The Hacker News Generation (Afraid of Hard Work)

Update: check out what Loren (the guy I mention in this post) actually is creating.  Pretty awesome.  The things I say in this post are still true, but I apparently either had Loren pegged wrong or this post may have influenced him in some way.  He’s definitely building something cool right now and he’s putting a great deal of hard work into it.

I read the saddest most uninformed blog post on hacker news yesterday which somehow made it near the top of the front page.

It is basically the all too common story of “I quit my job because I got bored and I’m just going to do what I want and I’m so excited, please give me self encouragement in the form of follow your dream, live your passion, etc, so I can feel better about myself and not realize that I am just lazy.”

Unfortunately this kind of thinking and mentality seems to accurately embody much of the general ignorance and blatant stupidity of the next generation of software developers.

The best and the brightest

Hacker news is full of plenty of smart and talented young people.  There are, of course, experienced veterans of the industry there as well, but there sure seem to be a lot of really smart people that, like brightly burning stars, will soon fade into nothingness.

idea concept

It is really sad to see someone peak at 22 or 23 years of age and then go down the crapper from there.

It doesn’t happen because they work really hard and burn out.  It doesn’t happen because, as they like to imagine, the world wasn’t ready for their genius.  It happens because they don’t know how to work.

The sad thing is, we are to blame for this.  We have painted the wrong picture for youth.  We have glamorized the world of software development and programming and told them that they will be carried through life on their abilities and brain matter.  We have somehow imbued within them the misconception that being smarter than someone or possessing more knowledge than another makes a person not only superior to that person in every way, but gives them the right to publically efface and hurl all manner of insults at that person in the name of science.

What we haven’t told them is that nothing of any worth is obtained by any means except for good old honest hard work.

You see, these young and bright minds are being mistakenly fed the tasty meal of McDonald’s french fries and double whoppers that says work should be fun.

Hard, boring work

The big problem is that “kids today” don’t understand the value of hard, boring work. They think that they can just fly through life choosing only things that interest them and as soon as the thing stops interesting them, then they can move onto something else.

And it is fine, you can live your life this way. And if you do, you may start out ahead of the pack. Your passion may at first carry you further than your peers. But, overtime you’ll find those peers of yours that were willing to put in the hard work and stick to one thing, as boring as it might have been for them, will overtake you.

“The race is to the driven, not to the swift” – North and South

This is an extremely sad day, because it is a day in which you realize that while others have been carefully storing away nuts for the winter and fortifying their fortresses against all attack, you yourself have lived the vapid life of a vagabond merrily traveling from pleasure to pleasure in life ever thirsting, but never being quenched, every tasting, but never consuming.

Desk jockeys

It is really easy to sit at your desk when you are supposed to be working and browse hacker news, injecting in your sarcastic wit and sly comments, believing them to be of value, believing that somehow that in this false self-affirming reality that you are actually creating something of value, when indeed all you are doing is destroying and marring the work of others to your own detriment. Man smoking pipe in glasses

It is easy from the cushy back of your Aeron chair, provided to you by the fancy startup you’ve managed to secure a job at, based on sheer intelligence alone and no other human quality of any worth, to indiscriminately write-off the thought of lesser mortals and set them in their place as you spout off your hard earned knowledge of the industry and of how the very world works which was granted to you as a gift to mankind—your divine providence.

The sad truth of reality though is that while you are providing your service and value to humanity in the form of your irrefutable and distinguished wisdom, others are hard at work ever so humbly providing real value through their—at times—loveless toil.

They are building bridges a carefully laid stone at a time. You are crossing those bridges without a thought about how they got there and upholding your position as the great explorer and master of bridge building even though you just traversed a path that was already laid out for you.

The easy path

So, to those of you who want the easy path; for each of you that can’t stand boredom and despise work without pleasure, enjoy your brilliance while it lasts.

As you take flight from project to project seeking out only what it is that entertains your for the moment, you will be receiving your reward as you have earned it.  You are like the man without a dollar in his bank account until payday comes who then quickly and excitedly cashes his check and spends it in its entirety that very weekend.

Check out this quote from Nietzsche which sums it up nicely:

But there are rarer men who would rather die than work without enjoyment in their work: the fastidious people, difficult to satisfy, whose object is not served by an abundant profit, unless the work itself be the reward of all rewards.

It doesn’t matter how brilliant you started out or how much faster you exited the gates than everyone else, those who consistently get up every morning and direct their energies along a single path, no matter how boring it may be, will eventually pass you on each of the many roads you haphazardly travel.

It may seem that I am suggesting that a software developer pick a single path, a single technology and stick with it for the rest of their life. But, this is not at all what I am suggesting.

Instead, what I am really saying is that to have long term success at whatever endeavor you are currently pursuing—and it can change drastically and many times throughout your life—you must have the wherewithal, the grit, to hunker down and work hard well past the point where the work is enjoyable.

It doesn’t matter what passion you pursue, the passion will fade, and you will be left with cold hard work in its place. At this point many people will mistakenly make the choice to leave that work and assume that it is time to move on, but any person who has ever produced any great work or achievement knows that it is only by pushing through the pain, by continually showing up every day and “paying your dues” that anything of value is ever really achieved.

The myth of burn out

I’ve written about this wall or barrier before, that many developers and like to attribute to burn out.

Monday morning problems

Burn out is just a rationalization for giving up early.

It is just a way to make an excuse for yourself to say that since everyone experiences this phenomenon, there is nothing wrong with me and no shame in my giving into it.

As I’ve grown over the years, I’ve come to realize that it is more than just a barrier. I recently read the excellent book “The War of Art,” and in that book Steven Pressfield describes this avoidance of work as resistance. He give resistance all kinds of diabolical characteristics that paint it as the true enemy that it is.

Even as I type these very words, I feel the force rising up in me. I created this blog originally because I thought it would be fun to write about what I thought about software development; to share my wisdom and knowledge about the profession.  But, like all things, that feeling soon faded.  What I was left with was the choice to continue blogging, even though it now at times hurt, or give up and move on to the next direction my heart led me to go.

And I could have given up and instead perhaps started a novel that I would never finish, or maybe a web application that I would someday sell as a service, or… and the list goes on.

The point is, no matter what avenue I would choose to pursue, the passion would eventually die, and I would be again faced with the same choice.

