withholding cancer cures from dying people?


I think part of it also diminishing returns: life of cancer patients has been greatly improved, with early detection it's no longer a death sentence and at times not even a major handicap. See, e.g., quality of life after treatment of prostate cancer now vs. quality of life after treatment of prostate cancer treatment just 20-30 years ago.

I imagine power law holds in most disciplines: going from 99.99% uptime to 99.999% is far harder than going from 99.9 to 99.99% which in turn is harder then going from 99% to 99.9%. Likewise, I'd imagine same holds true with death tolls over N years from various illnesses (but obviously with different constants involved).

Can you explain to me what you meant by externalities here? Do you mean medical industry benefits from cures without contributing to funding the NIH grants?


No I mean that when you discover or invent something that "saves the world" it might have a large net positive benefit, but it might be difficult for the inventor to capture enough of that benefit to justify the risk of investing in the discovery. Say you need a $500bn payout to justify the risk of investing $10bn in curing cancer, as opposed to spending that money in something with surer returns. Curing cancer might generate $2 trillion dollar in net social benefit, but it might be very difficult for practical and political reasons for the company making the invention to extract 25% of that to justify their investment. A cure for cancer would quickly be subject to generic drug licensing by the government, under the premise that it would be wrong to profit so much from withholding cancer treatment from sick people. So why deal with that when you can get 100x return on an internet startup?


Ah, got it. It also seems the more useful the drug, the higher the pressure for low cost generic licensing (though, then again, the larger the circulation).

I wonder if an X-Prize like model might work better here, with, e.g., individuals with genetic risk for a specific cancer "crowd funding" various grades of prizes, with the actual awarding of prizes, setting and advertising the prizes, being done by an organization/consortium that knows what they're doing.


>The question for me is why is this true? It seems like there should be.

As someone else noted, "saving the world" usually translates into economics as "generating large positive externalities". It's not just that you might have to give out cancer cures for free (in most countries the state will pay for health-care anyway), it's that you simply can't patent the Theory of General Relativity or the Germ Theory of Disease or the Dead Germ Method of Vaccination. Even improvements in nutrition and yield of crops can only partially be treated as private, excludable property.

Radical new discoveries are almost always nonexcludable, and thus can't really be treated as private commodities sold on a market. Note that I said can't, not shouldn't: trying to treat nonexcludable goods as private commodities leads to bankruptcy rather than sin.


Another thing I was thinking about was if people had as many government recruiting requests come in their inbox/linkedin, if that would factor into more people in tech joining? It just seems like private sector throws more resources into keeping the machine fed with talent.


I found the article to be a nice summary of the current Silicon Valley zeitgeist. Someone who has never really followed developments in technology can get a nice overview by reading this article.


I think you should give the whole article a chance. It's about the dichotomy of tech industry and has more solid point of view if you read it the way through


Yup i stopped at same point.

I'd add a point. It's also because young people don't fully grasp the cost / benefit analysis - they don't know the pain, and they don't know how to develop & implement the solution.

I might have a cool idea to cure cancer, but it'd be a difficult search to even figure out if it's been done before: lot of learning to do.

Whereas a quick scan of app store and talking with a few buddies tells me if my idea for a sexting app has been done.


The subtitle reads "In start-up land, the young barely talk to the old (and vice versa)". WTF do the author get this observation from? Looks like an unsubstantiated assumption to me. Other than an making an allegation, there is no reference to this through out the very long article.


So you stopped because of a rhetorical question?


You're missing the forest for the trees. Yes, there are systemic problems with governments contracting out software.

The substance/cool chasm is real (find my other post in this thread) and vicious.


Maybe we're just interested in solving the problems we have. We're mostly young and getting sex or sharing photos is something that is socially rewarding and fun. We're not dying of cancer yet, that's you guys. You guys are the ones running those companies and generally we don't like how you guys run companies. We want very flexible hours, self direction, relaxing lighting, productive work time and a near absence of meetings. The people I know that are in their twenties and trying to fix cancer are being met with the horrible baby boomer mentality about everything.


On the subject of "solving problems we have":

Interestingly, in a lot of smaller startup scenes (not the SF bay) we're seeing the hipster/gentrification thing happening and they are talking about Public Health issues and throwing their weight against them.

But if you're under 35, the Public Health issue isn't cancer or heart-disease. It's cars. That's what kills young people. The sprawl-driven development and the constant political battle over decent human-scaled transit-driven urban development.

Y'see, people under 35 often don't have kids and their college days aren't far behind them (or are still happening). And that means dinky apartments and taking trains and buses and walking everywhere. Even if some of them have the money for a swanky suburban home and an awesome car, they at least remember what it was like without one.

And from the discussion on that, the fact that car accidents are one of the leading causes of death is an obvious part of the conversation.

I've seen young startup hackers fighting their cities for Open Data to develop better transit and planning tools, making websites for local political campaigns, etc.


You have just exemplified the issue completely.

Spend less time thinking about getting sex and sharing photos. Spend more time thinking about how to solve hard problems. Spend less time thinking about "us" and "them" and more time thinking about "everyone".


And you exemplify the kind of self-righteous person that probably spews this kind of junk daily.

The reason people work on sexting apps over curing cancer is because it is a more human problem than curing cancer. In all your tunnel-visioned dash to label problems as "hard and "worthy" you are the one that missed the forest from the trees. All people will die, and while it would be great if they could stick around a bit longer without pain, the biggest difference is how people spend their lives today. If they can spend it connecting with other people they care about, and derive meaning from that, that is a thousandfold more compelling problem.

It's not that other people don't have their incentives and values right, it's that you don't recognize them.


Lets just be honest with ourselves. The biggest reason more people are willing to work on these substance-less apps is because its far easier to create something superfluous as a twitter-helper(or any of the hundreds of ecommerce sites that simply provide new ways to do old things like laundry, via your phone), than it is to cure cancer, and they get to call themselves "hackers", "entrepreneurs", "techies", etc.

There are many players in the game now who are in it more so for the hopes of striking in rich and social currency than the actual joy of solving problems, surprise surprise. This is why the app stores are flooded with endless spinoffs and knockoffs of the same things over and over again.


Let's just be honest with ourselves. The people who become research doctors working on curing cancer have very, very hard lives, and most aspiring cancer curers never get to do any actual curing. They have to do a PhD/MD, survive their internship and residency process, and most likely publish papers before they're even out of school before a cancer lab will even hire them.

Substanceless apps are not only objectively easier than curing cancer, there are much lower barriers to entry. In fact, for some perverse reason, our society seems to feel that the most trustworthy process for handling real, major problems like cancer research is to erect the highest possible barriers to entry, throw even the survivors out of the field at every least opportunity, and then place absolute trust in the few who survive this winnowing process.

The concept that treating everything serious as a tournament-structured winnowing process might have some negative impact on the ability of our research institutions to actually treat and cure cancer does not seem to occur.


I guess we're in agreement then. Its easier to work on these small superfluous apps than to work on something like curing diseases (which is being used as an arbitrary example of something more "meaningful" than say, a sexting app (another arbitrary example)). The cool factor is also something to consider since computers are cool these days.

I took the side of the issue that I did because its what was discussed in the article; I definitely agree that the medical cartel system we have in place here is also a huge problem. Its the only industry I can think of where the number of new practitioners allowed to enter the field is a function of the number of existing practitioners.


Commenting on this incredibly late, but I knew there'd be some good fodder in this comment thread.

You have a good point, but unfortunately you're still missing the point. Not being able to effectively cure cancer isn't the issue Silicon Valley is facing. As others have said, as software engineers, we would have gone to school to do bioinformatics and study the natural sciences if that's what we wanted. The issue is that a vast number of people are working on shitty, pointless, worthless apps.

It has nothing to do with barriers to entry. What kind of problems do you learn to solve in this field? Computational ones, i.e. things involving facets of computing. So why are less companies devoting resources to working on facets of networking, optimizing computer architecture, writing more efficient compilers and operating systems? Things that software engineers should have plenty of knowledge on, and would be much more beneficial to society than the next bullshit social app. Why is this not the case?

That is what the author is addressing. Churning out photosharing app #35875 isn't helping anyone. But maybe if people started taking pride in the notion of being a hacker and a computer scientist, and actually solving shit worth solving instead of stamping those phrases on their Twitter pages for social approval, then just maybe the Valley could gain some credibility back.


>So why are less companies devoting resources to working on facets of networking, optimizing computer architecture, writing more efficient compilers and operating systems?

I can think of a couple reasons:

1) Because hardware/microarchitecture companies do devote effort to architecture and compilers.

2) Because low-level software/OS companies do devote effort to networking, compilers, and operating systems.

3) Because network effects mean that only a very few mutually incompatible languages and OS's can survive on the open market, with a larger but still fairly small variety surviving on open-source volunteer efforts.

>Not being able to effectively cure cancer isn't the issue Silicon Valley is facing.

Oh really? Aren't there some computational problems we could work on that have cancer-cure-level impacts?


Well fucking said.


Yeah, fuck that noise.

"Spend less time thinking about getting sex" hahahahaha yeah okay.

Look, maybe when you're in your 30s or 40s and you've got the wife and the kids and the minivan and the bills and the mortgage you can focus on the more noble things in life, like making the world a better place so that your progeny will have an easier time of it.

But, in the meantime, for those of us without children, fucking is a pressing issue.

EDIT:

I'll be still more blunt--the people who gain the most from us "making the world a better place" are those with kids and a stake in society. You are trying to take advantage of us.

You should've gotten us healthcare, but you fucked it up. You should've gotten us a safety net, but you fucked it up. You should've gotten us cheaper student loans, but you fucked it up. You should've gotten us more affordable housing, but you fucked it up.

So, no, I'm not going to help you beat cancer so you can spend an extra year with your kids (who are going to be bankrupt the rest of their lives because of your medical bills).

