Self Development March 26, 2020

Have I become too cynical?

Amando Abreu @aabreu

I'm not sure how to start this or exactly where I'm going, but some of you are likely to understand my point. I'll try to keep it short.

Especially now with this outbreak, the futility of nearly everything makes itself very apparent, but even before this I just felt that everyone was developing these fiddly apps that add zero value to anyone besides other people working for businesses that add no value to anything. I mean, I know one can make money with some slack app to aid standups, but Jesus man, am I the only one that feels this is completely useless in the grand scheme of things? How do you get any satisfaction from this?

My background is software engineering, I've worked at a big unicorn whose only purpose is to get people to click a link to book a hotel and in exchange, we got 0.5€. Another place I worked developed software to put a text overlay on broadcast video. The futility of it all got to me really badly. I was giving my life away for someone to click a link to book an overpriced hotel and for us to get a few cents.

So the first reason I wanted to get away from that was all these extremely detailed fiddly things that don't make a difference, but I figured owning them would feel different from coding them. But if I have another vapid discussion about someone's "problems" that need solutions when those problems are just caused by too much mindless action in the first place, I'll go mad. Reduce BS, don't add more BS.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a "peace and love" hippie, but I can't seem to get into these types of businesses focused on insanely small details. Have I gone too cynical or am I just not meant for this? I often feel like I'm better at improving things by getting rid of BS and really not made to add more BS. This could stem from extreme laziness, but extremely lazy people don't work out 6 times a week, so I'm not sure.

It could also stem from extreme selfishness, I want to help myself but not necessarily others, but I don't want to help myself enough to use others to reach my goals if that makes sense?

Anyway, I asked this on here because I feel some of you might have been in this place and have tips.

  1. 3

    Well you are describing my day job completely.

    But you have 100% freedom in choosing what kind of indie business you will try to kickstart.

    My project - - is relating to mathematics, which I find deeply meaningful. Don't get me wrong, I plan to monetize it hard, but only because I truly believe it will bring real value to people who share my passion for mathematics.

    So it's up to you if you will build another scammy slack plugin or a project that you truly believe will bring you some fulfillment and actually "make a world a better place" (as much as I hate this phrase).

    What is your passion? What is your "dream project" if you had unlimited skills and resources?

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      That's the thing man, currently at the point where I can't even stand making anything that has a URL anymore. Dream project: either providing for myself via hunting and living mostly off-grid, or becoming a pro athlete. To monetize that I can imagine something with tourists and sports.

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        Well I went with my side-project, because it requires relatively little coding. There is more researching of math resources and designing the website on a piece of paper, which I very enjoy right now.

        Just a static website, built on technologies I know, so that there is as little time coding possible, because I am also sick of programming recently. I code 8 hours a day for my day job and it's too much for me.

        So just take your passions and make something with them. I guarantee you that you will find great satisfaction in that, just like I did.

        If you REALLY don't want to code, even making a blog or a website would be fine.
        Just do SOMETHING you enjoy. It will make you feel better.

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          I love your site (I studied maths at undergrad level). Can I submit it to HN?

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            Actually I wanted to add some materials + social media stuff on the website to not "waste" the launch on HN...

            Thanks a lot anyways, your reaction gives me a lot of motivation to keep going! :)

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              One thing I suggest for the site is to make it clear on the home page that these are all free resources.

              At first I clicked through and saw amazon links on the sites you linked to, but then realised the pattern that most (all?) of the linked sites have at least a free online version.

              Therefore I would suggest a tagline "Mathematics books and courses that are free to read online". Or similar.

              I also like the site design. Some thought has gone into how to present the information rather than just doing the usual bootstrap hero stuff.

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                That's an awesome feedback. Thanks a lot!

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    MAKE SOMETHING WORTH CARING ABOUT, you are in a pit because your work life feels devoid of meaning... so give it some

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    During this Covid crisis this is what I spoke to my lead recently about.

    A tiny virus can completely blow all our grand plans and our way of life suddenly.

    What does it even mean to work at a company and trying to climb the company ladder?

    What does it even mean to build an ad placement side project?

