When I see cases like this, I've been asking: would the Principle of Charity  have helped here? The answer is usually yes. In this case, the idea of pg lobbying to flood the market with cheap programming labor is not only demonstrably wrong from the article (which talks about a much smaller order of magnitude and endorses lowering H1B-style quotas), it fails a laugh test for anyone familiar with his arguments in general.
The essay may be wrong, impractical, or impolitic; if you want to criticize it, there are plenty of legit criticisms you could make, starting with: how are we to objectively evaluate who the great programmers are, when it has often been argued (including by a certain essayist) that this can't be measured?
But if you're going to dispute an article—any article—on Hacker News, you have a responsibility to engage with what it really says. The Principle of Charity is the best way I know of to formalize this requirement, and unless someone can make a case for any bad consequences of doing so, we're planning to add it officially to the HN Guidelines in the new year.
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_charity and http://philosophy.lander.edu/oriental/charity.html
PG chose to appy the phrase "anti-immigrant" to the people he disagrees with.
Keep in mind, there are people who support high levels of immigration (the US currently takes 1.2+ million immigrants a year), support a path to legalization for people already living here illegally, even support general skilled immigration. They simply don't see evidence for a specific shortage of high tech workers, and, as a result, oppose tinkering with the immigration system in a way designed to specifically increase the percentage of programmers who are immigrants. In my opinion, it's pretty appalling to call people like this "anti-immigrant". They should bristle at the accusation.
Also - the principle of charity is important, but you've got to admit that calling someone "anti-immigrant" is a serious accusation, kind of a smear.
After re-reading the original post, I am obliged to point out that PG does not use the phrase "anti-immigrant" as I claimed, he uses the phrase "anti-immigration people." This was my mistake, and I apologize for the error. Calling someone "anti-immigrant" (directed at a person) is more serious than calling them "anti-immigration" (directed at a policy).
This doesn't change the core of my argument - I still feel the label "anti-immigration people" is an unfair one and harms the level of discourse. But I do want to be clear about this again - PG did not use the phrase "anti-immigrant".
American technology companies want the government to make immigration easier because they say they can't find enough programmers in the US. Anti-immigration people say that instead of letting foreigners take these jobs, we should train more Americans to be programmers. Who's right?
It sounds to me that the word anti-immigration is simply a word he chose to literally mean "people who disagree with the aforementioned party that we should make immigration easier." It means much the same thing throughout the essay. What word would you suggest instead?
First off, I don't think that I am obliged to come up with a good term as a condition for objecting to a bad term. In other words, I don't think I need to make a good suggestion as a condition for saying that "anti-immigration people" is a very poor choice of phrase.
I also think that your definition of the word anti-immigration isn't reasonable. There are so many ways to be in favor of immigration that don't involve specifically targeting programmers. I don't really agree that technology companies want to make immigration "easier" in some global sense. They want to be able to hire programmers from overseas (I tend to agree with PG that the "good" employers would be just as happy to hire free residents who can change jobs, though the "bad" employers clearly prefer the indentured nature of the visa and the control it gives them over the would-be immigrant). Regardless, tech companies don't necessarily want to make immigration easier for the millions of people living in the US illegally, or for people from traditionally underrepresented regions who have trouble getting a foothold because our system is based on family reunification.
This particular objection is an important one, because the very narrow definition of this phrase carries a whiff of the argument by ambiguity. You defend the term "anti-immigration people" one way (people who see no reason to specifically tinker with the immigration system to increase the percentage of immigrants who are programmers), but then you get to call them "anti-immigration people" knowing full well that you have brought a much broader (and unwarranted) accusation against them.
Why do you need a term or a label? Why not just explain the point of view that you disagree with (making a sincere effort to represent the argument at its strongest), and explain your disagreement?
The crux of PG's essay was this (taking from what is a sort of his thesis statement):
> American technology companies want the government to make immigration easier because they say they can't find enough programmers in the US... The technology companies are right.
He mentions things like how difficult it is to train programmers, and uses the word "great" in describing said programmers, but overall everything is backing up the blanket statement that "we need to allow more programmers to immigrate" without providing a discussion as to how that should be done.
As such, what you call "genetic tangents" are directly addressing the main point of the essay. H1Bs are the main method through which immigration occurs currently, and one would be remiss to have a macro discussion about immigration without mentioning the H1Bs.
I assume that there has been some sort of discussion or knowledge about PG's stance on the tech immigration, and perhaps even related to this thread, but I would argue that the fault of the imprecise nature of the discussion of this essay lies primarily with the essay itself.
"The US has less than 5% of the world's population. Which means if the qualities that make someone a great programmer are evenly distributed, 95% of great programmers are born outside the US."
A huge portion of the world can't even feed itself let alone educate itself to the high standard of an "exceptional programmer" . If we're in the business of making flimsy assumptions then here's mine: I suspect that the US produces the same amount of "exceptional programmers" as the rest of the world combined.
"But if you talk to startups, you find practically every one over a certain size has gone through legal contortions to get programmers into the the US, where they then paid them the same as they'd have paid an American." and
"I asked the CEO of a startup with about 70 programmers how many more he'd hire if he could get all the great programmers he wanted. He said "We'd hire 30 tomorrow morning." And this is one of the hot startups that always win recruiting battles. It's the same all over Silicon Valley. Startups are that constrained for talent."
If you can't hire someone at your expected price then maybe you should raise it. Maybe the market price has gone higher than what you perceive it to be. That CEO could find his 30 "10x" engineers in a heartbeat if he offered 300-500k. Its not your god given right to be able to hire x number of employees for the price you hired your previous employees at.
In addition if you're going to claim an entire thread is of poor quality, back it up. And while you're looking for examples of poor quality, be sure to use http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_charity
My interest in this thread is not about immigration. It's about how far too many Hacker News comments are uncharitable (in this specialized sense) and how that seems to go along with ill-spiritedness. It's time we all stepped up our game.
Given PG used that number in the article's title, and even in its URL, it does seem like it's worth debating. If the number was actually 50% as the parent suggests, then suddenly you have a very different argument.
Obviously anything is unobjectionable if you agree beforehand to disregard any interpretation you could possibly find objectionable.
It's a zero-sum game. If company X hires all 30 of the best engineers currently looking for a job, company Y cannot. Company Y can offer more in an attempt to lure them, but then Company X will be SOL.
We're talking about macro issues here. We want as many companies as possible to succeed.
So what? Why is that a problem that needs to be solved?
There is a positive (but not r=1) correlation to providing value to the economy and offering higher pay to employees. We (that is to say, software pros) don't want all companies to get as many software workers as they might want, because they wouldn't pay any one of us a decent middle-class wage.
I just explained this here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8805475
> We're talking about macro issues here. We want as many companies as possible to succeed.
This is a "society exists for the economy" answer to the question. The whole point of the economy is to decide division of resources. If that means you don't get any as a CEO, well then you should just get the same treatment as a person entering your store without money.
Congress is not talking about increasing elite programmer visas (those visas exist, require extraordinary support for the visa, ie. extraordinary pay or extraordinary credentials, so these people are not a problem IF you're willing to pay). They're talking about letting the Indian "consulting"(what they call it)/slavery(what every sane person calls it) do double or triple the amount of work they do now. WIPRO will be the main beneficiary of this.
I find it kind of hard to believe that companies actually complain about this. But from a perspective of "more money for me (NOW), not for you" it makes sense.
From a perspective of maximizing our countries opportunities I would argue it does not (by itself) make sense.
The problem with this debate is neither side has the intellectual courage to state their side properly.
The protectionists latch on to the "indentured servitude" issue even though employers would want H-1Bs whether or not they could hold being fired and having to return home over the employees head (and I personally have never seen this happen, I assume it only occurs with the lower tier workers hired by contracting companies, if at all). Protectionists pretend that this is the mechanism through which H-1B's lower wages, even though the real effect is via increasing the supply.
Similarly people like pg say that the issue isn't wages, even though, as I mentioned, the issue can always be expressed in the supply curve of labor, and equilibrium wages.
It turns out that high-wage employees (e.g. software developers) actually benefit from high immigration because of the resulting increase in capital inflows.
> ...it's easy to imagine cases where a great programmer might invent things worth 100x or even 1000x an average programmer's salary.
Moreover, there is evidence that even IT workers in identical, commoditized roles are sufficiently more productive in the US than than in India so as to justify an extra $75k per capita in client billings for they US-based workers . PG's essay is not sufficiently described by a rudimentary labor supply curve as you claim.
 http://www2.hawaii.edu/~noy/362texts/immigration.pdf p.156, particularly footnote 8
With all due respect to pg, one data point against the idea that it's just the standards being too lax is that this article was posted on Hacker News in the first place. The Hacker News guidelines state that most stories about politics are off-topic unless they are evidence of some interesting new phenomenon. I've never read tech news sites where the H1-B debate wasn't going on (I've been reading since 2001 or so), and based on the mountains of H1-B rhetoric I've read online, the arguments raised in the article are not new.
Self-policing, in comparison, will always lead to eternal september above some threshold of user churn. That said, HN has weathered growth reasonably well. If nothing else, the median level of discourse on HN has not gotten much worse than it was years ago. But the mean level of discourse has probably gone down. Just my impressions, I have nothing to back this up of course.
If pg wants to grow his business, he can wait for the west coast democrats and republicans to scale up his town or he can make yco a global brand you may find in Idaho or Nigeria.
With higher quality content you will see higher quality discussion. I do hope the lack of charity has shown Paul that his thinking, as demonstrated by his writing, on this topic is muddled.
Your use of the word "charitable" is different from what the principle of charity is about. I'm concerned with the latter. One good thing is that the principle applies regardless of whether or not somebody else is following it, so the excuse of but-he-started-it (even if he did start it) doesn't wash.
When people don't care to understand each other and try instead to cast the other's statements in the worst light, discussion becomes intellectually mediocre and emotionally foul. HN has a problem with this, and the principle of charity may be a tonic for it.
This has nothing to do with immigration policy, so I see no reason why everyone on both sides of this (or any) argument shouldn't want to abide by this principle. What reason could there be not to?
This isn't that hard. Let companies bid for H1-B slots. The more they are willing to pay, the better the programmer.
Additionally, many people are questioning the motives of PG. I think that's fine and people are free to respond or downvote. It's no different than people questioning the motives of Larry Ellison after an Oracle announcement. This is healthy.
The Principle of Charity is great, but limiting discussion to the subset of topics of an article severely hampers critical analysis. And I'm concerned that would be the effect of what you're advocating.
The reason we're thinking it may be appropriate for HN, by the way, isn't moral, but intellectual: uncharitable interpretations of others' arguments is all too easy and makes discussion tedious and uncivil.
Let's look at what this post really states:
> The US has less than 5% of the world's population. Which means if the qualities that make someone a great programmer are evenly distributed, 95% of great programmers are born outside the US.
This is a huge if. Frankly, it is very difficult to make a strong, compelling policy argument on the back of a flimsy, lazy assumption. Yet it is crucial to Graham's position and used to support statements that aim to preemptively rebut arguments critics make ("It would be great if more Americans were trained as programmers, but no amount of training can flip a ratio as overwhelming as 95 to 5").
It is not Graham's responsibility to prove that the backbone of his argument - the 95 to 5 ratio - is reasonably accurate?
> The anti-immigration people have to invent some explanation to account for all the effort technology companies have expended trying to make immigration easier.
The reference to "anti-immigration people" is not only insulting, this statement pretends that those who are not swayed by the arguments of the tech lobby must be "anti-immigration." To the contrary, one can favor immigration reforms that would make it easier for individuals to come to the United States without naively accepting the validity of all arguments tech companies make in support of immigration reforms.
Is it not Graham's responsibility to explain in a compelling fashion why the tech companies Graham says are "right" are indeed right instead of brushing off anybody who doesn't agree as "anti-immigration"?
> We have the potential to ensure that the US remains a technology superpower just by letting in a few thousand great programmers a year.
Even if one is charitable to Graham and is willing to assume that a) the United States is at risk of losing its status as a technology superpower and b) Graham's figure is plausible, he offers no substantive suggestions for how we identify those "few thousand great programmers" and attract them to the United States. In fact, as someone else here pointed out, Graham has previously discussed just how difficult it is to recognize the exceptionally talented.
Is it not Graham's responsibility to provide reasonable detail as to how the United States could actually accomplish what he proposes?
It's fair to state that comments here are not always charitable to post authors, but it's also fair to state that many of the authors simply don't make compelling arguments. If authors are disappointed with the criticism they receive, it's just as much their responsibility to make more compelling arguments as it is for critics to give them the benefit of the doubt at every twist and turn.
The charitable reading about the "qualities that make someone a great programmer" is the raw human potential/talent - obviously it is currently not the case that 95% of great programmers are not from the US, due to various factors. But his point is that, since humans everywhere likely have the same potential ranges, the ratio of US to Non-US programmers is going to trend toward the population ratio as remaining countries are brought up to speed, and we should prepare for that. Wouldn't you agree?
> Is it not Graham's responsibility to provide reasonable detail as to how the United States could actually accomplish what he proposes?
Really, no. He's allowed to talk about this without being irresponsible even if he doesn't outline the implementation of the solution.
It starts right out painting people who disagree with its thesis as "anti-immigration".
So no one should be surprised about the quality of conversation that results from that.
Assuming your premise is correct, it's easy to see where the principle of charity would have us go from there: by responding to the strongest interpretation of what that sentence might mean. Its substantive point is clearly something about how companies like Facebook and Google have different interests than H1B body shops do.
Thus, it is undeserving of charity and undeserving of HN. Do the moderator's duty and get it out of here.
When you're using terms which are very heavily politically and emotionally loaded to label people who disagree with you, you're going to get that sort of response back.
You can't be deliberately uncharitable to people and then say, "But you should be charitable when you respond!"
This just isn't a substantive post. It's full of loaded language, highly questionable assertions, and doubtful anecdotes.
(2) If a phrase that you suggest is used, would this allow you to focus on the substance of the argument?
This doesn't even touch on the incredibly un-"charitable" opening to PG's essay, on which he explicitly casts opponents or those who might disagree with him as being anti-immigrant. There is no way to "charitably" interpret that sentiment in a positive way. It is purely negative and entirely unworthy of a person claiming to be interested in honest intellectual discussion.
I didn't particularly like the use of "anti-immigration people," but there is certainly a way to charitably interpret it. You would interpret it as just so - a phrase he's using to refer to people opposing loosened immigration policies, which unintentionally is a poor choice of words. Rather than uncharitably interpreting it as an an intentional attempt at putting down these people.
What is that empirical data? I'm curious, not being snide.
Some raw data
A good analysis of several data sets with links to raw data
Nearly everything I've read indicates that immigration doesn't really hurt wages, except perhaps those of recent immigrants.
I pretty much stopped reading after:
> where they then paid them the same as they'd have paid an American
pg knows full well that the argument of those who feel immigrant programmers are used as cheap labor is that wages are currently either being artificially depressed, or there is no shortage, or both.
By ignoring that, and using this BS argument, it's quite obvious that he has no interest in an open, honest debate about the matter. This essay, which consist of little more than superficial political propaganda, is certainly not a good starting point for such a debate.
Similarly, PG pretends that many companies are willing to go to extreme efforts to hire Americans. But I know about a dozen quality programmers who are "stuck" in the Midwest, because companies aren't willing to make them job offers in major tech hubs, even though they're applying to dozens and dozens of companies in San Francisco / Portland / Seattle / etc.
It's pretty clear that while PG's particular startup might not fit this mold (and the people PG typically talks to probably have honest intentions), the vast majority of these companies simply want cheap labor, and are hiding under this mythical "100x programmer" rhetoric to justify it.
He wants the top programmers in the world to be able to come to the USA. But my suspicion is he has very little concern for your above average, but not great, USA born programmer whose wages are threatened by corporations that exploit and abuse the H1B Visa program.
And there isn't any precise way to pick the people who are going to start the next Google- except for the people who already run successful businesses and therefore have the money and influence to emigrate if they wanted to anyway.
So yes, it'd be cool to have all the Job Creators come to America so we could work in their companies, but I see no evidence that would happen.
Or are you insinuating that all changes in salary are due to illegal collusion? Boy have I got news for you!
The principle of charity would ask you to suspend that suspicion in the absence of clear evidence for it (in which case it would be more than a suspicion).
So no, the onus is on all of us to contribute substantively even in response to something we consider unsubstantive. When we can't do that, posting nothing is a fine option.
The reason we're considering adding the Principle of Charity to the HN guidelines is that it gives practical guidance on how to comment substantively, which is what HN has always called for. I'm racking my brains trying to think of why anyone would object to having this rule, and so far haven't found a good reason.
You say, "the onus is on all of us to contribute substantively even in response to something we consider unsubstantive." How about the responsibility of the original poster? Is it acceptable to write that way? Can he be legitimately criticized for that? If you don't accept that, then you've created an unfair situation.
(regarding your refusal to criticize pg) "I think that would be a mistake"
The real mistake is the way you try to shut down dissent by painting it as "uncharitable" or misguided/mistaken. Can you point out the many examples of "much of this thread is of low quality" ? I don't think you can make that case, because it seems that you disagree with the opinions more than anything else.
Some of the dissenting opinions are passionate. And there is nothing wrong with that. Just look at pg's original post, there is a lot of passion there. I would suggest that you be an adult and understand that there are controversial topics which will cause passionate discussion. It makes no sense to a accuse everyone of being wrong in their interpretation and to scold them as if they're children. Just read the comments and you'll see that a lot of people here have unique knowledge and understanding of the topic. Your point is incorrect, and adds nothing to this very important (and passionate) subject.
What do you want to see happen?
Another thing that would lower salaries is the movement of the jobs themselves. If companies can't get enough workers here, at affordable salaries, they'll just move to a country that likes immigration, like Canada. In fact, this has already started: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-05-22/vancouver-we...
Limiting the number of new graduates is exactly what doctors and engineers have done to keep their wages high.
Only a fool would destroy his own livelihood. VCs would never, ever support a policy that would threaten their oligopoly on the good deals, for example.