EDIT2:

You couldn't even manage to kick out the bastards in office who are running the alphabet-soup agencies that are ruining our country. There. There's your fucking legacy.


Upvoted for honest expression. But you're doing exactly the same thing you're criticising: you haven't kicked the bastards out either, or gotten healthcare sorted because you're too busy chasing sex and thinking about your own life.

In 20 years someone will be writing your post about you!


I actually am working at a startup in the healthcare space, and do mentoring and coach people to try and help give them skills they can earn a living with.

I still find time to try and chase tail--after all, it's the oldest game in the world, and if you're not playing, you might as well be dead, right?

:)


who are you even talking to? me? you don't know me. I'm not a baby boomer with a wife and kids. I'm in my late 20s and work at a tech startup in New York. I just happen to have some perspective.


Not "you" specifically, the sort of "You" (insert appropriate audience/strawman).


Okay, if you actually need an app to help you get some ass, I suspect there might be another significant underlying issue there, and the app probably wont help you anyway. Besides there being hundreds of these silly things out already, I don't see why you or someone else getting sex should necessitate some brilliant programmers help who could otherwise be spending her time on problems far more worthwhile(e.g. perhaps aiding in curing STD's is more enticing for you).


What makes you think that the people getting rich off Poke apps are the brilliant ones? That is the fallacy of it all.


Did you read the article? Its not only about the ones who get rich, its moreso about the significant amount of talent flowing towards these superfluous types of "companies" (ie. startups that are really nothing more than mere features, or eCommerce websites), instead of working for a larger "old-guard" company that actually accomplishes much more because the startup is more cool or popular; according to the author.

I think it may be overblown a bit sometimes, but there is definitely truth to this.


So, erm, what are these large "old-guard" companies that somehow would make better use of my talents?

And further, where did they come from?


Are you saying you wish you lived 30 years earlier, because life is better for gat generation than yours?


I can tell by the fading font color that this isn't a popular post, but I fucking love it.


Hit the nail on the head. There is a plethora of important and difficult problems to solve, and the millenial generation has to trudge through the pile of shit that's been left accumulating for the past several decades. Our most pressing matters involve navigating a new world that is built on the internet.


Sex and photo-sharing pays the bills. Thinking about "everyone" does not.


This sounds so unbelievably ignorant I laughed. Do you honestly think solving a problem that aids "everyone" is worthless, or cannot pay bills? Just an fyi, pharmaceutical industry is actually pretty lucrative because everyone is vulnerable to illness.

Honestly though, I suspect most of the people sitting there writing those silly apps wouldn't be able to do things like cure Cancer or aid in creating vaccines and etc. anyway, so I think the issue may be a tad overblown. Many of these "app developers" are actually people who simply learned to write code on some site and simply churn out games, sex-apps and such just hoping one will catch on and make them lots of money; thats really it.

I really don't think many pathologists, biologists, etc. are wasting most of their time making some silly app that "disrupts" how people share naked photos.


Solving a problem would be worth a great deal. Thinking about how to solve a problem is not worth a great deal. Attacking problems that have been unsolved for decades, despite lots of work, seems like a poor idea when compared to smaller problems that can actually be solved today.


If some folks were just trying to pay the bills, working in government or biotech would be fine. What kind of bills are we talking about? I think it's more that sex and photo sharing, at the moment, net an excess of wealth quickly and efficiently.


> Spend less time thinking about getting sex and sharing photos.

Incentives, please? I would guess that maybe 20 years earlier, being an engineer who spent all their time working on something that sounds boring like "making better semiconductor materials" probably got more recognition and social status than it does now. If I say something like "Oh yeah, I work on gallium arsenide diodes at [research company]", people at parties are going to nod off before I can get to 'diodes'.

Why would a 20-something want to work for the likes of, say, JPL, when they can get tons more pay and recognition by working at, say, Facebook?


I think the problem has a lot to do with the fact that too many people are motivated by those really shallow incentives (a little bit of money, a little bit of fame) than by things that matter more in the long run.


Money and fame impact who you marry and have kids with. That can have a significant effect in the long run (where long == your own lifetime).


"Too many people are motivated by those really shallow incentives (a little bit of money, a little bit of fame) than by things that matter more in the long run"

No, I think it has more to do with the fact that people who work on things that matter more in the long run should be offered those "shallow incentives" as you call them by a societal structure. Society (at least in the US) has withdrawn those incentives (a stable family, recognition of intelligence vs. being popular); and the result is that people are moving away from anything that doesn't offer them more recognition -- of any kind.


Computer nerds have finally, and at this point it seems like for the first time in a good while, gotten some modicum of respect for what they do. And now people think that they're just going to give up that respect so willingly, and for so little reward?


Isn't photo-sharing a solved problem? Getting sex would seem to be, as well, but to the degree it isn't, then why aren't the youth of today inventing real solutions? I'm not sure Tinder/Grindr/etc. are a confident step in that direction.


We're not dying of cancer yet, that's you guys.

I'm 30. I'm one of the young guys.

I also realize that (a) my odds of winning the VC-funded lottery are low and (b) all of us are going to be old one day.

No age is too young to die of cancer. One of my friends died last year at 31.

You guys are the ones running those companies and generally we don't like how you guys run companies.

I don't like how stodgy, checked-out, appearance-obsessed execs run companies. I also don't like how VC-funded egotistical frat boys run companies. It has nothing to do with age. Most people of any age are not equipped to run companies.

We want very flexible hours, self direction, relaxing lighting, productive work time and a near absence of meetings.

I agree 100% and that won't change when I'm 50. I'll probably be even grumpier about the corporate nonsense (if God decides to be a dick and I'm still working corporate jobs by then).

The people I know that are in their twenties and trying to fix cancer are being met with the horrible baby boomer mentality about everything.

Sure. I don't think you're wrong, and your observations are valid. Is it generational? I'm not sure. I don't like the Gen X, VC chickenhawk mentality or the Millennial-generation "move fast and never fix things" mindset either. People who gain power become short-sighted, flippant, emotionally insensitive and, over the long term, creatively and intellectually weak. This is true regardless of age.

I rail on "the Boomers" all the time because the political impact of that generation has been terrible, and their economic mismanagement has fucked us up big time, but I don't actually think it's a problem with the individuals.


Sorry about that Michael, I had you confused with someone else on HN. Apologies.

Look, if the money were there and the environment was there we'd be there. It really is that simple.

I think the odds of winning the startup lottery are actually pretty high, at least for all reasonable definitions of "winning". Although that might be survivorship bias speaking on my end.

If more people were like Elon Musk we'd be working on these harder problems. I totally agree with you about your observations about people that gain power, at least in aggregate.


So it's all someone else's fault?


Of course it is.

I'm reminded of a scene in The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, with Kieran Culkin and Emile Hirsch. (Great movie, btw.) Minor spoilers:

The boys are riding their bicycles along a country road, and happen upon a dog that's been struck by a passing vehicle, and is dying. Hirsch's character, Francis, says (paraphrased), "Someone needs to come for it. They need to do something." Tim, played by Culkin, responds, "There is no 'they'. We are they."

I trust the scene's relevance isn't too obscure.


The scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7ut7L-X1NQ

What always stuck with me was the end: "No one was coming for this dog, I hope you realize that. Nobody around here, no one who passed it, not even the guy who hit it. I hope you realize that. Don't you ever tell me to get real. I know what fucking real is, okay?"


Reminds me of Heidegger's concept of the "they self" as an inauthentic way of being.


Great movie. But the tiger part was a bit ridiculous.


A lot of it has to do with the bubble economy. A bubble economy doesn't create substance, it just focuses on returns. Ever since the bailout, money has been cheap and "tech" showed some of the best returns—second only two developing markets.

Google and Apple have record revenues and profits and are propping up everything else. Everyone, including Facebook, thinks they are going to be the next Google. And as long as money remains cheap, it will keep flowing into tech without bounds. You look at a company like LinkedIn—a company with a P/E near 1000—and you can see is clear as day. Even sustainable businesses like Amazon have had their stock price inflated through the roof with cheap money looking for a good return.

When the bubble pops things will reset in the Bay Area. Money will go somewhere else and only the companies which have real businesses will survive. Right now, money is still cheap. Investors will continue to invest in cool apps, and public companies will continue to purchase those apps with funds from the people's retirement to stay relevant. Just like with every bubble, the person on the hook at the end of the day is the average citizen.


> The backlash in recent months against the self-involvement and frivolity of the new guard has actually been a long time coming. Instagram photos of opulent tech holiday parties have been lambasted, Google buses blockaded

In what universe is a carpooling system that gets dozens of cars off the road and allows each passenger to reclaim ten working hours a week classified as frivolous?


Have you not been following any of the discussion about this topic?

Here are three frequently voiced objections:

1) If the city decided to put a new bus route outside of your house, with a bus every 10 minutes for the morning and evening rush hours, then you would expect there to be public meetings where people can voice concerns about the routing, increase in large traffic, noise, and so on. Why should private companies not be subject to the same sort of democratic decision making on how to use the local public roads and bus stops?

2) Some people moved to the city in part because of the knowledge that the private bus system would be there. Without those buses, they would have chosen somewhere else precisely because the lack of parking would have made the commute impossible. It's hard then to say that each bus replaces a dozen cars, when those people might not be there if there were no buses.

3) If getting cars off the road and reclaiming commuting time were paramount, then why not rezone the areas around Mountain View, Cupertino, etc. for medium density housing, like SF-style row houses, instead of the current preference for suburban detached housing? Then people could walk or bike to work in a matter of minutes. The densities for SF, MV, and C are 17K, 6K, and 5K/sq mile respectively, so there's plenty of opportunity for local population growth. Instead, the local (and democratic) resistance to zoning change in those smaller cities causes increased prices and bus traffic elsewhere, but the people in SF have no way to push back and cause the zoning laws of the smaller cities to change.


