Watch a VC use my name to sell a con.

Normally I just ignore navel-gazing tech-industry articles like this, but people keep sending it to me, so I guess this guy is famous or something. Michael Arrington posted this article, "Startups Are Hard. So Work More, Cry Less, And Quit All The Whining" which quotes extensively from my 1994 diary.

He's trying to make the point that the only path to success in the software industry is to work insane hours, sleep under your desk, and give up your one and only youth, and if you don't do that, you're a pussy. He's using my words to try and back up that thesis.

I hate this, because it's not true, and it's disingenuous.

What is true is that for a VC's business model to work, it's necessary for you to give up your life in order for him to become richer.

Follow the fucking money. When a VC tells you what's good for you, check your wallet, then count your fingers.

He's telling you the story of, "If you bust your ass and don't sleep, you'll get rich" because the only way that people in his line of work get richer is if young, poorly-socialized, naive geniuses believe that story! Without those coat-tails to ride, VCs might have to work for a living. Once that kid burns out, they'll just slot a new one in.

I did make a bunch of money by winning the Netscape Startup Lottery, it's true. So did most of the early engineers. But the people who made 100x as much as the engineers did? I can tell you for a fact that none of them slept under their desk. If you look at a list of financially successful people from the software industry, I'll bet you get a very different view of what kind of sleep habits and office hours are successful than the one presented here.

So if your goal is to enrich the Arringtons of the world while maybe, if you win the lottery, scooping some of the groundscore that they overlooked, then by all means, bust your ass while the bankers and speculators cheer you on.

Instead of that, I recommend that you do what you love because you love doing it. If that means long hours, fantastic. If that means leaving the office by 6pm every day for your underwater basket-weaving class, also fantastic.

Update: Followup here.

Tags: , , , ,

193 Responses:

  1. Alzdran says:

    Thanks for this.

    There's so much that could be part of this discussion (distraction, burnout, etc.), but it really just boils down to what you said.

  2. TJIC says:


    ...and I'm not just saying that because I left the small co. I run at 6pm to come home and build a stand for my anvil.

    ...or, wait. Maybe that's EXACTLY why I'm saying it.

    • Pics, or it didn't happen! Are you an amateur smithy?

      • Aaron says:

        I'm pretty sure TJIC is using an expression. The anvil is representative of work, as it is a primary tool of the blacksmith. He runs home to build the stand because it is his family and life upon which work really depends, not the other way around as the VC's want you to believe.

        • TJIC says:

          > I'm pretty sure TJIC is using an expression.

          Indeed, I am.

          "Anvil" is a metaphor used to represent a 120 year old, 200 lb Hay Budden anvil.

          "Anvil stand" is a metaphor used to represent a 60 lb oak log that I got off the curb after recent storms here in New England, cut to length with a chainsaw, then flattened with a router using an MDF jig I built, then incised in a 3/8" deep recess to hold the anvil base.

          • Aaron says:

            See! That's the most ephemeral, metaphorical anvil I've ever seen.

            • TJIC says:


              (given that it's composed entirely of glowing phosphor dots on your screen, this is a perfect observation)

              • Dan says:

                "Ceci n'est pas une anvil"

              • I had a few remote plans to comment on this article at some point, but I never dreamed it would be regarding a back and forth about an anvil and a metaphor.

                This is possibly the funniest comment thread I have read in a while, and that *is* a serious compliment in my books. My first instinct, after laughing of course, was to ask you or JWZ if we could repost it on it's own. I actually think it deserves it.

                Nicely done.

          • jwz says:

            Ceci n'est pas une enclume. I can tell by having seen many anvils in my time, and also some of the pixels.

      • TJIC says:

        > Are you an amateur smithy?

        Jack of all trades, master of none.

        I'm an amateur woodturner



        house builder, cabinet maker, luthier, etc.

        • Laura Rubin says:

          Potter, you say. And your blasted website returns a 404.

          • TJIC says:

            > your blasted website returns a 404

            ...on advice of counsel. Hopefully some bureaucratic idiocy will soon be resolved and it will be back.

            • Jered says:

              We've been going on "soon" a really long time now, TJIC.

              • TJIC says:

                > We've been going on "soon" a really long time now, TJIC.

                It's complicated.

                Complicated as in "Today at 10am I told my LA Lawyer friend what Rt 495 lawyer told me, and he blew his top and got Boston Lawyer on the line, ranting about near-criminal stupidity of Rt 495 lawyer. Boston Lawyer and LA Lawyer agree 'DON'T FOLLOW THAT ADVICE FROM RT 495 LAWYER'."

                #include your own clever hack on the phrase "Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line". Because, seriously, when dealing with a government that's already proven its willingness to lie, missteps are kind of costly.

                • Jered says:

                  Heh; I know... just giving you a hard time (since you clearly haven't been getting enough from $local_government)

  3. jet says:

    ...and while you were doing that, I was sleeping under desks at startups and seeing nothing but cup ramen and self-made espresso on the company dime. After 12 years working for startups (including Hummer-Winblad outfits that only paid off execs) and seeing nothing but negatives I bailed on the bay area entirely.

    So I have to shovel snow a few months a year and there aren't a kerjillion cool night clubs in town; but in a few years we'll own a house on a huge lot (by bay area standards) that will be paid for within 10 years on a single salary. My two-car garage is my studio and my neighbors don't complain about the late-night sparks or EBM/IDM/Bluegrass/Dubstep marathons.

    What's really funny to those of us from the bay area is hearing locals talk about startup life in PGH. A startup here sounds like a day job at Sun/Oracle/IBM in the bay area -- OMFG I HAD TO WORK 45 HOURS THIS WEEK AND EAT LUNCH AT MY DESK.

    • soooo, you aren't a fan of the bay area?

    • Brandon says:

      I can't agree enough with this. Almost 30, I came out to the Bay Area to interview with a telephony startup. Someone was trying to sell me on the idea that I should give up a six figure IT job in the midwest to live somewhere where its twice as expensive "for a big payday"; a big payday that may never come. Fark. that. I feel, really feel, for those that jump into the meat grinder that is the SV startup/VC scene because they feel they have to. You enjoy 80 hour weeks for your shot at the big time; I'll enjoy my 40-50 hours of "mundane" work.

      • wkrick says:

        I interviewed with Ebay back in the days when their entire site was run using a single giant ASP DLL. It was so poorly architected and inflexible that when they were branching out into different countries, localizing their site in different languages took them over a month per language EVERY time there was a site update.

        I was interviewing for a position with their development group and the plan was that they were going to re-architect the whole site to separate the site structure from the localized text and use XML and XSLT to build multiple language versions of the site dynamically instead of using hard-coded text strings.

        After a long day of multiple rounds of interviews, they seemed interested and started talking salary. I did my homework and knew that studio apartments were 2000+ a month in San Jose at the time. Typical developer salaries were around $125K. I made up a sample budget using Excel and came to the conclusion that if they paid me 92K annually, I'd be able to live frugally, have a car, pay off my student loans, and save a small amount of money each month. So that's what I asked for thinking it was more than reasonable. They countered and said that they were really looking for a local candidate, straight out of college and they were looking to pay 70K at most. When I asked how it was possible to live in San Jose for that amount, they said that many of their employees share apartments with each other (sometimes in groups of 3 or 4) and don't have cars. That's pretty much where the negotiations ended.

