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Coming of Age: Developing young technologists without robbing them of their youth

Coming of Age: Developing young technologists without robbing them of their youth

Presentation that I gave at Monktoberfest 2022. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzdVSMRu16g

Bryan Cantrill

October 07, 2022

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  1. Coming of Age Developing young technologists without robbing them of

    their youth Bryan Cantrill Oxide Computer Company
  2. OXIDE “A version of college replacement”? • What is the

    purpose of a college education? • What is the purpose of education in the abstract? • What exactly are we trying to replace and why? • Are we trying to address its cost… or its purpose?
  3. OXIDE “Find the smartest”? • What does “smartest” mean? How

    is this assessed? • Is this selecting for precociousness or ultimate ability? • How does precociousness correlate to ultimate ability, anyway? • And is precociousness more common in well-structured domains? • Is there a peril in telling children that they are smart? • How are these children found? And does this process not start at a much younger age?
  4. OXIDE “...and most driven”? • What does “most driven” mean?

    • How is this assessed? • What does drive mean in someone so young, who is necessarily extrinsically motivated? • And, um, might you be in fact selecting for driven parents?
  5. OXIDE “18 year olds”?! • As recently as the 1990s,

    prevailing dogma in neuroscience was that most brain development was complete by mid-childhood (!) • We know now that this is false; the prefrontal cortex continues to develop into the mid-20s – it is underdeveloped in an 18-year-old! • The limbic system – emotions and social processing – is further along… • This means that 18-year-olds are likely to exhibit developed emotions and heightened social rewards – but their judgement is still developing • 18-year-olds can seem fully adult, but they remain vulnerable
  6. OXIDE “a decade+ of salary… on whatever they want”?! •

    A still-developing frontal cortex means that “whatever they want” is very likely to shift over time – and this is healthy! • Applying a “decade+ of salary” is adding firepower to a weapon that can’t be reliably aimed; is this wise?!
  7. OXIDE “a smart peer group”? • This seems less controversial,

    but it just has subtler issues… • Specifically: from whom do we learn? • Do we learn from true peers, or older peers? • Are the perils of telling a child that they are smart compounded by isolating an entire group and telling them that they are smart?
  8. OXIDE “in exchange for small % of future earnings” •

    This is just… gross: it is rapacious, manipulative, exploitative, cynical • What happens when (say) the prefrontal cortex develops a tad and someone wants to get out of this terrible deal? • What happens when (say) someone wants to pursue non-profit work? • What happens when (say) someone wants to return to school? • This is gross because it feels predatory – it is taking advantage of the impulsivity of a still-developing prefrontal cortex
  9. OXIDE The importance of childhood • Childhood is not merely

    knowledge accumulation • Focus should also be on character development: honesty, integrity, decency, persistence, grit, resilience, teamwork • That limbic center is really important: adolescents care a lot about their friends – and this is healthy! • Experimentation in youth should be encouraged – adults have a responsibility for keeping this safe (easier said than done!)
  10. OXIDE Whither the young technologist? • The still-developing brain is

    not without its strengths: risk-taking is really important for technologists; it can be helpful to not know the impossible! • It is incumbent upon young technologists – especially capable and motivated ones! – to learn how little they know • The purpose of a higher education should be to bridge the ego from the narcissism of childhood to the collaboration of adulthood • Older peers are essential in this process: e.g., graduate students – humanity’s most embittered – serve a thankless but essential task
  11. OXIDE Building the foundation • As part of their education,

    young technologists should seek out opportunities that will allow them to build foundation – but that still appeal to their risk-tasking and the sense of the possible • An internship is a great opportunity: interns should be given projects that are wildly speculative rather than menial tasks • Large companies are often a better fit than a startup because they increase the odds of an older peer group to learn from • As the foundation is built and judgement develops hits a sweet spot…
  12. OXIDE Innovation through the years • One’s mid-twenties to mid-thirties

    are a prime for individual innovation • Innovation does not stop in one’s mid-thirties, but it does change • Solving hard problems is a team endeavor, and as technologists age into full adulthood, they will increasingly need to take leadership roles… • This does not necessarily mean management! But it does mean, e.g.: problem formulation, team formation (hiring!), conflict resolution • The mid-thirties (and beyond!) are a sweet spot for teamwork
  13. OXIDE Coming of age • Young technologists should temper their

    sense of the possible and their desire to take risk with learning how the world works • We should be guiding our “smartest and most driven” towards big, hard, thorny problems – and to developing the character for those problems • Entrepreneurialism can wait: there is a lot to be said for starting a company in your forties! • Life is long; let children have their childhood – let students be students, and let young adults have their young adulthood!