Don't be a sucker. No one is looking out for tech workers but ourselves.
P.S. If these companies can successfully relocate to Vancouver it totally torpedoes the VC-sponsored idea that San Francisco is somehow essential. Limiting all the jobs to one city is NOT good for tech workers. Silicon Valley is not a good place to make money because the cost of living is stupid. I would go so far to say that the Silicon Valley anti-density and anti-development culture and government make Silicon Valley a shit place to start a company, and companies should be moving.
I would rather work in Vancouver or San Diego or most any other urban center than get raped by rent-seeking landowners in SV.
The above is not true for exceptional talent (Linus Torvalds, John Carmack, etc). I will vote in heartbeat for visas for people with total comp >$300k. If you are truly that valuable, you should be paid more than average Sr. Software Engineer at Google.
Given that this point is clear in the essay itself and has been going the rounds outside of it, I find the portrayal of PG's point as if it were about a too-large H1B program or immigrants driving wages down to be a distraction.
Even pg can occasionally come off as an ignoramus, but don't let that convince you of the fallibility of your glorious leader.
There are plenty of 'exceptional' programmers out there with not exceptional salaries. Anybody is free to hire one. There are a couple of problems though:
- they're hard to identify
- they might be exceptional in one situation and mediocre in another situation. The fact you are doing great at company X and task Y does not guarantee you'll be a rockstar at company W and task Z.
- you don't want to pay for them. "I asked the CEO of a startup with about 70 programmers how many more he'd hire if he could get all the great programmers he wanted. He said "We'd hire 30 tomorrow morning." Well, if they're really exceptional and they worth 100x more than the others then pay them $5M/year and they're going to come to you. I know this won't happen, and the reason for that is exactly the fact that you have no clue how much they're going to worth for you. You could even pay only $500k/y to these excellent guys but no startup does that because they're not sure.
So please let's forget these stories about rockstar programmers and whatever. It's simple: if US could tap the international talent pool without restrictions then labor costs would go down by 50% OR it'd be easier to find good ones quickly at the same price, therefore one of the biggest risk factor in startups would be less of a problem. I completely support this argument, by the way. Don't dilute this debate with 10x (1000x?) programmers and companies who'd hire 30 people tomorrow morning at the market price (??) if they could find them.
*Edit: I have zero problem with downvotes but I'm genuinely interested in counterarguments, so please explain where am I wrong. :)
If companies were willing to pay their top engineering talent anywhere close to C-level salaries, they would have no problem finding willing applicants. There is no legit argument for upsizing the H1B program that does not rest heavily on cost.
That said, I am not against the US taking highly-skilled immigrants, even if it does temporarily depress salaries... The only bad things about the current program is the indentured servitude aspect of it... if tech companies were truly interested only in talent they wouldn't lobby to expand the H1B program, but open the borders more in general. But of course giving tech workers that much freedom would mean their expectations and demands would just quickly equilibrate more quickly, reducing the "value".
I also don't completely buy his argument on percentages. Even poor kids in the US have probably had 100X more access to technology than their counterparts abroad. I think early access and exposure to technology is pretty important for developing the intuition that comes in useful when trying to understand how things work and appreciating and recognizing good design. I would guess that the US has a much larger percentage of the world's talented workers than is naively calculated based on population alone. A better measure would have some per capita weighting.
But that is an essay and a half of nonsense to get into, about why they need to immigrate in the first place in such large numbers. In the same way monopolies are not healthy in any industry, having all the "great programmers" in the bay area would, I feel, stunt the potential of the industry by creating an insular monoculture.
See the 'Recognition' section in "Great Hackers" essay, http://www.paulgraham.com/gh.html:
"So who are the great hackers? How do you know when you meet one? That turns out to be very hard. Even hackers can't tell."
Sadly anti-immigration and/or anti-capitalism feelings are also strong in many EU countries which hampers this movement. I wish the UK could make more of our draw.
AFAIK, there's no problem with freedom of movement for employees in the EU, not even to/from the UK. The only issue is wages; London startups pay really shitty salaries (£40-50K). Berlin's aren't much better (lower than London, but in a much cheaper city). It's the exact same problem as in the US - the salaries just aren't high enough to justify moving to and living in an expensive city.
But not sure that reforming H1-B will be an easy battle to fight. Many of the companies that have large H1-B workforces are also very politically connected and stand to lose a lot of money.
In some cases, equity does provide this level of pay. The problem is there is no way to know which startup will get to 100x it's current value, and which one will flame out.
He's arguing that the same companies who colluded illegally to drive down the wages of the "best" programmers, now have no interest in lowering their wages when they're arguing for increased immigration. LOL.
What is wrong with immigrating to Europe / Asia? As an American, if I had many foreign associates that wanted to work for / with me, I would not hesitate to relocate with them to some country that lets us, that would the be US's loss.
But to open the proverbial floodgates is to let entrenched interests win and all the potential startups and growth elsewhere wither and die. It is not like you are going to be founding the next big thing while bound to employment at one of the big three to stay in the country.
You may be right here. I used to think it's better to immigrate to the US, because that's where everyone was immigrating to. I thought I wouldn't find good people elsewhere. But your comment just made me realize I'm not so sure.
> and all the potential startups and growth elsewhere wither and die
All of them, really? Every single one? There's no middle-ground?
> It is not like you are going to be founding the next big thing while bound to employment at one of the big three to stay in the country.
Why did you exclude that as a possibility?
Maybe it is about wages for companies that don't understand there's huge variance in productivity of programmers. But it is about talent and not wages for companies that do.
You do have a valid argument that when you increase supply prices drop. But they drop in proportion to the supply. It would be nice if one could estimate the total number of those great programmers, and then calculate what % of the total programmers they are. If they are 50% that would be a problem. But if they are 0.5% (1/100th that), is it still a problem?
If some companies don't appreciate the variance in programmers, either they have no excellent ones (because they wouldn't be willing to pay the price premium for a trait they can't see), or, more likely, they are lots of undervalued programmers out there you can hire if you can find them and you're willing to pay them more.
I don't see what you're getting at about the number of great programmers.
Any startup eventually hits the limits of the market it operates in. But the point is startups don't get the chance to hit those market limits. The limit they hit first is they can't get great programmers. Their growth is stiffled early on.
Here's an example. Assume a startup is working on only one project and doesn't have a great programmer. Result: they don't get to make some breakthrough that would have increased the wealth of the startup by 100x-1000x. Without generating that wealth, demand decreases. You are still looking for just one great programmer to work on the project and can't start other new projects before you finish the existing one.
But if you didn't limit that growth (if you had a great programmer) there would be increased demand, because then you'd have 100x-1000x more wealth and could start new projects hiring more great programmers. It comes down to growth.
So having great programmers increases demand, not decrease it. The more you have, the more you end up needing.
Until you hit a limit. Once all great programmers who are in the US are snatched up, at any price, then you reached a limit to the amount of wealth that can be generated in the US by great programmers.
In other words, the wealth generated by previous waves of great programmers working on projects is most definitely not the limiting factor here.
Why would more wealth then generate more projects?
Generating that wealth serves as proof the project completed, which justifies moving on. It's not merely being handed that wealth by a VC that completes the project because then you didn't generate anything. All you did was transfer wealth between two parties. Having wealth isn't enough to generate new wealth in tech. You also need skill.
What having more wealth would do is help pay for more great programmers but it's neither the driving nor the limiting force. The limiting force is having great programmers. They are the ones who generate new wealth.
So what you said possibly supports the argument that it's not about wages. If there were unlimited great programmers, we might indeed hit a limit on VC wealth. We could be nowhere that limit because there aren't enough great programmers.
My comment above was confusing in that it makes someone think a limit in VC wealth is what makes it prohibitive to hire great programmers. That's not what I meant to say. I meant to say that if you are limited in having great programmers, then the total amount of wealth you can generate is also limited. The US, and any country, would be better off having more great programmers.
The limit you hit is in having great programmers. Lack of great programmers limits growth. Lack of growth limits wealth.
I wish PG revised his essay to make this point.
If a great programmer is working on the next Google, and you pay them more to work on something boring, they won't switch.
The limit is the total number of great programmers.
And we won't be until the rewards for being a great programmer exceed the rewards for other options.
If it's as crucial as is claimed, increase the rewards. Really simple.
Are you trying to say great programmers don't do that because starting a company that succeeds is hard? And that existing companies try to take advantage of this (and possibly a first mover or other advantages) by not rewarding programmers?
It's not an unreasonable point to make, by the way, which is also an undervalued opportunity. Markets correct themselves. Maybe the only way to be rewarded for the value you generate as a great programmer in the future will require starting a company. I don't know enough to say.
- A related issue: you can't make someone be a great programmer just by rewarding them. Great programers tend to be intrinsically motivated. Which could be an additional opposing force that keeps them from starting companies.
- Another: pg claimed data that say there aren't enough great programmers; you claim there are: can you talk more about your data?
I'm trying to understand the problem better.
The idea of offering more rewards is that people who otherwise go into other fields (which are more rewarding, socially and financially), would then be attracted programming. A percentage of those people will be great programmers.
Grouping great programmers together gives them a tiny, tiny, tiny chance at large rewards. It's a gigantic risk. People aren't stupid. Most go to paths with less risk. The market has corrected itself. It attracts people in a manner appropriate to its risk/reward equation.
The way to reduce that risk is to provide more guaranteed rewards. Which means more compensation. Which means transferring more of that unused capital sitting around in VC accounts to the great programmers. Which means the limiting factor is the capital put into the system.
Absent some big payday from a startup, which is a roll of the dice not in their favor, programmer compensation is low relative to other, much less risky career paths. If the field truly wants to attract the best and brightest, it's got to offer a lot more rewards.
How much of a reward are "great programmers" 71-100 that company needed in pg's example going to get, anyway? How huge a success does the company have to be for someone that far down the line to come out way ahead? You have to offer those taking such a position a lot of up front compensation, or you won't get them.
As far as "great programmers" being intrinsically motivated, that's only true of people who are currently in the field, as the extrinsic motivation isn't really there, is it? So how do we know extrinsic doesn't work? We're not trying it.
It's ludicrous to think we have all the great programmers we could have. There are any number of people who are capable. Any number of highly intelligent, incredibly driven people who could fit the bill. They just go into other fields with better odds of superior rewards.
Want more great programmers, offer better rewards. They will come.
1) I agree there's gigantic risk.
If I understood you correctly, you are saying great programmers should have less of the downside of risk with more of its upside.
2) Are you saying great programmers apply to this hot startup in pg's example, pass the interviews, and then refuse the job offer because the compensation offered is too low? If that's what going on, then pg provided something worse than a sketchy anecdote: he lied. He omitted the startup is low-balling candidates it wants to hire. Is this what you are saying?
Or are you saying there are people with the potential of being great programmers who went into other fields because the average compensation of competent (but not great) programmers is low (which may very well be true), and this is the main reason we don't find them?
Also a small correction in "There are any number of people who are capable." It's great programmers we are looking for, not merely capable.
Another in "highly intelligent, incredibly driven people". It's not enough to be highly intelligent and incredibly driven to become a great programmer. You may have aptitude for, but not interest in programming.
3) Is it possible for a great programmer to go into another field? Because if it isn't, maybe the opposite is also true. That you can't take someone from another field and turn them into a great programmer. It's probably as hard for a great programmer to become a great sales person as it is for a great sales person to become a great programmer for example.
4) On the effectiveness of extrinsic motivation of great programmers, we already know extrinsic motivation doesn't work in general. It shouldn't be hard to find research on this. A quick search points to the following. Please correct me if this impression of mine isn't true. I want to find the truth:
You are suggesting extrinsic motivation of great programmers specifically is an exception.
1. I believe the type of person who is capable of being a great programmer has a very large number of career options open to them, most of which don't involve becoming a great programmer.
2. Thus, I believe there is a set of people who could be great programmers who are not actually are great programmers. I believe this set to be fairly large compared to the existing set of great programmers.
3. I believe that a good sized percentage of that set of people could be motivated to become great programmers if the rewards were increased substantially. I believe they have chosen other paths which they believe will be more rewarding. If you want to change the number of great programmers, you need to change that calculation.
My position is fairly straight forward. You can agree or disagree as you wish.
I'm confused. I'm a developer, originally from the US, who lives in Europe. Is an Indian guy who works as a developer on my side? How about a German woman? Is a guy in Alabama willing to work for cheap on my side? Is someone like PG, whose actions have created a shitload (that's the metric shitload, not the American version) of companies completely on the wrong side? Don't some of those companies create jobs? Coming back to whose side I should be on, should I be on the side of Europeans wanting to move to the US, since I have a bunch of friends here, and they seem like pretty good people who are bright, and hard workers? Or are they on the other side? Or am I, an American taking European jobs, on the wrong side?
PG and startup employers are in the reverse situation: they need to commoditize labor as much as possible to maximize their profit (labor can be 80% of the fixed expenses in a IT business).
A developer residing outside US needs to support PG at first so he has access to bigger profit, but once he's in US, he's in the same position as the US developer (he needs to become scarce).
This is basic economic theory.
You could, but that's a really limited version of economics that misses the fact that it's not a zero-sum game.
If it happens, do you think it's realistic that it would happen in some countries but not others?
Wages for developers on the whole in the UK are far lower than the US.
The BigCos are already big enough to have international offices to mitigate these immigration issues. A 20 person startup doesn't.
Eric Schmidt not only illegally colluded in a conspiracy to drive down programmer salaries, his e-mails say things like "this may be illegal so delete this e-mail".
I guess I'm one of those "dishonest" wealth-creating worker bees who read these subpoenaed e-mails where I spin the "dishonest" narrative that I actually believe what Eric Schmidt said about his attempts to secretly and illegally drive down his programmer's salaries.
Now, BigCos may still want good people they bring from the outside to have low wages, but that doesn't change the fact that they still want to (and can't) bring in good people from the outside.
And you can't claim that Facebook now wants to bid down wages - your assertions rely on using a company's past actions as evidence for their future choices.
Of course the tech companies want to hire people from overseas; being able to hire someone from India for half the cost but have them live in the US so there's some level of accountability/trust is a no-brainer. Huge new, cheap talent pool.
But, if I'm an entry-level, US-based programmer, what I see are floods of cheap talent, some with questionable skills, coming over to compete for my job.
On the surface it seems as simple as a conflict of interest between employees and the companies that employ them. Supply/demand.
Dig a little deeper and the argument becomes that the top programmers we're bringing over are going to start great companies. That makes sense; part of the reason the United States is so powerful is selection bias: If we create an environment the hardest-working and smartest people in the world want to come to, the end result is a lot of great companies that create enough jobs for everyone. Elon Musk isn't starting Tesla or SpaceX in South Africa (where he's from). So we create an all-star selection of the human race in one country, make laws that are favorable to people coming/staying, and the economy explodes.
What I'm not clear on is what the effect of opening the doors to programmers would be. Would truly great companies be started enough that the entire economy is shored up, or would it just dilute the talent pool to the extent that being a programmer isn't a "special" job you get paid $150,000/year for being decent at? The long-term, macro result of this would be interesting.
The wage fixing set an artificial ceiling on programmer salaries. And if it's now stopped, we should expect a major correction over the next 5 years as market wages adjust. I'm hopeful that recent salary increases by large companies are evidence that things are moving in a good direction.
But it will take time to rebuild trust between labor (programmers) and management in the tech industry. I don't think we're there yet, and in the meantime I am cynical about any effort to address hiring difficulties by increasing immigration.
Now the equity and/or options are a completely different ball game.
Ignoring for the moment I don't think four years is very "brief" or eight is only a "handful" (and it may actually be even more)
It's a bit naive to think this "had no significant impact on the national average salaries" - some of these companies are/were among the largest and most desirable companies in tech, what they do is going to affect the entire industry.
e.g. if you are a hiring manager at a company not involved and are trying to hire someone who is also considering an offer from an involved company the amount you need to offer to be more attractive is less. This brings down the average you pay, which brings down the average you offer. Likewise companies now competing for candidates also receiving offers from you now have an easier time sweetening their offers, and so forth and so on.
If you're considering another offer for X, I can make my offer more attractive by exceeding X. The lower X is the less it cost me to exceed it. If some companies (particularly large and desirable ones) are lowering X that will affect far more than "just" the 64,000 members of the class action.
Nobody could sanely argue that there isn't tons of talent outside the US; and maybe it would be good to bring some of it in. But I have yet to see the argument for why these companies with balance sheets that Switzerland would envy couldn't solve this problem by getting out the checkbook. Yeah, the problem wouldn't go away tomorrow, but I'm not sure that making it go away tomorrow should be the only acceptable solution. Guess what, guys: I can't hire people to come and drywall my office tomorrow at whatever price I feel like paying, either.
Put another way, there's probably a reason we don't hear about the great doctor and lawyer shortage. Not apples to apples, obviously, but maybe it's oranges to grapefruits.
Comp-sci salaries are really, really good, to the point that a single experienced developer is single-handedly in the top ten percent of earners; a household with two developers is easily in the top 3-4% of household earners. And a superstar developer can make a hell of a lot more, if you're willing to play the casino economy of startups.
Yes, a b- or law-school grad who went to school in Boston is going to economically outperform their brethren from land-grant schools, but a lot of that has to do with background privilege and the ability to build a relationship graph. (If Harvard excluded the academically-mediocre children of the rich and powerful and admitted solely on merit, nine-tenths of the wealth-generating potential of its diploma would be extinguished.) Your average MBA or JD is lucky to do as well as a senior software developer.
Computer science, like medicine, is hard, while it's easier to tune one's grad school experience for less-rigorous subjects. And we all know that even credentialed programmers often can't pass the FizzBuzz test, while even fewer can speak authoritatively about complex system design and architecture. We could add more bodies to CS curricula, but it's far from clear that robbing from MBA and JD programs would add to the stock of high-quality programmers.
The idea that developers already make enough money, and so instead of letting the market set prices and the shortages work themselves out, that we should rather blow up the current system because some giant companies would just, you know, really appreciate it -- I can't even finish the sentence.