        At the time, I was a huge fan of Ebay (this was before they started fucking their sellers) and I was really interested in the position from a technical standpoint, but there was no way I was going to move 3000 miles cross-country and screw myself financially for their gain. Looking back, I think I dodged a bullet and I'm glad I didn't get the job.

        • Joe says:

          Wow, amazing such "smart" engineers can't figure out how to afford a $2000/mo apt on a $70K salary. Seriously?

          • wkrick says:

            70K a year in most parts of the country is plenty of money. However San Jose has the highest cost of living in the country. When I was interviewing, studio apartments were $2000+ a month. 2 bedroom apts were well over $3000 a month. The average electric bill was over $300 a month. Gasoline was $4 a gallon. Food prices were sky-high. Then throw in a car payment, car insurance, student loan payments, and other typical monthly bills like cable and a cell phone and there's not much left of your paycheck after taxes for saving for retirement.

            If you're married and have two incomes (and no children) then things get a bit easier financially, but as a single person, you pretty much have to co-habitate to live comfortably on 70K in San Jose.

            • Doher says:

              If you're an "engineer" and paying $300 a month in electricity in a 2 BR apartment, you don't deserve to be called an engineer.

              Hint: Turn off stuff when you're not using it and learn how to use your thermostat.

              This particular tangent reminds me of hanging out with I-bankers in NY talking about how tough it was to live there on 250k a year (not including bonus, of course)

        • Dan says:

          I see where you are coming from but this isn't quite the reality.

          Yes, housing is expensive but it isn't as extreme as you say. Newish luxury studio apartments may be $2000/mo but I always lived in budget 1-bedroom apartments (before I bought a house) and I know people who pay less than $2000 for 1-bedroom apartments. Those apartments have always been available but they aren't the super-nice rental communities advertised in the newspaper.

          Your salary estimates are pretty close, even these days. I did it all on one salary to support a family and buy a real house and a not-too-bad commute (and a car) and I think that it is still doable. It isn't easy but it can be done.

          As a job seeker, you definitely need to shop around and insist on getting the salary that you need to get. The big marquee companies don't necessarily pay the best salaries. And, sure, there are companies and recruiters that will try to talk you into accepting a bad deal. Who can blame them? Plenty of people accept those offers.

          But, still, I get it why people leave (or never come) and stay back in the Midwest or wherever else that they come from. This place can suck and sometimes its better just to go back home.

          • krick says:

            I think the important point that people are missing is that I interviewed with Ebay in 2000 right at the peak of the tech bubble. See:

            Rents in San Jose were off the charts. I can't recall all the details, but I remember that apartment managers forced you to move to another unit every 6 months or something like that so they could raise your rent. It was a loophole in a rent control law that prevented them from increasing the rent over a certain amount on existing tenants. By forcing you to move and sign a new lease, you became a new tenant and lost the protection that the law intended.

            Additionally, buying a home wasn't an option. Housing was so in demand, that people had to enter lotteries to get a chance to buy new houses. I sat next to a woman who worked for SanDisk on part of my plane ride home from the interview. She told me how she was in a lottery for the chance to buy a 1000 sqft townhome for $425,000. When I was scouting out the area, I looked at a place selling double-wide trailers on a blacktopped lot for $250,000 each. Each trailer was on a piece of land just large enough to hold the trailer plus two cars.

            One of the developers I interviewed with at Ebay bought a house really far away and had a nearly two hour commute by train each way every day. He said that he wanted an affordable house in a real neighborhood for his wife and kids and that was the only option. Luckily, Ebay allowed him to work on the train part of the time so that he didn't end up with a 12 hour work day.

            Also, I'm not making up the electricity prices. In 2000, they went up 800% in California.
            At the time, I had no reason to believe that the electricity prices weren't permanent.

            • Dan says:

              Fair enough. 2000-2001 was a point at the extreme: Silicon Valley with the pendulum swung all the way to the right.

              But you're right about housing, in spirit, if not in fact. (You're right about salaries and a lot of other stuff, too.) I knew a guy that came from Indiana and it was true that he could afford a house in Indiana in a few months whereas he might have to work 8 years to afford a house in the Silicon Valley.

              People can make it here. They can live rewarding lives. People get the hang of it after a few years, they figure out how to survive and then thrive, even though there are a whole lot of boots stepping on them and holding them down. I'm always amazed how people climb from the bottom to the top over time. That being said, it's a whole lot easier and faster somewhere else.

              I'd hate for people to think that being in Silicon Valley means that you are permanently doomed or a slave or that it is just a plain impossible situation. It's tougher but even regular people can make it here and get everything else that they'd get if they lived somewhere else.

              • wkrick says:

                As an epilogue to my story, I stayed in NJ (not a cheap state either, BTW) and eventually (after 10 years of renting) I saved enough to pay cash for a home near Raleigh NC earlier this year. At this time, I'm still working in NJ as a government sub-contractor but I expect to be "rolled off" the project before the end of the month (Merry Christmas). When that happens, I'll move permanently to NC and make that my new home. With no mortgage, I won't have the same economic pressure to find a high paying job, which will be a welcome change.

    • J. Peterson says:

      Now is a good time to review the musical version of this thread.

    • DoctorJay says:

      My experience in Silicon Valley was different, but I think that's because I'm older. I came here before the internet, things really do seem different now. I've watched my friends get squeezed by management more and more over the last 10 years, partly because the economy hasn't been good, and management could do it and not have people leave.

    • On the company dime, indeed. I've seen, from various angles, the other side of the startup buzz: twenty-somethings hauling down more than the median household income to play ping pong while geezers with too much money and a figuring that The Internet and PE is where the money's at ... something about Facebook and HMTL ... line up to get a piece of the other side of the Valley of Pain.

      I've also seen 29-year-old "experienced executives" who move and shake only within these ephemeral circles.

  4. Thanks indeed! Hearing "do what you love" from someone who's been through (some) life inspires hope and confidence.

    Although, to be fair, Arrington is a little more than a gold chaser. He started a blog and later sold it to Aol for 30M. He's also pretty famous.

    In any case, your point stands, VCs never sleep under a desk.

    • bennyb says:

      "to be fair, Arrington is a little more than a gold chaser. He started a blog and later sold it to Aol for 30M."
      So is Rush Limbaugh

  5. ryanlrussell says:

    But was the deal worth it to you? Did you have a better option for achieving the same payoff?

    Serious question.

    • foljs says:

      Yeah: work SMART, and get as far away from the "social startup" bubble scene.

      Find a niche, or something that the industry / market does bad and could be improved and build a product, working like a human. There are THOUSANDS of ideas to make money in a software/service/product startups. 99% don't require the crazy hours and all the shit that comes with it --and they have far much better chances of success than the "odds-are-against-you" payoff.

      You could do something like 37 Signals does --slowly build a viable 50+ person business with no or minimal VC money, and smart not crazy working hours.

      I'm really sorry for people who feel that a 50+ person company that makes tens of millions of dollars a year are somehow "beneath them", and they have to go for the billion dollar IP / next Facebook shit which they --statistically-- aren't gonna get anyway.

      • Eddy D says:

        I'm right here with you guys. I founded a startup in 2008 out of college in clean tech, we only raised angel investment. In the fall of 2009 we pivoted to begin our current product offering and within a year we were being acquired by a bigger company... I attribute more of our success to the intellectual discussions that drove us to pivot and focus our goals rather than the actual hours of grinding work.

