My friend is a better coder than me, is he smarter?

Dear Internet,

I used to think I was pretty smart and then I discovered coding. I got better as I practiced but I noticed other people were so much better than me. One friend in particular has no right to be so good but he can understand an API and write a working draft in half the time I can. I know experience matters but is it true that some coders are superior?

Answer: defintely yes

The 10x programmer is real even though Norvig says it takes ten years to be a programmer.

The key is deliberative practice: not just doing it again and again, but challenging yourself with a task that is just beyond your current ability, trying it, analyzing your performance while and after doing it, and correcting any mistakes. Then repeat. And repeat again.

Peter Norvig

He may be smarter, but you can hack your way to catching up

You can give yourself an edge by developing a coding environment that is productive and conducive to developer happiness. Me, for example, I notice that a good cup of joe and a solid breakfast does wonder for get-sh*t-done mentality, along with a clean room with nice colors, fast internet, fabulous chair, and of course a computing environment you like. Getting to sleep early in a room that is conducive for high quality rest is also insanely important. The list of things you can do for incremental improvement is long, but this is a good start.

I think the jury is still out on what’s the best OS for a programmer, but it ain’t a bad idea to stick with what you know. Otherwise one may get stuck with tuning an environment to perfection, never really getting there, but wasting weeks in the process. As they say in game development, you either make a game or you make a game engine, because you sure as hell don’t have time to do both.

Using a macbook air boosts my productivity, being a light, portable, fully capable OS. I’ve strongly considered a chromebook but the lack of a full OS is a real showstopper for me. I love ffmpeg, youtube-dl, brew, etc. And although Crouton lets you do many tasks on Chrome OS, It’s more of a “meh” than a “fck yas”.

Spending tons on a computer isn’t going to make the difference either. But a $200 computer is going to shoot you in the foot. Is a $700 macbook air vs a $1250 windows pc going to be far less powerful? Of course not, the macbook air is perfectly competent for your average development needs. We’re not pushing multi gig videos around in Final Cut Pro, but wrangling some text in fancy IDE’s. Just don’t go crazy with the plugins in VSCode and you’ll be fine. Plus that extra $500 you save from the cheaper macbook air will give you a margin to buy a new one in a few years if you want.

I often work alone sometimes and with friends sometimes, and I don’t notice much of a difference. Either way I use headphones, and yes some headphones are cheap and much better (I like ones that are versatile and sound good). When I’m working with friends, we might occasionally chat for a minute, but even that is brief. Also, there’s always the risk they’ll spill coffee on your laptop, but that’s unlikely. What really matters is it’s fun working with friends, and work can be so terribly boring. My genius programmer friend can usually help me sort through a tricky bash script, so that’s useful.

And besides almost all the best founders that got into Ycombinator had a cofounder.

Empirically it seems to be hard to start a startup with just one founder. Most of the big successes have two or three. And the relationship between the founders has to be strong. 

Paul Graham

Life is one big productivity hack anyway, whether it’s intermittent pushups or intermittent fasting, we’re all reckless with desire to improve, while most of us at the same time really would rather sit on the couch and chill. Alas, the capitalism machine is working well, and self-interest/self-preservation is a powerful motivator.

And ultimately you might find that even if you’re friend can get a prototype done faster, it’s really your boss that defines productivity. You might actually be the better worker, even he codes better. Perhaps you are a better collaborator, as he hides in his coding dungeon cubicle.

Anyway there’s a gazillion piles of code on Github that will suffer bit rot. What matters is anyone actually using your code. And of course your users don’t give a damn about if your code works, they just want a good website with good content. Whether it’s in php or fortran, they couldn’t care less.

Do you think the rich elite code much? Probably not much, as they are better at organizing flows of money, then they are at being down in the pixel trenches. Intellectuals are dime a dozen, and it’s people who know money that are valuable. Many Physics PhD’s go on to working as quants on wall street, not solving humanities problems, as capitalism has a hard time incentivizing solving what economics calls “externalities”. The world is on fire, but that doesn’t matter much, so long as the spice flows the global elite doesn’t mind a little of the world burning a day at a time until an Alex Jones style elite escapes to the moon or underground bunkers.

And no, it doesn’t matter how many times you watch The Social Network for coding motivation.

Last updated: December 25, 2019


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