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Natural born programmers (programmingisterrible.com)
97 points by ntlk on Oct 11, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 105 comments



"belief in gift and natural born ability is toxic to all, and by eliminating it, we won’t alienate so many from technology"

There is certainly some inborn variation between people. Anyone with children is aware of it. Two children of the same parents can have very different personalities. So what exactly is it supposed to mean to "eliminate a belief" in variation in inborn ability? That we're supposed to believe something that's not true? That seems a bad road to go down. Not just because it's unwise to base your ideas on lies, but also because you won't convince anyone smart with an ideology based on a premise so obviously false.

Better just to say that determination can matter as much or more than inborn ability. That works just as well and has the added advantage of being true.


Paul, you are incredibly smart guy, so seeing you respond to scientific studies with "anyone with children is aware of it" is pretty disappointing.

As tokenadult points out, these studies are serious business. Anecdata doesn't really cut it.


Steve,

How do you explain savants/prodigies?

We are all born differently. Our brains work different ways. Our muscles want to do different things. As such we have a propensity towards one thing or another.

It is true if you have kids you can see this. Every single baby is completely different, even newborns, in how they respond to things.


When discussing populations, and making statements about them, the presence of an outlier does not invalidate the statement about the characterization of the population.

We are, of course, all different. Diversity is a great strength. That doesn't mean that there's a biological basis for every kind of difference.


Certainly not, but I also don't believe that we are all born with the same abilities. Things that comes easy to some are more difficult to others. Even at the youngest ages kids show signs of what they like and don't like, and this will play out later as ability.


You should read the studies. What you're saying isn't the same thing.

Also, even if it was, I'll take scientific evidence over 'belief' any day.


I can see how it would be disappointing if you didn't have two children growing up in the same environment and the differences between them is the same as between night and day.

Not that I'm saying these type of studies are not useful.


Anecdotes are still not data, no matter how snarky you are. Hint: your claim AND the study can both be true.


I don't believe I said otherwise. Hint: I agree with you.


The blog post might not be very clear on this, but I think the research mentioned basically shows that some chlidren are very strongly convinced that they "don't have a mathematical mind" or something along those lines, and believe that other people grasp mathematics without effort, which produces some sort of psychological barrier that stumps their abilities. It's not really about denying genetic variation in intelligence, more about getting the children to understand that even very able people have to struggle quite a bit to learn hard things.


A sort of mirror image phenomenon mentioned in related studies is that kids who strongly believe themselves to be gifted may be unwilling to try things that are hard, because their self-image is tied up with things being easy for them.


The book "Thinking, Fast and Slow", quite often favourably quoted on HN, contains an interesting chapter on how what we perceive as "inborn ability" is much more the result of a very long chain of decisions (willingly or random), influencing an individual in certain directions. It especially quotes studies that many kids that were seen as excelling at a certain point turned out to be rather "normal" in all areas in the long run.

It is, unsurprisingly, called "Regression to the Mean".


What if determination is also significantly inborn?

> Broad genetic influence on the five dimensions of Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness was estimated at 41%, 53%, 61%, 41%, and 44%, respectively.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8776880


It's important to remember that responsible researchers on behavior genetics (such as the researchers that I am about to quote here, from a review article) point out that just because an individual difference is "inborn" (heritable) does NOT mean that it cannot change under environmental influence. "Moreover, even highly heritable traits can be strongly manipulated by the environment, so heritability has little if anything to do with controllability. For example, height is on the order of 90% heritable, yet North and South Koreans, who come from the same genetic background, presently differ in average height by a full 6 inches (Pak, 2004; Schwekendiek, 2008)."

Johnson, Wendy; Turkheimer, Eric; Gottesman, Irving I.; Bouchard Jr., Thomas (2009). Beyond Heritability: Twin Studies in Behavioral Research. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 4, 217-220

http://people.virginia.edu/~ent3c/papers2/Articles%20for%20O...

