About

I live in New York and my interests include machine learning, game design, computer programming, and startups.

Here’s a reasonably successful card game I developed: Ambition.

47 thoughts on “About

  1. Hi Michael,

    I couldn’t find your contact on this site, so I’m leaving a comment here. I wanted you to know that your article about the 3 ladder class system has turned me, my entire nuclear family, and a few of my friends into regular readers of yours. Your ideas are well fleshed out and extremely compelling. I wish I could learn to think on your level.

    trevor

  2. Your post on common misperceptions of start ups is one of the best blog posts I’ve read. Thank you for saying what is so obviously true that so few people have the courage to say in public. You should feel proud because I bet a lot of people have changed their life decisions based on reading your post.

  3. In response to your HN post: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4830137

    I’m a fan of your work, and your essays have crystallized some of my own ideas about the incentive structures of effective engineering organizations.

    I’m currently pursuing freelance and consulting work and have begun building a network of clients who would likely find you very useful (though I can’t promise that the work would be super engaging.)

    Feel free to drop me a line if you’d like to chat.

  4. Pingback: Building on what you own

  5. Michael…Thank goodness I came across your blog. I was debating whether or not to go out on my own or join a start-up. I have my answer. I always thought the VC’s were a little crooked. I am not a business person just a person with fantastic creations. Best.

  6. hey man, i’m a random artist in nyc and i really want to make a long-form video blog doing a reading of your 3-teir ladder system post, since i think it’s the most important article written in the past 30 years or so. just wanted to run it by you first, e-mail me if you get the chance! (i would love to meet up some time if you’re interested, i am very intent on building a career around social criticism along these lines)

  7. I’ve been following your blog and your comments around the web and you really should be getting more praise than is out there. Your understanding of the company marketplace and organizational environment we’ve created as a society is inspiring. And it seems to be leading to a strategy of organization that would have enough anti-toxins to resist the other well known plagues of group culture. Such seems like so distant of a dream, so to walk through the current construct in such a detailed way, verifiable by my own life-experience alone, makes it seem like there very well could be a way through.

  8. Mike,

    First off, fantastic site. I read this blog all the time and it’s great.

    I currently blog independently for the website “Wall Street Oasis”- I’m sure you’re aware of it, given that you’ve already posted there. I was wondering if you would be interested in articulating your thoughts on the value of coding and programming for a career in finance via an email-interview of sorts. I also wanted to write a separate piece on VC-istan if you had the time. I realize that you’ve already written on this topic, but I had some specific questions, and these guys could really use your advice. I think this could make for a terrific article. You have my email, please write back if this is something you’d be interested in. Cheers,

    By the way, I think we have some mutual friends at Carleton.

  9. Hi Michael
    I’ve seen your post on http://gigaom.com about the Knewton company. You wrote that the company is a joke. Pleas can you explain me your opinion or give me a source. I am very interested in this topic because I am writing a thesis about adaptive learning systems.
    Thank you very much!
    Regards form Switzerland.
    Sam

  10. Hi Michael. I found your website when I googled “modern society lawful evil”. I was amazed at what you wrote in your analysis of each D&D ethical alignment and how they operate in a modern organisation. It’s like you were writing exactly what I was thinking (spooky!). Great work, very very insightful articles.

    Check out at link on wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuart_Littlemore . It’s about a lawyer that describes the professional thrill he gets when he manages to get guilty people acquitted because it’s too easy to get an innocent person acquitted… it’s a professional challenge to get a guilty person acquited. And this man is a prominent lawyer, journalist and university professor who utters these words on national TV and no one batted an eyelid.

    Is that not the very definition of Lawful Evil? Our society is so aligned to Lawful Evil (aka selfishness and greed at any cost) that most people cannot see it. If you point it out to people, they think you’re some “crazy conspiracy theorist who wears a tin-hat to stop the brain controlling microwaves from the CIA”.

    I see this as a direct consequence of the dismantling of religion in society. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying “religion = good, secular = bad”. What I am saying is that society used to have a moral compass, it might have been hypocritical at times, but it was there. There was “right” and there was “wrong”. But that moral compass of right and wrong was removed and replaced with economic rationalism which defines “good” solely as meaning “financial success”. Consequently society went from being notionally Lawfully Good (and hypocritical) to being Lawfully Neutral and then evolved into Lawfully Evil when the effects of economic rationalism started to really take root and influence the minds of the next generation to think solely in terms of their own personal financial benefit.

    These days to talk about right and wrong is rather quaint and most people think you are a religious nutcase because people have been conditioned for so long that it is dangerous to have any sort of strong beliefs… because strong beliefs may result in (religious/secular) fanaticism. So the removal of a moral compass has created a void that must be filled and cannot be ignored… and to date, the void has been filled with economic rationalism. But people are noticing with the GFC that economic rationalism does not necessarily deliver rational outcomes or equitable ones… in fact economic rationalism can and has been manipulated by rich powerbrokers to further enrich themselves and then expect the broader society to pick up the tab when things go pear shaped… meanwhile said rich powerbrokers squeal like frightened pigs when anyone mentions a tax increase despite the fact that the average family pays more tax than said rich person and said rich person expects (and gets) society to foot the bill for their mistakes.

    I think this is what is driving a lot of the widespread cynicism and distrust of authority these days. People have had enough of the political spin and can finally see that the game is stacked… despite how the major political and economic players preach to the masses about how “the American dream can be yours if you work hard. Work hard and you’ll get what you deserve”. Ironically very similar to the gates of Auschwitz : “Hard work will set you free”. No it won’t and no it didn’t. It was a lie to get the people to do what their masters wanted, which was play ball.

    I don’t think the Lawfully Evil and the Lawfully Neutral people can be stopped unless society goes back to having a moral compass of right and wrong. The disadvantage there is the risk of hypocrisy or fanacism, however you could argue we have both of those things anyway with the high priests of economic rationalism and the doubletalk of our political leaders and captains of industry. In the very least, however, the reintroduction of a moral compass in society would help connect society with the spirit of the law and the potential for greater good…. rather than a slavish devotion to the letter of the law or applying the law to manipulate others for evil/selfish ends. (Yes I know “greater good” is a slippery concept. I guess if my idea was ever implemented, someone like myself would argue for the reintroduction of Lawful Neutral/Evil. I guess the grass is greener on the other side of the fence…. but I find the sociopathic soullessness of our Lawful Evil society as really something quite disgusting)

  11. Hi Michael,

    I love your site and a lot of your posts have been very insightful. Regrettably I was searching for “performance improvement plan” when I stumbled upon your site but reading your other articles, they are incredible

    Keep up the good work.

    Dominick

    P.s. do you have a mailing list?

    • No mailing list.

      Good luck, man. Sorry to hear that you’re in PIPsville. You’re not going to win that kangaroo court, so the best thing to do is focus on getting the next job.

      Reach me off line (michael.o.church at Google’s email service) if you have any specific questions.

  12. Hi, I just found your blog when I did a Google search for reasons not to work for an internet start-up. I just had a very bad experience interning for one and a lot of what you said resonated with my experience. I am glad that I did that internship so that I can have a better idea of what to look for when I eventually find a real job that isn’t going to be paid in prestige or a fraction of a percent of equity! :)
    Keep up the good work!!

  13. Highly entertaining & informative, exceptional writing. While on a bus in Toronto Canada saw a woman advidely reading a printout titled “Don’t sign a PIP”; googled it (yes I read over ppl’s shoulder’s on public transit, it’s a talent) and was rewarded with an introduction to your wisdom… Can wait to read more.

  14. I enjoy reading your blog. It’s different, honest, and you attempt to apply rigorous argumentation to support your ideas. We need more original thought in this world and I am glad I found your posts. If you know of other good posts to read that you may follow please send them to me at (linuxster at Google’s email service)

  15. I really like your concept of “Information Surface Area”. One result of this is that you can clearly see the difference between command-and-control socialism (low information surface area) and something like Basic Income which would improve the information surface area of capitalism by aggregating more information from poor people. I would love to see more writing on this topic.

  16. Hey, just wanted to let you know that I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog since I discovered it a few months ago. You do an excellent job of distilling complicated concepts into their constituent parts and explaining every part thoroughly, a rare trait among the technical class. As someone who came from a C/C++ background and transitioned into functional programming with Lisp, I found your take on both really interesting and informative. Keep up the excellent work!

  17. Your posts should be required reading for anyone considering moving to the bay area; you’re a good reality check to the limitless optimism of Paul Graham.

    I want to link people to an overview of your writing. Something like the sitemap plugin would be ideal, but either such a page doesn’t exist or I can’t find it. Your posts are all already nicely tagged and categorized with good titles, so it wouldn’t take any effort to make a good map of what you have written.

  18. Hi Michael.I would like to know if you can help me to find more information about creating new lottery games. I’ve complete three projects for new lottery games but I can’t find enough information to know if it’s necessary to present more formally.
    do you know how to contact somebody which job it’s creating lottery games?
    Probably it’s a hard question but I hope you or somebody can help me in this question.
    Thanks for your time and congratulations about your work

  19. I actually came across this page on a fluke, I Googled ‘what is a millennial’ after reading another article talking about how millennials are running the U.S.A into the ground. I agree with so much of what you have stated in the couple of articles I’ve read so far. Thanks for putting a voice to a generation with so many voices crying out against it.

  20. I’m amazed at how you dissect lies into tiers and some of your assertions seem impossible to verify, but I must agree that taking sick days out of an employee’s vacation time seems unjust, demoralizing and inefficient and that lack of trust in a work environment generally makes things unpleasant and unproductive.

  21. Have been a loyal reader of your great blog for over a year. The posts on the Gervais principle were especially great, I also distinctly remember a Mad Men metaphor post blowing my mind.

    Would love to read your take on the Quarter-life crisis phenomenon or burnout in general.

  22. This is such an awesome blog! As someone in the product side of things but an engineer I am used to dealing with these business and in-fighting problems you so highlight.

    Some of your frameworks about the types of workers and their in organisational behaviour are excellent. Thank you.

  23. I was searching for performance improvement plan and came across your website.

    I was recently contacted by a recruiter from a large, famous Internet company and it made me remember back to my time, some years ago, working for another famous e-commerce company.

    I was put on a Performance Improvement Plan there. It was really nasty. They fired one guy and handed me a few of his projects. Unfortunately he hadn’t really started any of them and very little was usable. They should have waited until he pushed the projects out before firing him! My manager told me the projects were ready to push out and that another group would QA it and another group would code review it. So what was my part of it? Very soon, I was told I would be fired as well and given a termination date in around 3 weeks. Anyway those 3 weeks got extended to about 3 months.

    In that time, I just did rewrote work from scratch. My work was perfect. Actually some of the work the fired guy had for his projects was just copied-and-pasted from elsewhere in the source code and totally inappropriate and some was written in Perl. The company had a rule at the time, no database writes were to be done in Perl. His Perl work did have bugs and bad design anyway.

    There was a constant stream of bugs on the live website caused by other groups and other people. So I was constantly woken up at midnight and 6am to fix problems caused by other people. A new guy got hired on the say-so of a new director. I was told I had to do his pager duty and, if I did, it would look good for me and I might be able to keep my job.

    I did his pager duty and then was told I had another year at the company.

    In a general meeting, one manager said we were given a quota of fixing 10 bugs a month. My manager doubled it to fixing 20 bugs (caused by other people, not me) a month, otherwise I would get fired.

    Given some Remedy Tickets were mini-projects and not bugs, this was not achievable, given all changes have to reviewed by other people and QA’ed.

    It was a nightmare.

    PIPs are just company sanctioning bullying. If I had more savings I would have left immediately, but to get a few months’ more pay I stuck it out.

    Two days before I got fired, a project manager came to my desk and thanked me for my work and give me a gift. Ironic! At that company, you had a people manager and several different project managers. It was my person manager that fired me.

    At the time over a 6 month period over 50% of our group lost their jobs, some via forced resignations.

    I think policies in which companies fire 10% of the workforce every year, just lead to people in the know hurling abuse and complaints at other people, so they end up the victims.

    I worked hard at this company. It is a pity my last few months were absolute hell.

    I can’t say it enough, that PIPs are company sanctioned bullying.

  24. I didn’t make what I said explicit before. After doing a new guy’s pager duty (even though I had done more than my fair share of pager duty of the whole year in the space of a few months) I was told I had another year in the company. This was by my manager in front of the Human Resources woman. Then a few weeks later I was fired.

    How do these people get away with saying things like this?

  25. Very glad I came across your blog – so engaging, informative, well-organized and funny! As an electrical engineering and computer science student at UC Berkeley, I can wholeheartedly confirm the prevailing belief among my peers that meritocracy rules in SV. Though equipped with extraordinary technical skills, most lack the social awareness, confidence and occasional chicanery required to successfully navigate a highly political organization. They will end up with decent compensation no doubt, but nonetheless be working as a pawn furthering the interest of someone else. Keep up the good work, the world needs more independent thinkers and questioners like you!

  26. I read and enjoyed your article on the low status of software engineers and id like to get your advice.

    I am 37 years old… I have worked at my current job for 10 years.. I am the MVP software guy at my company… A few years ago I got a job at Bloomberg and my current company matched my offer to keep me… Currently I make 150k and I think I am maxed out here… I never want to stop writing code.. At the same time, I want to make more money and have more control over technology company wide… At the same time I have always wanted to own, or own a large piece of the company I work for….

    What do you think I should do? I can probably ask for a title change… But what title?

    td

    • I read and enjoyed your article on the low status of software engineers and id like to get your advice.

      I am 37 years old… I have worked at my current job for 10 years.. A few years ago I got a job at Bloomberg and my current company matched my offer to keep me… Currently I think I am maxed out here… I never want to stop writing code.. At the same time, I want to make more money and have more control over technology company wide… At the same time I have always wanted to own, or own a large piece of the company I work for….

      What do you think I should do? I can probably ask for a title change… But what title?

      td

  27. I was reading your blog and found it to be thoughtful and interesting. I also have a math background and have done some machine learning. I recently was solicited by apple for a postion on their camera engineering team and was wondering what you thought of them. Do they stack rank?

  28. I run a small business (that used to pretend to be a startup). I’m an engineer who figured out the game a little early and struck out on my own so I could as least have a contract between me and the people I do work for.

    It has been a hard road but all the problems have been from my choices on business people.

    Frigging awesome site.

  29. The article has very strong co-relation what I went through as a media strategy guy who loves data to decision. The apes in higher ups have screwed up the industry where faking it is the norm. You are bang on. May be might is right is still a norm.

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