        Work smart indeed!
        Do something different!
        Do what you love!
        I'm just trying to change the way the world uses energy... but I'm not there yet!

        • ryanlrussell says:

          What kind of hours did you put in?

          • Eddy D says:

            Working hours were typically 60 to 80 a week... a good amount of focused driven work, but nothing too extreme...
            Outside of those hours though, my team was also close friends so 24/7 we were discussing new ideas, discussing feedback from VCs, debating feature implementations, etc... those were the fun parts of the job where you're challenged to think beyond the technical details and think about the bigger picture. Without those we would have withered and died.
            No amount of technical grinding will solve the real business problems.

  6. SIlent says:

    And Netscape changed the world for the better, can't say the same for Zynga which is just a skinner box.

  7. Craig says:

    This is so true. Any time some tells you that you need to work harder, you have to subconsciously add the line 'to make money for me'.

  8. The M - F 7am - 10pm and sometimes 10am to 8pm on Saturdays gives me more than enough time to go home and sleep in my bed.

    • foljs says:

      7am - 10pm is still crazy hours. If you have to work that much, you ain't doing it right.

      Except if you count commuting time.

    • regeya says:

      Whoo, what a life! You get to sleep in your bed. La-dee-dah, la-dee-dah. Sounds like you're not woring enough.

      • Fi says:

        >Sounds like you're not woring enough.

        Can't tell if there is a "k" or an "h" missing in that word...

  9. You da man says:

    JWZ, you have done a huge favor by posting this response and busting the classic SV cliche that VCs and investors seem to glorify for their own benefit. And for all the discussions on HN, this post answers and clarifies it all. Thank you!

  10. Adam A. says:

    Michael Arrington has always been a huge dick, and the best advice any startup could get would be to stay the fuck away from him.

    • My life is measurably better since I stopped reading TechCrunch and anything Arrington says, even when explicitly forwarded by someone I know. They are masters at trolling the tech community into "engaging" via precision guided smart bombs of trolling.

  11. Mahmud says:

    > Follow the fucking money. When a VC tells you what's good for you,
    > check your wallet, then count your fingers.


  12. MZ MegaZone says:

    Having done the Bay Area start-up marathon myself at the same time with the 100+ weeks, 72+ hour shifts at times, and working to the point or collapse... you nailed it. It was a fun ride, but in the end I don't know that it was worth it. What I learned is more valuable than any money made, but the failed relationships, withered friendships, health impacts, etc... I don't think I'd do it again.

  13. Jorm says:

    Fuck the money. Do what you love. Do something where you wake up in the morning and think that your efforts have meaning.

    I'm ashamed it took me so long to realize that.

    • Pierre says:

      you're so right. it's clear that it's not easy to understand that when you're young (at least for me). But that's the most important !

    • random person says:

      "Do what you love. Do something where you wake up in the morning"
      ... something where hundreds of millions of people see your face on the top of a popular website, who then send you creepy and strangely familiar messages. Oh well, beats tricking kids out of their money, enh?

    • Rick C says:

      Sure, do something you love, but it's probably a good idea to try to tie that into something that makes money, unless you don't mind living on the cheap...or don't mind running the risk of that guy who was mentioned a couple weeks back in a #ows story. Art teacher at a high school, quit to get a Masters in puppetry, and when he got it he found out the school he'd previously worked for had had budget cuts, and he couldn't find a school that wanted to hire a puppetry teacher.

      A career as a welder would probably be more remunerative, and you'd still get to make weird statues for Burning Man or the next RIOTWheel.

    • tonio09 says:

      "Do what you love" Hahaha. I love playing video games. I don't mind doing that all day. Problem is I'd end up as a homeless guy. But at least I do what I love, am i rite?

      • tonio09, you're right that the advice can't be taken straightforwardly. But you can also find some workable wisdom in the dictum. So say I.

      • Most gaming companies hire testers. It's not glamorous or high-paying work, and it might well destroy your love of videogames, but the option of doing it for a living is there. :)

    • tomdenison says:

      Amen brother. Been around the block a dozen or more times and there are only two things that matter, health and happiness. This yields fantastic friends and family relationships, which is what life is all about. If you call it work, you are stuck. I call it my passion. I can't wait to get started every day, working towards building something beautiful and wonderful that adds real value to my life and hopefully others'.

  14. Nothing better than being scolded by someone who goes to meetings for parties for a living for not working hard enough.

  15. solarbird says:

    Follow the fucking money. When a VC tells you what's good for you, check your wallet, then count your fingers.
    ...if you still have use of them.

    It took a lot of really painful physical therapy for me to get my hands back, and I still can't work in the industry anymore. It's not just burnout, it's physically destructive. I would not do that same shit again. At least, I certainly wouldn't let myself get pushed around like that. Fuck that noise.

  16. John Furrier says:

    It's tactics of bloggers to use data to make their point. Thanks for clarifying I thought that you were part of his article.

  17. Ethan says:

    Build and ship stuff you are proud of, come on.

    This isn't the lottery, this about your dent.

    • .dh says:

      ^ What Ethan said.

    • N says:

      Build and ship stuff you are proud of, come on.

      That's a minor variation of what Arrington is suggesting. What you're proud of is largely shaped by the people around you, and if you're immersed in work, guess what?

      My advice as an engineer who's been burned: stop building stuff for a while and take negotiation classes.

      • Dennis says:

        How have the negotiation classes worked out for you so far? Have you been teaching yourself (books, etc.) or actually going to classes?

      • Eddy D says:

        It's never in your interest to burn out... unless you have an opportunity to disrupt and break open a new market before others...

        ...Otherwise overworking yourself is a fruitless ideal of VC's eager to seek returns faster rather than your true satisfaction later.

        More likely though, what will set you apart is your niche and your vision to know where you'll need to be in 6 (12, 18, etc) months rather than in 100 hours. If done methodically, those 6 months will be far more productive than repeated 100 hour sprints, even if the total hours put in ends up less.

    • 205guy says:

      A dent in the entropy of the universe, how futile.

    • matt says:

      rent you mean?

  18. Stefan Didak says:

    Ohhhh, THAT Arrington. There's hardly any value to what he says or writes. Heck, a year or two ago he saw it fit to just take one of the pictures of my famous home office to use, without attribution of any kind, on some shabby article he wrote. Seems he's still writing shabby articles and not having much of a clue of what he's writing about. Perhaps it's indicative that his success comes from material other than his own. And you can f'ing quote me on that one, yes. :-)

  19. Jed Davis says:

    My takeaway from Arrington's article was that startups are the same kind of abusive relationship as grad school, but worse. Oddly, I don't feel that opinion changed by this post.

  20. Andrew says:

    Was that last phrase a shout out to Reed college? If so thank you!

  21. Jon Cooper says:

    +1 for underwater basket weaving. Also, thanks for showing people like Arrington aren't invincible. It's nice to see a few guys go at it without sugar coating what they're really trying to say.

  22. Egypt Urnash says:

    Vehement agreement. Burning yourself out on someone else's insane deadline sucks. No matter what you're doing; I could tell stories about working in the animation industry that involve sleeping under the desk myself.

    I might go work for someone else on a big project again. But I sure as hell ain't doing that shit again.

  23. reading_comprehension says:

    If you read the article instead of stopping after the headline you'd see he only says that startups are hard now as they were then. There is no con. It's hard work, period.

