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From the Armchair

I came across this article yesterday, provocatively titled “If Everyone Else is Such an Idiot, How Come You’re Not Rich?”. She makes a few good points: armchair generals point out the obvious, company leaders have to be somewhat intelligent to grow the business in the first place, and it’s easy to commit the fallacy of Chesterton’s Fence.

It reminded me of the classic problem of working with incomplete information, either from inexperience or inability to retrieve said information. Sometimes the simple answer agrees with the nuanced solution, for completely different reasons.

Take code organization:

  • The beginning programmer, not knowing any better, puts his entire program as one giant function.
  • The immediate programmer, understanding functions and code reusability, breaks the code out into functions, modules, and libraries.
  • The advanced programmer takes a step back and thinks about code maintainability, readability, and the overhead of code infrastructure, finally deciding that the best way is to simply write a (slightly less) giant function.

The same thing plays out when armchair businessmen comment about how company X should buy company Y or work on products A, B, and C. Once in a while they do hit on some nugget of insight, but even if they turn out to be right, it’s again more likely that they chanced on the same outcome as the people actually making the decision.

Maybe that’s why developers should never read their forums.

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