He voluntarily attacked it with an incredible investment in time and focus.
I wouldnit call him an intellectual prodigy, but he consistently expressed outlier intrinsic motivation.
We supported him in his cubing competition pursuits.
He competed to a high standard making it to recognised national level competition twice, reaching the semi-finals the 1st year and clearing semi-finals the 2nd(but immediately knocked out in finals).
We openly discussed the commitment required to achieve national success, repeatedly covering the concept of diminishing returns.
We discussed that whatever he decided his family would support him.
He committed, he succeeded(to an extent), he recognised the need to redouble his commitment to achieve the final step up to the apex, and he decided he wanted to continue cubing for joy, rather than singular pursuit of competitive excellence.
We try to parent with a roughly 50/50 mix of “tiger parenting” and “hippies in joyful pursuit”.
Be disciplined in what we NEED to learn/do.
Be joyful in what we WANT to learn/do.
We think he’s a happy and well rounded kid
We think we did the right thing by him.
Too soon to tell?
The dark humour runs rampant with him/us.
You’d think they’d been eating lead paint chips daily.
Not everyone has what it takes to be accepted to and graduate from Hamburger U
Makes me think of one of the things I picked up from game theory: the best strategy is a mix of multiple pure strategies.
These days I do independent CS research and open source development, and still enjoy learning. One of my latest projects involves programming GPU compute, and I find it very exciting to grapple with a new computing model.
I don't talk about my early experience that much, but in this thread, feel free to AMA.
A prodigy, in terms of computer science, would have contributed in a fundamental level to the field, as in invented some technology, some way of working, contributed some insight that changed the way we work, even the way we think, and this at very early age.
You, however, worked with your dad. Then you went to grad school. There's nothing prodigal about that.
Any strategies you employ when it comes to reading? Does it come down to mostly practice or can you read a whitepaper once and implement it the following day? How much of the effort is just memorization?
I've been programming since elementary school, always curious what other people do to quickly pick up engineering.
I'm not sure I have any useful advice regarding reading, other than doing quite a bit of it (though these days a lot of it is net stuff, which is varied in quality). Lately I've been reading a whole bunch of papers on GPU, both 2D rendering and how GPU's work (the Citadel stuff is a good read). A couple years ago I read a ton of stuff on CRDT's, and while it obviously grabbed my attention at the time, I look back and kinda regret the effort spent on it.
Hope this is at least interesting, if not helpful.
It's just interesting to hear it from another person. Reading isn't all that special just gotta do a lot of it and keep yourself engaged.
I was a child chess prodigy from age 7-12ish before resuming something resembling normal life. I feel like there was a dark side to the prodigy label where being really good at something made me into an "other" and potentially led to resentment from other kids. Wondering if that was just me or if other early achievers ever experienced something similar.
For me, "resuming normal life" was going into the PhD program at UC Berkeley at 22. I wasn't the only former child prodigy (hi NJ if you're reading!), wasn't the smartest kid in the room. More importantly, I had peers I could bond with. I keep up with a lot of my grad school friends, not so much from the small town where I grew up.
Btw, here's some publicity from the time (there wasn't much, which I think was very wise of my parents): https://archive.org/details/marybaldwin1980mary/page/9
The "not too much publicity" thing is on point.
Glad to hear you were able to find your community in grad school. Not being the smartest person in the room is really liberating and one of the reasons I keep coming back to hacker news.
Your comment makes me wish I had done grad school myself. But I struggled with pure CS and only found my intellectual passion/home base in senior year undergrad (Symbolic Systems, basically CS+psychology+linguistics+philosophy). By the time I thought it would be cool to coterm or do a masters I was already on my way into industry.
Best of luck with your current projects! Look forward to seeing some more results from a "bright young man in the right place at the right time" :-)
Having a spiritual practice really helps keep me grounded. Keeping it relevant to the article, it's something I would recommend.
I would also venture to say that the people who are good and something _and_ are generalists (e.g. the scientists in the article) are better in both halves than someone who is just one of those.
Why do people have to always denigrate wanting money and power? It's an intrinsic desire to want power and resources. If somebody finds happiness that way why disparage them?