Those all seem like a reach, perhaps made up after the fact.

For instance, who blockades a bus, commits violence on the riders and fakes a scene as a rider (pretending to be an entitled Google employee and yelling out the window while having it filmed)? Not somebody annoyed at a bus stop.

It all smells like protester-chic, finding something semiplausible to complain about then faking a protest. They didn't have drones in their neighborhood, but hey! how about the Google busses?

So, #2, the preference is to have no reason to move into the neighborhood? Somebody else would have lived there. That's a baffling argument.

#3 is the fault of the residents, not Google. Maybe its the point of the fake protests, to bring up this issue and make it newsworthy, I don't know. But its not SF's business to change the zoning laws of other cities. So no they don't have a way to 'push back' and rightly so.


The topic was if there are any arguments where "a carpooling system that gets dozens of cars off the road and allows each passenger to reclaim ten working hours a week [can be] classified as frivolous."

I listed three that I considered to be reasonable in that context. They have come up in various discussions I've read about the situation.

I fully realize that my view of "reasonable" is not universally shared. For one, I'm one of those people who think that commuting is a waste of my life, even with on-board wifi. My 10 minute drive from Mt. View to Palo Alto was about the limit of what I wanted to do. (My next job was a joy, at 6 minutes. It then became a horrid 20 minutes, until I complained enough to get my own parking garage space, saving 6 minutes of walking from the city lot.)

Then again, your objection to perceived protester-chic smell is also not universally shared.

Anyway, could you explain your objection to #2? I was objecting to the premise. If the goal is to "get dozens of cars off the road and allow each passenger to reclaim ten working hours as week", then the full analysis would need to look at the people who would have lived there had there not been the private buses. Hypothetically speaking, their commutes could have been shorter and using city buses, bicycles, or walking. Thus, long-distance private buses in that situation does not achieve the purported goal.

I have not done this analysis, nor do I know if one exists, but it's not clearly unreasonable, and thus is a valid reason to classify the private bus system as "frivolous."

I mostly agree with you on #3. That is, after all, my point. If the goal is to "get dozens of cars ...", then funding a private bus system, which is an expensive technical fix to a political problem, is "frivolous" to someone who wants to address the actual underlying social problem, which is the opposition to change away from traditional suburban zoning for those cities. In that case, the inability to push back politically expresses itself as protest.

In this view, it's the fault of Google's for not pushing for more medium density housing in Mountain View and its immediate neighbor cities. For business reasons, I can understand why they want to stay on the good side of the city council, who are in turn guided by their constituents, who mostly have single family detached housing and want to keep their neighborhoods unchanged. In this view, Google is doing the politically expedient thing, not the socially correct thing.


FWIW on #3, Google has been pushing for rezoning the North Bayshore area (the area by its campus, north of 101 around Shoreline) for mixed-use ground-level retail + high-rise apartments since I got here in 2009. This plan would create about 1100 housing units within walking distance of campus, taking that many cars (or more, including spouses) off of 101, off of Shoreline, and probably out of SF or Mountain View where they're currently driving up rents in existing housing. They have been consistently blocked by a 4-member voting bloc in the Mountain View City Council who don't want the character of Mountain View to change at all (even if the high-rises would go up north of 101, where it's all zoned industrial anyway). 3 of those members are retiring this year, so we'll see what happens.


Lemme guess: google employee? Part of what the city council has been blocking is (according to the linked Verge article) stopping Google from doing an environmental report necessary to develop land adjacent to one of their campuses. Why? Because, surprise!, the council members noticed that the environment reports paid for by large companies always happen to come back with a result favorable to the company who paid for the report.

In short, read the article -- lots of sides to the story: http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/26/5444030/company-town-how-g...


In fact, by law, if you pay for the report, it has to come back as favorable to you as possible. Its something to do with 'agency' and fiduciary responsibility.


Yay! Thanks for the update.


> It all smells like protester-chic, finding something semiplausible to complain about then faking a protest.

They're the torchbearers for the lawlessness and thuggery of the late-'60s "student revolutions" etc.


If you'd like to see some actual thuggery and lawlessness, I invite you to take a flight to Beirut or Istanbul and cross the border into Syria. Until then, please stop overblowing protests over real issues.


This doesn't stand up at all. So if I see someone staggering about the street drunk, urinating on lampposts and punching passing strangers on a whim, I can't properly describe them as a lawless thug, because they're not as bad as Bashar Assad or Atilla the Hun? If anything the adjectives 'lawless' and 'thuggish' are too weak to use to describe Assad's misbehaviour, not too strong to apply to lesser criminals. Secondly, even assuming for the sake of argument that Google's right to hire buses is a real issue, having a real issue to protest isn't (in itself) nearly sufficient to justify the illegal, hostile and aggressively unpleasant, financially harmful and, apparently, deceitful nature of the protests.


Your points 2 and 3 seem to be proving too much, because they could also be applied to building new roads and parking spots: it harms the community by making more people move in, and it's useless because rezoning is better. Right?


Almost! People of course have wildly different views. Some people believe that new roads and parking spots are not good things.

Consider, for example, the thesis behind "The High Cost of Free Parking." Here's a summary of the book: https://server1.tepper.cmu.edu/CMUPark/The-High-Cost-of-Free... but in short, there is an "oversupply of free parking" and "parking requirements increase the cost of housing, as well as goods and services."

Someone who believes that thesis is correct is likely to believe that the stated argument for long-distance buses from SF to Mt. View for Google is "frivolous" because it doesn't affect the underlying infrastructure issues. There aren't that many of these people, but they don't agree that it's "proving too much."

However, that thesis is not an objection to letting more people move in. Parking spaces take up space. They are required to exist because of zoning laws, so they can't be replaced by housing. Someone who is against abundant free or subsidized parking in urban areas can still be for more population. It's just that the new residents don't have the economic disincentives to walk, bike, rollerblade, etc. or take mass transit.

Who wants socialized central planning for parking - let the free market decide! ;)


To point 1 - because private citizens do not generally have a democratic voice in the decisions of private companies unless they’re stockholders. You could make the argument that any decision made by any private company could impact the lives of $GROUP, therefore $GROUP should be able to vote on whether that private company should be able to do $THING or not. That’s not how it works, it never has been, and I don’t see why busses changes that. Note: I live on the other side of the country and have no dog in this fight so I totally accept that I could be missing something.


Well, non-stockholder private citizens do get involved in some of the decisions of private companies. Anti-pollution and workplace safety laws are just two of many such examples.

You may object that those are "laws", and different from the views of private citizens in the local neighborhood. But even on that smaller scale, if a company wants to expand into a new building, it will need a building permit, which requires a public hearing. Private citizens have the right to attend the meeting and object or support the change. This is public input on the otherwise internal business decisions of the company, no?

A neighborhood can complain about commercial trucks going through a street which is a convenient shortcut for a company at the edge of town, but noisy and possibly dangerous to the people on the street. In response, the city might prohibit through truck traffic for that street, causing the company drivers to take a longer route.

Or the other way around, the city passed a law saying that alcohol could not be sold within distance X of a school, unless the parents of the school said otherwise. There was a 3 star restaurant just barely within distance X of my elementary school, who had to ask for, and got, permission to continue to serve alcohol with their meals.

There have always been tradeoffs in how to use shared public resources, so I don't understand why you say "That’s not how it works, it never has been."

In some sense you are right - I do argue that $GROUP = "the citizens" should always "be able to vote whether that private company should be able to do $THING or not." I don't think we should always do so, no, but that's not the issue.


But, busses, really? They are evil now? With all the good they do, I think maybe they should be a protected class or something.


I didn't use the word "evil" though certainly some do. I commented on why one claimed benefit - reducing the number of cars on the street and making more effective use of a commute time - can be reasonably seen as "frivolous" to some.

Everything has good and bad in it. Even buses. There's always a tension. Sometimes there are mechanisms, like public input to planning decisions, which help reduce the tension. Sometimes there aren't. Tension rarely just disappears on its own.


The private company is making use of community owned resources so the community should have a say


Do you not pay for your car/bus and truck licences in the USA.

And dont forget its the bus riders taxes that help pay for those roads too.


Which the private company paid a LOT more than the average person to create. Not sure why so many people seem to think that companies pay nothing fro infrastructure.


How much did Google pay for the SF street infrastructure? I thought they didn't pay anything until this January, and even then it's $1 per each use of a bus stop.

Also, why the comparison of an "average person" to a private company? Surely the private citizens of San Francisco, as a whole, have invested far more in the city infrastructure than Google has.


Street infrastructure is paid for by taxes, including payroll taxes, corporate income taxes, and gas taxes, all of which Google pays.


This is only true in the broadest possible sense, where "taxes", "government" and "streets" are considered collectively without regard to federal, state or local jurisdiction.

But in the U.S., jurisdiction matters a lot. For example, there is (apparently) a Google bus stop at the 18th and Dolores Streets in San Francisco. Dolores Street is a local street, which means it is the responsibility of the City of San Francisco. Maintenance of that street is thus paid for primarily with local and fees taxes collected within the City. Specifically property taxes, business license taxes, local sales taxes, and charges for local services. None of the taxes that you mentioned Google paying would directly fund the maintenance of Dolores Street.

Google does pay some of these local taxes, because they have a small office in San Francisco. But the purpose of these shuttles is primarily to transport people outside of San Francisco. It's the City of Mountain View that benefits (from a tax perspective) from these shuttles. That disconnect is at the heart of the complaint: that San Francisco taxpayers are shouldering the burden, while not accruing the benefits.


> Google does pay some of these local taxes, because they have a small office in San Francisco

350,000 sqft is not small.

http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/2013/07/google-...


It's small relative to the Googleplex, which has 2 million sq. ft, and will be 3.1 million sq. ft next year.