    Where did VCs get all this capital. Follow the money, go back enough and you'll find most of them were just like you, they worked hard and hit the startup lottery.

    All this hostility for no real reason. Well done?

    • "Where did VCs get all this capital. Follow the money, go back enough and you'll find most of them were just like you, they worked hard and hit the startup lottery. "

      You're hilarious. And wrong.

      But keep on believin'. You'll be partying on Arrington's yacht in no time, I'm sure.

    • Mary says:

      Oh right. They hit the lottery, and then decided they just wanted to give back to the little guy. Just really wanted to help people out; continue the circle of life. They ought to be sainted, those VCs! They are the lifeblood of Silicon Valley! Donating their own hard-earned money to hard-working others in the hopes of improving this world!

    • follow_the_money says:

      VCs get their capital from sources like the Yale endowment. Even if they are rich, the money they are gambling does not come out of their personal bank accounts. "Angel" investors are another story.

  24. Rae says:

    The film industry is the EXACT same way. 12-hour days/6-day weeks because it's "cheaper to pay overtime than give time off" (no it isn't), exploiting unpaid interns is a time-honored tradition, and wrangling your underbudgeted and understaffed department while you count how many associate producers, executive producers, network executives, and managers of inspecific function stand around monitor giving their unsolicited opinion on your hard work. "The budget is tight" is a phrase you'll always hear from someone wearing a more expensive watch than you. Yes, the articles don't lie, there's gobs of money flying around Hollywood; but it's amazing how little of it settles below the line.

    Don't get me wrong, I roll with it, but I'll never believe the hype.

  25. akshat says:

    i turned investor myself since i was already putting in crazy hours - so instead of going to a vc - i saved money / made some more for my existing biz and became an angel and invested in myself

    i love this article - one life to live - dont waste it

  26. Sanjay says:

    Fantastico! JWZ - I've enjoyed your website in the past and this post just makes sense.


  27. Sebastian A says:

    Thanks Sanjay - great post - especially for the impressionable young 'uns that are being coaxed to migrate to the bay area to work like slaves. BTW - Michael Arrington started life as a lawyer, now he's a VC - best of both worlds - so count all your fingers when shaking that hand.....

  28. I like how your reaction post quickly became #1 on HN, while Arrington's original post has dropped off the front page altogether. Smells a bit like... victory. :)

  29. harryh says:

    1) If you went back in time and, knowing everything you know now about how much pain would be involved, would you sign up with Netscape again?

    2) If you went back in time and, knowing everything you know now about how much pain would be involved, would you sign up with "a random startup with a netscape like chance of success" again?

    Without directly and clearly addressing questions like this your rant seems like it's missing the point.

    FWIW, I say this as a huge fan of yours who has read basically every word you've written in your various blogs over the last 10+ years.

    • jwz says:

      Your "time machine" technology is fascinating and I would like to be on your board of directors. Seriously, if I could plop my today-consciousness in my decades-ago timeline, I can think of a lot more productive things I could be doing than having a job. This is why hypotheticals like this never make any sense to me.

      I think you've missed the point, because "should 1994-vintage jwz sleep under his desk or not" is not remotely the point I was trying to address.

      • harryh says:

        I guess the point you were trying to make is that people should "do what you love because you love doing it." Which is certainly a fine point. But, to be honest, it doesn't seem all that different from what Arrington was saying given statements like "If you work at a startup and you think you’re working too hard and sacrificing too much, find a job somewhere else that will cater to your needs."

        I do agree that investors benefit by fostering a "you've gotta work really hard so you'll get rich" mentality while not mentioning very clearly that if you get rich they'll likely get richer (without all that hard work). But really isn't what they're saying fairly accurate? A successful startup pretty much requires a bunch of really hard work. And to be honest, if a bunch of highly educated mostly mid to upper class mostly young white men are getting snookered into working a bit harder than maybe they should for a few years it doesn't seem like all that much of a tragedy.

        Or maybe I'm just not getting it? *shrug*. No big thing, I suppose. I've missed plenty of points in the past, and I'm sure I'll miss plenty in the future. Thx for responding. If I ever get the time machine working I'll call you first to invest!

        • jwz says:

          I dunno, my point was what I said in paragraphs 2 through 5, then I rephrased that in paragraphs 6 through 8. Then I threw in paragraph 9 just to be some kind of hippie or something. So, if it's still unclear what I was saying, I don't know what to do about that.

          • Thomas Lord says:

            After you put up the camouflage thing your cubicle was a kind of passing tourist attraction for visitors to the management -- as in "follow me this way to my office... oh and on your left you can see evidence of our hacker wildlife...." You were an attraction! You and the fish.

            I think part of what was driving the valley back then was that era's bubble was inflating not long after SGI folks, Sun folks, and other same-era tech managers were seeing their options from those earlier years pay off. So the capitalists had a lot of True Believer nouveau riche nerd-ish/tool-ish executives and top tier managers setting the tone and dressing the set for the young, poorly-socialized, naive geniuses who burned burned burned with the tragically passionate assumption that they were craftsmen and that people cared for the craft and that somehow they could create something that would transcend the selfish and cynical machinations and manipulations of the dreary, dreadful, soul-dead parasitic capitalist class.

            • Sun gave stock options (in the 1990's)? I must have missed this.

              • Thomas Lord says:

                The folks I'm thinking of got their options in the 80s. They were starting to rake it in by the early 90s. Some of those early money winners from Sun, SGI, etc. moved out and became upper level managers in the 1990s at the firms that were part of that bubble.

                I don't know (or care) what Sun's compensation policies were like in the 1990s beyond that. I earlier wrote that their options were maturing in the 90s and maybe that's not literally true -- maybe they got fully vested slightly earlier.

                The essential point is that there was a generation of nouveau riche upper managers in the new round of start-ups then and that, having gotten some fat stacks off the VC game themselves, many of those culturally influential managers were True Believers in the work-hard-and-win myth just as a flood of younger, junior people arrived.

          • I think you're missing the point about how people "miss the point". A person can read the whole thing over and over again and still miss the point because of a false assumption or because they misunderstood one thing and the rest of the post had a different meaning in light of that misunderstanding. Answering their questions has a better chance of making them "get it" than telling them to re-read everything again.

            So, can you please clarify how/if your rant conflicts with the following sentence by Arrington: "If you work at a startup and you think you’re working too hard and sacrificing too much, find a job somewhere else that will cater to your needs."?

            • Matt says:

              You ask a foolish question. One reasonable-sounding sentence from Arrington does not reflect the totality of his article.

              Anyone positing that Arrington and jwz are saying the same thing aren't just "missing the point," they're being willfully blind to it.

        • "You've gotta work really hard so you'll get rich." Heh.

          First - let's just cut to the chase, okay? In pure programming terms, the crazy hours don't make for better software - more features, less bugs, better usability, any of it. In terms of getting rich, it doesn't create more value (or even the same value in less calendar time). You're not going to have better marketing by working those long hours; you're not going to better serve your market; you're not going to have happier employees or customers.

          Second - there is a huge amount of causation you are inaccurately implying there. "If you do this, then that will happen" - yeah right. How many people have burned themselves out working 80 hour weeks and then seeing the company fail? Too many people, that's how many.

          The things that differentiate successful start ups from failed start ups have a whole lot more to do with the business end of things (meeting a need better than competitors, responding to change faster than competitors, filling a niche with a high barrier to entry...) than the number of hours you put in this week.

