This post is almost five years in the making. That’s how lazy I can be.
In early 2016, back when using Slack was cool (despite the annoying request to enable desktop notifications), I saw this comment, in relation to an open source project:
“We all have to eat”. How true, and how brilliant.
If you don’t want to read the rest of this post, my whole point is the following:
We all have to eat. We all have an agenda in everything we do, write and say.
Assuming that there’s (almost) always an agenda helps us understand things better. When someone is bullish or positive about something, ask yourself what’s the reason behind it. Question it. You might get closer to the truth.
If you want a bit more of my little rant, read on.
But, but… I just want to contribute to the world with my open source project!
Perhaps. But then something bad happens, and you’re tired and sick of for-profit corporations benefitting from your work, while you’ve almost become homeless:
This incident is most likely what prompted the “No more free work from Marak - pay me or fork this“ (Hacker News discussion) on a Github project homepage:
It’s easy to side with Marak, but who knows for sure? He might be a devil or a saint. It’s still a great opportunity to reflect on what’s going on here.
It’s very clear that even when armed with the best intentions, each one of us has some sort of need or agenda lurking in the background. Even when there’s an open source project. It might not be what made the project happen in the first place: Linus just wanted to have fun, and show Andy Tanenbaum how smart he was - but then ended up financially benefiting from Linux. Eventually, though, you will develop your agenda, especially if at some point you need the money.
It also means that we are not free to say what we want
I’ll offer myself as an example.
I currently work/consult with an investment and venture capital firm. Thankfully I don’t have the same legal obligations as a full-time employee or partner, but I am still bonded to this firm.
As such, it would be very hard for me to openly criticize the VC industry, or discuss how sometimes founders get screwed, or how employees get screwed even more (through their equity). I have to eat after all. Saying things that are inappropriate would make the firm look bad (where did this guy hear about these screw ups?), and it would jeopardize my ability to work/consult with other VC firms (this is the guy that trashes the firm that pays him every month). There’s even an Italian saying for that one: “Non sputare sul piatto che mangi”, or “don’t spit on the plate from which you eat”; probably common in other romance languages, too, as Ronaldo might agree.
Despite this, there’s something I’m interested in writing and discussing about the world of startups, VCs and such; and I might just do so. We’ll see.
…And therefore most information is filtered
Now think of the latest podcast interview you have listened to (perhaps mine?): there’s no incentive for the interviewer to piss off the guest, as 1) the guest would be pissed off, yes, and 2) future guests might be reluctant to be invited to your show.
Of course it applies to other media, including television shows. Dick Cavett (must watch), David Letterman, Stephen Colbert, they can’t say exactly everything that they want, because if they do, no guest would want to participate in their show anymore.
Each one of us has a certain “eating area” that we avoid touching. Things we won’t talk about too openly, because our work, our “sustenance”, depends on it.
If I would like to criticize Amazon for certain things - say, surveillance at home - it would make me a hypocrite, as I worked for Amazon from 2008 to 2014.
Hottest “eating area” right now is crypto
I’ve been following Bitcoin and the crypto space since 2011/2012, so I can consider myself a veteran. I love the technology, and I’m rather critical of most things that have happened in the past. There’s currently a lot of exuberance, mostly driven by high prices for Bitcoin and other currencies. And yet, if you apply the filter, most of these people depend on crypto to succeed. The critics, they might critique because they want to stay relevant, or bet on a downturn to then laugh and shout “I told you so”. Everyone has an agenda. We all have to eat.
There’s something I didn’t quite capture here, but I know it’s somewhere inside my mind. I will try to revisit/expand this post in the future. If you read minds and know what it is, tell me.