August 31, 2011

Paul Graham

My new VDARE column is on Paul Graham, the finest essayist on what it takes to make it in Silicon Valley:
With the  school year starting up, I got to thinking about offering some avuncular advice to young people about how to make one’s way in the world. 
Fortunately, I resisted the urge. Instead, I’ll merely advise: read Paul Graham. 
For obvious reasons, I don’t offer young people much career advice. And even if I felt like it, I might not see much point in doing it myself because Graham has raised the quality bar so high over the last decade with his self-help essays.

Read the whole thing there.

My old articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Also note that Paul Graham actively helps dozens of startups each year with resources, advice and access to investors and takes usually only about 6-10% of the company in exchange.

He's already bagged a few billion dollar deals.

Nanonymous said...

Graham:
Coprophiles, as of this writing, don't seem to be numerous or energetic enough to have had their interests promoted to a lifestyle.

LOL. He is certainly a lucid writer.

Christopher said...

Writing doesn't just communicate ideas; it generates them... Write a bad version 1 as fast as you can; rewrite it over and over; expect 80% of the ideas in an essay to happen after you start writing it, and 50% of those you start with to be wrong …”

The real tragedy, if it's the case, of Obama having his autobiographies ghost-written.

Anonymous said...

FWIW:

Paul Graham is huge in LISP.

LISP was created by John McCarthy.

And John McCarthy is [or has been] a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Aaron in Israel said...

"...my old friend John McCarthy..."

That would make a good follow-up article.

I've never met McCarthy, but I've talked with him online a few times. He wrote years ago in a Usenet froup (unrelated to computers) that he was a fan of your blog. He doesn't seem the type to flatter. There's an interesting anecdote in the book Patterns of Software (not recommended, by the way): the author goes to SAIL as a new postdoc and is introduced to John McCarthy, who says to him, "I read your dissertation. It wasn't very good."

Paul Graham also wrote a couple of excellent books on Lisp: an introduction to the language, ANSI Common Lisp; and the more advanced On Lisp. He's got some very good essays on Lisp at his site, including one or two historical essays on John McCarthy.

Drawbacks said...

Second the request for a follow-up article on you and your "old friend" John McCarthy.

helene edwards said...

I really like that new Vdare format. I'm not sure I see the salience of Graham's observation about identity. Is he saying that in SV, they tell young people, "look, the new development, the break with the past, is that nowadays people crave an identity as a victim deserving recompense. Therefore be sure to work in high-tech, so you can insulate yourself from most people."? If that's not being communicated at Palo Alto High, shouldn't it be?

Anonymous said...

Paul Graham, Roissy, HBD, and Seasteading are four horsemen of the right-wing apocalypse.

Each of them in different ways appeals to a fairly-to-extremely technical demographic of young males.

YCombinator definitely doesn't have this intent, but it's a factory for turning soft left college grads into right wing extremists.

Nothing makes you more left-wing than going to college and having someone else pay for your four year party.

And nothing makes you more right-wing than founding a business and figuring out how to pay for four years of burn.

YC has funded more than 700 startups. Graduates identify themselves as "YC '08", just like you would describe yourself as "Harvard '07". It massively changes your worldview when your early 20s are spent creating a business that is $200k in the black, vs. spending your parents' money to end up $200k in the red.

This margin is not wide enough for a proof, but briefly, similar dynamics obtain with the other horsemen named above.

YC provides immediate personal benefit from "right wing extremism" on economics.

Roissy/Game provides immediate personal benefit from "right wing extremism" on gender relations.

Seasteading provides near-term (not yet immediate) personal benefit from "right wing extremism" on political theory.

And HBD provides immediate personal benefit (e.g. where to move, how to reduce victimization) from "right wing extremism" on race relations. Indeed, one could make an anonymous website that explicitly recommended "good places to live" by incorporating race and other variables.

The common denominator of these four trends is turning abstract political insights into news-you-can-use and *act on*, without necessarily revealing to the world *why* you are acting on this information.

You don't need to tell someone you used Game to get a date, or that you took race into account when choosing a place to live, or that you were a ruthless elitist when hiring people for your small business. You can just do it.

In this manner you can set up websites that popularize these theories and recommend *real world actions* to take. No cover story is needed as said actions are already taken subconsciously by "naturals".

But the point is that it proves that "right wing extremism" -- meaning ideas that are so far to the right as to be beyond the pale of polite discussion -- actually works, and is in fact the only thing that works.

Aaron Baugher said...

I've tried programming in LISP a couple times, strictly due to the coolness of Paul Graham and the way he talks about the language. It's just too high-level and abstract for me to use regularly, though; I always fall back to an uglier but more straightforward tool like Perl.

