The Day Stockpickr was Going to Go Out of Business – A Story of Friendship

My site,, had 24 hours before it was going to go out of business and then I would probably have to kill myself. I had passed the 2 year point on a life insurance policy where it was now ok to kill myself so that my kids would still get the $4 million in the policy. It was Martin Luther King Day, 2007. He had a dream.


My site was anti-news. And I write for all the news sites. Get rid of me if you want. But you know you scare and panic people until they wake up with stomach pains at 4 in the morning. Just so you could sell another $1.25 with the next nightmare headline. And then you dump them and move onto the next panic.

So I made a finance site with  everything but news. The only one. And had just announced it, and Jim Cramer was mentioning it every day on TV. And I knew that once Martin Luther King Day passed, I was going to go out of business.

Because you get what you pay for and I had reached across the planet to hire Indian programmers to program my site. And everytime Jim Cramer mentioned the website on TV we crashed. We couldn’t handle the load. It wasn’t rocket science. I’m a computer programmer. I should’ve just done it myself. But I hired a bunch of Jainists in Bangalore instead. One day they had a religious holiday. The other day the power went out so nobody was at work.. And finally I get ahold of them at 3 in the morning on Saturday night.


[see, 10 things I learned working with Jim Cramer]

“Please. Please please,” I said to Arvind, “you have to fix this problem by Monday because Tuesday Cramer’s going to mention the site again and if we go down we’re out of business. You can’t have a site go down anymore else people don’t trust it.”

“We will fix it,” they said, “don’t worry.” And I waited. All Sunday morning I kept hitting reload. It was slow. I knew it wasn’t fixed. “Don’t worry, James. You worry too much,” Arvind said, “we will fix it.” I called up ten friends and we’d click simultaneously and the site will go down. “We’re testing stuff,” the Indians said, “it might go down but we know what the problem is. We’re fixing it.”

Monday morning I woke up. I had a letter from Arvind in India. In Bangalore. I’ve since been to Bangalore. At three in the morning their time, driving from Bangalore to Mysore. When are we going to get on the highway I kept wondering. Everywhere you went seemed like a side street. And random men and women walking along the side all night long. Men peeing on the side of the road.  And little carts where the men would hang around drinking whatever. The cab driver had to stop and disappear for awhile and I stood outside thinking, “here I am”. I could just disappear and nobody would know, nobody would find me.

But that was years later.

Monday morning. 2007. Martin Luther King day. Letter from Arvind: “I’m sorry, James. But we have to give up. It’s late here and we could not figure out the problem. I’m really sorry but we have no idea what the problem is.”

And I had 24 hours approximately before I was sure I was out of business. When you are running a business, every detail counts. Your customers are not forgiving. Your competitors laugh in your face. Your benefactors deny they ever knew you. Your programmers move on to their next project and remove your name from their client list.

Your friends say, “well maybe your next business”. Your children want to play, not knowing that their lives, too, hang in the balance. But they don’t really care because ultimately they move on and leave their parents behind, move on to exciting new lives as artists, lovers, professional whatevers, saying, “I had a father once.”

(thank god there was a holiday for MLK or I would’ve been out of business)

So at 7am I made the call. I called Chet. Super Chet. I hadn’t spoken to him in at least eight years. His phone number was listed in Boston so I called him. He was the single best programmer on the planet. And he was born in India although raised in Texas.

I’ll give you one example. When IBM was hosting the live streaming Olympics in 1996 on the web their servers kept going down. Who did they call? Not their 10,000 person IT department. They called Chet in his apartment in the Upper West Side. He took his little computer and wrote some sort of networking protocol between his computer and 20 other IBM mainframes around the world. The Olympics was saved. IBM was saved.

Chet lived wherever he wanted. He worked on whatever he wanted. IBM didn’t want him to ever leave so they agreed to everything he ever asked for. He put out fires for them. That’s what he still does to this day.

We had worked together in 1988. But that’s another story. In 1996 he would hang out at my first company and do all the spare programming we needed on the weekends. For free. He just liked doing it. That was his weekend fun.