It's small relative to the number of people who commute from SF to Google by private bus. ("more than 3,500" in 2012, says http://www.sfbg.com/2012/04/18/private-bus-problem; I can't find newer numbers in all the noise, but it seems that more commute to MV than work in the SF office.)

It's small relative to the market. That is, there's some 84 million sq. ft. of office space in SF. https://www.cassidyturley.com/DesktopModules/CassidyTurley/D... . The vacancy rate is 8%. So Google has under 0.5% of the occupied office space in SF.

To double check, the biggest employers are the city/county (25,000), UCSF (20,000), Wells-Fargo (8,200), SF school district (8,200), and Gap (6,000). See http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/2014/01/top-5-l... . The Wells Fargo Bank headquarters building alone is 640,000 sq. ft.

I agree that it's mid-size were it a company primarily based in SF, but for most of the relevant metrics, it's small.


Google is primarily located in Mountain View, in Santa Clara county.

My question was how much of San Francisco's street infrastructure - a different city and county - was supported by Google. Did Google pay "a lot more" than the citizens of the city, as SteveGerencser suggested?

The residents and businesses in SF pay about $1 billion in property taxes. How does that compare to specifically Google's contribution? Who pays more in payroll, corporate income, and gas taxes to San Francisco, Twitter or Google?

If the answer is Twitter, then shouldn't they have a bigger say than Google?


FWIW, Google has a SF office that is about as large as Twitter.

I also agree with raldi that this line of reasoning is invalid, unless you want Wells Fargo to own & make most of the decisions in SF. (Most of the current SF infrastructure was financed by municipal bonds, many of which were funded by Wells and other Bay-Area financial institutions. My girlfriend used to be a bond-trader at Wells and specifically remembers buying the bonds used to fund construction of the new Bay Bridge.)


You're backpedaling. Previously, you said:

> I thought they didn't pay anything until this January

Now that I've pointed out three ways they pay for SF city infrastructure, you're moving the goalposts.

> Google is primarily located in Mountain View

But they still have thousands of desks in their San Francisco office space.

Also, every employee on those shuttles is either paying SF property tax or paying rent that, in part, goes to paying SF property tax. They also pay state and local sales taxes, which also go towards public infrastructure.


Indeed! But more out of ignorance than backpedaling. I'm apparently 7 years out of date, since the SF office opened in October 2007.

bizjournals.com says 2,500 seats, which is 2nd place after Salesforce at 4,000. Tied for 3rd is Lucasfilm and Twitter, with 1,500 each, and Zynga in 4th with 1,300.

(Take those numbers with a grain of salt. I see others say that Twitter has 2,000 employees in SF.)

Regardless, my questions stand: 1) why compare a company's taxes to an "average person"'s taxes, instead of to the citizenry as a whole, 2) just how much does Google bring into the city in direct taxes, compared to the private citizens? 3) is that sufficient compensation for how the company uses the street infrastructure?

Yes, of course the employees on those shuttles are paying taxes. The full analysis would need to look at who would living there if there were no buses, and the level of taxes they pay in that case.

For example, the buses are subsidized transport that provide an effective untaxable salary increase, which is a tax shift away from the city. Fuel cost alone is $10/day/vehicle, and TCO is $48 using AAA's estimate of $0.6/mile. SuperShuttle charges $17 to get to SFO, so $10/day is deliberately low-balling it.

This means that someone making $80K/year from Google/Mtn View, with subsidized transport, gets an effective $2,500+/year raise, and can outbid someone in the city making $81K/year. In which case, the city ends up with lower taxes.

I never said this wasn't complicated, only that there are reasonable arguments for why some people could consider the "buses are better than ..." thesis "having no sound basis (as in fact or law)".


This is a bad argument. Should the community have a say in how you use those same resources? They are public goods...it is one thing to set rules that everyone has to abide by, and it is another entirely to focus on how one group uses the good.


Are they using more than the road?


They were and are using the curbside public transit bus stops. There is a local regulation stating that any non-public-transit use of the bus stop (including stopping, standing, and parking) is subject to around $250 in fines (and probably immediate towing for parked vehicles). This should apply to any non-transit vehicle: private passenger car, delivery truck, ride-share (taxis with city-regulated licenses/medallions sometimes get special transit privileges), and obviously a private bus. This is understandable because the efficiency of the transit buses depends on them being able to quickly make stops, which they can't do even if a car is dropping off a passenger in the bus stop. SF residents were complaining that they had received this fine simply for being caught dropping off a passenger with no transit bus nearby. Yet the Google buses continued to use public-transit bus stops at regular times, sometimes hindering the public-transit bus, and never received a fine that I have heard of.

Under a recent agreement, the google buses will pay $1 per use of the public bus stops. On the one hand, this option is not available to the general public, only to large corporations with enough money. On the other hand, if the city strictly enforced the law, large corporations with enough money would just go purchase local businesses with commercial loading zones, and use those for the buses--not an ideal situation either (having commercial real-estate and loading zones tied up for transit).


This is what regulation is for. Every decision shouldn't have to go through a community meeting, it slows things down and you get busy bees with nothing better to do complaining.

I don't know how it is in California, but in Ontario privatized buses can only travel on certain roads.


I think you need to look up the definition of the word "frivolous".


I thought I addressed your "frivolous" criterion directly.

1) It may be "frivolous" if the routing is only made based on the needs of the commuters, and has no input from the people who live on those routes. In an extreme case, if a bus goes down a narrow street in order to save one able-bodied person one block of walking, then that part is definitely frivolous even with the overall savings. Without that local input, neither you nor I have an idea of which parts are frivolous and which are not. And that local input has not occurred.

2) You made assumptions which might not be true. If the net effect of adding buses did not reduce car traffic at all, then your presumed advantages don't exist, and hence the effort is "frivolous."

3) If the goal is to reduce commute time and get cars off the streets, then long-distance bus traffic is not the solution. Improved access to nearby housing is the solution. Instead, long-term busing is a frivolous waste of money which should instead go towards zoning changes. But that involves getting into long-term local politics, which business people don't like doing. Instead, they would rather spend money on a technical solution which is achievable in the short-term, even if it doesn't really help your stated goals.


None of these are a correct usage of frivolous. You are describing imperious, self-defeating, and short-sighted behaviors respectively, none of which are really the same.


frivolous - "1a : of little weight or importance; 1b: having no sound basis (as in fact or law) <a frivolous lawsuit>" from Merriam-Webster.

#1: an argument based on the overall goal - reduced car traffic and enhanced used of commute time - is of little weight or importance for those who are locally disadvantaged and when there is an equitable alternative which better balances the different factors.

These people who were left out of the decision making process might also regard the companies as being imperious.

#2: an argument based on the overall goal is of little weight or importance if the premise - that it reduces care traffic and makes more effective use of commute time - is incorrect. (BTW, the NYT reports that one survey of tech workers says that 50% would not move to SF if there wasn't a private bus system, so the benefit of a bus is not simply determined as to count how many cars would be needed instead.)

These people who regard the argument in favor of the buses as being frivolous might also regard the the private bus services as being self-defeating.

#3: the argument is also of little weight or importance to those who see believe the larger underlying problem is that subsidized free parking and other zoning restrictions prevent the free market from operating efficiently. Put medium density housing in Mt. View and there will be no effectively no commute time nor need for cars nor buses.

These people who regard the argument as being frivolous might also believe that it's a short-sighted behavior.

In conclusion, I certainly did use the term "frivolous" correctly.


If I drove a car to and from work, and kept it parked in the street at night, would you consider that frivolous?


Now you've switched topics. I said there are reasonable arguments for saying that the thesis - that private buses reduce the number of cars and make more effective use of commuting time - is frivolous.

Now you want me to make a specific judgment about a generic use of your car? Why the topic switch?

My view is that my taxes should not help fund a personal garage for you to store your car. If it's kept on the street then you should pay market rate for it, and the city shouldn't subsidize the cost for everyone with a car.

So, are you paying the real costs for the parking? Then no, it's not frivolous no matter how you want to use it.

Are you driving because you don't feel like walking two blocks every day and would rather drive that distance instead, and you want the city to guarantee that you have free parking on both ends of the trip? Then yes, it's a frivolous reason.


I was using that as an illustrative example, and indeed, it has revealed the crux of our disagreement: You think "frivolous" means one thing, and the dictionary and I think it means another.


How am I using it incorrectly? I even quoted the dictionary meaning I was using.

There are other definitions as well. Do you mean one of them?

If you want everyone to have a 99% chance of finding free parking, because you like driving better than walking, then why can't I say that you're making a frivolous argument?


I agree wholeheartedly with your third point. I'd also add that SF iS perceived as sexier and more exciting than the South Bay. Drive along El Camino for any stretch in MV, SV or SC and your perception of the area as a suburban wasteland would be confirmed. Not to say there aren't nice areas in the South Bay, but you have to look for them (and they are expensive).


regarding your first point:

Democratic decision making is useful for big picture stuff (like choosing representatives for government). Its actually dysfunctionally terrible for small scale stuff. You can't put literally everything to a vote. If you do, then nothing happens.


Shouldn't a bus near your house every 10 minutes be a good thing in most cities? Otherwise, it's a hassle to get anywhere that's not within walking distance.


except these aren't city busses but private shuttles for major companies. If the tech giants were providing funding for SFMTA rather than running a private fleet, then I suspect any objections would be quite different.


Yes. Then it would be "Our city buses shouldn't be for hire!".

Same song, different verse.


The Google bus issue is more about the self-involvement and less about the frivolity. Backlash against Google buses is about gentrification and the fact that a well paid group of workers comes in from a variety of locations and then dominates local politics.


The real issue here is the higher costs of housing caused by the politics of zoning that creates artificial scarcity in housing. In a healthy market, there would be increased construction to offset the increased demand caused by people with higher incomes.


