a companion discussion area for blog.codinghorror.com

The Vast and Endless Sea


@Brian Duffy “Planning, designing, sticking to schedules, etc are all things that people will address themselves when motivated.” That is called organising things. In an organization that usually means dividing tasks into jobs, so someone might end up being a designer, someone a sales person, someone project manager, someone programmer, and so on. Those people propably end up into jobs that they have education for and are interested in. You really don’t just hire a bunch of random people and let them do what they want, if you want something at least moderately specific to happen.


Nietzsche’s The Gay Science (1882), (trans. W. Kaufmann), s. 42

Work and boredom - Looking for work in order to be paid:

in civilized countries today almost all men are at one in doing that. For all of them work is a means and not an end in itself. Hence they are not very refined in their choice of work, if only it pays well. But there are, if only rarely, men who would rather perish than work without any pleasure in their work. They are choosy, hard to satisfy, and do not care for ample rewards, if the work itself is not the reward of rewards. Artists and con-templative men of all kinds belong to this rare breed, but so do even those men of leisure who spend their lives hunting, traveling, or in love affairs and adventures. All of these desire work and misery if only it is associated with pleasure, and the hardest, most difficult work if necessary. Otherwise, their idleness is resolute, even if it spells impoverishment, dishonor, and danger to life and limb. They do not fear boredom as much as work without pleasure; they actually require a lot of boredom if their work is to succeed. For thinkers and all sensitive spirits, boredom is that disagreeable “windless calm” of the soul that precedes a happy voyage and cheerful winds. They have to bear it and must wait for its effect on them. Precisely this is what lesser natures cannot achieve by any means. To ward off boredom at any cost is vulgar, no less than work without pleasure. Perhaps Asians are distinguished above Europeans by a capacity for longer, deeper calm; even their opiates have a slow effect and require patience, as opposed to the disgusting suddenness of the European poison, alcohol.

Many years has passed, nothing changes :slight_smile: Still very interesting opinion.


I think if there was an ‘economical’ hosted pricing plan with no contract (you pay month to month) of $25 per month, you’d get more hits. I had wanted to start a Stack Exchange site but $129 is too steep.


I’d like to suggest a place that has worked under this model for a very long time: the university. It’s one of several reasons why universities have thrived and survived for something like seven or eight hundred years (depending on your definition), across multiple cultures and across seismic shifts in economies, political systems, and social norms. Professors pretty much meet the criteria: they get paid “enough” (not that some don’t complain!); they have autonomy, purpose and mastery; and they serve a greater good.

As for whether or not they could build an ocean liner, the point of the presentation was that building an ocean liner is comparatively trivial because it is a known task with known parameters. Just because the task is complex doesn’t mean it’s conceptually difficult. Dan’s point is that we need to be concerned about the kinds of thinking that requires new thinking. The rest of it is being automated or outsourced.


Programming is writing. It’s not a special kind of writing, it is just general writing, you know, for other people to read. You can pay someone to write something you want them to say, but not to just write for the sake of it, unless you have an ulterior motive. Wouldn’t it be possible to say what you want programmers to write, and thus convert them into some form of journalist? Up to a certain point, yes. In fact, we always had these sort of 9-to-5 program writers. What is the problem then? The problem is that their productivity is ridiculous, even pitiful, when compared to the work hackers do, voluntarily. And they write terrible code (anyone wanted another paradox?), so basically it’s counterproductive to have them around like that.

What’s the point? People will work better (even ethically speaking), for less money (above a threshold that is completely affordable), if they can make sense of their work. Of course, ideology is not gonna take us anywhere. Patience will: the power of not getting in the way of a positive trend is huge.


This is by far the most interesting posts I’ve read on this blog for the last 2 years. Some have been so-so, some have been good, but this one is great. Thanks Jeff, outstanding work!


As everyone says great post!
It made me want to work with you.



I’ve always been pretty happy with the pay of most places.
It’s normally the work environment that normally makes the system unproductive.

In the end though, you can’t get rid of politics.

To an extent, it is kind of the idea behind true professions.
It is a kind of structured intrinsic incentive.
While not all doctors are great caring people. You can be pretty sure that a doctor in charge of a particular unit is at least very very good.

There is an aspiration to keep getting better.

Now of course professions have their downsides with respect to society (slow innovation, job protection above other matters…), so I’m not saying it is the solution.

As to outsourcing mundane work? Well, let’s just say you need to know something to actually start innovating. If you outsource all the low-level work, you’re not going to grow the next generation of technical leaders. You also drive top talent away from a field when you outsource. Would a top person enter a field in the technical area if their only hope of a decent life is to make the next innovation? Probably not. Whereas if they are decent ‘regular’ mundane jobs available, they might be more willing to take the risk in the field itself knowing if they fail… there’s always some mundane job.


People with money say the craziest things. I guess they assume everyone else has money.

I don’t do this for the money, I don’t care what you paid me I just love me some programming followed by $129 a month for hosting a Q/A site is nothing.

All of Jeff’s business partners can now take more of the pie, Jeff is interested in money. Best news they’ve probably heard all day.


I don’t care if Jeff wants money or not. I don’t care about how much money are they earning with the adds within StackOverflow, ServerFault or SuperUser. For me, It just works! I don’t feel like wasting my time, or like working for Jeff or Joel or anyone within the company. I earn knowledge, for free. When I ask for something, just a couple of minutes after, I get a set of responses and peers that not only has the knowledge, but the desire to help me. That is worthless.

