A Grand Unified Theory of the AI Hype Cycle

I’m sorry, but as an AI language model, I cannot repeat history exactly. However, I can rhyme with it.

The Cycle

The history of AI goes in cycles, each of which looks at least a little bit like this:

  1. Scientists do some basic research and develop a promising novel mechanism, N. One important detail is that N has a specific name; it may or may not be carried out under the general umbrella of “AI research” but it is not itself “AI”. N always has a few properties, but the most common and salient one is that it initially tends to require about 3x the specifications of the average computer available to the market at the time; i.e., it requires three times as much RAM, CPU, and secondary storage as is shipped in the average computer.
  2. Research and development efforts begin to get funded on the hypothetical potential of N. Because N is so resource intensive, this funding is used to purchase more computing capacity (RAM, CPU, storage) for the researchers, which leads to immediate results, as the technology was previously resource constrained.
  3. Initial successes in the refinement of N hint at truly revolutionary possibilities for its deployment. These revolutionary possibilities include a dimension of cognition that has not previously been machine-automated.
  4. Leaders in the field of this new development — specifically leaders, like lab administrators, corporate executives, and so on, as opposed to practitioners like engineers and scientists — recognize the sales potential of referring to this newly-“thinking” machine as “Artificial Intelligence”, often speculating about science-fictional levels of societal upheaval (specifically in a period of 5-20 years), now that the “hard problem” of machine cognition has been solved by N.
  5. Other technology leaders, in related fields, also recognize the sales potential and begin adopting elements of the novel mechanism to combine with their own areas of interest, also referring to their projects as “AI” in order to access the pool of cash that has become available to that label. In the course of doing so, they incorporate N in increasingly unreasonable ways.
  6. The scope of “AI” balloons to include pretty much all of computing technology. Some things that do not even include N start getting labeled this way.
  7. There’s a massive economic boom within the field of “AI”, where “the field of AI” means any software development that is plausibly adjacent to N in any pitch deck or grant proposal.
  8. Roughly 3 years pass, while those who control the flow of money gradually become skeptical of the overblown claims that recede into the indeterminate future, where N precipitates a robot apocalypse somewhere between 5 and 20 years away. Crucially, because of the aforementioned resource-intensiveness, the gold owners skepticism grows slowly over this period, because their own personal computers or the ones they have access to do not have the requisite resources to actually run the technology in question and it is challenging for them to observe its performance directly. Public critics begin to appear.
  9. Competent practitioners — not leaders — who have been successfully using N in research or industry quietly stop calling their tools “AI”, or at least stop emphasizing the “artificial intelligence” aspect of them, and start getting funding under other auspices. Whatever N does that isn’t “thinking” starts getting applied more seriously as its limitations are better understood. Users begin using more specific terms to describe the things they want, rather than calling everything “AI”.
  10. Thanks to the relentless march of Moore’s law, the specs of the average computer improve. The CPU, RAM, and disk resources required to actually run the software locally come down in price, and everyone upgrades to a new computer that can actually run the new stuff.
  11. The investors and grant funders update their personal computers, and they start personally running the software they’ve been investing in. Products with long development cycles are finally released to customers as well, but they are disappointing. The investors quietly get mad. They’re not going to publicly trash their own investments, but they stop loudly boosting them and they stop writing checks. They pivot to biotech for a while.
  12. The field of “AI” becomes increasingly desperate, as it becomes the label applied to uses of N which are not productive, since the productive uses are marketed under their application rather than their mechanism. Funders lose their patience, the polarity of the “AI” money magnet rapidly reverses. Here, the AI winter is finally upon us.
  13. The remaining AI researchers who still have funding via mechanisms less vulnerable to hype, who are genuinely thinking about automating aspects of cognition rather than simply N, quietly move on to the next impediment to a truly thinking machine, and in the course of doing so, they discover a new novel mechanism, M. Go to step 1, with M as the new N, and our current N as a thing that is now “not AI”, called by its own, more precise name.

The History

A non-exhaustive list of previous values of N have been:

  • Neural networks and symbolic reasoning in the 1950s.
  • Theorem provers in the 1960s.
  • Expert systems in the 1980s.
  • Fuzzy logic and hidden Markov models in the 1990s.
  • Deep learning in the 2010s.

