the heart of dorkness
April 17, 2018 4:52 AM   Subscribe

How to get rich quick in Silicon Valley Corey Pein took his half-baked startup idea to America’s hottest billionaire factory – and found a wasteland of techie hustlers and con men
posted by fearfulsymmetry (69 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's never been what the doohickey is worth but what you can get for it from the next rube.
posted by sammyo at 5:50 AM on April 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


One of the things he talks about is making 'information products'." Hence Fiverr Success by Corey Ferreira was born, selling "hundreds" of copies at $17.

If your brilliant idea nets you under $17,000, maybe it's not as brilliant as you thought. The folks renting Pein a cot in a shared room for $85 are possibly making Scrooge-McDuck-vault-style money. This guy? Not so much.
posted by jackbishop at 5:55 AM on April 17, 2018


Are people living in SF really using Fiverr and Mechanical Turk to try to make a living? I'd think they're only feasible if you live somewhere with a far lower cost of living, probably outside the US.
posted by thefool at 6:04 AM on April 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


"I worked until 9pm because dinner is free if you work that late"

You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:20 AM on April 17, 2018 [36 favorites]


The folks renting Pein a cot in a shared room for $85 are possibly making Scrooge-McDuck-vault-style money.

Yep.

I swear to god, there is no end to people in tech who think they're the smartest guy in the room who are in fact rubes who are at best working for minimum wage, and in some cases might as well be coal miners in debt to the company store. Startup culture at present isn't the beginning of a gold rush. Startup culture is the gold rush after all the easy gold is gone and the real money is in selling the dream (and equipment) to those who are willing to pay (in literal cash or in reduced wages or quality of life) for the privilege of panning for the dregs.
posted by tocts at 6:34 AM on April 17, 2018 [35 favorites]


As ever, if you want to make easy money, be a landlord. Doesn't necessarily apply to small-time landlords, but if you have enough properties tgat you can pay others to handle the day-to-day then you're golden. Literally.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:51 AM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't move to San Francisco if you paid me enough to afford a two bedroom apartment off MUNI, but my first job when I moved to NYC was for a tech startup. One that, specifically, catered to Venture Capitalists (and other institutional investors), so I got to see how the sausage was made on both ends. Folks, let me tell you, I'd sooner stick my gonads in a bowl of molten metal than even consider taking another startup job. The entire startup ecosystem is rotten to its core.
posted by SansPoint at 6:52 AM on April 17, 2018 [11 favorites]


You know who ought to be rich? The engineers who worked out stuff like touch screens, people like that. That's "technology" much more than one more social media scam.
posted by thelonius at 6:57 AM on April 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


jackbishop: There's a whole ecosystem of ebook scammers that this schmuck might be a part of. He doesn't need to sell more than a couple hundred copies for $17, because if the scam works, his suckers end up on the hook for tons more buying more and more ebooks that tell them absolutely nothing.
posted by SansPoint at 6:58 AM on April 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


> As ever, if you want to make easy money, be a landlord. Doesn't necessarily apply to small-time landlords, but if you have enough properties that you can pay others to handle the day-to-day then you're golden. Literally.

And, as ever, if you want to live happily in a generally happy world, work to ensure that as much land as possible — and, what the heck, as much productive capital as possible as well — is held in common, with the wealth produced on that land and from that capital distributed as widely as possible.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:01 AM on April 17, 2018 [17 favorites]


note: extant landlords would prefer this not happen, since it would wreck their ability to live rich without working. But, well, you know what they say: you can't make an omelet without killing a bunch of landlords.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:04 AM on April 17, 2018 [23 favorites]


what the real estate hucksters called SoMa

ok but everybody calls it soma
posted by GuyZero at 7:05 AM on April 17, 2018 [8 favorites]


There's a whole ecosystem of ebook scammers that this schmuck might be a part of. He doesn't need to sell more than a couple hundred copies for $17, because if the scam works, his suckers end up on the hook for tons more buying more and more ebooks that tell them absolutely nothing.

How does that work - like a MLM scheme or something? That doesn't seem to make any sense without a physical product that your "distributors" have to buy.
posted by thelonius at 7:08 AM on April 17, 2018


FTA: "To save money, I took to cooking my own meals most of the time. This was when I discovered that it was much easier to launch a tech startup if you could afford to always have food delivered and never had to deal with mundane chores such as doing laundry, washing dishes or buying groceries. As one Twitter wag observed, San Francisco’s “tech culture is focused on solving one problem: what is my mother no longer doing for me?”

I never felt older nor crankier than when watching these “digital natives” stumble through the daily rituals of adulthood. One of the kids, an overachieving Ivy Leaguer whose Google internship demanded an advanced understanding of high-level mathematics, was completely baffled when it came to using a simple rice cooker. I explained the process: put in rice, add water, press the button labelled “cook”. He grew increasingly flustered, and I suspected he wanted me to make the rice for him."


