Your income; and will you write your memoirs?

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I have seen your resume and I am very, very impressed. Makes me feel
rather small, yet inspired at the same time. With all the things you
did and do today, surely you must earn a bit. If you're not touchy
about what you earn in the same way that some people are about their
age, what was your income after tax last year, what might it be this
year and what do you estimate for 2000?

Along the same lines as the above statement, your life seems
fascinating. Have you thought of writing your memoirs (for publication
on the Web, of course)?

- Karim Ghantous

-- Karim Damien Ghantous, July 14, 1999


I already did write my memoirs when I was doing something interesting (see Travels with Samantha). Now I just sit at a desk and program or write or answer email. So I doubt that anyone would want to read My Life as a Computer Programmer.

How much did I earn last year? A bit less than my friend Rolf's friend who is 23 years old and applies Y2K patches to Chicago-area companies' Unix boxes (I think he makes more than $300,000 and works less than half as many hours as I do).

The bottom line is that no matter how much one earns it will probably be less than Bill Gates. Therefore there is no distinction to be had in being rich. Bottom line: I try to do some stuff that will be useful to other people.

Another way to answer your question is to point out that it doesn't really matter how much money you earn until you reach some huge amount that I haven't reached. I was perfectly happy as a grad student earning $20,000 per year. I had lots of time, lived with my grandfather, cooked for myself, watched the Simpsons for entertainment, and drove to Alaska while sleeping in youth hostels or tents. As CEO, my income is pegged at $160,000 per year (plus bonus), but I have to work all the time. So I have to buy food (more expensive than cooking), insist on fancy entertainment (since I seldom take time off), and take short expensive trips involving airplanes and $400/night hotels. I don't have time to take my car into the dealership for service so I had to give my old car away to charity and buy a new one ($27,000 or so). I'm a certified yuppie now so I had to move out of my grandfather's house and buy a $300,000 condo in Harvard Square. Taxes take away maybe 45% of what I earn. So the bottom line enjoyment that I get from my income, i.e., my standard of living, is very similar to what it was before.

Of course I might yet get rich (have already turned down a takeover offer for but as noted above it would still be a pathetic stack of cash compared to Bill Gates's. So if I want to feel impressed with myself I won't look to the money but rather to (1) the end-users using my open-source software and Web sites that I've built, (2) the other computer programmers who've learned from my software and my site and downloaded my source code, (3) the students I've taught, and (4) the people who've been able to use my ideas and examples to solve interesting problems in their own domains.

-- Philip Greenspun, July 19, 1999

..and those ideas are making a difference in my own experiences as well as of many other students in my college too. I advise other students on the issues you talk about that relate to good web dev and content, and more or less on some of the social issues you discuss. is your baby, just like Alex is, please don't let anyone take it over.

-- Arthur Pinkerton, April 30, 2000

I'd say Philip has it ass-backwards here - Really, it doesn't matter how much money you earn *beyond* some amount. If you have expensive habits/tastes, that might be a larger amount.

Philip does complain about a lack of time and how he had to use some of his cash to 'buy back' time. Seems that lack of time to do anything beyond being a CEO was a bigger problem.

Look at it this way: How much better could your life be earning 75K/year vs. 50K/year? How about 175K/year vs. 150K/year? If I was at 150K/year, I would not give up even 5 hours extra a week to get that extra 25K - I want those 5 hours to go live my life the way *I* want, which I can do thanks to that 150K/year. If I was only earning 50K/year, an extra 25K would allow me to do a few things I can't right now (some expensive vacations for one) and shuffle off a few things I don't want to do (hire a house cleaner for two). For that, yes, I might give up a few hours a week.

If those those extra hours go to something you want to do anyways, well, you can always find something to do with extra money. Philip, you should worry less about what Bill Gates is earning and more about if you're happy doing what you do. The amount of money Bill has is only good as tool of power - nothing to do with standard of living.

-- Ralph Fuhrmann, October 5, 2001

The amount of money Bill has is only good as tool of power - nothing to do with standard of living.

Well now, a "tool of power" sure can be nice. (And I don't mean the "one ring to rule them all" kind, either.)

For example, if I had Bill Gate's money, I'd probably be fundingf Single Stage to Orbit right damn now, so we could get to space. Rotary Rocket thought they could do it for $100 million, but getting that kind of cash out of VCs is a whole lot harder than getting a measly $10 million or so. They didn't get it.

For a while there anyway, Philip may have been in the running for that sort of "tool of power". And I've never asked him, but I assume his ideas of what to do with such a tool may have been more interesting than just buying a yacht as big as Larry Ellison's.

-- Andrew Piskorski, October 6, 2001