Making a dent in the universe

I was at a recruiting talk by a respected Silicon Valley startup last week. The auditorium must have held something like 200 comp sci students eager to hear about the uber-cool technology stack in use, 20% time projects, and geeky movie nights. I too was enthralled by this. Much later, on the way home, the first glimmer of something amiss crossed my mind. A major theme in the talk, and in startup recruiting pitches in general, is the exhortation to young, talented engineers to make a dent in the universe. That innocuous phrase masks the implication that you’re helping me make ‘my’ dent in the universe. There’s a non-trivial problem with that. Let Evernote or Airbnb or Spotify compete with IBM and Microsoft to hire your cohort’s valedictorian. You’re not going to make a difference with them anyway. If you truly think of yourself as a startup entrepreneur, shouldn’t you instead seek to make ‘your’ dent in the universe?

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