The same goes for the work I do at Pluralsight. Just last week I finished the 20th course I created this year alone, my 46th course overall. Do you think I wake up every morning and say “hey, I can’t wait to painstakingly produce and record hours of content?”

When I first started creating my first course, I had that feeling and felt that energy, but to be honest, it didn’t even last through the creation of that first course. By the end of it, I was ready to give up. This online video course production is for someone else, not me, instead I want to… eh, but I stopped myself. I started my next course, and when I was done with that one, I moved onto the next one and so on.

Now have I been miserable this whole time? Do I hate creating courses and writing blog posts with all my energy and inner being? Some days, yes, but most days it is not that black and white.

There are things I like and things I despise and it varies from day to day. I am, for example, having quite a bit of fun with this post. But, for the most part the rewarding part of what I do comes at the end—the finished product.

There is not quite any feeling like that of success that was achieved from long hours and hard work and toil. Work that is constantly pleasurable most often lacks this quality.

More on this topic

I’ve got much more to say on this topic including how I’ve been able to overcome burnout and learn to hunker down and do hard work even when I don’t feel like it.

I’m currently working on a top secret product that will combine what I have learned about this topic and more over the years with wisdom and knowledge from many successful developers much smarter than I am.  Sign up here, and you’ll be the first to know when it is launched.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."

  • Jessica Darko

    Excellent post. The Hacker News generation screams and wails whenever this stuff is pointed out to them, as if pointing it out is some sort of evidence of a character defect. Reality is, we should not point it out– they don’t want to hear it, they just want to be lazy. So, we should let them…. after all, if they repay our attempt to help them with insults, why should we continue.

    Worse they live in a self censored bubble where they’ll never be exposed to this post– it won’t make it on hacker news, obviously, in fact, it’s already off of the first page of new.

    Denial ain’t just a river in egypt.

    • jsonmez

      Thanks. If just one person reads this post and wakes up to reality, I’ll feel like it was a success. It took me far to long to realize the truth that I tried to convey in this post. I am a lazy bastard at heart. I have to force myself to not be.

      • Richard Valdivieso

        John, I am in the same club. Thanks for the wake up call. My no focus came from put something else in front of me that will not add anything to my experience/knowledge.

      • Mark Baughman


  • iamthechad

    Burn out is a rationalization? WTF? You’ve obviously never experienced the actual physical symptoms of being so beaten down by your job that your body starts to say “eff it”. I’m assuming you mean the “I’m bored, I must be burned out” attitude when you make this statement, because the people who *actually* burn out are the ones who care the most about their jobs.

    • jsonmez

      I’ve definitely been there. And I’ve realize that it is all a mental attitude. I’ve found that “burn out” for me usually comes from not doing my work, because I am lazy. When I actually sit down and do the work instead of reading Hacker News or checking my Twitter stream, I am much more energized. When I waste 2-3 hours of my morning doing worthless crap, I feel more “burnt out,” ironically.
      Every great achievement comes from someone pushing past the point of feeling “burn out” and finishing the job they started.

      • iamthechad

        It’s not all mental. That’s what I’m trying to say. What you’re describing is not burn out. Burn out is not something you feel in the morning because you checked too many social media sites. Burn out accumulates over weeks/months/years. I certainly don’t think my doctor would have told me to “push past” the chest pains when my physical symptoms escalated.

      • Jesper

        My sister actually burned out a few years back, and suffice it to say that she didn’t do it by not working. She was physically and psychologically torn down. She was one of the greatest debaters I ever knew and months after it’d happened, she’d break down in literally conversations about what to have for dinner. It took her years of determination, therapy and gradually taking on responsibility again to get back to where she’d been. She still has nightmares you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy and panic attacks every few months.

        I’m sure there are people out there complaining of being “burned out” because Python is getting them down after three months. Yeah, they are abusing the word. Please don’t join them by proclaiming that there’s no such thing as “burning out”. My sister spent eight years telling herself that it was mental and that she would be rude and uncooperative if she wasn’t available to save everyone else’s asses when they’d fell down on their own commitments, on top of doing her own work. It doesn’t happen in a day. If you can push yourself longer than you thought five years ago, good, and by all means work as hard as you want, but let’s not tell everyone else that doesn’t want to try that they’re being lazy wimps.

        • jsonmez

          I’m not saying you can’t get burned out and that burn out doesn’t exist. I am saying that you don’t have to let it get to you and that it is not a function of working too hard, but is rather of a function of a deteriorating state of mind. We push on with a clear purpose because we know that what we do matter even if we don’t feel like doing it. When we push on because of social pressures and because mom and dad will be so disappointed if we don’t take home the gold medal in synchronized swimming, our sense of self shatters and we are left with splinters.

          • ziggy56

            > We push on with a clear purpose because we know that what we do matter even if we don’t feel like doing it.

            Upvoting this comment, you are very right here. It is a wonderful feeling, and leads to great things. Acquiring that clear purpose, is quite another matter.

          • film42

            I’m really glad you pointed that out.

            To me, burn out isn’t a result of laziness (though you end up becoming worthless, like mild depression), it’s a result of your brain saying, “You need a break”, when you actually DO, and you resist and resist until you believe you’re somehow coaxed into believing that you can’t solve the problem in your scope. That’s why it’s so dangerous.

            – You need to know when you’re working too much, and that means after working at least a full 40hrs/week.
            – Avoid context switching too much (does not include hobby projects), and work with peers on problems often.
            – Get a hobby away from the keyboard, something physically active, and stick to it. Make sure you love it.

            I guess what the feeling we got was, you can’t just say “work harder you cry babies” and then say, when you’re boiling over, just stfu and keep working. I mean, let’s apply the Intermediate value theorem here, N exists between f(lazy ass) and f(code monkey). In other words, I don’t want my boss to read this and think that when productivity is down, he can rest assure that we’re just being lazy.

          • jsonmez

            Your brain and body doesn’t know the difference between work and a hobby. It is our attitude towards the work that makes it poison. Stress is what kills, not working too hard.

          • film42

            I’m sorry, but I don’t think you agree with that. I think you’re just saying that to go with the theme of your article.

            Saying your brain doesn’t know the difference between work and hobby is like saying there’s no difference between sex and a relationship. Sex is your hobby, and the relationship is work. They are different.