Indeed, there are psychologists who are fully aware of the research base on heritability of the "Big 5" personality dimensions you mention who nonetheless research interventions to change people's personality along one or more of those dimensions. It is already well known to personality researchers that personality changes over the course of life (from early childhood to old age) much more than most people think it does.


> just because an individual difference is "inborn" (heritable) does NOT mean that it cannot change under environmental influence

On the flip side, just because a feature isn't heritable, doesn't mean it can be changed through an environmental intervention. Many people assume that what isn't strictly genetic, must me malleable but there may be more than a fair bit of just randomness there or hard to alter circumstances (pre-natal environment, remnants of infections).


Good point. It probably is.


As with learning a language, I suspect that both inborn ability and determination are overrated as determinants of eventual programming success, and having the right experiences (opportunity to participate, and social encouragement to engage, and positive feedback for success) early in life -- when the brains ability to learn patterns of thought is at its peak -- related to the kind of symbolic reasoning that applies in the field (whether its just mathematics, or whether its programming directly, or whether its something else that fits the same pattern, or a combination) is underrated.


I like the way you expressed the matter in your essay "What You'll Wish You'd Known" (January 2005).

http://paulgraham.com/hs.html

"Don't think that you can't do what other people can. And I agree you shouldn't underestimate your potential. People who've done great things tend to seem as if they were a race apart. And most biographies only exaggerate this illusion, partly due to the worshipful attitude biographers inevitably sink into, and partly because, knowing how the story ends, they can't help streamlining the plot till it seems like the subject's life was a matter of destiny, the mere unfolding of some innate genius. In fact I suspect if you had the sixteen year old Shakespeare or Einstein in school with you, they'd seem impressive, but not totally unlike your other friends.

"Which is an uncomfortable thought. If they were just like us, then they had to work very hard to do what they did. And that's one reason we like to believe in genius. It gives us an excuse for being lazy. If these guys were able to do what they did only because of some magic Shakespeareness or Einsteinness, then it's not our fault if we can't do something as good.

"I'm not saying there's no such thing as genius. But if you're trying to choose between two theories and one gives you an excuse for being lazy, the other one is probably right."

We are NOT sure, on the basis of research, what anyone's upper limit of ability is. We have no idea about the extent of the "reaction range" constrained by the shuffle of genes a person obtains before a person is born, but we are absolutely sure that the reaction range is a RANGE, exquisitely sensitive to environmental influences. The discordance of identical twins for all human behavioral characteristics amply proves that. So, yes, let's say determination can matter as much or more than inborn ability. There are ample examples of that in today's world.

EDIT AFTER SEEING stiff's COMMENT AT THIS LEVEL:

Yes, many children bail out of further study of mathematics because they assume school lessons should be easy, and so they think "they have no talent" for subjects that become hard. A series of FAQs I have written about mathematics learning,

"Problems versus Exercises"

http://www.epsiloncamp.org/ProblemsversusExercises.php

"Repetition and Practice"

http://www.epsiloncamp.org/RepetitionPractice.php

"Resources about Learning Mathematics"

http://www.epsiloncamp.org/LearningMathematics.php

"Courage in the Face of Stupidity"

http://www.epsiloncamp.org/CourageandStupidity.php

were written to encourage learners to be willing to challenge themselves when they feel stuck learning mathematics. Most professional mathematicians feel stuck a lot of the time when they do their daily research work, but they keep going.


Well as with many things there is no black and white thinking here either.

As my dad always used to say, 50% is talent, 50% is effort. Someone with the 100% talent, who's a lazy fuck (50% overall) will be outperformed by far by someone with 50%/mediocre talent putting in 100% of work (75% overall).


A persons personality has very little to do with their actual mental ability to learn something.

Their personality might keep them from succeeding at learning (e.g. too lazy to read a book), but that doesn't mean they're mentally incapable of it.


It is easier to say determination matters more if you don't talk about inborn ability from the start. Talk about it as people are peaking out.