Of course, figuring out what is "excessive" may be contentious, especially if one also has other good intentions that come along for the ride and help balance things out (e.g. philanthropy, strong ethical boundaries).
This is a flagrant and dangerous misunderstanding of reality. The history books are filled to the brim with examples of developments that have brought net-positive benefits to humanity.
Enough for what, exactly? What are you trying to optimize? Your contribution to society? Status? Happiness? Fulfillment? I think for some of these, average may give you a better outcome than others depending on what you want. And I also think people tend to change their goal over their lifetime
Billions of dollars of wealth and power would make no difference to them. Because they already have more than they need. In fact, it would probably just bring unwanted attention and stress.
I'm sure at a younger age, more wealth and power would have been nice. Perhaps to take away the more stressful, tedious parts of work life, but something about going through those moments make the better moments that much sweeter.
Spending your life trying to accumulate wealth for the sake of wealth and power alone will do nothing but create stress and headache for yourself.
That is a big assumption and I believe a minority opinion.
Meanwhile the janitor in our building has some health problems but 15 grandchildren and always has a joke ready.
That's not the world I live in.
Not famous, not super incredible, not mega successful. Just normal urban kids.
If they're happy and find their own purpose in life that's all I could hope for.
Basically I have the desire to do "more", but lack the mental and emotional skillsets to be able to execute.
I spent a lot of time feeling like you, wanting more but not executing. That said, I have been pretty successful in the last two years, learning those things on my own. I learned/am learning how to be a very proficient dev, play classical guitar, snowboard, dive, and surf decently, and even now fly planes. I'm not the best but enough for some serious personal enjoyment. For me it was the catalyst of flipping my world upside down, moving far away and starting over. Drop me a line if you ever want, maybe I can offer some assistance.
I've thought about
> flipping my world upside down, moving far away and starting over
but I have too many good people in my life where I am to do this, even if it means sacrificing ambitions. Note that these are good people who inspire me to do better, but that inspiration fades when push actually comes to shove.
Think twice about what you wish for. Parents pushing kids hard are not a panacea, and you might not have gotten as far in life if your parents were like that.
> Basically I have the desire to do "more", but lack the mental and emotional skillsets to be able to execute.
FWIW what usually holds people back isn't what their parents did or the education they received at school. Rather, it is the importance they put on their parents' eyes and on their peers' eyes. Just move on and do.
I can't quite tell if it's because I like programming more, or if it's because as I get older, I have trouble justifying stuff that I know won't help with monetary or intellectual fulfillment.
I don't think it really has anything to do with recognizing something as being artificial happiness. It just has to do with change. There are speedrunners who code for a living, come home and compete for the fastest times on any number of games, spend their time attending things like AGDQ or contributing to the various micro communities within the scene.
I think people tend to fall into either passive or proactive mindsets for their hobbies. And it's a sort of spectrum over time influenced by the communities you belong to. If you're part of a community for your hobby, then you get more out of it due to community momentum. Sort of like the person who plays games to relax after work, versus the person participating in a speedrunning community for a specific game.
I would say that I don't get addicted like I used to when I was a teen. I've often attributed that to realizing it was a destructive behavior and learning from it though. If I had more time, I would probably play more though.
There are already video game systems in nursing homes. They don't have much 3d shooters, but wii bowling is popular (or it was 2 years ago, since my grandma died I haven't had reason to visit).
I do enjoy my job, but I'd get burnt out doing it much more than I do.
I even try to play games occasionally because the idea is still somewhere in my brain that it would be fun and relaxing. I even usually overbuild my workstations to handle AAA games thinking I might just play one this year.
But they just don't hold my interest anymore. I don't really know why. That endorphin hit when playing just doesn't happen like it used to.
What do you want to accomplish that you aren't accomplishing? What seems to be the holdup?
I'm sure plenty of people here can point you in the right direction to dramatically up your game in relatively short order (possibly including me).
Primary issue is my lack of self-discipline to be able to override desires for short-term pleasures.