Each of these cycles has been larger and lasted longer than the last, and I want to be clear: each cycle has produced genuinely useful technology. It’s just that each follows the progress of a sigmoid curve that everyone mistakes for an exponential one. There is an initial burst of rapid improvement, followed by gradual improvement, followed by a plateau. Initial promises imply or even state outright “if we pour more {compute, RAM, training data, money} into this, we’ll get improvements forever!” The reality is always that these strategies inevitably have a limit, usually one that does not take too long to find.

Where Are We Now?

So where are we in the current hype cycle?

Some Qualifications

History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. This hype cycle is unlike any that have come before in various ways. There is more money involved now. It’s much more commercial; I had to phrase things above in very general ways because many previous hype waves have been based on research funding, some really being exclusively a phenomenon at one department in DARPA, and not, like, the entire economy.

I cannot tell you when the current mania will end and this bubble will burst. If I could, you’d be reading this in my $100,000 per month subscribers-only trading strategy newsletter and not a public blog. What I can tell you is that computers cannot think, and that the problems of the current instantation of the nebulously defined field of “AI” will not all be solved within “5 to 20 years”.


Thank you to my patrons who are supporting my writing on this blog. Special thanks also to Ben Chatterton for a brief pre-publication review; any errors remain my own. If you like what you’ve read here and you’d like to read more of it, or you’d like to support my various open-source endeavors, you can support my work as a sponsor! I am also available for consulting work if you think your organization could benefit from expertise on topics like “what are we doing that history will condemn us for”. Or, you know, Python programming.

How To PyCon

Since I am headed to PyCon tomorrow, let’s talk about conference tips.

These tips are not the “right” way to do PyCon, but they are suggestions based on how I try to do PyCon. Consider them reminders to myself, an experienced long-time attendee, which you are welcome to overhear.

See Some Talks

The hallway track is awesome. But the best version of the hallway track is not just bumping into people and chatting; it’s the version where you’ve all recently seen the same thing, and thereby have a shared context of something to react to. If you aren’t going to talks, you aren’t going to get a good hallway track.. Therefore: choose talks that interest you, attend them and pay close attention, then find people to talk to about them.

Given that you will want to see some of the talks, make sure that you have the schedule downloaded and available offline on your mobile device, or printed out on a piece of paper.

Make a list of the talks you think you want to see, but have that schedule with you in case you want to call an audible in the middle of the conference, switching to a different talk you didn’t notice based on some of those “hallway track” conversations.

Participate In Open Spaces

The name “hallway track” itself is antiquated, in a way which is relevant and important to modern conferences. It used to be that conferences were exclusively oriented around their scheduled talks; it was called the “hallway” track because the way to access it was to linger in the hallways, outside the official structure of the conference, and just talk to people.

But however, at PyCon and many other conferences, this unofficial track is now much more of an integrated, official part of the program. In particular, open spaces are not only a more official hallway track, they are considerably better than the historical “hallway” experience, because these ad-hoc gatherings can be convened with a prepared topic and potentially a loose structure to facilitate productive discussion.

With open spaces, sessions can have an agenda and so conversations are easier to start. Rooms are provided, which is more useful than you might think; literally hanging out in a hallway is actually surprisingly disruptive to speakers and attendees at talks; us nerds tend to get pretty loud and can be quite audible even through a slightly-cracked door, so avail yourself of these rooms and don’t be a disruptive jerk outside somebody’s talk.

Consult the open space board, and put up your own proposed sessions. Post them as early as you can, to maximize the chance that they will get noticed. Post them on social media, using the conference's official hashtag, and ask any interested folks you bump into help boost it.1

Remember that open spaces are not talks. If you want to give a mini-lecture on a topic and you can find interested folks you could do that, but the format lends itself to more peer-to-peer, roundtable-style interactions. Among other things, this means that, unlike proposing a talk, where you should be an expert on the topic that you are proposing, you can suggest open spaces where you are curious — but ignorant — about something, in the hopes that some experts will show up and you can listen to their discussion.

Be prepared for this to fail; there’s a lot going on and it’s always possible that nobody will notice your session. Again, maximize your chances by posting it as early as you can and promoting it, but be prepared to just have a free 30 minutes to check your email. Sometimes that’s just how it goes. The corollary here is not to always balance attending others’ spaces with proposing your own. After all if someone else proposed it you know at least one other person is gonna be there.