        • rgrivera says:

          Seems pretty straightforward to me. When a VC (especially one that doesn't come from a software background, like a former lawyer) deigns to tell a software engineer what's in the engineer's best interest, don't trust them. Don't trust them because any alignment between your interests and their interests are purely coincidental and are of no consequence to them. They aren't giving you this counsel because they really want to see you become fabulously wealthy. They aren't pining for the day when the two of you can look back on the good old days and laugh at how young and naive you were. They're giving it to you because they are expected to generate a return on investment for their stakeholders. That counsel is not given in the nature of goodwill and brotherhood, it's given in the nature of keeping your seat warm until the next quarter. Just like it's given to the 20 other engineers over the five other startups they are responsible for. And they'll give the same line to the guy who takes your place when you finally break. They aren't doing you a favor by encouraging you to destroy your life, body, and spirit.

          If you work at a startup and feel you're getting worked too hard or sacrificing yourself, have the self-respect to tell the sociopaths you work for where they can stick it and go find a better gig.

      • sneak says:

        I think it would help us get the point if you'd answer his questions.

        • jwz says:

          I did. His question is either A) tautological or B) paradoxical science fiction. There is no answer to questions like this that make any sense. Unless you're just looking to validate your preconceptions, which I'm not inclined to help you with.

          • sneak says:

            I understand that it's part of the brand 'n' all to be the grumpy broken-record cynic, but do you really believe that those of us who have been patiently reading you for a decade+ because of the wisdom to be gained thereby are really only here to validate our preconceptions?

            Not trolling, just pointing out that a small percentage of your upteen-gazillion hits on this page are those that remember reading about you building your metal pipe CD rack and actually care about your individual, personal opinion on a topic, as opposed to the bog-standard Sane Industry-Accepted Response In Hindsight. We've all read {Coders,Founders} At Work and know your party line by now. That's not what the questions were or are.

            That said, what _would_ you be doing other than "having a job" given the opportunity for 2011-jwz to be sideloaded into your 1990 skull? Considering your attitude about how meaningless the answer would be, perhaps you'd indulge our curiosities in this exercise to exterminate all rationality of discussion.

            • jwz says:

              Well the Biff Tannen gambit first, obviously, but everybody kills Hitler on their first trip. Then I'd invent velcro and buy a pony. "What would you do if you had a time machine" is a fun party game, but if you end up talking about itty bitty ways you'd change things, you just end up with that X Files episode where the genie gives the guy in the wheelchair three wishes and one of them is for a solid gold wheelchair.

    • Walter Elly says:

      +1 for questions 1 and 2, I too am curious.

  30. Ori says:

    Yay! I hope the well-deserved popularity of this post is a milestone on the way to the (re-)humanization of commercial software development.

  31. David says:

    Why the funky colors?

  32. Christopher says:

    Right on. I was just getting into the VC and start up culture. Thinking it was great and needed help locally. Then I heard the song: I am a VC. Who the hell are you. That told me all I needed to know.

    Think small, do good work and enjoy.

  33. erinn says:

    Man, I love a good NO GUTS NO GLORY pep talk. It reminds me of all the awesome "Rocky" movies, or maybe "Hoosiers". I love the underdog who works really hard and sacrifices everything for something he or she believes in -- especially if that thing is immortality, rather than quality of life. The person who says to themselves: I don't personally want to enjoy living -- I want people, after I'm dead, to look through the very long list of minor programmers who wrote lines of contentious PHP for Facebook and say "That. That person existed. That was one of the countless thousands of people in Silicon Valley who owned 200 clever tshirts from Threadless, had strong opinions about CSAs and REST, and participated in Movember every single year without fail."

    Seriously. I can understand an earnest and ardent desire to do something important and meaningful with your life, but the idea that by merely existing in the SV software ecosystem as some kind of slave to a GRAND VISIONARY, you are "part of history" in a positive way strikes me as, for lack of a better word, goofy. Natural disasters are part of history too, and they suck. Who wants to be involved in one of those?

  34. Cris says:

    Underwater basket weaving - love it! It could only be topped by monkeys in bikinis performing underwater basket weaving. But seriously, great read.

  35. I blogged a response to this and the Arrington blog:

  36. Bram Cohen says:

    People forget what a piece of shit Navigator 1 was (and 2 and 3 and... okay I'll stop). I work on problems which have much more serious engineering challenges. If I forced myself into chronic sleep deprivation the way you did back then, my shit would never work. Seriously, I wanted to get a bug fixed today which had stumped me for a few days, so what did I do? I force-fed my body sleep all day long, then went to the most un-hip coffee shop around, downed some coffee, shut down my web browser, and spent the next few hours getting the damn thing fixed.

    • Al says:

      Excuse me? navigator 2 and 3 were pretty good and certainly better than anything else at the time. I wonder what you were using back then. Well actually, I wonder if you even were around back then...

      • Bram Cohen says:

        Navigator 2 was never even a finished piece of software, its javascript implementation didn't have a garbage collector. Navigator 3 almost didn't crash constantly when javascript did anything funny. Almost. They may have been better than the alternatives at the time, but it was painfully obvious to anyone who had to make web pages to render in them that they were buggy pieces of shit.

        • Tet says:

          Your experiences must be different to mine. Sure, it wasn't perfect, but NN3 was the high point of browser development for me. No subsequent Netscape, Mozilla or Firefox browser has been as fast or as stable. Or as well designed. You could, y'know, have multiple instances open concurrently, for example.

    • The problem you're currently working on appears to be armchair quarterbacking.


    • Joe says:

      When are you going to work on that engineering challenge that allows the RIAA, MPAA, et al to track torrent users? Or was that all part of the plan?

  37. XuDing says:

    Work on what you love is the way to get a life meanwhile getting rich ?

  38. Buddy Casino says:

    I'm amazed the most obvious question has not been asked yet:
    - would you have been able to own the DNA lounge without the startup money?

    Because, you know, doing what you love might actually be expensive, and having money gives you that freedom.

    • mrbill says:

      I think his point is that he loved what he was doing at Netscape - and that is why he did it. The money was pure luck - as he puts it - "startup lottery".

      Early on, I don't think anyone could have foreseen frenzy when Netscape went public.

  39. Tim S. says:

    I think I love you.

  40. Jack says:

    I actually agree with Arrington to some extent. I've worked hard, very hard, slept under desks, on desks, beside desks and I made multi millionnaire before turning 25 without VC money.

    The biggest issue in the valley is the VC. You don't need a VC to make millions anymore. A computer, a business partner, some focus and a good idea can get you quite far.

    Despite the fact that I really can't stand Arrington, I think it's also important to understand that some people are workoholics and some arent. If you arent and prefer a nice little family life in the suburbs then good for you, but respect the fact that some people as such as myself are adrenaline junkies and degenerate gamblers and we need to build and sell businesses.

    For the record, Im primarily an engineer. I'm not a suit.

    • Eddy D says:

      Working for yourself and doing what you love are the keys though, yes? Workaholism isn't the only route to building and selling businesses, but you've got my respect.

