Paul Graham’s essay on “What Happened to Yahoo” is very thought-provoking.
In technology, once you have bad programmers, you’re doomed. I can’t think of an instance where a company has sunk into technical mediocrity and recovered. Good programmers want to work with other good programmers. So once the quality of programmers at your company starts to drop, you enter a death spiral from which there is no recovery.Paul talks about Yahoo being “taken over by suits and middle managers.” The effect of that is that any “hacker-centric culture” Yahoo might have had got crushed.
Google and Facebook, Paul says, still have this hacker-centric culture, and that’s why they’re so successful. He sums it up nicely:
So which companies need to have a hacker-centric culture? Which companies are “in the software business” in this respect? As Yahoo discovered, the area covered by this rule is bigger than most people realize. The answer is: any company that needs to have good software.I interned for Kynetx earlier this summer and experienced that hacker-centric culture first hand. Nobody there wears a suit. For that matter, people rarely wore collared shirts. Diet Coke was a staple, and it wasn’t uncommon for the people to stay at the office late into the evening. Pretty much everybody is or has been a programmer. And what’s the result? Kynetx makes awesome software.
While I won’t mention where, I’ve also seen the flip-side of this, at a place where collared shirts are required, shorts forbidden, and normal business hours expected. The atmosphere feels more like a corporation than a software development shop. And it shows in the quality of the software they create and the time it takes to deliver it. Because that culture (read: not hacker-centric) has become so engrained in the organization, its chances of matching the innovation and success of companies like Facebook, Google, and Kynetx are significantly reduced. And its chances of attracting the brilliant talent a software shop absolutely needs to survive are also significantly reduced.
Anecdotally, this reminds me of “Simon the IT Dummy.” The whole series is hilarious, by the way–a great parody of the corporate culture so despised by brilliant hackers.