There needs to be a lot more recognition globally that domestic labour is what enables society to function. Sometimes the work gets done so smoothly and invisibly that the beneficiaries of that labour are unaware of so much that goes on behind the scenes.
posted by cynical pinnacle at 7:14 AM on April 17, 2018 [58 favorites]


I think what SansPoint is talking about is con artists who prey on the sunk cost fallacy. Their marks are only on the hook in as much as the scammers convince them that if they just buy one more course, read one more book, watch one more video, they'll finally get that One Weird Trick to getting rich with no effort. Once you're already convinced someone to shell out $5000 for information, it's real easy to get them to keep throwing good money after bad because it's nearly impossible for people to admit to themselves that they basically lit five grand on fire.

There's a lot of this out there. Here's a Reply All episode to put on your playlist.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:14 AM on April 17, 2018 [7 favorites]


Man this article is really excited to parody the bottom feeders of the tech industry. I'm not saying this nonsense doesn't happen, but there's a real world of real tech people working hard on real things of value, too. Many of them for motives other than to become a billionaire. Some of them aren't even bros. Some of them build the software and web sites you use.
posted by Nelson at 7:38 AM on April 17, 2018 [17 favorites]


There's a whole ecosystem of ebook scammers that this schmuck might be a part of.

I once spent a day falling down that wormhole. Legions of people you've never heard of selling ebooks telling you how to make money selling ebooks, all doing podcasts with each other talking about mailing lists optimisation.
posted by Damienmce at 8:02 AM on April 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


I love this post title.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:09 AM on April 17, 2018 [11 favorites]


> There needs to be a lot more recognition globally that domestic labour is what enables society to function. Sometimes the work gets done so smoothly and invisibly that the beneficiaries of that labour are unaware of so much that goes on behind the scenes.

I'm a bit old to take up programming but heck I've done some engineering in my time. And I've got a great idea for an app to increase the recognition of the labour that enables society to function. I'll name it tumbrl.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:12 AM on April 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


thelonius: Basically, what soren_lorensen said. There was a great article a few years ago explaining the prototypical ebook scam, but I'm having a hard time finding it again. This 2012 article from The Verge covers part of it. Essentially, it's a mix of "keep buying (crappy, poorly-written) books (copy/pasted from websites that don't provide all you need)," "buy these ancillary products," and a healthy dose of affiliate marketing so that they get you coming and going.
posted by SansPoint at 8:14 AM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of that moment in the early 2000s when people finally started realizing that playing poker professionally (online or IRL) may sound like an awesomely cushy and easy way to make money, but for almost all players amounts to earning roughly minimum wage for a mind-numbing job that consists primarily of folding 95% of the time.
posted by googly at 9:11 AM on April 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


oh God the era of poker bores "...but he didn't realize I was going to double-knot the pontoon. I was up $350! And then......"

I don't miss it.
posted by thelonius at 9:15 AM on April 17, 2018 [7 favorites]


thelonius, I can't tell if that's a well-crafted parody, or real life...
posted by wintermind at 9:26 AM on April 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


I swear to god, there is no end to people in tech who think they're the smartest guy in the room...

Oh, gods, this. When I worked in a tech start-up, it was such a common monologue on the part of techies, you had to wonder if it wasn't taught in a class. There was no end to the "I was smarter than my instructors and had to keep correcting them" tales. I mean, I envy (to a degree) that sort of self-confidence, but...sweet jeebus, it was insufferable.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:30 AM on April 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


There was no end to the "I was smarter than my instructors and had to keep correcting them" tales.

o lol
as a sometime instructor, i can confirm that
a) these incidents are common
b) the 'corrections' are in fact usually misguided and wrong
c) it is exhausting to explain to such students why and how they are wrong because they're usually both wrong enough that they can't follow the explanation and fundamentally convinced by their own hubris that if it is an idea, and they're having it, it's just got to be right
posted by halation at 9:34 AM on April 17, 2018 [30 favorites]


And then the whole class applauded.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:36 AM on April 17, 2018 [14 favorites]


I have not heard about Fiverr but the thing about the gig economy is you’re not locked to a single employer like you are with traditional 9-5 jobs. Which is the appeal for some of the people who get into it. So if Fiverr wasn’t working out for people, I’d expect they’d do something else as well. I don’t really buy the level of desperation painted by the article.

The point about SV innovation focusing on doing the domestic chores one’s parents used to do is amusing. My personal experience is that working a job where you’re using your mind all day is incredibly fatiguing. Standing up washing dishes for 8 hours may be tiring, but it’s not fatiguing in the same way as doing tech work, And if you need to communicate with colleagues in another part of the world, say Asia, then leaving work at 5pm every day to go do chores and cook dinner may not be an option even if you had the mental strength to force yourself to switch gears.