I would really enjoy paying less money to get my transmission rebuilt or the plumbing in the downstairs bathroom fixed. I would love a glut of massage therapists so that I could get my shoulder worked on for the price of an expensive coffee. I do not, however, suggest we change immigration policy to make my dreams a reality. That seems to be what it comes down to.
Subclause (II) of section 1182(n)(1)(A)(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act is amended by inserting "median" before "prevailing wage level".
This would at least prevent companies from using the lowest possible wage tier in the BLS data.
What is the point at which these giants collectively tell us to fuck ourselves and run off to the Chinese nirvana you describe? Is it just north of where we are already, so if we don't get some immigration relief immediately we're all doomed?
Maybe. Or maybe the whole process isn't as clean as you're implying that it is. I do know that for as long as I've been paying attention a standard Republican refrain has been that if we don't lower our taxes to zero then all industries, in their game-theoretic wisdom, will evaporate from our lands. And yet businesses keep failing to migrate en masse to whichever Dakota has no taxes, and Minnesotan industry draws another day's breath.
To reiterate, I'm not saying you're wrong; but the causal chain is considerably more entropic than you or pg are letting on.
Disclosure: I'm an American who has worked for Microsoft in Beijing for 7+ years.
Would you also support similar arguments for say, oh I don't know, taxi or hotel prices in the area where you live so the existing pool of taxi drivers or hotel owners can protect the income they are making?
That's a strawman. Eliminating immigration is not the only way to restrict supply of software developers.
"and not re-legislating immigration policy at the behest of..."
The fact that you felt the need to add a couple of other "baddies" after "at the behest of" should be an indicator that the original argument is weak. This entire thread thread is filled with software engineers making the argument that increased supply of software engineers is going to decrease wages. That's exactly what happens in a free market of labor.
As a thought experiment, imagine a world who got a job offer from a US company was free to move to the US and start working. Any situation short of that is a legally mandated labor supply shortage.
Well duh. But again, that's not the point of TFA.
You're clearly eager to advocate that laborers should be free to move about the world and work wherever they want. That's cool, knock yourself out. But it's another thread than this one.
Even more specifically if there really programmers out there who are best of the best. Making a lot of money would be least of their problems.
First, US is already the third country in list for highest paid programmers, there is not much room to grow.
Second, Companies are in business, not for charity.
Companies are there for profit so if they could hire a beginner programmer for 50k, they should, otherwise they would be out of business and you would be buying everything made in China.
The fact that companies are not charitable institutions is exactly the point. If they want more or better engineers they are welcome to pay salaries that will motivate such people to work for them, much as the petroleum industry is currently doing.
1. There is, as dictated by the law of supply-and-demand, not an undersupply of good programmers, otherwise good programmers would be in a negotiating position such that they would reject your 50k offer for a 150k offer elsewhere; or
2. The market cannot support this hypothetical company's business model. If my restaurant fails because labor costs leave me overrunning my revenue, few people would argue that is evidence we need immigration reform so I can find cheaper labor.
The maximum on that scale is 530,000 Rs, which is 8000 USD for a web developer. No doubt other countries have even lower salaries.
It is a whole different game for soso programmers. If you want a soso programmer in China, they will be much cheaper in the states, but the bottom is also much lower than one from the states could imagine, and often you just get what you pay for (or worse).
No, they won't. Many people value staying near home more than they value additional salary. That's especially true for people who'd have to move house thousands of miles into a new culture, but it's true even of people within the US.
This mobility checks salary bottoms for those who do want to stay (e.g. for the market I'm in over in China).
I'm one of them. If you can excuse my lack of humility, I am a great programmer. I've been described by management and teammembers regularly as a rock star. I could easily make 10x the salary were I to move to SV.
I have zero desire to and I've never felt like I was missing anything. Out of my graduating class, only one guy moved to California - in fact, he's the only guy I know of at all who moved to California. I know at least a dozen "great" programmers who live here quite happily.
Of course the extra money is an incentive and there obviously has been and is an influx of programmers to Silicon Valley and the surrounding area. But the wage impact (in terms of setting floors) of the migration is pretty minimal relative to other effects. That's why there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of programmers worldwide, including very close to the full 5% of "great" programmers from those areas, that are working for what you and I would consider garbage wages.
I don't understand this dichotomy. Why would companies here go out of their way to hire cheap labor of questionable skill outside the U.S.?? Bad cheap labor is easy to find. Call up a recruiter and say "I need 20 horrible programmers", they're not going to say "oh wow that's a tough one".
Either you think: 1. Outside labor is good and thus I should be scared for my job, BUT those people legitimately deserve to be working here and are net positive for their employers, or 2. Outside workers aren't good and so what difference does it make if they compete with me here? I'm already competing with a saturated market of bad workers and if companies are stupid enough to hire them it'll work itself out -- they're not really competing with me.
1) Exceptional — the best and brightest from all walks of life. IIT Delhi to NUS Singapore. Hands down amazing folks who consistently outperformed their peers.
2) Cheap(er), mediocre — predominantly H1B holders from India and China. Varying degrees of output and communication skills. Mostly “slow tracked” for promotion and given the lowest salary in a given position’s range.
My perception is that the startup community has generally ignored group #2’s existence. It’s not very surprising when you consider who the top 5 h1b sponsors last year: Infosys, Tata, Wipro, Deloitte, and Accenture. Most startup folk would likely be surprised since we usually associate tech companies -> Google instead of Wipro.
Logically your thinking is spot-on, but I'm not so sure the truth is so black and white. Consider the psychology of an h1b holder from India who has a 7 year wait to get a green card -- how is that person thinking about aggressive career moves? The answer is that they probably aren't.
I bet if you looked at relative rates of employee churn you'd find visa holders stay with employers longer than their counterparts. They are probably also less likely to push for raises / promotions since their negotiating position is somewhat compromised by them needing another employer to transfer this visa to (possible, but very stressful). There is also likely a sense of indebtedness to a company when someone is first sponsored. This is probably the biggest difference when considering the cost of Group #2 vs similarly qualified domestic labor.
Now consider those top 5 h1b sponsors again -- how does their workforce stack up? My intuition says they aren't the best and brightest from group #1 (don't know how to prove or disprove this just my qualitative observation).
What seems to be happening is that we have huge consulting firms sponsoring labor from Group #2 -- and these companies are run by smart folks. They've developing a well-oiled machine for employing a more loyal workforce, at less cost -- and while the quality isn't as high as it could be, it's good enough to make their business model work. This is the exact opposite model of startups (and large, but highly innovative companies like Google) who want to only hire from Group #1.
As a founder I've experienced the Group #1 labor shortage first-hand but I also worked with Group #2 in the industry and both experiences left me leaving a lot to be desired with our current immigration policy. I see both sides of this debate, but from my standpoint everyone is right. The disconnect seems to be that "anti-immigration" camp is fighting against expansion of Group #2 while startups and innovative companies like Google, et al. are fighting to increase visas for Group #1.
What can we do to bridge that communication disconnect?
 — http://h1b-visas.findthecompany.com
This is part of the point: this aspect of immigration labor would ironically disappear if it was easier to get into this country. The fact that its hard to get in and get a job is precisely what creates the imbalance of power in negotiation and further leads to a sense of indebtedness.
BTW, this also negatively affects startups. I've been in situations where its difficult to poach someone because of their visa situation (they don't know how easy or hard it is to transfer, they feel indebted, etc etc), and additionally, its way easier for large corporations to go through the paperwork to hire outside talent than a small startup thats just 3 founders. Regulation, as usual, creates all sorts of strange counter-intuitive incentives and imbalances.
If companies could just hire whomever they wanted, then sure, you might be competing directly with someone from india, but you'd also be on a more equal footing because that guy from india would have the same mobility to other jobs that you do, and thus would not be so desirable for his "capturability". Not to mention the fact that whether you like it or not you'll eventually all be competing anyways: at some point it just becomes easier to open offices there and then there's just no job here period.
One random idea I was thinking about was regional, industry specific visa committees that would review each application to ensure that we are able to more accurately identify exceptional individuals and filter out the mediocre / low-quality talent.
If you ignore those employed on hourly basis, a majority of people on H1B are paid quite well. Apart from salary and benefits - add Visa processing fees for their Kids and Spouse as well (which can easily amount to > 30k+)
I think people underestimate how fortunate US is for being top destination of good programmers (and engg. in general). US has tons of companies founded by immigrants - Tesla, Bose, Sun Microsystems, Hotmail, Yahoo to just name a few.
I agree that, something ought to be done so as Services companies (Infosys, Cognizant) have limited access to H1B visa pool and process is fairer to smaller companies.
On the topic of the essay, I worry that Paul is also being disingenuous. The US might only have 5% of the world's population, but we have a much larger percentage of the world's population where children have been exposed to computers from an early age. He's right that exceptional programmers can't really be trained, but that doesn't mean that they aren't made. They're made by being put in an environment where they can explore computing and let a natural creativity/curiosity that they have flourish. I've yet to meet an exceptional programmer that begrudgingly chose to write code for a living.
And that's my problem with the H1-B situation and why I think they've got an overall lower percentage of exceptional programmers. In the US, those who are driven by extrinsic motivators like money don't become programmers. They become salesmen, stockbrokers, lawyers or any of a host of other professions that sacrifice doing something interesting for high compensation. But most of those career paths aren't available to people in poorer countries whereas software engineering is. What I've seen among H1-Bs is a far higher percentage of people who basically hate their job, but do it because it allowed them to come to the US and afford a comfortable lifestyle for their families. I don't blame them for that, but I also don't think that it makes them particularly good developers. Don't get me wrong...I have met quite a few H1-Bs who were drawn to software development from an early age and love doing it in the way that usually results in being an nx developer (anywhere from 1x to 10x), but I just don't see them in the same proportions that I do among American developers.
If Paul can figure out a way to filter in the great developers while filtering out those that are only coming to make money, then I'd be completely behind his plan to let them all in. Somewhat ironically, his plan to let everyone in would somewhat accomplish that at the cost of decimating developer salaries (i.e. if the labor pool is increased and salaries dip accordingly, we'll find out pretty quickly who's only here for the money and which of us would be doing this no matter whether we were paid significantly less.)
Perhaps the ones that just want to work hard and make other people money, rather than aspire to money of their own could get a great big "I'M A SUCKER" stamp on their foreheads?
Here's patio11 on salary negotiation: http://www.kalzumeus.com/2012/01/23/salary-negotiation/ - should that desire to earn a bit more only apply to people who were born in the right place?
Most people from China, India, etc who immigrate to the U.S., Canada, and Australia/NZ are, in my observational experience, primarily focused on whatever aids the immigration process from an early age, often prompted by their parents. Their secondary focus is the backup plan of rising in the ranks of business, government, or academia in their home country. There is a significant minority of people whose primary focus is on the hierarchy at home, and choosing immigration as a secondary concern happens later on in life, often after marriage, perhaps to someone of the first group. For both groups of people, though, an interest in something geeky like technology, programming, gaming, or whatever comes a distant third. People in China who develop such consuming interests outside of work or forgo higher status jobs to do more interesting work will almost certainly miss out on some crucial step in the arduous immigration process. And of course you won't see many Chinese who totally forgo saving for a car, apartment, spouse, and child to spend all of their time on a geeky interest because their parents simply wouldn't allow it in the one-child culture here.
Maybe he did. They become founders. They start companies worth 100x - 1000x their annual salary. As you go up the continuum of exceptional performance a great programmer becomes a startup founder.
You are implying that all (most) of the American programmers are exceptional. That is not the case. If you have a good team, you had to do it yourself, weed out fakes from real ones, didn't you? The onus is on the company/manager who is hiring to pick the right ones whether they are already on H1 or before company files H1 for them.
I find it hard to believe. In large companies HR establishes salary levels (usually bands) which are tied to titles or levels within the career ladder. Does your company negotiate each compensation package on a one-off basis?
And some of the salaries listed on that site are below band. We also get salaries below band through acquisitions. In those cases, managers aren't really given leeway to get their salaries up to market. We've go a mostly-fixed pool of raises to apportion across our teams. Every year, that's set by executives depending on the company's performance...this past year it was ~4%. Low-level managers can recommend higher for their team, but they need good justification and, at the level of the business unit, raises cannot exceed that value.
Based on what I've seen when extending offers, whereas US citizens sometimes push back on salary or equity, H1-Bs only push back on the INS stuff (they all want EB2s). My guess is a lot of managers will low-ball their offers when they know they can give the candidate an EB2. The more you do this, the more you can increase your headcount or hire more senior developers.
That is technically true, but effectively impossible. The DoL simply does not pursue H1B abuses. They do not have the political will nor the budget to even look for them.
There is literally zero budget allocated to "prevailing wage" enforcement. That is a deliberate oversight by congress and has been that way for the 20+ years I've been observing the H1B process. To the best of my knowledge the DoL has only twice ever initiated action for H1B prevailing wage violations and in both cases it was the result of a disgruntled employee tipping them off to a series of violations that were so egregious that the political fallout of ignoring them would have gotten senior bureaucrats fired.
You might also want to read up on how classifications are gamed in order to work around even the very minor risk of prevailing wage violations.
So, tossing H1B would be a great start at immigration reform. Instead, we should prefer immigrants with educational backgrounds in skills we need, and who have the best chance at assimilation.
In 2012, all 10 of the top 10 H1B employers were offshore outsourcing companies.
In 2013, 50% of all H1B visas went to offshore outsourcers.
It is difficult for me to not say anything disparaging about Graham's analsysis of the problem being just "a handful of consulting firms" when it is actually the primary use of H1B visas.
Wipro & co are general outsourcing firms themselves that american companies hire. I don't know why they use the h1b vs the L1 visa although.
Minor detail, but if it's the same employer in both countries, they don't need to apply for H1, L1 would do the trick. It's also not subject to a cap and is much cheaper administratively.
So if companies are using H1 program for foreign employee training, that's a very inefficient practice.
Isn't that basically how Canada and Australia's visa programs work?
So are you claiming that companies are paying an extra 30K for all their H1B employees on top of giving them a salary that exactly matches that of their non H1B peers?
The question of the talent of the new employees is secondary when you realize they will have to move countries in order to be tied to a specific job on penalty of getting their visa revoked.
So suddenly, you create an unlimited class of employees with no bargaining power, and can play them against your native employees. This would be bad enough, but H1B visa holders usually make 20% less than their equivalent American coworkers.
This is true if you hire from third world. I am from Northern Europe, and having a visa revoked and going back to my home country would not be a threat to me. I'd just happily move back home, and find a job there.
There are very few people who wouldn't consider being forced to move across continents, while giving up their rights, a highly biasing factor in the pros/cons of any decision they made.
PG's point is that a lot of people from outside the US (including from Europe) currently would prefer relocating to the US but they have difficulty getting a visa. Long term more and more people would prefer the second best choice that's available to them.
No, from my reading of pg's point: Most of the top programmers live outside of the US, so we should make it easier to get them by changing immigration policy.
This is a good point. But finding out that your employer is so nasty that they use your visa status as a bargaining chip, can be even more inconvenient.
Let me be the devil's advocate and argue that even that is beneficial at the national policy level.
The alternative to cheap imported labor for a small company would be to hire a local guy, but for any medium to large company the alternative would be to hire a foreign consulting shop, and there are tons of companies working in the niche.
The "cheap" labor in programmer speak is usually around $50-70k salaries, adjusted for specific area, and I would rather have US capture the value of income taxes, sales taxes and other economic activity from that $50-70k than an outfit abroad.
I've known countless great developers with terrible self-esteem and/or total inability to effectively negotiate. Far more, in fact, than the reverse.
A. Doesn't really have 70 "great" programmers, certainly not 100% of their team. I just don't believe that.
B. Actually needs 100 "great" programmers, and none that are just "good", in order to succeed fabulously.
C. That the CEO in question could accurately and consistently identify greatness in advance of hiring.
Sorry, it's just not a believable situation.
I suppose what PG is after is creating a policy of allowing 'black swan standard' programmers of outstanding skill more in to the US using a different mechanism than the current H1B?
So yeah, if you are a really great programmer and the rest of the world knows this, then any employer in the US can help you get an O-1 visa based off of that. If your programming prowess isn't well demonstrated, then yeah, you have to go through other channels.
You will need to be something like a top 1% programmers, working on things that are semi-public to qualify for the O-1, but any decent (top 25%? I'm pulling number out of my ass) fashion models can probably get in.
At least inside an order of magnitude (1/5) at a naive guess, but probably much closer, in fact, if we run with two assumptions this piece rests on:
(a) The small top portion of a given talent pool have exceptional intrinsic abilities that give them a power-relation advantages over the rest of the pool when it comes to productive enterprise.
(b) Taking a small highest portion of a very large talent pool is going to give you the largest source of power-law productive talent.
If (a) is true, one would assume the top 1% of external programmers is going to be as much better than the next 5% as the top 20% is than the next 80%.
If (b) is true and we're already looking at the worldwide market, the top 1% is already a huge boost to the pool, almost certainly bigger than the number of open jobs on the market (if 5% of the top 1% of the world's smartest are programmers, then that's a number bigger than the ~4 million unfilled positions of any kind in the US). The top 5% is redundant.
Another point to be noted is that if you try to get the top 1%, you might get 1% of that pool (1% of 1%). As many people noted, not everyone want to come to the US. You might as well trying to get all of them
I have worked at numerous places where they have hired on H1Bs. One of those employers did so because they were looking for good talent no matter where they could find it and H1B holders were paid fairly. Every other employer was doing it because they could pay lower wages and force longer hours on H1B holders since they are in a sort of held-hostage situation. In one case developers were frequently working such long hours that they would just sleep at the office and only go home once or twice a week. This same place was paying their entry to mid developers in the 25K to 35K range and their most senior developers were making less than 50K.
Most of those who argue against pg's argument here are concerned about lower salaries, no one is concerned about fewer jobs (because companies will move work offshore), less innovation (new product development moving away).
