July 27th, 2011 | by COREY PEIN News | Posted In: Tech, Business

Massive Cojones on Display at Oregon Convention Center (Updated With Shrinkage)

steve yeggeSoftware engineer Steve Yegge

Via Hacker News comes this video of a fascinating talk by (former) Google staff software engineer Steve Yegge.

Speaking at the annual prestige geekfest that is OSCON, the open-source software convention, at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland this week, Yegge took the opportunity to quit his job in front of a live audience.

There's a fair amount of technical jargon in Yegge's speech, but his main point was to urge his audience of some of the most talented computer programmers in the world to spend less time working on cash-cow trivialities like FarmVille and more time honing their skills to tackle important problems facing the world in the realms of public health and political freedom.

Without a change in tech culture, "it's going to be FarmPlanet," he said.

"You guys are superheroes, and we're all working on, well, crap," Yegge went on.


Why would an ambitious, socially conscious programmer give up a job at Google? After all, the company whose motto "Don't Be Evil" reflects its reputation for backing controversial projects that—while profitable—also produce what are, in the founders' view, public benefits. 

Yegge hints that the company's ethos has begun to change.

"Here's the funny thing: I had a mid-life crisis instantly after writing and rehearsing this speech once," Yegge said. "I had just signed up to work on a cat picture project"—related, he hints, to Google Plus, the new social networking service.

"I am officially quitting that job on national TV," he went on, "and my boss is finding out about it the same time as you are. So you might say I've got a little bit of skin in this game."

Like the headline says: cojones.

He got a round of applause that should be encouraging to anyone who thinks the Internet should do more than serve up pet pictures.

Update: On his blog, Yegge says he's not quitting Google, just the "cat pictures" project he'd been working on. 

… I basically advise[d] everyone to start working on important problems instead of just chasing the money. Or at the very least, go ahead and chase the money in the short term, but while you are doing that, prepare yourself to help solve real problems. 

And after writing the speech I realized I'd completely failed to follow my own advice. I'm getting old and I only have so many "big projects" left that I can actually participate in. So in my mind it's a complete cop-out for me to take the easy path and work on a project that my company is excited about but I am not. 

Now, as it happens, I am in fact working on a very cool project at Google. … I am happy to continue working on that project for now. Yes, at Google.

Yegge's post blames Hacker News for mischaracterizing his speech. His actual choice of words left some room for ambiguity, but he did say he was "quitting that job," which sure sounds like a statement of resignation.

Whatever the case, the speech still touches on some important issues.

 
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