I have a twin sister. Throughout school, she struggled with maths in a way that I never did. Until university, maths for me was always a case of doing minimal effort and getting As. My twin sister ended up going to maths tutors out of school, spending far, far longer on the topic than I ever did. Even then, when the opportunity presented itself, she dropped maths. There was more enjoyable and easier subject areas to study.

Equally, I spent a long time struggling at school with french. The amount of work I had to put in to achieve an "acceptable" result was considerably more than my peers. When the opportunity presented itself, I stopped studying french.

I firmly believe that, given enough tutoring, almost anyone could learn the maths that I studied all the way up to at least the first year of my degree. Equally, the evidence is that anyone is capable of learning a language. If I'd put in enough work, memorised enough vocabulary and been willing to practice I almost certainly could have achieved something approaching fluency.

However, in both those cases my sister and I came to the table with some innate abilities. She pursued what she found easy and enjoyed, and I pursued what I found easy and enjoyed. Today she's fluent in 3 languages and I'm fluent in 1, while I have an engineering degree.

Incidentally, I have an older sister who did study maths to a higher level. Hopefully that's slightly indicative that the environment that we grew up in wasn't discouraging towards girls studying maths or sciences.


Hmmm....I've been a programmer for awhile now and have never really felt the mythos that "you are born a programmer." In fact, I would argue that among professions, programming is probably one of the most merit-based ones around, in which we routinely celebrate those who can hack something clever after a relatively short time of learning programming. What other profession can you think of that would allow (and usually, embrace) a "Learn to Code" type movement, which implies that coding is a skill that any one at any stage can pick up and make use of. The fact that the OP doesn't actually quote examples of "natural born programmer" myths makes it hard to evaluate whether this is really "killing our culture"

In the OP's defense, perhaps the OP is referring to the idea of women being less genetically suited to programming? If so, I agree that that is a problem and a harmful mythos. But overall, I think the programming profession does not celebrate the idea of "born programming"


> I think the programming profession does not celebrate the idea of "born programming"

Seriously? Just read the comments above. I'll quote you some of the best if you'd like.


He's talking about two things: 'the 10x programmer,' and 'women are just not into programming because genes.'


Nature or nurture. Programming is a highly skilled trade, requiring creative thinking. It's like a combination of engineering and writing prose. While genetics no doubt plays some role, much larger are the attitudes and aptitudes a child learns in their formative years (mostly before school age.) Everybody can learn to program, but not everyone has the attitudes that will make them well suited to it. You're not born with those attitudes for the most part, but if you don't have them, you're probably not going to acquire them.

I taught myself programming. I'm now very good at it (at least I like to think so) but it took 12 years of constantly pushing my limits and constantly learning. People who like to go out and drink with their friends every day after work, instead of learn new things at their computer will never be competitive with me. You need to be self-motivating, inquisitive, constantly improving yourself, and put in the massive amounts of time required, not just from 9-5.


One of the problems I had as a child was the lack of exposure to the right tools and books. I was interested in games and knew DOS inside and out (at least from a user's perspective), and could script batch very easily, I had a big gap in getting to the point of writing an actual executable. There was a huge "I didn't know what I didn't know" problem. I envy the children of today with the internet at their fingertips and much more accessible tools, although they still face a similar problem, perhaps in the opposite direction (paradox of choice, perhaps).


> much larger are the attitudes and aptitudes a child learns in their formative years (mostly before school age.)

Sorry, but... citation needed. I think the point the article tries to make is that there is no substitution for good old hard work: not your preschooling (or preschool parenting), not your genes, not the colour your bedroom walls were painted: dedication to improving your skills always wins.

> People who like to go out and drink with their friends every day after work, instead of learn new things at their computer will never be competitive with me.

I spent a large part of my 20's drinking & socializing, and it made me a much more rounded, resilient person. I now occasionally work on my side projects at home, but it's no substitute for the 100,000 hours of in the trenches experience in various sectors of the IT industry. What I've learned at work vastly dwarfs what I've learned at home.


