philosophy silicon valley rant

(if you didn’t read the title - warning: rant…)

As far as web development goes, I guess I could rant on and on about the generalities. Of all things ephemeral. The lust after money, gadgets, and other worthless material crap that we use to stuff inside our oversized houses.

The startling creativity and in equal amounts the lack of creativity. The amount of amazing invention and the equal amount of copying and ripping off.

I could complain of amazing shortsightedness, of fads, and of constant new waves of developers that have to relearn and be convinced of old tried-and-true best practices (while still being able to identify the outdated best practices).

I could possibly ponder some of the stupid things we concern ourselves with, which are criticisms more aimed at the Silicon Valley mentality in general. The sheer amount of idiotic startups. The desire to have a startup only for the payout, for the acquisition. The one worthwhile and meaningful startup surrounded in a sea of hangers-ons, social network clones, photo sharing service clones, Facebook game clones, and on and on ad nauseum.

I could complain about the few passionate ones, surrounded by a pool of passionless jumpers-on-the-bandwagon, people looking for a free ride, and people looking to coast through their secure jobs, content with nothing more than receiving their paycheck.

I could complain about the lack of real heroes. People who made a difference to our small isolated communities, spoke at conferences, authored books, wrote popular blog articles, but were perhaps never themselves. People who we could not look up to as model human beings, but as model toolmakers and nothing more. I suppose it’s folly to look for too much else there anyhow.

I could complain about the praise of life imbalance. Of prideful people showing off, working longer hours than their peers, feeling like they have to in order to keep up, and bragging about losing sleep and becoming unbalanced and unhinged individuals. Competition is good and pushes everyone to be more detailed and more polished, but there seems to be no admission of a limit, of reaching a life imbalance. The more time spent coding, the better. If you don’t code in your free time, you must not be a true coder. If you don’t enjoy learning new languages, you must be a crappy coder. The amount of pride and self-delusion here is scary.

I could talk about corporations seeking young programmers without commitments in order to suck dry every last ounce of their passion, essence, and thirst, distracting their focus away from all things important. Of those same corporations sticking those young impressionables onto outdated projects, maintaining and fixing bugs. All for what?

I could speak of self-delusion that programming language X will save the world, and on self-delusion in general, which I believe is rampant here and elsewhere, and is possibly our greatest weakness as human beings.

I suppose now you’ll tell me I’ve lost my head and gone crazy, but I would disagree. These things have never been so clear and the arguments have never been so cogent as they are now. There is no utopia, no perfect occupation, but I believe there are some that are better than others. Everything has its faults, and web development isn’t for everyone. Perhaps it’s simply not for me?

I got into web development as a means to an end - as a way of publishing what I enjoyed doing. As a tool I picked up and put down when I was finished, and then got on with my life. Perhaps it’s time to move it back to that corner of my life, and even better, to use it as a tool to help me build new, meaningful, less ephemeral things. Something I could be proud of in more than a few years. Something more than being an “HTML5 expert” or “Mobile expert” or “JavaScript expert”.

No. I want to use these things as tools that are put back in their shed after I’m done. Tools to build something greater than the sum of its parts. Tools to make a meaningful contribution that may not amount to a hill a beans in this crazy world, but could at least be something I’m proud of.

Programming as a profession is only moderately interesting. It can be a good job, but you could make about the same money and be happier running a fast food joint. You’re much better off using code as your secret weapon in another profession.

People who can code in the world of technology companies are a dime a dozen and get no respect. People who can code in biology, medicine, government, sociology, physics, history, and mathematics are respected and can do amazing things to advance those disciplines.

(Advice From an Old Programmer)

Somewhat related: Where Do All of the Old Programmers Go?, The ACL is Dead, Silicon Valley’s Dark Secret: It’s All About Age [and the disturbing reddit thread to accompany that])


It’s notable to add that I’ve been comparing “Kyoto culture” to “Silicon Valley culture”. They are so dissimilar that it’s doubtful we’re even using “culture” in the same sense in both cases. Kyoto culture, a long proud, rich, colorful history of a people, and Silicon Valley culture: an atmosphere of tech, founded by money and driven by money. In one, it’s almost a crime to stay inside and not to explore and enjoy the city. In the other, our wealth lets us build up a castle, buy devices and home entertainment to keep us busy in our little fiefdom. Silicon Valley is more like a boomtown which exists only for one sick purpose, and consequentially lacks a soul even more severely. Would you rather be underpaid in a city with a soul or overpaid in a soulless city?

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