Responding To Primeagen And Also Society I Guess

I woke up one morning this week to find out that we're YouTube famous now - my all-time favourite tech YouTuber, Primeagen, ended up reading my post on the social fiction of most organizations wanting to improve things on his stream.

On one hand, senpai noticed me. On the other hand, senpai didn't agree with me.

The main complaints were:

  1. You can affect change at your organization
  2. Looking down on people around you is unhealthy
  3. Why don't you just make a company then?

The main things I wanted to note are:

  1. The man doesn't know what Power BI is
  2. There's a person that doesn't know what Power BI is
  3. How can I become that person?

I actually patched up my incredibly shoddy algorithms knowledge by working through his excellent algorithms course (here) and my entire development environment is configured around his (here). I use Harpoon all the time, which is fucking sick, and we all say "Tom is a genius!" whenever we enter the spreadsheet zone. I switched to i3 because of you, and this is how I am regarded? Oh, cruel fate.

To be blown apart like that, by one of my idols in the technical space, has really taught me something about humility and -


I. Is It Worth Responding?

Yes, but only briefly, because it turns out we actually agree about everything once we've addressed three core things, and these are the objections to my perspective that come up over and over again. One is around whether you can change things, one is around looking down on people, and the last is "Why don't you just make a company, if you're so smart?"

II. You Can Affect Change At Your Organization

One of the most frustrating things about being in the extremely large part of the tech space that is utterly dysfunctional is that no one believes you. It just sounds so absurd. How inefficient could these huge companies actually be?

Well, I watched Office Space this year at a friend's recommendation, and the first half of the movie was basically a documentary in spirit. How can you explain that to someone that hasn't experienced it?

There is an asymmetry in how closely most of our experiences align with socially accepted reality.

You see, my precious, pure idol doesn't know what Power BI is. Can you imagine how fucking happy that dude must be all the time? Not "I don't use Power BI", he literally doesn't know what it is. I have never even met someone in the modern tech world that doesn't know what it is. The intersection of his experience with the average tech person's must be close to the empty set. This is not to say that he has had a privileged life - I suspect he has had a harder life than me despite being born in the first world - but in tech space, yes, he cannot understand what it is actually like for the masses. Netflix isn't a mythical fantasy-land (I have a few FAANG friends) but the distance between what actually happens there and what management says happens there is relatively small... and I know he's had other, worse, jobs, but I'm guessing they actually produced a working product or he'd be agreeing with me.

That isn't a bad thing at all, it's just that our position as people at regular companies is simply unbelievable to someone that has only worked at places that actually do things.

See, when he said that he has a great workplace that he got to by studying extremely hard, I believed him and studied extremely hard, literally using his course. Hell, in the video above, he says that his manager is actually data driven, completely missing the point. His manager is the real deal because he's at Netflix. The rest of the world is full of grifters that are using the same words as his manager with none of the insight because they want to sound like Netflix managers. It is exceedingly hard to find work at a place that doesn't behave this way.

(But also, I'm pretty sure most people can do it in first world countries with the correct application of effort, if they're either willing to take a pay cut or try get into Google, etc.)

When I said "Hey man, did you know like 50% of tech jobs produce literally nothing of value other than helping corporate sociopaths and uncritical thinkers leech money?", his response was essentially "That sounds fucking crazy, you must be the problem! Have you tried standing up for good standards at your workplace?"

Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but it is true. My brother in Christ, please, some symmetry of respect. The wave of commenters on that video aren't asocial dweebs who just didn't realize they need to use their words to convince people, they're victims. Last week, I was inundated with emails from extremely intelligent, eloquent engineers who were just glad that someone said what they were all thinking. I was willing to accept that there's a magical land where people are largely incentivized correctly to make engineers happy, can't you accept that there's a world where everyone knows what Power BI is?

And in that world, no, you can't improve things without a massive cost to yourself. If it's something you really care about, sure, but I genuinely think it is actively harmful to convince someone that HR actually wants their third enterprise payroll system migration to be done to top-tier standards at Generic Widget Corp. HR actually wants you to do the migration super badly and under budget so they can report to the board that it was a success and managers get promoted.

III. Looking Down On People Around You Is Unhealthy

The other thing that people took massive issue with is the statement that 90% of things are crud.

Firstly, I didn't write Sturgeon's Law, and people seem to take it far too literally. It isn't saying that literally 90% of all things suck, it's saying that a surprisingly large amount of content in any field is bad to anyone that has taken the time to develop an aesthetic sense around it. Have you at Kindle Unlimited?

With a few exceptions, I don't think many of the people who cause these problems are stupid. Stupid is usually just shorthand for not doing things to align with the organization's stated goal which can be due to many things that aren't related to intelligence, but I was ranting so I picked the punchy word. Some of them are just dimwitted, some of them are burned out, many of them don't care, and some are extremely smart but also sociopaths. For the most part, they've got kids and families, and I don't begrudge them from hanging around. Some of them have come up to me and said they don't care.

Approximately 90% of the databases I've worked with have had the schemas so badly mangled by years of short-sighted management that they can be used for nothing other than core business functionality, usually with the judicious application of Excel massaging the data before usage. This is how some hospitals plan bed allocation. There is a 100% chance that people are fucking killed over this due to a lack of bed space every year.

Approximately 90% of the engineers I meet are totally disempowered and treated like trash by management.

Most teachers aren't actually very good at teaching, though I don't know what the number is.

Most of the time, when someone I know painstakingly drags themselves out to find a psychologist for whatever reason, they find that most psychologists fucking suck or are total quacks.

The miracle of modern society is that anything works at all, and that many things even work well, but it is despite all the dysfunction at regular organizations, not because that dysfunction doesn't exist.

This has nothing to do with "looking down" on things. These are just, as near as I can tell, facts about the world. Like, have you spoken to a real estate agent or tech recruiter? Almost all of them are absolute fuckers, and the only difference is that it affects you so you can tell that they're fuckers, whereas a shit-tier manager/engineer/teacher can operate so invisibly at a large organization that no one notices.

Again, this just is what it is, and acknowledging it is how you navigate it effectively, and navigating it effectively is how you achieve some level of happiness for yourself.

A recruiter had coffee with me a few weeks ago because business at their massive agency was down. The agency, goddamn Hays, was suggesting that the recruiters finally learn things about technology, so this guy who had been working for five years asked me what AWS was. Things are fucked at most places, my dude.

IV. Why Don't You Just Make A Company Then?

I'm in my shed putting spikes

On the rims of my car for the upcoming death race

Oh, you think I won't? I'm going to tear shit up within two years, or absolutely fail and then just not mention this again and everyone will just forget about it. So, you know, watch out.

For real though, this is also totally missing the point. My point is that the bulk of income from most organizations comes from a tiny handful of sources (and in pathological cases, this can purely be from government protection, such as organizations that can gatekeep visa provisioning), but most of the organization supporting that is too large to run efficiently.

There are certainly sad, dark corners of Netflix run by petty tyrants who earn more money than we ever will. It is too large for it not to be the case. So when I do the above, I suspect the only way to avoid becoming what I hate is... just don't become that big. It isn't a problem of people all being so fucking dumb that they can't run a big organization effectively, I suspect it can't be done. The best you can hope for is to have a strict handle on the parts that generate most of the revenue, then you earn enough money than the various leechlike sub-organizations can't drain your lifeblood fast enough to kill you.

And unfortunately, if you want to build something as complicated as a GPU, you probably just have to make the gigantic organization and bite the inefficiency bullet. Them's the breaks.

I spoke to a telecommunications director recently, and I asked how an organization that large manages to keep running so effectively. He exchanged looks with another engineer who worked there (a look which said most of it doesn't run effectively), then elaborated that everything sucks (surprise) unless you cause a network outage, in which case you are mega-fired and banished to the shadow realm on top of that. That's the bit that makes the revenue, and the rest of it is a disaster.

V. My Friend Taking Leave

Most importantly, my friend got called out for taking leave for a year because he was being irresponsible. He doesn't have a wife and kids, but we now say "What about my children?" every time we leave work, so I guess something good came of this.