Letters from a Hacker

Why 80 Percent of Web Projects Are Total Bullshit: A Freelancer’s Rant

Every time I tell a suit about an idea of mine and they ask “what’s your exit?” the answer is “death,” because my goal is to make software that is useful and makes users happy and that’s all I need. These same people openly discuss ways to turn users into food for advertisers, or of their aspirations to abandon those that helped them to succeed as soon as they reach the apex and their heads hit the clouds. Or they have that “fake it till you make it” attitude, that it doesn’t matter how it’s built because by the time it matters you’ll be swimming in investor money and can hire “real” engineers, as if nerds were some kind of fungible currency, that your founding engineers are something to toy with, that you will knowingly look someone in the face and smile and think “you’re not good enough but you’re cheap, and when I can afford someone better I’ll fire or demote you.”

I’m a member of the Startup Weekend LinkedIn group, for better or worse, home to some of the most asinine conversations about startup dumbfuckery on the internet. A user posted a question:

What languages should a non-technical founder learn after HTML and CSS ? JavaScript and? The goal: to be able to make basic prototypes of mobile applications.

to which one guy replies:

none. you are a founder, not a programmer, non-technical, none. Learn how to hire and manage great people.

and later continues:

Every successful entrepreneur surrounds themselves with advisors, friends, comrades, etc that help them with these decisions.

Not just code, (coders think businesses are just code) but marketing, financial, HR, lots of problems that arise everyday. Great founders are generalists and know just enough to know when to seek advice, and can spot BS from a mile away.

Founders need to know how to manage people, implement idas, create value for human beings, code can be written by employees or contractors.

How to hire great people:
http://billflagg.blogspot.com/2008/04/hiring-made-easy.html

So … what’s his qualification? He runs stickergiant.com, a site that sells stickers. Wow. Now that’s a big fuckin’ deal. For every businessperson worth talking to and worth working with, there are ten dreamless hacks just like this guy.

I’m not suggesting that a non-technical founder write code, that everyone needs to write code, but I don’t have any respect for anyone that won’t learn a thing or two about one of the most critical roles in his business.

Now, that’s not to say all business people are necessarily douchey. A friend introduced me to the guys at Prehype, which spins startups out of big companies, and even though neither of them can write a line of code, I LOVE hanging out at their office and talking to them because they get it. They’re not hackers, but they understand that programming is a craft; that programmers are artisans, not serfs.

I think the reason I could never be a writer is that I’m just way, way too mean. If there’s anything I’d want to read an article about, it’s “why 80 percent of web projects are total bullshit,” but there’s no way I’d ever put my name on such a whiny, Napoleonic tirade.

Alright. That was fun. Thanks for the therapy. I should probably do some actual work now.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is actually really good feedback re: Tinyproj. kyle at kylebragger.com if you, Mr. Case, should care to chat any further. I won’t reveal your identity.

  2. m3mnoch says:

    “So … what’s his qualification? He runs stickergiant.com, a site that sells stickers.”

    hrm.  it looks like he sold his company in 2007 and started an angel fund.  stickers is apparently just one of the businesses he funded.

    http://www.thefelixfund.com/

  3. Brian Kung says:

    I like the cut of your jib.

  4. Joe316 says:

    Dumb nerd

  5. Chris Stewart says:

    “So … what’s his qualification? He runs stickergiant.com, a site that sells stickers. Wow. Now that’s a big fuckin’ deal. For every businessperson worth talking to and worth working with, there are ten dreamless hacks just like this guy.”

    I think I’ll trust his qualifications more than your qualifications. At least he stepped up and started something unlike you, programmer of the gods, who bitches about lame client work instead of doing something cool. 

  6. Sriram says:

    > He runs stickergiant.com, a site that sells stickers. Wow. Now that’s a big fuckin’ deal.

    Ad hominem much?

    The site may not appeal to you, but if it brought him success, more power to him.

  7. Joe316 says:

    Matter of fact nerds don’t belong coding because they don’t understand other people instead they whine, they cry and the have no fing clue about the real world. They talk like they have p*n*s in there mouth. How can you understand usability when you can not even whack off properly? Majic com on dude get a life! Now I better get back to work the wanna be “nerd” I am. You people make me sick coding is not a nerds job and anyone that thinks it is is a retard coding is nothing more than taking a spanish class in school learning a new language “that dumb nerds wrote”. Get over your self and grab a fishing pole or a football and see how you do with that!

    1. Ed says:

      Literacy will never, ever be a problem for you.

      Because you don’t know it exists.

    2. Anonymous says:

      “Programming” is to “learning and speaking a different language”, like “designing and building a house” is to “stacking up some bricks”, or “flying an aeroplane” is to “jumping off a tall building”. As an example of how simplistic your analogy is: I’m not a native english speaker, and even though I can write some stupid comment on a website like this, that doesn’t mean I will ever write a nobel-prize winning english novel.

