The Real Challenge

A recent conversation with Toby Hodges reminded me of this post last year by Anil Dash, which in turn reminded me of this Twitter thread:

  • “Hello, my name is David. I would fail to write bubble sort on a whiteboard. I look code up on the internet all the time. I don’t do riddles.” - David Heinemeier Hansson
  • “Hi, I’m Simon. I helped create Django and I’ve never created a Django management command without copying and pasting one that already exists.” - Simon Willison
  • …several others…
  • "”Hi. I’m Estelle. I’ve been developing websites since 1998. As a woman in tech I don’t announce my code shortcomings for fear of consequences.” - Estelle Weyl

Increasingly, I think that the real obstacle to more openness in scientific research isn’t the lack of tooling but the fear of consequences. If I put my mistakes and half-finished work out for all to see, it’s seen as a sign of confidence. If you are early in your career or belong to a marginalized group, on the other hand, everything that’s less than perfect will be held against you.

As Ted Gioia documented in An Imperfect Art, jazz musicians who wanted their work taken seriously solved a similar problem by moving the goalposts. “Anyone can play the score,” they scoffed. “The real artists are those who dare improvise, just like Bach and Mozart did.” It took twenty years and the re-interpretation of what they were doing using the theory of those who had once disparaged them, but by the 1950s they had won the argument.

So I wonder: if we want openness to succeed for everyone, maybe we need to do the same. Maybe teaching people how to use tools well and giving them credit for what they build isn’t enough. Maybe we want it to be about technology because that way we just have to change our software, not ourselves. Maybe what we really need to do is find a way to celebrate our own imperfect art.

In the wake of posts about Shopify's support for white nationalists and DataCamp's attempts to cover up sexual harassment
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