Take Care of Your Body

Conferences can be surprisingly high-intensity physical activities. It’s not a marathon, but you will be walking quickly from one end of a large convention center to another, potentially somewhat anxiously.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Bring a water bottle, and have it with you at all times. It might be helpful to set repeating timers on your phone to drink water, since it can be easy to forget in the middle of engaging conversations. If you take advantage of the hallway track as much as you should, you will talk more than you expect; talking expels water from your body. All that aforementioned walking might make you sweat a bit more than you realize.


More generally, pay attention to what you are eating and drinking. Conference food isn’t always the best, and in a new city you might be tempted to load up on big meals and junk food. You should enjoy yourself and experience the local cuisine, but do it intentionally. While you enjoy the local fare, do so in whatever moderation works best for you. Similarly for boozy night-time socializing. Nothing stings quite as much as missing a morning of talks because you’ve got a hangover or a migraine.

This is worth emphasizing because in the enthusiasm of an exciting conference experience, it’s easy to lose track and overdo it.

Meet Both New And Old Friends: Plan Your Socializing

A lot of the advice above is mostly for first-time or new-ish conferencegoers, but this one might be more useful for the old heads. As we build up a long-time clique of conference friends, it’s easy to get a bit insular and lose out on one of the bits of magic of such an event: meeting new folks and hearing new perspectives.

While open spaces can address this a little bit, there's one additional thing I've started doing in the last few years: dinners are for old friends, but lunches are for new ones. At least half of the days I'm there, I try to go to a new table with new folks that I haven't seen before, and strike up a conversation. I even have a little canned icebreaker prompt, which I would suggest to others as well, because it’s worked pretty nicely in past years: “what is one fun thing you have done with Python recently?”2.

Given that I have a pretty big crowd of old friends at these things, I actually tend to avoid old friends at lunch, since it’s so easy to get into multi-hour conversations, and meeting new folks in a big group can be intimidating. Lunches are the time I carve out to try and meet new folks.

I’ll See You There

I hope some of these tips were helpful, and I am looking forward to seeing some of you at PyCon US 2024!

Thank you to my patrons who are supporting my writing on this blog. If you like what you’ve read here and you’d like to read more of it, or you’d like to support my various open-source endeavors, you can support my work as a sponsor!

  1. In PyCon2024's case, #PyConUS on Mastodon is probably the way to go. Note, also, that it is #PyConUS and not #pyconus, which is much less legible for users of screen-readers. 

  2. Obviously that is specific to this conference. At the O’Reilly Software Architecture conference, my prompt was “What is software architecture?” which had some really fascinating answers. 


Your words are doing something. Do you know what that something is?

Humans are pattern-matching machines. As a species, it is our superpower. To summarize the core of my own epistemic philosophy, here is a brief list of the activities in the core main-loop of a human being:

  1. stuff happens to us
  2. we look for patterns in the stuff
  3. we weave those patterns into narratives
  4. we turn the narratives into models of the world
  5. we predict what will happen based on those models
  6. we do stuff based on those predictions
  7. based on the stuff we did, more stuff happens to us; return to step 1

While this ability lets humans do lots of great stuff, like math and physics and agriculture and so on, we can just as easily build bad stories and bad models. We can easily trick ourselves into thinking that our predictive abilities are more powerful than they are.

The existence of magic-seeming levels of prediction in fields like chemistry and physics and statistics, in addition to the practical usefulness of rough estimates and heuristics in daily life, itself easily creates a misleading pattern. “I see all these patterns and make all these predictions and I’m right a lot of the time, so if I just kind of wing it and predict some more stuff, I’ll also be right about that stuff.”

This leaves us very vulnerable to things like mean world syndrome. Mean world syndrome itself is specifically about danger, but I believe it is a manifestation of an even broader phenomenon which I would term “the apophenia of despair”.

Confirmation bias is an inherent part of human cognition, but the internet has turbocharged it. Humans have immediate access to more information than we ever had in the past. In order to cope with that information, we have also built ways to filter that information. Even disregarding things like algorithmic engagement maximization and social media filter bubbles, the simple fact that when you search for things, you are a lot more likely to find the thing that you’re searching for than to find arguments refuting it, can provide a very strong sense that you’re right about whatever you’re researching.

All of this is to say: if you decide that something in the world is getting worse, you can very easily convince yourself that it is getting much, much worse, very rapidly. Especially because there are things which are, unambiguously, getting worse.

