In Praise of Plodders

My brother is some sort of mathematical prodigy.

When I was in high school I would show him my toughest assignments.  Although he was two years junior to me, he would stare at the problem for some minutes and then pronounce the answer.

“That looks like it might be correct!” I’d say, “ How did you work it out?”

“Dunno,” was the reply.

Well, being the plodding sort of bloke that I am, once I knew the answer, I could work out how to get from the question to the answer.   So, I did fine.  Later, my brother not so much.  “Show your work!” the teachers always wrote in the margins of his homework.

Flash forwards several decades to the tech crunch in 2000, when it was impossible to hire experienced software engineers.  My company began hiring people who seemed bright and expressed a desire to write code.  My job included ‘onboarding’ the new hires.

So, I would wander over to their desks each morning.  “My code isn’t working,” they told me, “I cannot see the bug.”  In the afternoon I’d find them still staring at the piece of code.  So, I showed them how to code tests and run them under a debugger.

It was all too much work.  They truly preferred to sit staring at the code.  At the end of the probationary period they knew just as much as at the start and had accomplished very little, so we had to let them go.

The occasional plodder, hired by mistake, did much better.

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