    • Jbost says:

      LOL, of course you agree with Arrington. You hit the lottery--in part because you worked hard and are smart, and in part because you got lucky. For every one of you, there are hundreds or thousands of other people who actually are every bit as smart as you and every bit as hardworking, but who simply will not hit the jackpot. If that's hard for you to believe, then you're and egotist in a statistical fantasy land. It's unnerving that people like you and Arrington seem unable to respect any alternative to working 100+ hour weeks and sleeping under your desks. Don't bother to deny it. The way you guys turn your phrases, in utter contempt, "a nice little family life in the suburbs"..."a job that caters to your needs." God, the snobbishness is just repulsive. You entirely come across as having no respect whatsoever for any other path, because whenever you mention another path, it's with dripping sarcasm. And by the way, a family life in the 'burbs is something that comes to people in our line of work usually in their mid- to late-thirties. I would strongly suggest that anyone who has given 10+ years to desk-sleeping and Ramen diets, and has yet to get a payoff, take a very, very hard look in the mirror.

      I follow neither your path nor the sole alternative you suggest. I work a solid work week at a tech company -- 60-hours, not 100, weekend hours from home. And I live in an urban downtown. And I have a family life, including a kid I'm nuts about, with whom I spend time every day. I don't expect my job to cater to my needs, nor would I tolerate an employer's thinking less of me because I keep my obligations to all--whether to the company or to my family etc. I've pulled all-nighters for both work and family. I've "borrowed" time from each and given it to the other. It's called balancing. It's called reciprocity. It's what healthy adults do, and it's what makes society tick. Everyone who grows up comes to know this is true.

      • Bravo. It's really a shame: for all of the advantages we really do have through the luck of living in one the wealthiest countries in the world, many of us spend an awful lot of time enslaved to an arbitrary short list of options.

    • Richard says:

      I've worked hard, very hard, slept under desks, on desks, beside desks and I made multi millionnaire before turning 25 [...] For the record, Im primarily an engineer. I'm not a suit.

      You're primarily a socially oblivious tool and no doubt of some minor unpaid propagandistic utility to our economic overlords.

      And FYI I also did won the "startup lottery", after several tries (I guess I didn't work hard, very hard enough through my twneties) and years of intermittent sleeping under desks. It was all, all, about luck, together with the social advantages of my parent's class and the educational opportunities I was afforded, by luck.

  41. (disclaimer: I know Mike; he's worked at a startup I co-founded; I've worked at a startup he co-founded)

    While I can see why it's tempting to discount this advice now because Mike is suddenly operating as a VC himself, he's done at least 4 startups himself, three of which he co-founded and two of which he got decent exits from. Of those, I know from personal experience that he worked his ass off on at least 3 of them. With Techcrunch the office was in his house for ages, and he was working pretty much round the clock. Personally I doubt very much that his advice would've been much different a couple of years ago before he started raising his fund.

  42. Too green didn't read. #sry

  43. Scott says:

    That's so true. We started dkmvs (aka dick moves) as a joke. It's not exactly taking the internet by storm, but it's a fun side project and it pays for itself. When we start up a "real" company, we're not planning to take any VC money and if we don't love it, we'll head back to a 9-to-5.

  44. Elusis says:

    Using the Zynga bait-and-switch and the exposé on racism in startups/tech as his examples of "crying" was really super classy.

  45. peter says:

    That’s one of the reasons I have such a huge respect for companies like ESET. It took them 20 years to become a billion dollar company, without outside financing. Not mentioning that they founded the company just a few years after the Velvet Revolution, which was a pretty turbulent time.
    Today, they have an incredibly competent and loyal engineering team and a great product. That takes time and serious commitment.
    I don’t know, whether it’s a different kind of ambition, than the guys who end up on magazine covers with headphones. I guess it has something to do with the fact that they are programmers/hackers who love learning about how computers work.

  46. Brian says:

    The math is simple: a VC seeks *many high-risk opportunities* to maximize his gains with limited risk to himself. One of his many high risk opportunities includes your project.

  47. gguillotte says:

    I recently walked out of a startup whose CEO, after a rough round of internal NPS results, told the company the same thing at an all-hands. One of the cofounders RTd Arrington's piece. We'd just raised a big VC round six montgs prior.

    It's one thing to have Arrington's stance up front, in recruiting and onboarding. It's another altogether to ask your company for feedback, get negative feedback, and reply to their concerns with basically Arrington's stance, especially as the company grows and matures.

  48. M.E. says:

    I like this post because it's mean to those non-engineer people who think they're the ones who "create wealth."

  49. Jason says:

    Damn I had forgotten how easy to read green on black is. Thank you.

  50. Kumar says:

    Awesome! Just awesome!

  51. Noah says:

    "Hang in there little troopers!"

  52. I'm working for a startup myself, and some people stay late some nights to work, but I believe the days of sleeping under your desk are long gone. The reason? The tools available today that didn't exist back in the 90's, so you don't have to spend a ton of money and time to create them yourself.

    For start-ups, using these tools is either free or cheap enough to self-finance, or to at least operate on a VC budget a tenth of what it used to be. Amazon EC2 solves your data centre needs, Basecamp solves the collaboration problems, etc. SaaS basically makes internet startups a plug and play operation, building services or applications out of pre-packaged, time-tested solutions.

    So, basically, he's full of shit. Work smart, not hard.

  53. xlags says:

    Love this article!

    From experience, most VCs will tell you straight up, "be prepared to get bent over", they know they are sharks and youi are the chum. A better strategy might be to build your business based on sound research. Take less cash, preferably from like-minded angels and don't take cash from the Michael Arringtons of the world. Of course, taking less cash could mean you will need to work longer hours, unless you really are a genius.

  54. Val says:


    Isn't it odd how the combination of naivete and hope can create suffering for self under the guise of "I'm payiing my dues."

    You said it best with, "I recommend that you do what you love because you love doing it. If that means long hours, fantastic. If that means leaving the office by 6pm every day for your underwater basket-weaving class, also fantastic."

  55. I read the other article yesterday and, as a worker, strongly disagreed with it. I can't tell you how great it is to read this and hear the other side of the story. Thank you!

  56. RV says:

    Very well said. Software startup business is becoming like financial industry, where you overwork,crash and burn but with less probability of getting rich .
    In the end,it is the time that you devote to yourself,your family that counts .

    • Elusis says:

      Which jobs are NOT like that these days? I am destroying myself with 60-70 hour weeks trying to teach grad school in a non-tenured position that will never bring me any riches, untold or otherwise.

      "Job is the new promotion."

  57. Santa says:

    Although I like what you wrote, many of us can't get far along without investment... at this point I don't mind working hard while they sleep.

  58. MeMock says:

    I take it you aren't talking about the Viet Cong?

  59. I completely agree with you - incubators like Y Combinator are bullshit and anyone with a really good idea should avoid them like the plague.

  60. Ric says:

    Good to see this didnt rile you up all that much! We all have choices in the world and some are easier than others! Arrington though is as he always is ... looking for some controversy to stir up some traffic and have the world do the 'Look at me look at me,' bullshit. I am sure he crys like a little boy plenty!

    So when you think of the source and how much of a DB he is, you can take what he says with a salt lick!

  61. reading_comprehension says:

    From my original comment: "If you read the article instead of stopping after the headline you'd see he only says that startups are hard now as they were then. There is no con. It's hard work, period."

    From Arrington's follow up piece: "“He’s trying to make the point that the only path to success in the software industry is to work insane hours, sleep under your desk, and give up your one and only youth, and if you don’t do that, you’re a pussy.” – No. I was making the point that people have been working crushingly hard in our industry for quite a while now, and that today’s hard workers shouldn’t assume this is something new."