I don't doubt that socializing not only makes you a more rounded person, but is necessary as well.

However, I'd bet you anything I'm in a different league compared to you when you were 29, because I spent most of my 20's learning and coding (about 50K LOC/year on average across 20 languages.)

There's no substitute for putting in the time. However, who I was permitted me to make those choices while most of my peers made choices more similar to yours. So in a sense, there is a very real effect that's out of your control and probably goes back to your childhood.


The best programmers I know broke away from the herd very quickly. (By 4th grade?)

It seems very hard to break out if it was curiosity, parental encouragement, or genetic ability. I am certain that #1 is the biggest driver, and #2 was involved. I suspect #3 is too, but not as much as we give it credit for. The breakout programmers did it day and night because they loved it, and quickly expanded on whatever initial advantage they had.


> much larger are the attitudes and aptitudes a child learns in their formative years

On the other hand it's a common anecdote that the best (most?) programmers are self taught, like you, they don't learn it as part of their 'nurture'. Couldn't this point to a predisposition to enjoy it?


People who like to go out and drink with their friends every day after work, instead of learn new things at their computer will never be competitive with me.

What if you go out and drink with top programmers after work? ;)


This article is nothing but a blatant argumentum ad consequentiam, which is a logical fallacy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_consequences

The argument given here is basically "mathematical ability is not innate, because if it were, women would react badly to this fact." The article provides lots of evidence that women react badly to this belief, but no evidence whatsoever that the belief is wrong.


Before writing the post off with a logical fallacy, perhaps you should consider the biases inherent in doing so, and whether they are distorting your reasoning: http://plover.net/~bonds/bdksucks.html


If my reasoning is incorrect, you should have no trouble finding the error and replying with it.

Or feel free to cite applause points and declare victory. HN is still smart enough to see through such nonsense, though it does get worse every day.


Sure. The error in your reasoning is that you greatly mischaracterize his point, which is that the concept of the natural-born "10x programmer" is quite destructive.


How did I mischaracterize it? From my post: "The article provides lots of evidence that women react badly to this belief..."

Do you disagree that the original author characterizes the belief as false, in addition to destructive?


The effect is not specific to women. The paper he linked is, but it also has a bibliography.

I'm not wasting any more time debating this with you. Cheers.


Isn't the women's performance being the same as men's in the math tests when they weren't told math skills are innate evidence that women are just as good at math as men?


"Women are just as good at math as men" is not the same proposition as "mathematical ability is innate". The latter is not incompatible with the former.

Further, the evidence cited here does not show that women are just as good at math as men, since the samples used were not randomly chosen. The samples chosen consisted of men and women who had already taken calculus (and some other criteria).

http://www.lscp.net/persons/ramus/fr/GDP1/papers/spencer99.p...

The articles do a good job of showing women are sensitive to stereotype threat. But that's all they show.


No. Their performances are the same when they believe it is an ability.

Lots of people like to believe they got something from working hard for it, when they really had a lucky breaks (genetics perhaps for math?, height for basketball, rich parents for business).

I see this in sports interviews all the time. The current best in any sport is always "the hardest worker." Too bad nobody else in the league ever thought about that.

What effect nature has on it may be unclear, but it is definitely there.


>"mathematical ability is not innate, because if it were, women would react badly to this fact."

That's not the argument. I think the argument is that when people are told that they are expected to do worse than their peers, they do, but when they are not told that, the gap disappears. Therefore arguments from statistics about innate ability to perform being associated with other characteristics (being a woman, for example) when widespread, become circular.

This is the argument.

>[...]belief in gift and natural born ability is toxic to all, and by eliminating it, we won’t alienate so many from technology.

This is a consequence of the argument.

As to the identification of some actual physical ability in math or programming which is defined at birth, it requires a positive proof that's not circular. A study on the innate relative unemployability of American blacks would find a lot of statistics to back it up, but would be a circular waste of everyone's time and a consequence of that (based on experimental evidence) would be a higher rate of unemployment in American blacks. Note that the fact that there's a pragmatic consequence of pursuing a field of study in a particular way has no reflection on the truth of the thesis, yet taints the effort of determining that truth.