Except if you have a neighborhood full of nice row houses (almost historic by American standards), friendly local businesses, etc., then the "politics of zoning" by the local residents has tended to the status quo, which they seem to like. In that case, where would you be able to increase construction? People want to live in those nice neighborhoods, not some new high rise in a "redeveloped" area. So the newcomers with google salaries buy up and price out the current residents of those pleasant neighborhoods. This creates friction.

Why should all systems be designed for growth?


I've seen that the frequent opposition to zoning changes protests the replacement of single-family or row houses with "high rises", as you did.

Why did you chose to use an extreme as contrast? That's not the only alternative.

What about if they are replaced with a low-rise, or a mid-rise? These offer higher density than row houses but without the same visual impact as a high rise. Some in Manhattan love their 5-story brownstones. I lived in a city with lots of 4- and 5- story buildings, and think that - if well designed - they have a very nice feel to them.

As to the "why", our economics system says that (in general) when there is demand either prices go up or supply expands. If the prices go up, then people who can't afford the new prices must move.

Our primary economics system isn't really designed with people's emotions in mind, so this can cause stress and turmoil, leading even to protests and violence. One fix is to enforce rent controls, which leads to a different set of issues.

If we don't want to force people to move, then we either must make SF less attractive ("protests and violence" can help!) in order to reduce demand, or build new housing to increase the supply.

Not all systems are designed for growth. As a famous example (at least for beer aficionados) the Trappists breweries only serve the purpose of supporting their monastic way of life. The prices aren't raised to match demand, so some people end up buying and reselling the beer for a much higher price. As a remedy, the monks limit how much a single person can buy in a period of time.

There are other economics models which may fit SF better. For example, in the co-op system, the residents own a share of the organization which owns the row houses, or the apartment. They can decide as a whole if they want to, for example, add a new floor to the building or gut and replace the building. Because it's a larger organization, with its own financials, it can afford to take on a larger task like that. The residents would want this because the larger number of people in the building would likely lead to a lower rent. While with single family ownership it's a lot harder to make this decision.

This is a very different model than SF's row houses. I'm curious about how the choice of economic model affects how a city might transform itself, but can't do more than hypothesize about it like I just did.


dalke: please Note that I mostly agree with the arguments in your other posts, but here you're disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing. Fine, let's consider 5-story zoning (I do love Haussmannian Paris after all). Nobody adds 2 stories to an existing wooden 3-story building, it is just not going to happen. Also, co-ops would be cool, but how would that happen in a block of individually owned houses? Especially in a city where subdividing (TICs) is common, you won't spontaneously get collectivization. The only way you can redevelop and densify a desirable low density neighborhood is with an emperor, a grand architect, and an even richer buyer. And even though google employees are rich enough, I don't see an architect around, let alone an emperor.

I'll tell you how the city will densify: very slowly. The 5-story apartment blocks in mission Bay will gentrify in 20-30 years, and by then decay and/or earthquake will take care of the nice neighborhoods we have now.

I'll end with another question: what is so wrong (I know it's unamerican, but I mean logically and morally wrong) with telling rich employees of faraway companies that others are currently living in and enjoying the neighborhoods that they covet, so they shouldn't move there (by upbidding rents and sales) even if their company provides them the transportation (and saying the company is wrong--or misguided if facesaving is required--for doing so)?


My goal elsewhere was to argue that there are valid reasons for why someone can conclude that a private shuttle service isn't useful. My goal here was to complain about the use of "high-rise" as the the exemplar of any sort of higher density housing. The poster asked many questions, and in for a penny, in for a point, I offered some ideas, not really meant as a disagreement for the sake of disagreement.

What you see reveals more a lack in my understanding. No, I have no idea how a co-op system would happen. I also have no idea how it happened in the places where it did happen. Researching now, I found http://www.academia.edu/3393216/Gentrification_-_gentle_or_t... which talks about city efforts to promote a co-op housing system. While it worked, it also encouraged the city's efforts to bring in an "economically sustainable population", which excludes the politically and economically less powerful who were able to afford the area before. BTW, there doesn't appear to be a grand architect for this system.

Perhaps you're right, and Haussmann's authoritarian style, or great destruction, are the only ways to get major changes to a city's infrastructure. Certainly though there is much I don't like about the efforts of the American Haussmann, Robert Moses. But many cities have transformed over time, and not all used this imperious style.

Urban evolution is a topic I know little about, but also one where there are many strong feelings and few certainties. I know some of my own feelings: 1) commuting is a waste of human time, 2) the price of petroleum does not reflect its true cost, 3) company subsidies for things like commuting, meals, laundry services, etc. should be counted as personal income, rather than a business expense (at time I think that personal frequent flier miles for business travel should be the same), 4) car travel is dangerous and should not be promoted over other means, and 5) I prefer the "cuddly" Nordic model of capitalism over the "cut-throat" free market capitalism (and think that the Nordic countries have been moving too much in recent years towards equating everything in market terms).

With those in mind, what's "wrong" is a confluence of several factors. The transportation subsidizes should be included as part of the overall employee salary (SF's payroll tax on companies helps unbalance this a bit more), the Bay Area has no well integrated large scale mass transit system (thus Google et al. have a disproportionate influence on precisely which regions will be impacted by their specific choice of transportation routes), and 3) housing is too closely coupled to free market rates, so short term economic booms may break up community and emotional ties that take decades to establish (replacing it certainly with a different set of community and emotional ties, but see "cuddly").


If Googlers were dominating local politics then there wouldn't be a housing shortage. I think that part isn't as true as you think.


That's what democracy is all about. What democracy isn't about is harassment.


I did wonder if its the disruption to local political machines that is part of this.


Exactly, in my home town there's a large car factory (Fiat's), which is providing dozens of buses for its workers every day, and yet nobody is calling those workers entitled egoists.


The impact of carpooling is minimal and there are much more efficient ways at public transportation. Carpooling is a band-aid unlikely to reach the critical mass required to turn around the nightmare that public transportation is.


Those more-efficient means of public transportation (commuter trains) only work if the destination is within walking distance of the train station. But Silicon Valley communities make it illegal to build office towers in their downtowns, so the existing rail transport isn't practical to commute from SF to Peninsula office parks.


[deleted]


We are talking about California where they didn't build an extensively sufficient subway system.


Whenever you can land at an airport and take a train (BART) into the heart of the City in under 30 minutes you've got a subway system. BART could always be better (loop the Bay or go across the Golden Gate) but it is a real Subway system.


BART is more commuter rail than metro (what is usually meant by "subway"). It provides transport from other cities into the city (SF), but provides little coverage in the city itself.

For people living in very specific parts of the city (see: the Mission) the lack of a real metro has made BART into a pseudo-subway, but at the end of the day it's still commuter rail (the seating arrangements in a BART car is telling as to its intended purpose).

San Francisco doesn't really have a metro system - it has streetcars that don't have exclusive right of way through the majority of their run.


That's a good point.


No one said that it wasn't real. There's 100 miles of track. I said that it wasn't extensive enough. It doesn't sufficiently meet the needs of the people who live in the area. Getting to/from the airport is only one use case.

If you want to remove cars from the road and have people live in a larger area, mass transit needs to accomodate them.


It must suck to live in a third-world state.


oh my god are you being serious?

This isnt fucking reddit, take your sensationalism elsewhere. It's really easy to pick on transportation systems when you have absolutely no idea how spread out everything is.


Frivolous, perhaps, but the shitty sexting apps and the like[1] are low hanging fruit where we can afford to be cutting edge. It's best to view the current Silicon Valley euphoria as a testbed for new technologies and labor processes and as an incubation chamber for the next generation working class. All the awesome stuff the writer wants will happen in the next decade or two, and most of the technologies and technologists involved will have their roots in the present frothy period.

It's also best to think comparatively: sure, maybe some capital is being allocated stupidly [2]. But lets compare to the second half of the 20th century and its great technological achievements. Technological development was uniformly directed toward the goals of state-building and war-waging. Given a choice between better sexting apps and barbarism, it's not even a real choice. One is clearly a significantly negative-sum game, and the other is neutral to mildly positive. We only ended up ahead after the 20th century through a combination of good luck and technology's tendency to adapt across domains and be used in novel ways.

[1] A minority of the start ups that actually exist, but let's grant it for the sake of argument.

[2] The article makes this entirely about the allocation of labor, even going so far as to imply it's character defects that cause workers to go work on stupid things instead of meaningful things. But fuck that noise: capital is the driving force here. I've never met an engineer who would prefer working on sexting apps to working on deep, fundamental problems. But our present system rewards capital for pursuing short-term profits at the expense of long-term economic growth. If you want that to change, fix the system. Hate the game, not the player.


I'd like to expand your comments a bit further.

Not only are these ideas low hanging fruit but they are low risk, innovation test beds. Imagine trying to do this kind of work on a medical device that could kill someone...you can't be nearly as wild and crazy. The internet is always going to be productized with ideas that are cheap to stand up, low risk and scalable....that's the beauty of it.


Like another commenter said "The substance/cool chasm is real" https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7386061

It is and I'm loving it. The last thing I need is a wave of smart kids taking all of the low hanging fruit in un-cool flyover country (or what DHH has called the Fortune 1 Million). Right now I'm staring at an ocean that other people don't want to fish because the water is too cold. I'm working on something very unsexy that will hopefully buy me a yacht and a Ferrari. I have a list of things just like it, again, all very un-sexy.

Let them have their sexting apps.


I feel exactly the same way, though you're clearly ahead of me. Right now I'm working in website development but trying to figure out how to get into the medical hardware industry, either with or without a software engineering degree. I'm signed up to take software engineering this fall, but if I can get the job I want without it...

Anyway, can you mention the names of any unsexy companies that I ought to look at? PM if you don't want the smart kids to know about them :)


I'm a high school dropout. The people who take money out of their pocket and hand it to you for solving their problems don't care much about your education, they care that you understand their problem better than they do.

