The whole article reads like a narrative that is grabbing random anecdotes to support a point, even when the facts say otherwise.
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.
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.
Also: (b) is far more likely than (a).
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.
 -- http://www.thebaffler.com/past/practical_utopians_guide
These people then proceed to sulk in a corner at the general suckitude of our species while voting for more capitalism.
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.
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.
Effort goes where the money is, because your legacy is a long term problem, and your ability to eat is todays issue.
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.
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.
Would love to hear from anyone interested: http://maybethismatters.org
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:
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.
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.
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.
Actually, there is a Federal Department of Stopping Cancer - the National Cancer Institute.
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.
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.
Upvoted specifically for this line. That strikes me as a key insight into the free market's strengths and weaknesses.
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.
-- There are a bunch of startups already in these areas...
-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...)
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.
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).
The question for me is why is this true? It seems like there should be.
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?
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.
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.
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 substance/cool chasm is real (find my other post in this thread) and vicious.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
"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.
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).
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.
In 20 years someone will be writing your post about you!
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?
I think it may be overblown a bit sometimes, but there is definitely truth to this.
And further, where did they come from?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
In short, read the article -- lots of sides to the story: http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/26/5444030/company-town-how-g...
They're the torchbearers for the lawlessness and thuggery of the late-'60s "student revolutions" etc.
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! ;)
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.
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.
And dont forget its the bus riders taxes that help pay for those roads too.
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.
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.
350,000 sqft is not small.
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.
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?
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.)
> 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.
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)".
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).
I don't know how it is in California, but in Ontario privatized buses can only travel on certain roads.
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.
#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.
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.
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?
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.
Same song, different verse.
Why should all systems be designed for growth?
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.
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)?
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").
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.
If you want to remove cars from the road and have people live in a larger area, mass transit needs to accomodate them.
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.
It's also best to think comparatively: sure, maybe some capital is being allocated stupidly . 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.
 A minority of the start ups that actually exist, but let's grant it for the sake of argument.
 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.
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.
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.
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 :)
Pick a "green light" market and start interviewing people in that market for their pain points. Something will emerge.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . 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.
 UT-Austin: https://apps.engr.utexas.edu/ecac/events/expo/Students/brows...
 Texas State: https://www.myinterfase.com/txstate/Search/ViewEmployers/Ind...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
* 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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
I smiled to myself when I saw the resemblances
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.
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.
EDIT: Found! It is still there in System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Services > Text > Summarize. It just isn't enabled by default.
"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.
- 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:
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.
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.
Great article, right?
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.
If you're viewing GIFs on Windows and it is drawn using GDI or GDI+, nothing is accelerated. It's bust.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
Saving just one animal from death feels more important than improving the way 100's of millions communicate. But is it really?
They all need each other.
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.
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)?
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.
Heh, nice name-dropping.