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SiggiB : arschlöcher   5

Done, and Gets Things Smart
The key here is "principally," and that I am describing motivation, not self-evaluation. The question is, what's driving you? What gets you working? If its just trying to show that you're good, then you won't be. It has to be something else too, or it won't get you through the concentrated decade of training it takes to get to that level.

Look at the history of the person we're all presuming Steve Yegge is talking about. He graduated (with honors) in 1990 and started at Google in 1999. So he worked a long time before he got to the level of Google's star.

When I was at Google I hung out on Sunday afternoons with a similar superstar. Nobody else was reliably there on Sunday; but he always was, so I could count on having someone to talk to. On some Sundays he came to work
even when he had unquestionably legitimate reasons for not feeling well, but he still came to work. Why didn't he go home like any normal person would? It wasn't that he was trying to prove himself; he'd done that long ago. What was driving him?

The only way I can describe it is one word: fury. What was he doing every Sunday? He was reviewing various APIs that were being proposed as standards by more junior programmers, and he was always finding things wrong with them. What he would talk about, or rather, rage about, on these Sunday afternoons was always about some idiocy or another that someone was trying make standard, and what was wrong with it, how it had to be fixed up, etc, etc. He was always in a high dudgeon over it all.

What made him come to work when he was feeling sick and dizzy and nobody, not even Larry and Sergey with their legendary impatience, not even them, I mean nobody would have thought less of him if he had just gone home & gone to sleep? He seemed to be driven, not by ambition, but by fear that if he stopped paying attention, something idiotically wrong (in his eyes) might get past him, and become the standard, and that was just unbearable, the thought made him so incoherently angry at the sheer wrongness of it, that he had to stay awake and prevent it from happening no matter how legitimately bad he was feeling at the time.

It made me think of Paul Graham's comment: "What do I mean by good people? One of the best tricks I learned during our startup was a rule for deciding who to hire. Could you describe the person as an animal?... I mean someone who takes their work a little too seriously; someone who does what they do so well that they pass right through professional and cross over into obsessive.

What it means specifically depends on the job: a salesperson who just won't take no for an answer; a hacker who will stay up till 4:00 AM rather than go to bed leaving code with a bug in it; a PR person who will cold-call New York Times reporters on their cell phones; a graphic designer who feels physical pain when something is two millimeters out of place."

I think a corollary of this characterization is that if you really want to be "an animal," what you have cultivate in yourself is partly ambition, but it is partly also self-knowledge. As Paul Graham says, there are different kinds of animals. The obsessive graphic designer might be unconcerned about an API that is less than it could be, while the programming superstar might pass by, or create, a terrible graphic design without the slightest twinge of misgiving.

Therefore, key question is: are you working on the thing you care about most? If its wrong, is it unbearable to you? Nothing but deep seated fury will propel you to the level of a superstar. Getting there hurts too much; mere desire to be good is not enough. If its not in you, its not in you. You have to be propelled by elemental wrath. Nothing less will do.

Or it might be in you, but just not in this domain. You have to find what you care about, and not just what you care about, but what you care about violently: you can't fake it.

(Also, if you do have it in you, you still have to choose your boss carefully. No matter how good you are, it may not be trivial to find someone you can work for. There's more to say here; but I'll have to leave it for another comment.)

Another clarification of my assertion "if you're wondering if you're good, then you're not" should perhaps be said "if you need reassurance from someone else that you're good, then you're not." One characteristic of these "animals" is that they are such obsessive perfectionists that their own internal standards so far outstrip anything that anyone else could hold them to, that no ordinary person (i.e. ordinary boss) can evaluate them. As Steve Yegge said, they don't go for interviews. They do evaluate each other -- at Google the superstars all reviewed each other's code, reportedly brutally -- but I don't think they cared about the judgments of anyone who wasn't in their circle or at their level.
Arschlöcher  DunningKruger  Smart  IQ  ***************** 
7 weeks ago by SiggiB

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