I’ve been thinking (again) about what it is that makes some coders special, and have come up with the following idiosyncratic, completely unscientific, my-employer-does-not-endorse-my-views classification. It should go without saying (but won’t) that not only is this graph not to scale, but that it’s a pretty scary power function as you move up the pyramid. […]

Top Down and Bottom Up

My wife and I were recently┬átalking about one of our mutual friends, a researcher in a “soft money” position. This means that instead of getting paid by the university from general funds, she’s responsible for bringing in the money for her salary, research team, facilities, etc., through writing grants. This has become increasingly difficult over […]


A quick thought experiment. I’d like for you to imagine the best version of yourself. Not the rich you, or the more attractive you. Not the version of you that went to a different school, grew up in a different country, made different choices. This isn’t the version of you that had different opportunities, or […]

The Curse of the Golden Child

You’ve seen this before, perhaps even lived it. A new person starts at the company, and from day one, she’s on fire. Everything she touches turns to gold: her projects magically complete ahead of schedule, she’s able to pull the thread on long-standing intractable problems until they’re worked out, everyone enjoys working with her, and […]

Silver Bullets

Paradigms matter. The Pythagorans killed the discoverer of irrational numbers because they didn’t fit within their world view. The Romans had a numerical system that was actively antagonistic to arithmetic, and made no significant mathematical discoveries. The Arabs, on the other hand, had much the same numerical writing system as we use today, developed the […]

Hackers and Software Engineers

Hackers are cool. Described and celebrated by luminaries such as Eric Raymond and Paul Graham, they’re the self-styled “rock stars” and “ninjas” of the industry. Indeed, who wouldn’t want to be the next Wozniak, Torvalds, Carmack, Jeff Dean? Who wouldn’t give their right shift key for entry into The Guild? Hackers are min-maxers – working […]

Screwing up

I screw up, all the time. Mostly little stuff, but sometimes not. Most of the time I’m letting myself down – not working out when I’d planned, snacking at work, staying up later than I should because I’m surfing the internet (do people even call it that anymore?). Nothing, though, equals the gut-churning feeling of […]