pinchvalve
pinchvalve MegaDork
12/10/19 9:00 a.m.

When the amazing SR-71 was designed, a group of really smart people did it. I am sure that they all paid a decent wage, but the fact remains that they worked for Lockheed as employees punching a clock. Fast-forward to today, and I keep reading about these tech startups that are developing self-driving technologies. You have never heard of any of them, and they are all valued in the Billions. I get the impression that the private equity world (that is already ruining so many things) is set on holding our big brains hostage, offering them up to the highest bidder.

They vacuum up the best and the brightest from places like CMU and CalTech to create a "company" to develop new tech. Then they make outrageous claims and their value runs rampant. GM and Ford have to invest huge sums of money to purchase or invest in them, artificially driving up the cost of every car we buy.  I know, its capitalism, I just hope SOME of that crazy money is making ito the pockets of the people who code for 12 hours a day so that our cars can drive themselves.

 

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 MegaDork
12/10/19 9:04 a.m.

I've worked very hard to avoid publicity and so far been quite successful at avoiding any efforts to vacuum up my big brain.  Alas, sooner or later, they'll find me!

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
12/10/19 9:45 a.m.

The Skunk Works were the smartest people you never heard of. They did it for pay,  of course,  but also a sense of duty and national urgency. Same said for the thousands of people that worked on Apollo. They had drive not ego. 

 

dculberson
dculberson MegaDork
12/10/19 9:52 a.m.

Self driving technology is all based off of primary research done by DARPA. They were funding this stuff over a decade ago. The DARPA stuff was not intended to be used by civilians any more than the SR71 was. What you're seeing now in startup culture is the commercialization of the DARPA research.

Karacticus
Karacticus Dork
12/10/19 9:57 a.m.
pinchvalve said:

When the amazing SR-71 was designed, a group of really smart people did it. I am sure that they all paid a decent wage, but the fact remains that they worked for Lockheed as employees punching a clock. Fast-forward to today, and I keep reading about these tech startups that are developing self-driving technologies. You have never heard of any of them, and they are all valued in the Billions. I get the impression that the private equity world (that is already ruining so many things) is set on holding our big brains hostage, offering them up to the highest bidder.

They vacuum up the best and the brightest from places like CMU and CalTech to create a "company" to develop new tech. Then they make outrageous claims and their value runs rampant. GM and Ford have to invest huge sums of money to purchase or invest in them, artificially driving up the cost of every car we buy.  I know, its capitalism, I just hope SOME of that crazy money is making ito the pockets of the people who code for 12 hours a day so that our cars can drive themselves.

 

When I was back in school getting my aero degree, we went to a seminar by a guy from the Skunkworks.  He told us that they designed that airplane with slide rules, Friden mechanical calculators and ink on mylar, with no apologies required.

rob_lewis
rob_lewis UltraDork
12/10/19 9:58 a.m.
Appleseed said:

The Skunk Works were the smartest people you never heard of. They did it for pay,  of course,  but also a sense of duty and national urgency. Same said for the thousands of people that worked on Apollo. They had drive not ego. 

 

I think drive still makes it happen, it's just that there are enough people throwing money around that it's hard to ignore.  Back in the SR71 days, it was the drive to create the most awesome airplane they could, all on a government salary.  Today, it's the drive to make the best autonomous vehicle, but so many companies/investors are interested in it, if someone comes up with a good idea, they're getting all kinds of money offers.  Not to say that there are a few designers/researchers/engineers just looking to make a buck, but I'd say it's the interest in the technology that comes first in most cases.

If I developed something cool or different and some company/investor offered to fund me with 6+ figure amounts, I know I'd take it.

-Rob

ultraclyde
ultraclyde PowerDork
12/10/19 11:07 a.m.

Devil's advocate, maybe the brains are finally being rewarded on the level that they are contributing.

 

  You think building the SR-71 didnt make some individual rich? It just wasnt the smart guys with the slide rule. Arguably NASA is different, but government service always is.

