Fuck Pattern Recognition
The experience of a 42 year old female entrepreneur
I pushed the code to Git, breathed a sigh, and reached for my supper on the table next to me, which by then had grown cold.
For the last 3 weeks I’d been stripping out every single line of CSS and HTML my CTO and co founder had put in our initial launch page. We were using Bootstrap. When I went in to make some basic changes, I discovered an opportunity to make sure we were scalable on their platform. Steffan, my co founder, was and is deeply focused on the technical guts of our product in Scala; and I knew this HTML and CSS stuff was within my skillset. He was utterly egoless about his code in the best Silicon Valley tradition; and had been thrilled that I was willing to take this on. He’d been helping me here and there along the way, along with a few other mentors I had when things got beyond what I could solve with Stack Overflow. He taught me Git, corrected my commit documentation, brought me new tools to use, and supported my effort in his most amazing, patient, consistently enthusiastic way.
Skype lit up. Steffan had sent me a file: “git pull.png.”
“^^That is awesome!…look at all those deletions!” he said.
I am so new to coding that I asked, “What does that mean?”
“All the red means the deleted code. You got rid of a ton of stuff!! At this rate we’ll have a fully functioning site on 5 bytes of code,” he joked.
Not long after, when he reviewed the code, Steffan pronounced that I’d surpassed him in my skill set and for now I’d remain our front end style guru, “at least until there were better uses of my time.”
Did I mention I’d done that in 3 weeks (with short training a couple years back on the basics?) Did I also mention I’m 42 and female?
“I can be tricked by anyone who looks like Mark Zuckerberg. There was a guy once who we funded who was terrible. I said: ‘How could he be bad? He looks like Zuckerberg!’ -Paul Graham
Those 3 weeks taught me a lot. I looked just like a hacker you would see in The Social Network. Oh, except for the fact that I wasn’t 20 something, and male. I didn’t sleep, didn’t shower. Each day during scrum on Skype I could see Steffan was busting his ass too, sometimes not leaving the house for days at a time.
My life partner started to worry about my lack of hygiene. But I pressed on. He learned to sleep while I tapped away at the keyboard, but then got interested in HTML and started lessons at Codecademy.
I learned how to use Git: branch, merge, rebase, DiffMerge. I just about have the Bootstrap site memorized. I installed new fonts. I learned about CDNs and proper documentation. After rolling back a gnarly bug I’d introduced, Steffan pronounced me “intermediate level Git.” Did I mention he came from Facebook, so he knows what he’s talking about? He takes comedy improv classes at the Upright Citizens’ Brigade. He doesn't look like Mark Zuckerberg, either.
For Christmas, I gave Steffan perfectly rendered social icons that delivered on his idea of hover transitions. He was thrilled.
“One advantage startups have over established companies is that there are no discrimination laws about starting businesses.”—Paul Graham
I don’t know Paul Graham. But I’ve talked to many YC founders, and worked for YC founders. They’re all smart people, in fact, really smart people, to a person very good at heart and incredibly hard working; but without a doubt they are enthralled and slavishly devoted, almost without exception, to a near cult that is at least partially responsible for the current state of affairs in Silicon Valley company culture. For the most part they are so young, and in more than one case were so sheltered, that they had nothing to compare his ideas to. They have been pumped up, led to believe in their own greatness, arrogant, and lacking in life and people skills required to lead companies past the early stages. I honestly feel YC is doing a disservice to the hearts and minds of some amazing young people.
As a result, I won’t ever apply to YC, or any investor who professes to believe in “pattern recognition.” I avoid YC companies as employers in most cases. Most female and black founders I know feel the same way. We have degrees from Harvard, Stanford, Cornell. We've achieved significant professional experience and have excelled in startup environments. Most of us have taught ourselves to code. But we all know we aren't wanted, and we know the game is rigged, so why waste our precious time?
To be direct: Pattern recognition is bullshit voodoo pseudo-science masquerading as objectivity and meritocracy. It’s sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and xenophobia dressed up as science. It sickens me.
It didn’t used to be that way.
I’ve been lucky to have been mentored, helped, managed by, advised by, and friended by many, many men in Silicon Valley. They taught me about the importance of paying it forward, of working together, of accepting anyone, regardless of their outward appearance. Those men are a huge part of why I’m starting a company. My co founder is a man, who chose to work with me and help me on this journey.
There is one pattern which has mattered in Silicon Valley in the past — a pattern of brilliance. And it is the only pattern that should matter — everything else is just a fallacy. —Om Malik
Refusing to acknowledge that Mark Zuckerberg is NOT what all founders should look and sound like, is stupid, evil, and dangerous, because this thinking is driving innovation from our world. This fake science needs to be stopped in its tracks.
VC is a hits driven business. Hits driven businesses are largely unsustainable.
Take a look at Pando’s recent article on Kleiner Perkins. Consider their track record on sexism in light of the revelations in the Ellen Pao story. What if Ellen or some other woman or person of color had the connections or thoughts that could have altered KPCB’s trajectory?
I can’t help but see the parallels in the entertainment industry, the financial services industry, and most recently in companies like Zynga.
Picking hits is more art than science. No one, and I mean NO ONE has figured out how to do it reliably and consistently for more than a few years at a time. It’s so hard that even the legendary investor John Doerr couldn’t do it. Stock brokers can’t do it. Disney can’t do it. Record companies can’t do it. Zynga can’t do it. Luck is a huge part, and anyone who says otherwise is selling you something. That’s why traction trumps all, and those VCs who don’t start grokking that pattern recognition = death will go the way of Kleiner Perkins and other hits driven businesses.
So pattern recognition is a useless heuristic made up by a group of rich white men as a way to quantify something that is ultimately unquantifiable: which companies will be successful, which campaigns will go viral, which video game will be the next obsession. As for me, I’d rather work with a humble investor, one who doesn’t think they know it all and wants to work together to find the best solution to a problem we both agree needs to be solved.
My plan is to ignore those who won’t be honest and data driven with me, and put my money and time into those who will be straight with me: neither of us know it all, much of startup success is luck, and hard work is a force multiplier.
On that note, I have code to ship. Vendorsi V1 is imminent.
Thank you to Diane Bisgeier, Charity Majors, and Cindy Gallop who read drafts of this post and encouraged me to make it public.
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