By John Sonmez October 7, 2013

The Hacker News Generation (Part 2: Responding to Critics)

I recently wrote a post called The Hacker News Generation (Afraid of Hard Work.) Ok, the post itself wasn't so recent, but it recently got a large amount of traction on Hacker News and I was surprised to see such a large and vocal negative response to what I said. Of course, I expected there to be some kind of negative reaction to telling people to work hard and stick with things even if they don't like them.

But, I do think that I did not communicate part of the message I was trying to convey as well as I could have, so here my attempt to clarify some points.

First off, I think it is important to admit when I am wrong, and I was wrong about two things.

  1. I shouldn't have make such a sweeping generalization about an entire generation. As many people pointed out, this is not a generational thing, this is a very personal thing. The truth is we are all afraid of “hard work,” myself included. Some of us learn to overcome it, others of us don't. The problem is not the next generation. The problem is the message that many of us are lifting up saying that you can get somewhere by being smart or hitting the start-up lottery, instead of from being wise and willing to do the work.
  2. It appears I was wrong about Loren. I didn't mean to lambast him personally. I originally felt like the sentiments in his blog post were exactly the kind of thing I had a problem with today in our field. People saying they quit something because it wasn't interesting and deciding to follow an uncharted road instead without a real plan of any kind and without a clear focus in a particular direction. Since then, Loren has actually produced some awesome software that I am actually alpha testing to write this blog post. Kudos to Loren, it appears I had you pegged wrong. I am earnestly happy to be proven wrong.

Are you saying that mental illness isn't real and people just need to “man up” if they have depression or real “burnout?”

No. Well, perhaps a little– let me explain.

So, most people who claim to have depression or burnout just have a case ofpansyitious. I'm not saying that you can't actually be clinically depressed or physically and mentally overworked to the point of total exhaustion or mental breakdown. Sure, you can. But, if you are reading this post, it is more likely that you just need to suck it up and figure out how to stop avoiding the work you need to be doing and do it.

People who actually burnout physically and have nervous breakdowns mentally are not people who push themselves too hard pursuing their dream or reaching their goal. They are people who push themselves too hard pursuing other people's dreams, reaching other people's goals.Hispanic man suffering a strong headache or depression

You know what you need to be doing. I don't need to tell you. Maybe you know that you need to stick with that crappy job you have right now for the next two years while you build the thing you really want to do on the side 2 hours a pain-staking-night-a-time.

Get off the couch. Turn of the TV. Do it!

Stop commenting on blog posts about how stupid and preachy other people are and write a blog post, build a business, create something. I'm not the best writer in the world, some of my ideas sound like the rantings of a mentally slow 5 year old, but at least I am doing something, creating something– and working hard at it.

Do you need some motivation? Need a good kick in the butt from someone who is way more successful than I am, but shares exactly the same view? Read Steven Pressfield's book, The War of Art. Seriously, will be the best book you read all year.

Are you saying I should stick at a crappy job and do something I don't like?

No. I am not sure why some people got this message from what I said. When I complained about Loren quitting his job, I wasn't faulting him for quitting a job he didn't like anymore.

The big issue I had was his reason for quitting was, as he stated, “being bored.” He explicitly said that he didn't find a new job, didn't start a side business, or anything else.crappy job

If you don't like your job and you don't like your life change it, but don't do it on a whim, don't do it because you are bored, and have a plan– a good one.

Also, recognize that you have to sometimes do s!#& jobs and that is just how it is. But, you have the choice to look at those times as an apprenticeship or as prison time. How you perceive it is up to you. If you are smart, you'll bide your time while working for someone else, as you are careful not to use up all of yourself and learn as much from them as possible, all the while building your own thing on the side.

Sometimes to do this, it takes grit, plain and simple. If you don't have it, fine, but let's not mash words and play pretend games here.

Passion dies. It always dies.

You may be too young to understand this. I can't fault you for that, but believe me, trust me, when I tell you that passion always dies. It doesn't matter what your passion is for, indulge in it enough and you will lose it.

What is my point in saying this?

Simple. The dream you are following today, will be the prison you'll be trying to escape from tomorrow.

This means that if you are ever going to do anything meaningful, you are going to have to learn to see things through to the end. This isn't easy. It is really hard. I've got a whole closet full of good ideas that I took to 90% and then got bored with. Every single one of them at one time in my life was my greatest passion.

So, again. I'm not saying put on the fireman hat everyday and just grit through it when you really want to be an astronaut. What I am saying is that which thing you pick isn't really all that important, so long as you are doing something, and stick with it and continue to force yourself to learn and grow in whatever thing you are pursuing even after the passion is gone.

Do you hate Loren and are you just a mean guy who like to pick on people?

No, I like Loren. That is why I don't want to see him financially broke, wasting away years he could be using to either build a business or product of his own, or at least work for a company long enough to sock away enough money to one day have the actual freedom to spend his time as he likes.

And it turns out, Loren is doing something pretty awesome. I can't tell you if he'll stick to it long enough to see it to the end or not, but I hope he does. And, I am very glad that he didn't decide to just do whatever he felt like doing and narrowed down his focus to Penflip. Ironically, I am sitting here writing this blog post on Penflip, the project the Loren created, that is in alpha mode right now.

I sincerely hope I get the chance to sit down and have lunch with Loren some day and that we can really hash out what it means to pursue something you care about deeply and the kinds of sacrifices and risks it involves.

I don't pretend to have all the answers, even though my writing may make it sound like I think I do. I just write passionately about what I think. And what I think is always subject to revision. I am learning. This blog is one of the ways I am learning and sharing what I learn.

The reality

The reality of the situation is that there are two extremes we have in life and work.

On one end of the spectrum is pursing your passion without compromise; doing what you are called to do. We'll call those people starving artists.

On the other end of the spectrum is pursuing money above all else. Lie, cheat and steal if you have to; sell yourself out; do whatever it takes– it doesn't matter, so long as you bring in those Benjamins. We'll call those people the passionless hacks.

Neither one is good. You've got to find the middle. If you spend all your life working hard pursuing money, never finding something that you actually care about and that is meaningful to you, you'll end up washed out with nothing to show for it besides a big bankroll, if you are lucky.

On the other hand, if you just do what you like all the time and never hunker down and put in the work and think about the financial consequences of your actions, you'll end up washed out, but poor.

The middle ground is where success is. It is where people find things that they are passionate about, that are meaningful to them, and they pursue them with the vigor of the passionate artist when they have the motivation and with the whatever-it-takes dedication of the passionless hack when they motivation wanes.

Most people, especially young people today, are on the side of the starving artist mentality. They want to ignore the reality that they may have to work a 9-5 job and build the thing they really want to build on the side for a few years so that they can some day leave the employ of another and do their own thing, the thing they are passionate about.

How I am trying to help solve this problem

I've made a large number of mistakes in my career, but I've also figured out what works and have learned how to work hard and stick to something. I think this is valuable information, so I've decided to package it up along with things I've learned about marketing yourself as a software developer and other career tips.

If that sounds like something you would be interested in, sign up here and I'll let you know the second this project launches. I appreciate your support and hope that what I am building will be useful to you.

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."