Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Letter from Da Vinci to the Duke of Milan applying for a position (brucesterling.tumblr.com)
130 points by ubuwaits 1337 days ago | hide | past | web | 54 comments | favorite

He didn't actually complete very much while he was there, though (this was a recurring problem for him which only got worse in later life) -- his contribution over sixteen years was a couple of paintings [including, it must be said, the famous Last Supper, which would rapidly deteriorate after completion] and assistance with various pageants.

His one attempt at something lasting and challenging, a giant bronze statue of his employer's father on a horse, was delayed many times, lying unfinished for years, and finally put to rest by the French invasion. The seventy tons of bronze set aside for it were appropriated for cannons, and the clay model was used as target practice by the victorious French.

Had the Duke administered the 1% HR personality test it would surely weed out this Da Vinci guy.

Reference for those who haven't seen it: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6288763

LOL! Well done indeed! :)

An actually good joke cross-referencing a previous popular HN article -- well done my friend, well done.

Yet despite all his projects he left to rot he often wrote ideas down that others implemented with his instructions. Ball bearings, the water turbine powered mill, a wind-up "self propelled" cart (to carry ammo during war)... and then posthumously the parachute, scuba diving gear, the tank and many other things.

The guy had professional ADD but despite this was one of the best artist and engineer of his time.

Wikipedia lists lots of activities for the time spent in Milan: several paintings, frescoes in the ducal castle, work on military and hydraulic projects, etc.

Plus, the Last Supper is a huge fresco, not just "a painting", which from concept to execution took several years.

I thought he also built the canals in and around Milan. Most of them have been fileed, but the naviglio near 24 maggio still stands.

I hadn't heard of this. This page: http://www.museoscienza.org/english/leonardo/navigli/ seems to sum up the matter.

He didn't build the canals, but he did make several observations and proposals for improvements which were taken up by other engineers after his death. These attempts were riddled with problems, though, and the work eventually terminated (I inferred unsuccessfully).

So lying on your CV was not unheard back then.

I think if you're going to include the Last Supper as a caveat to not producing much in Milan, you should also include the two Madonna of the Rocks paintings, which have been regarded as some of Da Vinci's most technically proficient paintings.

Yeah. What a joke.

Brilliant. Notice that he doesn't dwell on his "qualifications" or his accolades, the letter is basically:

1. I know as you do that there are many who claim to be able to bring you new stuff, but as we both know, they are almost all just rebranding the same old stuff we already have

2. I can do the following important things for you:





3. If you are skeptical of my seemingly optimistic claims, I'd be happy to come and show you test versions which I'm sure will convince you of their worth.

I wonder what a modern tech version of this letter would look like?

My thoughts precisely. It's a good model for any job applicant aiming for any non-mindless job. The thing to keep in mind is: don't just make a list of your skills unless it's obvious how they relate to the job you want. It's always best if you show you've put some thought into what your target company really needs and where it's pain points are.

As an employee you're still an entrepreneur in a sense, selling your services, and your prospective employer is your potential client.

A researcher applying for a research job doesn't list their skills (well, maybe as a minor point), they list projects, publications, along with experience. The CV often looks more like a portfolio.

Reminds me of How to Win Friends and Influence People, wherein they give the advice to focus on others' interests primarily because people care about their own interests most. As an example, the author quotes a letter to a potential employer that has a very similar format (I know you have this need, and this is why I can fill that need).

If it worked for Leonardo da Vinci, maybe it could work for me. The next time I'm looking for a job, I'll try this:

"Most Illustrious Proprietor, Having now sufficiently considered the specimens of all those who proclaim themselves skilled developers of applications of business, and that the invention and operation of the said programs are nothing different from those in common use: I shall endeavor, without prejudice to any one else, to explain myself to your Company, showing your Management my secret, and then offering them to your best pleasure and approbation to work with effect at opportune moments on all those things which, in part, shall be briefly noted below.

1. I have a sort of extremely light and strong functions and modules, adapted to be most easily ftp'd, and with them you may pursue, and at any time combine them with others, secure and indestructible by standard mean time to failure of hardware and denial of service, easy and convenient to compile and catalog. Also methods of unzipping and storing the data of the customers.

