Did Paul Graham get it wrong? What does Hacker News think?

Did Paul Graham get it wrong? What does Hacker News think?

There’s a great thread on Hacker News about Matt Mullenweg’s response to this Paul Graham essay. Matt says:

I agree that the US deserves dramatically better immigration policies, but in the meantime I’m confused with the head-in-the-sand approach most tech companies are taking simultaneously complaining that there are lots of great people they can’t bring into the US, but being stubborn on keeping a company culture that requires people to be physically co-located.

Matt mentions the discussion going on on HN, here are a few quotes near the start of the discussion that seemed worthwhile resharing:

Yes, there are the common examples of virtual remote workers at basecamp, Automattic, github etc. Those are not billion dollar companies. A lot of startups have ambitious goals and very hard technical challenges and you can’t compete with a team made up of 99% remote workers. I see no evidence that this has ever been successfully done. Small scale modest businesses, yes, but not big ones. (jasode)

Programmers tend to want to squirrel themselves away and work on stuff to maximize their own personal productivity, whereas organizations want to get a bunch of people working at a group optimum. That means that every individual takes a productivity hit for communication purposes, but that the organizational output is much higher than any individual could achieve. Hence, we get the fruitless debates about working conditions: what you see as interruption might be, from the context of the company you work for, be the most globally productive use of your time.

There’s definitely a fine line between communication and distraction and it’s hard to hit the balance (I’ve worked in some horrible “open-plan” environments too), but in my experience, programmers nearly always err on the side of too little communication, especially early in their career. (timr)

Taking a moment to put on my development manager hat, one of the things I never want to do to my developer employees is interrupt their flow. I go to meetings, so I can give them a brief summary which contains only the information they need to do their job. I work with the customers and listen to 50 minutes of rambling so I can glean the 5 minutes of information my employees need to do their work. (falcolas)

sometimes the most productive thing you can do is stop a programmer from writing code. As a programmer (and an employee), what you’re ultimately responsible for is happy customers and solved problems. If your code solves the wrong problem, it has negative value to the organization, as it’s just something that all the other programmers will have to trip over later. The value of colocated employees is being able to really quickly recognize and correct for when the code is solving the wrong problem. Whether that outweighs the increased individual productivity from eliminating distractions is very much case-specific, which is perhaps why there’s so much heat and so little light on this issue. You’ll never capture all the complexities on a web forum. (nostrademons)

There’s plenty more on the thread that is a really good insight into engineering thinking on location, interruption and productivity, so go and read it!

Image source here.