Friday, October 14, 2016
Dope! I should have thought of that!
What's one of the biggest compliments someone can give me?
It's when I explain an idea or algorithm and someone says: Dope! I should have thought of that!
I think this a great compliment, and let me explain why.
First, when someone says something like that it means that they think the idea is almost obvious or at least simple (to them), which implies that I was able to explain the idea to make it sound simple.
This may seem a trivial task, after all, explaining simple ideas is easy, right?
Well, I'm not always the most articulate person and have a (bad) tendency to overly complicate things, which you might have already picked up on if you 're reading this blog. In my defense, I do make an effort to explain concepts in the simplest way I can think of, too bad that is sometimes a really overly complex way.
Andreia is much better than I at this game. She has this seemingly innate skill to dismantle complex ideas in its basic constituents, and she helps me with it ;)
Nobody's perfect, but luckily, I don't have this issue when it comes to writing code... the problem with code is that is explains the how but it doesn't explain the why.
So, when someone says "I should have thought of that!" it gets translated in my brain into something like "You made it sound so simple that I wonder why I didn't think of it myself" lol
Second, no matter how smart you are, if the idea is complex, you're not going to be able to explain it in a simple way. If someone thinks your idea is simple, then there is at least one person in the world to whom your idea is simple, and simplicity is elegance! Most people can make something useful and complicated, but only a few can make something useful and simple.
I'm not a big fan of Steve Jobs, but there is quote attributed to him that I think is perfect for this situation:
When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple,
you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem. Then
you get into the problem, and you see that it’s really complicated,
and you come up with all these convoluted solutions. That’s sort of
the middle, and that’s where most people stop… But the really
great person will keep on going and find the key, the underlying
principle of the problem — and come up with an elegant, really
beautiful solution that works.
... or from C.A.R. Hoare, The 1980 ACM Turing Award Lecture:
There are two ways of constructing a software design: One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies and the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies.
It's really hard to create something and then go the extra mile to make it as simple as possible.
It takes time, it takes energy, it takes money (aren't these three equivalent anyways?).
This has value not just due to aesthetics but because making something as simple as possible means it is much less likely to have bugs or flaws, and it's easier to propagate to other people, a kind of meme. It becomes viral and infects other people's brains!
Sometimes is goes to the point that other people think they have invented it themselves:
Left-Right is certainly one of these ideas. It can be implemented in less than 10 lines of code and explained in just a few sentences:
The thing is, we spent nearly three years working on it. From its first inception until it was distilled into the simple idea it is today, there was a long journey, with lots of longs nights of discussions and coding.
The how it works may be deceivingly simple, but the why it works this way (and not some other way) is definitely not simple.
So, when someone tells me that Left-Right (or some other idea Andreia and I came up with) is so simple that they should have thought of it, I smile and say thanks, because that's a huge complement, whether they know it or not ;)