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Coming of Age: Developing young technologists without robbing them of their youth

Coming of Age: Developing young technologists without robbing them of their youth

Presentation that I gave at Monktoberfest 2022. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzdVSMRu16g

Bryan Cantrill

October 07, 2022
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Transcript

  1. Coming of Age
    Developing young technologists
    without robbing them of their youth
    Bryan Cantrill
    Oxide Computer Company

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  2. OXIDE
    It always starts with a tweet…

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  3. OXIDE
    It always starts with a tweet…

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  4. OXIDE
    It always starts with a tweet…

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  5. OXIDE
    It always starts with a tweet…

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  6. OXIDE
    It always starts with a tweet…

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  7. OXIDE
    It always starts with a tweet…

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  8. OXIDE
    Talk outline

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  9. OXIDE
    “A version of college replacement”?
    • What is the purpose of a college education?
    • What is the purpose of education in the abstract?
    • What exactly are we trying to replace and why?
    • Are we trying to address its cost… or its purpose?

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  10. OXIDE
    “Find the smartest”?
    • What does “smartest” mean? How is this assessed?
    • Is this selecting for precociousness or ultimate ability?
    • How does precociousness correlate to ultimate ability, anyway?
    • And is precociousness more common in well-structured domains?
    • Is there a peril in telling children that they are smart?
    • How are these children found? And does this process not start at a
    much younger age?

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  11. OXIDE
    “...and most driven”?
    • What does “most driven” mean?
    • How is this assessed?
    • What does drive mean in someone so young, who is necessarily
    extrinsically motivated?
    • And, um, might you be in fact selecting for driven parents?

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  12. OXIDE
    “18 year olds”?!
    • As recently as the 1990s, prevailing dogma in neuroscience was that
    most brain development was complete by mid-childhood (!)
    • We know now that this is false; the prefrontal cortex continues to
    develop into the mid-20s – it is underdeveloped in an 18-year-old!
    • The limbic system – emotions and social processing – is further along…
    • This means that 18-year-olds are likely to exhibit developed emotions
    and heightened social rewards – but their judgement is still developing
    • 18-year-olds can seem fully adult, but they remain vulnerable

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  13. OXIDE
    “a decade+ of salary… on whatever they want”?!
    • A still-developing frontal cortex means that “whatever they want” is very
    likely to shift over time – and this is healthy!
    • Applying a “decade+ of salary” is adding firepower to a weapon that
    can’t be reliably aimed; is this wise?!

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  14. OXIDE
    “a smart peer group”?
    • This seems less controversial, but it just has subtler issues…
    • Specifically: from whom do we learn?
    • Do we learn from true peers, or older peers?
    • Are the perils of telling a child that they are smart compounded by
    isolating an entire group and telling them that they are smart?

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  15. OXIDE
    “in exchange for small % of future earnings”
    • This is just… gross: it is rapacious, manipulative, exploitative, cynical
    • What happens when (say) the prefrontal cortex develops a tad and
    someone wants to get out of this terrible deal?
    • What happens when (say) someone wants to pursue non-profit work?
    • What happens when (say) someone wants to return to school?
    • This is gross because it feels predatory – it is taking advantage of the
    impulsivity of a still-developing prefrontal cortex

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  16. OXIDE
    There I fixed it?
    2

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  17. OXIDE
    The importance of childhood
    • Childhood is not merely knowledge accumulation
    • Focus should also be on character development: honesty, integrity,
    decency, persistence, grit, resilience, teamwork
    • That limbic center is really important: adolescents care a lot about their
    friends – and this is healthy!
    • Experimentation in youth should be encouraged – adults have a
    responsibility for keeping this safe (easier said than done!)

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  18. OXIDE
    Whither the young technologist?
    • The still-developing brain is not without its strengths: risk-taking is really
    important for technologists; it can be helpful to not know the impossible!
    • It is incumbent upon young technologists – especially capable and
    motivated ones! – to learn how little they know
    • The purpose of a higher education should be to bridge the ego from the
    narcissism of childhood to the collaboration of adulthood
    • Older peers are essential in this process: e.g., graduate students –
    humanity’s most embittered – serve a thankless but essential task

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  19. OXIDE
    Building the foundation
    • As part of their education, young technologists should seek out
    opportunities that will allow them to build foundation – but that still
    appeal to their risk-tasking and the sense of the possible
    • An internship is a great opportunity: interns should be given projects that
    are wildly speculative rather than menial tasks
    • Large companies are often a better fit than a startup because they
    increase the odds of an older peer group to learn from
    • As the foundation is built and judgement develops hits a sweet spot…

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  20. OXIDE
    Innovation through the years
    • One’s mid-twenties to mid-thirties are a prime for individual innovation
    • Innovation does not stop in one’s mid-thirties, but it does change
    • Solving hard problems is a team endeavor, and as technologists age
    into full adulthood, they will increasingly need to take leadership roles…
    • This does not necessarily mean management! But it does mean, e.g.:
    problem formulation, team formation (hiring!), conflict resolution
    • The mid-thirties (and beyond!) are a sweet spot for teamwork

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  21. OXIDE
    Coming of age
    • Young technologists should temper their sense of the possible and their
    desire to take risk with learning how the world works
    • We should be guiding our “smartest and most driven” towards big, hard,
    thorny problems – and to developing the character for those problems
    • Entrepreneurialism can wait: there is a lot to be said for starting a
    company in your forties!
    • Life is long; let children have their childhood – let students be
    students, and let young adults have their young adulthood!

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