One time in 1996 he called me while I was out on the town and he was programming. “James! Why did you write the code this way? It’s like spaghetti. You took up 10 pages of code when just a few lines would’ve done it.”

“Chet,” I asked him. “Is the client standing right there next to you?”

“Yes,” he said.


“Ahh,” he said, “got it!” And he hung up the phone.

Martin Luther King day: 2007, 6am. I call Chet for the first time since 1999. “Chet, it’s James.” “James?” “Look, no time to update. I hope all is well but I need your help badly.”

I explained the whole problem to him in about three minutes. I think I was crying.

“Ok, ok, ok,” he said, and he asked a couple of technical questions about how the site was built. I answered the best I could.

“Ok,” he said, “here’s the problem: I have a plane to catch to Paris at around 4pm so I really only have until 2pm. I’m giving a talk there and I can’t skip it. But give me the phone number of the Indians and give me access to all the servers.” I gave him all of the passwords.

(other than the airport, I never want to go to Bangalore)

“I can’t do this from home. I’m going to do this from the office. I’ll call you in twenty minutes.”


“Ok, ok, James. You have. To calm. Down.” he said, “give me twenty minutes to get dressed and get into the office.” It was 6am and he had a plane to Paris to catch.

By noon that day he had spoken to the Indians, he had rewritten half the code, he gave them detailed instructions about what they had been doing wrong, he advised me on how to keep calm in moments like this and what I should be looking to do long-term to fix the site. He did all of this even though the site was written in a programming language he had never used before. On the way to the office he somehow learned the programming language.

By noon that day the problem was fixed. The site never crashed again.

By 4pm he was on a flight to Paris. When he got there I called him. “Chet, I can’t thank you enough. I want to give you a piece of the company. You deserve it.”

“No way, James,” he said, “remember in 1995 when we were on the 42nd Street subway platform underneath Times Square?”

“No,” I said.

“I was going on and on about distributed objects, blah blah and you said, ‘Chet! Shut up with that. Its boring. You should be doing the Internet and nothing else. That’s what is going to make your career.’ ”

“I don’t remember,” I said.

“Well that conversation changed my life. I switched everything to the Internet. You were right! And its changed my life ever since.”

I didn’t know what to say. Maybe I vaguely remembered.  He continued:

“Consider the favor returned.”


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  • Karma is a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t want to go Bangalore again either, but Mysore is pretty nice.

  • Russell W Peltier

    We all have the power to help someone and change their life forever (if we want). It seems you started doing that a long time ago James. Often we need an objective opinion to help us decide which path to follow. Chet was very lucky to have you do that for him. He will remember that moment for the rest of his life.

  • Beautiful.

  • Lachlan

    Absolutely brilliant.  Just what I needed on this gloomy cold Melbourne day!

  • a post with a happy ending…imagine that 

  • David O.

    Another great story, James. You life would make a great sitcom.

  • Punch to the stomach… in a good way! Felt your desperation to get site remedied and in one phone call to an old friend your future was saved. Love the poetic justice and simple gratitude from your friend. Is he single? UWS and all ;  )

    • He’s now in SF actually. One quick story. I was visiting him in his apartment once. One of his roommates was playing the guitar. Chet and I then left to hang out somewhere. I asked chet, “whats your roommate do for a living.”

      Chet: He hangs out and plays the guitar
      Me: Yeah, but what does he do to make money?
      Chet: Well, he just hangs out and plays the guitar. He’s trying to learn it.
      Me: But how does he make money?
      Chet: He wrote all the code for Microsoft Word

      • Excellent! He should go do a clean-up for Apple’s microsoft word program… Apple Script.

      • Chet and I were *just* talking about you Friday night.

        • He was probably saying, “that guy only calls me when he needs problems solved! And not only that, he then uses my real name when he posts about me! What an invasion of prvacy!”

          • What is the full name of chet here? For a person born in India “Chet” not in any way an indian name. 

          • I know Chet personally and can confirm that he’s Indian, that he has a subtle Texan accent now, and that he’s the single best hacker I’ve ever known.

  • Thanks for adding me, but I am still going to tell you when your reasoning is flawed.