          • jsonmez

            How would your body know the difference? Like for instance, right now I am responding to emails and responding to comments on my blog. This doesn’t feel like work to me, yet I suppose it is. But when I actually start writing code it may or may not feel like work to me depending on my attitude. Some days it does, because I don’t feel like doing it other days it doesn’t, but my body doesn’t know the difference. I am choosing to make one thing a boring laborious thing I am calling work and another fun.

          • film42

            Because as a programmer I peruse my interests as hobbies, but then I’m more able to apply them in my field of work, and when work requires me to learn something, I end up with new interests for hobby time.

            I see your point, but you’re complecting (using Rich Hickey’s word) everything.

            To finish mine: A healthy relationship will keep sex intimate meaningful and therefore help you get closer in your relationship, and repeat. If you stop going out or try to spend time with each other, you’ll break up (that’s the laziness you’re pointing out, and I agree with). But what we’re saying is, what happens when there’s something you wanna say but can’t find a way to? It builds up, and you blow out. The relationship dies.

            Communication and understanding how you’re feeling means everything. Know when something is sitting wrong, and address it. If that means ask to be switched to a new project if possible, do it.

          • jsonmez

            Yes, your point is solid. Agree with what you are saying here.

          • Jesper

            I have only seen a few stories up close (and the plural of “anecdote” ain’t “empirical data”), but when people work really hard and feel good about it at the same time, it’s often because they also manage to spend time away from it (aside from so many hours sleeping).

            Attitude, purpose and willingness has everything to do with coping, but you can’t wish it all away. It might go a long way to hinder psychosomatic ill effects on the body, the same kind that might explode under the wrong sort of pressure even without tough strain as you note, but there’s nothing to suggest that intrinsic drive suppresses wear and tear indefinitely. Like I said, work very hard if you want to, but if there’s a magic pill that will keep you from crashing in the mid-to-distant future, thinking happy thoughts or avoiding thinking bad ones is not the whole solution.

          • jsonmez

            Finally, a point in which I completely agree with you on. A fast pace can’t be sustained indefinitely.
            When I suggest pushing and working hard, I don’t suggest doing it forever. It just isn’t possible. You either need large breaks in-between pushes or consistent breaks. :)

          • Jesper

            Great to hear that and it makes sense that you also agree with that.

            Some people have the unfortunate tendency to believe what you believe but that no time limit exists. They also tend to believe it applies to everyone working for them but not to themselves and the reason they believe it is because those other people are the only levers available to win power and bonuses. This is a relic of the industrial revolution and the beatification of management as its own cause and reward, a game played by people better and smarter than the people who actually get the job done in lieu of actually getting the job done. Venting aside, it all means that some people do pick up these opinions as conventional wisdom despite it not being very wise and it being in their worst interest; I’m glad to see you’re not one of them and I’m sorry for having mistaken you for one of them.

            Maybe there are more arguments to be had about the length of the time limit or in focusing on actually working hard to the detriment of being critical to the tasks you do that may be superfluous or the way that you do them (you’ll need to do all three), but I’m going to settle with having found that common ground for now.

      • J. B.

        “Every great achievement”? I’m not sure if you’re resorting to hyperbole, or you truly think that all successful people in the world have recovered from physical “burn out”.

        • jsonmez

          Yes, I don’t think it is possible to produce something great without hating it and hating yourself for at least some of the time you are producing the work.

      • Derek

        “Every great achievement comes from someone pushing past the point of feeling “burn out” and finishing the job they started.”

        Really EVERY? -You want to be quoted on that one? To late, I just did..

        Come on man. You cannot claim that. As someone who is a working artist after-hours, I had the opportunity to work on a sculpture of “great achievement” -It was fucking hard, but I never felt burned out doing it. Unlike a feeling I get at my day-job sometimes(software).

        Your context is isolated to your experiences and you have the balls to proclaim, “every great achievement”.

        • jsonmez

          I’ll stand by it. I don’t think you’ll find someone who has accomplished something truly great that didn’t hate the work they were doing at some time. Perhaps you can find some exception, but for most, to achieve greatness, requires extreme dedication and sacrifice.

  • FrenkyB

    Good post. I think that taking a break – every day break or longer vacation – is as important as hard work. The easiest way to follow is routine way.

    • jsonmez

      Thanks. Yes, work hard, play hard is really quite true. I didn’t mention that in this post, but a break is important as well. :)

  • Scott Linford

    One size fits all. Generation XYZ is lazy. There is no such thing as working too hard. You’ve been there. You’ve found the answer. Well write me a prescription the man! Please share.

    • jsonmez

      I’ve got some upcoming posts coming up that will talk about how to get yourself trained to work harder. It is extremely difficult and I am learning how to do it better each day. It is something we must realize is a constant struggle though. We will never cast off our lazy natures, we just have to learn to dominate them.

      • Scott Linford

        Read? No, please share whatever you’re on.

        • jsonmez


          • Scott Linford

            But seriously. I’m glad you found strategies that work for you. Go for it. And it’s good that you want to help others. But it feels like a tent revival here. Or maybe political a convention. Both suffer from hubris. There isn’t any listening happening here. And as they say here in the burnt-over district, “I’m all set.” I’ll stop by in a decade and see if you still know everything about everybody and how to fix them.

  • aguynamedloren

    Hi John. Author of the original post here. Thought about responding with a post of my own, but probably won’t. I don’t really have to defend myself or my decisions. All I have to say is this:

    If you think I’ve gotten this far, have accomplished this much, and will acheive the things I am going to acheive in the future, all without understanding the value of hard work, you are severely underestimating me and my entire “Hacker News Generation”.

    I work harder than almost everyone I know.

    • jsonmez

      Here is the big problem I had with your post.

      “Two weeks ago, I quit. I wasn’t headhunted. I don’t have another job lined up. I’m not moving away. I didn’t start a company on the side. I didn’t hate my coworkers, or my bosses, or my commute. So what happened?

      I just got bored.”

      You are basically saying how proud you are of the fact that you quit your current job simply because you are bored, and you clearly brag about how you didn’t even have another job lined up or decide to start a company on the side.

      I usually try to avoid being offensive on this blog and most of my communications, but I feel I would be doing you a great disservice if I didn’t blatantly say to you “this is just plain dumb.”