Given the choice between the two, I find it *much* easier and more relaxing after a long day of work continuing sitting at my desk, working and eating a “free” dinner, and eventually taking an Uber home. It might sound like a drag to some, but if you’re continuing to be gainfully employed at a company with such perks, you probably love what you do enough that it doesn’t seem so bad to continue working. Even in a job-seeker’s market, decent companies make an effort to weed out the prople who don’t love what they do, because it wrecks the morale for everyone else.
posted by mantecol at 9:48 AM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


c) it is exhausting to explain to such students why and how they are wrong because they're usually both wrong enough that they can't follow the explanation and fundamentally convinced by their own hubris that if it is an idea, and they're having it, it's just got to be right

And depressing that the unfounded self-confidence so frequently pays off for these people! Sometimes I think about how many interviewers get taken in by this stuff. The person they hire might be a disaster and make the lives of their coworkers miserable, but if the company is large enough he'll (it's usually a dude) will get 2-3 years to flesh out his resume and talk his way into his next gig. They'll never learn -- or if they do, the introduction of uncertainty means they'll be less effective at wowing idiots.
posted by grandiloquiet at 9:50 AM on April 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


> Given the choice between the two, I find it *much* easier and more relaxing after a long day of work continuing sitting at my desk, working and eating a “free” dinner, and eventually taking an Uber home. It might sound like a drag to some, but if you’re continuing to be gainfully employed at a company with such perks, you probably love what you do enough that it doesn’t seem so bad to continue working.

As you have persuasively argued, much of the work of software development is carried out by people who cook food, wash dishes, do laundry, clean apartments, and drive Ubers — these things are in fact integral parts of an efficient software development process, since (as you have persuasively argued) the people who we classically consider as software developers can't develop software efficiently without them. As such, all of these people should be compensated at a rate on par with the rate of other people intimately involved in the software development process.

Note: Given extant circumstances, achieving equitable compensation for all software developers (using the broad definition of software development you've delineated) will require large-scale industrial action, and possibly the use of arms.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:06 AM on April 17, 2018 [33 favorites]


decent companies make an effort to weed out the prople who don’t love what they do, because it wrecks the morale for everyone else

Decent companies should consider that people with children or older relatives to care for may love their jobs but still be unable to reach this standard. This is why tech has a problem hiring women and older-than-35 people.

I'll be waiting right here for teachers, social workers and nursing aids to also get treated to free dinner, Uber rides, and outsourced household chores. You don't know "fatigued" until you've taught middle school.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:27 AM on April 17, 2018 [44 favorites]


I have not heard about Fiverr but the thing about the gig economy is you’re not locked to a single employer like you are with traditional 9-5 jobs.

You're still locked to an employer, even though gig platforms are running a con where they pretend they're not truly employers for tax purposes. Fiverr, like all of these platforms, takes a high cut of everything earned but offers no benefits. As a bonus, since you're technically a contractor, you're stuck with payroll taxes as well. As Fiverr and others move into the freelancing space, it's harder for actual independent contractors and freelancers to make a go of it, because these platforms are way more appealing to clients. They're centralised one-stop-shops, they offer a veneer of 'vetted' or 'guaranteed' services (although in practice that can be iffy), and they drive prices way down. Just as GrubHub/Seamless force restaurants onto their platforms to remain competitive, even though the economics don't make sense, Fiverr and friends force freelancers onto their platforms despite the financial loss, since there's no other way to sell your services. And, as these platforms grow, more and more formerly-9-to-5 positions get dumped into the gig economy.

So if Fiverr wasn’t working out for people, I’d expect they’d do something else as well.

...like what? What do you do when there's no other game in town?
posted by halation at 10:28 AM on April 17, 2018 [8 favorites]


(also lol have you ever worked as a dishwasher, because)
posted by halation at 10:29 AM on April 17, 2018 [19 favorites]


Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon: I'm all for unionizing and redistribution, but you're essentially making a "to make apple pie from scratch, we must first create the universe" argument here. Yes, everything depends on everything that came before it and enables it, to varying degrees, but skill set, effort, and how common those skills are matters.

I think everyone should make a decent, living wage, but I don't think there's anything wrong with paying someone with a one in a thousand talent for writing software, who also went to college for several years (and got student loans, but that's another thing we should reform) to learn computer science, more than the person cleaning their desks.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:30 AM on April 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


Even in a job-seeker’s market, decent companies make an effort to weed out the prople who don’t love what they do, because it wrecks the morale for everyone else.

The underlying assumption being put forth here is, "anyone not willing to work ungodly hours doesn't love what they do (and probably isn't very good at it)". This is the bullshit heart of macho techbro circles, and frankly needs to die in a fire.

There is no shortage of people who are great at software development, love what they do, and go home at night to see their families/practice an unrelated hobby/netflix and chill/etc. Anyone telling you otherwise is doing so because either they are exploitative management who wants to extract maximum value for minimum pay, or because they're a line programmer who has tied up their self worth in how completely they let their employer abuse them.

Seriously, anyone in software development who is being asked to assume the above quote is normal: it is not normal, and you do not have to put up with it.
posted by tocts at 10:50 AM on April 17, 2018 [53 favorites]


"I swear to god, there is no end to people in tech who think they're the smartest guy in the room"

This is in no way unique to tech, as anyone who knew a real estate agent in the early 2000s can tell you.

"There was no end to the "I was smarter than my instructors and had to keep correcting them" tales."

