Some of the best people are the ones you never hear about

“The superior doctor prevents sickness; The mediocre doctor attends to impending sickness; The inferior doctor treats actual sickness;” – Chinese Proverb

I remember the story was actually a little bit longer.  Since I can't find it on the web, I'll repeat it via oral tradition in an imperfect form:

As the story goes, a famous doctor was called a house to cure a sick wife/kid.  When he cured the disease, the husband/dad remarks what a great doctor he was.  The doctor looks at him and retorted, "Not at all."  When the husband asked why he wasn't a great doctor, since he was able to cure all sorts of diseases.  The doctor explained, "I have an elder brother who's a much better doctor.  He attends to impending sickness, but he's less famous because people don't call a doctor until they're sick.  And my eldest brother is the best doctor of all, but no one's heard of him, because he prevents sickness from happening in the first place."

Ever since I started trying to be a better engineer/programmer/designer/architect, I've looked for good hackers to emulate.  Surely someone else has figured out things that I haven't yet.  It's good to learn from them.  But where do you find them?

In the last couple of years, I've found that some of the best people are the ones you've never even heard of, often better than the self-promoting blowhards out there might seem like they're really good, but in fact, aren't that great.  Not that some famous programmers aren't great.  Just that there are ones you've never heard of that are really good too.

Just like a doctor that doesn't get famous for preventing sickness, a hacker doesn't get credit for removing code.

The fastest code is the one you don't run, the easiest code to understand is the one that isn't written.  As in graphic design, sometimes what's great about a solution is not what's there, but all the stuff that's not.  

This should be of no surprise to people working for a while with different types of people.  But it's hard to keep in mind, and makes hiring just that much harder.  Some of the best people aren't ones that wrote something, but knew what not to write, and attack the problem from another direction instead.
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2 thoughts on “Some of the best people are the ones you never hear about

  1. This is definitely true. There are a lot of people that I work with now who are just mind-boggling good at what they do, yet if you google them (I stalk :), you can’t find a trace of them on the internet.

  2. Which is a pity, really. Some of them should become better writers, else I feel like their insight is lost. The same is true for startups too. Some of the best startups are the ones you’ve never even heard of.

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