      What are you realistically going to do? Live off of the money you saved up for the past couple of years and eat it all up in 6 months doing nothing? I’ve never seen anyone accomplish anything significant without a goal and a clear direction.

      It may be fun to be a boat just floating in the harbor for a while, and there may even be a time for it, but the time for you to float aimlessly isn’t now. You haven’t earned it; you haven’t paid your dues.

      Want to prove me wrong? Fine, set a direction. Have a plan, have a goal. Don’t just say you are going to piss away your afternoons working on whatever you feel like working on. Write a book, start a software project, create a movie, start a company or get a new job. I don’t care what you do, but have some sort of a goal.

      I don’t doubt you are working hard. You might work harder than myself or anyone you know, but without a clear and consistent direction, you are just floating in the void.

      The purpose of my post wasn’t really to say you should work hard at some mindless thing. It was to say that everything in life worth achieving and accomplishing requires the fortitude to keep pushing forward and grind out work day after day, long after the passion for that work has been all used up. The purpose of my post was to say that in order to be successful in life, you need to be willing to suck it up and pay your dues.

      When I say hard work. I don’t mean working hard. There is a big difference. I mean work that is “hard” to do.

      • aguynamedloren

        > What are you realistically going to do? Live off of the money you saved up for the past couple of years and eat it all up in 6 months doing nothing? I’ve never seen anyone accomplish anything significant without a goal and a clear direction.

        Doing nothing? Who said I am going to do nothing? Who said I don’t have a goal, or a clear direction? Those are ridiculous assumptions to make.

        > Don’t just say you are going to piss away your afternoons working on whatever you feel like working on. Write a book, start a software project, create a movie, start a company or get a new job. I don’t care what you do, but have some sort of a goal.

        Piss away my afternoons? Are you serious? Do you really think I’ve come this far just to piss away my afternoons for six months? I was pissing away my afternoons at my job. That’s why I left. And as for those ideas, how do you know I’m not going to do any of those things? How do you know those aren’t the kind of things that “I feel like working on”?

        Just because a startup wasn’t the reason for leaving the company, doesn’t mean I’m not going to start a startup. In fact, there’s a very high chance that I will. And just because I didn’t leave the company to pursue some very specific life-long goal, doesn’t mean I don’t have goals. I have a long list of projects that have been backlogged. I’m going to work on them. They are intellectually challenging, stimulating, and might make money. Some of them are easier than others. Some of them are so hard, I get a little nervous thinking about them. But I’m still going to work on them.

        • jsonmez

          I’m not going to argue with you. I’m just going off what you said in your own post.

          But, I will tell you this: someday you will realize that quitting your job without either having another one lined up or having a side business to transition to that is already making money, is a dumb idea and always a mistake.

          What you are essentially doing is robbing your future to get temporary enjoyment today.

          I hope you do find a project to latch onto and pour all your efforts into it and it does succeed, but it is very unlikely to happen from a backlog of projects that “might make money.”

          Prove me wrong though, as strange as it may seem, I’m rooting for you.

          • J. B.

            “What you are essentially doing is robbing your future to get temporary enjoyment today.”

            So is eating desert. Surely you can’t be proposing that temporary enjoyment is never a worthy goal.

          • jsonmez

            No, but it always does have a price.

      • J. B.

        If a (young, single) programmer can eat through their savings in 6 months, they’re either living extremely extravagantly, or they had the worst-paying programming job ever.

      • ziggy56

        “Passion” and “a goal and a clear direction” are very similar things. When the latter is present, I don’t get bored doing the most tedious things imaginable, because they are little steps that might get you close to The Objective, and when it is absent, I end up browsing hacker news instead of doing the most objectively interesting work. Clearly, this goal was not there for the other poster in his job.

        For some people, acquiring one is easy, some even cannot imagine their life without one (or more!) such goal. Money (e.g. “get $1MM in the bank before I’m 30” — I looked at your real estate advice too) is a popular, and in fact a very admirable one (no sarcasm at all here, if anything, I am more than a little envious). For others, it is not always quite as easy. Nor is it easy to just “stop being lazy and persevere” — if not hacker’s news, there is always some work-related activity to be found that does very little to advance the project you are working on — configuring and re-configuring software, adding little-used features, automating infrequent operations, collecting references, reading technical literature that you don’t really need right now, the list is endless (and all of these things can be useful, too, in moderation). It is usually not a smart thing to just leave your job; but If he found himself in such a situation, it is not obvious that staying there and wasting everyone’s time is such a good idea either.

        You are right that this is a mental problem; however mental problems tend to be far more difficult and costly to get around than most physical ones.

  • pierre tammet

    I’m usually 100% with you but this time, i’m kind of “Hmmm…i don’t know…”.

    It’s often the case that we’re given something to do that doesn’t require much thinking (for one, i’m always asked to build the same kind of applications with the same old stack). With time, we get bored since we don’t have many opportunities to get better in our field (learn new technologies, methodologies, etc…).

    What are we supposed to do in such a case? “Man up”, go through our boring stuff without getting anything out of it, or look for opportunities to improve our skills and knowledge? What should we do if our job is a dead-end with no room for increasing our market value?

    It seems to me that you and the author of the original post have a different definition of “boring”. You think that whatever the job, you always have some interesting tasks and some boring ones. In this case, yes. You should just work through it. He, on the other hand, feels that his job doesn’t bring him anything anymore. I can understand his feeling, and working harder won’t change anything.

    • jsonmez

      Hi Pierre,

      You may be confusing my point slightly since I didn’t make myself as clear as I could.

      I don’t think someone should persist in a boring job that is using the same old stack and doesn’t give an opportunity for growth.
      Someone in that situation should get out of there and do something else for sure.

      But, they should do it in a carefully calculated way.
      They should remain in their position till they have built up a bridge to job to, not haphazardly quit because they have become bored or the work has become hard.

      I guess my position is best explained this way. Suppose the original author of the post I was commenting on, said

      “My side business finally reached a point where it can sustain me. I’ve reached this point by down-sizing my monthly expenses and working extra hours after my day job was done for several years to build something I am passionate about. It hasn’t always been fun, in contrast, most days it is a drag, but I am excited to finally quit my job and begin this new chapter in my life with a focused goal to launch my first full product by the end of next year.”

