Found 8 comments on HN
robterrell · 2018-01-16 · Original thread
This is required reading for anyone on HN...

...more for fun historical perspective than anything else. Lots of great anecdotes and stories about founders. The book became a PBS series that become a movie with Noah Wiley as Steve Jobs. And useful insight:

"As inventive organizations grow and mature, they often convert themselves into maintenance organizations, dedicated to doing revisions of formerly inventive products and boring as hell for the original programmers who were used to living on adrenalin rushes and junk food. This transition time, from inventive to maintenance, is a time of crisis for these companies and their founders."

smacktoward · 2016-03-18 · Original thread
Yes, but Mark Stephens (this Cringely) is arguably the Cringely, in that he was the one who made the column popular, and he published a book (Accidental Empires: under the name. So there have been other Cringelys, but when people say "Robert X. Cringely," they almost always mean Mark Stephens.
smacktoward · 2015-03-06 · Original thread
In his classic book Accidental Empires (, Robert X. Cringely wrote that if you think of a market as an invasion beach you can think of three kinds of employees at tech companies: commandos, infantry, and police.

Commandos are people who love challenges and hate structure. They'll happily take on missions that other people think are crazy or impossible, because doing things other people think are crazy or impossible is what turns them on. They get you your critical early beachhead by swimming in at midnight with a knife in their teeth and slitting throats till morning.

Infantry are what most people are. Most people are not Rambo; crazy suicide missions don't turn them on. But at this point you have your foothold on the beach, so suicide missions are few; what you need now is lots of people to take that foothold and widen it into a big enough space to sustain yourself on indefinitely. This work is kind of a grind, so it doesn't appeal to the commandos, who start falling away looking for a new beach to storm. But it's critical for turning the company from a proof-of-concept into a real, going concern.

Eventually the fight for the beach ends, and the battle moves inland. But you still need to have some people there to maintain order, which is where the police come in. Police are even more risk-averse than infantry; they're caretakers who see their job less as expanding the market the commandos and infantry have won then as making sure it doesn't fall apart. Commandos and infantry fight to win; police fight to not lose.

All of these personality types are important at varying stages in a company's life, he writes, but the big challenge is making sure you have the right ones at the right stages, and that you manage the transitions between those stages well. A mostly-commandos startup that takes off but tries to still keep itself mostly commandos will choke on its own success. A larger company that still has growth opportunities but phases out its infantry in favor of police too early will miss those opportunities and get ground down by more aggressive competitors. A company that's grown as much as it can grow but resists bringing on police will run itself down launching futile new products that the market isn't asking for. Etc.

smacktoward · 2014-07-25 · Original thread
Because he wrote the best book ever written on the rise of the PC industry, Accidental Empires ( And then turned it into a TV documentary miniseries, Triumph of the Nerds (, which was best in class as well.
smacktoward · 2014-06-04 · Original thread
His book "Accidental Empires" (, and the PBS documentary miniseries that was based on it, "Triumph of the Nerds" (, are both terrific, must-read/see histories of the dawning and maturity of the age of personal computing. The doc is especially fascinating now because it was made in the window of time after Steve Jobs' failure at NeXT, but before his triumphant return to Apple -- so it provides a glimpse of him humbled and circumspect, which is a very different tone than that he took in nearly every other public appearance ever.

Cringely's more recent work has been kind of hit or miss, though.

hga · 2013-02-27 · Original thread
If you are a CEO you should be asking this question: "How many people in this company can unilaterally destroy our entire business model?"

In high tech this can get really messy, these are frequently inherently more fragile companies. My favorite example is from Robert X. Cringley in this great book: ; from memory:

One day Intel's yields suddenly went to hell (that's the ratio of working die on a wafer to non-working, and is a key to profitability). And no matter how hard they tried, they could only narrow it down to the wafers being contaminated, but the wafer supplier swore up and down they were shipping good stuff, and they were. So eventually they tasked a guy to follow packages from the supplier all the way to the fab lines, and he found the problem in Intel's receiving department. Where a clerk was breaking open the sealed packages and counting out the wafers on his desk to make damned sure Intel was getting its money worth....

His point is that you can have a Fortune 500 company, normally thought to be stable companies that won't go "poof" without ample warning, in which there are many more people than in previous kinds of companies who can very quickly kill it dead.

hga · 2009-12-29 · Original thread
Walking the High-Tech High Wire: The Technical Entrepreneur's Guide to Running a Successful Enterprise by David Adamson,

The best tech startup book I've read, by a founder of a company that came up with a unique semiconductor device. They had to create their market (it had great advantages but they had to convince EEs to do something unconventional), they had to discover what made them money (selling parts or services (consulting)), etc.

If your company is going to have a lot of people and has repeatable processes (i.e. you're not developing software) The E-Myth by Michael Gerber or I suppose its revision (which I haven't read):

He suggests that you build up any company of this nature as if you're going to franchise it.

He also has a lot of other good advice; one that comes to mind is to make sure that there's a head for every "hat", i.e. make sure every critical function is the responsibility of someone, don't let anything fall through the cracks simply because of oversight.

At the other end of the spectrum, it's no accident that Robert X. Cringely's Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date is still in print:

Read/skim it if for nothing else but the lesson of how Intel, after it had gotten quite big almost died due to the innocent well intentioned actions of one man. He makes the point that high tech companies, even if they enter the Fortune 500, aren't like "normal" ones.

There's the conceit that when a company gets big enough, no one person can kill it. His example is only one of many you can find where screwing up at the technical level can with frightening speed put a high tech company on a terminal path (see the recent "When the elves leave Middle Earth" HN item for another example of this:

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