"After all, the engineers only needed to refuse to fix anything, and modern industry would grind to a halt." -Michael Lewis

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The New New Thing, A Silicon Valley Story: Summary in Quotes

Oct 2018

The New New Thing, by Michael Lewis, is a pseudo biography of Jim Clark, meant to be introspective of the modern day tech industry. While it was written nearly twenty years ago, much of the culture that was unearthed in the 1990s still remains in Silicon Valley, and the attitude of a man who founded three separate billion dollar companies is something to pay very close attention to.

"It's one of the little ironies of economic progress that, while it seems to provide greater levels of comfort, it depends on people who prefer not to get too comfortable."
"After all, the engineers only needed to refuse to fix anything and modern industry would grind to a halt."
"...with the exception of Stanford University, no structure on the horizon had been built to last any longer than it took some engineer to think up a good excuse to tear it down."
"Experiences from which most people could extract a life philosophy he glanced at once and discarded from his thoughts."
"...the fence Clark wanted to build was declared 'too high.' So, Clark built a hill, and put the fence on top of the hill. It did not occur to him that there was anything unusual about this."
"But as a group, Clark began to complain, they had precious little to show for it. The Lion's share of the equity and the power had been taken by others. Financiers and managers owned huge chunks of silicon graphics and had seized control of the board of directors. Clark's engineers owned tiny slivers and watched the decision making from afar."
"Clark thought that silicon graphics had to cannibalize itself. For a technology company to succeed, he argued, it needed to always be looking to destroy itself. If it didn't, someone else would."
"The main appeal to the engineers of the telecomputer was its complexity. This was, in itself, an ominous sign. It's a good rule of the technology business that the more intellectually appealing the machine the less likely anyone will pay for it."
"Once he had identified the new new thing, all he needed was some really smart, passionate engineers to chase after it and make it happen."
"In this new world, skepticism was not a sign of intelligence--it was a sin. When you sat back and looked at it, you saw that a single assumption underpinned the entire boom: the future would be better than the past."
"Certainly no one saw the Microsoft antitrust trial for what it was: yet another rock Clark had pushed off the side of a cliff and watched with Godlike detachment as it became an avalanche."
"That was the burden of the technical man: he knew the many ways technology could fail, and he realized that he alone was responsible for its success."
"What happened to Clark in silicon valley was far more interesting than luck. It was the interplay of a character who had a deep feel for technology and a taste for anarchy, with an environment that rewarded both traits."

Nick Fisher is a software engineer in the Pacific Northwest. He focuses on building highly scalable and maintainable backend systems.