      In that case, I would have applauded him. I would have congratulated him on choosing to “pay the dues” of getting something started for himself that he was truly passionate about and doing it in a smart way. I would have congratulated him on having a clear and focused goal and not just jumping into oblivion on a whim.

      One more example, that I think will make things a bit more clear.

      Suppose you are writing a book. How do you proceed?

      Do you sit down with no clear goal and start writing because you are passionate about it, but then 2 weeks later never write again, because it no longer interests you?

      Or do you set out and decide that you will be done when you have reached 50k words and that you will work on this book regardless of how you feel about it until it is done? Do you sit down and begin writing and 2 weeks later when you no longer feel passionate about it, continue to write anyway, because you know that even though you no longer “feel” like writing the book, in order to accomplish anything significant, you must grit your teeth and do real hard work, even when it isn’t fun, even when it is quite boring?

      I’m not saying waste your life grinding out crap for someone else, because you are too lazy or unambitious to do anything better. I’m saying pick a path and don’t abandon the path when it gets too hard or passion wanes, because passion will always wane.

      • ziggy56

        This way your point does make more sense. One problem though is that part-time projects don’t always work out that well. Very often they either they spill over into work time (screwing up his work and his colleagues in the process), or get dropped when main job hits a busy time. I’ve seen both happen, a lot. iirc, PG noted somewhere how some founders delude themselves into thinking that they can keep working on the project going to graduate school, etc. — it never, ever works. If he has sufficient savings and marketable enough skills, why not? After all he knows his situation far better than you or I do.

  • vishal jain

    Another great post !!! I agree :)

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  • Jagmeet Sidhu

    Sir, First of all hats off to you for the post.. i mean its a real eye opener, i am 22 years old and after reading this post i admitted myself that i am just lazy.. really i hate jobs just because its boring same work for the rest of my life.. the points you made through this post about passion and everything just stuck me so hard and it changed the my thinking about it.. i didnt appeared in the campus placements as i wanted to do my own work and like you said my passion is slowly dying.. in my 4 years of engineering i learned a lot of technologies and didnt made projects on any of them.
    Please suggest me what to do with my life now. How can I get a job now. Your sugession will mean a lot to me. Thanks.

    • jsonmez

      Thanks. I am glad the post has affected you in this way. My suggestion would be to learn how to not be lazy. Force yourself to exercise discipline and self-control and to work hard, especially when you do not feel like it. Make sure that you are doing something productive every day and turn it into a habit. From there, many avenues of success will open up.

  • JasonJoyner

    As a 20 year old Computer Science major, I agree entirely with this. The other students I see just don’t want to work when it isn’t fun any more. They are so proud of their smartphone app they made in a week or two that sells for 99 cents. Meanwhile I’m working in my dormroom for hours after I’ve finished my homework on a subscription program that I sell to Boy Scout Councils that cuts their merit badge paperwork time in half. I’ve spent over a year on this one project, and I’m making over $100 a year per customer and the other CS students can’t believe it. My work may be boring now and not nearly as fun as when I started, but in the long run who is happier or better off?

    • jsonmez

      Congratulations. I wish I had done this at 20. Imagine where you will be at 30. You have the right attitude my friend.

  • beanwl

    My friend just sent me this..goes along well with this post…

    • jsonmez

      Hah, yeah. I saw that also. :)

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  • Kevin Smith

    Didn’t finish – convinced me to get back to work halfway through.

  • Derek

    Ageism. Nothing has changed in 10,000 years.

    • Jessica Darko

      I think the nature of ageism has changed. It used to be old people not hiring young people because they lacked experience. Now it’s clueless 20 year old startup “Founders” whove never had a real job in their life, refusing to hire people with experience because their fragile egos can’t deal with someone who will tell them that the reality differs from their fantasy. Remember these are non-technical founders for the most part (who like to call themselves “hackers”, ha ha!) arguing with actual engineers who have shipped products.

      It’s a level of cluelessness that is unprecedented… and the Paul Graham cargo cult fosters it.

      • Derek

        If you are only worried about experience and titles. That’s ageism. Those thing’s come with age and you are clearly mad at someone for not having enough of them.

  • arparp

    Trash article. FWIW, I’ve been working (hard) in technology for around 18 years, from startups to large international firms, so I’m likely not in the “hacker news generation,” although I read and post there often. Yes, self-discipline is a problem, in the abstract. However, the post you cited is has nothing to do with that, and your argument that work for nothing at all but work’s sake is inherently virtuous is baseless.

    Burnout is in your head? Ok, so is pain and fear, but that doesn’t mean that nearly everyone can’t be broken through torture. I’ve seen real burnout at a startup, where people break out in rashes/hives, have heart palpitations, chest tightness, and are unable to sleep properly, because there were unrealistic expectations, and because they were working crunch time for weeks and unable to see their family. Telling someone “hey it’s all in your head” is about as effective and relevant as doing the same thing to someone who is paralyzed by their fear of heights or suffering from wartime trauma.

    And, anecdotally, I know far more people in their 20s who are working crazy extended hours and weekends with no equity stake for an entry level salary today than I did 10-15 years ago. Seriously. Shove it, moron.

    • jsonmez

      And what do you have to show for 18 years of hard work besides being incredibly rude?

      • arparp


        • Jessica Darko

          I think telling people the truth is the most compassionate thing you can do.

      • Chen Lin

        This was rude because he called your work trash? Boy, you’re going to hate what I have to say.

      • Tom Dalling

        If you think this is “incredibly rude,” then you should have a look in the mirror. Let me quote you a bit, here:

        > saddest most uninformed blog post

        > general ignorance and blatant stupidity

        > no other human quality of any worth

    • Jessica Darko

      You’re right that a lot of people are being exploited (working too many hours for no equity)… which is part of the “startup culture” that hacker news is the center of. More like a startup cargo cult. That is part of the problem with the cargo cult- it diefies and (funds) non-technical 20 year old assholes who get YC funding and then VC funding to build BS companies and then they rope in good young engineers to work for nearly nothing. That’s not good and these kids should refuse to do that.

      But, the issue isn’t lack of compensation in this discussion. Its “boredom” at having to actually work. That’s the issue.