Haha, memories of humanities classes with Objectivist students...
posted by kevinbelt at 10:50 AM on April 17, 2018 [10 favorites]


The point about SV innovation focusing on doing the domestic chores one’s parents used to do is amusing. My personal experience is that working a job where you’re using your mind all day is incredibly fatiguing. Standing up washing dishes for 8 hours may be tiring, but it’s not fatiguing in the same way as doing tech work, And if you need to communicate with colleagues in another part of the world, say Asia, then leaving work at 5pm every day to go do chores and cook dinner may not be an option even if you had the mental strength to force yourself to switch gears.

I guess I'm not sure why you think this is unique to the Valley or even to computer programming/development. I am a teacher, and let me tell you, I use my mind and my body all day, every weekday, and I often don't get to leave at predictable hours because of meetings after school, tests to grade, lessons to prep for the next day, etc. And yet I certainly can't afford (even if my area had access to) meal-delivery services, pickup laundry, or the like. It's still a non-negotiable that I eat food to continue to exist, so I make it happen.

Lots of people have tiring jobs, and I suspect most of them have less opportunities to find less exploitative jobs than most who work in Silicon Valley. Even so they have to do chores. It's part of life. Suggesting that programmers are uniquely not capable of figuring out how to do so seems compassionless at best.
posted by thegears at 11:13 AM on April 17, 2018 [28 favorites]


The absolute best thing about my job is that I don't love it, there is no expectation that I ever would, and virtually none of my co-workers do, either. It means I get paid to do overtime and there's no expectation that I would under any circumstance donate my time to my employer. It probably means I get paid more overall since it's harder to recruit for unglamorous positions that can't rely on a steady stream of idealistic college graduates who don't care about working conditions. It means I can take a vacation, give my ongoing tasks to others, and turn off my phone without being guilted into caring about work tasks while I'm out of the office. It actually means better morale overall because we're not sitting around trying to convince ourselves to love the drudgery of the work and can actually complain about it to each other without betraying our common mission or whatever. Convincing yourself that you have to love what you do has generally not turned out that great for people in those jobs.
posted by Copronymus at 11:24 AM on April 17, 2018 [28 favorites]


With regard to the stereotype and the demand for tech workers to work long hours cranking code, it isn't a new phenomenon. IBM planted the seeds of it in the 1960s, and in doing so, forced out the women who had been the core of computer programming, and established a personality preference for "antisocial, mathematically inclined males."
posted by SansPoint at 11:30 AM on April 17, 2018 [12 favorites]


Whelp, if this article was meant to make me say "ban capitalism" to myself about once per paragraph, mission accomplished!
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:56 AM on April 17, 2018 [9 favorites]


thelonius: You know who ought to be rich? The engineers who worked out stuff like touch screens, people like that. That's "technology" much more than one more social media scam.

I was just listening to a bit of 99% Invisible on the inventor(s?) of the daily birth control pill dispenser packs and thinking about issues like this. It seems that the birth control pill, aided a lot by the dispenser packs, were a bit of a gateway into the modern era of huge profits without actually curing anybody.

Suddenly I was trying to triangulate that with Alan Kay's notions of How to Invent the Future, corporate profits, ethics in business, and Microsoft.
Do I mean pentagate?

Alan Kay makes the point that investing and long term thinking makes you a lot of money, but it makes society as a whole A LOT MORE money. Case in point, Xerox PARC made a ton of money, but their inventions made Macintosh and Internet into things. Which has some similarities to how inventing the birth control pill dispenser made that family a chunk of money, but it made the pharamceutal industry A LOT MORE money.

So then there's Microsoft. I'm still working on the theory, but I'd argue that Microsoft's 'inovative' business practices created the Googles and the Facebooks that we all love to hate today. More specifically, the internet and/or our economy existed in this relatively open way, even among the for profit entities. But meanwhile, there was Microsoft with Embrace and Extend (and monopolize) methodology. Microsoft is still making money of course, but Google and Facebook are the ones who've taken Embrace and Extend (and MONOPOLIZE) to the highest levels.

Meanwhile, we've got the pharmaceuticals, who've pretty much decided curing people isn't worth the bother any more. There's more pentagating to be done here, but..

sammyo: It's never been what the doohickey is worth but what you can get for it from the next rube.

Indeed, it's not about what the doohickey is worth.. But then it really shouldn't be, either. Nobody actually deserves to be rich no matter how unassailably great their contribution to society has been.
posted by Chuckles at 12:24 PM on April 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


> Yes, everything depends on everything that came before it and enables it, to varying degrees, but skill set, effort, and how common those skills are matters.

Well but that's the point, isn't it? Skill set, effort, and how common those skills are don't strictly correlate with anything in particular — as we're seeing in this thread, programmer labor is increasingly cheap — partially because it's not as scarce as tech industry propaganda would suggest, partially because software developers are bad at organizing — and the big money is going to landlords instead — a "job" which requires no skill whatsoever, scarce or non-scarce, but instead just requires that you or someone related to you laid claim to land at a point in the past and no one in the present has yet managed to dislodge that claim.

> I think everyone should make a decent, living wage, but I don't think there's anything wrong with paying someone with a one in a thousand talent for writing software, who also went to college for several years (and got student loans, but that's another thing we should reform) to learn computer science, more than the person cleaning their desks.

