The uncanny practicality of impracticality

John Ohno
6 min readApr 25, 2018

I think one of the big cultural disconnects between me & current mainstream dev is the idea that it’s a burden to know something.

It’s not totally alien: it’s a burden to need to know something, and it’s a burden to need to know it on a deadline. So, I understand wanting a minimum understanding when it comes to doing professional work. But, I have never considered professional work to be the most meaningful part of software development.

I got into this field because I consider it a joy to learn about the ugly twisty obscure corners of the domain. So, the “real work” is the stuff I do in my free time out of interest, while the stuff I do on a deadline is just leveraging my existing skills to make a couple bucks. I’m up for learning anything, as long as it happens off company time and happens because I feel like learning it.

Knowledge’s association with effectiveness is complicated. I suspect that you literally cannot benefit fully from knowledge-gathering if your goal is to benefit from knowledge-gathering.

The most valuable bits of knowledge, in terms of productive work, are the ones that nobody could have reasonably expected to apply, because anything that can be expected to apply will be learned by everybody and become common sense. We have an intellectual monoculture in tech driven by capitalism.

If you learn whatever seems marginally interesting, each individual thing is unlikely to be relevant but the number of things means that…

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John Ohno

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net