Thursday, July 07, 2011

Everything is Derivative

I read something recently, and I can't quite recall where, which made the argument that there is nothing original in this world. Everything that is done, or created, is a variation of something else that has been done, or created. Knowing how to leverage that is the key to success in anything.

I write software (and design databases) for a living, and nothing I've ever coded is original. When I first got started, I was basically clueless. So, what I did is that when I needed to solve a problem, I looked at a similar problem and examined how it was solved by some other programmer. I copied and modified it to suit the particular problem I was addressing.

The programmer I referenced, in turn, got his code base from some other programmer... going all the way back to the first computer program, which itself was derivative of a program-like process.

Over time, I built up a base of plagiarism. Now, I mostly rip myself off. I have a library of things that I've done that I can go back to, to do the copy/modify thing again. It speeds things up tremendously, and makes it much easier to do my job.

For example, if I need to do a look-up in the database in a certain way, I'll go look at something I did before that was a lookup, and I'll change the logic to fit the way the current lookup needs to be done. I'll even copy/paste blocks of code and tweak it to fit.

Pretty much everything you do every day can be done in exactly that same way. Every artist that paints a picture, or writes a piece of music, rips off from themselves, or as they are starting out, ripping off from other artists. The real work is building up your base so that you can copy/modify as much as you can.

If you get good at this method of work, you can also work in what I call the "Scotty Method"... so named for the Star Trek character.

In the Star Trek episodes, Captain Kirk would inform Mr. Scott that the ship was about to explode unless warp drive was restored in X amount of time. Scotty would reply that he needed X+Y time to do it, and always got it done in X-Y, thus looking like a hero and saving the ship.

Generally, when you're asked to do something, the tasker will ask you for an estimate on how long it will take to do the job. Always way over-estimate how long it will take. Then, when you come in well under estimate, act like you worked like crazy to get it done ahead of schedule, and you'll end up looking good. The better your base of copy-able work, the more time you shave off the task.


Kor said...

I see I'm not the only one who took Scotty's advise to La Forge to heart :D

Managers like Starfleet captains, are like children.

Tom said...

I'm still surprised that managers ask for estimates. The government requires them for every project, and they create negative consequences for missing the deadlines. It's an entirely absurd way of doing things because they cause people to way over estimate everything as a default, rendering the whole exercise pointless.

The worker bees in government projects are generally very good. The management is almost uniformly bad. There are a few worker bees that were dumb enough to take a promotion, and they're sensible for a while.. until they are crushed by the jackboot of stupidity. Then they become just like all the others.

You cannot imagine how relieved I am now that my income is just a bonus, and I'm not living at the mercy of these people anymore. The level of stress reduction has completely changed me for the better.

John, on the other hand, works like mad, but since he owns the company, his work directly translates into his benefit - not somebody elses.

I've already told him that if I get laid off due to a contract falling out, I'm just going to retire and hang out at the country club with the wives of doctors and sip martinis (and hydrocodones!) at noon on a regular basis.