Social coding

I saw a talk by Ed Catmull on the problems Pixar had in their early days. The talk is very interesting, and I recommend it. What caught me, is that at Pixar they had a “brain trust”, a certain group of people who could express their new ideas to one another without fear of backlash. This is actually very difficult to achieve, since early implementations of ideas are always “childish”, lack maturity, and are therefore not considered good enough to be shared with others. However, if you don’t share the idea with the others early, then you will get feedback too late, when you have already invested a lot of time into it. Criticism at this late stage hurts more and what is worse, it might make you so uncomfortable, that you might abandon the idea altogether.

The trick is to get a set of people to trust each other well enough to share not-yet mature ideas with one another in the early stage, so that criticism can help everyone get their ideas right from the start. Establishing this trust is very difficult. I started to understand what Ed Catmull was talking about while working with the STP team. The earlier I seemed to share my ideas, the better they got. For instance, CryptoMiniSat was originally never meant to be used as a library. However, once they (mostly Vijay Ganesh) helped me debug the code, it was much easier to get things “right”. I also met Laurent Simon last year for half a day, and he gave me the idea of using Grid’5000 to test the performance of CryptoMiniSat. Without these early steering ideas, I would have never been able to get CryptoMiniSat to where it is today.