2. I know how, when a website is besieged, to shard data onto the cloud, and make endless variety of mirrors, and fault tolerant disks and RAIDs, and other machines pertaining to such concerns.

3. If, by reason of the volume of the data, or the structure of the btrees and its indexes, it is impossible, when conducting a search, to avail oneself of sub-second response time, I have methods for benchmarking every process or other function, even if it were interpreted, etc.

4. Again, I have kinds of functions; most convenient and easy to ftp; and with these I can spawn lots of data almost resembling a torrent; and with the download of these cause great terror to the competitor, to his great detriment and confusion.

5. And if the processing should be on the desktop I have apps of many machines most efficient for data entry and reporting; and utilities which will satisfy the needs of the most demanding customers and users and consumers.

6. I have means by secret and tortuous scripts and modules, made without leaving tracks, to generate source code, even if it were needed to run on a client or a server.

7. I will make secure firewalls, safe and unattackable, which, entering among the hackers with their utilities, there is no body of crackers so great but they would break them. And behind these, software could run quite unhurt and without any hindrance.

8. In case of need I will make big properties, methods, and collections and useful forms, out of the common type.

9. Where the operation of compiling might fail, I would contrive scripts, functions, routines, and other parameter driven processes of marvellous efficacy and not in common use. And in short, according to the variety of cases, I can contrive various and endless means of data entry, reporting, and storage.

10. In times of low revenue I believe I can give perfect satisfaction and to the equal of any other in maintenance and the refactoring of code public and private; and in guiding data from one warehouse to another.

11. I can carry out code in Javascript, PHP, or C, and also I can do in network administration whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may.

Again, the intranet app may be taken in hand, which is to be to the immortal glory and eternal honor of all your customers of happy memory, and of the illustrious house of Google.

And if any of the above-named things seem to anyone to be impossible or not feasible, I am most ready to make the experiment in your data center, or in whatever place may please your Businessperson - to whom I comment myself with the utmost humility, etc."

I wonder how Da Vinci would feel to know that 500 years after he wrote this letter, it would be parodied by future men and their magical supercomputer tech.

Or that he was portrayed aiding and making weapons for assassins in a video game.

While there's a lot that is rather farcical about the historical backdrop behind the (phenomenal) AC games, Da Vinci working on the development of weaponry is not exactly one of them.

In fact, he preferred the manufacture of weapons of war to the production of works of art; Da Vinci considered himself an engineer over an artist (and damn, was he an artist!).

If the language was modernized, a strong and confident list of benefits like this would make for a very compelling cover letter.

Dang! great minds think alike :)

I prefer the humbler version: "fools never disagree" ;)

In my experience fools do disagree and more often than they agree.

I disagree.

It reads disconcertingly like a patent application.

Interviewer: So why did you leave your last job?

Da Vinci: Well, my boss was captured by the French.

Interviewer: What!?

Da Vinci: Uh ... What I mean is I was looking for new growth opportunities, and Venice is obviously the employer of choice in this industry.

Something that strikes me is that Da Vinci got the job mostly as a combat engineer, hired to destroy enemy forces by any means possible, but ended up creating art of various sorts and increasing human knowledge in many domains. The military appeal he provided seemed only interesting during the hiring process and is not what lasted across the ages.

Only historians care which family controlled some town in any given year. The rest of us can't even recall who won the hundred years' war, which certainly sounds like it would have been a big deal at the time.

What's really impressive to me is that Da Vinci deftly sells the benefits and features of his employ. Yes, he says he can build cannons, but more importantly, he tells the Duke why, "with which to hurl small stones like hail, and of which the smoke causes great terror to the enemy, so that they suffer heavy loss and confusion."

That's boss. If you're the Duke, you're getting pretty excited about taking the meeting.

mmmm.., I can see a new format for my resume...

Most illustrious lord, seen and considering the experiments of all those who pose as masters in the art of inventing instruments of technology..

1. I can construct delivery systems that are as beautiful as functional, with which to pursue your business while being assured they'll equally resist the largest loads or the relentless attacks from malicious characters from cyberspace.

2. I can show you how to improve the craft..

And if any of the aforesaid things should seem to anyone impossible or impracticable, I offer myself as ready to make trial of them in your park or in whatever place shall please your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.

