Letters from a Hacker

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

orostheavenger Why 80 Percent of Web Projects Are Total Bullshit: A Freelancers RantThis is a guest post from the pseudonymous Edward Case, a Brooklyn-based freelance developer, which was adapted from an email to Betabeat. Mr. “Case” preferred to remain anonymous, as clients pay his bills.

You know ratemyprofessor.com? I want something like that for potential clients. (Note: I just tried ratemyclient.com and it’s something porn-related, so don’t try that if you’re in an office.)  I’m not sure it’ll ever exist though; nobody would want to write negative reviews of past clients for fear of endangering their prospects of getting future work.

I would write about how everybody that needs a cookie-cutter CRUD app or piece of brochureware thinks their project is a beautiful snowflake, when the reality of the situation is that the vast majority of projects out there are all very samey. When people approach me with work that’s very cut-and-dry, but they’re realistic about it, I’m liable to listen. When they act like they’re changing the word with the most important web form that’s ever graced the face of the planet, I run.

I’ve spent my entire life as a nerd, at times marginalized for playing Magic: The Gathering after school or writing a Dragonball Z fan page in the 7th grade (on Geocities, with a starry background … sigh … the good ol’ days). But now that the internet is the new black, every douche with a checkbook thinks they’re God’s gift to software and that their sudden interest in making computer programs is genuine, but of course they’d never dream of trying to learn a thing or two about programming. That’s beneath them. I’m sure I’m not the only programmer that can sniff out a fake nerd.

Last week, Kyle Bragger unveiled an email newsletter featuring gigs for freelancers called Tinyproj. The problem with Tinyproj is the problem with nearly every other job-related thing from a developer’s perspective: it’s not well-curated enough (yet) and I could see the signal-to-noise ratio getting worse as more and more two-bit charlatans find a new avenue to exploit hapless dweebs into materializing their half-baked product “visions” for solving oversolved or nonexistent problems.

But hopefully as Tinyproj gets more requests in, Mr. Bragger can be pickier about the listings. It’s a good concept since it’s simple and people are obviously interested in using it, so I’m staying subscribed for a while to see how it plays out.

But check it out:

[Looking for a developer] I am working in a project called Festicket.com and I am looking for a dev to create in our back office a way to integrate different API from affiliates travel programme.
( expedia, orbitz ect… )

Our website is builld with django / MYSQL / jquery.

Budget: $1000
Timeframe: 14 days
URL: http://www.festicket.com

Vague snowball requirements, language barrier, and low pay.

Need a really good/amazing/awesome OpenGL developer.

Our startup is creating software that will need 3D controls in OpenGL using C sharp on Mac.

What We Would Like to Have Done

We need a general window/control (will be what image,button,radio button, checkbox, etc. will be built from). A few images (Corner – http://imgur.com/W2D8t, top view -http://imgur.com/jRMmD). The window has corners of configurable radius (0 would be a 90 deg edge) – each corner could be configured independently. The window would have thickness.

The window should be resizable such that the corner radius doesn’t change.

Budget: $1500
Timeframe: 14 days
URL: http://www.interfacevision.com

OpenGL knowledge is a somewhat coveted skill. The technical requirements are somewhat vague, the supplied images show a disturbing lack of attention to detail, and the actual end goal is virtually absent from the description. It’s very difficult, based on this description, to determine the complexity of the task at hand.

[Looking for a developer, a designer] A simple marketplace for contracted and freelance work that is only over $1,000 per project (high quality jobs). Like what 99ladders is to monster.com.

Budget: $1500
Timeframe: 14 days

Well, I know what the end goal is, but I can’t tell what they’re looking for in the short-term. Reading this, I don’t even know if I qualify or not.

(Note: The only product in this space that I’ve seen that gets me legitimately excited is Hirelite, specifically because it’s tightly-curated.)

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