This morning, I woke up and read this particular piece from coding horror, the well-known blog about software engineering. Normally, people talking about each others’ essays doesn’t hold much interest for me to make a comment on. The recent ones that come to mind are Zed Shaw’s Rails is a Ghetto and Clifford Heath’s Monkeypatching is destroying Ruby. Even if they bring up the finer points of a subject, it often feels like TMZ. So even if I hear about it, I go back to coding (which is why you haven’t seen me here).
What prompted me however, is a re-evaluation of the essay–as Jeff Atwood’s post made me go back and read Paul Graham’s essay to rethink it. In the end, I didn’t think his latest essay was the best he’s written before, but I don’t think his point was to say, “hey you suck ass because you’re an employee”.
Like people that care about their trade, Paul Graham has a certain philosophy on programmers. Just as the martial arts have different schools of thought of major guiding principles, Paul to has his own school of thought when it comes to programming. As far as I can tell, he’s mostly concerned with hackers, which aren’t just people that write code, but people with an attitude of subverting the norm and a cultivated curiosity about the world, mainly expressed through programming. I think it’s these types of people he’s mainly trying to reach. If you’re someone that’s not like that, but enjoys programming as the way you make a living and don’t think about it when you go home the essay simply doesn’t apply to you.
That said, there are advantages to working at a big company. Aside for the usual concerns about steady paycheck and health insurance, you get a lot more information thrown your way casually by coworkers if you’re paying attention. When you’re at a small company, you have to make an effort to read up on industry news–though given how addictive social tech news is, we might not call it ‘effort’.
In addition, there are some types of things that need large company resources to do, even though it’s cheaper to start certain types of tech company. Bio tech comes to mind, as well as chip design.
Many times, companies are started because someone was at a big company and they had a good view of the industry and saw a particular need that was unfulfilled. If the founders weren’t at the big company to begin with, they wouldn’t have had the wide view of an industry as easily and they wouldn’t have been motivated by their company’s lack of interest in the niche to go and start their own.
I venture to guess that Paul writes these sorts of essays on hackers and startups mainly because 1) it’s what he knows (and you write best when you write what you know) and 2) there’s not enough material out there on it. If you take into account your friends, your parents, guidance counselors, etc, most everyone can tell you how to go get a job. However, not many people can write essays on doing a startup. I believe this particular essay is directed at reaching out to the hackers as described above, and not the general programming audience. In my mind, it’s not a bad thing, because, again, you write what you know.
This comment and response to it is one of the better posts that I’ve read on there. It’s pretty much on the money. I have an admiration for those that can cut to the chase with clarity in their writing.