Other key factors were finding things in life that are worth the short term sacrifice for long term fulfillment. Surround yourself with ambitious folks. I’ve been the degenerate binge- watching Netflix till 5am, skipping college classes etc. And still have days almost that bad, but full-time employment changes people. Build good habits, adopt a growth mindset and we all can do it. Oh and sleep is extremely important. If I get less than 7 hours, I don’t have enough mental stamina and end up succumbing to all the short term desires.
1. Unidentified problems, such as minor health issues.
2. A signifier of being Twice Exceptional, which I highly recommend you read up on because average performance that the individual finds frustrating while longing to do greater things is a standard hallmark of being 2e.
I raised and homeschooled two Twice Exceptional sons. One was a B student. The other made straight As. The B student has both a higher IQ and a lot more handicaps/other issues.
I briefly did pro bono work for The TAG Project: http://www.tagfam.org/
> 1. Unidentified problems, such as minor health issues.
What kind of minor health issues? Physical or mental?
> 2. 2e
I really don't think I fit in this area, just one example being because it's not
> average performance
that's my problem, because when I do something when I put in any amount of "effort", I nail it. The only time my performance is average, is when I don't do any work and just throw something together last second because I spent all my time playing video games.
The problem, of course, is that I find the majority of things I do fall into that latter camp where I can't muster the drive to put in effort.
Please just start reading the resources I pointed you to.
There's also this, which I am the author of, though there isn't much there currently: https://raisingfutureadults.blogspot.com/
Yes, they (often) do. With positive or negative effects depending on the approach and how well it is adapted to the kid.
> Kids push themselves.
Yes, they often do. The two are not mutually exclusive.
> I was an EE/CS professor at a top 20 school. The only push was the example my parents set, as far back as 2nd grade.
Yes, parental modelling is a powerful mechanism for influencing childhood behavior and, while it's not the only tool in the kit, by itself a powerful rebuttal to your first claim.
Not everyone is good at everything, or even can become good at anything. Not everyone is built for every type of job or career or vocation. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and we must all accept both of these aspects of ourselves.
I told them that I had decided some 15 years ago that I am intelligent and capable enough to go to Harvard, so therefore I should go, and that within hours of making that decision, I realized that it was the stupidest idea that had no basis in reality, so I never even applied.
The point I was trying to teach them was that what a person will become in 5 or 10 years is opaque to them now, and that time will reveal it, so that instead they should just focus on living now correctly, practicing discerning what they should and should not do, and focus entirely on that.
They might be a CEO or POTUS, or they might be a janitor of a broken down gas station. Every role is needed in life and someone is meant to fulfill every role. Greatness doesn't lie in what career you have, what college degree you have, how much you make, how many people know you, how many books you've written, how young you learned this or that skill.
EDIT: To clarify, I'm not saying that one should settle for a vocation that wastes their natural abilities. If I were to try providing for my family by being a janitor, I would be wasting the software talents that I cultivated into skills.
He was not expressing a judgement about kids who are not urban. The question about an urban bias seems hyper defensive and inappropriate in response to a very personal wish.
What I mean is - it's up to them what they want to be.
I don't see fame or being incredible as valuable things to pursue.
Solid human relationships, kindness, satisfaction in work - these are the things that matter.
Doesn't mean that pursuing financial success isn't valuable and worthwhile - as long as that's what you want.
You can get all these things in rural communities as well.
There's so much for kids to experience as they grow up, it's a shame when a child is made to specialize in a single endeavor before they've had a chance to try other activities.
"Specialists will tend to underestimate how well a Generalist can specialize, when they choose to specialize. Generalists will tend to underestimate how deep any given specialty goes."
It's a question of breadth vs depth. Specialization vs generalization.
I suppose most kids should be given a generalized "education". But if a kid is precocious or talented, then specialization makes sense.
Whatever happens, everyone lives with the "what if" or questions about the road not taken.
Does michael jordan dunking from the free throw line enrich society? Does mozart's music enrich society?
Did Bolt or Phelps breaking records at the olympics affect society or humanity? I'd say yes. Beyond the inspirational and the aspirational, it also pushed humans limits further.
