We Choose the Most Elegant Solution

I had this idea for reworking an API. I hadn't read a lot of theory in this field, but I had gotten very familiar with the codebase and I intuitively felt this could help.

I didn't realize others would think I was crazy, and use the fact that I wasn't experienced in that field as evidence. I told the idea to a high-up manager and he laughed at me and asked if I knew anything about programming. He said nobody had done this before, or would even think of doing this-- didn't I do my research? I felt confused-- maybe I really didn't know what I was talking about. I pushed forward despite that and started on a prototype. The results were looking promising, but they shut it down before I could finish. It was ignored.

After I left, I learned that they adopted my idea, call it revolutionary, and teach it to all new hires.

Well.

Okay.

My friends have similar stories, they aren't hard to find. New ideas are called crazy because people are more concerned with looking smart than they are with risking failure.


When I was studying physics and mathematics, I remember asking how people choose various theories about areas of quantum mechanics and astronomy that we really don't have much (or any, in some cases!) evidence about.

My professor told me that in those cases, people choose the most elegant solution.

That simple, confident answer stuck in my head.

In another class, a mathematics teacher banned us from reading anything about the topic. He wanted us to try to invent the basic proofs of abstract algebra ourselves, sure that we'd learn it better and possibly discover something unique and interesting along the way. After all, math provides us creative ways to view the world, ways we create and dream up.

And all the great programmers I know take this childlike curiosity and appreciation for beauty and apply it to their software. They have limitations, they meet performance requirements, they work with the tools we have. Working within limitations makes their work even more beautiful.

There is never one right way to solve a problem or advance.

The people you think are smart don't have the only answer there is. There are too many potential paths for that.

We choose what's beautiful to us. The detractors turn their eyes to social norms and choose what will make them look best.

Life isn't about looking best, though. Life is about finding beauty.

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