Creating boundaries and not letting talent in, is just a big downward spiral and if it accelerates to a certain speed it will be too difficult to turn it around. May be not in short term but in couple to few decades.
Fortunately we already have a system that lets only the exceptional talent in. It's called the "American" Higher Education System, and it's pretty good at bringing the top talent to the U.S. already. Perfect? Of course not. Good enough? I think it is.
Normally I don't hold someone's wealth against them, but on this issue it's hard for me not to be a little prejudicial.
Because, you know, people educated outside the US, like Europe, South Africa or Japan, have not value whatsoever.
It is American E.S who lags behind them. e.g Most educated Europeans need to speak at least 2 to 3 languages fluently.
You also believe Chinese, African and South American will remain in the dark forever.
I have an advice for you: travel the world.
Fundamentally though multiple languages is incredibly wasteful. I'd never propose that English should be a global language - it is such a steaming pile of shit thinking it the best we have is insane - it just has network effects in its favor. Of course, building a language scientifically that uses all enunciable syllables and minimizes word size and maximizes understandability is a major project and getting people to speak it is impossible.
And yes, the non-higher US educational system is colossal garbage, but we know that. We are talking about US higher education, where you pick your courses and rarely are students enrolling to learn two more languages for the fun of it. In that context, millions of students around the world strive to get into US schools, not because the teachers are any better - in my experience, one, individual students are different and learn better in different ways so one scale of "better" or "worse" education is insane, and two, there are diminishing returns on teaching skill such that the difference between the best public school teacher and the best teacher period is probably a fraction of a percent of student performance at worst. The US education system is good because of the business networks the prestigious schools get you into and how almost anyone will hire a US school grad.
There would be many effects which would interact with each other. But one thing that is sadly true right now is that for an engineering manager to increase his/her hiring budget there is unlikely to be a significant quality increase. Think about what this means.
If there were more talent, then companies would be able to justify increasing budgets to build/grow a superior team. In this market if you double your budget you just get twice as many mediocre programmers or you end up getting into a bidding war for highly priced talent. Neither is good for the field as a whole.
Alright so first off, 150k will give you a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle in SF/SV (assuming you have no dependents, in which case it's just middle class). It's really not the astronomical salary that you seem to be imagining.
Secondly, it is completely impractical to pay people based on the "difficulty" of their work. Difficulty, even if we can agree on a definition, does not correlate with revenue. Revenue is traditionally where salaries come from.
Intuitively, if person X in a team of n people writes an app that produces profit Z, then it would make sense for person X to get something on the order of Z/n -- not 100k because it's just a chat app. This is not actually how it works because of some artificial constraints. I believe the calculation in most cases looks more like pay = 120k + 20k if in expensive city + MIN(.01 * profit, 150k).
If we're going to say we shouldn't limit ourselves to 5% of workers then perhaps we shouldn't limit ourselves to 5% of the land. There's plenty of places in the country where 150k would be a very comfortable salary.
$150k isn't astronomical in San Francisco (because rents have inflated to match the salaries) but startup employees who are prudent and don't have dependents will likely save money faster than comparable roles in most if not all other parts of the world. And a substantial proportion of the companies in the Bay Area don't generate revenue in excess of what they pay their programmers; many never will, even if they are blessed with unusually productive programmers
The potential profitability of a startup is even more difficult to gauge than the difficulty of a programming role, and the fondness of VCs for disbursing their money in the Bay Area is probably more to do with the distribution of potential acquirers than the distribution of productive programmers.
Every year 100,000 H1-Bs can come in. To believe this article, we'd have to pretend that we have a big wall up preventing these dozens or hundreds of exceptional programmers from immigrating to the US, and completely ignore the existence of the H1-B visa and the hundreds of thousands pouring in every year.
With remote working, geography is somewhat irrelevant. Perhaps instead if changing immigration instead PG promoted companies embracing a remote culture -- then you could have the best of the best with minimal beareaucratic entanglements. After all, given that, according to PG, it's about 'exceptional' talent, working remotely shouldn't require the same level of management overhead as would a lower quality dev 'sweatshop.' However the fact that isn't even being discussed makes one believe that this isn't about finding 'exceptional' talent as much as it's about lowering the scarcity of developers willing to work for lower wages than they might have received otherwise.
Under the PG logic, we ought to simply open the floodgates to all people, because inevitably from the multitudes there's bound to be a few geniuses. But, does the cost of those geniuses outweigh the costs to everyone else? Should we strip mine the Rocky Mountains to find an ounce of gold?
I don't know the answer to the question and I am not advocating either way, however when a company like Facebook begins asking for something, I question the motives -- I don't think Facebook has a talent shortage at all, they have a desire to pay less for their inputs. Which is a fair desire; however we shouldn't just blindly allow policy decisions to happen just because some tech 'leaders' ask for it. It is and always has been about the bottom line.
153,223 visas were issued in 2013, although some of that is to continue the presence of people who were already here in previous years... It's not all new arrivals.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services web page has numbers as well.
* Companies don't know how find good people (they think they know how to attract them, but honestly, how can they tell? They don't notice the ones they fail to attract, which I'd argue is most people)
* Companies are unable to produce (e.g. educate) good people
* They want to solve their failures by increasing the search space of people
I have no sympathy at all here. If you want good people you have to pick them up early and educate them. A startup however wants great people now, and they are supposed to be a great match by pure chance. This is classic irrational dream-thinking. You have to be pretty proud of yourself to expect all the good things will come to you just like that.
I suggest an alternative (my) approach, I call it the "secret elite ninja clan" approach:
1. Find out what skills are required in your industry.
2. Become a good at teaching these skills.
3. Find a pupil (as motivated as possible, no skills required)
4. Educate that pupil until a) they are as good as you are or better / b) they loose interest and leave you
5. Make money by utilizing the resulting skills. Also test your pupil's new talents.
6. Make pupil a partner if possible, return to step 1.
Also important: If you meet someone, figure out how that person can generate value, don't get cornered by your expectations. Improvise, diversify.
I am currently with my third pupil (first two were not motivated enough) and she seems to have it in her blood. I think if we keep up we can "grow" a pretty good company of really good people in a decade or so. Of course, there won't be a CEO, or a product, just really good hourly rates.
It's really nice to hear someone say this. I've been out of the tech industry for a while (went back to school) and it is hard to put my finger on it but it feels like there is a trend to shift training and mentorship costs from companies to prospective employees. An example: Data science boot camps. Take smart, highly skilled and educated people, pay them nothing for 1-3m to teach them the concrete skills companies are hiring for, and split the cost savings with the company for hires.
Universities do give the necessary theoretical muscles for a lots of things but they surely do not prepare for the craftmanship aspects (beyond informal cultural indoctrination, if any).
I wonder if there could be any feasible structured approach to merge the academic and ninja-craftmanship paths to learning :)
Why can't we teach "theoretical muscle" outside of universities? Wait, was the purpose of universities to maintain the state's control of education? Have they been putting thoughts in chains? Kept science away from the masses? I am highly critical... ;)
In the pre-internet age, without international academia, there would have been no community with whom to share discoveries so they would benefit all. Einstein would have been a historical nobody without people to understand him, etc.
So to me, you will have to suggest other at least somewhat curated and open mechanisms for living information to persist. Perhaps internet and mans curiosity alone is sufficient to provide this but I don't know...
*From what I remember from one popular historical source or another
However, two flaws with your suggestions: time and risk. Increasing the search space of people eliminates/reduces both of these.
I will argue that the presented approach is the "right thing" (reap what you sow) and increasing the search space is the "wrong thing" (why should US companies get more than their 5% of programming talent?).
I don't want US companies to have more talent than the US population can produce. I actually consider their requests stealing. It's not theirs to take. If they can't produce their own talent then they should perish by their own merits.
That being said, I don't believe in the 95/5% figure proposed by Graham. I think everybody can be a valuable partner given enough motivation.
I also think that they are not looking for talent but for slaves. It's really just imperialism in disguise.
If you accept that idea, you can still argue that the obligations of a nation state are to promote the wellbeing of its own citizens above that of non citizens, but we shouldn't pretend that the barriers we put up are some noble effort to prevent 'stealing' from poor countries: people own the right to their lives and labor, not their state or government of origin.
I'd argue we'd gain a reputation of being really good, and that we improve together. That's not something you can buy. It might not be obvious, but while creating a great agency, this also implies creating a great workplace of my own. So if I feel like abandoning ship I know I have to change something.
Also, what's better than building lasting relationships? I'd stay "small scale" awesome anytime over being just another asset of a "large company".
I'd argue that we live in a time where you don't have to be "centralized large" anymore to achieve big things. Rather we should figure out how to do even better with loose organization paradigms.
I'd be very interested to see what you're referring to. Citation needed.
edit: The only thing I can thing I can think of that you might be referring to is the recent meta-study of the impact of practice on performance:
I don't have access to the full article so I don't know if they looked at programmers specifically. (Anyone?) They found that, depending on the activity, practice accounted for about 0-25% of the performance. (Depending on where programmers fall in that range, if excellent programmers are 1000x more productive, I'd take deliberate practice for 250x, Alex.)
However, the assumption that, if practice as measured in these studies isn't the answer, then talent is, is obviously false. Quoting this response piece by Alfie Kohn:
"That’s not necessarily true, however. The question posed by Macnamara and her colleagues was appropriately open-ended: “We have empirical evidence that deliberate practice, while important, …does not largely account for individual differences in performance. The question now is what else matters.” And there are many possible answers. One is how early in life you were introduced to the activity — which, as the researchers explain, appears to have effects that go beyond how many years of practice you booked. Others include how open you are to collaborating and learning from others, and how much you enjoy the activity."
I recommend the entire article.
Music 28 1,259: 21%
Games 11 1,291: 26%
Sports 60 2,633: 18%
Professions 7 321: 1%
Education 51 5631: 4%
So not programmers specifically. I didn't read the paper very thoroughly and examine their methodology (perhaps their criteria were such that they were allowed to cherrypick results), but it seems to me that the professions category seems to suffer from particularly low sample size.
It's important to note that under deliberate practice, they did not include starting age. To explain the other ~80% of variance, they proposed starting age, general intelligence and working memory capacity. Pm me if you would like to see the article.
This will ensure that the visa will only be offered for skills that are difficult to find in the USA (or the specific State). No problem of driving salaries down.
Also, what's a good ratio of exceptional programmers to competent programmers within an organization? Not all important code needs to be written by a clever architect.
What danmaz74 suggested is better.
And I don't see any need for a bidding process, which implies a fixed quota, a fixed closing date for the bidding, and a lot of uncertainty.
Just require the salary to be high enough to show you really need the skill, not to cut costs, and have a process with a guaranteed timing and outcome.
How many of those are America's top tech companies who are in dire need of foreign engineers? The Top 3 by far are Indian outsourcing, sorry, 'consulting' companies.
Every company ends up competing on "H1B lottery" with large body shops. So a startup with 1-2 application has very little chance of making it through compared to others with lot more lottery tickets.
I will also point out a closely related issue. The craziness that full 100% quota of the H1B visas for the year gets disbursed on one day in the year (practically speaking, on April 1. Though full approval process takes a few months). This makes it hard for a startup that wants to hire someone in December, but has to wait 4 months to apply (April 1), and 8 months for the new hire to actually start working (Oct 1).
And therefore, there is a need for a reform here of the current regulations.
The problem could be solved easily if H1-Bs could only be given to companies registered and headquartered in the USA. That would get rid of the Wipros and Infosyses etc.
A competently trained engineer who works with distributed systems may implement a trivial fix and save her company tens of thousands of dollars in AWS bills.
Someone with a strong background in programming languages might implement a PHP -> C++ cross-compiler and double the throughput of her company's web servers.
The capability to recognize these improvements does not require some inborn spark of genius. Rather, it requires the prerequisite experience in some programming sub-field. Experience which can be learned.
Moments of rare insight do happen - "hey what if we cross-compile all this crappy PHP to C++?" - but these are a matter of random chance: get enough folks with programming language expertise working on a strictly PHP codebase and eventually someone will have the idea.
The "born programmer" is a myth. A great programmer is often a person with a high level of training in some particular sub-fields, and/or, a person who is very savvy regarding the craft of building software (i.e. "The Pragmatic Programmer").
1. the speed with he/she learns new skills/knowledge/points.
2. the depth of knowledge he/she is able to acquire.
3. how much he/she has learned in his/her career.
1. This first measure is important, because in a startup the situation can change drastically and you have to have a team that can adapt.
2. The deeper he/she can dig the broader is the set of problems they can solve.
3. The third measure also plays a large role, because while you can have some body that is really bright and has "the skills" - but if they don't use them over time efficiently enough, their strength in the first two skills won't carry them far.
i.e. personally I would measure the value of a developer has a product of the three factors - they amplify each other.
A note regarding the "right" problem. I believe there are a lot of problems that a "10"x won't achieve his/her true potential "10"x speed.
I think the "right" problem is more like a problem that matches the skills of the tea very well. The match might not be that obvious.
This is a very important distinction that a lot of people don't seem to make: you have the language, but you also have the domain. Someone who is skilled in front-end web development is not necessarily knowledgeable in, let's say, digital signal processing, so it's a safe bet that they won't be writing the next FFmpeg.
Having read the HipHop paper, I am pretty sure that most people would not have been able to contribute meaningfully to that type of revolutionary project. Execution is everything.
I agree with you totally. Didn't a lifetime of learning lead to that achievement though? The concept of cross compilation between languages had been around for some time prior to HipHop.
They developed their knowledge and executed on it; but other people could, and would, have made the same connection under similar circumstances. They were experts with a specific set of skills. Not just born to be "great programmers."
Don't get me wrong, I've greatly valued the talented non-US folks I've had on my teams over the years. But I'd rather we gave them an easy path to citizenship if they want to be here rather than giving more of them the opportunity to be borderline indentured servants. Then they could fully enjoy the benefits of the society they're contributing to, including labor flexibility and the ability to bargain for a fair market wage. I'm sure the free-market enthusiasts running large tech companies or venture capital firms love that idea.
This specially hurts engineers on H1B from India and China the most, because of per country limits, they have to wait for close to a decade. e.g., someone from India, who qualifies for the definition of "Exceptional" for EB2 bucket, should have applied in 2005 to get visa this month.
As for EB1 (alien of extraordinary ability), it isn't a terrible good fit for programmers. The rules require an alien to meet 3 of 10 categories, but many of them are either wholly inapplicable to the industry, or only cover a narrow subset of it.
For a company that's hiring and unable to find good programmers, the H1 is really the only visa available to them.
Because those X lobbying dollars could make it possible for them to get people that allow them to create things that are much more valuable than $X (after subtracting wages) that they wouldn't have been able to create otherwise.
So that implies that in order to grant entry to the "great" programmers, the door needs to be wide open to everyone. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it doesn't appear to be addressed by PG.
Or, are all the companies looking for these rockstars looking to help them immigrate to the US, rather than spend a few years solving problems? Cuz I think they're not...
Eg: 5% of great developers are in the US and 95% are outside. Assuming we have a false negative rate of 50% (a great programmer has a 50% chance of not being recognized as one), the policy would potentially let 47.5% of great developers in, which would potentially increase the number of great developers in the US by about 10x. The actual increase will be lower because not all of them will want to work in the US.
The reality is that the Apple/Google/Facebook level (and aspiring) companies want the H1B limit raised so that they can attract the best in the world. However, there are companies with profit-based motives. Infosys, Wipro et al. extensively abuse the H1B system and create a system of indentured servitude for, mostly, the non-Apples of the world. The companies that aren't shining stars - but like most other companies need software maintained and built to sustain their business.
Not every talented non-US Facebook employee wants to live in their home country. In some cases, the home country has rampant inflation/unemployment/bad schools/crime. America is still very much the land of opportunity, despite its flaws.
Consulting agencies almost always reach a point where they can't maintain quality and simultaneously pursue greater revenues (because they can't hire enough good people). What usually happens, sadly, is that the revenues take precedence and they start diluting the overall work quality.
You still can't beat the power of face to face human interaction unless you build something like The Matrix - where every one inside it is a hologram.
For many (most?) startups in the valley, if you aren't living in the greater SFO area, or willing to relocate there, they are not interested.
They are dinosaurs living in the past, fighting distributed collaboration. (Which is ironic as they are technology companies). Importing people from overseas to the bay area is actually the hard way of solving the problem.
From first hand XP, I can tell you going distributed has made hiring top notch talent 10x easier. And if I hire someone overseas, they don't have to move...
Again, IMHO all the excuses like "culture" are bullshit, if your culture depends on holding hands as a group every day, your company culture is already fatally weak.
What frustrates me about remote workers is they cluster around eastern europe or india/china with main offices in the USA. They're all hugely different time zones.
I think remote workers who are in the same time zone area as the main office, say north or south america, might work better. But I don't know because I haven't had a chance to work on that kind of team.
Second there are no radically different timezones within the US. If you're on the east coast you work most days from 10 - 6, if you're on the west coast you work most days from 7 - 3.
Third if you're working on something pressing with your distributed team you schedule some time together to work later. If you're on the east coast you may have some nights during a sprint where you're wrapping up at 9pm or 10pm.
Fourth no matter where your team is located if you have members in different US (or even international) timezones you want at least 4 hours during the day spent together (employees are really only performing at the top of their game for a fraction of the day anyway ).
 A truly distributed team is one that supports remote workers via communication and culture as much as they do their local employees.
The bandwidth of personal IRL interaction adds enormous value. Yes, in many scenario's that value is not strictly necessary, or can be compensated.
But if you think it's bullshit, or something for "dinosaurs", you have a serious problem. Not just as a programmer, but as a human being.
To be fair I never said real-life face time lacked value. I think periodic group meet-ups are helpful and need to happen. I think you were reading words I never wrote. I think ideally a distributed teams do need to have retreats together. (This is a "like milkshakes, but do I need one everyday for lunch" kind of thing IMHO)
>How is it that every time someone makes this argument, they do it in such a superficial, arrogant and ignorant way
I was addressing the authors point that: the way to to address this "scarcity" is by importing people from over seas into a few major metro areas. My point is if there are many domestic (or foreign) resources outside of said metro areas there isn't really more then a self-imposed scarcity.
