Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why I love Hacker News, and why I blog

I'm a regular on Hacker News. I've read the forum almost every day for the past four years, and have submitted hundreds of links and comments. I frequently tweet them on @ilamont and sometimes write about them here, but tonight I read one of the best linked essays/blog posts I have ever seen.

The title is "Don’t Call Yourself A Programmer, And Other Career Advice." It's written by Patrick McKenzie, and was posted on the blog of his small software company. He clearly has a lot of experience, and clearly spent a long time on it -- it's 5,459 words long, and beautifully written.

He's cynical about a lot of things related to careers as a software engineer. It's pointless for me to summarize his many criticisms here, but at one point he began talking about academia and asking why software engineers should not bother. He writes:
If you really like the atmosphere at universities, that is cool. Put a backpack on and you can walk into any building at any university in the United States any time you want. Backpacks are a lot cheaper than working in academia. You can lead the life of the mind in industry, too — and enjoy less politics and better pay. You can even get published in journals, if that floats your boat. (After you've escaped the mind-warping miasma of academia, you might rightfully question whether Published In A Journal is really personally or societally significant as opposed to close approximations like Wrote A Blog Post And Showed It To Smart People.)
Whatever you think about the value of advanced degrees, his point about academic publishing is valid. Putting aside the old-fashioned formats, conventions, and editing processes for academic journals and other forms of academic literature (books, monographs, etc.), the audience for most academic literature consists of professors, researchers, students and other scholars. There may be great ideas in these papers, but most will never make it outside of the journal audience. A few will be cited in someone else's research, and in some fields practical applications or learnings may eventually make it to market. But most findings will disappear into a hole, seen only by a few scholars and experts. Others who might derive value or new understanding don't even know the research exists.

These days, the most fertile grounds for new ideas and discussions is on the 'Net, specifically in blogs and forums. Yes, the conversations are not vetted or filtered in the same way as peer-reviewed academic discussions or a book, but it's open. Anyone with a Web browser can participate, regardless of their  academic affiliation or credentials. As a result, the conversations and iteration around new ideas moves much faster and ultimately creates more value for everyone.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I will review and approve comments as soon as possible, but spam, personal attacks, and rude messages will be deleted.