Wanted: Techies To Start NY Tech Companies

SAI Contributor John McGrath is a developer at Curbed and is the founder of Wordie.

Zed Shaw, one of the best open source programmers in the city (he’s a Ruby luminary and wrote Mongrel, the server that powers Twitter and a great many other Web 2.0 sites — including both wordie and curbed), posted a very funny and slightly scary New Year’s eve rant earlier this week. There’s a lot of inside baseball about programming, but a recurring theme is that he had difficulty getting interesting offers last year as a Ruby programmer.
Zed is a Hamlet figure: brilliant and kind of nuts. In person he’s quite polite and friendly, but he can be prickly in some contexts. Nevertheless he’s a rock star programmer, and in other places he’d be inundated with offers for high-calibre and lucrative gigs. It’s telling that he initially had trouble finding those in New York (specifically, with startups and in the Ruby world), and it speaks to the lack of understanding and sometimes respect that good programmers are accorded here.

There’s a too-common perception that programming is a commodified skill, that it’s reasonable to pay top talent somewhat less than a waiter at an upscale restaurant, that the proper role of a programmer is to robotically implement someone else’s ideas. Zed sums up what he calls the “MBA attitude” as “I demand all of your creativity, yet trust none of your judgment.” Perhaps it’s the result of so many New York companies being started by people without programming backgrounds; attitudes are different when companies are founded by engineers.

Which is to say, the New York tech scene might benefit from being more, well, technical. One way for that to happen would be for more engineers to start companies, which is perhaps something Zed should consider.

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