However, Pollyanna-ism is just the same phenomenon in reverse and I don’t want to engage in that. The ice sheets really are melting, globally, fascism really is on the rise. I am not here to deny reality or to cherry pick a bunch of statistics to lull people into complacency.

I believe that while dwelling on a negative reality is bad, I also believe that in the face of constant denial, it is sometimes necessary to simply emphasize those realities, however unpleasant they may be. Distinguishing between unhelpful rumination on negativity and repetition of an unfortunate but important truth to correct popular perception is subjective and subtle, but the difference is nevertheless important.

As our ability to acquire information about things getting worse has grown, our ability to affect those things has not. Knowledge is not power; power is power, and most of us don’t have a lot of it, so we need to be strategic in the way that we deploy our limited political capital and personal energy.

Overexposure to negative news can cause symptoms of depression; depressed people have reduced executive function and find it harder to do stuff. One of the most effective interventions against this general feeling of malaise? Hope.. Not “hope” in the sense of wishing. As this article in the American Psychological Association’s “Monitor on Psychology” puts it:

“We often use the word ‘hope’ in place of wishing, like you hope it rains today or you hope someone’s well,” said Chan Hellman, PhD, a professor of psychology and founding director of the Hope Research Center at the University of Oklahoma. “But wishing is passive toward a goal, and hope is about taking action toward it.”

Here, finally, I can get around to my point.

If you have an audience, and you have some negative thoughts about some social trend, talking about it in a way which is vague and non-actionable is potentially quite harmful. If you are doing this, you are engaged in the political project of robbing a large number of people of hope. You are saying that the best should have less conviction, while the worst will surely remain just as full of passionate intensity.

I do not mean to say that it is unacceptable to ever publicly share thoughts of sadness, or even hopelessness. If everyone in public is forced to always put on a plastic smile and pretend that everything is going to be okay if we have grit and determination, then we have an Instagram culture of fake highlight reels where anyone having their own struggles with hopelessness will just feel even worse in their isolation. I certainly posted my way through my fair share of pretty bleak mental health issues during the worst of the pandemic.

But we should recognize that while sadness is a feeling, hopelessness is a problem, a bad reaction to that feeling, one that needs to be addressed if we are going to collectively dig ourselves out of the problem that creates the sadness in the first place. We may not be able to conjure hope all the time, but we should always be trying.

When we try to address these feelings, as I said earlier, Pollyanna-ism doesn’t help. The antidote to hopelessness is not optimism, but curiosity. If you have a strong thought like “people these days just don’t care about other people1”, yelling “YES THEY DO” at yourself (or worse, your audience) is unlikely to make much of a change, and certainly not likely to be convincing to an audience. Instead, you could ask yourself some questions, and use them for a jumping-off point for some research:

  1. Why do I think this — is the problem in my perception, or in the world?
  2. If there is a problem in my perception, is this a common misperception? If it’s common, what is leading to it being common? If it’s unique to me, what sort of work do I need to do to correct it?
  3. If the problem is real, what are its causes? Is there anything that I, or my audience, could do to address those causes?

The answers to these questions also inform step 6 of the process I outlined above: the doing stuff part of the process.

At some level, all communication is persuasive communication. Everything you say that another person might hear, everything you say that a person might hear, is part of a sprachspiel where you are attempting to achieve something. There is always an implied call to action; even “do nothing, accept the status quo” is itself an action. My call to action right now is to ask you to never make your call to action “you should feel bad, and you should feel bad about feeling bad”. When you communicate in public, your words have power.

Use that power for good.


Thank you to my patrons who are supporting my writing on this blog. If you like what you’ve read here and you’d like to read more of it, or you’d like to support my various open-source endeavors, you can support my work as a sponsor! Special thanks also to Cassandra Granade, who provided some editorial feedback on this post; any errors, of course, remain my own.

  1. I should also note that vague sentiments of this form, “things used to be better, now they’re getting worse”, are at their core a reactionary yearning for a prelapsarian past, which is both not a good look and also often wrong in a very common way. Complaining about how “people” are getting worse is a very short journey away from complaining about kids these days, which has a long and embarrassing history of being comprehensively incorrect in every era. 

Software Needs To Be More Expensive

Software, like coffee, is too artificially cheap, and we need to make it more expensive. I have one suggestion for how to do that.

The Cost of Coffee

One of the ideas that James Hoffmann — probably the most influential… influencer in the coffee industry — works hard to popularize is that “coffee needs to be more expensive”.

The coffee industry is famously exploitative. Despite relatively thin margins for independent café owners1, there are no shortage of horrific stories about labor exploitation and even slavery in the coffee supply chain.

To summarize a point that Mr. Hoffman has made over a quite long series of videos and interviews2, some of this can be fixed by regulatory efforts. Enforcement of supply chain policies both by manufacturers and governments can help spot and avoid this type of exploitation. Some of it can be fixed by discernment on the part of consumers. You can try to buy fair-trade coffee, avoid brands that you know have problematic supply-chain histories.

Ultimately, though, even if there is perfect, universal, zero-cost enforcement of supply chain integrity… consumers still have to be willing to, you know, pay more for the coffee. It costs more to pay wages than to have slaves.

The Price of Software

The problem with the coffee supply chain deserves your attention in its own right. I don’t mean to claim that the problems of open source maintainers are as severe as those of literal child slaves. But the principle is the same.

Every tech company uses huge amounts of open source software, which they get for free.

I do not want to argue that this is straightforwardly exploitation. There is a complex bargain here for the open source maintainers: if you create open source software, you can get a job more easily. If you create open source infrastructure, you can make choices about the architecture of your projects which are more long-term sustainable from a technology perspective, but would be harder to justify on a shorter-term commercial development schedule. You can collaborate with a wider group across the industry. You can build your personal brand.

But, in light of the recent xz Utils / SSH backdoor scandal, it is clear that while the bargain may not be entirely one-sided, it is not symmetrical, and significant bad consequences may result, both for the maintainers themselves and for society.

To fix this problem, open source software needs to get more expensive.

A big part of the appeal of open source is its implicit permission structure, which derives both from its zero up-front cost and its zero marginal cost.

The zero up-front cost means that you can just get it to try it out. In many companies, individual software developers do not have the authority to write a purchase order, or even a corporate credit card for small expenses.

If you are a software engineer and you need a new development tool or a new library that you want to purchase for work, it can be a maze of bureaucratic confusion in order to get that approved. It might be possible, but you are likely to get strange looks, and someone, probably your manager, is quite likely to say “isn’t there a free option for this?” At worst, it might just be impossible.

This makes sense. Dealing with purchase orders and reimbursement requests is annoying, and it only feels worth the overhead if you’re dealing with a large enough block of functionality that it is worth it for an entire team, or better yet an org, to adopt. This means that most of the purchasing is done by management types or “architects”, who are empowered to make decisions for larger groups.

When individual engineers need to solve a problem, they look at open source libraries and tools specifically because it’s quick and easy to incorporate them in a pull request, where a proprietary solution might be tedious and expensive.

That’s assuming that a proprietary solution to your problem even exists. In the infrastructure sector of the software economy, free options from your operating system provider (Apple, Microsoft, maybe Amazon if you’re in the cloud) and open source developers, small commercial options have been marginalized or outright destroyed by zero-cost options, for this reason.

If the zero up-front cost is a paperwork-reduction benefit, then the zero marginal cost is almost a requirement. One of the perennial complaints of open source maintainers is that companies take our stuff, build it into a product, and then make a zillion dollars and give us nothing. It seems fair that they’d give us some kind of royalty, right? Some tiny fraction of that windfall? But once you realize that individual developers don’t have the authority to put $50 on a corporate card to buy a tool, they super don’t have the authority to make a technical decision that encumbers the intellectual property of their entire core product to give some fraction of the company’s revenue away to a third party. Structurally, there’s no way that this will ever happen.

Despite these impediments, keeping those dependencies maintained does cost money.

Some Solutions Already Exist

There are various official channels developing to help support the maintenance of critical infrastructure. If you work at a big company, you should probably have a corporate Tidelift subscription. Maybe ask your employer about that.

But, as they will readily admit there are a LOT of projects that even Tidelift cannot cover, with no official commercial support, and no practical way to offer it in the short term. Individual maintainers, like yours truly, trying to figure out how to maintain their projects, either by making a living from them or incorporating them into our jobs somehow. People with a Ko-Fi or a Patreon, or maybe just an Amazon wish-list to let you say “thanks” for occasional maintenance work.

Most importantly, there’s no path for them to transition to actually making a living from their maintenance work. For most maintainers, Tidelift pays a sub-hobbyist amount of money, and even setting it up (and GitHub Sponsors, etc) is a huge hassle. So even making the transition from “no income” to “a little bit of side-hustle income” may be prohibitively bureaucratic.