Graham's essay on nerds in school, and why they don't use their intelligence to become popular, is one of the most insightful things I've ever read.

jody said...

my college instructed the new students in LISP first, or actually, a dialect called scheme. but yeah. they did not go directly to C++ for the new people.

i've never seen it used outside of an instructing environment, though. in fact outside of a genuine university, "serious" instructional curriculum, i would say you see BASIC far more often than LISP. i remember in the 80s that logo was big, but haven't seen logo in decades.

what i do see is, people with the potential to become genuine masters of instructing computers, choose to use less and less abstraction over time, as they become more facile at commanding an electrical machine. they're down into machine language eventually. so exactly the opposite direction that graham went.

jody said...

nice to see a little discussion of computer science here, as opposed to the steady diet of economics covered on this blog.

even as an undergraduate ensconced behind the academic wall, i quickly detected the huge, gaping chasm in effect these two fields actually had on the real world. after only 1 year in computer science i realized you could go code some new thing in a few months that could immediately have a major effect on the real world if it became widely adopted.

meanwhile i saw that spending 2 or 3 years learning macroeconomics would fully prepare you to not even be able to predict what was going to happen to a national economy even in the most general and unspecific way.

i doubt we could exaggerate the orders of magnitude difference in net positive benefit that computer scientists have had on human life, including the economy, versus the combined effect of every professional economist who ever lived.

the computer scientists directy affect the economists, and it's never the other way around.

Anonymous said...

OMG. Vdare has been redesigned! Looks good. Cool, even.

alonzo portfolio said...

Steve, in an essay titled "Lies We Tell Kids," Graham asks, "What do parents hope to protect their children from by raising them in suburbia?" He then answers for himself by saying he'd hope to shield his kids from the type of displays of "anger" he saw from adults in NYC at age 29. Nowhere in the essay is there any acknowledgment of parents' desire to keep kids away from dangerous blacks in public schools. If this subject is too delicate for him, is there any reason we should pay him any attention? (I did like his essay on why the Segway failed.)

Anonymous said...

Paul Graham's essay "What You Can't Say" will also likely be of interest to iSteve readers:


Have you ever seen an old photo of yourself and been embarrassed at the way you looked? Did we actually dress like that? We did. And we had no idea how silly we looked. It's the nature of fashion to be invisible, in the same way the movement of the earth is invisible to all of us riding on it.

What scares me is that there are moral fashions too. They're just as arbitrary, and just as invisible to most people. But they're much more dangerous. Fashion is mistaken for good design; moral fashion is mistaken for good. Dressing oddly gets you laughed at. Violating moral fashions can get you fired, ostracized, imprisoned, or even killed.

If you could travel back in a time machine, one thing would be true no matter where you went: you'd have to watch what you said. Opinions we consider harmless could have gotten you in big trouble. I've already said at least one thing that would have gotten me in big trouble in most of Europe in the seventeenth century, and did get Galileo in big trouble when he said it-- that the earth moves. [1]

It seems to be a constant throughout history: In every period, people believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly that you would have gotten in terrible trouble for saying otherwise.

Is our time any different? To anyone who has read any amount of history, the answer is almost certainly no. It would be a remarkable coincidence if ours were the first era to get everything just right.

...

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, while I disagree with the rancor that your posts stir up among a good portion of your audience, I appreciate you passing along Paul Graham.

Anonymous said...

Also, if you want to access the article, you have to use Google cache because of that stupid splash page in vdare.

Fred said...

"Nothing makes you more left-wing than going to college and having someone else pay for your four year party.

And nothing makes you more right-wing than founding a business and figuring out how to pay for four years of burn."


You are in fantasy land if you think that:

A) Y-Combinator is the opposite of college, and

B) It's a factory for creating right-wingers.

In reality:

A) Just like in college, your "business" in Y-Combinator is being financed by other people's money. Most of these "businesses" don't even make money; all that matters is if they can be sold to a greater fool for more money than the initial investors put in.

B) Most Silicon Valley types are lefties. Al Gore is a partner at one of the biggest Silicon Valley venture capital firms. They may be a little more centrist on economics than the most strident liberals, but most of them aren't right-wingers.

Anonymous said...

Most Silicon Valley types are lefties.

Most are libertarians with the occasional high-media-profile lefty.

Anonymous said...

> Just like in college, your "business" in Y-Combinator is being financed by other people's money.

No. This comment betrays a total ignorance of startup financing.

Among other things, it's just a tad harder to raise venture capital than it is to get a student loan from Sallie Mae. Unlike Sallie Mae, private investors don't invest in you just because you have a pulse and satisfy diversity requirements.

> Most of these "businesses" don't even make money; all that matters is if they can be sold to a greater fool for more money than the initial investors put in.

Wrong. Dropbox isn't exactly Pets.com. It's pulling in $100M this year. Dozens of other YC companies are clearing $10M+.

