40-year career tunnels – 5 things worth sharing this week

Hey folks,

I’ve mostly been enjoying the last period with my wife and daughter before becoming employed again next week. During this time I read more children’s books than articles for grownups, which is such a great thing to be able to say. This week’s shares are from highlights that resurfaced recently.

As a reminder, I send these out every 2 weeks and they are mainly intended for the humans behind technology.

So, here are 5 things worth sharing this week —

  1. I hadn’t realised that I was always quietly assuming that AI was going to take over physical labour before they took over creative work until I read a tweet by Sam Altman (OpenAI CEO). Many of us predicted wrong. Knowledge and creative work are (currently) being affected much more than other fields by tech like ChatGPT.
“Prediction: AI will cause the price of work that can happen in front of a computer to decrease much faster than the price of work that happens in the physical world. This is the opposite of what most people (including me) expected, and will have strange effects.”

  1. Something I think about often: The term “software engineer” is an aspirational rather than legal title, because there are still no standards to codify the training, ethics, and professionalism to be one. This post by apenwarr suggests that mindset differentiates software engineers from software developers.
“[…] because if you do engineering wrong, people are going to die. But what's worse, even if you do engineering right, sometimes people might die. As an engineer you are absolutely going to make tradeoffs in which you make things cheaper in exchange for a higher probability that people will die, because the only alternative is not making things at all.”

“Software development that isn't engineering is almost the same: failures still happen, of course. Perfection is still not achieved, of course. But only engineers call that success.”

  1. I’m about to start a new job next week as a senior frontend engineer at a startup and this quote from Yvon Chouinard’s memoir, Let My People Go Surfing, came back and stuck in my mind:
"It is as if there were a natural law which ordained that to achieve this end, to refine the curve of a piece of furniture, or a ship’s keel, or the fuselage of an airplane, until gradually it partakes of the elementary purity of the curve of the human breast or shoulder, there must be experimentation of several generations of craftsmen. In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness."

  1. I learned about the fascinating world of biological computation from Paul Stamets’ interview' on the JRE podcast. He cites a 2010 study about slime mould (Physarum polycephalum) that’s capable of solving shortest distance problems naturally and how Japanese scientists recreated a very similar layout of the Tokyo rail system using oats as nutritional sources.
“Robust network performance involves a complex trade-off involving cost, transport efficiency, and fault tolerance. Biological networks have been honed by many cycles of evolutionary selection pressure and are likely to yield reasonable solutions to such combinatorial optimization problems.”

  1. This way of framing career decisions, articulated in a longform Wait But Why post, must have been deeply embedded in my mind after I first read it years ago, because it was inadvertently the way I ultimately thought during my recent month-long job search. All we’re doing is merely determining the next dot in our careers.
"The real cause of tyranny of choice is accurately seeing the sheer number of options you have in today’s world while delusionally seeing those careers as the 40-year tunnels of yesterday’s world. That’s a lethal combo. Reframing your next major career decision as a far lower-stakes choice makes the number of options exciting, not stressful."

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~ Nick

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