I’ve had a lot of people ask me recently about why I’ve taken down all of my old posts.
Yes, I will probably republish the ones that are of highest quality, possibly with some editing for clarity and brevity. I’ll keep writing, but it’s time to move away from the identity of being “a blogger” and especially that of being “a tech blogger” (ugh).
I don’t intend, unless there’s a really good reason to do so, to blog further for a while.
There are a number of reasons, and I’ll put them roughly into these categories:
- winning gracefully.
- personal growth.
- capabilities and identity.
- separating and streamlining.
For exposing unethical behaviors in Silicon Valley, I’ve had everything from (a) death threats to (b) attempts (albeit unsuccessful) to bribe employers to fire me to (c) most publicly, being banned on Quora under false pretenses. In fact, right now there’s a man named “Scott Welch” being paid to slander me on Quora.
The Paul Grahams of the world are still rich, and they still control thousands of jobs, but they’re not loved. They want to be perceived not merely as wealthy businessmen, but as public intellectuals, visionary statesmen, and paragons of virtue. I am the person they blame most for their failure to achieve this status. They should blame themselves. Still, in an interpretation of history that these people believe, I made them fail at getting what they really wanted. That is, of course, why they’ve come after me.
It’s pretty clear that I’ve won. I broke their momentum. If I weren’t having an effect on how these people are perceived, they’d just ignore me. I’ve exposed so many unethical business practices that billionaire venture capitalists shit their pants when they see my name. That’s no small achievement.
If I go any further down that line, though, I’ll just be running up the score. I’ve proven everything that I intended to prove, several times over. Besides, given that the prizes come in such lovely packages as death threats, I’m finding it hard to convince myself that more of this kind of winning is desirable. There are other forms of winning that I might grow to prefer.
Should it really be a person’s goal to make the bad guys fail? Now that I’m older, I think that there’s more nobility in helping the good people succeed. Overthrow is often overrated. It’s better to replace than oppose. Besides, we don’t need one more person taking down Silicon Valley. It’s going to fall, all on its own. Instead, we need people who can focus on building things that are better, and that’s what I need to become.
With the next phase of my life, I’d like to focus on helping the good people succeed, rather than on making the bad guys fail. That can be harder, but it’s a lot more interesting to me.
Capabilities and identity
There are a number of things that I’m very good at. Most of these, to boot, are unlikely to bring death threats.
- Writing, with successes in fiction, non-fiction essays, comedy and technical writing.
- Teaching and presentation. I’ve taught undergraduate math courses, Clojure to a team of ten people, and a two-month course on Haskell.
- Programming in languages including Python, C, Clojure, OCaml, Scala and Haskell. I know how to use statically-typed languages (e.g. Haskell, OCaml) to bring runtime bug rates near zero.
- Concurrent and distributed programming.
- Machine learning: not just how to use existing tools, but the mathematics and CS behind them.
- Game design. I designed the card game Ambition and I’ve given courses on game theory’s applicability to high-frequency trading.
- “Low level” (that is, very detailed and precise, enabling performance and control) programming.
- Mathematics and statistics.
- Architecture of high-reliability systems.
- Company culture. What’s good, what’s bad, and how to fix it when things go off the rails.
- How to market a company, job, or product to people at very high levels of talent.
- The economics of software and of technology hiring.
I’m not going to claim to be an expert in all of those topics. In fact, I’m not sure that I’d call myself “an expert” in any of them. (Once you achieve what you once thought was expertise, you gain a respect for how much further there is to go.) I’ll say that I’ve had success in each thing that I’ve listed, and that there are people less expert than me, in every single one of those fields, earning hundreds (and, in some cases, thousands) of dollars per hour as consultants.
Let me indulge in the sin of honest self-perception: I’m very good at a lot of things. What I’ve become known for, though, is exposing unethical business practices in Silicon Valley. (I was good at that, too.) That was important work and I’m not ashamed of it, but I no longer wish to be known for it. I don’t want to be “the guy who does” that. I certainly don’t want people to think of me as “a tech blogger” rather than as a writer or a programmer. I’m ready for a new phase of my life.
Separating and streamlining
I’m a writer. I’ve put about 30 million words on the Internet, to this point. (This includes a lot of work– probably most of it– that was never published.) I’d guess that 22.5 million of those were junk. (I had a trolling habit for longer than I care to admit.) Now that I’m older, I’d like to have better efficiency.
If I can finish Farisa’s Courage before the end of 2016, that should mean more to me than whether I get another thousand Twitter followers.
No one doubts that I’m obnoxiously capable and that I work very hard. I don’t have to prove myself to anyone. My concerns have more to do with what I need to prove to myself. It’s really easy, if you spend too long in the corporate world, to lose the sense of yourself as a creative person. I’ve been working, for the past few months, on getting that back.
On the external front, there are two other things that I need to do.
First, I need to separate my lines of business. Whether I’m employed full-time or a consultant, my product is expertise and extreme competence. I need to cut a distinction between my core competencies and other, less marketable, expertise.
Mixing game design and creative fiction and Haskell and organizational dynamics into one torrent (in which, and this is completely my fault, the Silicon Valley bashing has been most dominant stream) is not very effective. I used to think that it made my blog “eclectic”. In fact, it makes my communication less effective. I need to break these sources apart and handle each one as best suits it.
Second, I need to streamline. It’s not that I have a “good” or “bad” reputation. I have this really complex, millions-of-words presence that just has too much surface area for one person to defend. I can’t manage all of that. It’s time to focus on clarity and quality, because size has become a liability rather than a show of strength (which, I’d argue, I no longer need to show).
I’ll keep writing essays, and probably even share a few, and I’m likely to bring back the best pieces (likely, edited for clarity and shortened) over the next few months.
Why am I eager to separate my domains of competence into separate products, to streamline my public image, and to move away from the “exposing Silicon Valley’s ethical failures” line of business? And why now? One thing that has occurred over the months is that I’ve been investigating a business opportunity. It’s bootstrappable, genuinely useful, and would require me to take a position of genuine leadership.
If that comes to pass, I’m going to have to pay more attention to what I put out into the world. What I say in the public will be yet another thing that, as I age, is no longer just about me. No one can cow me into silence (and many have tried) but I have to be more careful, on my own behalf, as I move into high-responsibility roles where everything I say will be taken a lot more seriously than I’m used to.
As I said, I’m shifting in approach to a focus on helping the good people in technology succeed, rather than trying to make the bad actors fail. In practice, it’s hard to work on both at the same time. I’m starting to think that I have to choose, and the choice is obvious.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Play Ambition and carry on.