It's also not trivial to build a company that gets acquired by Google. Try that "easy flip" sometime. It's a bit less trivial than posturing on a blog, Fred!

Anyway, it's impossible to educate someone who thinks starting and selling one's own business is the equivalent of having Mommy and Daddy pay for keggers at frat parties.

Anonymous said...

> They may be a little more centrist on economics than the most strident liberals, but most of them aren't right-wingers.

You are right that Silicon Valley is generally center-left. But YC itself is a factory for right-wingers.

Read Hacker News (news.ycombinator.com). Center of mass is quite libertarian on economic matters as the founders and early employees of more than 700 startups congregate there.

Fred said...

"Among other things, it's just a tad harder to raise venture capital than it is to get a student loan from Sallie Mae."

I said nothing about how hard it was. Just as it's extremely difficult to get into an elite school, it is extremely difficult to get into a YC or Tech Stars class. The fact remains, though, that in both school and college, the kids are playing with other people's money.

"Wrong. Dropbox isn't exactly Pets.com. It's pulling in $100M this year. Dozens of other YC companies are clearing $10M+. "

Dropbox is an exception, as a enterprise business gaining traction. Most YC start-ups are consumer businesses, and hardly any of them are profitable.

"It's also not trivial to build a company that gets acquired by Google."

Who said it was trivial? You can play with that straw man yourself.

Fred said...

"Read Hacker News (news.ycombinator.com). Center of mass is quite libertarian on economic matters as the founders and early employees of more than 700 startups congregate there."

In terms of economic matters, where do they differ from the views of Michael Bloomberg? Not much daylight between them, right?

Silicon Valley types tend to be pro open borders and credulous when it comes to liberal claims on education and the environment.

Anonymous said...

> The fact remains, though, that in both school and college, the kids are playing with other people's money.

No, again, I don't think you understand what an investment is. To repeat: they need to generate more in profit/wealth than the initial investment.

This is not a taxpayer funded student loan where the poor guy paying for it has no say. This is not even a parent on the hook for their child's tuition, where they've been convinced their kid will be on a breadline without a college degree.

This is the highly competitive world of venture capital, where you only get $50k if the guy thinks you can turn it into $500k-$5M within a few years' time, something vanishingly few college grads can manage.

Now, you may be one of those who doesn't understand what it means to "generate wealth", or that generating $500k of wealth means other people are $500k poorer [quite the opposite], or the difference between wealth and money. If so we must part ways, as you are one of those who thinks all profitable businesses are in some ways scams.

If not, if you understand the difference, why not take a look at Google's acquisitions:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_acquisitions_by_Google#Acquisitions

Or the list of YC exits:

http://yclist.com/

Do you think many can build a site that scales to the volume of Reddit? Can many college grads, or even Harvard grads, code something like Objective J like 280 North did? Can most kids write Firefox when they were a teenager like the founder of Parakey (now at Facebook) did?

Justin.tv, Disqus, Dropbox, Wufoo, Heroku, Rescuetime, AirBnb, WePay, Greplin, Indinero, Hipmunk...have you even tried any of these products out recently? They are technologically and financially nontrivial.

Zooming out, I'm not sure what point you're trying to make. Are you really arguing that there is something which is (a) more challenging or (b) more economically valuable than starting a high technology company?

If so, what is it? It's not being a lawyer. Or an activist.
Or even a doctor (1 million plus of those in the US).

A startup CEO has to know the low-level details of technology (often computer programming), has to have the skills to manage a small business, and (if successful) needs the management acumen to run a medium to large business.

Very, very few people in the world have this skillset. That's Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, Brin, Page. Yeah, and Drew Houston, Brian Chesky, and Steve Huffman.

Now: have they been totally deprogrammed on every variable? No. But it is absolutely impossible for the founders of Ubercab (persecuted by SF for being 'illegal cabs'), or the founders of AirBnb (persecuted by NY for being 'illegal hotels') to have the same opinions on economic matters as Bloomberg.

We are breeding a generation of radically productive, anti-state libertarians with millions of dollars under their belt and the technical ability to create new societies with food, running water, electricity, and the whole shebang (yes, all those things involve computer programming nowadays). Sunfire Offices and Seasteading are two routes in which this combination of wealth, ability, and partial awareness is being channeled. As a broad anti-leftist, you should celebrate this trend rather than denying it exists. At least some of the kids are all right.

David Davenport said...

Most are libertarians with the occasional high-media-profile lefty.

Most Lib Lib Libertarians are cultural Lefties.

Ask one what he thinks about illegal immigration or "gay" marriage.

David Davenport said...

OMG. Vdare has been redesigned! Looks good. Cool, even.

Time for some iSteve re-design also.