Pick a "green light" market and start interviewing people in that market for their pain points. Something will emerge.


>> Pick a "green light" market...

Sorry, I haven't heard of this term before and a cursory search wasn't helpful. Do you mean a market that is commonly thought to be growing or something else?


Came here to say the exact same thing. I am working on something that I personally consider very sexy, but most hardcore techies do not. It brings about opportunity, even if what I'm doing is extremely boring to most others.

I don't know if I needed to read 7000 words on the subject, but I overall agree with the thesis. I do know some brilliant guys working at old guard technical companies though -- those golden handcuffs are hard to cut!

The problem is, this sector has created a different "bubble" of sorts, which has largely attracted a lot of "brogrammers" to the game who aren't in it for what most of us consider the right reasons. There seems to be a very low signal to noise ratio out there, and it's a huge reason why I don't bother a lot of startup meetups and the like.

I don't believe the bubble will truly last. The ones left standing will be those who are truly passionate about it -- they have the knack -- especially if they can navigate hardware and software.

Relevant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmYDgncMhXw


> The talent — and there's a ton of it — flowing into Silicon Valley cares little about improving these infrastructural elements. What they care about is coming up with more web apps.

Is there evidence that this problem actually exists? This seems likely to be a manufactured story.

The press simply isn't going to write as much about Meraki as they would a popular, consumer-oriented web or mobile startup.

$1.2 billion is a big number (for the acquisition of Meraki), but ultimately it's a "boring" business that sells routers. It's never going to appeal to more than a small audience.


> Is there evidence that this problem actually exists?

and later on:

> but it's ultimately a boring business that sells routers.

The use of the word "boring" should answer your question. There was a time in the valley that stuff was far-out, interesting, and cool. I know, hard to believe, but I saw it happen, ancient history that it is.

But hey, there was a time when being a mechE building cars was the ultimate in cool. Things change.


I don't think Cisco's problems are a lack of engineers. If it is, they can always pay them more, or train their managers to be good leaders.

I agree - every time I hear, "People aren't going to work in X?" I wonder if there is a systemic imbalance, or something else at work.

If consumers want to pay for apps, who are we as central planners to say otherwise? Maybe we shouldn't subsidize these things, but let the market decide.

You could argue we should be funding basic research, but that's not routers.


Recently, many multi-billion dollars acquisitions made by Google/Yahoo/Facebook have had more than their share of Media attention. It`s not difficult to see where the spotlight shines these days. Hence the seeming reason why so many 'young' people would also want to emulate the acquired Startups ... no?


Well, I'd love to be doing work on the hardware side of things. I'd love to even intern --despite the fact that I'm graduating-- at a company like Freescale or Intel or Qualcomm or Cisco or AMD. As long as I could continue to pay the bills --and feed the student loan monster-- I'd continue to live as a student. I'd consider it a fair trade-off while I was grinding for XP in a field that, for all intents and purposes, can't really be done in your garage any more. Yes, we can all play with 7400 chips and build radios and probe away at some cheap electronic gizmo, but nobody is going to be fabricating 45nm, 6-layer, N-core, superscalar, pipelined, cached, billion-transistor count CPU semiconductors in their basement labs. And nothing but years of experience at the interface of design, verification, and fabrication will ever produce a skilled engineer in those fields that understands all of the delicate interdependencies of that technological pipeline. It should go without saying at this point that no, I don't have any meaningful experience in the current state-of-the-art of semiconductor design, verification, or fabrication and I honestly don't see how it's reasonable to expect me to.

Of course, while I've never had a professional software engineering gig either, I do have previous experience with development and other paid jobs in supporting roles like systems administration. I sometimes think that it's simply a consequence of the barrier to entry being so relatively low. Do you have a computer (or even access to one that you can install software on) and access to the net? Congratulations. You have everything you need to start learning about concepts and tools that are immediately applicable and relevant to the field. And they're Free as in Freedom to boot! So long as you have the time, you have all you need to get to a point where your horns aren't entirely green and the spaces behind your ears aren't entirely soaked. With guidance from more senior devs, you'll get to their level too in no time at all.

But it seems no matter what I do, it's always the software guys that are interested in talking. They're so interested, it seems, that I don't even have to go to them. They'll come to me. Which is honestly shocking, given that I still consider myself a very sophomoric developer. By contrast, even getting the hardware folks to show up seems impossible. There was a recent STEM job fair at my university (Texas State) that really ought to have been billed as the Computer Science job fair. Sure, Freescale and National Instruments were there, but there weren't any members from their hardware or verification teams. It was all software and IT. Samsung was there, but I honestly don't know why. I didn't need a hard copy of the job description that was printed from the online job site. Apple was there, but they were only looking for at-home tech support. Intel wasn't even there. AMD wasn't even there. NVIDIA wasn't even there. Cisco wasn't even there. And those are all companies with established offices in the Austin area.

My heart may be in hardware, but I still love software. And guess who's hiring. And guess who's got student loans to pay off :D

tl;dr: Yes, I'd say the problem does exist. And perhaps the reason why web apps are so dominant and "infrastructural elements" so maligned is that the barriers to entry are so different in each field, and the corresponding willingness to train in each field seemingly reversed.


I used to work in verification at Intel; I was 25. I was the youngest member of the team by easily 8 years. When the tumbleweeds are a blowing, you look around and take the hint.

The last straw was when I overheard two older engineers (not from my group but on the same floor) in the hallway asking themselves where all the younger people were. "Why, they're all doing exciting things like startups, what would they be caught dead doing here?" I took the hint.


Who shows up to the career fair may have more to do with the university you happen to attend than a lack of hardware related internships. Cisco, Qualcomm, Intel, AMD, and Nvidia all hire college interns, and all go to college career fairs. Apple does hire college interns at college career fairs for more than home tech support.

Companies only hire so many recruiters to go to so many university career fairs (which the company often pays to attend), and this has an unfortunate effect on how easy it is to be hired at a particular company from a particular university.


Indeed. It's kinda depressing to compare the company lists between Texas State and UT Austin [1,2]. Sure, many of the same companies are there. But others --like NVIDIA, Texas Instruments, Raytheon, Toshiba, Verizon-- are only to be found on UT Austin's list. And of course the sizes are quite different. Texas State had 50 something companies in total while UT Austin was able to pull in over 200. And UT Austin certainly seemed able to pull in far more CS companies too. Rackspace's absence at Texas State's career fair was particularly conspicuous to me.

A part of me would love to chalk this up to the privileges of hailing from a more elite alma mater, but I also wouldn't be too surprised if the EE and CE students at UT Austin ran into the same issues that we did here at Texas State. While many of the companies at the Cockrell School of Engineering's "EXPO", as they call it, bill themselves as looking at "Electrical & Computer Engineering" students, the actual "concentration areas" look more like: "Computational Science, Engineering, and Mathematics." Texas Instruments is but one example [3]. Granted, seeing as I'm not a student at UT Austin, I couldn't tell anyone whether my suspicions bear any resemblance to reality or not.

[1] UT-Austin: https://apps.engr.utexas.edu/ecac/events/expo/Students/brows...

[2] Texas State: https://www.myinterfase.com/txstate/Search/ViewEmployers/Ind...

[3] https://apps.engr.utexas.edu/ecac/events/expo/Students/showC...


I don't think applecore was asking "Does the imbalance exist?", but rather, "Is the imbalance a problem?"


>Is there evidence that this problem actually exists? This seems likely to be a manufactured story.

I don't know. I thought he (edit: or she, I suppose) was pretty clear. His description of what the press does and doesn't report (and why) serves as an explanation for the perception of an imbalance that doesn't "actually" exist. I disagree, of course. And I would also assert that the imbalance is indeed a problem.


Qualcomm was and is hiring quite vigorously, so far as I know. Are you studying CS or Computer Engineering?


"Electrical Engineering with a Computer Engineering Focus." Don't ask me why Texas State calls it that. Take a look at my degree plan and it's more or less identical to that of an ECE degree.

Indeed I have heard that Qualcomm is hiring like crazy. And I have applied to several positions both in their Austin office --which does admittedly seem to only be looking for experienced engineers-- and their San Diego office --which has many listings for graduates in various branches of the field.

My frustration with simply filling out an online application form for a company lies in the fact that it bears a striking resemblance to this gesture:

$ cat RESUME.md > /dev/null

Of course, I'm probably being just a tad hyperbolic here :P... but the benefit of actually meeting someone at a job fair --or anywhere else, really-- is that it has far better results. At a bare minimum your details at least seem to go into some priority folders. And you'll likely get an initial phone call, even if nothing further results from it.


> young engineers ignore opportunities in less-sexy areas of tech like semiconductors, data storage and networking, [...] without Nvidia’s graphics processing unit, your BuzzFeed GIF is not going to make anyone laugh

I don't know man. I mean, I'm fairly young (mid-twenties) and if someone told me I could work for nvidia I would take that opportunity. Things like graphics hardware/networking/data storage etc are a lot more interesting than 90% of the crap that most startups are working on, but they are also a lot harder too. The bar to entry is higher.


It seems like a pretty good career move to work for an old-guard company - say Nvidia, or Yahoo, or Lockheed - and then go found a frivolous company. See eg. WhatsApp. You end up competing with all the young folks who don't have that breadth of engineering experience that you can only get by working in a big company with a fair number of greybeards, but playing in a hot market.


How is building a robust SMS alternative frivolous? Is email frivolous? WhatsApp uses the internet to give low income families all over the world a first-class way to stay in touch. Writing communication apps for a Nokia N900 is not a sexy thing all the young kids are rushing to do.


Since IM is just IM, you could have gone to the phone company and made SMS work. All other systems (Skype, LINE, Kik) are just second system effects with better monetization ideas.


...and yet one of their main competitors is SnapChat, which the article specifically calls out as frivolous.

I don't personally believe either one of them is frivolous, but I'm applying the standards of the article to this discussion. You can't have it both ways - if you believe Snapchat or Twitter are frivolous, WhatsApp's playing in the same market.


I think there's a major flaw in the argument that "these people could be curing cancer!"

To have any hope of doing something as ambitious as curing cancer you presumably have to have an unusually large amount of interest in the subject. Like enough to devote your entire education and career to. By taking jobs at tech companies they are demonstrating that they don't possess this necessary quality. Few people do.

And as for the healthcare.gov debacle- being smart and a great programmer has absolutely no benefit when it comes to fixing that site. Yes there are likely major technical issues, but the main problems derive from layer upon layer of bureaucracy and policy that any project of that scope entails. I would advise smart young people to stay far, far away from any project of that nature, lest any will you had to do something meaningful will get sucked out of your body fairly quickly.


an unusually large amount of interest in the subject

Not to mention talent in the area. People aren't fungible, especially not later on in their careers.

For example, Steve Jobs (pbuh) is not interchangeable with Eric Lander, even though both of them are/were highly creative and driven people who reached amazing success in their field.

The kid who's a natural programmer and working on the latest messaging app or Flappy Bird would never have been happy doing bench work to cure cancer.


Jobs talent was 100% fungible - taking the credit for others work.


This whole article is another iteration of the whole "the latest generation sucks and is ruining everything" metanarrative that's been quite popular in the last few years.

If companies like Cisco wanted to hire engineers who are going to sexier companies like web startups, maybe they should learn a little more about what web startups have to offer to a hire. Namely, the autonomy to develop a solution to a problem in one's own way, rather than being a single cog in a gigantic organizational wheel.


I've mentioned this in the past, but I was happy to get out of that area. Padova, where I live now, has both young and old people, rich and poor, people who have always been here and immigrants. Most people work in different industries. It feels a lot more varied, and somehow more "real" than the bay area.


[deleted]


It's not about age: Venice, which isn't far from here is very much in the "unreal" category.


Heilmeier's Catechism, item 4 and 5:

* Who cares?

* If you're successful, what difference will it make?

R.W. Hamming on problem selection: "[I]f what they were working on was not important, and was not likely to lead to important things, then why were they working on them?"

"About four months later, my friend stopped me in the hall and remarked that my question had bothered him. He had spent the summer thinking about the important problems in his area, and while had had not changed his research he thought it was well worth the effort. I thanked him and kept walking. A few weeks later I noticed that he was made head of the department. Many years later he became a member of the National Academy of Engineering. The one person who could hear the question went on to do important things and all the others -- so far as I know -- did not do anything worth public attention."


The author fails to see that while a large number of apps may be frivolous, we've also ended up with a world that allows collaboration at a global scale. The nature of engineering is changing, and what the last decade of "software innovation" has done is evolve an engineering practice that is superior to any that came before, even if it has only been used to build frivolous apps.

I've worked as a government contractor and have been exposed to the inner workings of many of the companies building what the author would consider serious technology - jet planes, submarines and the like. And I think it is fair to say that the tools they use and the way they use them are clearly from the 70s - this is not a criticism, they create impressive technology, but I believe that once the practices of modern software development begin to take root in those industries, we'll be exposed the innovation we've actually created. facebook may not be considered a serious app, but certainly the technology facebook has built will start being used in other "serious" sectors in a few years, and then people will realize where the innovation lay. Things like proper version control, large-scale data warehousing etc will change serious industries, the frivolous apps are just a testbed in which we create them because the risks of failure are low.

Cliffs: Web technology is serious business, even if what it is used for is currently frivolous


> jet planes, submarines and the like. And I think it is fair to say that the tools they use and the way they use them are clearly from the 70s - this is not a criticism, they create impressive technology, but I believe that once the practices of modern software development begin to take root in those industries, we'll be exposed the innovation we've actually created.

Or, we'll just end up with jet planes with zero day exploits and submarines that have to be patched every month when the next sprint gets pushed to deployment.


Man I hate the framing on that headline.

I hate silicon valley just as much as anyone else who doesn't live there, and I'd gladly upvote an anti-valley piece; but when an old media outlet blames it on Those Damn Millenials right in the title, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

EDIT:

  But that presumes that the talent at older companies is 
  somehow subpar, less technically proficient, than it is 
  at their younger counterparts. This seems unlikely if you 
  look at Cisco’s list of patents.
Ugghhhhh


I thought it was fairly balanced, and anyway the author is one of Those Damn Millenials.


Authors don't write headlines, editors do.


This article got a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong, and I'm saying that as someone who did work for Cisco, then a YC startup, and is now working for Google.

I think one of the fundamental differences in culture between the "old" and "new" is that the older businesses think about BUSINESS first and technology is the tool to thrive in that business, whether it's enterprise software of networking infrastructure. Where as many newer companies think about the PRODUCT first and business is merely a tool to prop up valuation and gather more resources to work on "cooler" products.

Of course young engineers are more interested in products than businesses. How long can these companies last? I am not sure. Facebook will probably never make as much profit as Cisco but they are already valued at almost twice as much. But none of it matter until media hype and capital keeps flowing into the startup scene here in Silicon Valley. At least until the bubble bursts.

I love Silicon Valley, but I'd hate for this place to turn into "app valley".


> I love Silicon Valley, but I'd hate for this place to turn into "app valley".

Isn't it good to sell shovels during a gold rush? I think now is the perfect time to build SaaS sites with "Enterprise/Startup/Hacker" pricing plans that function similar open-source tools. e.g., Heroku (AWS with more fluff), e-mail marketing tools, customized web hosting, Parse (backend for mobile apps), Airbrake.io (real time error reporting). I think it's a fad that people in startups are willing to pay for.


Good to sell shovels in a gold rush but it's best to build a business that lasts.


Too bad the article only gives a cursory nod towards ageism. that is a serious problem-the rest of the article was sorta meh and a bit inside baseball wanking.


The amount of hyperbole and intentional provocation of anxiety in this article makes me think the writer isn't really looking to inform anyone of anything. Instead she just regurgitates one tech stereotype after another like it's news.


I literally read this SF Gate article on how out of town writers should write the stereotypical article about SF an hour before I read the NYT article.

I smiled to myself when I saw the resemblances

http://m.sfgate.com/living/article/Handy-dandy-guide-to-writ...


The problem is that the VC "lottery" creates a short horizon.

The sexting app cashes out in 18-24 months.

The semiconductor company won't cash out for 5-7 years, if ever.

Want to fix the misallocation? Make the capital gains tax more than income tax instead of less. Suddenly all the smart boys will be off to companies that have profits instead of growth.


I thought this would be a perfect article for testing our some summarize tools :). According to the osx summarizer tool, the following came up when I set to 1 sentence:

It’s the angst of an early hire at a start-up that only he realizes is failing; the angst of a founder who raises $5 million for his company and then finds out an acquaintance from college raised $10 million; the angst of someone who makes $100,000 at 22 but is still afraid that he may not be able to afford a house like the one he grew up in.


How can you access the summarize tool in modern OS X? I remember Apple doing away with it or otherwise moving it after ~10.5 or so.


I too would like to know this. Looks a brilliant feature.

EDIT: Found! It is still there in System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Services > Text > Summarize. It just isn't enabled by default.


What a well written article. It really brilliantly summarizes why you really would and wouldn’t want to be part of the current tech field. I’ve been trying to go from IT at a University in Canada to working for companies like Apple. So far no luck, I feel like I’m 5 years behind every gold rush. There are so many articles these days stating “California is full, if you want to live here, bring your A game and a million dollars if you want to live someplace."

"A few weeks ago, a programmer friend and I were talking about unhappiness, in particular the kind of unhappiness that arises when you are 21 and lavishly educated with the world at your feet. In the valley, it’s generally brought on by one of two causes: coming to the realization either that your start-up is completely trivial or that there are people your own age so knowledgeable and skilled that you may never catch up.”

This is a great paragraph, again showing the dichotomy of power and impotency. I feel the same way having learned iOS development on my own but not feeling particularly “hireable” without a degree or full-time experience.


As a 40 something Gen Xer, it's tough to generalize about the younger generation. I detest arrogance and self-entitlement and that's definitely in the air, but I admire how smart these kids are and their energy. It's a wide world, there's room enough for both curing cancer and sexing apps.


Now might be a good time to revisit a previous discussion on this: Schlep Blindness (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3465521) I'd also add (another part) of my take on it:

- Creating the "new Snapchat" is a whole lot easier than curing cancer, which is not even a single disease. It's a constellation of diseases/conditions we still don't fully understand.

- People need to eat, want to enjoy themselves, all that stuff. To do this, you need money. What's the easier way to do so? Making the new Snapchat.

- People want raised status. You'd get a lot more from curing cancer(s), but it would take so much longer, and you're not guaranteed it'll really work. Making the new Snapchat is the much easier option.

- You need piles of money to do research to cure cancers. You also need time. Short-termism (caused by the other side of accountability, transparency, and demands for ROI) means you may not get either of these. So where does the money come from, and is what you're getting enough? If it is, do you have time (and enough of the right type of skilled researchers) to do so? Modern medicine and research is not an individual endeavor; it requires teams, sometimes large ones.

The incentives are just not there. Some of these things also do not always lend themselves to private investment; the risks are high, the time horizons are long, and the payoffs very uncertain. The way our current systems are set up, this is not an easy problem to solve. People who have already made their fortunes elsewhere (e.g., Elon Musk) and companies that have huge cash piles and lots of big ideas (like Google) seem like our current best bets until we collectively decide that we should fund more of these things via public money.

