Arkiva Mujore: Prill 2014

Hacker School banning “feigned surprise” is absolutely brilliant

The biggest insight I’ve had as a programmer is just how often other programmers are portraying false confidence. My natural approach to problem-solving is Socratic, feeling out different ideas and taking small, well-supported steps. Compare and contrast that with making gigantic pronouncements full of bravado. Writing software is inherently an exercise in managing complexity, which is best done with caution.

The best developers I’ve worked with were willing to admit when they didn’t know something. Of course they could learn quickly. If you meet an arrogant developer who pretends to know everything, be careful. To them, their ego is more important than your software. An insecure person who mixes up their self-worth with their programming ability can be very unpleasant to work with. Sadly, some workplaces and development teams reward bombastic claims made with absolute certainty, even on complex topics.

If you have ability and a strong work ethic, people will notice. You will learn a lot from their reaction. If they react by treating with you with respect, they have strong character. If they react by taking every opportunity to belittle and undermine you, they perceive you as a threat to them. If you aren’t prone to petty jealousy and spiteful thinking, it will be difficult to empathize with people who are. Sadly, you must handle these threats. Declaring yourself “above it all” only makes you an easy target, especially once you gain more responsiblity and therefore power.

“Feigned surprise” (when someone gasps and says something like: “you don’t even know about monads?”) is a method of belittling someone and lording your superiority over them. Every organization says about itself, “we don’t have any rude, unpleasant people here. We’re different!” And during the interview process those people are hidden away. Usually you can only find out the truth by actually working there. But by banning feigned surprise, Hacker School strikes a real blow against unplesant, unproductive behavior, and drives away toxic people. That is a strong signal that Hacker School is the sort of place where someone can program and collaborate in a peaceful atmosphere, and therefore accomplish a great deal.

by Dennis


Nassim Nicholas Taleb

This graph shows the relative role of independent factors in a system, with among, say 30 identifiable factors, 97% of the variations can be attributed to the first 2 factors (a system with “fat tails” will be even more concentrated with 99.999% coming from one single factor). The remaining 28 factors are chickens**t. The graph presents a statistical view of the “less is more” argument, and why one should not follow the news for, in a given month, “low loads” represent 99.99% of the conversation and .01% of the contribution.

If you are right on factor 1 (& possibly 2), the rest is irrelevant. But the problem is that those trained in debate will drag you into factors 3 through 99, just to distract from the core issue.

I have decided to avoid Cambridge and Oxford Union debates, those discussion with people trained in argument by debating societies. The Oxbridge system of “covering all sides of an issue” drives you to the irrelevant and drowns your Factor 1 argument. If you do things right you should have “only one argument”, which clashes with this culture.

(This graph also explains in statistical terms the “lady complains too much”, or why a “balanced” view presenting drawbacks is everything but balanced.)

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