  • Thanks for adding me, but I am still going to tell you when your reasoning is flawed.

    • Feel free. Although if I’m too flawed then i get insecure.

  • Guest

    Thanks. Cool.  I was eagerly waiting for this outsourcing story to India (as i am a indian programmer)

    • I have enough outsourcing stories to write a book about it. Next time I outsource: Kenya.

  • Nice story. My son @PFCAcsMan has simple site that he outsourced (should have gone Kenyan). Absolute nightmare, but fortunately for “Nik”, we revere Jainism, but will probably go with a Zoroaster next time. But it’s very nice to have those kinds of friends and contacts that reliably are there for you and value friendship beyond riches.

  • Oh, an afterthought. Years ago I was in Public Health school and worked together on a project with a Malaysian national. He had about 28 letters in his name, but asked that we call him “Mike”. Interestingly, the only two consonants not in his name were M and K. Always wore a blue blazer with some kind of prominent crest, plaid shirt, striped tie and khaki pants.


    Supposedly, he was a computer programmer and physician by education and training, who was in the US to learn a thing or two to help transform Malaysia’s health care reporting systems. For what anectdotal experience is worth, during the infancy of the PC, it was already clear that this guy knew nothing about programming, computers, bodily functions or personal hygiene. Turned out that he was from the Royal Family, had a closed head injury and was being “outsourced” to the US to see if we could do anything with him.

    He later went on to become Minister of Health.


  • Great story, remember when I insisted you have a blog :)

    • I think you came out of the womb insisting that I have a blog. And FINALLY I listened to you and am forever grateful. 

      • Hey @timothysykes:disqus I wish I had listened to you about cody in 2008 (then again, i probably never would have worked for google if I didnt make

  • Vince

    Chet’s the Miyamoto Musashi of code. Love to read more about him.
    This story seems to support my theory that there’s one correct way to do everything. Chet knows the correct way to code. All other ways are simply wrong.

    • Definitely. Also maybe the Yip Kai-Man of code. In terms of coding, you might be right. I was a fair coder in my day but not like Chet. When he did something, it was gospel. When I did something, it was spaghetti, even if it worked. 

      • He programs log(n) time, in log(n) time.

        • renatorfr

          What is Chet full name?

      • Sandeep Sharma

        What is Chet’s full name?

    • John Wayne

      There are 100 ways to skin a cat, in programming it’s no different. However there are people who can take 100 pages of code and consolidate it into 1 page because they are what I call “Elegant Programmers”

  • Another great story. You are full of them.

  • Thgeary

    Damn, distributed objects wasted years of my life.

  • I’m sort of scared as to how much I love your blog. thanks for all the time you put into this thing!

    • I was going through the exact same thought process in my head when I was reading this post. :D
      This blog is just absolutely awesome to the max.

  • Don

    James – you look like Austin Powers & write like Richard Powers.  Yeah Baby!

  • Awesome story.  I love reading about people who are great and not assholes.

  • St

    Wow. What a freaking story!

  • Guest

    It would’ve been ironical if the code fix involved distributed objects . (some web frameworks like J2EE uses distributed objects (EJBs) and they need to be coded correctly)

  • “As you go through life, you always have an effect on other people.  The only question is whether that effect is good or bad, large or small.”  (something like that – I forget exactly where I got the quote from).

    I try to always keep that in mind – there have been too many times when I’ve said or done something that I thought was relatively unimportant at the time, but turned out later to have had an outsized effect for the other people involved.

  • “As you go through life, you always have an effect on other people.  The only question is whether that effect is good or bad, large or small.”  (something like that – I forget exactly where I got the quote from).

    I try to always keep that in mind – there have been too many times when I’ve said or done something that I thought was relatively unimportant at the time, but turned out later to have had an outsized effect for the other people involved.

  • 234

    I read this in like a minute.  It’s the best post yet!

  • 234

    I read this in like a minute.  It’s the best post yet!

  • Jeff J

    loved this one

  • Sooz

    Well now..shitskies!!!
    Now more than ever I wish the delete button was still available over there especially after reading this post,J.A..
    True~blue,brutally honest, unconditional friendship is something that should never be taken for granted.
    It seems to be so rare anymore..

    thanks,as always,my friend..for making me smile!!!!   

