23 Influential Writings for Young People In Tech
I spent a few hours sifting through my bookmarks for the articles that have shaped my personal philosophy. The following is a list of 23 writings, mostly in blog format, that have influenced my perspective, attitudes and life decisions, for better or for worse.
None of these recommendations are meant to be taken as me agreeing with them (okay, maybe some of them 😜). In fact, some of these authors’ opinions widely contradict with each other, and your gut reactions to them might be negative. But they’ve made me think and might make you think, too.
Most of these articles apply to a person who wants to pursue a career in the tech industry, but the articles under the Learning and Misc headers should apply to just about anyone. Only the articles under the Software engineering header are remotely technical (though even non-technical people may find Jeff Meyerson’s perspective as an engineer, intriguing).
For each one, I’ve supplied their title, author, and a representative sample of the author’s argument.
Advice for ambitious 19 year olds (Sam Altman)
“No matter what you choose, build stuff and be around smart people. “Stuff” can be a lot of different things — open source projects outside of class, a startup, a new sales process at a company you work at — but, obviously, sitting around talking with your friends about how you guys really should build a website together does not count…”
PhDs for Entrepreneurs (Dan Zhang)
“However, a game-changing research paper could change your life far more than the average successful startup product launch. Aside from the resulting fame, many such papers have been spun off into wildly successful companies. The most obvious example is the publication of the PageRank algorithm, which led to a series of events resulting in…”
From Student Side Project to Startup (Paul Dornier — Y Combinator Blog)
“…it’s here that student founders actually have a unique advantage over other founders; you’re already surrounded by thousands of supportive and helpful beta testers (your classmates and school alumni)…”
Max Levchin of Affirm: Seeking the Endurance Athletes of Business (Max Levchin — Interview with New York Times)
“So I always tell people go to a start-up while you’re young. You might believe that going to a more established company to build up $100,000 in savings is your ticket to go take a big risk. It really isn’t. It just slows you down and makes you feel like you need to get to $200,000…”
This Is Why Your Startup Will Fail (Brian Scordato — Fast Company)
“The startup idea you pursue should be one you’ve been unconsciously preparing for your whole life. It should be about your strengths, not just a gap you see in a market. What are you, uniquely, incredible at? What do you know that no one else does? The first thing you should ask yourself when you have an idea is, “Why am I the best person to start this?”
If you ever find yourself sitting in a coffeeshop, quietly pitching your startup idea while side-eyeing everyone else within earshot — stop…”
“Think critically of your own job and skill set and judge how unique it is. Can it be automated easily? If your job is administrative, non-creative, repetitive, it’ll probably be gone soon. If you’re doing a lot of IRL stuff like sales, meetings, driving around to visit companies and then talk buzzword bingo bullshit, then you’re probably out too.
So if you didn’t get angry and don’t feel entitled, but instead are “embracing” this change, what’s there to do?…”
Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives (review of Carol Dweck’s research, Maria Popova — Brain Pickings)
“In the fixed mindset, that process is scored by an internal monologue of constant judging and evaluation, using every piece of information as evidence either for or against such assessments as whether you’re a good person, whether your partner is selfish, or whether you are better than the person next to you. In a growth mindset, on the other hand, the internal monologue is not one of judgment but one of voracious appetite for learning, constantly seeking out the kind of input that you can metabolize into learning and constructive action.”
Strong Opinions weakly held (Paul Saffo)
“The point of forecasting is not to attempt illusory certainty, but to identify the full range of possible outcomes. Try as one might, when one looks into the future, there is no such thing as “complete” information, much less a “complete” forecast. As a consequence, I have found that the fastest way to an effective forecast is…”
52 Concepts To Add To Your Cognitive Toolkit (Peter McIntyre)
“21. Bikeshedding — substituting a hard and important problem for an easy and inconsequential one. When designing a nuclear plant, Parkinson observed that the committee dedicated a disproportionate amount of time to designing the bikeshed — which materials should it be made of…”
Straussian Reading (Kevin Lacker)
“Why would someone write in this way, with hidden esoteric meaning, rather than just saying what they mean? In this example, your beloved feels that you can’t handle the raw truth. Fear of persecution is another common rationale for esoteric writing. Socrates was executed for his beliefs, so do you really think Plato would just write down everything he honestly believed?…”
Women Are Over-Mentored (But Under-Sponsored) (Herminia Ibarra — Harvard Business Review)
“When we use the term sponsoring, we focus in on that one specific function of mentoring, which may or may not be a part of a relationship. And sponsoring really is a very targeted thing. It has to do with fighting to get somebody a promotion, mentioning their name in an appointments meeting, and making sure that the person that you’re sponsoring gets the next assignment, and gets visible and developmental assignments…
Biased by Design (Y-Vonne Hutchinson — MIT Technology Review)
“Biases can become embedded in a product during any period of the development process. If the people making the products happen to come from a group that rarely experiences discrimination, those people will have a harder time predicting how bias will manifest itself. As an example…”
Silent Technical Privilege (Philip Guo — Slate)
“Instead of facing implicit bias or stereotype threat, I had the privilege of implicit endorsement. For instance, whenever I attended technical meetings, people would assume that I knew what I was doing (regardless of whether I did or not) and treat me accordingly. If I stared at someone in silence and nodded as they were talking, they would assume that I understood, not that I was clueless. Nobody ever talked down to me, and I always got the benefit of the doubt in technical settings…”
WTF is a hackathon? (Dave Fontenot)
“A notable example of a hackathon “hack,” GroupMe is a group messaging app that was acquired by Skype for over $50 million. Other notable examples include the Facebook “Like” button and Facebook Chat which were both first demoed at internal company hackathons…”
The secrets to a truly restorative vacation (Alex Soojung-Kim Pang — TED article)
“Mastery experiences are engaging, interesting things that you do well. They’re often challenging, but this makes them mentally absorbing and all the more rewarding when they’re proficiently executed. (These also make your life more meaningful; psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has found that people who seek out “flow” experiences in difficult but rewarding activities are happier and have more satisfying lives than people who pursue sybaritic pleasures.)…”
The End of the Internet Dream (Jennifer Stisa Granick — Black Hat 2015 Keynote)
“Twenty years from now,
• You won’t necessarily know anything about the decisions that affect your rights, like whether you get a loan, a job, or if a car runs over you. Things will get decided by data-crunching computer algorithms and no human will really be able to understand why.
• The Internet will become a lot more like TV and a lot less like the global conversation we envisioned 20 years ago.
• Rather than being overturned, existing power structures will be reinforced and replicated, and…”
Facebook and the Cost of Monopoly (Ben Thompson — Stratechery)
“The result of monopoly pricing is that consumer surplus is reduced and producer surplus is increased; the reason we care as a society, though, is the part in brown: that is deadweight loss. Some amount of demand that would be served by a competitive market is being ignored, which means there is no surplus of any kind being generated…”
Hacking DNA: The Story of CRISPR, Ken Thompson, and the Gene Drive (Geoff Ralston — Y Combinator Blog)
“The very nature of the human race is about to change. This change will be radical and rapid beyond anything in our species’ history. A chapter of our story just ended and the next chapter has begun…”
10 Philosophies for Engineers (Jeff Meyerson — Software Engineering Daily)
“There is a narrative of a programmer who is incapable of doing anything except programming. Some programmers talk about this with pride, saying things like “I am just an engineer, I don’t want to think about the business side of things, I don’t understand the business side of things”.
Engineers have been seduced by the industrialist’s perspective that we cannot lead ourselves, we cannot evaluate opportunity cost, and we don’t understand the market as a whole.
All of these are lies, and the world will be more efficient and utilitarian if engineers take control of their careers and start evaluating the options outside of their immediate, narrow context…”
What are the things required to become a hardcore programmer? (Edmond Lau — Quora answer)
“Say it takes you 12 seconds to search and navigate from a function call to where it’s defined. And suppose you have to do similar navigations 60 times per day. That’s 12 minutes per day spent navigating files. If you learn enough keyboard shortcuts in your text editor to navigate to a file in 2 seconds instead of 12, then over the course of a day, you’d save 10 minutes. Every year, you’d save an entire 40-hour work week…”
Machine learning is the new algorithms (Hal Daume — Natural Language Processing Blog)
“I would actually go further. Suppose you have a problem whose inputs are ill-specified (as they always are when dealing with data), and whose structure actually does look like a flow problem. There are two CS students trying to solve this problem. Akiko knows about machine learning but not flows; Bob knows about flows but not machine learning. Bob tries to massage his data by hand into the input to an optimal flow algorithm, and then solves it exactly. Akiko uses machine learning to get good edge weights and hacks together some greedy algorithm for flows, not even knowing it’s called a flow. Who’s solution works better? I would put almost any amount of money on…”
Who Y Combinator Companies Want (Triplebyte)
“In the meantime, programmers looking for jobs with YC companies may want focus more on product and be sure to mention experience outside of Java and C#…”
You Are Not A Commodity (Jeff Meyerson — Software Engineering Daily)
“The average case always looks good for strong engineer. If you are a good engineer, your downside risk is capped in most conceivable futures.
It is almost impossible to imagine a world in which engineers are not in high demand. In the hypothetical scenario where a good engineer is not employable, it is likely that something will have gone drastically wrong with the economy…”
If you have any article suggestions, please comment below or find me on Twitter @rainieratx. I enjoy hearing different and well-argued perspectives.