[FoRK] great hackers

Owen Byrne owen at permafrost.net
Thu Aug 5 20:00:40 PDT 2004

Stephen D. Williams wrote:

> The article explicitly covers the self-deprecating tendancies of 
> uber-hackers.
> You would know an uber hacker if you were close to one and trying to 
> keep up.
> I tend to think of programming (and the design behind it) as levels of 
> experience, insight, and skill, plateaus of "enlightenment".
> You only vaguely understand the levels until you get to them.

Well the last time I felt that way was sitting beside a woman who had 
been writing and maintaining a COBOL system for 25+ years. She was the 
only person who understood the intricacies - and made damn sure it 
stayed that way. On the other hand she had lots and lots of 
domain-specific knowledge - its called "experience."
When she retires the company will throw out what she wrote and replace it.

> The difference between an uber and newby, are similar to the 
> difference between a black belt in karate/etc. and Joe Schmo off the 
> street.  Between a brain surgeon and a butcher.  They may look roughly 
> the same, but the finesse and depth is missing.
How do you tell the difference between good brain surgeons and bad brain 
surgeons? First of all you have to be a brain surgeon. Then what? 

At my last university the head of the department got to be head because 
he was "prolific" - he published 4 or 5 papers every year - only thing 
was that the few people in the world who actually read them could see he 
was good at getting published - he would rework the papers slightly, get 
a grad student to generate some new data - and voila, - prolific. If you 
were up to speed in the topic area, it was obvious that his brain 
stopped ten or years ago. - but to everybody else he looked like a star.

> This depth and understanding is the difference between a coder/simple 
> designer and an architect.
The only measurable difference is in the difficulty of the problem. How 
do you know that the coder/simple designer could not do just as good a 
job as the "architect" given the opportunity and appropriate resources. 
How do you know he would not do better?

I will give you an example from ancient history. People have always 
revered Shakespeare as the greates writer in the English language. Turns 
out that much of the plays (especially his very best plays) included 
lots and lots of actors improvising. His early plays are crap. Who's to 
say that one of the actors - if he had been assigned the job of 
"playwright" wouldn't be revered as a great writer now?  Could he have 
created a King Lear in isolation?


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