  • An awesome and inspiring tale, would love to know more about Chet and his work.

    • I don’t want to speak too much for Chet just in case he gets upset at me for saying too much but I’ll tell you one story from 1989:

      Chet was always a software guy at heart but I think he had “theory envy” so he wanted to do his PhD on something theoretical. We were working on the same project using the typed lambda calculus to automatically prove theorems and then those proofs would be transformed into programs. So if you could automatically “prove” a “sorting algorithm” then a program would automatically be generated that sorted. The ultimate idea is that people could just say “make me a program that does X” and the program would automatically get written.

      We were using Symbolics Lisp machines (trivia note: was the first dot-com ever registered that wasnt an actual “.com” and not “.edu” or “.gov”).

      They were very slow (this was 1988) and for whatever reason, making proofs using the lambda calculus were horribly slow. So Chet found every Sun workstation he could and in a few hours wrote some sort of round-robin parallel processing system that could get the proofs divided up into smaller parts, process them in parallel, and then put them together. Incredibly speeded up the pace of what we were doing so he could get his PhD that much faster.

      I kept telling him theory wasn’t his thing though. I think he eventually believed me after a brutal post-doc experience at INRIA in Paris (where I turned down a summer job offer at one point).

      My own useless contribution to this little project:

      Theory wasn’t my thing either.

      • That’s awesome. He wrote a distributed map/reduce ancestor in 1988!?

        Great story and great addition. In your comic book you should have a page every so often dedicated to Super Chet and the Adventures in Informatics.

      • I always turn to Chet when I am stuck and he has never let me down. Just wanted to say a great post about a great guy! :)

  • Josh

    What language was your site written in?

    • Josh

      PS – Another awesome story!

  • Anonymous

    Interesting story.  I don’t understand the connection between the programmers you used and their religious beliefs.  Have you found that people with certain ideologies/values will provide a different level of quality and service or do you think you just chose a shitty outfit?

    • There’s no connection. I just mention it. We actually had many interesting conversations about Jainism. I just felt like using the word to describe them. Nothing negative in it.

      • Anonymous

        I see.  I do think there is a definite cultural component to outsourcing that people don’t always consider.  In our outsourcing experiences with India, we found that the intensity was very different.  People were willing to work much longer hours there, but they were much less productive per hour.  Because people were cheap, we would have teams of 2-3 on tasks that we would have 1 person work on part time locally.  We also got a lot of “don’t worry about it” and “yes, no problem” only to find out that they would be scrambling to figure things out on the fly after committing to things they had no business committing to.  We wound up micromanaging the work from here which was very counter-productive but we did find a balance of 10/80/10 worked well where 10% of the work was defined and written up here with very specific objectives and outcomes, 80% of the grunt work would be done there, and the final 10% of the re-packaging and client-specific stuff would be added back in locally.

        • bwahahaha! i love when people first find out that third-world country translation of “no problem” for us means “OH CRAP”… 
          my favorite is “no problem, we’ll do it tomorrow” (tomorrow never comes because it’s always “today”)

  • Steven L Goff

    How many times have you heard me say it James!? > “If you can save or change just one life….you can save or change the world”

    When you help people(s)….it not only is the right thing to do in most cases. ….but it breeds {{{{loyalty}}}} Some people just dont get that. Thats how ya get friends who would take a bullet for you …..or a baseball bat to your head if ask to do so!   That is LIFE…and it’s not always about dollar bills.

    Chet woke up that morning and was your “super hero” James….like you’ve been to so many before in life.

  • Awesome story!

  • Funny how certain people are so incredibly reliable in this world of chaos.

  • Wonderful! you know james I was all in your story while I was reading . It was like watching all through my eyes. 

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Blair

    So what’s your general rule of thumb: don’t outsource your programming?

    For me, I’ve had a mixed experience. Some great work done by folks in India, Bangladesh, the Phillipines & elsewhere. And some awful work done by others in those countries. I’ve been where you were. On a much smaller scale, of course but getting traffic from AOL-owned properties and not being able to handle said traffic as I yelled at my U.S.-based project manager. That feeling of panic. I think a lot of folks running web-based businesses have been there.

