The Official Blog of Cogmap, the Org Chart Wiki



Engineers irrationally hate advertising

What engineer thinks this sounds very interesting:

  • Big data
  • Incredibly complex algorithmic learning
  • Huge scale
  • Millions of users daily
  • APIs
  • A de-emphasis on the user interface – EXCEPT WHERE IT IS EMPHASIZED

The answer is most engineers. Because most engineers cannot stand the idea of working for an advertising company.

One of the things I have noticed in the course of recruiting people to work at, Deconstruct Media, and Verve Wireless is that engineers have an irrational loathing of working on advertising projects. Despite the fact that their rational mind recognizes that advertising funds free content (including search engines like Google), they have no desire to help make the world a better place for advertisers and help fund the development of better content.

Why is this? When I was at and random people would ask me what I do, I would say, “You know all those University of Pheonix ads you see on the Internet.”, “Yeah, I see those everywhere, they drive me nuts”, “I put those there!”

I would say that because it was funny. Engineers would feel like it was the truth and be depressed by it.

When you compare some of these projects to other projects, they frankly don’t compare too badly:

  • LivingSocial: We sell pizzas at half price – is that what engineers want to do?
  • Government contracting: We are building tools to help the FDA manage case applications
  • Yahoo: We help people read their email (where success=seeing more ads)
  • Google: We help people search for stuff
  • Even Quora: We help people get answers to their questions

Call me crazy, none of those seems inspiring. But advertising seems to create a response that is 100% pure loathing.

This is particularly tragic given the fundamental interestingness of advertising technology online today.

I will add to the list of good qualities advertising companies have:

  • Clear path to revenue, profits, and fundraising
  • Huge market
  • Rapidly growing

It is easy to start a company in this space – why aren’t engineers diving in?

5 Responses to “Engineers irrationally hate advertising”

  1. Myles Younger Says:

    Maybe I have a different (or broader) definition of “engineer,” but I actually think the online ad tech space (as a sub-set of online advertising overall) is tilted too far in favor of an engineering mentality as opposed to a creative one (which has created a false old/new dichotomy between “agencies” and “ad tech”). It creates a palpable “can’t see the forest for the trees” dynamic. To wit: most of the websites of ad tech firms are horrible and amateurish, as is their own advertising. Call me crazy, but I think if you are in the ad game, at least one senior person at your company ought to have a strong grasp of how aesthetics, design, language, and psychology intertwine to get a person to feel compelled to buy one thing versus another (or to buy a thing at all). But if a company has no understanding of what advertising really is, I doubt how effectively their engineering skill is going to be employed in adding value to the ad industry.

    Anyway, not trying to flatly contradict your post, just sharing what I’ve seen from my own perspective.

  2. Sean Palmer Says:

    I feel like I’m being sold to advertisers instead of the other way around. Not sure why I’m supposed to be happy about that. Ad companies say they analyze and divide visitors to serve “relevant” ads, as if that will improve my browsing experience. Visitors aren’t your paying customers, advertisers are. You’re finding users that are relevant to certain products not vice-versa.

  3. zeph Says:

    There is more discussion on hacker news at which has lots of good reasons why engineers (amongst whom I am one) detest advertising and advertising companies, and pretty much lists what I feel.

  4. Hugh S. Myers Says:

    If you think your ‘tech’ experience is bad in this regard, you have no idea of what it was like to work for an old fashioned newspaper. The connection between the ‘Ad’ department and their customers was vastly more important to the publisher than the quality or content of what was written in order to sell the medium for ads. Further the ability of ad-types to overrule content (editorial, feature news—made no difference) typically was enough to put off anyone with any talent or desire to do their job. You might want to consider if there are any parallels between what I describe and where you work. To the degree that there are matches then you have a very old situation that hasn’t changed to this day, no matter how you dress it up.

  5. sgergely Says:

    as an engineer i hate ads because they are not creative in the online space. everybody is trying to make the same “billboard next to the road” idea except facebook or twitter.