TR7
TR7 Reader
12/10/19 11:34 a.m.

I work in research (government) with a lot of big brains, and some really high profile super brains. As far as I know, none of them are paid that far off of the median wage for their geographical location. The people making the big money seem to be the ones outside of the government, with MBAs and fancy watches, not lab coats and PhDs. 

tuna55
tuna55 MegaDork
12/10/19 12:00 p.m.

Something else here that is going to sound snarky and dismissive, but I promise is not.

 

Technology goes in leaps and bounds, and it isn't necessarily the motive force of the individuals themselves which do it. I do not mean that these individuals are not brilliant, but that things happen because of a very large set of variables which are all coinciding, wealth, resources, technology, time. Look at the surges of spectacular events and what precipitated them. They often don't often occur in a vacuum.

 

As a thought experiment, run back through time from the invention of steel, and imagine the timeline if near infinite resources were given to the people at the time.

 

In other words, slide rules didn't hold people back, because it was just the analysis on what they were trying to do with the materials and technology available. The slide rules don't invent technology. The computers don't create materials. 

The0retical
The0retical UberDork
12/10/19 2:31 p.m.

There were a couple articles in the last few months talking about how venture capital is starting to move away from trying to find the next unicorn. With the money funeral pyre that is WeWork, Uber, Lyft and Blue Apron, plus sprinkle in some Juicero, I can't say I blame them.

BoxheadTim
BoxheadTim MegaDork
12/10/19 2:59 p.m.

In reply to The0retical :

Yeah, like they did after the dot-com boom. It's not like history may be repeating itself again .

racerdave600
racerdave600 UltraDork
12/11/19 3:17 p.m.

I work with several, most of them ex NASA guys from the golden Apollo age.  These guys are smart, shockingly smart.  But you know, our city is full of them, you can't throw a rock without hitting one.  Most of them earn a pretty decent wage, but nothing out of the ordinary for the occupation.  I know many of the tech companies here recruit pretty heavily out of the big engineering and scientific schools nationwide, but for the most part, there are not bidding wars.  

aircooled
aircooled MegaDork
12/11/19 5:51 p.m.

Some would say, the big brains no longer being used to make things to kill each other (in some cases) is a step forward.  Rest assured though, there are still plenty doing that.

Realistically, it's about the current technology leap at the point, as noted.  It will be nice to see us move past the current trend, as some have been potentially pretty damaging societally (e.g. facebook, twitter, instagram) and a bit scary (the meta data collection underlying them).

Hopefully the next trend will be more in areas like solar, battery, self-driving vehicles, AI and space exploration (mining).  All of which could be lucrative enough to provide the money required to feed the big brains, and of course are already happening.

codrus
codrus UberDork
12/11/19 7:55 p.m.
pinchvalve said:

 I keep reading about these tech startups that are developing self-driving technologies. You have never heard of any of them, and they are all valued in the Billions. I get the impression that the private equity world (that is already ruining so many things) is set on holding our big brains hostage, offering them up to the highest bidder.

They vacuum up the best and the brightest from places like CMU and CalTech to create a "company" to develop new tech. Then they make outrageous claims and their value runs rampant. GM and Ford have to invest huge sums of money to purchase or invest in them, artificially driving up the cost of every car we buy.  I know, its capitalism, I just hope SOME of that crazy money is making ito the pockets of the people who code for 12 hours a day so that our cars can drive themselves.

A few misconceptions here:

First off, you are confusing private equity and venture capital, they're pretty different groups of investors.  VCs fund startups, private equity are the guys who buy struggling companies cheap, strip them of their assets, and dump what's left.

Also, VCs are not the guys who actually start the companies.  Entrepreneur founders do, using pre-VC funding (personal funds and "Angel investors") and then once they feel like they've got some kind of prototype/demo/etc they pitch it to VCs for additional rounds of funding.  VCs buy an ownership stake in the company with their money, and along with that comes some degree of influence in how the company is run.  VCs also provide critical help to startups in the process of growing the company.

