I haven’t written much lately, in large part because I am trying to change course in terms of what I write about.
A change of focus?
Over the next year, I’d like to steer my focus toward more technical topics. CS 666 (software politics) is a subject that I’ve had to learn and use, the knowledge is important, and I’m glad to have shared it, and will continue to do so if I think that it’s good for the world. All that said, my heart’s not as much in it as it could be in other fields (like machine learning, language design, and even board game design, all of which are more dear to me than the MacLeod organizational model as it applies to software). It’s easy to focus on the intricacies of CS 666 and forget about the stuff that inspired us to get into technology in the first place. I swear that I didn’t join Google, back in 2011, hoping to become an expert in office politics. (Alternate summary: “I joined a Leading AI Company, and all I got was this lousy MBA’s Worth of CS 666 Knowledge.”) I wanted to level up on machine learning and software engineering… but a working knowledge of software politics is what I actually got from Google (and many other companies where I worked). At any rate, I think that I’ve put that to good use since then. I do what I can. But I’d rather focus on other stuff now.
The road to technical excellence (on which I am still a journeyman, not yet a seasoned ranger) is hard: you have to get high-quality work (which, in most companies, involves CS 666 in order to hack the project-allocation system) and be able to deploy it into the organization (ditto). Most programmers ditch the individual-contributor path in the manage-or-be-managed world of the closed-allocation mainstream, knowing that the only way to sustain sufficient advantage in the division of labor to grow and protect expertise and excellence is to gain direct control of it (“it” meaning the division of labor). They learn the political game, become managers easily once that is done, rise into the executive ranks because managerial tracks in supposedly “dual-track” organizations are always easier to climb than the technical ladders, and are lost to the field as individual contributors. It’s good for them, but not always for the world. A cynic might say that what begins as a diversion into CS 666 becomes, for many, a permanent state of distraction.
At the same time, we have this epidemic of criminally underqualified, well-connected individuals getting funded and acquired. In this frothy state, tech seems to be all about fucking distractions. I don’t like that it’s happening, and I’ve said more than my piece on it. The question I have to ask myself, continually, is whether I am making real progress, or just contributing to that state of distraction that I dislike. And then I have to ask what is best for me. Looking at the next 12, 24, and 48 months… I’ll be honest, I’d like to learn more computer science and spend less time on CS 666. There’s just a lot out there that I don’t know, and should, not only in computer science but in mathematics, the sciences, and the arts.
In truth, my status as some sort of emerging “conscience” of Silicon Valley must be considered temporary, since I don’t even live there, and have no interest in ever doing so. (What does it mean when the conscience of a place lives thousands of miles away from it?) On all that political stuff, the best thing that could happen to me would be for me to meet someone with the right vision, but who’s better than I am at pushing it through, and who doesn’t (like me) secretly wish he could study machine learning and leave the CS 666 to someone else. Ten years from now, I don’t want to be dumping execration on the moral failures of the technology industry, the way I do now. I want to see that we have grown the fuck up and solved our own problems. That will require people who are like me, but even better in battle, to take charge and start fighting.
The good news, for me individually, is that I think I just might be reaching the level of capability where the politics starts to get less intense. When you’re 22 and unproven, you’re going to have fight political battles just to get the good projects, and to get recognized for what you’ve done. It’s an ugly process of trial and error that I’d like never to repeat. Now I’m 31, more eminent in terms of talent, and would like to see myself protecting the good, in the future, rather than needing protection. Time will tell how that goes, but I’d like to finish next year with more technical articles and fewer political ones on the blog.
In other news, I’m moving to Chicago in early January. I’m quite excited about the move. Anyone who wants to get together over pizza (either kind!) and beer and talk about functional programming, machine learning, board games, or why the world would be better if it was run by cats, should reach out.