You and Your Research

You and Your Research
Richard Hamming

One of the characteristics of successful scientists is having courage. Once you get your courage up and believe that you can do important problems, then you can. If you think you can't, almost surely you are not going to.

  1. What are the most important problems in your field?
  2. Are you working on one of them?
  3. Why not?

When you are famous it is hard to work on small problems.

``Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.'' Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity - it is very much like compound interest.

...it is not sufficient to do a job, you have to sell it. [...] There are three things you have to do in selling. You have to learn to write clearly and well so that people will read it, you must learn to give reasonably formal talks, and you also must learn to give informal talks.

The people who do great work with less ability but who are committed to it, get more done that those who have great skill and dabble in it, who work during the day and go home and do other things and come back and work the next day. They don't have the deep commitment that is apparently necessary for really first-class work. They turn out lots of good work, but we were talking, remember, about first-class work.

...some of the reasons why so many people who have greatness within their grasp don't succeed are: they don't work on important problems, they don't become emotionally involved, they don't try and change what is difficult to some other situation which is easily done but is still important, and they keep giving themselves alibis why they don't.

If you read all the time what other people have done you will think the way they thought. If you want to think new thoughts that are different, then do what a lot of creative people do - get the problem reasonably clear and then refuse to look at any answers until you've thought the problem through carefully how you would do it, how you could slightly change the problem to be the correct one.

The present growth of knowledge will choke itself off until we get different tools. I believe that books which try to digest, coordinate, get rid of the duplication, get rid of the less fruitful methods and present the underlying ideas clearly of what we know now, will be the things the future generations will value.

...in the long-haul, books which leave out what's not essential are more important than books which tell you everything because you don't want to know everything.

Somewhere around every seven years make a significant, if not complete, shift in your field.

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About

I am Paul Kulchenko.
I live in Kirkland, WA with my wife and three kids.
I do consulting as a software developer.
I study robotics and artificial intelligence.
I write books and open-source software.
I teach introductory computer science.
I develop a slick Lua IDE and debugger.

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