As for "holding our big brains hostage", there's no "slavery" going on here.  Yes, the "best and brightest" new grads often go to work for hot new startups, but that's for two main reasons -- those hot startups are usually the most interesting and exciting places to work, and in the event that the company succeeds the stock options will be worth a bunch.  Those best/brightest are very much deciding to work for the startup on their own, enough so that one of the biggest challenges facing a hiring manager at a larger company is to convice those new grads that his offer is as cool as the startup one.  That's tough to do unless you're Apple. :)

And yes, the engineers who develop the product are compensated if the company succeeds by those stock options.  Keep in mind though, that around 90% of tech startups fold without any kind of "equity event" (such as an IPO or sale), and many of the 10% that are left will be sold for a fairly nominal sum that barely pays back the initial VC investment.  That's one of the reasons why these companies appeal to younger engineers, they can afford to invest years of their life into a risky startup that's paying them well below market rate (in base salary), while the older engineers who have families to support are likely to work for bigger, more stable companies.

GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH MegaDork
12/11/19 11:00 p.m.

First of all you're confusing big brains with specialization. Plenty of people are smart enough to be experts in machine learning but few are privileged enough to take the risk of investing so much effort into such a specialized education. Just a decade ago, an education specializing in machine learning was like a philosophy degree - the only way it could pay itself off is if you got a job in academia teaching the same thing to other people.

Next, the "big brains" at those companies are very well paid (for someone who actually does some kind of work for a living vs. owning for a living or benefitting from the aristocracy of CxO/board-level positions), usually starting with 6-digit salaries that can climb into the quarter-mil range. There is an AI researcher at Google who gets paid like an NFL quarterback, although nobody's sure exactly who it is. The downside is that the real estate prices and cost of living in many of the tech hotspot cities that all these jobs are jam-packed into eat all that money up, which can leave these workers not a whole lot better off than anyone with a boring middle-class job in a more pedestrian location. The hipster appeal of their living situation is something they have to pay for whether they personally see any value in it or not.

And finally there is actually no shortage of big brains. There is a surplus of STEM workers. The "STEM shortage" is a fiction invented as part of an effort to drive those healthy wages down in the long term:

https://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-20150802-column.html

 

ShawnG
ShawnG PowerDork
12/12/19 12:26 a.m.

I'd bet war has done more to advance technology than any amount of money.

You did use a spy plane as an example...

sleepyhead the buffalo
sleepyhead the buffalo Mod Squad
12/12/19 2:04 a.m.
rob_lewis said:
Appleseed said:

The Skunk Works were the smartest people you never heard of. They did it for pay,  of course,  but also a sense of duty and national urgency. Same said for the thousands of people that worked on Apollo. They had drive not ego. 

I think drive still makes it happen, it's just that there are enough people throwing money around that it's hard to ignore.  Back in the SR71 days, it was the drive to create the most awesome airplane they could, all on a government salary. 

Just to be clear, Johnson, Rich, et al... did it for Lockheed's salary;   i.e. a private salary, not a government one.

Fueled by Caffeine
Fueled by Caffeine MegaDork
12/12/19 5:48 a.m.

Big brains aren't too expensive.  They want a combo of purpose/belonging/fun things to do and comp. 

 

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
12/12/19 6:33 a.m.
GameboyRMH said:

The downside is that the real estate prices and cost of living in many of the tech hotspot cities that all these jobs are jam-packed into eat all that money up, which can leave these workers not a whole lot better off than anyone with a boring middle-class job in a more pedestrian location. The hipster appeal of their living situation is something they have to pay for whether they personally see any value in it or not.

Austin is already on it's way to being Silicone Valley Jr. 

Oracle is now moving it's annual OpenWorld event in Las Vegas because of:
1. Hotel Pricing
2. Street Safety

 

This is bizarre to me, your company is one of the ones that made the entire area so successful, you can no longer afford to do business there. 

 

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