>you have a serious problem. Not just as a programmer, but as a human being.
I was sharing an opinion-- I am totally OK with you disagreeing with it, that is fine, but that above response was beyond rude, it was personal and cruel.
- Anyone over 40
- Anyone who doesn't fit the profile of a 25 year old white male
Until this happens in any real manner, these sort of pleas are just politics as usual for economic gain.
PG may have a valid point down the line, but it is really not near the top of the pressing causes of labor shortage of the exceptional.
This assumption is repeated throughout the essay, but I'm not particularly convinced it's true. Why would the qualities be evenly distributed between first world countries such as the US where programming is respected and well paid vs failed states like Nigeria or the war-torn Congo?
To me the "handful" of consulting firms he mentions is massively downplayed. Most H1Bs, however talented, are being sucked up by those firms or by firms engaging in similar strategies, not startups. PG's goal would be just as well accomplished by focusing on the crackdown than opening the H1B gates wider - if we do that, then the usual suspects will simply and gladly suck up proportionally more.
EDIT: Uninteresting is probably not quite the right word. Even well-understood, solved problems can and are really interesting to some of us. But you don't need to find them interesting to re-solve them efficiently and competently.
I think PG's point is that some people are naturally great, regardless of their environment. So, yes, Congo or Nigeria or whatever have a bunch of guys who might have been great programmers if given the opportunity. But in less extreme cases, i.e. most of the world, those naturally gifted folks find their way into a compsci program or start hacking on an old machine and teach themselves or whatever. So even if only half of the 95% of people born with great aptitude are found in places with modern amenities and good education systems, that's still 9x more than here in the US.
Half is extremely optimistic. China and India contain a significant portion of the world's population, and there are significant populations in those nations that have never owned a computer.
Longterm, it is likely that many of these nations will produce significantly more good people in STEM fields, since the US education system is almost laughably bad at teaching STEM and at convincing students that STEM is worth learning. If that trend of US students going into arts and humanities more than STEM fields, particularly among women and minorities, we're unlikely to see an improvement in this situation.
I'm anti-border, and I think anyone should be able to work anywhere they want. But, I think the message should have two prongs: 1. Importing talent is mandatory and has no downside for Americans (except for Americans that don't like brown people) or the American economy. 2. Educating kids in STEM fields has to improve and kids, particularly girls and people of color, need better guidance about entering these fields.
Both issues are pretty urgent, I think.
The trouble is identifying them successfully at minimal cost. Hiring & firing a poor programmer costs money.
To give an example while in Belize I was told by one of the natives that in the event of a serious emergency one would probably die because just getting to the nearest hospital would take 4 hours best case scenario, but likely longer.
Keep the current h1b caps, and then auction off each visa to the highest bidder. The auction proceeds must go to the employee in question, with jail term for anyone trying to claw it back.
What this will do is drive the wages for the immigrant engineers ever higher, by extension raising the wages of Americans as well. It will also make sure only the best ones can be brought in, stopping the "cheap import" problem, and the higher wage will give the best incentive to come. Resultingly, foreign companies will be drained of talent, and American companies will become even stronger against weaker adversaries, and employing much of the best talent in the world.
1% of Google was worth nothing in 1995. It's worth a lot today. How do you identify if a startup is the next Google when calculating wages for your auction?
The only winners of your auction will be mega corps who will pay a huge salary upfront with no equity.
On the other hand, an immigrant, once settled, will accumulate wealth and eventually become a startup founder herself, without as much need for investment. That would be a boon for the earliest stage part of the ecosystem.
I have the same idea. And I am looking for more arguments against the salary-bidding-visa scheme.
1) Health care
3) Living standards (some part cost of rent, some part accessible lifestyle, some part relationships and future plans, etc)
I'm a London programmer and yes immigration is an issue, but health care (for themselves and their partner) is joint #1 on that front. It's hard not to look on US healthcare as being the worst possible product of US politics and that starts to impact the standard of living thing.
Most non-US programmers I know come from societies where we're happy to pay more in tax to have a more civilised society and life. You may fix immigration, but to make the US an attractive place to want to relocate to far more needs to be fixed.
It's not the upper-middle class programmers that get screwed by the US' ridiculously evil and horrible health care system. It's the 99% that make less than 100K/year.
... which generates another dependency on the employer (beyond the work visa thing).
I know the history of the employer-pays-for-health-care model in the US, but really: it's broken, fix it.
However, from a lifestyle perspective of a great programmer it's a non-issue. Once a person has an H1-B it is trivial to change companies. So even though technically you're tied to an employer (visa + healthcare), in a city like SF where a great programmer can get a job in a day (literally), it's a total non-factor.
But seriously after experiencing the american healthcare system a couple of times the only phrase I can use to describe it is "pure evil". I can pay my way out of that pure evilness, but it is evil that 99% of people can't. So I can totally understand if you don't want to be a party to that system for moral reasons, but that's a lot harder to be consistent about.
It's still broken (like so many other things in the US) and therefore one more deterrent to even considering going the work visa -> green card -> citizenship route.
And try looking beyond the most popular neighborhoods.
It would be nice, if there were some rough guidelines, how much more I'd need to ask salary in the US, that would cover the extra fees for insurance and health care, that I get for free in most Western European countries?
I am not arguing against that. But I didn't mean to be political about this. I was just interested in the net salary, and the more-or-less compulsory costs that you need to pay from the net salary, before you know how much you pocket, or spend, every month.
Comparing income tax levels is, while not as easy as it could be, quite doable. So it is possible to estimate one's net income in different countries. Also craigslist etc. make it relatively easy to compare the cost of hiring an approximately same level of apartment in different countries.
But healthcare (and pension) systems in different countries are, in my experience, more difficult to understand and compare. In some countries you need to pay some amount from your net income for a health insurance, in other countries you get healthcare for free (i.e. without needing to pay some monthly fees). In some countries you automatically accrue some pension, but the system is typically quite opaque and difficult to understand how much pension you actually accrue per year. In other countries, you need to save for the pension from your net income.
Rent is a cruel joke, as is land tax (so much for housing costs). Food is more expensive on the label (unless you're counting Ramen, where things are close), and there's sales tax on top (while EU prices are all-in).
Most of the big well known companies have substantial coverage for you and your family. I know some of them have plans that have a yearly maximum out of pocket cost in the low thousands.
(They then offered me pretty much the same job, but working in their European office, so win/win :D )
Companies have long ago figured out ways to go trans-national, simply by opening up offices in low wage countries.
Another, easy solution if you want more talent is to pay more.
For starters, the idea that some people are just inherently exceptional programmers and others can only be competent is elitist. Is it any wonder that every programmer in Silicon Valley thinks they're God's gift to the programming world? We've been taught that to be hirable we have to be "10x" engineers who spend all of our free time hacking.
But ok, maybe you don't agree with me on this point. You feel as though there truly is some kind of "master race" of programmers who are inherently gifted in ways that nobody else can learn to be gifted. That still doesn't mean that you should agree with PG.
Why do we need to import all of these engineers into Silicon Valley? One of the great benefits of Software Engineering is that it can be done from anywhere in the world. Why can't people choose to stay where they live? My suspicion is that it has more to do with entrepreneurial arrogance than anything else. Company executives simply want to build big empires with lots of programmers all under their thumb under one roof.
So what happens? If you want to be an engineer, you have to come to Silicon Valley and displace someone who already lives in the Bay Area. It's displacement that breeds displacement.
Ok, maybe you still don't believe me. You think that we need exceptional engineers and they have to be in the Bay Area. The immigration policies that tech companies are pushing for aren't based on merit. The STEM visas only apply to people who are schooled in the US. In other words, the people who will be coming to the US on these new visas aren't coming here because they are one of the exceptional engineers tech companies fawn after. They're here because they have parents who can afford to send them of to the US to fancy schools. We're not getting the "poor and huddled masses" that made this nation great anymore.
Is it any wonder people in the Bay Area hate us? We're elitist, we displace people, and we're importing people from affluent backgrounds.
It may be elitist, but that doesn't make it incorrect. There is a floor level of intellect and memory that is required to program effectively, and those that are born with more of those gifts have more potential to be a good programmer. It still requires work to hone those skills, but that work is more effective if you're starting from a higher floor.
I could practice playing basketball as many hours as Lebron James or Kevin Durant, but they are always going to have inherent advantages over me.
Who wants to wake up in the morning and think "thank goodness some lawmaker is forcing someone smarter/better than me to live in poverty so I can have this cushy job"?
PG is right that most programmers are not all that bright. This limits the state of the art in our industry far more than most people realize.
: I can't believe this thread is getting hijacked by people who oppose PG's view on this and are downvoting comments in support of it!
Unlike Musk's HyperLoop, the barrier for software is not materials and resources, it's simply minds. If you're working on a crappy, bloated codebase it's because some business person likely accurately assumes that a rewrite would be risky and slow (b/c of the supply and quality of labor).
No, the business person knows it will cost money to rewrite and simply doesn't want to commit the resources. It almost certainly has nothing to do with the supply and quality of labor.
I guess it's just the fact that I've lived abroad for a while, but I see people as, well, people, and don't care too much about where they happen to have been born. I think it's unconscionable to subject law-abiding people to a life of poverty if they're willing to work.
So while you don't 'deserve' any guarantees, why do you think the owner of a business 'deserves' to be able to hire a captive employee? (They're deported if they quit, and they make less money than an equivalent employee without that handicap)
If anyone with the power and podium wants to be honest about this topic, they need to champion immigration reform in terms of 1) allowing immigrants to quit or switch jobs while staying in the states. 2) Require that immigrants are paid the exact same wages as an American with the same title in the company.
a) Neither PG's essay not your parent comment mentioned current system as the solution. Quite the opposite in fact. The current system is the problem that we're trying to solve.
b) Even in the current h1b system, employees are free to quit and find another job. H1b transfers are quite easy in fact as long as the employee can find another company to employ them.
Your entire second paragraph about "power and podium to be honest... " stuff is written under the mistaken assumption that an extension of the current system is being proposed.
The amount of people in this thread who seem fine with that kind of thinking is really disheartening. So many programmers whose salary seems to be their guiding moral principle.
And yet most start-ups pay programmers far less than they pay their lawyers.
It's not about finding great developers. It's about finding great developers at a lower price.
it's easy to imagine cases where a great programmer might invent things
worth 100x or even 1000x an average programmer's salary.
All hail the $100M/yr rockstar programmer.
I can't wait to see the cool things that will come out of a greater distribution of wealth to hackers, geeks and programmers. Think of all the neat kickstarter campaigns that will get funded... and all of the startup ideas that can find angel funding. And all the open-source and Makerspaces and rockets etc, etc.
Every exceptional programmer I've ever met was unexceptional at one time. Something happened for them to become exceptional. I personally believe that while that "something" is most often "doing", "training" is often a big part of the equation. And that training is more often than not training their beliefs as much as training their skills.
Many of the best programmers I've even known never imagined themselves being able to do what eventually became their norm. For a lot of them, all it took was the guidance of a caring mentor or trainer to see the possibilities.
Regardless of where programmers come from, I take it as a serious responsibility to help them become what they can be. Not saying "can't" is the first step.
Agree. Obsession and curiousity is important. To me you either have that or you don't have that. (Edit: Of course it depends on the subject for sure. You can be curious about one thing but "phone it in" about something else.)
I'm not a programmer but I can write some things that are helpful to me. The other day I made some tea and I then thought "hmm I will buy a timer on Amazon". Then I though "no let me write something that I can use from the shell to tell me when N time period is up and what it is up for".  I then probably spent the next hour or so writing this little routine when all I had done was getup to make tea. Because even though I am not a programmer I decided it was more interesting than what I was working on at the time (which is also pretty interesting).
Back to something that I do know about (negotiation and strategy) I go with your first sentence for sure.
 In other words instead of using the iphone timer or any number of other ways to do the same exact thing I just decided it was more fun to write something to do what I wanted. And it was fun. And when I showed it to my wife that evening (as an example of why I think our 10 year old should do programming) she couldn't understand why I thought what I did was fun to do.
Even the processes for training competent engineers are only barely scaleable. Most competent engineers are still being trained through colleges. Even newly emerging forms of training don't scale that well - take coding bootcamps with limited class sizes and the low success rate of things like Codecademy.
I think the assumption is that at the speed these companies are operating having to wait for a "trained" (assuming it's true) batch is simply to long. By that point they may be out of business.
1. Cheap bodyshops consuming much of the quota; and
2. Immigration being tied to an employer.
(2) is a direct cause of (1).
For those that don't know, sponsorship for a green card basically involves two stages.
Labor Certification ("LC") is the first and most time-consuming stage. It involves "proving" you can't find a US citizen to fill the job. There is then a queue with a quota system based on country of _birth_ (not citizenship). For countries with a high number of immigrants (eg Mexico, Phillipines, India, China), the queue can be _years_ long. During that time the employee is essentially an indentured servant. Employers can and do exploit this situation.
The Department of Labor can add to this by randomly auditing a particular application, which will add a minimum of 1-2 years to the process. Sometimes this is for cause but the DoL's stated policy is to prevent petitioners from "gaming" the system so they disguise their auditing criteria by randomly selecting applications to audit.
The second stage is basically a formality: filing for adjustment of status.
So for a period of 10 years or more the employee may be in no position to leave, no position to negotiate and will quite possibly have to work under abominable conditions for substandard wages.
The LC process ostensibly has a prevailing wage determination step to ensure the employee isn't being victimized. Trust me, it's a joke.
Startups here, as a general rule, aren't the problem. These nameless bodyshops paying $50,000/year or less for a warm body to contract out to a Fortune 500 company for $500/hour are.
If you kept the current green card quotas and simply made H1B visas portable and immigration essentially automatic when your number (in the queue) is up then you'd end a lot of these problems.
During the first 6 years or until the LC is filed, H1 workers can work for any employer in their field of study. After the LC has been filed, they can switch jobs as long as the job title/requirements are substantially similar (thanks to the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act). And the recent executive action by Obama will make it even easier for post-LC workers to change jobs.
I have yet to meet someone on an H1 who felt tethered down to their employers. Almost every H1 worker I know has switched jobs at some point. This whole idea of the "indentured H1 worker" is complete lie, and anyone making it is being dishonest. It's just a cover-up for their hatred for immigrants -- a lie fabricated to cloak their hatred as concern.
AC21 portability (as it's called) allows for an employee to maintain their pending immigration status if they have filed an I-485 and it has been pending for at least 180 days.
Thing is, the I-485 is the last 10% of the process. The biggest hurdle is getting the Labor Certification, which is the part that can (and does) take years.
So an employee technically has H1B portability under the AC21 provisions but they must start all over again if they aren't in the last 5-10% of the immigration process.
I've watched it first hand from the sidelines. I'm not a programmer but I work directly with them on a daily basis. VERY, VERY few of the immigrants I've seen coming in are what I would consider remotely in the realm of elite.
Elite programers can find a job in any country, and they can make a ton of money in any country. That's the beauty of the internet, there's absolutely no reason they need to come to the US to flourish. The people trying to come here aren't the elites.
Computer science courses in college were much tougher than in most other majors, and there were many, many nights I'd be coding away to finish a project while my friends were out partying, playing video games, etc. I like art, history, and music too, but I figured it was worth it, just a few more years and it would pay off.
Now, just as it is starting to pay off, people are trying to change the rules. I've been trying to get my 10 year old nephew interested in science and math, encouraging him, so he can make the same choices down the road if he wants to. But if the plan is to swoop in at the last minute and remove the rewards for delayed gratification, maybe I should tell him to have a blast and do whatever.
Either allow full immigration for people in any career (best option), or have the same stifling limits for all careers (distant second). Don't cherry pick who's going to have their careers dis-proportionally affected.
American electricians don't have to compete with Chinese electricians.
Can you imagine American doctor/lawyer/engineer associations allowing their bosses to lobby to let cheap and desperate foreigners flood into their country and undercut all their jobs, drive down wages, reduce the value of their educations?
It's ridiculous that computer scientists are being asked to work against their own financial best interest, while VCs are explicitly in the game of maximizing their own profit at all costs (including the willingness to sacrifice all decency and compassion, put entire industries into homelessness and poverty, destroy the social safety net, turn the middle class into indentured servants...)
If this isn't class warfare, what is? You have a near-billionaire VC writing essays to convince the lower classes to work directly against their own financial best interest in favor of his own financial best interest.
No competent businessman would allow a cheap competitor to flood into his market and ruin his business. Why do VCs expect computer scientists to allow their labor market to be destroyed?
Paul would like to eliminate the cap. But this makes the first problem worse. If you solve the first, then removing the cap makes perfect sense.
So how do we solve the first? My proposal is that any company wanting import an employee can, but has to post a significant bond for the cost of deporting the employee if there are problems. That immigrant is free to transfer employment. At the end of a year, if that immigrant left to go to another company, the original employer loses the bond and owes the difference between the immigrant's current income and the original one.
Under this proposal there is a disincentive to bring in an immigrant unless said immigrant really is paid above market rate for their skills. Locals may not like the competition, but people will be hiring immigrants because they think they are better, and not because they are cheaper than the market.
Owner of prestige hub wants it to be more prestigous, and wants your policy support to make it happen. No where is this spelled out as a conflict of interest.
Ycombinator seems similar in many ways to the Law Firm partner/prestige system, or the university prestige system, or the scientific publisher prestige system.
What a biased 'framing' pile of bullshit.
Let as many programmers in as you want. Just give them the right to quit their job without deportation, and ensure they're paid the exact same wages as an American.
Thats the only honest solution to this problem. It'd make everyone happy except for the very people pushing to open immigration.
1. You can take up any job related to your major (in college).
2. You are required by law to be paid the same or higher wages as Americans, for your job position/title.
Almost every H1 worker I know has switched jobs at some point. The whole idea of the "indentured H1 worker" is completely fabricated. My suspicion is that it's a cover-up that allows anti-immigration people cloak their hatred for immigrants as concern.