My comment on the older article:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3465754


> It provided an efficient solution to a niche problem — rich techies needed a ride home after a night on the town and couldn’t get one

Wtf? Uber is better than a taxi in every way but price. It certainly isn't limited to just rich techies at night. I wonder if he has ever even tried calling a taxi in SF or the valley. In SF, half the time, it will never show up. It just picks up someone else on the way there. In the valley, half the companies you call up refuse you saying they have no one in that town right now. With Uber you get a ride immediately and can watch it come to you on the screen and down rate any driver that ditches you for an easier fare.


And with Uber X, it's even cheaper than cabs sometimes...


A big part of this, I think, has to do with the way the market is structured and the sorts of businesses that are getting rewarded.

Once upon a time, right, engineering was really sensitive to time. We had to wirewrap circuits together, we had to punch cards, and in general we had to plan out what we did. Some thought leaders existed, usually little labs embedded in much larger companies (we all genuflect at Bell Labs, or Xerox PARC, or what have you).

Nowadays the cost of prototyping something is super super low, even if it's hardware.

Now, combine that with the "lean" meme going around, once which basically says (arguably, quite rightly so) that engineering is four or five orders removed from being a successful business.

So, we see a lot of startups going for things which are not Big Ideas--and why should they, because Big Ideas are expensive to develop, because Big Ideas are hard to sell, and because Big Ideas are not profitable.

What does sell well, reliably? Bread and circuses. Communication, and advertising, and search. Any sort of business where you can be technologically lazy and "disrupt" a market. Those are the things being selected for--not Big Ideas.

Why don't you see these bright engineers working on public-sector stuff? Because .gov is insanely high barrier to entry, and in order to break into it you kind of have to assimilate. And it's a culture which is cynical, which isn't "lean" by any stretch, and which cares about tech even less than the next "X for Y with Z".

Public sector stuff invariably has a bunch of egos and bullshit that have to be taken into account to do business, almost all of which is orthogonal to actually solving any problems. So, little surprise that people don't want to work on it. It's a lot of effort, and it doesn't change much, and it'll backslide the very second you turn your back on it--maybe even before.

Medicine, incidentally, is exactly the same way--you've got to coddle a bunch of little snowflakes who are used to getting their way and who are (annoyingly enough) correct with enough frequency that they are considered elders on matters they know nothing about.


"without Nvidia’s graphics processing unit, your BuzzFeed GIF is not going to make anyone laugh."

Err....


you know all major browsers use hardware acceleration to draw stuff right?


Surely GIFs are hardware accelerated these days?

Great article, right?


Oh FFS. Where's the principle of charity when you need it?

YES. Without graphics processing of one form or another, on one chip or another, over one cable or bus or another, to one screen or terminal or another, your GIF absolutely won't be visible. Or your PNG, or your JPG, or your desktop or movie or e-book. Nothing will be visible.


Maybe I was a bit harsh. Now on to create something that's both cool and really matters (satisfying both the kids and the elders).

If you're viewing GIFs on Windows and it is drawn using GDI or GDI+, nothing is accelerated. It's bust.


"Older engineers are not smart in the way that start-ups want them to be — or, if they are, they have reservations about the start-up lifestyle."

The startup lifestyle is an unhealthy and dangerous where one essentially gives up one's life outside the startup. Can you blame these older engineers for not putting up with such bullshit (bullshit === startup lifestyle)? Startups should cease complaining about it. "Not smart in the way that start-ups want them to be" is ridiculous. Either one is smart or one isn't. This kind of thinking is just veiled discrimination from startups that want to overwork their employees and truly stupid writers who don't understand what they're writing about.


I don't see this as a "youth" problem. To reframe the discussion, this is about the ever present cycle of innovators that become incumbents and innovators that disrupt incumbents. If you haven't heard of Clayton Christensen's book, The Innovator's Dilemma, it's a good read.

While some of the people mentioned in the article are young (Bicket and Miswas of Meraki are in their 20s/early 30s), other entrepreneurs in the news today are not: Acton and Koum of WhatsApp (recently bought by Facebook for $19B) are in their late 30s/early 40s.

Google's founders, Larry and Sergey, are 40.

Twitter: Jack Dorsey is 38. Biz Stone is 40. Evan Williams? 42.

Steve Jobs' best work at Apple was when he was in his late 40s/early 50s. Arguably, the success of Apple today is due to Steve's leadership, not due to the company being saved by some young person who breathed new life into the company as this quote from the NYT article suggests: "The most innovative and effective companies are old-guard companies that have managed to reach out to the new guard, like Apple". (If you disagree with this, look at Apple between 1985-1997 and 2011-present, where plenty of young (and old) people worked at Apple)

To simplify the claim here: there are those who know how to adapt to the current situation and those that don't (or can, but don't care). Some of those who know how to adapt are "old guard" and some are "new guard" -- it's not the age that is the determining factor.

As for other items in the article, like the lack of young people "help[ing] cure cancer or fix healthcare.gov", there are plenty of old (older) people who don't want to work on those problems too.

As for the claim that startups are the bastion of youth, that's not true either. I see plenty of 40-something founders and startup employees. While young startup people can easily afford to do a startup because their financial commitments are low (e.g., no mortgage or family to support), the older folks tend to do a startup for a similar reason: they've earned and saved a chunk of money where they're no longer worried about money and they can take on more risk.


This article make it seems that all infrastructural problems lies in the hardware world.

The younger generation do care about problems that lies beneath the application, but a lot of those problems deal more with software than with hardware these days.

Besides that, we've been moving to a open source infrastructure, where a larger number of companies that depends on softwares develop them in a collaborative way, we have moved from the proprietary paradigm that existed in the 90's. A simple texting app may depend on some innovative database to scale, and will contribute to it's development.


If this phenomenon exists, I'm not convinced it's a problem. We've only begun to explore what these core technologies enable. Even if hardware was mostly stagnant for, say, a decade, I still think we would see innovation in software and how software is integrated into society.


This quote of McDowell really highlighted the shift in mentality for me. Fast triumphs caution?

"The problem is that they may be making more reasonable steps, but they’re making fewer steps. It’s hard to compete when you’re moving slower, even if you’re moving in a consistently correct direction."


People don't understand numbers, on an emotional level.

Saving just one animal from death feels more important than improving the way 100's of millions communicate. But is it really?


Ah but what hardware will these new web apps use? How will they get their network packets across from A to B if not going through the expensive Cisco hardware?

They all need each other.


TL;DR: Grad student naval gazes about + waxes philosophical on occupation he feels predestined towards but actually has no real world experience with


This isn't a "youth problem". 20-year-olds and 50-year-olds aren't natural enemies, and most people don't think that way. Blaming this on one side is ridiculous. When 50-year-old chickenhawk VCs only want to fund 25-year-olds, that's not the fault of one generation or the other. (Can you blame it on the young for taking the opportunity? No. Can you blame it on the old when it's only a few making those decisions that are hurting most of them? No.)

The real issue is the cool/substance chasm, which the article describes well.

If you want substance, you can work for the government or a big corporation... your salary growth will average 5% per year, your advancement will be political, and you'll probably never be able to afford a house in the Bay Area or New York. You'll also be at the mercy of corporate actions (mergers, etc.) that might move you out of your fun R&D job and into the basement.

If you play for cool, there's a 90% chance you waste years of your life you can never get back, a 9% chance you break even on opportunity cost, a 0.9% chance that you never have to work again (after wearing yourself out over 10 years of a manic-depressive startup existence, and "retirement" being an artifact of adrenal exhaustion, moderate wealth, and apathy), and a 0.1% chance of getting so rich that it was actually worth it.

What we need is a middle path. We have the golden skill that makes us capable of 15-40% annual growth (in salary, economic value, etc.) Between criminally inefficient large organizations (which produce "substance", but inefficiently and with painful wastes of effort) and flash-seeking careerist venture capitalists ("cool")-- a path that might "average" 50%/year career returns but with so much noise that the median outcome is poor-- no one will let us. That's the problem.


This way of thinking about it is interesting. For many people, me included, entrepreneurship is first and foremost a existential choice.

Do you have some examples of what this middle path might look like? For the entrepreneurial-minded, is it different from what is commonly viewed as "lifestyle business" or bootstrapped revenue-first side-project (that might later turn into a solid small-scale business)?


Mid-risk/mid-growth businesses. Designed to grow at 15-40% per year and hire selectively (see: Valve). Can have a desirable culture (e.g. open allocation) that wouldn't survive 75%/year personnel growth. Too risky for bank loans (personal liability) but not the billions-or-bollocks long-shot gambits that are career-making for VCs. But still potentially very profitable if VCs took a portfolio mentality rather than a careerist "I want the next Facebook because of what it'll do for my reputation" approach.


You're describing basically a high-end consultancy or niche enterprise business. These jobs exist, and they aren't particularly hard to find, but you do have to go out and actively search for them. Companies like this don't make the news; they build personal relationships with companies in their industry and then quietly get contracts. You find out about them through your network; once you've worked in an industry for a while you'll know all the niche players, and probably be able to get a job there if you're any good.

I interned at one of these in college. I found it wasn't personally for me, because a.) the pace of work was too slow and b.) customers can be a bitch, with often conflicting requirements, and when you're a mid-size enterprise business you don't get to aggregate many customers together into a product. But for someone with a different risk/reward tradeoff from myself, they can be very pleasant places to work.


Partnership-like arrangements would seem to be an obvious choice of structure for such firms. Valve seems to be basically a single-proprietorship that tries to run and compensates itself like ye olde professional partnership. The problem is, how to get capitalists on board without giving them enough equity to undermine the partnership goal? Partnership isn't an obviously good match with long development times or significant capital costs. Valve had a founder who was willing to play the benevolent owner-operator using his own hoard of stock-option money.


Also, profit sharing a la investment banks and hedge funds.


> The other night I was studying late for a midterm exam — I am a grad student in computer science at Columbia University —

Heh, nice name-dropping.


Please Don't Hit Me With Your Modem!

=== http://www.warplife.com/jobs/computer/




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