Joel Spolsky, CEO and founder of Fog Creek Software and Stack Overflow and author of the blog Joel on Software, joined the Fellows for the latest hackNY Summer lecture. As a programmer turned CEO, he provided insight on life both as a programmer in industry and, now, as a CEO delegating tasks and managing a company (or two).
Joel began his talk discussing his undergrad career as a Computer Science major, and, more specifically, a handful of classes that gave him a few key insights and skills. Some of the classes that helped him most were, surprisingly, humanities classes. Writing intensive classes enabled him to become a capable enough writer to begin blogging regularly, and classes like Abnormal Psychology and Cultural Anthropology were useful when he began managing people as a CEO. A key insight from his CS classes, on the other hand, was the incredible 10-20x difference in efficiency between good and bad programmers. This underlined the importance of good hiring and code practice in any software company.
Joel went on to discuss his time working for Microsoft and what it taught him about running a software company such as Fog Creek Software, the startup he launched soon after his stretch at Microsoft. Contrasting Fog Creek, a bootstrapped company, to the newer, VC-funded Stack Overflow, Joel discussed the two different startup models, “Bootstrapping your own software company is a great option for programmers,” Joel mentioned, “it’s a slow and steady alternative to a VC-funded company…Just grab a few friends and code for money. It’ll make you aware of what’s in demand and you’ll have more control…A VC-funded company is just a lot faster.”
This Fellows Perspective post is from Tami Evnin, a 2011 hackNY Fellow and MFA candidate in Design and Technology at Parsons The New School for Design.
My first day of my summer internship was by far the most epic first day I have ever had. Ever.
Through my summer fellowship with hackNY, I was matched with BankSimple, a NYC tech startup redefining personal banking. My first day of work landed on a Friday, and I showed up to the Brooklyn office at 10am (the latest I have ever been able to show up for a job), ready to go. I spent the day getting to know everyone and learning about the project on which I would start working on Monday, but mostly chatting and scheming with my “mentor” Allen.
I was about ready to pack up for the weekend when I was invited to stay and listen in on a company-wide Skype meeting and product demo. The two-hour long meeting was pretty epic. I got to hear all about the history of the company, learn about prospective capital options, and experience the awesomeness of a new financial-planning interface that is in the works.
But it gets better. After the meeting was over, CEO Josh Reich (recently named by Crains as one of the top “People to watch in Silicon Alley“) reminded the whole Brooklyn team about the dinner he was hosting at his house later that night. It being my first day as an intern, I was completely intimidated by the prospect of spending an evening with all my new colleagues at my boss’s house and quickly tried to come up with a reason to excuse myself from the invitation. But then Josh told us about the evening’s menu – homemade fried chicken. I could not resist.
Hours later, I was sitting in Josh’s home enjoying a delicious, home-cooked meal and unending beverages around one long table with everyone. It was exciting to be welcomed onto the team so quickly and greatly. I ended up getting home around 1am (the latest I have ever gotten home from a job), ready for bed. All I could think was, If this is what the first day was like, this is going to be a great summer!
Tristan Harris, CEO and co-founder of Apture, joined the fellows for a question and answer session, talking about his experience as a programmer and entrepreneur. Unlike the hackNY Summer Series lectures, this event was held more as a roundtable, and the Fellows were able to ask plenty of questions about being a programmer in the startup world; investors and funding; starting a company; and all the hurdles Tristan had faced starting Apture.
The Fellows were very interested in Tristan’s undergraduate career at Stanford, his internship at Apple and, specifically, how it affected his choice between working for a larger company and starting his own. “It’s a choice between being a small cog in a big wheel or having a lot of impact on a company that has a smaller reach,” he explained, “You can have an impact both ways.”
Tristan also answered questions about starting Apture and the challenges they had faced in the last four years. Starting the company he found that, as an entrepreneur, much of his learning was through trial and error. He also explained how their product, a website plugin that displays pertinent information when text is selected, faced the same stigma that generic, ad-based popups do. Each startup has to face its own difficulties, and Tristan talked at length about how that anti-popup stigma affected the design, code, and marketing of their product.
This post is by Abe Stanway, a 2011 hackNY Fellow from Rutgers University.
The powers that be scored us some super-awesome New York Tech Meetup tickets Tuesday night, and we were all too happy to take them up on the offer. We definitely appreciated the hackNY love coming from all corners in the Skirball Center (although I might add we got a bit too much love from the headhunters sitting behind us!)
The meetup was a good time, though – we saw some pretty great demos, including my personal favorite, HowAboutWe, which lets users list potential dates for others to accept. Yes, I signed up, and no, I haven’t been asked out yet.
After the meetup, we got burgers at Stand 4. Much meat was eaten, to the dismay of the nice fedora-ed waiter. Conversation topics included Evan’s unusual path to an academic career, the role of mobile sharing in a location-based world, and exactly who ordered the peanut butter cup milkshake.