As far as I'm aware, the only arguments for innate mathematical ability are dripping with survivorship bias.


The article talks about "the myth of the natural born programmer". It is described as "magic" and a "petulant belief". If the article merely argued that the data was not so good and the case for "natural born programmers" was not solid, I'd have no objection.


I think the author is more arguing that believing that talent is innate leads to worse performance.


I thought the article said "People react to bias that can cover up actual innate ability." I buy that idea.


There are two distinct things, both being true, as far as current research shows:

- People who believe that mathematics is an ability that can be trained perform much better than the ones that believe it is an innate skills some people have some people don't

- Intelligence, and as a consequence the upper limit of mathematical ability, is to a large extent genetically determined

There is no conflict between those two statements.


> - Intelligence, and as a consequence the upper limit of mathematical ability, is to a large extent genetically determined

Which research?


This has been debated to death, see something like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_versus_nurture, Pinkers "Blank slate" book, or what other people already mentioned. Look at extreme cases of people with genetic diseases on one side of the spectrum, and people like John Von Neumann on the other end, and you really shouldn't have any doubts about this, however bad this makes you feel (I had this reaction first considering this too, and judging by the amount of people who responded to this comment very promptly, I judge this happens to a lot of people). By the way I am just summarizing what seems to be the majority vote of scientists, I don't have any strong personal opinion on it.


He's not making that claim, merely pointing out that the claim isn't mutually exclusive to the other claim.


He is making that claim:

>both being true, as far as current research shows


He is making a claim:

"There are two distinct things, both being true, as far as current research shows"


>both being true, as far as current research shows


Can you provide some sources for those statements?


His first link is to a research article in a collection of research articles, and I'm glad I followed the link,

https://www.stanford.edu/dept/psychology/cgi-bin/drupalm/sys...

because a publication by Carol Dweck in a collection edited by Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams just has to be worth a read. (The various monographs edited by Ceci and Williams are some of the best books available today about psychology research.) We still need to find out more about the issues of "innate" talent distribution and especially about the issues of talent development over the course of growth from infancy to adulthood. It may very well be that there is a lot of latent talent for mathematics, for programming, and for plenty of other challenging domains that stays latent (hidden) because no one lifts a finger to find it and develop it.


Let's say I grant the author his points about harming gender balances and programming culture. That still doesn't address the most important question: Is it true? Is programming an innate ability?

It's unclear whether programming can be taught, but the most depressing study in this area is called The Camel Has Two Humps [1]:

We have found a test for programming aptitude, of which we give details. We can predict success or failure even before students have had any contact with any programming language with very high accuracy, and by testing with the same instrument after a few weeks of exposure, with extreme accuracy. We present experimental evidence to support our claim. We point out that programming teaching is useless for those who are bound to fail and pointless for those who are certain to succeed.

It will take more than this single study to fully convince me, but it definitely put a dent in my initial belief.

1. http://www.eis.mdx.ac.uk/research/PhDArea/saeed/paper1.pdf


"Two years ago we appeared to have discovered an exciting and enigmatic new predictor of success in a first programming course. We now report that after six experiments, involving more than 500 students at six institutions in three countries, the predictive effect of our test has failed to live up to that early promise."

http://www.eis.mdx.ac.uk/research/PhDArea/saeed/paper3.pdf


I didn't know there was a new study. Thanks for linking to it.

It looks like there's a meta-study too: http://www.eis.mdx.ac.uk/research/PhDArea/saeed/SD_PPIG_2009...


At the risk of sneering at science for it's own sake: why is that the most important question? What extent is programming an innate skill doesn't seem to have many obvious utilities, but finding effective methods to address gender disparities in STEM fields does. Not to mention that these studies also indicate that a belief in effort rather than innate skill improves performance for both genders.


Why would you want equal representation in the field if the unequal representation were due to genetic differences producing different abilities or inclinations?