  • Mahesh

    James ,
    Excellent story , very interesting and I am sure a treasured life memory for you. I am a programmer too. Not as good as chet.  Tried everything ( people management,little trading,research) and figured I like  programming.  Also good to see you do not put all Indian programmers in one basket. Some are good :)

  • I’m disappointed by some of the vitriol in people’s posts. If you don’t like this blog, don’t read it.

    • I think people get angry in their personal lives and then look for outlets to relieve that anger. Most of the time I ignore it. When people are particularly vicious I delete the comment and block them. Thanks Schuyler, though, you are absolutely correct if people don’t like it they should just move on.

  • Aaa

    Tell us how much you make with this blog. Whatever the figure, you deserve it.

  • Aaa

    Tell us how much you make with this blog. Whatever the figure, you deserve it.

  • jdub

    Great post…When is the autobiography coming out?

  • Anonymous

    Another Great story.  You must write a book and incorporate all of these blogs for the hoards of people that aren’t reading it now. You would be helping so many.  Then you can also make alot of  money.  Unless of course you are already independently wealthy, are you?  I hope you are , you deserve it, or I should re-phrase that: A talented writer like yourself who can really relate to other people’s deepest places in such a profound way, deserves to be rich.

    • Working on the novel for the more literary stuff (but fictionalizing some things and adding new material) and Claudia and I together working on an expanded version of my first book. Greatly expanded.

      • I can’t wait to read your novel, James. You have the life experiences to really draw out the emotional truths of this world. 

  • I. loved. this.

    This was such a fresh and inspiring story. Truly made me laugh out loud and contemplate becoming a programmer, eventhough I don’t have the slightest clue. I have bookmarked this site in my favorites. First time reader but it won’t be my last.


    • Excellent Cap. Well, I highly recommend you read everything here!

  • Claudia

    Wow, he was good! still is… nice that he returned the favor and remembered that old conversation, and saved the day, and ‘learned a computer language on the way to the office’.  I am impressed

  • Kevin M

    “It’s James”
    “I knew you’d call someday, I’ve been waiting.”

    Good thing he was already packed for Paris. What a great story. I don’t really have much to add besides that.

  • James, what if Chet wouldn’t have taken your advice, and instead he would continue with theorizing about distributed objects and eventually wind up on Google’s team early on, receiving a big chunk of shares along with Brin and Page?

    • What if I had bought MSFT stock in 1986? What if, what if?

  • Anonymous

    You are a damn good story teller…

  • Beyondbeige

    James, James, James.. Shit, if I had a nickel for every piece of advise I didn’t take which eventually would have made me millions.  Ha. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Andrew W

    James, how was it hosting the other day with Nicole Lapin.  An hour is longer than you usually spend on camera.  Did you enjoy it?

    • I did. Nicole has a very natural way about her. it feels more conversational. Like we’re all just hanging out and there happens to be a camera there. Plus, 5am I felt like it was less pressure.

  • shmuli

    Amazing story James!

  • nysepete

    I think, more than anything – this anecdote says 1 thing [and I’ll steal the quote from “Free to Be You and Me”:

    “Glad to have a friend like you”

    This man is the kind of friend that makes having friend’s so wonderful.

  • This story is amazing and it’s a reminder of something I have always firmly believed. Even when we have no idea that we’re doing it we can have tremendous impacts of the lives of those around us. For better or worse. Strangers and friends. 

  • I love this story – good people take care of good people.  

  • Landon Zabcik

    Thanks for sharing James, I’m a developer myself and this story is more common than people think.  Actually most people experience the alternate ending — they do not know someone as talented as Chet, so they end up loosing their business…

  • My employer contracts with Indians for coding too, what a f*cking nightmare.  Oh, that and IBM, never get in bed with IBM, they are like that monster in alien, they get inside you, slowly growing bigger and bigger, feeding off yer innards, and then, just when you tell them you want to cancel your contract, they send you the annual bill, $2,987,224.55, and tell you the contract auto-renewed. 