People interested in this might also like his self-promoting letter to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, a little later in life: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/01/22/leonardos...

Best link I could find at short notice, unfortunately, the letter excerpt is two paragraphs in.

Would love to see a citation to such letter. Does anyone knows where to find a scan of the original?

I have seen that letter many times around the Net, but never a link to anything that could prove the veracity of it.

I think this one: http://www.theladders.com/career-newsletters/leonardo-da-vin... (click on the image it's high resolution)

one of the sites citing the original text and the modern Italian "translation" http://www.scudit.net/mdcurriculum_leo.htm

A scan of what is claimed to be the original letter is here: http://gizmodo.com/5460442/leonardo-da-vincis-resume-explain...

reminds me of nikolai tesla attempts to sell tech to rich investors or the military.. such is most of human history. quite a lot of the best and brightest in search of funding to pursue their research turn to the military industrial complex rulers aka generals and plutocrats. while the emergence of the internet has opened up a third avenue, how many phds languish on wall street or the nsa.

be happy you live in a time where the gatekeepers are crumbling all over, so you can just focus on your craft, whoever and wherever you are, without having to suck up to others

He definitely lack the kind of ego of engineers of our times.

Indeed. Incredibly humble of one of history's greatest painters to simply state he can paint as well as any man.

> I can further execute sculpture in marble, bronze or clay, also in painting I can do as much as anyone else, whoever he may be.

He's saying he can paint as well as even the best painters. (Which was true.)

"No matter who you put in the wrestling wring, he's at best an even match for me."

da Vinci isn't a surname and shouldn't be used as one. It'd be like calling the Duke of Edinburgh "Of Edinburgh".

See Wikipedia for more information.

Pretty cool to see that after 16 years in office, an "hostile takeover" (e.g. invasion) took out his employer - Lots of parallels with today's world. :)

I'm surprised the French were successful despite the technology and engineering Da Vinci brought to the table.

It was largely his employer's fault.

Ludovico Sforza, Leonardo's employer, was actually a regent ruling in the stead of the rightful Duke of Milan. When the young Duke came of age, Ludovico refused to hand over power, so the rightful Duke got the King of Naples to support him.

In an unfavourable position, Ludovico panicked and appealed for help from outside Italy, inviting the French in with promises of support for their King's claim on Naples. In the ensuing chaos (which included him turning against the large French army), his challenger (the real Duke) was poisoned and the King of Naples (the real duke's sponsor) died. It looked good briefly, until the French king died. His successor, Louis XII, turned out to be related to the recently-assassinated young Duke (which importantly meant he had a hereditary claim to Ludovico's position).

Ludovico had by now irritated almost everyone. He had set a precedent for French inclusion in Italian warfare, irritated most of his neighbours (including the Pope) and betrayed the French army he had promised to support.

When the French -- already a dominant military power -- came for Milan, they had the backing of both Venice and the Pope. Ludovico just fled, Milan barely attempted to defend itself.

Leonardo stayed in French-occupied Milan for a while, before fleeing to Venice to take on some work there. Ludovico would be captured later, during an attempt to re-take Milan from the French with mercenaries.

Edit: The point involving Leonardo is that even if he had been capable of coming up with something crazy that made Ludovico more likely to win a few battles, the political situation was just too poor for victory to seem plausible. Ludovico sensibly fled rather than struggle against poor odds, Leonardo was never called on to help him fight the French.

Wow, what a great response. Thank you for sharing that...

Indeed, if Leonardo's weapons were so superior, how comes we could defeat them and capture the duke? :-)

A little disheartening to realize that Leonardo is basically applying for a post in the Sforzan NSA.

Not really... I know the NSA is topical and all, but they do not handle weapons development, civil defense engineering, and ship construction.

If anything he was really applying to be a defense contractor.

Now I want to see a painting by Northrop Grumman. It's even a good name for a painter.

I feel like this pops up here once every quarter.

"Stay thirsty, my friends."

I think it's somewhat beautiful that the only response you thought appropriate, concerning one of the most brilliant minds ever produced by humanity, was to quote a television commercial.

Regardless, I'm sure Leonardo would be proud of the comparison.

hope this makes it to the front page, so sick

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact