The Curve of Talent

Eli White posted an article by Eric Paley.  It’s called The Curve of Talent and I’m posting it because it’s, simply, really good.  I get asked, quite frequently, about how people can be better programmers.  Why they’re asking me, I have no idea.  But what I usually tell them is to be curious and be creative.  Waste time.  Now, I don’t mean “wasting time” by playing Quake (one of the best adrenaline-based games of all time), I mean taking time to learn new things and try new things… sometimes without permission and sometimes before or after normal work hours.  (Though not ALL the time.  If you always are working you have priority issues).

Another thing is to work on side projects.  Clearly you need to be aware of conflicts of interest with your employer but I heard one person say once that they will not hire someone who does not have at least one side project.  The “A” people, as noted in the the article, will most likely have something they’re doing on the side.  Yeah, you might risk losing them if that “thin”g ever goes viral (which it probably won’t), but you will get better people if you look for people who have the capacity to be your competitor.  You’ll never get a Gates or a Jobs (don’t tell me that they were completely different people, they were just different in where their  strengths were), but you might get someone who can think about a solution in a way that you didn’t.  Getting someone who has some level of personal initiative will likely increase the strength of your team.

When I first got started in programming I worked for a really small company.  I started as a designer and eventually found that I had more talent as a programmer.  Given what my designs looked like, that doesn’t say much about my programming skillz.  I left that company and started on my own and worked that way for a few years until the increase in my age was outpacing the increase in my revenue and went to work for a rather large company.  I was shocked.  Never before had I run into so many people who were worthless.  Granted, there were good people there and even the “worthless” people knew how to do their jobs.  But too many of them were clock-punchers or thought that the company owed them.  I believe that employers should willing to overlook performance issues from time to time, but that must be earned.  And people who earn it will push themselves harder than those they report to, unless you’re working for a Gates or a Jobs.

This is reflected in the article when the author states that most people in large corporations are C players.

Most people are C performers. C performers struggle to competently fill their role, but are somewhat productive with sufficient coaching. Hard to admit, but most people in the business world don’t have a particularly clear idea on how to do their job well.

That’s a little unfair, and the author clarifies himself later, in saying that people don’t have a clear idea how to do their job well.  They know how to do their job well, but that’s all they know how to do.

So, be different.  Look at your current work and do it well, but also try and find something interesting to do beyond your work.  It may not contribute directly but, as Einstein said, once a mind has been stretched it never returns to its original shape.

And Einstein knew a few things about being smart.

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Kevin Schroeder

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