Hacker Career Advice

Comparisons Are for Pull Requests

Hey yall, I hope you had a wonderful Labor Day weekend. At my family BBQ we had a full spread: grilled meats, sweet corn, juicy watermelon, and a very generous helping of parents comparing their children. 😒

These comparisons are inevitable, but their accumulated weight can do a number on your confidence. With family, it’s often “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” When you’re an only child, they can come at you sideways, “Did you hear how well your friend Julie’s brother is doing in school? He’s going pre-med!” (Seriously mom, him?)

Alternatively, the pressure could come from within. Do you ever envy your classmates and their success? After college, my envy was Legion. My old roommate designed the infotainment system for Tesla’s Model S. Another classmate invented the Facebook News Feed. But so what, that’s their journey, not ours. It’s hard to be proud of yourself and everything you’ve acheived when you’re constantly thinking about someone else.

I really do believe that these comparisons are intended to be helpful, but we end up interpreting them like this: “Julie’s brother is succesful. To be succesful you must imitate Julie’s brother. That’s the only way.”

As software developers, we rely on comparisons, 3rd party libraries, and ‘best practices’ to make a living, but it’s not always plug & play.

If I diff my code against yours and there’s no difference, then it should work the same, right? Likewise, if I install and follow a TensorFlow tutorial, I should be able to do some Machine Learning. So why isn’t it working?

Often, it’s your environment. Maybe I’m using an incompatible version of node. Maybe I’m on MacOS and you’re running Debian. My dotfiles might have a problematic alias. Maybe this application actually requires something totally different. Maybe I don’t even care about ML.

Since you’re a person and not a Docker container, I can guarantee that no sibling, twin, classmate—even Julie’s brother—has the same “environment” you do.

This doesn’t mean comparisons are useless though. You can derive nuggets of actionable advice from them. Think of it like a code snippet on Stack Overflow: a starting point which you can adapt to your use case, but not something you blindly copy & paste into your terminal.

For example, there’s probably an underlying action or pattern that’s helping Julie’s brother do so well in school. Find out what it is and see if it’s compatible with your environment. If it doesn’t help you, move on and try something else.

Define your own goals and work towards them at your own speed. You’re 1 in 7.6 billion.


© 2018 Neal Shyam