Basically, during the first 6 years (or until a greencard application is filed), H1 workers can work for any employer in their field of study. After the greencard application, they're job choices are slightly narrowed down to jobs that are substantially similar to their previous one. However, recent executive action by Obama will make it easier for workers with pending greencard applications to change jobs.
Instead, I believe you might get some fraction of those exceptional programmers to come to America; but you would probably get many more less-than-exceptional programmers (which pg called competent) competing with less-than-exceptional, but competent Americans (or those who could be trained to be competent).
On balance, I'm unconvinced this would help.
Potentially, instead of having a lottery, the government should just run a dutch auction for the same sized quota. If someone is truly exceptional, it would be worth paying for them. You'd also end up naturally giving American programmers a bit of a home-field advantage; because their cost would not be burdened with the additional cost of winning an auction.
Do you genuinely believe that increasing the number of talented software engineers emigrating to the United States is bad for the United States? Or bad for you?
In the same way that I would argue for public policy that benefits us all (not just me), I think we should have immigration policies that benefit everyone, not just Software Engineers.
An employee sponsored by an H1-B can literally collect their first paycheck and immediately move to another employer.
I'm not sure how much more freedom you want.
Having more programmers will not be a problem for the country, they will only be a problem to those who want to maintain their salaries turning their eyes away from reality of globalization.
This is really quite simple. If there's ways for the most talented to make more money, that's where they're going. The most talented aren't locked into any particular career.
Sure, there will be exceptions, but the overall trend will be undeniable.
And I don't see any reason why an increase in the number of Doctors or Lawyers would cause Hospitals or Law firms to hire incompetent employees.
So fewer people are going to law school. And this is true even at the top end. The most talented people are going into law in lesser numbers.
It's not a theory, it's actual fact.
2) by educating you will raise educational level and make life better for everyone in country (any country).
Those two arguments are omitted from essay. I think it is a sign of sloppiness on PG's part.
That is the question isn't it -- are those qualities "evenly distributed" around the world?
Africans make up a lot less than 5% of the great marathoners
in the world. Does that mean the remaining 95% of great
marathoners in the world live outside of Africa?
There are usually a whole host of other intangibles associated with exceptional performance, which are sometimes directly undermined by a change in physical location.
However, to assume that of the 7 billion people on the planet and the 6.7 billion that are not in the US are comparable in education, opportunity, training and ability is just not realistic either. While I agree too that greatness can't be taught necessarily, it also can't exist without education, drive and opportunity.
The problem is when you use misleading statistics to make your argument it causes intelligent people many times to negate the validity of the entire argument. While I don't have a problem with h1b's overall, I do have an issue when startup's and other companies argue they can't find anyone in the US.
Having managed a large development team at one time and having used large numbers of H1B's, what I learned was that H1B's are far less job mobile and far more tied to the organization sponsoring their entry. Which is of course one of the core reasons companies like them. It makes competing for the same resources far cheaper and keeps wages lower overall. In most situations when demand increases and supply decreases, cost goes up across the board (e.g. salaries). In tech, the salaries don't increase as much as the cost to the lawyers to get more H1B's to help keep the pay lower.
I am not an american but I am really happy that the united states government has strong anti-immigration laws. This might not be an popular opinion but the United States has mooched off talent from the rest of the world without paying for it. It has actually allowed rapid development of the start-up scene in my country who are in direct competition with the bay area. The best part is unlike the bay area most of the tech workers are able to save a majority of their money as the living cost is dirt cheap compared to the disgusting wealth extraction from the young and talented that happens in the bay area.
Now just for a second imagine if these tech hubs grow and take a large market share from the likes of google and facebook ?
As a student of Computer science who doesn't happen to be the the united states all this is really good news and I wish the govt doesn't listen to PG as it results in the 95% to decentralize the wealth generated from technology from the hands of PG and silicon valley. ( And I am of the believe that power is always best kept in the hands of the many compared to the hands of the few )
See, this is just crazy. Why would you or I or anyone want to make ourselves materially worse off, so some guys we've never met, and who couldn't care less about us, can become richer than the dreams of avarice? Politicians say, what's good for the economy is good for everyone, but it just isn't true.
Yes he became really rich but the net sum of wealth he provided in return has made everyone else much richer than him.
You are making the wrong conclusion that you are worse off "materially" if such smart individuals didn't innovate. In fact you and everyone else in america would be slightly poorer.
Most countries do not even have a "good economy" that they can brag about. The fact that you want a larger portion of the massive wealth these people have brought to america is an really entitled opinion to have.
America is an an midst of an economic boom which is almost a miracle obama has pulled ( compared to its EU/Asian/SouthAmerican Counterparts ) . If you are unhappy that america is also home to some of the richest and smartest individuals on the planet and you are trying to compare yourself to their standard and saying "Uhh, I want some of that" then its a problem of mentality and not about wealth/immigration/politics/etc.
They have often used protectionism(doctors), manipulation(sales) and other methods to get rich. Lots of people get rich in finance by finding ways to transfer risk onto other people. Is that productive overall?
Not every rich person is someone who adds unbelievable value.
Prove it. This is just neoliberal dogma and is contradicted by empirical research that shows that economic growth is awarded to the super rich while the middle and lower classes slip backwards.
Class warfare means that Elon Musk is lowering my wage. I don't give a fuck about paypal or spaceships. I want affordable food, housing, healthcare, childcare, and other basic necessities. These are no longer available to the majority of the population because of an artificial scarcity imposed on us by the ownership class run by neoliberal ideologues like Elon Musk.
"Hey I've invented a self-driving electric car, which you can't buy because I've halved your salary, lol" isn't a deal that works for me.
My co-founder is in the US on a visa that was sponsored by Google (and he still works for Google). Had that not been the case, he might still be in Australia (we probably could have made it happen had we needed to...but, he might not have had the motivation to come here without the Google job).
What I'm trying to say is that H1B does tend to lend itself to indentured servitude. Foreign workers here on a visa are less likely to seek other employers, because they have a visa to keep renewed, or they have to seek citizenship (which is a whole other pile of problems). That probably does depress the industry baseline salary.
But, my desired solution is not to reduce the number of indentured servants, but to kill the limits on their freedom to work that makes them indentured servants.
If you don't like it- well, go international. Fast food restaurants don't get to import the best burger-slingers from Germany. Software companies have to live in the same space.
And it's complete and utter BS to suggest that there's no way we can make up for the gap in our education system. You have to invest in the society, and it takes time to train people. Railroads in the 1890's didn't suddenly wake up with a million trained workers at their disposal, and they didn't have the option of importing trained workers from the UK where railroads were booming. Part of the limits of their expansion was the need for training- and when they didn't train, they ended up with dead workers (25,000 out of a force of 1 million killed on the job in 1900 alone).
If someone wants to come to the USA on their own volition, and take their oath of citizenship- fantastic! We should all welcome them. But it is not up to corporations to dictate terms of citizenship at their convenience.
Except they can't - it's quite difficult for someone to do so without an employment or marriage relationship, and even after someone has a green card they are required to wait several years before an application for citizenship will even be considered.
Railroads in the 1890's didn't suddenly wake up with a million trained workers at their disposal, and they didn't have the option of importing trained workers from the UK where railroads were booming.
Why do you think there are so many Chinese people on the West coast of the USA? As well as those who arrived to dig for gold int he 1850s, a great deal of railroad construction was done with imported Chinese labor starting in the 1860s; both to relieve the labor shortage in the railroad industry and because they were cheaper and better-behaved than Irish laborers. If you're in the Bay Area the Oakland Museum of California has a permanent exhibit dedicated to this.
I am of course in favor of more training but you seem to be under the impression that the US railroad industry bootstrapped itself, when in fact it was heavily reliant on immigrant labor from the outset.
I get your point but that probably wasn't the best example.
I guess should have clarified that I meant the engineers, brakemen, locomotive builders, and mechanics, and not the well-known Chinese and Irish immigrants who made up the workforce building west.
I don't agree with this. The tech industry is beautiful & far-reaching in large part because it doesn't have the restrictions of proximity to the degree of many other industries. I would hate to see artificial limits placed on it to force the same conditions as traditional Brick and mortar businesses.
But we don't export burgers to Germany. If we wanted to export burgers all over the world then we'd have to bring the world's best burger-slingers over here first.
Of course not. But it is up to legislators to make decisions that are in the best interests of the U.S. going forward. An enlightened view of that might, as P.G. suggests, include allowing more programmers to come to U.S. To suggest that programmers are somehow analogous to fast-food workers is seriously misguided.
There is nothing, other than a modicum of education, that separates a talented software engineer from a talented fast food worker. I've seen plenty of engineers who I'd never trust with a burger or a grill.
Fundamentally, making the 95-to-5 population comparison only makes sense if the 5% is at or near maximum utilization. And it's not at all obvious that American potential talent is that heavily utilized.
As an aside, it's also not at all obvious to me that we can't teach exceptional programming, at least for some people. In fact, the idea that top programmers are vastly better than merely good programmers is also not obvious to me. Think about lifting things: Perhaps I can lift 50kg and some one else 52kg. If the task is to lift a 51kg object, the other person is infinitely better than me. But if the task is just to lift moderate weight objects, we are indistinguishable. Similarly it seems plausible that for most tasks "very good" programmers are indistinguishable from"great" ones.
How long do you think it takes to teach someone to be an exceptional programmer? 5 years? 10 years?
How long has Facebook been around? How long have most small tech companies been around?
Yes, in 10-20 years after all the parents today are telling their children to get into software we'll have a glut of developers. But right now, there's obviously not enough. And the quickest way out is to relax the limits on immigration.
If the US doesn't do it, then it's a great opportunity for another attractive first-world country to take the lead. Maybe Canada will.
A 100K/yr salary won't buy, or even rent, much of a place for a family to live in near Palo Alto or San Francisco. But it sure will in Sacramento.
... or Fresno, or Portland, or Seattle, or Denver, or Phoenix, or Boise, or Minneapolis, ...
The tech industry needs to think outside the Silicon Valley box, and consider that while people should be grouped together for networking and other multiplier effects, it might be time to have more than one town in which to do business - a location that is not so closed in with outrageous real estate costs.
I almost took a job in Mtn View a few years ago, but wanted a 50% salary increase (vs Sacramento) to compensate for housing. So, it didn't happen.
How about this instead, let's say I'm Patio11 and I want to go to the US, how do I do that? I personally consider Patrick to be the top 1% in what he is doing. And from what I've seen in on of HN's thread last week, a lot of people are aspiring to be the same.
Funny enough, after I typed the above paragraph, I just realized that I can't actually think of a good way to move to the US if I was Patrick. And I'd wager I know more about immigration (pertaining to tech works) than at least most people here, seeing that some of you quoting H1B as "over 100000 coming per years". H1B won't work, you can't have side project/ company on H1B while in the US. And I'm not particularly sure Kalzumeus Software will fit the profile for the investing/ job creators visa one. O visa is just iffy. (Special visas for country aside).
I'm not sure if I'm a great programmers or not. But I'm young enough to hope that I could one day be one. Please, actually proposing solutions on how great programmers could come to the US, with current immigration laws or any changes you think should be made. Keep bashing the H1B is not productive.
Or you can just come out and say "fuck you foreigners", in which case I will gladly reevaluate my plan.
(And then there is still a whole discussion with the OPT system, for some reasons, I have not seen anyone discussing about foreigners graduate from US university, and then have to leave because of the immigration system. There are a whole lot of us too!)
Actually, now he can't because he's married to a foreign citizen, and the United States puts those people through all kinds of hassle and lengthly waits even if they are married to someone from the US.
I just think it's awesome.
Do we only let people in because of the skills they have? What about the next set of skills that will become more important in the future? What specific set of skills do we let in, which ones do we keep out? What about people who have the potential, but currently lack the skills? How do we find those people?
I don't believe in exceptional programmers, I believe in exceptional thinkers. Programming is a skill, just like any other skill. Some people will be better at it than others. But it's a skill that can be taught. People who are more capable of being the "great thinkers," are more likely to be a better programmer than not, not because of the programming language they know, but because they're able to solve problems. If I ran a company, these are the people I want.
But then we come full circle, who are these people, and do I only let them in because they're "special?"
I also think that way too much attention is paid to what Paul Graham says. Yes, he was successful with certain things, but that doesn't mean he's all knowing and all wise.
As to my biases, I'm all for immigration, but not so much for the H1B program (for ethical reasons, I'm not a big fan of the whole "he has skills that no one else has, so he gets the golden ticket to the chocolate factory. To me, that just means that he/she had a more privileged upbringing than 60-80% of the world. ie, access to clean water, food, education, electricity, computers.)
But graduates of top civil engineering, nursing, biology, medical, neuroscience, physics, etc programs in the country primarily use the H-1B visa for post study employment.
So far, tech companies only propose to let people come and work, for 3 to 6 years. There is no guarantee made to the exceptional programmer that the company will apply his/her green card, and hence facilitate the actual act of immigration. Until The company applies and the application is approved, we are talking just about work visas and not about immigration.
The only reasonable way to immigrate at this moment is through family, which means come and get married to a citizen.
If you don't do that, then you are totally dependent at the whim of the sponsoring company, which might decide at some point during those 6 years that you are not exceptional anymore and hence you should pack and close down all your stuff (apartment, bank accounts, etc) within 30 days (at some point not even these 30 days were not guaranteed).
If we discuss about having talent coming in, then the discussion has to clarify what the value on the table is.
Moving to a different country under work visa is also immigration.
> it's easy to imagine cases where a great programmer might invent things worth 100x or even 1000x an average programmer's salary.
Wouldn't it be nice to hire people that are 100-1000x more productive while only paying them marginally more?
If you have something to say that is worthwhile, there is no need to apply labels to people who may think differently.
Kenyan (distance) and Jamaican (sprinters) runners offer a counterpoint here, the world's best are all from tiny regions, in fact, some are from the same family, and most all train together.
It's like the other irony that we use tariffs to 'protect' domestic industry and embargoes to 'punish' foreign industry, yet they are merely different words for the same thing.
And the tragedy is that the majority of voters don't understand this, when it would only take a few hours of econ 101 to teach.
The least controversial policy is 1st world countries give their foreign STEM grads Green Cards (or equivalent). The 2nd easy solution is to pay top programmers lots more money. If they are indeed worth "100X or even 1000X" more than the average, it makes economic sense to pay at least 5X more. Only hedge funds seem to understand this. Finally, any company with 200+ employees can put an office in India/China and hire everyone they want. You can either wait for politicians to change immigration laws, or make remote offices work. Which is more likely?
Let's assume there are two types of programmers, normal and great.
Now in a competitive market (which the labor market basically is, especially since the collusion issue has been dealt with), wages and employment levels are determined by supply and demand for each type of programmer.
The current H-1B system allows in both kinds of programmers, increasing the supply of both kinds, and thereby lowering wages. It's important to note that pg makes a mistake when he conflates lowering wages, with H-1B employees earning less than Americans. In fact, if wages stayed the same then the H-1B program would have no effect. When startups complain they cant find the right people, what they mean is they can't afford the effective wage needed to steal people from Google or Facebook (there is always a number that would make them switch).
Now in this framework, pg's proposal can be rephrased as "use H-1Bs to increase the supply of great programmers, instead of ordinary programmers". I agree this is a good proposal, because this gives the best tradeoff in terms of cost (i.e. whatever it is that makes the US limit immigration in the first place) vs benefit (reduced costs for employers).
When analyzing this situation, it's very important to note that high wages are a bad thing in themselves. Just like high prices for milk are good for milk produces and bad for milk consumers, but given the option to create cheap milk (e.g. artificially) society should always take it.
Some people like to compare programmers' situation to, for example, doctors. But to the extent that the AMA artificially limits supply, this is a bad thing for society. Trade unions or professional organizations that use political lobbying (or violence) to artificially limit supply, are harming society for their own benefit. People sometimes claim that tech is full of clueless nerds. I would argue that the "nerdiness" of tech workers also correlates with a decreased capacity for the self-deception needed to support AMA style unionization, and that this is a good thing. It might result in lower wages, all things being equal, but it also results in a better industry overall, and higher growth that itself creates higher wages.
In general, economists (including myself) assume that increases in total output are always worth it, because the taxation system can account for the redistribution effects. This isn't guaranteed, since redistribution isn't free (some estimate that $1 of tax revenue costs $1.30 to the economy), but I think it's a very good rule of thumb.
So if you want to help the middle class you should support a more progressive taxation system, not higher wages .
 and by higher wages I mean higher wages for their own sake. Making workers more productive, which might raise wages, is also a good way to do this.
>"Which means if the qualities that make someone a great programmer are evenly distributed"
This is a pretty big assumption, there are huge cultural differences between, for example, India and the US. Who says that these differences could not enormously sway the distribution of great talent?
The next argument made is that since the US only has about 5% of the worlds population it also follows that only 5% of the worlds great programmers are naturally available there. However, apart from the question of potential, there's also the question of opportunity. I'd wager that the standard of living in the US is substantially higher than in most other parts of the world. Which leads me to suspect, but not to prove, that that 5% of 'all great programmers available' is actually quite a bit higher.
It's obvious that no matter how good you _could_ be with a computer, you won't be able to sharpen your skills if you don't have the means and those means are more readily available in the US than in China.
The tech industry's hostility to the basic concepts of training and employee development, which have long since been implemented in every other long-lasting trade and industry, need to change. That change needs to start with the industry's most prominent leaders and foremost thinkers.
Paul Graham's essay is actually pretty good - it tells gets that we're ending up in a world where the skilled workforce is not heavily biased towards stable, highly developed countries. Rather, countries like India, China, etc now have a skilled work force probably out numbering the long-time developed countries.
PG requests more star quality programmers right now. Perhaps a more fruitfull approach would be to figure out what makes great programmers great and figure out how to teach people to be more like them. I.e. hunter gathering for roots versus figuring out how to plant a vegetable garden. What is so great about good programmers? Love of quality, learning by doing - beyond a certain ability of concentration and verbal acuteness I'm fairly confident these could be taught to people in structured form far better than how the current institutions manage. Universities were created first and foremost to train people in complex but established and repetitive procedures - not to be crafting shops even though the latter would benefit learning the art of programming far better. Why not pour the funds required for lobbing into attempts at improving programmer education, I'm sure the ROI in the latter would far outpace the former in the long run.
