14Mar24 Roundup: Speaking of Precious, DHH

These are the agonal gasps of a man who knows his thoughts and opinions, which were once respected and sought after in the Tech space as revolutionary, are not only no longer relevant but also downright basic.
14Mar24 Roundup: Speaking of Precious, DHH
In: Roundup, Basecamp, DHH, an empty, crusty, red-pilled shell of a Tech founder formerly famous for having a good idea that one time

Here I am again, bringing you a special edition of the Roundup.

On Tuesday, another screed by David Heinemeier Hansson (better known as DHH) made the rounds on LinkedIn despite the man having nothing intelligent or useful to say, and so I’ve decided it’s time we recognize his clownery for what it is: a desperate performance designed to get someone, anyone, to pay attention to him again.

DHH, along with Jason Fried and others, is a co-founder of 37signals, the progenitor of Basecamp, HEY, and Campfire. In their early careers at 37signals, DHH and Fried were thought leaders in Tech and in CX as advocates for remote work and for improving the workplace environment for employees, topics on which they even wrote whole books (ironic, I know).

That’s certainly not the case anymore, particularly for DHH. If you haven’t had the displeasure of watching DHH slowly turn into an empty, crusty, red-pilled shell of a Tech founder formerly famous for having a good idea that one time, let me catch you up.

In late April 2021, Fried published a post about policy changes at Basecamp. The first and most controversial change Fried outlined was “forbidding societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account,” a policy that was largely met with surprise and dismay from those in the Tech industry and from Basecamp employees.

What followed were a series of revelations about what prompted the change: a few weeks earlier, a group of employees had raised their guilt and discomfort over an abandoned, decade-old list of “funny” customer names the Support team had created, many of which were of African or Asian origin. Employees were voluntarily discussing how they ought to reckon with the existence of the inappropriate and racist list, which DHH admitted to knowing about for years.

The internal discussion over that list had been oriented primarily around making Basecamp feel more inclusive to its employees and customers. But Fried and his co-founder, David Heinemeier Hansson, had been taken aback by an employee post which argued that mocking customer names laid the foundation for racially-motivated violence, and closed the thread. They also disbanded an internal committee of employees who had volunteered to work on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In response to these discussions, and specifically in reply to an employee who had explained that mistreatment of foreign names can lead to dehumanization and racially motivated violence, DHH essentially doxxed his own employee:

He dug through old chat logs to find a time when the employee in question participated in a discussion about a customer with a funny-sounding name. Hansson posted the message — visible to the entire company — and dismissed the substance of the employee’s complaint.

Four days later, Fried and DHH (well, more Fried than DHH, for reasons you’ll see in a moment) held a disastrous all-hands meeting during which Fried thanked an executive[1] after he claimed white supremacy didn’t exist and refused to denounce the executive’s comments. Meanwhile, throughout the entire two-and-a-half-hour meeting:

Hansson remained on mute.

All of this lead to Hansson offering severance packages to employees wanting to leave in the aftermath, an offer at least 20 of his employees accepted.

So that was then. But here we are in 2024, and for reasons surpassing all understanding, Hansson continues to proudly demonstrate how little he’s learned in the meantime.

In a post titled “Be less precious,”[2] Hansson decries the concept of mental health days, likening them, somehow, to “ruinous empathy” that makes employees more fragile and less resilient.[3] No, it doesn’t make sense, but why put in the effort to make sense when it’s so easy to be an asinine, apathetic asshole instead?

It especially doesn’t make sense coming from Hansson, a man whose very presence online displays the fragility and preciousness of the most delicate soufflė you’ve ever seen in your life. 

As evidence, I’ll start by pointing out that Hansson’s platform of choice, a sucking black hole of his own design, has no comment feature. This means he can throw his uninsightful blether into the void without being challenged by such pesky things as empathy or fact or reality. 

And one of Basecamp’s employees summed up Hansson’s preciousness during Basecamp’s internal strife better than I could:

“There’s always been this kind of unwritten rule at Basecamp that the company basically exists for David and Jason’s enjoyment,” one employee told me. “At the end of the day, they are not interested in seeing things in their work timeline that make them uncomfortable, or distracts them from what they’re interested in. And this is the culmination of that.”

If Hansson’s goal is “scrubbing the precious out of the organization,” he should start right at the top with himself.

Speaking of, this particular comment of his is deeply ironic:

The idea that employees are so mentally fragile that "feeling overwhelmed" is a reason to be absent is bonkers. Everyone feels "overwhelmed" every now and then. That's not an adequate reason not to show up for work!

Given that this was his response to the all-hands meeting that resulted in over a third of his company leaving:

Hansson tuned into the meeting from bed, where he reported that he was feeling ill, and after making introductory remarks turned off his camera for the duration of the meeting.

It is equally hilarious to see Hansson talk about resilience and directness, seeing as Hansson was happy to broadcast one-way blog posts about controversies in his company, but when faced with his own employees in situations where his speech and actions actually mattered, he chose instead to remain silent.

And since he opened this door, let’s also talk about fragility! Let’s talk about Hansson’s fragility, a loudly wrong, unbelievably privileged white man who is merely pretending to know anything at all about diversity or equity, only to use what little power he has left in the Tech world to advocate for cutting other people off from a real shot at success in it, lest they surpass him due to his own aggressive mediocrity.

These are the agonal gasps of a man who knows his thoughts and opinions, which were once respected and sought after in the Tech space as revolutionary, are not only no longer relevant but also downright basic.

It’s not perceptive or thoughtful to say “mental health days are for precious babies” or, honestly, any of the fatuous nonsense Hansson has said over the last few years. It’s actually pretty funny, but in a sad way, like drawing a stick-figure portrait of yourself and genuinely thinking it belongs in the Louvre next to the Mona Lisa.

I politely suggest that, going forward, we let Hansson dump into his black-hearted void of a product—exactly where his pablum belongs—and stop amplifying his inane ramblings on other platforms, even to refute it.

There is nothing left to learn from this man, except how not to behave as human beings capable of growth.

  1. The executive was then-Head of Strategy Ryan Singer. His part of this story is mostly incidental to what we’re talking about today, but it is a story. I wouldn’t normally promote Twitter or my own stuff, but if you want to read more, I wrote a thread in 2021 that covered Singer’s role in that mess. ↩︎

  2. And irony continues to abound, since precious means “(of an object, substance, or resource) of great value; not to be wasted or treated carelessly,” Hansson is literally telling his employees to stop expecting not to be mistreated. ↩︎

  3. Which is quite the turn from a man who co-authored a manifesto on company culture titled It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work. ↩︎

Written by
Steph Lundberg
Steph is a writer and Support leader/consultant. When she's not screaming into the void for catharsis, you can find her crafting, hanging with her kids, or spending entirely too much time on Tumblr.
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