My engineering manager likes to say that he can give advice and warn us before a big mistake, but he can't tell us what to do. He doesn't live with the consequences.
He's one of those ultra experienced engineers who will even go into management, if that's what it takes. Full of great advice borne of pain in production.
But it wasn't until I read Nassim Taleb's Skin in The Game that I understood the wisdom behind my manager's words. A person who doesn't feel the consequences cannot tell you what to do.
This is important. You have to maintain this code therefore you know best.
Don’t tell me what’s the best tech, show me what you run in prod.— Swizec Teller (@Swizec) December 7, 2022
Investors (maybe just Taleb) have a saying: Don't tell me what you think, tell me what's in your portfolio.
You may think lots of things. You may have lots of ideas about what tech is good or bad. But only what you do matters. What are your revealed preferences?
A revealed preference is what you do in spite of what you say. The candy you eat when you don't want another bite. Because it's just so damn good. The mother-in-law's baking you don't eat despite saying how great she is at baking and how the burnt crust adds an innovative new dimension.
Taleb argues that survival is the only criteria.
You can theorize and argue for perfection all you want – did your code survive? That's it. The one criteria.
If the code works, it stays. If it's bad, someone will remove it. The longer it survives, the longer it's likely to keep surviving. Lindy effect.
The best advice starts with "Here's what I've seen work in the past". Taleb even says that's the only advice. Anything less than that is crap.
He closes Skin in The Game with a wonderful quote:
When the beard is black, listen to the reasoning but drop the conclusion. When the beard is grey, listen to the reasoning and consider the conclusion. When the beard is white, skip the reasoning and listen to the conclusion.
Don't believe everything devrels and professional theorizers tell you about your code [name|]. Ask them what's in production.
I write articles with real insight into the career and skills of a modern software engineer. "Raw and honest from the heart!" as one reader described them. Fueled by lessons learned over 20 years of building production code for side-projects, small businesses, and hyper growth startups. Both successful and not.
Subscribe below 👇
Join Swizec's Newsletter and get insightful emails 💌 on mindsets, tactics, and technical skills for your career. Real lessons from building production software. No bullshit.
"Man, love your simple writing! Yours is the only newsletter I open and only blog that I give a fuck to read & scroll till the end. And wow always take away lessons with me. Inspiring! And very relatable. 👌"
Senior Mindset Book
Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companiesLearn more
Have a burning question that you think I can answer? Hit me up on twitter and I'll do my best.
Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.
Want to become a true senior engineer? Take ownership, have autonomy, and be a force multiplier on your team. The Senior Engineer Mindset ebook can help 👉 swizec.com/senior-mindset. These are the shifts in mindset that unlocked my career.
Curious about Serverless and the modern backend? Check out Serverless Handbook, for frontend engineers 👉 ServerlessHandbook.dev
Want to Stop copy pasting D3 examples and create data visualizations of your own? Learn how to build scalable dataviz React components your whole team can understand with React for Data Visualization
Did someone amazing share this letter with you? Wonderful! You can sign up for my weekly letters for software engineers on their path to greatness, here: swizec.com/blog
By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❤️