I don't think most of the current inequality in representation is due to those reasons, but certainly understanding the extent to which those may exist and play a part in determining outcomes has something to say about the results that should be hoped for.


My quick and dirty test is if a person uses their right mouse button.


I am one of these folks that claims natural math/development skills which were inherited from my natural parents. Here is my empirical evidence:

I was neither raised by or knew my biological family growing up (though I know them now). My mother is a developer, my supposed bio-dad is a developer, my late grandmother on my mother's side was a mathematician & psychologist, my grandfather on my mother's side was on the early teams at IBM, and my uncle whom is close to a doppelganger of me is a developer/linux admin. I knew none of these people growing up. My father and mother who raised me are respectively a restaurant manager and a hair stylist. Neither have any significant interest in the sciences or mathematics realms. Somehow I ended up in the family business without a shred of influence from them.

Take my story for what you want, but in this case the women were very much involved with the biological version.


One individual is not 'empirical evidence.'


I would say that any number of individuals "after the fact" are kind of weak as evidence. The very best empirical science is making a prediction of some new thing we've never seen before, and then testing the prediction.

So we don't dig up a bunch of bones and look for evidence that dinosaurs evolved into birds, we predict that if we dig, we will find something that looks a little like a dinosaur and a little like a bird, and then we dig.


Individuals and stories are part of good conversation. Skraushaar's comment was relevant and enjoyable.

Reflexive ideological dismissals, on the other hand, are just tedious.


Absolutely. For conversational value, it's great. But in a discussion about empirical research, it's misleading at best.


I agree. Nobody would have realized that this was just a single person's story if it hadn't been pointed out. Thank you; I was almost about to add a "biological mother's profession" and "biological father's profession" field to our recruiting questionnaire, and have been spared an embarrassment.


It is HIS empirical evidence. It's his evidence based on his observation.


It's a meaningless observation. One anecdote is not statistically relevant.


Self-reports typically don't even count as one data point, because they're notoriously unreliable. Reports about one's childhood and motivations, doubly so. There's a reason psychology as a science is no longer based primarily on introspection, as it was in the 19th century.

Exceptions if people's self-conceptions are what is actually being studied; in that case collecting self-reports can be legitimate data-collection.


> Take my story for what you want

An anecdote, you mean? I expect better from HN, though I'm not sure why.


What you have described sir, is an anecdote.


"Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance"

The childish belief in stereotype threat is killing our culture.

http://drjamesthompson.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/are-girls-too-... http://drjamesthompson.blogspot.com/2013/09/maths-is-man-thi...


What culture is that exactly? Is it worth preserving in its current state?


Does stereotype threat only work if you believe in it? What if you have issues with the methodology?


We all observe that people differ in height. Not greatly, the range is about 50cm wide. Of course height affects certain abilities and can have major impact on self esteem, but these days this is just a societal factor: There are no important activities left where a short person could not perform just as well as a tall person.

I don't understand how people struggle to transfer this simple truth to mental abilities.


It's one thing to show that some ability can be attained in a controlled, toy-model environment, it's another thing to say that excellence in a field can be achieved solely by environmental factors. In the nature vs nurture debate, it's not fruitful to argue for either extreme.


How is arguing that excellence in a field is inborn fruitful in any way? All it does is disempower.


What if some people are naturally disposed to believing they can accomplish things?


Is not just a matter of having maths skills. There's some other traits involved. These traits sometimes are developed and sometimes are born with you.

You born being introspective or not. This will have a great influence in what kind of professional you will be.

I'm not saying that you can't change yourself, but in my opinion a big part of you is defined by your natural talents.

I consider myself as an introspective guy. This is something that I'm not able to change, and surely it has a great importance in what kind of work I'm able to be useful.