Does art ( physical, musical, literary, etc ) matter? I'd say it matters, maybe even more than "STEM". But that's an open-ended philosophical discussion.
Athletic endeavors also help advance science as well. There is a science of athletics/athleticism. Striving for athletic excellence could drive genetic, biological and technological advancement and vice versa.
I'm sure for every Tiger Woods or Serena Williams, there are late bloomers or generalists who thrived. For every example, there is a counterexample.
The blanket statement "You don't want a child prodigy" is simply false. Sometimes you want child prodigies if you can provide a great environment for them to thrive in.
I don't think Tiger Wood or Serena Williams would be where they are if they "generalized" and then decided to specialize later in life. Certain endeavors benefit from early commitment. Not always of course. Hakeem Olajuwon was a great NBA center who started playing basketball in his late teens. But then again, his size and pure athleticism allowed him to overcome late specialization. I don't think it would have worked had be been a point guard.
Everyone you listed specialized in a particular sport. Specializing in a particular sport doesn't mean that's all you do. You can specialize in hockey but also play baseball or basketball for fun, etc. And if you are exceptionally gifted, nothing prevents you from "specializing" in two sports. But the point is that you "specialize".
I wouldn't call Jordan, Gretzky, Sanders or Robinson "phenomenal" "multi-sport" athletes. Jordan wasn't a phenomenal baseball player. Neither was Deion Sanders. I've never heard of gretzky being "phenomenal" outside of hockey. I only know of Robinson from baseball. And Bo Jackson specialized in two sports and he was phenomenal in both.
Once again, you can specialize in a sport and play other sports.
During the 1992 season, his best year in the majors, Sanders hit .304 for the team, stole 26 bases, and led the NL with 14 triples in 97 games. During the 1989 season, he hit a major league home run and scored a touchdown in the NFL in the same week, becoming the only player ever to do so. Sanders is also the only man to play in both a Super Bowl and a World Series. In four games of the 1992 World Series, Sanders batted .533 with 4 runs, 8 hits, 2 doubles, and 1 RBI while playing with a broken bone in his foot.
Bo Jackson competed as a sprinter, hurdler, jumper, thrower and decathlete in College.
As for Sanders, I'm well aware of his football and baseball careers because I was a kid who grew up watching him in the 90s. 1 "decent" season doesn't make a "phenom". Okay? In 1992, sanders didn't make the all-star team, he didn't get over 100 hits, he played less than 100 games. Sanders career batting average is the .260s. He was nothing special in baseball. Unless your definition of "phenomenal" is different than mine. Deion Sanders was phenomenal in football. He is arguably the greater cornerback in NFL history and a hall of famer. If deion sanders was a phenomenal center fielder, then what is ken griffey, kirby puckett, etc?
As for bo jackson, how about he specialized in track&field, baseball and football. You can argue all you want, bo jackson specialized. He didn't go into curling, badminton, tennis, hockey, etc. He didn't "generalize". He was a rare phenomenal athlete who could specialize in multiple sports.
If you disagree then your definition of phenomenal and specializing is different and we are simply never going to agree and I'll just leave it at that.
What they left out: It made it extremely stable and reliable and had features that mattered to the players that bleeding edge tech couldn't compete with.
I have two very smart sons who are very into games. They talk a lot about the gaming industry. I learned from them that the Game Boy was brilliant because it was "older" tech where the bugs had been worked out, the abilities were well known and so forth.
Proven tech was chosen to meet certain specs. There was a depth of wisdom there that more "ooh, shiny" tech lacked.
I'm sure my remark could have been framed better, but I intentionally chose to leave out personal anecdotes that I started to write -- about me turning down a National Merit Scholarship and my son getting accepted to college at age 13 and then not attending -- because I am given so very much ridiculous shit when I talk about such things, even though I appear to be the only woman to have ever spent time on the leader board of HN, so you would think folks here wouldn't blink at me self identifying as having attended gifted programs, having a proven track record of academic excellence and yadda.
I chose to leave that remark because HN is a tech oriented crowd and I thought it would resonate with some folks here and/or be a bit of cool trivia some people would appreciate learning that has potential relevance to their interests.