Lol.

Organization is what determines compensation, not difficulty of job, not dirtiness of job, not scarcity of the skills required for that job, not even really the social status of the people in the job position itself — though a key part of organizing is getting people to recognize that their skills are valuable and should be respected.

Janitorial labor, like waitron labor, like cooking labor, like sewing labor, like programming labor, like teaching labor, is difficult work that requires a relatively non-scarce skillset; as programming skills become even less scarce, programmers can expect over time to be compensated like other working-class people instead of like precious labor aristocrats. At least, unless they manage to enforce higher salaries through coordinated action — through union formation, through strike threats, through slow-down actions, sick-outs, actual strikes, workplace seizures, and so forth.

If janitors are better at that than programmers are, they can expect (and should expect) to be better compensated than programmers.

In the meantime, the money will, all else being equal, continue to flow with few obstructions into the hands of the people who've tricked everyone else into thinking that owning things is a job.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:25 PM on April 17, 2018 [14 favorites]


Oh, so it's the techies' "I'm 1 in 1,000 in skills!" presumption that's actually *causing* their poor living conditions, since they assume they just shouldn't need to organize?

I hadn't internalized that before, how .. tragic

(this all just reminded *powerfully* of an old blog post i saw once but didn't really pay attention to since it's such an alien world to me)
posted by ver at 1:08 PM on April 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


I've also noted that a huge part of the "Everyone needs to learn to code" push is almost certainly an attempt to push developer salaries down by increasing the supply of programmers.
posted by SansPoint at 2:54 PM on April 17, 2018 [10 favorites]


It might sound like a drag to some, but if you’re continuing to be gainfully employed at a company with such perks, you probably love what you do enough that it doesn’t seem so bad to continue working. Even in a job-seeker’s market, decent companies make an effort to weed out the prople who don’t love what they do, because it wrecks the morale for everyone else.

I can look out my window at other lighted windows in the skyscrapers of [area of NYC] and see thousands of lawyers and finance people who could tell you how wrong you are. At least most of the lawyers and the finance types have a good grasp on why they're there: $$$, and in at least somewhat predictable form. They may be full of themselves, but that's not usually how they're lured into their jobs.

If the collateral damage wasn't so bad, I'd admire the genius of these companies in hoisting such people on their own petard of arrogance and (in their own way) provincialism. "You have to be really special to work ridiculous hours for substandard pay in a position that fifty years ago would've been a well-paid 40-hour-a-week job in R&D at a stable corporation." And so much labor directed to such stupid or actively harmful ends, too.
posted by praemunire at 3:30 PM on April 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


Also...man. When I had one of those jobs, I never dreamed of deluding myself that it was harder than a minimum-wage job, hour by hour. I had a desk and a comfortable chair and tools to do my job that worked. I got to dress in clothes more or less of my choice and which signified respectability and authority to those around me. My office was clean and air-conditioned. Someone bought me dinner and paid for a car home most nights. I can't say I was treated with uniform respect and kindness, but there was definitely a floor of We're All Upper-Middle-Class-At-Least People Here. Sexual harassment existed, for sure, but it wasn't a widespread problem. No one stole my wages. No one made me clock out because the business wasn't busy enough to justify keeping people around.

You have to be hugely, shamefully, embarrassingly ignorant of the world to be under the impression that this kind of desk job is harder or more tiring than the job of the person emptying the trash cans in the same building, or making the food Seamless delivers.
posted by praemunire at 3:37 PM on April 17, 2018 [33 favorites]


And that ignorant arrogance is carefully cultivated by management and the executive team, because it allows them to split technology workers from the rest of the workforce on both sides. the technology boys are split from their fellow workers because they view them as trash (“I should care what the person who cleans my desk makes? scoff!”), and the rest of the workforce is split from the tech workers because the tech boys who fall for management’s “techbro superiority” trap are so offputtingly self-regarding that the only folks who can even pretend to like them are the executives who cream off the value of their work.

It’s particularly sad/maddening, because if tech workers saw themselves as workers and tried to build solidarity with other workers, instead of viewing themselves as ubermenschen and other workers as slime, they’d be perfectly positioned to really put the hurt on management, and thereby win better pay and better employment conditions for everyone.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:44 PM on April 17, 2018 [6 favorites]


if tech workers saw themselves as workers and tried to build solidarity with other workers, instead of viewing themselves as ubermenschen and other workers as slime, they’d be perfectly positioned to really put the hurt on management, and thereby win better pay and better employment conditions for everyone.

In 2 out of 3 of the startups I've worked at, the workers weren't slime, they were mere numbers on a spreadsheet and 100% fungible.
posted by Monday at 5:20 PM on April 17, 2018


I don't really get the resentment of the startup hordes. They're mostly making close to zero money, and they usually don't have enough experience or credentials to work at the big tech companies -- that's why they don't. Usually they're young people who don't want to spend 5-10 years breaking into the industry by doing terrible jobs in low-budget web design and tech support, and would rather earn nothing for a couple years and skip all that. It makes more sense than getting an MBA.

I do kinda understand the resentment of the big tech company workers. Although no one resents doctors, lawyers, and bankers for making even more money than they do.

It's absolutely true that the custodian at a big tech company works harder than the developers. That's true in a lot of fields though -- nurses work harder than doctors, and CNAs work harder than nurses. Assistant professors work harder than full professors, and adjuncts work harder than assistant professors. Skilled professionals are getting paid for their knowledge and expertise, not the actual exertion of their labor.
posted by miyabo at 9:20 PM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


> Skilled professionals are getting paid for their knowledge and expertise, not the actual exertion of their labor.

Skilled professionals are getting paid for what they can bargain for. Perceived knowledge and expertise are bargaining tools (as is, more significantly, the amount of social status generally accorded to people in the field in question), but bargaining as an individual is always a relatively weak position.

Labor time as a commodity, even or especially skilled labor time as a commodity, must be assessed in terms of its exchange value (the cost of buying it) rather than its use value (what the person buying it can do with it). These two values cannot be expected to track with each other, and in fact rarely do.

The belief that knowledge and expertise are what fetch high salaries is an instance of the just world fallacy.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:55 PM on April 17, 2018 [6 favorites]


> I don't really get the resentment of the startup hordes

For the record, it seems like the consensus isn't that the startup hordes are resented. instead people seem to think they should be smacked upside the head until they stop collaborating in their own exploitation and/or stop being useless and/or get over themselves.

The folks who fund them shouldn't be resented either, not exactly, nor the people who rent bunk beds to them. Those folks are good targets for righteous fury and perhaps should be introduced to a certain Madame G. — but that's less a matter of resentment and more a matter of sensible, level-headed self-defense.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:03 PM on April 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


I don't see how that would help
posted by thelonius at 2:32 AM on April 18, 2018


A while ago, the first line of a story set in this milieu came to me: “It was a Friday when I got off the Greyhound at the Transbay Terminal, carrying only my old MacBook Air and a battered copy of Atlas Shrugged”. The story, I imagined, would be a sort of farcical Bildungsroman about a young dudebro, primed with libertarian just-so stories from Reddit, drawn to the world of Founders forging megawealth out of nothing but Node libraries and hype, and dreaming of billions. At some point, he'd end up bunking down in a dorm full of Durdenesque space-monkeys on Soylent, and running into a variety of oddballs and hucksters (somewhere, there'd probably be a Moldbugesque figure wanting to build Plato's Philosopher King out of lambda calculus or something). The story would end in catastrophic disillusionment and probably the destruction of the protagonist's entire world-view and sense of self.
posted by acb at 5:13 AM on April 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon: I have startup resentment for multiple reasons.

1. Half and quarter-baked business ideas getting uncritical press and far too much funding for stupid ideas like quarters for laundry, overengineered juice presses, or fancy vending machines, combined with a “We’re changing the world” mentality that tries to justify those stupid business ideas.
2. A Venture Capital system that throws tons of money at men with stupid business ideas and refuses to fund women with good business ideas.
3. A work environment that demands an employee essentially live for their startup job, and take poor pay and benefits for the promise of a payout once the company gets acquired.
4. A company funding model predicated not on creating new businesses, but funding R&D for large tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, et. al.
4a. Success in startups/VC is either a massive IPO, or an acquisition by a larger company. There is nothing in between. No small-to-medium companies with steady profit, it’s massive growth and acquisition, or massive growth and an IPO.
5. While the image of VC is rich techbros handing out investments out of the goodness of their hearts and vast bank accounts, the truth is VC is actually using Other People’s Money (namely pension funds, endowments, and other large public institutional funds) to make their high-risk investments that demand either an acquisition or IPO to make a promised return.
6. Because of growth above all, so as to get a juicy IPO or acquisition, there’s no incentive for a VC-funded startup to do anything other than an advertising and data collection business model.
7. Enabling a culture of Constant Work and Hustle/Greed Is Good mentality that we haven’t seen since the Wall Street Boom of the 1980s, only even with still more toxic masculinity and better press.
posted by SansPoint at 6:21 AM on April 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


The belief that knowledge and expertise are what fetch high salaries is an instance of the just world fallacy.

I don't disagree with you. At one point I had an elaborate theory of the corporate tech world that it's a hierarchical society in which the status signifier is NOT writing code, so companies hire directors, who hire managers, who hire engineers, who hire interns and contractors to actually write the code. The guy at the top doesn't even know what programming language everyone uses and has never written a line of code in his life, somewhere in the middle there are a lot of people who know how to code but choose not to, and all the work happens at the bottom. It explains a lot if you think about it.
posted by miyabo at 6:38 AM on April 18, 2018


A work environment that demands an employee essentially live for their startup job, and take poor pay and benefits for the promise of a payout once the company gets acquired.

I would like to add to this that this system is more or less designed to shift risk from VC investors to individual employees.

VCs don't typically fund a single startup -- they fund dozens. They can only do this because the individual workers are willing to work insane hours for less pay than is merited on the belief that when the company takes off, they'll be rewarded when their stock options skyrocket in value.

