Swizec Teller - a geek with a hatswizec.com

Senior Mindset Book

Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companies

Senior Engineer Mindset cover
Learn more

    Start coding at the point of least certainty

    Where do you start work on a new project? At your desk, ha! But what do you work on first?

    The obvious answer is to start at the beginning.

    Build the foundation, write a placeholder page, make a hello world, then add the rest. This works. Easy task, gets the juices flowing, sets you up for future work.

    But what if you aren't sure? What if there's a risk your project can't be done? What if you're training monkeys?

    Start with that. Eat the frog as they say.

    Prototype the least certainty first

    My favorite approach is to build a quick and dirty prototype of the hardest part of the project. Like when I started exploring OpenAI and ChatGPT – I didn't start with the routing navigation, beautiful styling, or even a webpage at all.

    The first experiments looked like this:

    One of my first "summarize an abstract" experiments
    One of my first "summarize an abstract" experiments

    Can OpenAI do what I want? What do API calls look like?

    Then I tried out what Async React with NextJS 13 feels like. Can the new approach work for this? Do I like it? What happens when you summarize a whole bunch of papers at once?

    Feed of paper summaries on a page
    Feed of paper summaries on a page

    Looks like shit but answers my question: this can work.

    But why make it hard?

    Starting easy builds momentum and that's fantastic productivity advice that works. Ask anyone.

    Where it breaks down is training monkeys in a circus.

    You know you can build a platform for monkeys to stand on. Plenty exist. You know you can build a flaming hoop for them to jump through. Plenty exist. You even know you can get a monkey.

    But can you train the monkey to jump through the hoop? πŸ€”

    Without the trained monkey, you have no spectacle. Nobody's gonna come watch a bunch of monkeys standing around a fire.

    All that time spent building the platforms and the flames – wasted. Wouldn't you rather do the hard thing first?


    PS: this analogy comes from the CEO of Google X, a research lab, via Quit, a great book by Annie Duke

    I didn't even realize that was my approach until she spelled it out across 3 chapters πŸ˜†

    Published on January 20th, 2023 in Uncategorized

    Did you enjoy this article?

    Continue reading about Start coding at the point of least certainty

    Semantically similar articles hand-picked by GPT-4

    Senior Mindset Book

    Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companies

    Learn 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 πŸ‘‰ 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 πŸ‘‰ 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

    Want to get my best emails on JavaScript, React, Serverless, Fullstack Web, or Indie Hacking? Check out swizec.com/collections

    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

    Want to brush up on your modern JavaScript syntax? Check out my interactive cheatsheet: es6cheatsheet.com

    By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❀️

    Created by Swizec with ❀️