    So. Is it so hard to simply read the article, think about it, take a deep breath or something, and then if you must, post a *thoughtful* response?

    Your venom may have got you plenty of pageviews, and for all I know that's all you were after. Apart from circling the wagons against someone who didn't actually say anything negative about you except that you worked very hard I'm curious if you think all of the anger was really necessary? You've had a couple days now to think about it, you've likely read his response, was some guy who used you as an example of people working very hard then much the same as they do now deserving of such hostility?


    • jml says:

      You must be new here.

    • nooj says:

      > was some guy who used you as an example ... deserving of such hostility?

      yes, for all the reasons jwz said. note that while arrington says he's not selling a con, he's assuming people already bought it and need another serving of kool-aid. he's still getting extra rich off things other people create, using jwz's words to support his grift.

      > is it so hard to ... post a *thoughtful* response?

      please choke on a bucket of cocks. clearly in your world, being succinct does not imply "thoughtful." it does here.

      • reading_comprehension says:

        In my world anyone who disagrees with me isn't invited to a meal of cocks. (The weather's not bad either)

        OccupyVC. Fight the power. Don't let the man get you down. Etc.

        Best of luck in future endeavors.

        • mds says:

          "In my world anyone who disagrees with me isn't invited to a meal of cocks."

          More importantly, in your world, someone can show up claiming that jwz didn't read an article consisting largely of misrepresentation of something actually written by jwz, and apparently expect to be taken seriously. That scene from Annie Hall with Marshall McLuhan isn't nearly as funny in your world, which is why I'm going to stick with the real world, where such self-righteous follow-ups get you invited to add salt to your meal of cocks. Now run on back to Arringtonland, which is presumably the rarified level of civility and decorum you require.

          • reading_comprehension says:

            Sure I'll keep playing this game, it's lunch time anyway.

            "In my world anyone who disagrees with me isn't invited to a meal of cocks."

            This is not a self-righteous statement. It is not ambiguous. It is perfectly plain English. What you add to it is your own illusions. When you add insults with your opinion your opinion is significantly diminished if not completely eclipsed by the insult. A conversation without invitations to eat cocks is not a "rarefied (fixed your misspelling) level of civility and decorum", it's simply a reasonable discussion of opposing views.

            • nooj says:

              "rarefied (fixed your misspellig) ..."

              thanks for stepping in there. yeah, the auto-spell-check on this site is hard to use.

              and while we're digging up ancient history, "please choke on a bucket of cocks," wasn't meant to be especially vituperative. it's a reference to some past funny. just read it to mean "you're an idiot."

              best of luck to you, too. when you come back, i recommend assuming that jwz had a really good reason to do X the way he did (whatever X may be), and that he already thought of whatever other argument you were proposing. then comment on *that*. (or, you know, don't say anything.) and rest assured, jwz is not here for pageviews.

              • reading_comprehension says:

                I see. Well all I can do is apologize for all the mistakes I've made here. You should assume this, you shouldn't assume that, or you shouldn't assume at all, etc. The right course of action isn't always obvious (including taking no action).

                I apologize for mistaking "eat cock" for unneeded hostility.
                I apologize for not assuming the article had been meticulously thought out and all possible points of view accounted for.
                I apologizing for not seeing that comments here are just for adding "well said" and "I agree".

                Assumed Arrington apologist out.

  62. otakucode says:

    The future of the entire global economy, facilitated by the Internet, is the destruction of those bankers, VCs, and other people who once enabled the distribution of work and products. They are now parasites. They offer nothing of value to anyone. They seek to insert themselves between producers and consumers - and they provide no service that can't be provided by a piece of software running on an Internet-connected computer. Producers can now sell directly to consumers, with absolutely no need to involve a corporate structure at all. As a sea change, this will take awhile to happen, of course. But it is inevitable. Those people are now less than worthless, they actually suck value out of the market, scamming everyone on every side.

    The future is almost everyone working from home or from a community workshop where they rent space/heavy equipment, with Internet services coordinating the connection of buyers and sellers. And those services will receive only a finder's fee, since their service is not difficult or special.

    This is why Internet access needs to be declared to be a public utility. The advantages possible to society are incalculable. Eliminating the cumbersome corporate middle layer from the economy would usher in unbelievable prosperity and fuel ridiculous development, not to mention finally conveying the advantages of computer and automation technologies to the general public, rather than their advances exclusively inflating the pockets of executives. People would have much larger amounts of free time and would most likely re-develop strong connections with their local community. Instead of most individuals working 8 hours a day for 5 days a week for 45 years before they are able to retire, many would likely work far less and retire far earlier, giving them the opportunity to pursue projects of their own liking, which would benefit us culturally a great deal.

  63. L Rao says:

    Loved your reply JWZ.

    Yours is not the only viewpoint one can take (witness the many supporters of Mike A in this thread). But to me it is clear that minimizing costs (so that they can spread their capital amongst a larger pool of startups, thereby increasing their chances of success) is a logical and consistent strategy that VC's are using. It does require a large pool of willing participants (young, gullible engineers) that VC's, in a very conniving manner, nurture (they glorify the "martyrdom" of long hours, heavily advertise their very small number of successes, and collude amongst themselves to perpetuate the status quo).

    This is obvious and self evident... and somewhat repugnant... (as it creates a whole generation of frustrated Engineers that will eventually realize that they were kind of taken for a ride, and just used for the advantage and enrichment of someone else...)

    The only silver lining to the whole thing is that the quest for lowered costs cuts both ways: no need for a lot of VC money if the costs are very, very low...

    Your post and some of the comments will hopefully help a few to make the decision to work for themselves...

  64. DFB says:

    I want to see the top referrer sites for this post.

    • 205guy says:

      Notice how Arrington quoted the whole thing in his rebuttal, the link he did have to it was just for show. I don't see a copyright on jwz's page, but that's still beyond fair use. Arrington is not into sharing his audience, it seems.

  65. FDR says:

    Funny, this is on top of Hacker News, not exactly something Paul Graham and his blind disciples want people to read and wonder about.

    I have been working like crazy for years but it's MY company, 100% mine.

  66. gooster says:

    It's called a risk premium for a reason. If you don't want to sleep under a desk, buy the chips with your own money.

    There's a data skew here, where the folks most willing to call this out as rubbish are the people who have launched successful ventures. Optimistically, that's one in three start-ups.

    Just saying. People are only being taken for a ride with perfect hindsight.

  67. gooster says:

    And that's absolutely not meant as any kind of instigation or troll.

    VC provides a chance to pay your dues in full with one good idea and one hitch under the desk.

    Name another industry with such potentially short indenture.

    • 205guy says:

      I hear in the movie industry, it's one night too, AND you get to sleep, or rather have to sleep.

  68. Patrick says:

    Super fucking awesome. I think I learned everything I needed to know about Michael Arrington a couple years ago when I was at a startup just between gigs at giant corporations (where I felt a little sad to have realized is where I'm most comfortable but it's exactly because I learned a little hard work in an environment with modest expectations compensates well and gives a fair amount of freedom) and I saw this excellent commentary by Walt Mossberg (the puppet) on him. I highly recommend it and will call out what I think is the key passage for this context.

    Do you know what work is, Michael Arrington? I don't think that you do. I think your idea of a hard day at the office is being fellated by the CEOs of only 7 dotcom startups looking for a profile on techcrunch instead of 12.

