Talking About Money is Not Evil

One of the things viewers tried to gig me on most while on YouTube was the fact I talk about money in almost all of my videos.  There is this thought that says you should work on technology as a passion, and that if you’re worried about whether you can take a vacation, live in a nice house, or even be able to pay for your families health insurance that you are doing things wrong. It’s not just that thinking of money is wrong headed, but that it crosses the line into immorality.

This is one of those places where I feel that folks have lost the plot.  This is not some simple disagreement about whether VR is the UI of the future, but rather that people genuinely have zero grasp of what it is to be a technology professional. If you want to be a philosopher and sit on a mountaintop meditating to find enlightenment you can do that for very little cash.  If you want to be a writer documenting the trials and tribulations of being a writer you can do that on minimum wage. If you want to be a Social Agitator you too can cross the country on $50 bus tickets, sleeping on couches, and protesting whatever it is you feel unjust.  To be clear NOT all professions require a lot of money, and you don’t need a lot of money to be happy, but… BUT… the technology profession is fundamentally different.

The tech profession from it’s foundation is built on material objects.  To build a network you need a router, switches, wireless access points, servers and clients.  Whether you buy Cisco or Linksys to accomplish this you still need to BUY something!  Whether it’s a $1,000,000 buildout, or a $1000 you have a budget that has to come from somewhere.

Beyond the material items to be in tech you need training.  I have yet to meet someone who didn’t know what a router was, but was able to pick one up and intuitively configure it. In the arts, and many jobs you can look at a finished product and be able to guess at how it was built.  You show a 10 year old the Mona Lisa, then show them paint, canvas, and a brush and they can get the idea. Obviously they’ll need to gain experience to become good, but seeing a painting and then seeing what makes the painting allows people to grasp how one becomes the other.  You show a 10 year old Netflix, and then throw a pile of routers, modems, switches, servers, network cabling, and some printouts of code on a table and that kid will be clueless.  A college graduate would be clueless.  Frankly even tech professionals in other aspects of tech such as telephony may be clueless.  To do this profession you need to be taught specific skills.

To learn these skills costs money.  Whether you can afford to go to MIT, or your budget only allows for either way some amount of money is required.  There is a myth that you can learn tech for free.  You may be about to correct me, but… how much did the laptop cost that you’re reading this on?  How much is the ISP bill so that you can stream YouTube videos?  How much is the hosting plan to have a website that is publicly accessible?  Whether you spend $10,000 on an in person training session, or $100 for a month of CBT Nuggets you still need some money. Additionally although the cost of training has come down you still get what you pay for.  YouTube videos have their limits. Do you really want to piece together some half ass curriculum for “free”, rather than spend a bit on a Udacity Nanodegree that has everything planned out?

Many folks think the money thing is a good old argument to have. To be clear from my view if you don’t care about money you’re irrelevant.  You have given up before you’ve begun in this field, and any further discussion is a waste of time.  Even a site as simple as Failed Normal requires money to operate.  I have to pay for hosting services, Vimeo, SSL, the theme, plugins, etc.  I’m very happy to say the infrastructure cost is not much, but it’s still $100 per month. No money = no website…

Beyond that as a…dare I say… 41 year old I have a family and bills to worry about.  Do you realize even with both my wife and I being healthy right now our medical cost per year is still $10,000 and this is BEFORE we find the results of our insurance company seeking an average 50% premium increase for next year! For all the kids out there railing against the establishment let me tell you Property Tax is going to come as a hell of a shock. I’m not sure when feeding your family, buying a house, and paying for medical care became Bourgeoisie concepts.  When I was coming of age the question was how to have more vacation, and work fewer hours per week.  When the hell did people decide getting away to decompress after a reasonable work week was something only for the pampered?

This doesn’t even touch on the idea of growing something like Failed Normal.  If you figure a reasonable middle class salary in my area is $50,000 per year. You then tack on benefits such as health care, 401K, etc you come to somewhere around $60,000 all in per mid level employee I’d hire.  Now it’s not just my mortgage on the line, but the mortgages of others.  In order to write $60,000 worth of checks there has to be enough MONEY in my accounts to do so…

Our profession revolves around money.  It’s not some side tangent.  It’s not some add-on task.  Money is the whole point.  At it’s core technology is used to make businesses more productive.  What you deploy should either increase the amount of widgets your organization can ship by a financial amount greater than what was spent, or reduce the cost of producing and shipping said widgets by a financial amount greater than what was spent.  If an organization sees no financial benefit to deploying new tech then they won’t deploy new tech, which de facto means you have no job.  Whether you’re debating with your spouse as to the value of spending $15,000 on a coding bootcamp, or debating with your boss as to the value of a $50,000 server deployment the key component of any technology decision is the financial one.