    I don't work out at all, apart from walks, but I feel exactly the same as you.

    Peter Thiel had a saying, "We wanted flying cars instead we got 140 characters."

    I think that is applicable at this moment.

    I don't have any answers but I completely sympathize.

    If you do find some answers let me know.

    1. 1

      Had never heard that saying, it's a good one! Peter Thiel is one clever dude.

      Tell you what, if you're at home with nothing to do anyway maybe you want to chat and who knows, maybe by throwing ideas back and forth we can reach some insight.

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        yup you can message me on if you want

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    On some levels, you're speaking my language. In my first career I designed and supported mass auto manufacturing lines. Part of my job was to shave single-digit SECONDS off the processes. I was really good at it, but after several years I burnt out of the non-stop pressure for overtime to make sure the lines were constantly running. At that moment I realized I was throwing away too much time making things that nobody really cares about, other than shareholders.

    I've also taken a cynical view in the past, in this world, to what I feel are seemingly pointless projects, but then I have to remind myself that I started my journey here after 20+ years of being a professional in a few fields. Meaning, I'VE SEEN THINGS, BAD THINGS LOL. And so I recognize now that the amount of learning the hacker will get from these simple things, with low stakes, will be invaluable for them when they graduate to more complex things. Or, millions of people pay for their simple thing and they can retire very young, while I'm still grinding away on my crazy ideas into old age. :-)

  5. 1

    Thanks for this post Amando, the honesty is truly something we need more of even in normal times.
    Like others, I can completely relate. The only additional thing I'd add is to just let these strange times ride out before making any rash decisions. We are all in a state of shock at the moment and unfortunately there's no 'rock' to cling on to because the whole world is going through it. But it's like grief in many ways, you've just got to let it run its course, not necessarily fight it and then maybe let fate dictate your next steps. Also don't beat yourself up too much, the brain is a strange thing in times of crisis!
    (Btw, I'm writing this as much for myself as I'm in the same headspace right now and need a dose of calm!).

  6. 1

    Good question. I work both as a software developer and as a paramedic, so I see both sides: optimizing clicks and saving lives. And here’s the thing: we need both.

    I can’t tell you how insane it makes me that the software we’re forced to use in ambulances to get to calls and keep patient records is so bad that it negatively impacts patient care in a huge way.

    If the hotel-booking software didn’t do it for you, I applaud you for getting out and looking for something more meaningful. But tech innovations in hotel booking such as Airbnb make us richer: so many people have found alternative income from renting out their spare rooms, and so many have got to travel to places they couldn’t otherwise have afforded. And If we’re all richer, we can afford to spend more on things that really matter, like healthcare (and please please better software on ambulances!)

    I think you’re the opposite of cynical: you care deeply whether you’re optimizing clicks or doing something good in the world. Just remember that you could be optimizing clicks and doing something good in the world.

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      Airbnb Has destroyed countless rental markets for the people who actually live in the cities that others want to visit though.

      I feel that big tech has reached the point of diminishing returns when it comes to social change.

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        Well, yes, I’m not suggesting that Airbnb is all good, it’s certainly not! And I thoroughly agree, much big tech has reached that point of diminishing returns, if not outright detriment.

        My point is that clicks change lives. Just as in any sphere, it can change them for better or worse. Even in healthcare, so much of what we do is detrimental to patient’s health, rather than beneficial.

        The fact that you see that, and are willing to act on it, makes you not so much cynical, as an agent for change.

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    That's why I chose to work in B2B. At least I'm not working on something to get people addicted or sell useless stuff to them.

    Everything I worked on are solid tools that help people accomplish complex tasks.

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    You're not cynical, actually you speak the truth. If you're a top 1% programmer / genius you should be able to do pretty much anything though, with hard work and dedication. I personally believe that intelligence can be trained. Think outside the box and think big.

  9. 1

    Well said. Don't have any advice, but I feel you.

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    How do you get any satisfaction from this?

    You don't , you make money though. Every once in a while nature has a way to hit us with a ton of bricks to remind us what's important.

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      Plenty of ways to make money and also get satisfaction, though! I think I was the most miserable when my salary was the highest.