By the same logic, 95% of the great plumbers, carpenters, electricians, accountants, lawyers, janitors etc. are abroad as well, let them in too as long as companies here want to hire them, until the USA has > 50% of the world population?
Perhaps US could first tap resources within its borders. There are 50 million people in 'fly-over' states which are sort of ignored.
And 1% of all men are in prison, perhaps allow them to learn (and graduate) while in prison. Right now they are not even allowed tv, not mentioning internet.
How does the situation play out from everyone's perspective? If we open the doors too fast, do we get a huge drop in wages, everyone loses their houses, and students flee from tech education? Is there a rebound after N years?
If we open the doors slower, are we able to maintain wages at their current level? After how many years have we fully absorbed the talent and / or the effects of importing more talent start to ADD to the compensation of current workers, based on the improved tech ecosystem?
So, who can provide a model of what would happen at 3 month to 1 year intervals (I'd prefer shorter) in terms of salaries and rent, going out lets say 10-20 years?
Also, maintaining wages at their current level may not be a good thing. It seems that they've been suppressed lately and so we'd be maintaining them at a suppressed level, but this is just to start the discussion.
1) There'd be more great programmers if they wouldn't all divide themselves amongst so many startups, the vast majority of which will fail. Some other VC's have pointed out this problem as well. Less start-ups overall would increase the amount of great programmers available, and maybe more of them would succeed.
2) PG himself has said that great programmers grew up coding. PG's own population argument misses this as the greatest populations (India / China) do not have the wealth for kids to grow up coding. As people trying to increase the diversity of programmers have pointed out, getting this type of upbringing is hard even in America if you're not a well-off (generally white) male.
There's plenty of talent here in America, but let's be honest, its harder to utilize. It's much much easier to just import talent from countries that have education systems and cultures that do better at creating programmer talent than to fix America's deficiencies.
1. It's painfully obvious that he doesn't talk anybody in the trench.
2. If H1B Visas used the way it was intended, there would be no issue with finding those great talents. Instead, H1B Visas are used my large consultancies and corporations for tapping cheap labors.
3. There are strong programming talents in Western and Eastern Europe, but they are not knocking down embassies to come to the U.S. despite much better job prospects and higher pay. Because quality of life is inferior.
4. You don't need a company full of 'great programmers'.
This is a silly argument that suggests that some wise arbiter ought to choose which startups get to exist. In reality, startup engineering skills are unique and involve a sense of architecture, efficiency, and often making due with insufficient time/resources. Everyone working in a startup is getting some of this experience.
great programmers grew up coding
It's 2014, many people in other nations did grow up coding. One doesn't have to ahve had a TI-994A in the house to be considered "advantaged" in this respect anymore. For the past 10 years, any browser with a js console qualifies.
The point of PG's essay is that there shouldn't be barriers. Let the startups at least have the option of hiring various engineers and let them learn from that how to best hire, rather than having to scrape the bottom of the barrel in the US.
Sure, kill the innovation. Don't start many startups.
I think the question is who are the technology companies that want the government to make it easier. Is it "traditional established" companies that can't get quality programmers because anyone good is off trying to hit the lottery at a startup? Or is it the startups (trying to hit the lottery) who can't recruit?
Either way the question is if the chance of a startup working is considered mid to low (failure rate) then what happens to all of this exceptional labor down the road? The assumption that the current demand (startups) will last for a long time isn't necessarily correct.
Being in business many years (longer than PG iim and it should matter actually) I've seen plenty of cases where people make a demand assumption that later turns out to be the reason they go out of business (buy a new warehouse, expand the restaurant and so on).
Educated, hardworking people are always a fantastic asset to any country. They're not the ones you need to be worried about no matter what the economic condition. This isn't about bringing in a lot of migrant farmers for permanent citizenship.
New VISA. Similar requirements and restrictions as an H1-B (educated, employment based, dual intent so can be switched to a green card with enough time). Only companies (no subsidiaries) with more than 3 employees or 500K in the bank and less than 500 employees can apply. Don't have the same timing as an H1-B, make it like the O1 where visas can be processed and granted year round.
The first thing that caught me reading through the comments section here is that a lot of folks complain about immigrants pushing down wages. While there are certainly places that happens, I don't think that's what Paul's talking about here. However, there is another form of that which does happen -- immigrants do stabilize wages, even at startups, and wage fluctuation dictates some of which businesses are tenable and which aren't (and where they're tenable and where they aren't -- some businesses that would make sense in Dehli wouldn't make sense in San Francisco).
For the CEO mentioned, as salary goes to infinity, so to does his ability to hire as many great developers as he would like. To hire 30 developers the next day, there exists a salary which would make that possible. It's just that his business would probably not be tenable paying that much.
So, I think there's a component missing to the essay: how much wage stabilization is desirable via immigration? There's already a salary gap between working as a developer in the Bay Area vs. working almost anywhere else. How large should the ratio be allowed to grow? How much of being the hub is defined by having wages that are a small multiplier of wages elsewhere in the world for the same positions?
Second, the title seems a bit unfortunate. There's obviously not a uniform distribution of great programmers around the world. There's probably a pretty strong correlation between the distribution of home computers a decade ago and the home countries of great developers. The distribution not being uniform isn't really important to the point being made (it's fair to assume that most great programmers weren't born inside the US), but since it's implied so prominently in the title, it's harder to give it a pass.
I like how Paul slips in some encouragement for engineers wanting to start their own businesses.
That implies either "average" programmers are being overpaid by a lot, or that great programmers are being taken advantage of. I highly doubt its the former, so hurrah for industry.
I'm going to give you an alternative answer. There is a hard limit on our personal abilities. There comes a point where a lead developer matures by bringing on people onto their team who are better at X.
I really like this comment from an AskHN from jlcfly several weeks ago. I hope most of us embrace this philosophy as the reality is programming as an art is much more important than programming as a rote skill.
"Teach them to be better than you. That may seem counterproductive. I have a type A personality, and I have decent coding skills. I've been in your situation a number of times. I also know there's these mythical expert developers out there that I can't seem to find (or afford). So, what to do? A few years ago I realized that if I continue down this path, I'll end up with some serious health issues due to the stresses that come along with having a reputation for being a really good developer.
So, I decided that instead of searching for developers better than me, I would teach developers I work with how to BE better. It's taken a lot of patience. And it's taken me quite a bit to LET GO of my way of doing things. I had to take my ego out of the picture. (VERY hard to do.)
Nowadays, I realize that developers don't have to BE better than me. I simply have to ALLOW them to do what they do without being so obsessive about it. Turns out, even junior developers really CAN do good work. They just need a little guidance that only comes with experience, and then they need me to get out of their way."
Reading this makes me think of fixed vs growth mindset. Also, I feel that the 'hard limit' is way beyond the 'exceptional' line. So anyone can work and become exceptional. I feel like the 'hard limit' applies if you want to be #1 or something not the .01%.
Technical ability is somewhere in the continuum between fixed and growth. When I look at natural artists draw portraits, I realize that it will take me years and days of continual practice to get to their point (even if I ever do). The true measure of a good portrait artist is how few lines they take to capture the essence of an individual.
As someone once explained to me, it is hard to be the global maximum (e.g. the most attractive person in the world or the best coder in the world). It is much more achievable to be the local maximum (e.g. the best listener/most interesting person at the party, the one who regularly gives interesting technical talks at the local niche meet up). And really - therein buried is my point - if you truly want to be an exceptional programmer, I believe you must help others become better. Otherwise, what are you contributing? Your high income paycheck to buy stuff? True happiness comes from belonging (strongly) to a community.
The way I look at fixed vs growth is in terms of diversification. Yes, if I invest 1000 hours in beginning to go through TAOCP - I might become a better algorithmic thinker. However, what would becoming a better algorithmic thinker do to my medium and long-term goals? I personally and strongly believe that the more we invest in areas that we have interest in and may fear a bit (fear is a very good indicator of what you need to work on) and yet may be relatively weak in e.g. learning how to sell, connect to people - the more diversified your life, relationships, acquaintances, and skills will become.
In all fairness, this is merely a label and I would argue one that only applies at your current employer. ie It's not automatically transferable.
If you want to appear exceptional, get an advanced degree from a great school and get large, well-known companies on your resume.
If you want to be exceptional, help others around you become exceptional. Always be learning, always be teaching.
Best of luck on your journey!
You want exceptional programmers, Paul? I will tell you a way to find the truly great ones, and promise that other developers will NOT be against it. Any developer can come here, provided that the hiring company:
1. Pays him / her $1,000,000 (1 million US dollars) per year, tied to inflation. I don't care how you search or decide, but that is the best indicator of a truly exceptional programmer - paying him / her a LOT.
2. If the contract is broken for any reason, the exceptional developer gets the severance package, for example a 6 months salary.
Hmm, I do not see you or anyone else advocating for exceptional salaries to pay for an exceptional programming talent. Case closed.
So, if it's important to hoover up the rockstars from Canada, there's nothing stopping companies - they already have the weather advantage, and relo costs are pretty low for most singletons. The only negative is that the TN visa can't lead to a green card. But I doubt most startups are thinking "six years, get green cards for the staff".
And hey, its not like the best programmers are sheep being herded into the US. They have to apply. Don't they get a say? In a one-world view it doesn't matter where they work.
Some of those qualities are, IMO, curiosity; a mathematical inclination; attention to detail; an ability to quickly move between levels of abstraction; and so on.
I have no trouble believing those qualities might be evenly distributed among all humans. Of course, in many places people with those qualities might not choose to study programming, because the local culture and economics do not reward that path. An established and reliable migration path to a place where it is valued might change those choices though.
Also, if "natural born, exceptional" programmers are so rare, would you not have to invite 999 "competent" programmers, of which we supposedly need no more of, in order to get that 1 "exceptional" programmer which Graham claims we desperately need? So to get thousands of exceptional programmers, how many competent programmers would have to be invited into the workforce as well?
2) By training you will raise overall education level, making life easier and more pleasant for everyone in country (any country, not only US).
Either I getting old or PG getting sloppy. His latest essays do not stand a bit of critique.
Whether companies even can select out this 1-in-20 person is implausible, especially from overseas. The top 25% maybe. I can only ascribe (1) to an unreasoning faith in American capitalism and (2) to a lack of travel and living overseas.
In my experience the 5% programmers are already taken. America does need to reduce the immigration admin burden to encourage innovation, but its only a part of the problem. And maybe American companies should try harder to innovate in other countries.
On the other hand, that maybe a good thing. If we have more "Silicon Valleys" there will be more innovations, more competition. We don't need one superpower a.k.a monopoly that comes with other risks like NSA.
Price of starting a company is going down, markets are becoming more liquid therefore you don't need SV crazy money to get you going. What is more, you can reach ramen profitability faster outside SF, get more talent.
Hardly the only explanation.
First, the "career fakers" are unlikely to be seeking international relocation, which means that imperfect interviewing/hiring systems don't exhibit their latent flaws as much.
Second, "post-purchase rationalization" becomes a factor: "I went through this effort in the past, it must have been worth bit."
Third, how much more time is spent vetting a single international hire, versus the same attention to a local candidate? If the outcome is better, how much of that is due to a deeper engagement by the company?
But PG's essays is not about necessarily maintaining or expanding the existing flawed process itself. It's about the end goal of having a rational legal process to keep the tech ecosystem healthy. Some of the concrete ways I can think of that makes the situation better:
1) Right away, grant all tech degree holders from say, the worlds' top 200 universities immediate medium term visas equivalent to current OPT (Optional Practical Training periods which are short term). The current version of OPT allows about 18 months of work permit for jobs somewhat related to their degrees. An alternate, more politically palatable version of this might only include US universities and/or only post-graduate degrees. A very basic version of this idea can simply extend the term of the current OPT to say, 5 years.
2) Dissociate the granting of green cards to skilled employees from a particular employer. This is a major reason H1-B visa holders feel trapped with one employer (otherwise the mobility between jobs is pretty easy for H1-B holders). Let the skilled immigrant directly apply for permanent residency based on employable skills supported by, say, education, employment, compensation history so far in their careers. Make sure equity compensation is given weight here (to treat the startup ecosystem fairly).
3) Remove the per-country quotas on green cards. India and China having the same quota as say, to pick a random small country - Latvia, is ridiculous and quite possibly mirrors the old style racist immigration policies from the previous centuries.
(1) and (2) will pretty much mitigate most of the issues foreign engineers face when participating the startup ecosystem. All three changes together will take away any motivation/power employers have over skilled employees in today's H1-B -> green card pathway based system. This should also assuage any valid wage suppression issues raised by some people on this forum.
I agree with the essay in general, but this seems like a fairly dumb question. Supply and demand says that a greater supply will tend to drive prices down. That may not really apply in this case, because a greater supply might result in a greater demand (for various plausible reasons); but the question just seems like a poorly-argued part of the essay.
I can see this argument work when the team is like 4-5 people, but the moment you are at 15 and above, it all breaks.
Additionally you would need to be able to adjust the focal range of your webcam, and it would need to be adjustable enough to pick out fine features. You might also need it to be a high-speed camera.
I don't know a lot of people whose devices have those capabilities. In that case, even a 3am videoconference is nowhere near as good as being in the same room. I've had to work with people under those conditions, and it's very difficult to convey anything other than a course of action.
Maybe 33-50% of the nonverbal communication involved in technical communication is you pointing something out to your colleague, and while it's certainly possible to do that over email using pictures, they will never have as complete a picture as you. Some things you need to see with your own eyes to understand.
If the programmer on the other side of the world is so much better than what you can find locally, surely it would be worth the investment for your company to buy high speed cameras, or remote probes, or whatever else, to make this sort of teleconferencing possible.
Laparoscopic surgeons manipulate human flesh by looking at a screen! The first remote robotic surgery happened 13 years ago!(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remote_surgery#The_Lindbergh_Op...) I understand that medical equipment is incredibly expensive, but you are not saving lives, so your equipment should be cheaper in an appropriate manner. It seems to me that when scaled out, that solution would be cheaper, and would promote better technological progress in the long run, than the upheaval required to import all the world's greatest programmers into the US.
We don't need to physically touch each other, but occupying the same "space" has a demonstrable increase in productivity and efficiency. Fortunately that "face time" I think can be mostly resolved in a immersive virtual environment.
You also get a lot of other great benefits when working in a virtual environment (why limit yourself to one 24" screen...). For me it's a matter of when, not if knowledge workers spend most of their working day in a VR environment.
If you're going to dispute these findings I look forward to reading your peer reviewed published papers.
Founders don't want to do anything to improve US society as a whole. Investment in education? Retraining workers whose skills have become dated? No- that's expensive and doesn't benefit the rich as much as another steady supply of below-market cost labor.
It's funny that so many of the VC's and Valley elite rail against the ills of the earth resource extraction companies (oil, coal, gas, etc...) yet see no harm in doing the same sort of scorched-earth work with human resources.
If this statement about how all the great workers are not US was true then they could outsource all programming outside the US easily just like call centers. This article is just more propaganda to pay programmers the same wage as minimum wage.
Of course the seductive argument of the bosses is that economic growth will benefit, but the post-crisis economy is proving to concentrate all returns to capital, and none to labour.
It's no wonder that those who champion it the most have nothing to worry about to feed and house their families for the rest of their lives.
It may be possible to eke out a few more % of programmers by teaching computing more widely.
At the moment the bunch of programmers is fairly self-selecting, and there may be many more people who may be great programmers if exposed to the possibilities.
For instance, some people who would normally become metal workers, stone masons, fine artists or mechanical engineers could make excellent programmers.
But out of all the people that would love to immigrate to the USA, how can we possibly distinguish the "great" programmers from the merely competent (or less)?
Hiring is already an extremely difficult problem for the most sophisticated technology companies in the country. We can't possibly expect a government agency to do it well at all.
It's possible to quickly test this by simply adjusting the salary ranges upwards until good candidates start accepting job offers. Believe me... it works.
The current H1B lowers prices of IT by mostly supplying body shop consultants to American corporations. Go look at the stats of who is getting the most H1Bs and the dirty tricks they are using to assure no citizen can apply for those positions. Now that the big players have been caught illegally colluding on depressing wages this is the next step to cheapen the wage pool.
Second, the silicon valley folks could start recruiting a lot better. Since we talk about ageism and sexism so much, perhaps some effort into recruiting could be spared. While we're at it, perhaps recruiting from other colleges that have programs.
Third, I'm all for legal immigration after all part of my family came that way, but I want the H1B program (and its hidden friends) removed. I want all the folks who came here and got degrees given first chance with NO indentured servitude to a single company. The American taxpayer had a hand in educating these students and it is high time we got value from it.
Yes, we should speed up the path for STEM folks we need, but it should not be at a single company's whim.
1) It seems like hollywood actresses have about the same career length as programmers (30 is too old, 40 and 50 are un-hireable).
2) Microsoft in the 90's made it very clear they only wanted people from the school I attended for support since we had a nice midwestern accent.
My perception is that the cost is around $20k (lawyers/filing fees) + some uncertainty due to the lottery. Is that a barrier to a person that's worth paying $100k+?
So you have to take them through the entire process before April 1st - so realistically Jan/Feb/March, and then you won't actually be able to have them in house until October. Large companies can weather that kind of delay just fine, but a 5 person startup?
If supply goes up, price goes down.
It may be better for employers, and the economy as a whole depending on how you measure, but it is not in the best economic interest of those already selling their development labor.
The whole argument hinges on this unverified anecdote.
Sorry, but your personal experience isn't universal.
I would not be suprised at all that they are yet another company that thinks solving trick programming questions under pressure is what makes someone great vs not great.
sorry but i call bs on your startup that cant find great programmers.