      PS- by calling him a moron you realize you just forfieted any points you might have scored in the debate, right? It’s like saying “I can’t think critically enough to make a counter argument so I’ll just call you names”.

      Lack of critical thinking seems to be a requirement to be on Hacker News without getting hellbanned.

      • arparp

        I admit that a bit of righteous anonymous internet rage formed an insult as exclamation point, and have since edited out. However, it felt like a response in-kind to the message just telling people to toughen up and get over whatever condition they have as long as it’s “in their head.”

        • Jessica Darko

          Fair enough, but you’re missing the point. Everything is in your head- your experience of torture is “in your head” even though its’ a physical real world manifestation.

          The point is, attitude determines altitude. EG: the problem is that generations are being raised without the concept that they need to work on things that aren’t going to be constantly amusing. That is in their head- that’s them simply not being willing to accept reality.

          • arparp

            Am I sensing some of that elitist geek culture privileged libertarian attitude that your nemesis Hacker News is so full of these days? Do you really think you live on some egalitarian platform where everyone just has to toughen up and work hard and the doors will open up to prosperity? Kind of a “I made it fine through being hazed, so everyone else should be able to as well,” thing?

            This Loren person wasn’t just someone unwilling to do work that was just simply hard or boring, he was someone who made a calculation that the end goal wasn’t worth it, and he was probably right. If someone takes a job as a teacher, they might endure the drudgery of grading papers because there’s a legitimate point and purpose to it, and I can definitely see that driving someone of any generation to endure non-amusing work a lot more than a smartphone app or whatever.

            Generations who read the internet are being hit on the head nearly every day with a new article about “the value of hard work,” and the ones who really feel like it’s a violation of their human rights to not be allowed to wear cargo shorts to work are likely in the minority when it comes to Hacker News folks.

  • Nathan Montgomery

    Good post, kudos! I think you (unintentionally) do a little misdirection with your Nietzsche quote though (easy to do when extracting Nietzsche without the surrounding context). ‘The Gay Science’ is also where Nietzsche presents the concept of the ‘Eternal Return’ (at the end), which can be interpreted to give a context of relativism to the idea that those ‘fastidious people’ are able to repeatedly find deeper (personal) meaning in life due to an underlying confrontation of the conflict between reason and an irrational reality (obviuosly this is a personal interpretation so take it as you will). The relativism of ‘enjoyment’ is a key component of what it means for something to be ‘hard’ in the first place, and it’s more a matter of perspective than I think you imply. I think looking at this actually makes your point even stronger:

    ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’

    Not only are those who do not apply themselves deeply to living throwing away the value of their action, you could even say they are dooming themselves to continually relive their past failures (possibly for eternity).

    Kids these days! ;)

    • jsonmez

      Yes, you are right. I did sort of pull it out of context to serve my purpose. Didn’t think anyone would notice. But, I like your point even better than my original example. :)

  • binarycleric

    Keep in mind the mental health aspect. Plenty of very talented developers suffer from severe depression (plus other illnesses) and while their actions may be viewed as illogical/irrational to others, when stuck in a deep depression major life changes/pursuits of pure happiness seem great ideas. When in my depressive phases I’ve often considered changing jobs, moving to a new city, and other (more difficult/destructive/irrational) life decisions.

    I’m not saying I agree with you or the author of you post you referenced, there are just more sides to this topic than “being lazy” vs “working hard”. Mental health is a seriously overlooked subject in our industry (and culture for that matter). If someone was performing poorly at work because they were sick/in pain/etc you wouldn’t brand them as lazy and tell them to deal with you, you’d try to help them (or at least convince them to get help). The same should apply to mental health. If someone is having problems performing at work perhaps we should try to understand their situation instead of just writing them off.

    • ziggy56

      Exactly. I highly doubt anyone ever benefited from an advice to “force themselves to do X”. It just doesn’t work that way.

      • jsonmez

        You must have never run or lifted weights or maintained a strict diet…

        • ziggy56

          I most certainly have — and still am :) (minus the diet part, never needed that one, blame super high metabolism) — although I don’t like the “force yourself” term because it implies that people take actions against their desires. But yes, it’s a good thing when the desire to improve (or the force of habit) is stronger than the desire to stay in bed.

          However, when this is not already the case, an advice to simply “force yourself” from a random person on the internet — without any additional consequences for not doing so — won’t do anyone any good.

  • david karapetyan

    I’m not sure what you mean by “the hacker news generation”? It is true that people in Silicon Valley prefer demos to things with actual substance but the same can be said of any industry and culture that likes to glamorize things. You see the same kind of attitude in the fashion industry, the film industry, the finance industry, etc. The loudmouths and “bright” starts get way more air time than necessary but at some point everyone, at least I hope, realizes that the glamor and the glitz is not what matters. What matters is, like you said, the actual hard work, the sweat and the practice that you pour into your craft. There is no royal road to mastery of a craft.

  • Adam Eberbach

    What a surprise, Hacker News generally disagrees with this. The truth (of course) is somewhere in the middle.

  • preya2k

    Love your post! Of course it’s not fair to everyone, but it’s accurate for a lot of us (since i count myself as a part of this generation as well)!

  • acrynx

    I’m a young developer, but i don’t see myself as part of the Hacker News generation, as I’m not all too excited about startups and various other things typically discussed on Hacker News. The reason why I comment on this post is, that I simply don’t understand, how you can really believe what you wrote. Maybe I didn’t quite get it right. Here is what i want to ask you:

    How can you really believe, that someone should continue to do something, that – after carefully considering for a long enough time, whether that is a passing frenzy, or rather a feeling that will stay – does not make him happy anymore, but rather makes him feel like he is wasting his time and living like he does not want to live? Is it all about finishing things that we started, no matter what it takes? Is it all about producing things that have value, so we can pay off some kind of debt, that we inherited, when we were born? Do we owe something to other people? Or do we rather owe to ourselves the courage to say “No, I don’t want this anymore, because it is not making me happy. I will quit this and I will take full responsibility for my actions”?

    I get, that often enough work will be required, that is really hard to do and not fun at all. And that’s fine if at the end of the day you can still walk away and say “Work today was hard to do, but I like what I’m doing in general and I’m looking forward to more work next week, that will be more fun to me.”. If you can’t say that, go on for a reasonable amount of time. If you still can’t say it, quit the whole thing. No one should sacrifice his valuable time to constantly do something that doesn’t make him happy. And I think you are not suggesting that either.

