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with them and review their code and show them how to do things more cleanly how to use features of the toolkit instead of writing extra software. The idea was that, once they had done two or three projects for customers, they could take on an apprentice and mentor that person. We had younger people, and we had more women than other firms. We had Eve Anderson and Tracy Adams two of the most senior people at the company were female, which was kind of unusual. We never wanted to have more than two or three people on a project. The consequence of that was sometimes they would have to work pretty hard. But my model of the world was MIT biology grad school. When they re young, people need to work pretty long hours to build experience and get things done. But the benefit was that then they get a big chunk of the project, and they are able to say, I built half of the site for the customer. They put their name on something, instead of their r sum just saying that they were part of a 20-person team. You never really know what most programmers have accomplished. There are a handful of people that you can say that about. Linus Torvalds built the Linux kernel, but it s hard to say what the average programmer working at a big company has ever accomplished. Maybe he or she knows, but, from the outside, the projects are so big and their contributions were so small. I wanted them to have a real professional r sum . In the end, the project was a failure because the industry trends moved away from that. People don t want programmers to be professionals; they want programmers to be cheap. They want them to be using inefficient tools like C and Java. They just want to get them in India and pay as little as possible. But I think part of the hostility of industrial managers toward programmers comes from the fact that programmers never had been professionals. Programmers have not been professionals because they haven t really cared about quality. How many programmers have you asked, Is this the right way to do things Is this going to be good for the users They reply, I don t know and I don t care. I get paid, I have my cubicle, and the air-conditioning is set at the right temperature. I m happy as long as the paycheck comes in. It s no surprise that programmers salaries are headed down to what an illegal immigrant working at a slaughterhouse in Nebraska would get paid, because they just don t think about if they are doing high-quality work for the end users. I think because of that, managers have said, I m tired of these people. I don t want to see them. I haven t had a good experience. They ve been late, they haven t done what they ve promised, and what they ve done has been bugridden and not very good for the end user. So if I can t have a good experience with these people, then I ll just get rid of them. I ll have them in India or China where I can t see them and they won t get on my nerves as much. So I think there s an emotional component to why programmers are being offshored: it s simply that the businesspeople hate them.
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Livingston: You ran a tough ship, but you were trying to empower them
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Philip Greenspun 327
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Greenspun: Yeah, but they didn t appreciate it that much. Some of the early
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people did, but the later arrivals, when the venture capitalists came in and said, Oh, you guys should just clock out at 5 p.m. and you shouldn t write, because programmers shouldn t have to do more than code, they were so happy that they didn t have to work hard anymore. We don t have people like Philip and Jin reviewing our code and telling us to redo it to be cleaner and simpler. They were so happy to be relieved of those strictures that they very quickly lapsed. Not everyone, of course, but the majority. We built the company a little too fast, and consequently the last 50 percent of the people hired really didn t have much commitment to the corporate culture. There were some warning signs. Consider McKinsey, which holds itself out as one of the world s leading repositories of knowledge on how to manage a business. They say they ll never grow their company by more than 25 percent per year, because otherwise it s just too hard to transmit the corporate culture. So if you re growing faster than 25 percent a year, you have to ask yourself, What do I know about management that McKinsey doesn t know I still think it s more efficient this is just an old Lisp programmer s standard way of thinking if you have two really good people and a very powerful tool. That s better than having 20 mediocre people and inefficient tools. ArsDigita demonstrated that pretty well. We were able to get projects done in about 1/5th the time and probably at about 1/10th or 1/20th the cost of people using other tools. Of course, we would do it at 1/20th of the cost and we would charge 1/10th of the cost. So the customer would have a big consumer surplus. They would pay 1/10th of what they would have paid with IBM Global Services or Broadvision or something, but we would have a massive profit margin because we d be spending less than half of what they paid us to do the job.
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Livingston: So you re doing well, have great people, and are profitable, and then you decide to take VC money Greenspun: Here was the problem: hiring businesspeople was almost impossible. That was one of the things that drove us into the arms of the VCs. Why is it hard to hire businesspeople for a young company There was a guy recently hired by Microsoft to be their chief operating officer Kevin Turner. He s 40 and was CIO of Wal-Mart. Graduated from East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, with a bachelor s in business. That was it. (Cautionary for those of us in the higher ed biz; this guy never had much of it, but he was apparently very effective.) They could have hired anybody in the world they have all this cash and they hired this guy. You want somebody who s a really good manager. Managing your company might be harder than managing Microsoft because Microsoft has $40 billion in cash, so they can recover from mistakes that you won t be able to recover from. So you need a guy like that. But entrepreneurs love their babies and never ask themselves, Why would a guy like that want to work for me I have no resources to manage. That same person could work at Microsoft and have tens of thousands of good employees to deploy on projects, tens of billions of dollars to invest in interesting projects.
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