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Posted on: Saturday, January 30, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Programmer Tip: No One Really Cares About Your Failures.

Jack, a young and capable developer is starting out his development blog by hiding behind the mask of anonymity.

He is concerned that his blog posts are not mature enough and that he still hasn't found his style of writing. He prefers writing anonymously because it allows him to learn how to write without his friends, family or juniors finding out how much he sucks at it.

When I hear Jack mention this over a conversation at a friendly neighborhood food joint, I cringe.

There is nothing wrong with anonymity. Which name a man writes under, is every man's own choice.

What irks me however, is an overly conscious attitude towards failure and the active effort being put behind hiding how much you suck.

In the world where I live, spending time and effort behind shit-canning how much you suck seems like an utter waste of time. Everyone successful at what they do, that I know of, is often rather open and candid about how much he sucks.

Steve Yegge for example, in his classic post on Languages, makes a rather honest, open and direct confession followed by his attempt at sucking less each year. He explains:

When I started at Amazon, I could recite for you all the incantations, psalms, and voodoo chants that I'd learned, all in lieu of intelligence or experience, the ones that told me Multiple Inheritance is Evil 'cuz Everyone Says So, and Operator Overloading Is Evil, and so on. I even vaguely sort of knew why, but not really.

Since then I've come to realize that it's not MI that sucks, it's developers who suck.

I sucked, and I still do, although hopefully less every year.

Legendary author Steve McConnell describe the idea of accepting how much you suck rather articulately in his classic book Code Complete. He explains:

What? You don’t have to be super intelligent?

No, you don’t. Nobody is really smart enough to program computers. Fully understanding an average program requires an almost limitless capacity to absorb details and an equal capacity to comprehend them all at the same time.

The way you focus your intelligence is more important than how much intelligence you have. At the 1972 Turing Award Lecture, Edsger Dijkstra delivered a paper titled “The Humble Programmer.” He argued that most of programming is an attempt to compensate for the strictly limited size of our skulls. The people who are best at programming are the people who realize how small their brains are.

They are humble.

The people who are the worst at programming are the people who refuse to accept the fact that their brains aren’t equal to the task.

Their egos keep them from being great programmers. The more you learn to compensate for your small brain, the better a programmer you’ll be. The more humble you are, the faster you’ll improve.

In one of my earlier post, I describe how no one cares about you and while a couple of people were really angry at the post, the bright side of no-one caring about you, is the fact that they do not even care about failures.

Mark Cuban describes the idea of using this could-not-care-less attitude of the world around you to your advantage using a single quote. He explains:

It doesn’t matter how many times you fail. It doesn’t matter how many times you almost get it right. No one is going to know or care about your failures, and neither should you. All you have to do is learn from them and those around you because... All that matters in business is that you get it right once. Then everyone can tell you how lucky you are.

A good way to start wrapping this post up, would be with an inspirational ad from Nike, where Michael Jordon is heard speaking the words of wisdom:

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Today, I leave you, dear reader, with a word of advice: stop taking yourself seriously. Start flaunting your failures, accepting how much you suck and above all start sucking less each year. And no, you don't have to worry about the whole world finding out, because no-one is watching. They just don't care. Remember?

Now, stop shit-canning your failures and fail in remarkable new ways like a baby.

I wish you good luck.

Monday, February 1, 2010 2:54:52 AM UTC
Very disappointing again.
I usually reach your blogs from a blog aggregator. I believe there is a problem with your writing style. I am hoping to find some useful content but honestly you never fail to disappoint me.

Of course its your blog you can write any thing you want. Because time and again I am clicking to reach this blog, because you do have some attractive titles.

This is the summary of your writing. Attractive titles, unbearable number of distracting external links (this post has 14 of them), some one else ideas, 'dear reader' peppered usually more than once, lots of philosophy, very dry form of telling a story..

At the end its very disappointing reading experience. You seem to have good ideas, and I wish you could add some original content with some real meat in it.

Again take it for it is worth. By the way this blog looks bad on firefox.
Mike Richards
Monday, February 1, 2010 10:15:50 PM UTC
Mike, post a link to your blog.
Mark D.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010 6:59:08 AM UTC
Well, I would like to differ from the comments of Mike (bloglink unavailable). But IMO, I feel that the story telling is quite interesting (and not dry). Lots of philosophy alright - but what's wrong with it? I kinda feel it's a sort of practical philosophy. Rather a large amount of external links alright, but I have learnt to ignore them while reading and then return in case I found any of them interesting. "Dear reader", once again is something that I have got used to. So in short: I like hearing from Rajiv, and I always look forward to his posts.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010 11:46:23 AM UTC
Great post Rajiv.
Saturday, February 6, 2010 5:56:58 PM UTC
@mark, @Gogula, @anshuman.

One word: thanks.
Saturday, February 6, 2010 5:58:03 PM UTC
@mark, @gogula, @anshuman.

One word: thanks.
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