  69. 205guy says:

    Guess which of the following I did:

    A - Worked all night tonight for my still pre-IPO company.

    B - Worked all night at my little hobby I love.

    C - Spent quality time with my family.

    D - Got some popcorn and watched the fanbois fight.

  70. Simen says:

    Thank you for posting this. I had pretty much bought into the idea that after getting my degree, I need to create my own job and work 80 hour weeks until it potentially pays off. Seeing people like you and Jorm talk about stuff like this makes me seriously reconsider that scenario.

  71. JWZ, thanks for posting this, I just read arrington's post and yeah funny how they are attempting to use your "choose life" (trainspotting) rant as motivation to the next generation of start-up noobs.

    From my lowly vantage point of 14 tech start-ups in 21 years resulting in 2 IPO, some being acquired, many bankruptcies, and a few who are still in business where my equity might pay off someday; I insist on calling VC out for what they are; "Vulture Capitalists" for precisely the same reasons you outlined.

    Looking back all i have to say is -- Do what you love, and don't give up on the important things in life, and never forget those wonderful people in your life with whom you have some sort of connection as it all really is far too short and fleeting.

    p.s. dnabot misses you. ;)

  72. wkrick says:

    I lost a few years of my life in the video game industry when I was young and naive. Eventually, I got enough sense to get out. One of the catalysts for my leaving was this article from the March 1999 issue of Shift Magazine that pretty much summed it all up...

    Clive Thompson: Why Your Fabulous Job Sucks

  73. Dave Bell says:

    In the end, these people who say that workers--any workers--need to work prolonged hours are just missing a huge amount of solidly based knowledge. Things like the 40-hour week were backed by Henry Ford, because he made more money that way.

    Now, I have worked in an industry where there are intense bursts of work. A couple of weeks of 72-hours was about my limit, and the machinery breakdowns tended to be in the second half of the day in the second week. When the pressure eased off a little, you could still be making mistakes in the last couple of hours.

    This isn't quite the sort of mind stuff that you need for programming, but I know some dumb things I've done with my computer, after a long day.

    And that's why I think Arrington is a stupid jerk. You do a start-up in the IT world. The Venture Capital business is about getting a good return on the investment. And they're going to want to see your plans. How much work needs to be done. How many people there are to do it. How much time. If they don't know enough about a type of business to see when those plans are optimistic, they're not doing their job.

    It's one thing to say that you don't waste money on fripperies such as corporate status symbols, or a flash lifestyle. But he's talking about reducing productivity, running the business less well. He's playing a dominance game, lusting after being able to treat people like a drill sergeant does recruits, without the capacity to be a soldier himself. He's not even interesting in creating soldiers.

    If his motive really was a good return on investment, and he was a competent judge of investments in business, he wouldn't be pushing this.

    • It's not about money. It's about some people's skewed sense of identity based on how much suffering and control they are able to inflict on "inferiors."

  74. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jamie, good to read it from somebody who knows how it works. I'm also in the "do what you love because you love doing it" camp, and that's why I just quit a startup to build my own stuff.

  75. FDR says:

    Their scam is up:

    "Again, the facts completely contradict the hype. Last year, Norman Matloff, a University of California professor, released one of the few studies ever done on the programmer job market. He surveyed the hiring practices of software and new-media firms, and concluded that there was, in fact, no shortage of programmers. Quite the opposite--employers could afford to be picky. Companies were hiring only two to four percent of the people they interviewed, a rate far below that for other types of engineers. The shortage, Matloff realized, wasn't in programmers per se. Rather, it was in young, unattached programmers--the type who are willing to destroy themselves for work, pulling 100-hour weeks for a comparatively low salary (a national average of $40,000). "

    By giving you a $10 lunch or a "free" onsite haircut, they're making sure you stay there all day.

    • anonymouse says:

      The company I work for has recently had to hire a few programmers, and yeah, we ended up rejecting a lot of candidates, but not because they weren't willing to work long hours for low pay (we pay reasonably well, and the hours are the standard 40 a week, with a very occasional need to come in on weekends). It's simply because, strange as it may seem, none of them could program in C. I think it's also a matter of there being different segments of the programmer market, with shortages of only some specific skills (like the ones they don't teach in JavaSchools).

      • Nick Lamb says:

        Exactly. No-one who matters is looking for "young unattached programmers", they're looking for people who can actually do the damn job. I don't hire people (I won't fire people, so logically I can't be allowed to hire them either) but I do sit on interview panels, and for advertised positions you get a lot of people who just aren't very good. I don't care if they were willing to work 100 hours per week, sleep under the desk and take buttons in payment, they can't get the job done. Bad programmers aren't worth $40k, and good ones are undervalued at any salary you'd get past management.

        Joel (yeah, but he's right some of the time) has written about the phenomenon that causes you to be "hiring only two to four percent" and it is neither because only 2-4% of programmers are "young & unattached" nor because only 2-4% are good enough. It's because the people interviewing are by definition those who didn't get a job somewhere else already. It's a last resort, first preference is always "See whether so-and-so likes working at that bank/government department/university. Maybe they're bored and we can hire them".

      • Dan says:

        Well, that's not really fair. C is a language whose time has come and gone. Schools will never teach C again en masse. That's not a shortage, any more than we have a shortage of Fortran, Cobol, Ada or assembly language programmers.

        • Ben Brockert says:

          When you need to hire someone with a specific skill and none are available, what do you call it if not a shortage? C is still used in some circles, just as Fortran lives on (and is, in fact, taught as a freshman course at some universties).

          • Dan says:

            Maybe there's such a thing as a "personal shortage" as opposed to an "industry-wide shortage".

            It could also be that, while there are a jillion Java programmers and a jillion Java jobs, there might only be 30 C programmers and 30 C jobs. Neither has a shortage but it will be far easier for the Java guys to find the Java jobs than the C guys to find the C jobs. The C jobs will be flooded with Java applicants but the C applicants aren't even an inconvenience to the Java jobs. A shortage isn't the only thing that keeps jobs from being filled.

  76. Joe Johnston says:

    I leave the office by 5pm. You cannot get back your time.

  77. Tara Gowland says:

    Love this - found your blog after seeing you host the local Hadoop Meetup group - some pretty powerful stuff! Have to say that as I work with startups that are bootstrapped more and more, I really like the atmosphere of freedom it passes down to employees...

  78. Tara Gowland says:

    oops - just realized I was redirected from this site :)

  79. Marleine says:

    Would you also recommend this approach for a new graduate that has been struggling to find a position for months and months and would never want to risk to be unemployed again?

  80. Ah, Marleine -- and there you have the piece that makes it all work. It's become almost standard in many places for people to feel grateful to have a job&emdash;any job&emdash;so much so that they don't stand up for decent working conditions, cost of living increases (when upper management is making large bonuses), etc.

    I've been part of 10 startups over the last 30 years, and there's been almost an inverse relationship between the involvement of VCs and the longevity of the companies. Back before the internet boom, VC was reserved for companies that had serious, capital-intensive startup costs. Most startups relied on a combination of bootstrapping, banks, supplier/customer financing, and angels. But today, the finance industry has done an amazing job of driving into the minds of every hopeful, smart entrepreneur out there, "Step 1 is to find venture capital." Amazingly smart business move for the VC firms, but typically a mediocre-to-bad outcome for the entrepreneur and employees.