Let’s take myself as an example. If you’re a developer who is nominally profiting from my infrastructure work in your own career, there is a very strong chance that you are also a contributor to the open source commons, and perhaps you’ve even contributed more to that commons than I have, contributed more to my own career success than I have to yours. I can ask you to pay me3, but really you shouldn’t be paying me, your employer should.

What To Do Now: Make It Easy To Just Pay Money

So if we just need to give open source maintainers more money, and it’s really the employers who ought to be giving it, then what can we do?

Let’s not make it complicated. Employers should just give maintainers money. Let’s call it the “JGMM” benefit.

Specifically, every employer of software engineers should immediately institute the following benefits program: each software engineer should have a monthly discretionary budget of $50 to distribute to whatever open source dependency developers they want, in whatever way they see fit. Venmo, Patreon, PayPal, Kickstarter, GitHub Sponsors, whatever, it doesn’t matter. Put it on a corp card, put the project name on the line item, and forget about it. It’s only for open source maintenance, but it’s a small enough amount that you don’t need intense levels of approval-gating process. You can do it on the honor system.

This preserves zero up-front cost. To start using a dependency, you still just use it4. It also preserves zero marginal cost: your developers choose which dependencies to support based on perceived need and popularity. It’s a fixed overhead which doesn’t scale with revenue or with profit, just headcount.

Because the whole point here is to match the easy, implicit, no-process, no-controls way in which dependencies can be added in most companies. It should be easier to pay these small tips than it is to use the software in the first place.

This sub-1% overhead to your staffing costs will massively de-risk the open source projects you use. By leaving the discretion up to your engineers, you will end up supporting those projects which are really struggling and which your executives won’t even hear about until they end up on the news. Some of it will go to projects that you don’t use, things that your engineers find fascinating and want to use one day but don’t yet depend upon, but that’s fine too. Consider it an extremely cheap, efficient R&D expense.

A lot of the options for developers to support open source infrastructure are already tax-deductible, so if they contribute to something like one of the PSF’s fiscal sponsorees, it’s probably even more tax-advantaged than a regular business expense.

I also strongly suspect that if you’re one of the first employers to do this, you can get a round of really positive PR out of the tech press, and attract engineers, so, the race is on. I don’t really count as the “tech press” but nevertheless drop me a line to let me know if your company ends up doing this so I can shout you out.


Thank you to my patrons who are supporting my writing on this blog. If you like what you’ve read here and you’d like to read more of it, or you’d like to support my various open-source endeavors, you can support my work as a sponsor! I am also available for consulting work if you think your organization could benefit from expertise on topics such as “How do I figure out which open source projects to give money to?”.

  1. I don’t have time to get into the margins for Starbucks and friends, their relationship with labor, economies of scale, etc. 

  2. While this is a theme that pervades much of his work, the only place I can easily find where he says it in so many words is on a podcast that sometimes also promotes right-wing weirdos and pseudo-scientific quacks spreading misinformation about autism and ADHD. So, I obviously don’t want to link to them; you’ll have to take my word for it. 

  3. and I will, since as I just recently wrote about, I need to make sure that people are at least aware of the option 

  4. Pending whatever legal approval program you have in place to vet the license. You do have a nice streamlined legal approvals process, right? You’re not just putting WTFPL software into production, are you? 

The Hat

If you want me to keep doing… whatever this is… now’s the time to support it!

This year I will be going to two conferences: PyCon 2024, and North Bay Python 2024.

At PyCon, I will be promoting my open source work and my writing on this blog. As I’m not giving a talk this year, I am looking forward to organizing and participating in some open spaces about topics like software architecture, open source sustainability, framework interoperability, and event-driven programming.

At North Bay Python, though, I will either be:

  1. doing a lot more of that, or
  2. looking for new full-time employment, pausing the patreon, and winding down this experiment.

If you’d like to see me doing the former, now would be a great time to sign up to my Patreon to support the continuation of my independent open source work and writing.

The Bad News

It has been nearly a year since I first mentioned that I have a Patreon on this blog. That year has been a busy one, with consulting work and personal stuff consuming more than enough time that I have never been full time on independent coding & blogging. As such, I’ve focused more on small infrastructure projects and less on user-facing apps than I’d like, but I have spent the plurality of my time on it.