I wholeheartedly agree with this article’s emphasis on developing generalist skills. I do think it’s also really valuable to have the experience of mastering one subject. Gaining mastery forces you to learn discipline and push through psychological blocks, both of which translate to any other domain you wish to pursue.
But mastery != prodigy. There are very real downsides to the pressure to develop extreme talent at a young age. It can cause a kid to value achievement over everything else, create false sense of self that ignores real feelings, etc. Eventually this leads directly to the “troubled genius” archetype. We have enough of those already.
Tl;dr: no on prodigy, yes on focus/mastery if the passion is there.
Hope these questions make sense?
1. confidence knowing that I was really good at something, even if it is one of the most otherwise useless skills in the world. Whenever I’m down because I feel like I suck at something, I have a data point to remind me that at one point I had some competence.
2. Unexpected, but was really valuable when I raised money for my first startup: VCs like people who can beat them at chess. I think it’s because pitch meetings for them are basically like an endless series of dick size contests. I played the chess prodigy card hard, and it worked. YMMV
1. Typical geek social isolation, multiplied by 10x because chess is way more useless than coding, robots, etc.
2. All the usual narcissism/invincibility/insecurity that comes from having people tell you that you’re special when you’re young. Same mindfuck happens when you have all these twenty something tech millionaires. Super unhealthy mindset and required a lot of failure + soul searching + therapy to emerge reasonably intact.
For example, a detail in this conversation. You keep bringing up how 10 is "just so young". It's almost like you're more interested in the youth aspect than the other stuff. From my perspective the detail about age is the least interesting part of the experience. But maybe you are trying to get at or share something of your own that I am not understanding.
In hindsight I could have just called BS on your comment. But when the content of the BS happens to exactly intersect with painful memories from the past (which I specifically alluded to in earlier comment about social isolation, insecurity, etc), and when you don't reply when I ask you to share more about your intentions or background — that's a red flag for my finely tuned troll detector.
Pro tip: if you want to ask deeply personal questions without looking like a troll, all you need to do is give context by sharing a bit with vulnerability from your own experience.
As a 2 sigma gifted kid (I guess), I had some of this same tendency, starting around the same age as your son and becoming all but unbearable my freshman year of college. It took me another 15 years or so to develop the emotional intelligence to cope more effectively with the trauma of existence.
The one thing I wish I had discovered earlier, was Buddhism. Not as a religion, but as a mental practice, and an existential framework. Some of the most profound insights I've gotten about existence have come from Buddhist writing and teachers, and with all due respect for other religions, these insights seem uniquely Buddhist. Other religions do touch on the same topics, but either more obliquely or at a more esoteric/advanced level, whereas they are foundational to Buddhism and often stated in a very plain and concise manner.
For instance, that inner pain your son feels, that makes him want to die? That's the unavoidable discomfort of existence, which is literally the "First Noble Truth" of Buddhism. And if we look deeply enough, we can see that we simultaneously crave both existence and non-existence: we want to live forever but often can't bear the immediate experience we find ourselves in. We torture ourselves with contrary ideals that can't possibly coexist, and it's not like we even have any choice in the matter anyway! Gifted children are not unique in this regard; only their precociousness and sensitivity to it.
I could go on, but my specific and personal lessons aren't all that relevant. Aside from the existential framework, the main thing I hope you do for your son, is to give him the gift of "___". Normally Buddhist advocates would say "meditation" in that slot, but I prefer to put it like that, because while I would personally recommend the practice of meditation, that's not the only method of getting this value. Alternative words are prayer, silence, breath, sitting, peace, stillness, non-judgmental self-reflection--these are all part and parcel of the same core skill. Which is the cultivated ability to receive the experiences of life, as wonderful or as terrible as they are, with equanimity, knowing that the experience is the point and this too shall pass. All other aspects of emotional intelligence stem from the metaskill of being able to "sit" with the profound and inescapable discomfort of one's existence.
Best of luck to you and your son. I don't envy either you or him, but ultimately it just is what it is and we all end up in the same place anyway. Hopefully this helps make the journey a bit easier.