Perception is everything while learning a skill. Recently, I taught the Go programming language to a bunch of non programmers(mostly from arts and design background). The things I skipped talking about were the history of programming, the place of Go in the world of programming and consciously ignored questions similar to, "How difficult is this?", "How much time this will take?" The idea was to teach a programming language with a sense of a planar plateau of difficulty for everyone in the room. I tried to develop the perception of programming as a non-elite skill. The results were surprising. Most of the students picked up the language fairly well and went to write their own apps without any guidance. One guy remarked, "This is like carpentry". I don't understand his reasoning behind the remark but I can infer that as soon as the aura around programming was removed, students responded with much greater understanding. This approach was polar to my earlier methods of trying to ignite a fire of passion in the students by elucidating the complexities and charms of programming. The previous approach was successful too but I had a feeling that I was preaching only to the converted. Now whether natural aptitude is a factor in learning a programming skill is highly suspect. Even if a learner has exceptional natural aptitude(i.e. the X factor gene) he might be living in ghastly social circumstances with unknown effects. Except documented medical conditions there might be no link of learning on natural aptitude. The point is that there is far too less data supporting it.


I think that in any skill/talent/profession, it is tempting to identify the individuals that thrive at it -- seemingly without effort. Almost all "arts" have some variation of this myth -- programming, sports, painting, writing. Its easy to identify those people -- Pablo Picasso, Bo Jackson, John Carmak, Jane Austen -- and say that they were natural-born whatever...

I reject the idea of innate "talent" or "skill". However, I firmly believe that certain individuals are more adept -- either through genetics or environmental factors -- at "learning" a skill, which is a by-product of the assumptions and abstractions that we construct to process information in the world.

I think that this myth is much more prevalent in the visual arts. Any one can be taught to draw; a good chunk of the first half of art college is unlearning the bad assumptions you have made about visually processing the world. Those that learn "quicker" are a product of an environment where they never made those assumptions in the first place. But that is simply the first step -- the foundation -- beyond that it takes hard work and practice... A dedication to the craft. If you lack the commitment to the craft then it will suffer... And I think that's true for anything: math, programming, writing, drawing, sports, cooking... and so on.

I think that telling someone they "can't" do something or they are naturally "bad" at it is definitely an environmental pressure that could affect ones ability to learn a craft. In fact, it doesn't sound like a good environment to learn anything.


While certainly a combination of nature and nurture, there's little question natural born programmers exist. I am one. At 4th grade Dad brought home a terminal and had me type in a 3 line BASIC program (printed a sine wave). I was instantly hooked, programmed daily, and some 35 years later I'm still lovin' it. That nature had to be nurtured lest it be starved or destroyed, and given room and care to flourish it did.


Sounds very similar to how an entire generation got started with programming.

Whatever cause you attribute to your interest, I find it more reasonable to believe that you found the concept of having a computer render your input on a screen to be fascinating and that it led you to teach yourself and practice further how to do this, or a multitude of reasons, but not that you had some inherent predisposition to being a programmer.


I don't see how it's not indicative of some inherent predisposition thereto. I realize the prior post was brief and may not have gotten the point across fully; point is, most choices I made revolved around programming, it's what I did (and do) for fun, it's how I view the world.

That an entire generation got started the same way may very well be indicative of "inherent predisposition": that period made it easy for the predisposed youth to reach the leading edge of technology very fast and keep pace for a very long time. This in contrast with the current generation, whom I often worry find it nigh unto impossible to "begin at the beginning", there being such a vast swath of complexity between individual transistor and, say, Skyrim: the nature may be there, but nurturing it is much more difficult.


I was instantly hooked, programmed daily, and some 35 years later I'm still lovin' it.

This doesn't demonstrate innate ability. It demonstrates your interest in programming. Do we have natural born interests?


Ok, so how should I phrase it? I grok most programming concepts immediately. When about to take my AP test in programming, my brother realized I was completely lacking in knowledge about pointers, spent a couple hours going over linked lists etc, and the next day aced the test - which was mostly about pointers.

I don't know what verbiage would constitute "demonstrate innate ability" to you. I thought what I wrote did.