For that to continue, let alone increase, this work needs to—at the very least—pay for health insurance. At my current consulting rate, a conservative estimate based on some time tracking is that I am currently doing this work at something like a 98.5% discount. I do love doing it! I would be happy to continue doing it at a significant discount! But “significant” and “catastrophic” are different thresholds.

As I have said previously, this is an appeal to support my independent work; not to support me. I will be fine; what you will be voting for with your wallet is not my well-being but a choice about where I spend my time.

Hiding The Hat

When people ask me what I do these days, I sometimes struggle to explain. It is confusing. I might say I have a Patreon, I do a combination of independent work and consulting, or if I’m feeling particularly sarcastic I might say I’m an ✨influencer✨. But recently I saw the very inspiring Matt Ricardo describing the way he thinks about his own Patreon, and I realized what I am actually trying to do, which is software development busking.

Previously, when I’ve been thinking about making this “okay, it’s been a year of Patreon, let’s get serious now” post, I’ve been thinking about adding more reward products to my Patreon, trying to give people better value for their money before asking for anything more, trying to finish more projects to make a better sales pitch, maybe making merch available for sale, and so on. So aside from irregular weekly posts on Friday and acknowledgments sections at the bottom of blog posts, I’ve avoided mentioning this while I think about adding more private rewards.

But busking is a public performance, and if you want to support my work then it is that public aspect that you presumably want to support. And thus, an important part of the busking process is to actually pass the hat at the end. The people who don’t chip in still get to see the performance, but everyone else need to know that they can contribute if they liked it.1

I’m going to try to stop hiding the metaphorical hat. I still don’t want to overdo it, but I will trust that you’ll tell me if these reminders get annoying. For my part today, in addition to this post, I’m opening up a new $10 tier on Patreon for people who want to provide a higher level of support, and officially acknowledging the rewards that I already provide.

What’s The Deal?

So, what would you be supporting?

What You Give (The Public Part)

  1. I have tended to focus on my software, and there has been a lot of it! You’d be supporting me writing libraries and applications and build infrastructure to help others do the same with Python, as well as maintaining existing libraries (like the Twisted ecosystem libraries) sometimes. If I can get enough support together to more than bare support for myself, I’d really like to be able to do things like pay people to others to help with aspects of applications that I would struggle to complete myself, like accessibility or security audits.
  2. I also do quite a bit of writing though, about software and about other things. To make it easier to see what sort of writing I’m talking about, I’ve collected just the stuff that I’ve written during the period where I have had some patrons, under the supported tag.
  3. Per my earlier sarcastic comment about being an “influencer”, I also do quite a bit of posting on Mastodon about software and the tech industry.

What You Get (Just For Patrons)

As I said above, I will be keeping member benefits somewhat minimal.

  1. I will add you to SponCom so that your name will be embedded in commit messages like this one on a cadence appropriate to your support level.
  2. You will get access to my private Patreon posts where I discuss what I’ve been working on. As one of my existing patrons put it:

    I figure I’m getting pretty good return on it, getting not only targeted project tracking, but also a peek inside your head when it comes to Sores Business Development. Maybe some of that stuff will rub off on me :)

  3. This is a somewhat vague and noncommittal benefit, but it might be the best one: if you are interested in the various different projects that I am doing, you can help me prioritize! I have a lot of things going on. What would you prefer that I focus on? You can make suggestions in the comments of Patreon posts, which I pay a lot more attention to than other feedback channels.
  4. In the near future2 I am also planning to start doing some “office hours” type live-streaming, where I will take audience questions and discuss software design topics, or maybe do some live development to showcase my process and the tools I use. When I figure out the mechanics of this, I plan to add some rewards to the existing tiers to select topics or problems for me to work on there.

If that sounds like a good deal to you, please sign up now. If you’re already supporting me, sharing this and giving a brief testimonial of something good I’ve done would be really helpful. Github is not an algorithmic platform like YouTube, despite my occasional jokey “remember to like and subscribe”, nobody is getting recommended DBXS, or Fritter, or Twisted, or Automat, or this blog unless someone goes out and shares it.

  1. A year into this, after what feels like endlessly repeating this sales pitch to the point of obnoxiousness, I still routinely interact with people who do not realize that I have a Patreon at all. 

  2. Not quite comfortable putting this on the official patreon itemized inventory of rewards yet, but I do plan to add it once I’ve managed to stream for a couple of weeks in a row.