If the gates were open, the ones coming here to work for cheap won't be taking your jobs at the next startup fad. They will be working doing the things that Americans don't want to do: improving network infrastructure, doing boring TPS reports in biotech firms, basic IT, local (better) tech support, maybe modernizing your craptastical banking systems. None of the Americans that complain about H1B ever seem to realize that.
You guys seemed perfectly fine to have the Chinese building your railroads and to have the hispanics taking care of your children or to work in the kitchen of your favorite restaurant. So much so that you seem to be okay with giving amnesty every 10-20 years to undocumented immigrants. No need to worry, the status quo will not be challenged.
Thats also the only reason why they're cheaper. Because, by law, their employers have stripped them of the only negotiating right an employee usually has- the ability to switch jobs.
This would be unethical enough if it existed in a vacuum, but instead it exists in context of citizens trying to get jobs, lowering their value while pitting them agains the workers without rights.
I got a H1B outside of the quota (education/not for profit). The industry I was working was probably paying 10-15% than I could get if I got a job at a tech company, but not any lower than a startup. Every startup I interviewed was paying the same or more than the job I took. They would gladly pay whatever I asked. The problem was in dealing with the bureaucracy of immigration. Most of the fear of switching jobs would go away if foreigners knew they could be easily hired by small/medium-sized companies and startups.
But thats not what this recent 'reform immigration' movement is about. When you get down to it, the tech immigration movement, FWD.US, is basically asking for more H1B visas to be allocated, which will give the biggest companies even more of an advantage against both competing small companies (that don't have a legal team dedicated to immigration) and employees (who can't negotiate against captive labor).
Thats why it's basically composed of huge companies, and you don't see much buy in from smaller ones.
Still want to drive salaries downward?
i wonder if the great amout of inexpensive mediocre programmers everywhere else will wtill have a similar a similar effect over the next 50 years.
Evidence-based policy proposal at its finest :)
Paying your programmers 3-500K/year is a sure fire way to run out of money really quickly.
And while a great programmer is obviously worth it, most companies (at the early stage) have so many external factors that even a great programmer isn't enough, they need the time to iterate and find product market fit. You know the whole lean startup thing. So how do you circle that square?
Imagine you lived on a land with 100 square feet. You wanted to open a store, but the big supermarket (because they started early) already has 60 square feet and the price of the other 40 square feet is astronomical. So you can only rent out 5 square feet. Well, you can't do much with 5 square feet, and that big market is making lots of money with theirs. So they keep buying more square footage and driving up the prices until there's literally no way any other business can continue to exist.
See, by artificially limiting things you can create a situation where only people that are already in an advantageous position will strengthen that position. Now, if you want only big tech companies to exist and not see the innovation brought forth by small companies then sure continue supporting and advocating for restrictive policies. If you actually care about the long term future of what the human race is capable of then you'd want to remove all artificial restrictions and let the more natural "survival of the fittest" of the market iterate towards new innovations and technology.
If you care about the long term future of the human race you would be fighting both ageism and indentured servitude.
I think you are ascribing a conspiracy with something that can be much more easily explained. 40+ y/o programmers first started learning programming 20+ years ago when programming was more low level in general. Furthermore their skills were honed on broken processes and outdated technology. And, if a programmer has been in the industry for 20+ years and they are good, they've most likely made enough money to retire, or are in a management position (and expecting a management position). Lastly, there were a lot less programmers entering the field 20+ years ago than there are today (I'm guessing on this one admittedly).
When you take all of these factors together, how many job-seeking unemployed 40+ programmers are really out there? My guess is that if they are job-seeking and unemployed, they should be looking inwards for why. It's probably a problem that they can solve themselves. And of course it doesn't have to be skill based issues - most people don't live in SF which is where a lot of programmer hiring is happening now. By 40+ you have a family with roots that people don't want to uproot.
If you know of any good programmers that are willing to work as an engineer (not manager) in SF then please please PLEASE send them my way.
When you have been around technology for a little while you will see that the changes over time are superficial. There's actually not much you can do with a fancy Angular app now, that you couldn't do with an IBM 3270 terminal 40 years ago. You have a form to enter records into a database, or a report to extract that data in a nicely formatted way. Or Facebook, or Amazon, or whatever, to an experienced programmer these are just forms and reports. They differ from earlier apps only in the most trivial ways, the engineering under them hasn't changed. These old guys built things like banking systems, airline booking systems, that have been running for decades, and will be running for decades more. They know 100x more than any "scrum master" or whatever is in fashion now.
Sadly attitudes like you demonstrate, are common. Hence, rampant ageism and the drive to hire cheap 20-somethings.
If anything, the pace of innovation has been accelerating.
This kind of "I've been coding banking systems that have been around for 20 years what do you know you little snot" faux-elitism is the exact attitude that makes certain kinds of developers absolutely horrible to work with. I hope you recognize that.
the problem here is that investors want to have it both ways; a free market in terms of laws, restrictions, HR policies, etc, but when that same free market drives up their costs, all of a sudden "whoa, why do we have to pay this?"
If the market can't support high priced labor, then you should go out of business. Simple. That's the way business works.
pg's argument cannot explain the reality that we've all seen: companies hire droves of H1B folks who are anything but exceptional.
Only a fool fails to understand why.
Say nothing changes in a decade. There's nothing that's fundamentally stopping YC from starting branches in SE Asia, Europe or Canada.
Ellon Musk is from South Africa, he was not born in America. He has created an enormous amount of wealth in the US.
It is as simple as the US won't have self landing space rockets today without this man. Tesla would be bankrupt today, like Fisker.
It seems clear to me after reading comments here that Americans feel entitled to the position of world rulers they enjoy today. As if the wealth they enjoy as hegemonic power was generated in America and not all around the world.
Do you believe your salary is American generated? It is not.
You print dollars that the world needs to use because it they don't sanctions are raised to them, or the US just invades them.
But as PG is saying, the world using the dollar as world reserve could change overnight.
You take your privileges for granted.
Are they actually any more talented than the people they rule over?
Why is questioning their wealth taboo, but undermining my modest career prospects virtuous?
I absolutely understand the need to protect US jobs but the situation isn't very good when two cofounders can't stay in the country after raising almost $1m in seed capital and employing US citizens.
Is it because of widely accessible programming resources for cheap through the internet?
What Paul Graham doesn't understand is hardly any of the H-1B people companies are importing are exceptional, and half of them aren't even competent. It's not even about getting enough labor to fill open positions. It's about flooding the market with low cost labor so US technical people lose market pricing power.
These companies don't even know if there's a US citizen who's qualified for the job. I mean, this kind of stuff goes on all the time:
>The contention of the DoJ in this indictment appears to be that Mr. Cvjeticanin was defrauding companies seeking to hire IT personnel, yet for all those hundreds of ads — ads that for the most part never ran and therefore could never yield job applications — nobody complained!
There's no limit on the number of O-1 visa's that can be issued in a year so you don't have the lottery effect that the H1B has. The downside for the company that helps their employee get it is that the visa doesn't indenture the employee to the company, so they are free to quit and find a new job at their own pace.
The standards set by the government for the O-1 visa are more geared towards pure research scientist or professor kind of positions. A PhD is a minimum requirement along with publications in top international journals.
Most of the top engineers and developers don't have a PhD or scientific publications. O-1 is more appropriate for an university professor or NASA scientist position. Not for startup engineer.
It seems like you need 3 of the 8:
1,2, and 3 seem hard to do
4 might not be too hard
5 requires a letter from the company ceo/evidence that you are actually doing something exceptional/useful
6 would be hard
7 is a letter requirement saying that your position is critical, I assume if you are an exceptional programmer it should be easy to get that from your sponsoring company.
8 says you get paid a lot, shouldn't be a problem for any software engineer
So out of the list, 2 of them seem trivial and then you just need to check the box for one other, which if you are in the top programmers, shouldn't be too hard.
Remember, US immigration is not an objective process, i.e., you satisfy 3 of 8 points, you are in. It is a subjective process. The sponsoring company hires a lawyer to petition USCIS making a case for the visa. The subjective interpretation of the petition is completely at the discretion of the specific case officer. The recent multi-year trend of evaluating O-1 visa petitions seems to be completely dependent on number of publications in journals, impact factor of those journals, number of citations in google scholar, your work being published in major news media, and several letters of support from distinguished individuals from ~outside~ your primary area of expertise (your contributions are considered valuable if people not in your immediate field have a high opinion of you).
The law offices of Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP, the immigration attorneys that 95% of Bay Area companies retain for filing immigration visas, will not even accept your case if the candidate doesn't have a Ph.D. with several years of high impact publications.
As you can see, this visa is geared towards positions as university faculty, major national lab scientists, or industry research labs of big firms. This visa doesn't help startups. I know of only one startup that successfully got the O-1 visa for a Chinese data scientist. But that person was part of the CERN team that won the Nobel prize.
There is a huge gap between the targeted beneficiaries of the O-1 and H-1B visa. One is geared towards Nobel prize caliber scientists, the other towards run of the mill developers working in body shops and overseas consulting firms.
The prototypical 10X developers that most startups seek do not usually meet the criteria for the O-1, and is at a disadvantage in the H-1B lottery. A lottery treats every application equally. It makes no distinction between an extremely competent individual and an extremely incompetent one. This favors body shoppers and outsourcers since they can mass-file visa petitions for every warm body on their payroll overseas hoping some of them make the lottery. A startup filing one or two visa petitions for a very specific individual is at a severe disadvantage.
Most folks think developers are interchangeable cogs in a machine. They don't think the same of musicians or models or athletes. This is exacerbated by the body shoppers and overseas outsources who indeed consider their developers as mere warm bodies or "resources", and who indeed abuse the H-1B visas. Startups are the losers.
The O-1 visa was introduced before the era of startups and wasn't really geared towards the use case of a startup, i.e., a good developer slogging away in a basement to make the next Google.
But big companies will be happy with mediocre programmers who fill a seat and can implement the latest company security initiative on the tiny section of code that's "theirs" as long as it doesn't cost too much.
In principle I agree with him - we should let in geniuses and people with skills that benefit everyone. But that's just the cover large companies are using to push down their labor costs.
Profit? Who is being dishonest here?
How is being against an H1-B indentured servant coolie visa being one of the "anti-immigrant" people?
I guess the women's groups who protest that Russian, Mexican and Brazilian strippers are being imported into Tenderloin clubs are anti-immigrant as well.
This. I really think we're talking about different things though. Clearly, as has been proven, the H1B program is about importing cheap labor. This is a fact, like gravity. I'm sure that entrepreneurs like Paul would love to attract more excellent engineers, but our current immigration mechanisms aren't the way to do it, and really, that's not even what they're for (regardless of what their advocates say, again, based on fact).
H1B isn't about hiring "great programmers". It IS about importing cheap labor. This fact has been proven many times, with actual data rather than rhetoric, yet we still find ourselves having this same argument over and over. Here's a nearly 10 year old study that lays it out:
You use the word "strawman" and without skipping a beat replace his argument with one (about H1Bs) that he obviously isn't making.
Or we can continue only hiring Americans. Those $100 hoodies aren't going to buy themselves.
Increasing the supply lowers the price. Are you disputing this?
Like the author? He wants a tranche of immigration slots to open and for that tranche, indirectly if not directly, to block immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, Nigeria, and so forth. These slots are effectively only open to Indians, Chinese, and a trickle from other countries.
So this H1-B proposal is anti-immigrant. It means immigration only from mostly two countries. Of a certain class of person. In order to cut the wages of US programmers and force them to work more non-FLSA hours.
> Exceptional programmers
This is risible. I worked with a Chinese H1-B hire who told me he had never touched a computer until he got to the US. While that may have been anomalous, research on the H1-B immigration program ( http://web.cs.ucdavis.edu/~matloff/h1b.html ) shows that it is not the best and brightest immigrating. The millionaire and billionaire angels and VC's want to flood the US with indentured servants chained to their H1-B visa. Look at the top H1-B sponsors - they are for Tata's indentured servants, not for people doing bleeding edge compiler/AI/whatever work.
> you can train people to be competent, you can't train them to be exceptional
Perhaps not, but I've met plenty of people with the capability to be exceptional programmers, but during non-flush times companies want programmers to have a BSCS, and with public colleges become more selective and raising their rates, they never get a chance to do so. The millionaires and billionaires get tax cuts on their capital gains, so the training they require for this work becomes more costly to the worker, and in fact more workers can't afford it, so a shortage develops. So then the parasite millionaires want to suck off of India's free IIT program instead of restoring US education to the level it used to be.
> how many more he'd hire
Yes, times are flush now. How many was he hiring in 2008-2009? How many in 2001-2002? When the economy goes into the toilet again, there will be millions of indentured servants still here on H1-B visas. How many 40 or 50 year old programmers is he willing to hire? Or are we supposed to pay and take out big loans for our college, work 60 hour weeks in our 20s and 30s with the carrot of options while paying San Francisco rents, suffering through the post-dotcom and bank failure recessions, only to be cast aside at 40?
We hear about supply and demand from the oracles of economics all the time, but somehow this NEVER applies to salaries going up. I mean I am open to hiring programmers right now as well - seriously. You'll be paid minimum wage and the output will have to be spectacular. As soon as the economy dips you'll be gone.
We the programmers work. We are the creators of wealth. I have been studying biology recently, including species which have become parasites. As one species becomes more parasitic on another, it changes form completely. It usually gains hooks and suckers to latch on to the working species it is a parasite off of, and the parasite devotes its body to eating and sexual reproduction. In our modern times, the angels, the accelerators, the VC's are the parasites. These "job creators" expropriate the surplus labor time of we the programmers, the network/system/database admins etc. who do all the work and create all the wealth. The LP's of the big VC firms are the type of polo-playing Phillips Andover heirs you can see in the documentary "Born Rich". Something I know the 20-something unkempt dorks who go to Python conferences know nothing about, although they are the ones ultimately being given their marching orders and who are getting profits sucked off their labor. These heirs have set up additional financial hurdles to getting a BSCS at a public college over the years, and the parasites now want to parasitically suck of of India's free IIT universities and turn their graduates into H1-B coolies over here.
> we should train
When the hell was the last time a tech company really trained its employees? Aside from the odd week-long class here or there? What a farce. Companies haven't trained for decades, and the parasites who use companies to parasitically suck off the labor of those of us who actually work have reworked public US colleges to be more financially impossible to get through than they used to - then they whine they can't find more "exceptional" US programmers. What a farce.
Clarification: can't find enough American programmers willing to work for low foreign wages.
Coming back to retraining, I think some of us in the bubble lose fact of how much dedication is involved to successfully learn something new and become productive. Retraining is hard and, more importantly, not everyone wants to willingly do it.
Anti-immigration people say that instead of letting foreigners take these jobs, we should train more Americans to be programmers.
I don't think most people who oppose the disingenuous invocation of "talent shortage" (while discriminating against women, minorities, and programmers over 40) by tech executives are "anti-immigration people". Immigration, at a reasonable rate, is a good thing.
What the anti-immigration people don't understand is that there is a huge variation in ability between competent programmers and exceptional ones
I hate being That Guy, but... . I don't exactly know who these anti-immigration people are, though.
So they claim it's because they want to drive down salaries. But if you talk to startups, you find practically every one over a certain size has gone through legal contortions to get programmers into the the US, where they then paid them the same as they'd have paid an American.
I don't think that it's just about driving down salaries. I think it's also about age discrimination (enabled by the ready availability of young programmers) and implicit expectations of obedience. In the US, you get talent or obedience but rarely both. Overseas, you have at least a chance of getting both (but if you're hiring on the cheap, the hit rate for talent is pretty low).
He said "We'd hire 30 tomorrow morning." And this is one of the hot startups that always win recruiting battles. It's the same all over Silicon Valley. Startups are that constrained for talent.
And yet they only want to hire pedigreed men under 40 who live in California... Somehow, I don't buy it. If you want more talent, raise wages. That's how economics works.
Exceptional performance implies immigration. A country with only a few percent of the world's population will be exceptional in some field only if there are a lot of immigrants working in it.
We're still the 3rd-largest country by population, and have some of the best land, and speak the dominant language...
Still, I take no issue with what the H1-B program is supposed to be: high-talent immigration. I'm for that. But a true high-talent immigration would have, by definition, to be employer-independent, meaning that once you're in, you're in and can move about the economy just as easily as anyone else.
One of the problems with the H1-B program is that it makes it hard for visa-holders to change jobs, and leaves them beholden to their employers because they can be deported if they're fired. If we're going to have a high-talent immigration program, we should have one... but that requires an unconditional "once you're in, you're in" policy, not some subordinate/contingent status.
Technology gives the best programmers huge leverage
I still haven't seen it. Upper-middle income is a nice improvement, but none of the people buying houses in Palo Alto or Mountain View are programmers. They're all VCs and product executives working 11-to-3 while the engineers do all the heavy lifting.
We have the potential to ensure that the US remains a technology superpower just by letting in a few thousand great programmers a year.
Why not just kill off the bro culture and the age discrimination? If we only need a few thousand more great programmers, then just making the industry more hospitable to women should do the job, right? If that's all we need, there's no reason we need our tech CEOs to lie to politicians about a "talent shortage" in order to get immigration policies changed.
Again, I have no problem with high-talent immigration. I think that we absolutely should allow more upper-tier technical people (if at a level where they'll create more jobs than they take, and top programmers are at that level) into the country. But I don't think that the H1-B program, as it is structured, does the right thing. Once someone has it, it should be employer-independent.
If this is the case, why aren't Google and Facebook coming out strongly against our current H1B mechanism which is demonstrably little more than a tool for importing cheap labor?
For example, me. PG is partially wrong, objectively. About the only thing his essay has correct is that there exists intelligent, very good programmers outside the US.
The collusion suit that big tech companies recently settled, the wage stagnation even in our industry, and a wide variety of other facts suggest that keeping wages low is in fact a very important goal to technology companies, and that they will do anything--including illegal collusion--to keep them low.
If anything the notion that there just aren't enough qualified (well-qualified) workers in the US to fill tech positions is at best an extraordinary claim that PG's essay fails by a wide margin to substantiate.