    I like Chet too, would love to hear more about him. 

    I love your blog. 

  • Anonymous

    My faith in Karma is restored.
    Beautiful story James.
    I particularly like the fact that you don’t embellish by pretending that you well remembered telling him to go 100% internet 100% of the time…

  • Doc_hawkins

    Write the Program
    Cut it down 25%
    Good Story but as many groups some are like outsourcing companies
    More complex code = more billing hours

  • I laughed my butt off while reading this entire article. I had the same experience with Indian coders. NEVER AGAIN!

  • Hey mate… this is a bullshit article… Indian programmers are some of the very best in the world… you get what you pay mate… Some of the most advanced components of ERP level software are currently being developed in Bangalore/Hyderabad… Am sure you must have paid them peanuts… and thus, they screwed you royally! You get what you paid for man… !

    • Rajendra Tiwari

      But this happens many times… usually people are not comfortable saying no. They keep trying till last moment though they are not sure what the problem is – but they think that once the found it – they will be able to solve it in few minutes. And they keep waiting till the deadline reaches. And then they innocently say no we can not do this.

    • outsourcer

      With 1 billion people there better be a couple of half decent programmers. One in five if talent is homogeneously distributed.

      I pay what the market wants. I outsource to India because it’s cheap. I outsource to get cheap, quality, code. If you can’t provide me with that in a timely manner, I’ll move on to the next country.

      If I’m going to spend a lot of money, I’ll get the best. If he’s from MIT good. If he’s from India I’ll get him a green card.

  • Bhavya

    Hey James,

    As I type this, we are facing a problem that is a mirror reflection of what you did in this whole conundrum.

    Can I pleaseeeeeeee get through to your friend ? You would be a God send for us.


    An Indian who has been put down on his haunches by a team of fellow Indians.

  • I can’t help myself being the fan of your writing! Just came here following the link in your post in Techcrunch post! I have nothing to say other than to just get amazed at your writing.

  • I can’t help myself being the fan of your writing! Just came here following the link in your post in Techcrunch post! I have nothing to say other than to just get amazed at your writing.

  • Although I’m from India, I would not want to outsource the code to India. Maybe for testing related activities. Having worked for Oracle in India, I know that there is a reason that the design and the architecture are first built here and then handed over to India for any enhancements, maintenance or testing. They do wait until shit hits the roof to let you know. It is not intentional, call it cultural :)

  • nacororenato

    Your writings are marvelous! I’m hooked with you, and can’t help laughing.

  • Haha.. Nice story. 

    1. You had a bad experience with Arvind and company, but believe me it’s not that bad. We, Indians, are also responsible for some of the best code written out there.
    2. Chet..! He seemed like the eleventh hour Samaritan in your story.

    3. You should try your hand at some novels or something..!!

  • Damn, I love this story. Read it a few times.

  • What a thriller! How lucky you are to have a friend like that. I truely know what it is like, because I have a friend like yours. She does the most amazing things in programming and always finds a solution. She reads manuals like others read the newspaper, I am so grateful for her help.

    As for the outsourcing in India, dont beat yourself up, it happens all over, no matter the country. Thanks for a interesting blog. Take care!

  • If this is real, it’s a great read. I enjoyed reading it. Nice story and the flow of the story was well written

  • Sam Worthington

    Never outsource to India again! Instead, hire talented American students at

    • Sandeep Sharma

      chup be BC

  • Rudy

    Hilarious one… kinda odd that I landed up just days after Martin’s I have a dream speech;s 50th anniversary. Well, whoever that chet is , he is awesome. Wonder if he does write a blog ?

  • rothbriele

    I think individuals get upset in their individual lifestyles and then look for sites to reduce that rage. Most of sufficient time I neglect it. When individuals are particularly terrible I remove the opinion and prevent them. Thanks Schuyler, though, you are definitely appropriate if individuals don’t like it they should just shift on.

    Die Alle Zwei Tage Diät

  • samenconteras

    nice post
    Wordpxis Ltd.

  • Sandeep Sharma

    What is Chet’s full name(or fb or twitter link to send him a message)?