    I think what you’re trying to say is, that someone shouldn’t just quit doing something, because it’s kind of hard for a second, a minute, an hour or even a day. He should consider it well enough, before making a decision. And i think you’re right there. But I think that everyone needs to figure out for himself what his very own “well enough” is. And that is a thing that will take some time to get right and will eventually change a lot in ones life.

    So I think we should consider to not tell people how to live their lives so often, but rather encourage them to consider their next steps well and take oportunities, while they’re still alive.

    • jsonmez

      I agree with you. All I am saying is that sometimes people cry uncle too soon. People forget that you have to push through a whole lot of boring crap to get to the end of the tunnel. Passion only matters in the beginning.
      I’m not saying don’t follow your dreams. I’m also not saying stick with some crappy job you don’t like, because you should just stick with stuff. I’m really just saying see things out long enough to get the benefit from them. I have a closet full of 90% complete projects that aren’t worth anything.
      I’ve had to stick in a crappy job while I figured out how to find a better one.
      But, at the same time, I’ve seen developers who have just quit and didn’t plan the next step and they ended up mowing lawns and doing odd jobs.

      • acrynx

        I see what you’re trying to say there. But I say it’s alright to find yourself mowing lawns, if you’re able to accept that as a result of quitting right away. If people would rather do that than stick in a job any longer, let them and don’t judge them. If they did plan otherwise and it didn’t turn out that way and they are now mowing lawns, because they didn’t get another job at all, maybe they were stupid from your point of view. But is was their decision and if they’re not complaining to you, you shouldn’t judge them for that either.

        You say that someone should not stay in a job, that is really crappy for them. You say, that often someone needs to push through a lot of boring stuff anyway. Agreed. But you’re also saying, that passion only matters in the beginning. Not agreed at all. Sure, you can keep going without being passionate about the things you do everyday. This may be ok for you, because you see that as a necessity and because you’re having plans for the far away future, that you want to come true and you think they will only come true this way. I certainly won’t agree with that.

        As I said, for some people this may be well too much of sitting on their butt and sucking it up. And that’s their decision. If you died tomorrow, what would it be, that you really cared about? Would you care about what you could have had in 5 years? Or rather what you have now and how you lived your last reamining hours? Everyone has their own view on life and how they want to live it. Having respect for others, even though they’re not like you, that’s all it really comes down to. I’m struggling with that at times, too.

        • jsonmez

          You are confusing lust with love.
          Passion is like lust. It fades.
          Drive is like love, it takes work to keep it and it can grow stronger over time.

          • acrynx

            Now we’re discussing words. The passion I talk about is a long lasting passion, just like the love you’re talking about.

            If your relationship with your work is like a long lasting love with ups and downs, I agree that you should stick with it. You didn’t describe it like that in your article though. And keep in mind that there will be people that don’t appreciate this kind of longterm relationship, that is complicated at times. And that’s ok with me.

  • hugocaracol

    I loved that you wrote about this topic. It would be nice to see some stats regarding those people that quit their jobs. How well they can manage after some months. I mean when people have to pay their bills. When I think about giving up on something when the stamina is gone, I always remember a book I read about Marie Curie. She was a very hard worker!

  • J. B.

    This sounds very much like somebody trying to convince people with depression that he had depression, too, once, really!, and all you have to do is think your way out of it.

    “Do you think I wake up every morning and say “hey, I can’t wait to painstakingly produce and record hours of content?””

    In the next paragraph, we find out the answer is “no”, but not why. I’ve had a job where I woke up every morning eager to do painstaking, meticulous work every day, even after years of doing it. You make it sound like a badge of honor to work so hard on something which you find so awful.

    “There is not quite any feeling like that of success that was achieved from long hours and hard work and toil.”

    Agreed, completely! But I’m not sure what that has to do with programming. Even today, the majority of software projects are cancelled before completion, or otherwise fail. If somebody is looking for a feeling of success, software is the wrong field. You’d do better betting on “red” in Vegas. (Or figure out how to redefine “success” so you can “succeed” even when you don’t ship a useful product.) There’s only so long one can hold out hope — “maybe THIS will finally be the software project that isn’t driven to failure by my managers/customers/coworkers/etc.!”.

    P.S., I don’t know what “the Hacker News Generation” is supposed to refer to, since you don’t mention it in the article, and especially since HN represents at least 3 generations. It’s definitely a linkbait title, though: just say something good/bad about (every member of) Generation $Foobar and everybody comes running. Doubly so because it’s not even a generation, but the word “Generation” after the name of a website! I don’t know you, but you seem to have a pretty nice website here, so it’s a shame you felt the need to resort to name-calling this one time.

  • kolorahl

    Anyone that has read this article, whether you agree or not, should watch a documentary called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”. It’s about an 80-something year old Japanese man who has been a sushi chef since he was 20 or so. He wakes up before dawn and is home after dusk. He would repeat the same tasks every day to prepare food and make sushi, taking no weekends off. He became a true master of sushi by finding the energy every day to wake up and do the same, and make small improvements and adjustments along the way.

    I get a similar message from this article. You should put in your time, do the work, and strive to always better yourself. But there is one significant difference between Jiro’s story and the argument made here: Jiro is so passionate about sushi that he even dreams of it, literally. Jiro didn’t become a master sushi chef simply because he worked for many decades at his craft; he became a master because his passion and love for sushi drove him to dedicate his life to being the best. I have never met anyone that is a master at what they do, and has made significant contributions to their profession or craft, without that person having a true passion for what they do. People without that passion, whether they put in the work or not, will simply not achieve that level of skill.

    If someone is no longer passionate about their work, perhaps it is not that they are lazy but simply that they need to do something else with their life. I find the larger issue is that many people *think* they want to be programmers but, in reality, that is not what they want to devote their life to. They aren’t “burning out” but are instead looking to make a life change in their profession. Or should be, if they become that dissatisfied with what they do.

    • jsonmez

      Excellent documentary. Just watched it a few months ago. Great point as well.
      Sometimes though I think even Jiro must have lost his passion at times, but he pushed forward (the documentary doesn’t show this, but I would be amazed if this wasn’t the case.)
      I agree about passion. Sometimes though, you have to wade through a bunch of crap to get to a point where you can pursue your passion and you also have to realize as soon as you make passion into something you do for money, it loses its charm.