Considering the reliability of standardized testing, I'm not particularly impressed.

I don't deny that some people are more capable and likely to pursue certain crafts and trades, but your initial example was mediocre.


I've never even heard someone be referred to as a "natural born programmer." While something like Mathematics can come to someone in a way that makes that person seem like "a natural," programming has so much culture, history, and happenstance ingrained in its reality that it is impossible to become highly skilled as a programmer without a great deal of passion.


The 10x meme is largely about some sort of mythical, inherent attribute that makes people super amazing and awesome at writing software.

Some people also say that the reason there aren't more women in computer science is because they lack some sort of programming attribute.


10x is all about passion, comprehension, and drive. I would say that almost 100% of it is learned/obtained.


I've been reading Papert's Mindstorms[1], which is a discussion on math education and the genesis of LOGO. If this topic interests you, I highly recommend the book.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Mindstorms-Children-Computers-Powerful...


Blog post is terrible. First quote talks about of the stupidity of the idea "hereditary wise man". That idea is indeed stupid, but what it has to do with the idea of "natural born"?

And while my ability to play basketball can indeed be developed to some degree, can it be developed to be good enough to play it professionally? I doubt that. Now, some my say that there is difference between physical and mental abilities, but really, are we so sure that we are all born with exactly equal mental setup and potential? Or is this a problem which is better avoided, because it does not play well with polit-correctness?

For the last point: does this "belief in natural born ability" apply only to programming and math? What hurts technology is not those "childish believes" but belief that it is at the centre of the universe.


> First quote talks about of the stupidity of the idea "hereditary wise man". That idea is indeed stupid, but what it has to do with the idea of "natural born"?

Because "natural born" means "genetically determined", and your genes are something you get from your parents, right?


There's a huge difference between saying "Some people are born smart because of their genes" and "Some people must necessarily be smart because of their parents"


can it be developed to be good enough to play it professionally? I doubt that.

Maybe not NBA but probably NBADL(the NBA's farm league).

Personally I believe it is sort of a sliding scale(not sure if that is the right term), natural talent makes hard work more effective but doesn't negate the need for it. Hard work can compensate for some lack of natural ability but not all of it. Kind of like the tortoise and the hair, the one with the highest average speed will win the race but that isn't necessarily the point in time fastest.

What hurts technology is not those "childish believes" but belief that it is at the centre of the universe.

Fully agree with that.


>while my ability to play basketball can indeed be developed to some degree, can it be developed to be good enough to play it professionally? I doubt that.

According to studies, this will make it a lot more difficult for you to get your basketball playing to a professional level.


there are serious problems with replication and publication bias in the literature on stereotype threat. it does not seem like the author is genuinely curious about gender differences in mathematical ability but rather he is simply on the hunt for material that confirms his biases.


One thing that is natural, is people's enjoyment of something when exposed to it. If you don't enjoy programming, or math, or creating art, then you will be hampered in developing a skill for it.


I would like a showing of +1's from anybody who thinks they would be as good as Terence Tao if they just studied more mathematics.


If you're interested in what Terence Tao himself has to say on the subject: http://terrytao.wordpress.com/career-advice/does-one-have-to...


Just like anything in life, there's a level of effort to science/math/engineering. If you begin when you're 3 or when you're 30, you still are going to have to give that level of effort. I think people confuse those who started early as winning some genetic lottery but in fact, they simply got started earlier.


It's a societal thing. Too many people have in their mind that STEM fields are nerdy and for guys only and they bring this retarded attitude into parenting. Only way it's going to change is gradually unfortunately.


hello i am a natural born programmer i am a creature of pure logic birthed from the essence of paul graham's reckons, may i join your society


Neo: I thought it wasn't real

Morpheus: Your mind makes it real

Neo: If you're killed in the matrix, you die here?

Morpheus: The body cannot live without the mind


Mathematicians have no problem whatsoever learning to program, it's just another way to bring reason into action. The other way around is not true though, programmers can't learn to write proofs, that's just an innate ability.




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