The Big Wait: Trying not to get stressed-out for SXSW

by phil on Sunday Mar 6, 2011 8:14 PM

"Life is what happens while you're waiting for moments that never come."

I've been thinking about that quote lately as SXSW fever picks up here in Austin. The whole town turns into a giant carnival. It's interesting having a front row seat as a resident, but it's even more interesting being inside the head of someone in the high-tech software industry. Among tech starters, there is this pervasive chase. You have a desire to see your company and product on TechCrunch. You desire to one day get bought out by Google. Or even better, to one day reject an offer from Google so you can IPO for something bigger. This is the Big Wait in the tech community. The wait for the Big Win.

While there is the Big Wait, there are smaller Waits that occur in the life of a tech starter. You have conventions peppered throughout the year. You have CES or you have some start-up expo or some VC pitch or some YCombinator demo. SXSW is a big one, and if I close my eyes for a second I can visualize all my comrades in Silicon Valley clocking in on a Sunday night, under flourescent lights, trying to get more headway on their deadlines. If they don't, their President or VP or whoever will look like a fool on demoday during their panel, and The World Will End.

This mindset is inculcated early, in the Computer Science departments at the best universities across the country. In the Computer Science program at Stanford for example, you have no life, and you're often required to pull all-nighters. At the time I was a student, the major required 114 units to finish (while the average major was about 65), and their units are about twice as demanding as ordinary units in terms of time committment. The psycology of those students is that if they can ace this program, or if they can hack it as a CS major at Stanford, then that'll bring them one step closer to some tech-titan-holy-grail-riding-down-Sand-Hill-Road-in-a-Lotus-buying-a-mega-condo-in-Pac-Heights-not-having-to-work-for-my-rest-of-my-life.

Despite all the open talk about how passionate these programmers are about their products, I have to remind myself that it's just a proxy fight for a paper chase. It's so easy to get intoxicated in the seemingly perfect blend between your love of programming and the rapid results you get. But that shouldn't become your whole life. I like to say that I'm immersed in technology, but not consumed by it. But the fact is, I am consumed by my work. I wake up at 4am thinking about some feature that if I just got done right that minute, my product would improve by leaps and bounds and I'll get one step closer to The Dream.

But this weekend I'm being good. I've got a billion features I could get done for SXSW to make The Sweetest Impact Ever, but I'm not. Lately I've been meditating on the thought that my work-habits have slowly made me become like Them. By Them, I'm referring to the legion of clones that arrive for SXSW. You can't notice that they're clones just by looking at them. After all, the SXSW fashion is all about throwing an individualized dash of hipster in with your geek. No, what makes you a clone is when you and your buzzwords are one and the same.

Living and breathing this stuff is revered in the tech culture. But I have to remind myself it's not a life.

I found the quote from The Wire. Jimmy comes in to work on the weekend, and Lester has some wise words for him:


thompson_gunner said on March 7, 2011 10:50 AM:

Similar quote:

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." -- John Lennon

Fletcher T. said on March 10, 2011 3:28 PM:

SXSW! I can't wait either. I'm hearing so much chatter on my social channels it just makes waiting unbearable.

Fletcher T.
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