      Apparently it never occurred to you that you can learn every ff-ing programming language under the sun, but still not be able to do anything useful with it. For example because you lack the ability to reduce complex problems to simple solutions, to think in abstractions that are often anything but intuitive, the creativity to combine existing things into something new, the experience and intelligence to find, interpret and apply often highly technical and/or scientific and/or domain-specific knowledge, the ability to communicate what needs to be built and how with clients and co-workers, the responsibility to deliver something that is robust, reliable, conforms to the specification and is well-tested enough not to b0rk out as soon as it goes into production, and so on and so forth.

      If your understanding of ‘programming’ (I prefer ‘software engineering’) is that you are simply applying a 1-dimensional skill such as speaking a foreign language, and that’s it, you will never get anywhere in software, not as an entrepreneur and definitely not as a software engineer. It’s not only disrespectful to a whole profession, but also dumb, plain and simple.

  8. Rich Jones says:

    We run a site for freelancers that’s a bit different: It’s hackers hiring hackers, winner take all. No nightmare clients, just specifications and quality results.

    That’s the theory anyway!
    Check it out: http://gun.io

  9. Rich Jones says:

    We run a site for freelancers that’s a bit different: It’s hackers hiring hackers, winner take all. No nightmare clients, just specifications and quality results.

    That’s the theory anyway!
    Check it out: http://gun.io

  10. Kevin Bedell says:

    OMG thank you. I’ve been creating sites for a while now as a freelancer and just blow off people who come across that way. 

    Ideas are cheap, execution is what makes it work. And I’ve managed enough development projects to know that managing delivery risk a real, required skill that any founder — technical or non-technical — needs.

    If you know nothing about coding, how will you know when one of the developers tells you it’s ‘almost done’ that you’re really half-way there? I worked with one client who had a rails developer who — every day at scrum — said ‘I should have this completed today’. He went weeks saying that every day. If you don’t know shit about development how do you know to call bullshit when that happens?

  11. Beautiful… keep writing big man :)

  12. deancollins says:

    Ed, Would be nice if you posted some of your projects that “made a difference”…..though feel free to post them to newtech-1 to continue the discussion :)

  13. Tedd Meyers says:

    The author has no right to piss on other people’s dreams, even if they’re deluded or unrealistic. Most of all, it’s not in your self-interest to be concerned with other people’s aspirations. Yeah, the sticker, stamp, ant farm sites are all kind of silly, but why are you personally bothered by it?

     If the dream hurt others, and if people with those dreams treat engineers like crap, then that’s a different case, and please piss, rant, and post their names somewhere so we can avoid them like the plague. But if they’re just some business guy who wants to build a company and the idea is unoriginal, unrealistic, well, fine, who cares?

    1. Hrish says:

      I think the author has every right to post _his_ opinion on _his_ blog.

      1. Tedd Meyers says:

        Don’t take it literally. It’s just a douchey thing to piss on other people who aren’t themselves bothering other people. Find your own way of being happy that doesn’t involve asserting yourselves over others you decide are inferior. Basic ethics.

      2. Tedd Meyers says:

        And it’s not his blog.

  14. Casey Strouse says:

    My thoughts exactly!  If I have to do one more clone of site X I’m gonna hang up my compiler and go do something else for a career.

    1. Foljs says:

      You’re doing “clones of site X” with a language that requires a compiler?

  15. Liz says:

    “I think the reason I could never be a writer is that I’m just way, way too mean.”

    Or maybe because writers actually work on being good writers, by writing a lot and being “artisans”.

  16. Alex Chamberlain says:

    Possibly one of the best articles I have read in a long time!

  17. Love your thoughts mate. its straight and Brutal. Although I must say if he runs Stickergiant So YEAh he is a big fucking deal mate.

  18. Dino Reic says:

    great, thx. keep up the good work

  19. Great article, I though the same when i received the tinyproj email :) I recommend reading this article from DHH http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2188-theres-no-room-for-the-idea-guy , it’s pure gold and match with what you are saying.

  20. John says:

    Awesome post! +1

  21. Ddd says:

    Angel fund that invests in companies that have 80k revenue, profitable have no outside financing right.. what a joke

  22. I guess that the only solution for you, Mr. Case, is to publish XML structured project description form which is required to make you interested in getting the contract from other people – if that’s the way it works in your world. Seriously, how hard is to help your potential clients organize their thoughts to make them more clear to you? 3, 5, 10 questions? I guess that’s not that much compared to waiting for that perfect client who’ll come and speak the way you like right from the start.

  23. bajir says:

    Freelancers Union has a Client Scorecard set up where we can anonymously rate past and current clients.  I’ve shared many of your frustrations and have wished for a place where I could investigate new potential clients.

    https://be.freelancersunion.org/client-scorecard/

    This seems like it might evolve into something very helpful.
    - B