I become frustrated, infuriated, and sadden by this whole banal argument about money because I see the damage it does to the communities that need to understand the real world the most.  An experience burned in my memory was talking to an African American guy trying to build his startup in Baltimore City.  This guy had done what he was supposed to do.  He had gone to college, gotten a CS degree, and was doing well as a contractor. He had been sold on the idea of taking his skills and ideas to build a startup, but was being stymied by not understanding money.  When money was brought up he was shy on the subject.  Me being me I was blunt on the subject of needing to pull in investment and get his numbers in order.  He confessed to me his problem was that his family NEVER talked about money.  There was no one in his community that talked about money.  He had been raised to feel that money was a taboo subject…

HOW DO YOU LAUNCH A STARTUP IF YOU ARE UNWILLING TO TALK ABOUT MONEY?  At the the time a reasonable budget for getting a scaleable , modifiable, product off the ground was around $250,000. (Front End, Back End, Native App, Graphics, etc).  Past that a startup has to do client acquisition as if their life depended on it. (Because is does) Client acquisition on a short time scale, for a new product category is eye bleedingly expensive.  So launching a startup at that time you could reasonably figure a required budget of $500,000. You need to convince someone to give you 10 man years worth of salary on something that approximates a lottery ticket.  How do you do that if you think $100 is a lot of money?

Ironically in the American society that is built on capitalism and cold hard cash a huge swath of the population refuses to accept what our systems are built on.  It’s not simple ignorance, or even stupidity, it’s shoving their heads so far into the sand so that they can’t even hear people trying to scream to them.

I’m one of those people that genuinely recognizes the issues of many communities in our society.  Block busting was (is?) real. Loan discrimination is real. Transit system design, poor education, government designed segregation is a reality.  Outsourcing good jobs which destroys entire towns is happening. Quotas that damage all sides are the rule. (You want to see something sad read up on minorities that were shoehorned into colleges they were not prepared for and then drop out after 2 years with no degree or skills, but $40K in debt) I can’t do much of anything about those issues. You are 100% correct.  The system really is bending you over the table and then expecting you to be thankful and pay them.

What I can do is be honest.  This profession relies on money. We live in an age where anyone can sell almost anything anywhere.  With PayPal, WooCommerce, the USPS and some social media marketing you can make things in your basement and sell them globally.  You too can be a half brain addled geek tip taping away on his MacBook Pro in the exurbs of a city that is falling in on itself and make money by selling subscriptions to whomever is willing to read.  The internet is blind in a way that was never before possible.  If you don’t put your picture up no one knows your race, color, creed, or hair style.  In a world of UPS your location is near irrelevant.  The person working out of their efficiency apartment is as effective as the one working out of a Manhattan corner office.

The only equalizer is the ability to deploy money.  Whether you are black, white, transgender or an Apache Attack Helicopter it will be your ability to analyze the market, determine where your skills and resources will bring the highest return, and convincing others to pull out their checkbook. Exchange, Python, Azure, Linode or SDN are just the products you’ll use. Not really anymore significant than whether you drive a Ford, Toyota, or bicycle to work.

When you use money as a metric it makes life and your career easier.  I’m not saying that you should sell your soul, but just figure out your required budget and then work towards that.  So many people at this time blather on about passion when they haven’t worked a day in the field.  Let me tell you… I’ve worked on military systems, NT4.0 servers, Linux, Avaya Digital Telephone Systems, VoIP, Networking, Web Design, blathered in front of a camera, and now am writing for this site.  At the end of the day it basically all the same crap. I prefer what I do now because I can do it from anywhere, and generally don’t have to worry about servers crashing at midnight, but beyond that it’s really not that much different than back in the days of fixing Windows 95 machines.  I wake up in the morning with a task list.  I work through the task list, and if there’s time left over I do some house cleaning and planning for improvements.  I used to click “update” on an IBM Tivoli work order system.  Now I click “update” on a WordPress blog.

Just imagine where I’d be if I had kept on swapping hard drives for the “passion” of it… damn that would have been sad…



  1. I wouldn’t have thought this mentality was so pervasive in the tech industry if you hadn’t opined on it. Seems counter-intuitive for the exact reasons you mentioned.

    • “in the industry” is probably a tad off… it’s with wannabe’s, n00bs, and scammers… sadly many people are being sold a bill of goods as to the nature of the industry and MANY people are feeding off of it… it’s along the lines of how so many YouTube viewers are horrified at the idea of
      “building something”…

  2. No one wants to talk money outside of tech either, or at least earning money. You can see hundreds of people talking about saving up for a phone or car or something but places no focus on earning MORE money. Just the way they approach the subject of money sometimes tell you everything you need to know.

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