Amid discussions in the tech community over the health of young, overworked engineers, Michael Arrington has written a polarizing post on Uncrunched urging Silicon Valley to, "work more, cry less, and quit all the whining."
Arrington's post argues that Silicon Valley workers are going soft in their relatively young age. "Suddenly everyone’s complaining about how unfair things are in Silicon Valley," Arrington writes. "How hard everyone has to work so darn hard, and how some people don’t get venture capital or a nice sale to Facebook or Google even though lots of other people are getting those things." But the payoff, according to Arrington, is worth it. "If you work at a startup and you think you’re working too hard and sacrificing too much, find a job somewhere else that will cater to your needs," he argues.
I slept at work again last night; two and a half hours curled up in a quilt underneath my desk, from 11am to 1:30pm or so. That was when I woke up with a start, realizing that I was late for a meeting… But it was no big deal, we just had the meeting later. It’s hard for someone to hold it against you when you miss a meeting because you’ve been at work so long that you’ve passed out from exhaustion.
I saw Ian today, for the first time in months. His first words were, “Wow, you look like shit.” He says I seem really strung-out and twitchy. I thought I had been doing ok! I got a full night’s sleep last night and everything. I have no life. I never see any of my non-work friends, and I’m wasting away my one and only youth. I ought to be out doing fun things and active things, the kind of things I won’t be able to do when my mind and body finally decay. But instead I’m stuck inside under fluorescent lights, pushing bits around inside a computer in ways that are only interesting to other nerds. I glanced at a movie listing and there are movies out that I haven’t even heard of. How did that happen? That freaks me out. I bought some wrist braces at a drug store, and I’ve been typing with them for a couple of days.
I don’t think it’s helping much; my middle finger doesn’t hurt quite as much, but my ring finger is just as bad. This job is destroying my body. This can’t be worth it.
Additionally, Zawinski said of his time with Netscape in 1994, "This is the time period that is traditionally referred to as 'the good old days,' but time always softens the pain and makes things look like more fun than they really were. But who said everything has to be fun? Pain builds character. (Sometimes it builds products, too.)"
Just last week The New York Observer's Foster Kamer wrote about depression in the tech community following the suicide of Ilya Zhitomirskiy, a co-founder of Diaspora, a startup designed to directly rival Facebook. Kamer wrestled with the harsh demands of the tech community (millions of dollars, huge expectations, ridiculous working hours) that make working in tech such an "incubator for depression." It doesn't help that most engineers are young, and these companies are often their first job out of college. The Observer spoke with an unnamed engineer going by "Chris" working at General Assembly, a combined workspace for New York City startups, who offered this take on the working demands of a new startup:
“In the startup community, there’s a real stigma to depression. Every time someone comes around and asks ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ you’re always like”—and here, he vamped a disposition familiar to anyone who has ever had a discussion with a startup founder—”‘Best day ever, man! Killing it! We’re crushing it!’ You have to do that, because your job as founder is, to some extent, to create the Steve-Jobs-Reality-Distortion-Field.”
The gap between the "best day ever, man!" working philosophy, and your boss's "sit down, shut up and get back to coding" philosophy can't be very wide. One comes hand in hand with the other.
The reaction to Arrington's post on Y-combinator's Hacker News has been mixed. Some are taking it as a "call to arms" for engineers and founders, while others are advocating sleep and health over the demands of any Silicon Valley venture capitalists. the Arrington's kicker — "Work hard. Cry less. And realize you’re part of history" — is one of his biggest problems, as some commenters point out. iPhone apps might be a part of history, but they aren't making it. One commenter, "apaitch," points out that Jamie Zawinski burned out and quit the tech industry, before asking an important question: "Is working on <generic web-app> worth sacrificing your love for programming itself (not to mention the health effects and opportunity costs involved)?" At the end of the day, is busting your butt for 42 hours straight working on a Facebook app worth your health?