I feel an insane need to stay connected to the site, answering, asking, reading, learning. Much more than from MSDN Forums (for example), where you earn rewards like MVP awards and so on. The badges just gave me that, the award. And the “thanks” gave me the motivation.

Thanks for the Job at all the Q&A sites, they are simply amazing.


Ill reserve judgement till Stack Exchange 2.0. I wonder though, were your feelings cause or effect?

Said differently, had Stack Exchange been wildly successful landing each of you bajillion dollars, would you feel the same?


@Randolf (R-F) It should have been “priceless” :slight_smile:
Anyway, otherwise, I completely agree.

Jeff, thanks for StackOverflow and family. All of them rock.


Inspired video… I love the idea, I just wish that more people would implement this kind of thing, the premise is simple… if people like what they are doing they will do it well, with attention to detail (passion?) and it won’t matter about the money… isn’t this what companies have been trying to do since the word go?


@Scobal: OK, now think of the alternative - which is building and hosting something like it yourself.

Your own time isn’t entirely free.

That was an amazing animation by the way.


You raise a lot of interesting points, I agree with most of them. In my experience of managing people (across many disciplines), I’ve found that people go to work for two very basic reasons:

  • Personal esteem
  • Monetary compensation

The order of which depends entirely on the person and their circumstances at the time. The experiments don’t take the latter into consideration. Could it be that someone in a desperate financial situation would actually perform exponentially worse than someone who was stable if both were offered a significant reward to complete the same task? Possibly.

The point that I agree with is taking money completely out of the equation. Its a stress that all of us could do very well without. If I had the capital, I’d happily start a company that existed solely to break even while paying its employees significantly higher than industry standard wages, me of course being one of them.

Think about it, we give developers nice quiet offices, catered lunches, free books, free gadgets, three monitors, ergo chairs … hell, we’d give them kittens to purr in their lap if we thought it would help them concentrate. Yet, we miss the fact that our star ninja developer is lagging behind because s/he can’t figure out a way to afford something that their family really needs. We effectively miss and fail to eliminate the biggest distraction of all.

Walk into that developer’s office and say “Don’t worry, the company will help you handle that” and the person may crap the next best collision proof hashing algorithm.

You are or will be in it for the money at some point. For some people, this dos not kick in until you find your own resources inadequate to handle something. That doesn’t mean you go from one and become the other, it just means things happen and sometimes money is going to be more important to you than it was the day before.

I could have just said the value we place on rewards is far from static, but what fun would that have been?


If I was the founder of a successful startup I could see myself proclaiming “It’s not about the money!”.

I don’t agree with the message that you shouldn’t be motivated by money or if you are, you’re doing something wrong. I want to do what I love and make lots of money. It’s not really about having a spreadsheet of my finances I can smugly show all my friends. Money is a vehicle for those things that Dan Pink talks about. Money gives you autonomy. Mastery and purpose naturally follow.

By the way StackExchange is awesome. I love it.


While I think that this article is very thought provoking and has a great deal of truth to it, I find it quite disturbing when I look at myself and try to figure out what motivates ME.

I have almost always looked for the monetary compensation, yet as I look back on my career, it is easy to see that while it positions where I had both autonomy & mastery, I was happiest.

Perhaps as with everything else in life, learning how to balance everything is the real key.

Great article, great site. Keep up the good work.


@Yamin Basmilla I am very inspired by your last point! I paraphrase it as “The highly skilled professionals in an intrinsically motivated economy, must have come up from a mundane, unskilled, extrinsically motivated economy, or else how would they have been motivated to become skilled in the first place, and to develop a taste for challenge?”

Money is just one of many metrics people use to compare each-other so they can continue to maintain the primate social hierarchy that rules their lives.

I tried to explain this to my Father/Boss and I confirmed that it can sound like communist hippie bullcrap. But after much debate I fail to see his point of view. I am looking for legitimate opposition in these comments, and not finding much more than “come on you must admit you love money.” which to my ears just sounds like “use our currency, because we has moar of it than you.”

Consider little big planet, which has a reputation based economy sort of like Stack Overflow. players create levels which are rated by other players in the public sphere, ratings then control publicity of the creations. However the players have created several other types of currency, (like elephant stickers) and attached value to them, presumably as a means of sidestepping the entrenched power hierarchy. I predict that many intrinsic motivators are alternative currencies that became valuable for similar reasons. I would also predict that anyone who values an alternative currency would deny it’s alternativeness because doing so is subservient to the original purpose of becoming more powerful (a newcomer must take all measures to make a currency which they are rich in more ubiquitous)


Here’s a question about StackExchange: What about localized communities? For example, I’d like to see something StackOverflow-like (but more generic about computers in general) in my own language (Latvian), but getting the required amount of votes will be practically impossible. The target audience is relatively small and many of them don’t know English language, let alone SO/SF/SU/SE.


I’m confused. I thought Stack Overflow was your full time job?

Do you also have a day job? Is SO a hobby for you?

I’m not sure of the point of this post, but it sounds like the bottom line is that the market is telling that $129/month is too much for a Stack site, and you ought lower the price.