  • Dmitry Minkovsky

    Dead on—this post is totally dead on. I left a shop because both managing partners/founders were afraid of working. Everyone I knew there was afraid of working. People feel entitled to both (a) deliver garbage to clients and (b) work a 9-5. All I hear was “well, we’re better than the competition.” I was taught growing up that comparing yourself to crap makes you crap. Sad shit.

  • Dmitry Minkovsky

    “Work is not accidentally unpleasant but essentially so, for we work on what we wish to change, that is, on what we do not like.” —

  • PhasmaFelis

    TL;DR: In the society we live in, you are expected to spend a good chunk of your waking hours wading in shit. We have gotten together and decided that wading in shit is virtuous and builds character, and if you don’t like wading through shit and try to avoid it or do less of it, you are objectively a bad person. Wanting to spend more time with your family and friends or pursuing hobbies and interests (other than wading in shit) is a sign of laziness and malformed character; so are outlandish malingerer’s claims like “burnout” or “clinical depression”. Your entire educational curriculum is designed by people who enjoy wading in shit and expect that you will too. If, upon graduation into the real world, you find that you do not enjoy wading in shit, we will shake our heads sadly and wonder how we failed to inculcate you with a seemly affection for shit-wading. If you are lucky enough to enjoy wading in shit, you are a superior species of human and deserve to be smug about it.

    (Not addressed: The unthinkably heretical notion that we, in the first stirrings of post-scarcity, might perhaps look to and work toward a future where people don’t have to wade in shit if they don’t want to.)

    • jsonmez

      Not quite. It is more like this: because freedom is tried directly to financial freedom and building things of worth require effort, you must learn to work hard to be able to afford the freedom you desire and to build things of worth.

  • ImagineCreateChange

    I agree with some points on the lazy bum part but sometimes like any work, it´s good to step back a bit to clear your mind, take a breather, tighten the bolts and go! Like a performance F1 car, they have to step into the pit now and then to change tires, gas up, check the monitor! Practice makes it perfect but equilibrium and tuning of your skill is good!

  • Chen Lin

    This post is an order of magnitude more obnoxious than the one you’re responding to, if only because the latter was someone’s personal experience, and this is another in long and obnoxious trend of middle aged people trying to generalize about an entire generation.

    You realize that people older than you said the same thing about your generation, and so on and so forth, until Adam and Eve?

    I’m more wary that this kind of tripe ends up on hacker news at all.

  • gaurav

    Ctrl+F will will

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  • Ewan Valentine

    I was feeling a lot like this, I’ve job hopped a couple of times in the past year and I’ve felt so dull and uninspired by the jobs I’ve been working in. To the point where it’s been an absolute chore to fulfil even the most basic of tasks. I’ve felt genuinely ashamed of myself and bad for my fellow workers who quite rightly feel resentful towards me for slacking off. I couldn’t understand what it was or why it was, previously I was a very hard worker and I never stop, my evenings are taken up by freelance work as well. Maybe I’m over-doing it? Maybe I need to pack in the extra freelance?

    I also realised that I’ve now worked in eCommerce for three years, it’s’ all I’ve ever known, and I have absolutely no interest in eCommerce and I was genuinely thinking ‘I need to get out of eComms, that’s what’s wrong with me’, could that still be the case? After reading this, I’m so guilty of a lot of this, but is it for the reasons you state, or do you think I genuinely do have a case for changing industry?

    I’m really at a confusing time with all of this in my career, so any feedback greatly appreciated.


    An unproductive developer

  • Loïc Prieto

    Hi John, i’ve enjoyed the article thoroughly as it has gotten me to think about my life, how i do not seem to make any progress whatsoever on the fields i value the most. I think i’m part of this generation that gives up too easily, although i blame it on myself, not on any kind of lazy culture thrown upon me.
    Many times i’ve tried to become a better person, but i quite lack the persistence and willpower to make it through. Now, i do think that those two can be trained like a muscle, although i’ve never gotten myself to start doing it.

    Now, you see, this article has given me the energy to start anew, to stop being the lazy slouch i currently am. I’m quite the average accounting software programmer, but i’ve been blessed with a passion for programming and thus enjoy making things. I’m keeping various projects on github (and many others on my pc) that i’ve always intended to finish (or at least to reach a 1.0 version). Over the years, i’m starting to see the value of hard work, and wish i would have gotten to understand it much earlier, before modeling my mind on the slow and easy highway of lazyness. I know i’ll never be the Hacker genius with a leet startup or a brilliant maker that creates a products that empowers millions of peoples, but i take pride on delivering software that eases the life of it’s users, i take pride on the careful crafting i try to do, on the beauty of a clean, well organized code base. Programming is my passion, my hobby and my profession. (I do have other hobbies, of course)
    So i’m not lacking on the passion front. What i’m lacking is the Drive to get things done, to progress. To reach my long term goals.

    And so, this is my vow. From now on, i’m forcing myself to finish those projects i’ve been always delaying to play one more hour some unproductive game, or to take some snack in a bar. I’ll be developing my willpower, and further my carreer.

    Sorry to use your blog post to make some kind of grand/lame anouncement, but i just wanted to let you know that you’ve inspired me to change my life. Thank you!

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  • Westwind Spiritworld

    The parents of these pathetic individuals encourage this by the greatest invention to enter their home. The ole standby- the electronic babysitter. What do you think will be the outcome for a kid who sits on his lazy ass all day playing computer games 7 days a week ? A hard days work is something they will never experience because they were never MADE TO. Children today remind me of some kind of freaky government experiment. I know kids who look like vampires because they are rarely exposed to sunlight much less WORK. They live in that zombie takeover bs fantasy world. What is so hilarious they don’t have the common sense to realize they would not survive because they are so soft. Any able bodied male who could not handle hard physical exertion when the situation calls for it is in for a rude awakening and deserves to be. Only the strong survive in this world. Mentally and physically. “Soft” no matter how intelligent they assume they are, are always the first to go.

    • jsonmez

      So sad, but true.

  • Ayn Banned al’Taco Bell

    I needed to read this. Thank you

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