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Thoughts On An Eyewitness Account

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Posted by Everyday-Freethought on 2016-02-15 at 00:37:16

One of the topics of this website is that “Technology Is Useless“. A lot of what is going on in technology (or what people consider technology) is useless to society at large. They think they are “solving problems”, but they are not even first world problems (like finding a cab). The companies people fawn over are not doing anything about climate change, or energy, or water. People in the startup cult are not as smart as they think they are. And I think a lot of them live in a bubble.

There is a guy living in Silicon Valley named Michael O. Church (henceforth MOC). Until recently, his site had a lot of posts that articulate this theme better than I have. But before I got around to writing this post, he took down most of his posts. You can find them archived here. [1]

From what I could gather before he removed his posts, he has been a software developer in SV for several years. He worked at Google, and was booted out due to politics. He started writing about the culture in Silicon Valley, and criticizing the startup fetish that has taken over our culture.

He has angered a lot of people in SV, which has hurt him when he has had to seek employment. One person that he angered is Paul Graham, programmer, author, founder of incubator Y Combinator. YC published the news aggregation site Hacker News.

PG has written a few books about a language called Common Lisp. He used that to make a company he sold to Yahoo in the late 1990s, which made him rich. He has written a few more books, and his essays on his website are pretty influential in “the Valley”. He started YC in 2005. Now, some VC firms will only invest in companies that are YC alums.

After the dot com bust, working at a startup had little appeal for a lot of people, especially outside the confines of SV. MOC credits PG with rehabilitating the image of startups via his essays and YC, and making them appealling places to work. MOC wrote this is good, but it has gone too far. Now startups have gone from being a stage a company goes through, to being an end in itself. It’s now a lifestyle. MOC wrote that PG is partly responsible for the “bro” culture we see in SV today.

MOC wrote that he has never met PG, but PG knows who he is and hates MOC. YC is an investor in Quora, and leaned on Quora to ban MOC from the site. Somewhere in the archives MOC lists a few more ways that PG has tried to make life more difficult for MOC, usually indirectly, and usually via YC leaning on companies to not hire MOC.

Why would PG hate MOC? Because MOC is living proof that PG is selling the world a bill of goods. PG tells people that if you work or found a startup, you will be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams. Apply to be in YC! Change your life and the world for the better! Or come to SV and work for a company that has been through YC. It’s the ticket to fame and fortune!

MOC is a smart guy. He worked at a few startups, and it did not work out. He has written posts explaining that the only people that win in SV are the VCs. They always win. Sometimes the founders get rich, but not always. And employees usually wind up wasting years chasing the dream. They get paid below market wages. They are promised “equity”, but either the company goes under, or the half a percent turns out to be not a whole lot when all is said and done. SV is the Wall Street of the West Coast.

MOC is living proof that PG is pretty much putting lipstick on a pig. PG does not need the money. It is probably ego. PG wants a nice legacy. It is hard for most people to admit they are wrong. When you have spent the past decade pushing something, it’s even harder.

MOC also points out that when firms say “We don’t care if you have worked with the language we use; we just want smart people”, they are usually lying. Have you ever noticed these firms rarely hire anyone over 30? It’s not because you get dumb when you are 30. They know it’s harder to sell the false dream to people past a certain age. When you get married, have kids, have to pay off your student loans, and/or realize you will need a LOT of money for retirement, an actual paycheck looks better than equity fairy dust.

Here are a couple of more quotes:

From “Silicon Valley Can Be Beaten“:
Increasingly, true technologists look at the culture of the VC-funded world and realize that it has to die, because marketing experiments using technology have won the decade while the larger goal of improving the human condition has been forgotten. To be a technologist used to mean that one wanted to invest in humanity’s total capital; now, the industry has been swarmed by champion value-capturers. Consequently, the short-term “next quarter” mentality, couched in juvenile lingo about “failing fast”, has won and to have vision is to make oneself a pariah.

From “Don’t Waste Your Time In Crappy Startup Jobs“:
Scientific research changes the world. Large-scale infrastructure projects change the world. Most businesses, on the other hand, are incremental projects, and there‚Äôs nothing wrong with that. Startups are not a good vehicle for “changing the world”.

One thing he wrote that I really like and caught my attention is that most of the companies in SV companies are not really technology companies. These companies are marketing experiments using technology.

[1] I have wanted to finish this post for a while, so I am kind of going by memory here. Also, I have never contacted anyone mentioned in this post, including MOC. All opinions/interpretations are my own. Paul Graham does not endorse this post.

Image from Stargate Wiki, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

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