The truth, though, is that the vast majority of those workers will never see that money. It's a promise that the VC puts forth to keep salary costs low, knowing that in all likelihood they'll never have to make good on it. When one of their investments actually hits, the VC is going to get the lion's share of the profits from the hit, and on top of that the vast majority of employees that took their "less pay now, more pay later" bargain won't have to be paid out (having been part of other, unsuccessful startups).

VCs and startup culture are more or less analogous to the kinds of "socialize the risk, privatize the profits" shenanigans that investment banks get up to.
posted by tocts at 6:47 AM on April 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


tocts: And that assumes the employee actually has a share of the company to get paid for. I asked the founder of the startup I worked for, repeatedly, to provide documentation of my 0.5% stake in the company. I never got it, and then I got fired anyway. Good riddance.
posted by SansPoint at 6:49 AM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Somewhere between coding is easy and everyone could do it if they just put their minds to it, and the people who can code are the geniuses who will be our saviors against the bourgeoisie, is this news:

Earlier this year, Lanetix fired its entire staff of software engineers for trying to unionize.
posted by fragmede at 11:47 AM on April 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm going to reach well upthread for this. Apologies.

Nelson:
Man this article is really excited to parody the bottom feeders of the tech industry. I'm not saying this nonsense doesn't happen, but there's a real world of real tech people working hard on real things of value, too. Many of them for motives other than to become a billionaire. Some of them aren't even bros. Some of them build the software and web sites you use.
This isn't me calling out about anything, Nelson. This is me chewing on your comment and thinking about how it's right — but maybe it doesn't matter that it's right. Yes, the tech industry, maybe more than most industries, is crawling with rich lowlives and upper-middle-class lowlives who'll gladly eat your organs if they even suspect that eating your organs will make them rich lowlives, but even so there's a lot of people in it quietly working on stuff that we use everyday. But...

Here's the thing I can't shake: I can't shake the feeling that it's not worth it. None of it. From soup to nuts. Yelp and Fiverr and Tumblr and Taskrabbit and Mechanical Turk and a fancy phone from Foxconn that I can tether to my laptop and the billions of lines of code in Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office 365 (can you picture a product name more dystopian than "Office 365") and Arduino-driven toys and piles of linear algebra stacked layer on layer that no one can understand and that no one can beat at Go, and GNU and Linux and TCP/IP and DNS and gcc and flex and yacc and bison and Visual Studio and IRC and Mozilla and Safari and Hearthstone and The Legend of Zelda:Breath of the Wild and Nethack and Rogue and Super Mario World and DooM and Quake and the Unity engine and videoconferencing from the beach and SMTP and POP and USENET and wordy metafilter comments and Wired and Lisa and every Macintosh and the imaginary desktop on your real desktop, kitted out with windows and icons and menus and a pointer you control with your mouse from Xerox PARC, and PLATO, and booking tickets through the SABRE system that will never die and Pong and Oregon Trail and Altair BASIC and the Apple 1 and Space War on the PDP-1 and the Homebrew Computer Club and all the money Tim Leary gave them and and Stewart Brand selling an individualist computer-driven version of/replacement for revolution through the Whole Earth Catalog and Watsons Sr. and Jr. telling people to THINK (while also telling them do what they're told) and OS/360 and Project SAGE and Project Whirlwind and the deadly little brains in every ICBM (so much smarter than the V2's guidance system, so much lighter and cleaner than the beautiful mind in 00000) and Grace Hopper's A-0, A-1, A-2, B-0, and FLOW-MATIC (this last name chosen by Remington Rand marketing, because what woman would curse a product with that name?) and the Univac, built in a factory between a scrapyard and a graveyard (the workers would joke that if the machine didn't come together they'd push it out the window on the scrapyard side and then all jump out the windows on the graveyard side), the Univac which would correctly predict Eisenhower's victory live on TV with less than 1% of the returns counted, and Frances "Betty" Holberton née Snyder taking every piece of paper generated by her sort routine autogenerator down to her firm's copyright office because the drones there didn't understand that she had written code to write code, and some IBM guy writing FORTRAN, and Backus and Naur unknowingly repeating Pāṇini's work, and all the great things that people have done with and around and to computers, I can't shake the feeling that none of it was worth the investment of human lives and human minds that it took to build it.

None of it.

The original Bletchley gang gets a pass cause they used their computers to kill nazis, and that's always worth it.

But the rest of it? I can't shake the feeling that we should have been doing literally anything else with our time and our brains. It's a very, I don't know, 1960s feeling, wanting to secede from the entire system our generation and our parents' generation and our parents' parents' parents' generation spent their lives building, but I can't get that feeling to go away.

I think other people have a version of that feeling and I think that's why we'd hate the tech industry forever even if it didn't suck in all the ways that it doesn't have to suck, even if it weren't hagridden by the Palo Alto bottomfeeders. Because it's not worth it. I want to live in a forest filled with pines and electronics returned to our mammal sisters and brothers and all watched over by machines of loving grace as much as any other engineer ever wanted it, but the crap we're wasting our lives on isn't getting us there and won't ever get us there.

