09 June 2017

Vignettes from a "Tech Happy Hour"

Demographics: ~30 attendees total, relatively large fraction of non-technical folks (management, marketing, MBA students, ...).  Almost all white, Indian, middle-eastern; only two asians (one of whom was definitely nontechnical) and one black dude teaching himself to program, but not sure what language to use.  Surprisingly high fraction of women, maybe 20%, including at least one female engineer.  Also a relatively senior crowd for startuppy software; looked like mostly late-20s early-30s, with one or two late-30s or early-40s.  Free beer and awkward swag tshirts provided by beer company representative.

Inebriated man who works in the oil and gas industry is looking for someone to build a website to track company finances, because the finance thing they currently use was written by a friend of the founder, isn't very good, feels like borderline-corruption.  Nobody's interested.

Javascript developer wants to learn Haskell.

Woman: "Why are these fries so delicious?"
Man: "Salt.  Also a reasonable level of Maillard browning."
Woman: "..."
Man: "What?"

Lawyer-in-training tells startup people that lawyers are most clutch at the beginning, and by the time the money is coming in it's already too late.  Attendees immediately and in parallel posit "legal debt" analogous to technical debt.

Man is working on a website to get beer delivered to your house despite $STATE's arcane alcohol laws.  Most of the work he does is talking to lawyers; he's outsourced all of his development to India, because he "doesn't have $50k to drop on the project, you know?"

Sad, quiet Indian man has been working on industrial control systems for six years, looking for new job; declines free beer because "I've been drinking a lot lately."

"So what do you do?"
"I'm a developer for a security company."
"But like...  is that all?  Do you have a side hustle?  Do you invest?"
"Not really; they keep me pretty busy."
"Ah, don't give me that.  We're all slaves here.  What are you doing for your freedom?"
"I have no hope for freedom; I am planning to work until I die."
"Strong attitude, but augh!  With a little change of direction, you could be working for yourself.  Gotta look out for #1.  That's you!  You're #1!"

UX designer laments the difficulty of finding remote work, speculates that IBM's recent "move or you're fired" termination of remote-work policy was actually just an excuse for staffing cuts without severance.

Man is working on a system for providing free Subway sandwiches and gift cards and things to people who volunteer for charitable causes.  But is it really volunteering if you're getting stuff for it?  Seems to me like it's low-cost feel-good advertising for Subway.

"I hope I won't offend any of you, but you know Brietbart, right?  All they do is take other peoples' content, slap a caption and a paragraph of text on it, and republish it.  It's super low-cost, and that's part of why they can put out the volume that they do.  And it's super-effective.  Sure, they have "writers", but they don't really write, you know?"

A man is working on a system to add a feedback form into wifi captive portals at hotels and restaurants, so that owners can get feedback and fix issues before they turn into negative reviews, each of which "costs a restaurant 30 customers".  His company is at a local startup incubator, making him a popular fellow.

A singularitarian who works for a startup that makes house-calls via phone camera.  He's convinced strong/general AI is coming in the next decade, and talks about Bostrom's Superintelligence, Calico's life extension work, and China's use of CRISPR on humans.  Missed my chance to ask him if he reads LessWrong.

A designer talks about the time her startup found a dead rat in their coworking space five minutes before a big client meeting, so she had to move a couch to cover it.  Symbolic of the whole startup experience, really.

Overall I found the whole thing darkly comedic.  I recall reading an incisive observation of a tech conference once, that "everyone is selling new ways of selling to each other", and it held some recognizable truth here.

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