07 Feb 2020

Billionaire's life

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If I were a billionaire, how would I live my life?

I would invest a good chunk of my money in doing research in the fields I'm interested in, namely biology, genetics, computer science, software engineering, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
I would spend my time trying defining what is the most important thing I could be working on given our current understanding and constraints in order to reach certain objectives.
I would want to get informed by the advice of the smartest people I can get.
I would pay others to help me get to my goals faster.
I would avoid having to deal with hardware constraints by simply purchasing more hardware.
I would try to trade the money I have to remove as much friction as possible in my work.
I would like to consider working on different things as having a variety of hobbies and not a variety of jobs.
I would avoid spending my time commuting.
I would eliminate the time I spend on cooking and cleaning.
I would maximize the effectiveness of my time, from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep.
I would try to find ways to increase the number of people (or machines) that can help me.
I would try to find ways to make the fact that I'm a billionaire irrelevant to the accomplishment of everything I've stated here.

06 Feb 2020

Great or acceptable software solution

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Is it better to spend a lot of time designing a great software solution or to implement an acceptable one?

In software development, the further you go down the development pipeline, the more expensive it is to change things. Once a solution is established and is being used by other parts of the code, replacing it becomes more expensive. Thus it would make sense to spend as much time as possible planning what you're going to develop before you develop it. Sometimes you however do not have enough information to make an informed design decision upfront and you actually need to implement something to explore and understand what will be needed to solve the problem. The exploratory implementation you do may end up being satisfactory enough that you do not see the need to redesign your solution.

When you implement a solution you generally have an idea of the use cases you need to support, but sometimes certain use cases are less common and require a lot more effort to support. As such, you have the choice between implementing a solution that would support both common and uncommon use cases but would require more time, or you could implement a solution that covers the common cases. Depending on the field you are in, you will have to choose between this tradeoff.

In the domains I've worked (game development, web development, machine learning), it has been more valuable to implement an acceptable solution that could be shown as providing value to the client vs designing a great solution until it was proven to be necessary.

Always make wise use of your time and assess whether quality or quantity is needed for your software project.

05 Feb 2020

Process improvement

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How do I improve my processes?

First and foremost, to improve any process you need to start by writing the process down. All the steps or things you need to consider should be written in a document. This will allow you to review this document over time and improve it as you find ways to make the process better.

When you perform the process, look at your document and see whether you are applying all of the steps you wrote down. Identify the steps that are more critical than others, in which order you complete them, how long it takes you to accomplish them, whether some steps are sometimes relevant, etc. You want to capture information about the process as you are going through it in order to identify sources of improvement. If a step takes the majority of your time in a process, ask yourself whether this is expected and whether it would be possible to optimize or automate this step in order to reduce the time spent on it.

If possible, share your processes with others. Have them share with you how they would go about doing the same things you do and take notes. Some of the things that may be different between you and others are the order in which you accomplish the steps, which steps you consider critical and how much time is spent on each step.

Even though some of the processes you follow on a daily basis may appear trivial to you, you might end up realizing that those processes are quite complex in nature, especially if you need to write them down.

Try playing around with doing steps in parallel vs doing steps sequentially and see which one is more efficient.

In order to improve your processes, you need to define what it is you want to improve. In my case, I want my processes to be efficient (doing things right) and effective (doing the right things). Compared to myself, a process is improved if I need less time to accomplish it while producing the same quality of results or if for the same amount of time I produce higher quality of results.

04 Feb 2020

Fighting over code style

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Why do developers fight over code style?

We are creatures of habits. We like when our code looks like we would expect it to look and not some completely different style. When the style is too different, then it creates cognitive load, which means that we're spending more energy than we would if the code looked the way we like it. Since we're machines that attempt to minimize the amount of energy we spend, we see code that is not styled our way as a bad investment of our energy and that it would either be better to reformat the code our way (minimizing our energy expenditure in the future) or simply to start from scratch.

As human beings, we're able to adapt. Adapting generally requires more energy than simply using the skills we already have, and we prefer to avoid having to adapt. Thus we fight with others so that they do the effort of adapting instead of us. We see fighting as being more effective than adapting. It may be an effective approach when no existing rules exist, however, in many businesses, code standards have been established, which means that if you are a new employee, you will have to adapt to those standards. You could always try to bring back the discussion of updating the code style, but if the standards have been established a long time ago, this effort is likely to be futile.

As such, even though adapting requires more of our energy, we should make that sacrifice upfront and use it on more important things, such as defining what tasks are important and which ones should be done first.

03 Feb 2020

Repeating yourself

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If you offload everything in your head into documents, how long does it take before you start repeating yourself?

How soon you repeat yourself will depend on how much diversity there is in your thoughts. If you always think about the same problems in the same ways, you're likely to repeat yourself a lot. However, if you try to explore the same problems through different lenses you'll have less chances to repeat yourself.

If you spend most of your time exploring new ideas, then you may only come back to ideas you had in the past from time to time.

If you work in a specialized field you may have to learn the basics multiple times in order to master them. Sometimes you will have acquired new knowledge that might challenge your existing assumptions. You will be mostly repeating yourself, but you will be making small adjustments at the same time.

When we offload everything that we have in our head into documents, our goal is to have more working memory space for our current work. We want to avoid having to come back to the same topics and having to start our exploration from scratch.

When we're exploring, we want to avoid exploring the same topics without noticing. As we explore a field, we may get a sense that the field is very large and that it may take a long time to get familiar with it. By mapping the field we can get a better sense of its size while at the same time discovering the important concepts. This lets us identify when we are making use of the same concepts over and over again.