Christ, it's all so sad.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:59 AM on April 18, 2018 [18 favorites]


> Earlier this year, Lanetix fired its entire staff of software engineers for trying to unionize.

DSA (I think it was DSA) organized a demonstration outside of the Lanetix offices a little while back. One of the protestors carried a sign reading "WE LEFT ASSOCIATE!"
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:14 PM on April 18, 2018 [8 favorites]


You're just looking at the glass half empty, Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon, and I get overwhelmed by that feeling sometimes too.

(My version of complete disgust is all the cryptocurrency / blockchain garbage out there, many outright scams. I mean good lord Halsey Minor and Brock Pierce are setting up cryptobeans companies in Puerto Rico? These are bad people. Do not do business with them.)

This article is obviously not a jumping off point for talking about the good parts of tech, so I shouldn't bother. But personally I couldn't imagine living my life in a fulfilling way without Google search and all the things it leads to. Nor Wikipedia, nor streaming video, nor I hate to even say it but Facebook and Twitter too (although I sure would like a better alternative for those). These technologies are coming fast and furious and have problems along with the good. And there's a lot of scummy business bros in the mix. But the good stuff is still there.

It's inevitable that the wonderful elite academic ideals of early PLATO, WELL, and ARPAnet are being diluted. In exchange we've transformed the entire information world for literally half the world's population. I'll take that tradeoff and keep striving for my ideals in the larger, inevitably corrupted environment.
posted by Nelson at 1:00 PM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


> But personally I couldn't imagine living my life in a fulfilling way without Google search and all the things it leads to.

I can’t imagine it either. That’s a problem. A serious problem.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:12 PM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Basically, it’s not the bad stuff that’s got me so blue. It’s how the good stuff doesn’t quite seem quite adequate to the time and thought and metal and electricity that we’ve put into it these last 75 years.

I feel like how a Republican must feel upon realizing that no matter how much they want to claim that Trump is an exception to Republicanism, really he’s the culmination of Republicanism.

Bitcoin bros and VC rip-off artists aren’t an exceptional thing colonizing computing; they’re the culmination of it, a revelation of what it always was, no matter how much we might have hoped for it to be something different.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:20 PM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


No, wait: I can imagine a fulfilling life without google search. I can imagine a fulfilling life without google search easier than I can imagine a fulfilling life with it. It’s just my imagination has gone all rusty after all this time not using it.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:23 PM on April 18, 2018


Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon and Nelson: There's a divide between the rhetoric of tech and the reality. It's the difference between Star Trek, where technology helps us overcome our faults and Cyberpunk, where technology only enables us to be more callous and greedy. And the truth is... somewhere in the middle.

I think the Sci-Fi author that best described the technology world of today was Douglas Adams. A bunch of products that promise us the world, but don't really work as intended, sometimes in comical ways, sometimes in infuriating ways, sometimes both.
posted by SansPoint at 1:56 PM on April 18, 2018


A very interesting talk with Bradford DeLong was just posted on Ars: The Tech Boom and the Fate of Democracy.
posted by Chuckles at 11:28 AM on April 19, 2018


Copronymus: Convincing yourself that you have to love what you do has generally not turned out that great for people in those jobs.

I don't know why I blithely scanned over this the first time I saw it. This is actually very important. Louis Rossman says: Do what you find worthwhile, not what you find fun. I mean it's Rossman, so it's long and rambling, but it is also an important message. The old parental advice of follow your passion, and pick a job you have fun at, those sound good on the surface, but they are ultimately hollow. Do something that's worthwhile. Something where the end result of what you do is something you feel good about. You'll be motivated, and the process itself will become enjoyable once you start having success. And most importantly, you'll be doing something you can feel proud of.

I feel like this is one of the core errors of tech culture.
posted by Chuckles at 12:31 PM on April 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Chuckles: The "do what you love" thing is perverted by tech culture in two ways: one is that it exploits the love of programming to get more work out of developers for less money. "Crunch time" is the most obvious manifestation of this, because if you truly love your work, you'll work 120 hour weeks to make sure this product launches on time, even if you don't get paid more for it.

The other is using that same love to have their developers "solve interesting problems" without actually thinking about why these problems exist, and the root causes thereof. It's really interesting and challenging to write algorithms to target ads, but if you don't think about why you're doing it, you don't think about the potential for harm.
posted by SansPoint at 12:39 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


The other is using that same love to have their developers "solve interesting problems" without actually thinking about why these problems exist, and the root causes thereof. It's really interesting and challenging to write algorithms to target ads, but if you don't think about why you're doing it, you don't think about the potential for harm.

Right, and that issue goes right through everything we do in technology fields, from the training to the business practices. See Disciplined Minds, which you can still listen to if you follow the link. Or just watch Cube.

Society/parents shifting from "do your passion" or "do something fun" to "do something worthwhile" would go a long way to fixing this though.
posted by Chuckles at 1:13 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]




« Older It's the color of your heartbeat   |   A trade war heats up in Canada Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments