I was a big-name tech blogger who, one day in February 2016, just up-and-quit. From 4000 views per day, I went to zero.
Well, I didn’t plan it exactly that way. There are more details, and they’ll come.
To be frank, I’m burned out on trying to fix the tech industry. I no longer care to evangelize open allocation or Haskell. Why? Times change, people change, I’ve gotten older, bad faith fades and good faiths are born. Haskell is still an excellent language, and open allocation is still better than closed allocation, but… quite honestly, at 34 years old I’ve used up about 45 percent of my life, and I’m not keen on trying (and failing) to protect an industry from its own worst (and entrenched, powerful) elements. I am much smarter than the people calling important shots in the tech industry– that’s just an objective fact, and I’m too old to shy away from it for the sake of social acceptability– but I’ve long since given up on convincing them of it. Technology is rotten because venture capital is rotten, and that’s rotten because American business culture is rotten, because global business culture is rotten… and we will probably have significant and worldwide social upset before it is fixed. I hope to be far away from the hot fight when that happens. I fought, and I lost. I did my part, I suffered, and I’m done with that shit.
The most important thing to me right now is getting Farisa’s Crossing out on time, and making it the best damn book it can be.
It’s been a few years, so I can give an objective account of some things that have happened. If not maturity, at least I have emotional distance.
I worked at Google in 2011. My manager was so bad that the company apologized for his conduct. Related to the fallout, and probably not Google’s fault, I was placed on (and later removed, but too late) a Silicon Valley unionist blacklist and had significant job search difficulties (for which I’ve collected settlements, but far from enough) due to that.
Being on the “suspected unionist” list put large tech companies out of consideration for some time; I ended up working, in the mid-2010s, for some very unethical companies. At one, I was offered a promotion (to the job title I was promised on hire) if I signed a stack of performance reviews, some of which pertained to people who left before I arrived. When I refused to do so, I was fired. That was just the beginning of the absurdity that that stupid company brought in to my life.
I discovered in the mid-2010s that my account on Hacker News was “moderated” because I wrote a blog post in 2013 that Paul Graham thought was about him (it wasn’t). The result of this moderation was that my comments fell to the bottom of the page, as if they had received no upvotes. When I pointed this out to their moderator, he corrected it, but a Y Combinator “downvote brigade” began hitting my posts soon after they landed.
In August 2015, I was banned from Hacker News on false pretenses. The moderator edited my comment in order to make a misleading account of what happened. Then, in September 2015, I was banned from Quora, also on false pretenses. Y Combinator, which owns Hacker News, is also an investor in Quora.
Among adults, website drama would be a non-issue, but it actually prevented me from getting hired in certain places. Why? Because tech is full of risk-averse pansies with no backbone or character, who shrink from any hint of controversy. Bullshit website drama actually matters in the tech industry. Nowhere else. Techies need to grow the fuck up. I did.
In early 2016, I started receiving death threats. Those weren’t new. In fact, I was attacked by a homeless person who’d been sent by a prominent venture capitalist. That episode was more laughable for the sheer incompetence involved than it was upsetting. It certainly wasn’t frightening. I had, after all, said on the Internet that it might not be the worst thing in the world for Silicon Valley programmers to unionize. I pointed out that the rotten cultures that seem to recur in venture-funded startups might be the fault of the investor themselves. You don’t say things like this and not put yourself at physical risk, because the manchild oligarchy of Sand Hill Road is vindictive. When the death threats started hitting other people close to me, that’s when I shut down. I probably panicked more than I needed to. On February 2, 2016, I intended to revert every blog post to “Draft” (unpublished) status. WordPress did not have this feature, so I moved them to “Trash” with the intention of reviewing and republishing the most valuable ones. However, WordPress deletes posts in “Trash” after a while, and many were lost for good. I’m fine with that. They’re available on the Wayback Machine.
I’ve pulled away from other forms of social media. I nuked my Twitter account. (In part, this was in protest of Trump’s victory and Twitter’s role in it.) I realized that it wasn’t healthy for my mammalian brain to be addicted to social microapprovals. I had a legit trolling addiction in the 2000s; I know how much time can be lost forever in that black hole. Killing all this social media engagement was one of the best things I did. I became able to read books again at normal speeds, without checking my phone. I became a better writer because of the above. My concentration returned.
Of course, now that I’m writing a book, I may need that “author platform” back. We’ll see. I may even go back on Twitter. Tech drama, though? I’m done with it. I know for a fact that I’d get a much larger advance for a tech memoir than for my novel (guaranteed mid-six+ versus I-have-no-idea) but I just don’t want to write about that shit. I don’t fucking care. The tech industry can burn to the ground and I’ll toast marshmallows over the fire.
I suppose I owe the rest of the story. What was I up to between March 2016 and now?
There was a moment when I realized that I’m just Done with so many things. I’ll work for startups, if the terms are good, but I have no delusions about wanting to be a founder. When you become a boss, you can be a force for good, or you can become the worst thing in another person’s life. If you’re the CEO and you create a rotten culture, you can become (indirectly, since they’ll blame the middle managers) the worst thing in 500 peoples’ lives. If you’re the CEO and try to create a good culture… well, you’ll probably not be able to raise VC, and they’ll probably fund your competitors and crush you. No thanks, for any of that. It’s not for me. There’s a reason why Silicon Valley is run by psychopaths and blame goes straight to the top.
About three years ago, I did a bit of consulting for a trucking company that involved performance management software. One of the objectives was to catch city drivers who were eating off-route (costing full cents in gas) in order to eat with their families or get cheaper lunches. When you do that kind of work, you’re basically licking Satan’s taint. It’s full-on Spreadsheet Eichmann shit. When I realized what the job was, I quit and I never billed a cent. See, most software people would write that code. They don’t care that they’re writing employee surveillance tools that ruin lives. Which is why I don’t care if the whole industry collapses in fiery wreckage. It is amoral, it is disgusting, it deserves its own demise. (I also don’t care about the comma splice that just happened, fuck it, have another one.)
What is our main product, in private-sector software engineering? Well, very few of us are curing cancer, or exploring, or even making it easier for authors to bring joy to their readers. No, most of us are helping businessmen unemploy people. Fuck that till it dies.
In April 2016, I applied for a job with the federal government. I was very excited about this opportunity, and more than willing to take a 50% pay cut in order to work on something that actually mattered. I got a conditional job offer; one of those conditions was funding for the position (a research position, one that would likely encourage a return to graduate school, at least part-time). Then Trump happened and there were funding issues, so that didn’t pan out, at least not yet.
I owe Trump a little treatment, since I never publicly commented, at least not here, about how that election affected me. It doesn’t matter. He’s the President now. I’m a patriot; I want what is best for the country, which means that I don’t want him to go down in flames if that’s going to hurt the country as well. I don’t want him to be re-elected, but I don’t want him to fail so bad that it hurts all of us.
I’ll say one thing: I fucking hate the media, even still. Not because “they elected Trump”; that wasn’t their intention. They were just really fucking stupid and got it wrong. I remember all the complaints about “this terrible election cycle” in 2016, which created a false equivalency between (A) an average-plus, smart, liberal politician who (because of our sexist society) got smeared with the sins of her sleazy husband (who still wasn’t a bad president) and (B) a racist, misogynist psychopath who ran against 30+ years of damage done by Boomers, bullies, and businessmen despite being all fucking three. “This demoralizing election.” Yeah, it’s so fucking demoralizing that you have the right and responsibility to choose your leaders, you fucking spoiled shit. Tell that to women in Saudi Arabia, how much you hated having to “hold your nose” and vote for a candidate. Stop creating a false equivalency by blaming “this terrible election season” when the problem wasn’t the above-average politician running an issue-based campaign, but the IRL troll who set everything on fire and sucked up all the oxygen.
What do I want from Trump? I want him to realize that he’s cornered, that he’s probably going to jail without any other exit, and self-pardon. Why? The self-pardon is the perfect solution. He’ll have to resign. The country doesn’t gain anything from an old man spending his last years in jail. But, if he becomes the first President in history to self-pardon, he humiliates the fuck out of plutocracy for the next hundred years. There’s a good thing about Trump; he’s exposing the American business elite for what it is. The Silicon Valley boys are the same as him, but better at hiding it. What do I want? For Trump to poison us against billionaires– to show us the true character of our business elite, so clearly that we fucking learn it this time– so we don’t elect some Silicon Valley asshole who can actually pull fascism off.
That’s my 2016 rant. I wanted to go back to research, possibly get a PhD in computer science, and have a life of purpose rather than chasing dollars. And I still do, and I’m still working toward that. Corporate technology is 97% corporate and 3% technology, and life is too finite for that “corporate” aspect.
What about 2017? Well, we and North Korea haven’t obliterated each other. That’s good.
Something happened in late March 2017 that I’m not ready to talk about, but it was disturbing and I started writing. At first, I was going to do a non-fiction book, Technopathy, which I later renamed Techxicity. It would complete that trinity of 2010s tech tell-alls: Disrupted, Chaos Monkeys… then my book. Yet I got to 30,000 words and had a moment of realization: this book will change nothing. It will get buzz and it will make some ex-managers (names changed but recognizable) look bad and put a massive black eye on the tech industry, but who cares? The tech industry is already a black eye on the country. Do we need a second-order black eye? What would that even look like? A white eye? Wouldn’t that just be “an eye”?
Realizing that I didn’t care enough about the tech industry to go through with Techxicity (or the Silicon Valley novel I attempted) I decided to write the book that I’ve fucking wanted to write for a long time, the one I attempted several times (2013, 2014, 2016) but had never quite “got”, the one where the female mage (Farisa) is the protagonist. It evolved several times in my mind between 2013 and 2016, from a sword-and-sorcery story to something more epic–with literary aspirations, because literary fiction is mostly what I read, and because I’m not afraid to do 10+ editing passes to make the prose and story great. (I don’t do that for blog posts; it’s not economical.) I was between jobs and my wife was out of town. I sat down on March 30 and I started fucking writing. I didn’t finish till April 7, when I had 134,159 words. Apparently, 14,906 words in a day is a lot. (I asked a couple writer friends.) It’s not sustainable; I’ll say that off the bat. It also left me too depleted to edit properly. While the quality of what I sent to first-round beta readers (after one revision pass, which was not enough) was decent, it’s not what it could have been. What I’m sending my second-round betas is much better.
On April 8, I had… a solid first draft. That surprised me. Till that point, I didn’t really think I’d have a novel in me till age 45 or so, but this zero-to-one thing happened and suddenly I had an awesome central character, an intriguing setting, a twisty and interesting plot… and several months of revision (still in progress) to fix errors, amplify themes, remove scenes that went nowhere, and polish language. Ninety percent of the book I’ve rewritten or will rewrite, but that zero-to-one transition was critical in proving to me what I could do. It also gave me motivation to study the novel (the form, not a particular book) in depth, as well as language, because I was now studying something I had done imperfectly rather than something I “might do someday”.
Now, it’s October 17, 2017. My spreadsheet predicts that I’ll be done with Farisa’s Crossing (including beta-reader feedback, multiple revision passes, self-editing and professional editing at the line and copy level) by June 2018.
How am I? I’m doing… okay. Still banned from Quora, which is a good thing I suppose; it liberated time, and once my book is out, I’ll get to sue the fuck out of those punks for lost sales (“de-platform” at your own risk, bitch). Job-wise, I like where I am right now; I still plan to be out of Corporate within five years. Do I love the technology industry? No, it’s unlovable. Do I enjoy computer science and mathematics? I do, though as I get older, I enjoy language and story-building just as much. I used to read about compilers in the evenings; now I’m more likely to read novels or books on story structure. So we evolve, so life goes.
My long-term outlook remains positive. Trump (the man who grabbed America by the pussy) will go out of office and someone will replace him. Frankly, I’d rather have Trump try fascism and, due to his narcissism and possible senility, fail; than have a Silicon Valley founder try it and succeed. Also, while the technology industry is nukular buttfail, technology is just too important for the world to let a manchild oligarchy on Sand Hill Road manage it. Technology itself will survive, in some form, probably better than what exists now. History has its own force and, while uneven, it trends to the good. Things will get better– at some point. Probably. But it is a necessary element of maturity to recognize the limits to what one person can do.
On that note, I better go smack some words together.