Hung Truong: The Blog!

Delayed Gratification in Engineering and Entrepreneurship

April 29, 2011 | 1 Minute Read

I read a blog post about Engineers and Delayed Gratification a while ago from ex-Googler and ex-Microsoftie Ninane Wang that made me think. She says that new engineers (like straight from school) have a hard time adjusting to the real world because they expect to be rewarded immediately for their work. In the real world, you don’t see rewards for your work for months, or even years! Her solution is to have managers provide instant feedback to their reports so they get at least some acknowledgment of their work.

Since quitting Microsoft and setting out on my own (and even before that), I’ve had to trust that the stuff I am working on is meaningful and worthwhile. This is hard sometimes, especially if the thing I’m working on seems like a gamble. Having done the whole independent hacking thing for a while, I think I’ve built up the rolling reward cycle that Niniane mentions. Some days I’ll feel like I’m underachieving or working on something that no one will find useful. Then I’ll get a donation from someone for Instascriber (this actually happened!!!) or see another 5 star review for my Threadless app and get re-encouraged.

At the end of the day, I think what really separates the employees from the entrepreneurs is the willingness to be unsure about something and still do it. The uncertainty is much greater when you’re working on an unproven idea, business model, or whatever, but then so are the potential rewards, too. And even if you end up failing, you learn something and are better for it.

In some ways, delaying gratification even sort of makes sense. If you immediately were rewarded for doing something innovative, you might lose the passion (like Rocky did) and stop innovating so you can enjoy your riches. While I can’t say that delaying gratification indefinitely would be a good idea, accepting that there will be a delay is probably healthy.