Lionel's Blog

I'm an engineering manager at Braintree. I write about politics, psychology, and software.

I've worked on a few open-source projects and infrequently blog.

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Game Day

20 June 2015

Modern understanding of human beings is founded on what Francis Crick called the astonishing hypothesis: the idea that everything we are, our thoughts and beliefs, our loves and losses, our triumphs and failures – all of it is controlled by chemical reactions playing out in our bodies and especially our brains.

The hypothesis is that the mind is what the brain does. It’s astonishing in part because if you take it to be true, it follows that every action of your mind is necessarily also an action in your brain.

Take memory as an example: forming a memory might seem like a purely mental action, but from the astonishing hypothesis we know that it is a physical process, a rearranging of neurons and glial cells. The same is also true for recalling a memory, for learning from an experience, or for reflecting on the words of a friend.

Habits, too, are embedded in the brain. A habit is nothing more than a particular pattern of cells. When we repeat actions, we strengthen these patterns and make it easier to follow them the next time around. While this is a problem if you’re eating a doughnut every morning, it’s a great thing for virtuous habits. If you refuse to deploy with a broken build one time, you make it easier to refuse the next time. If you take time to refactor code today, you are training your brain to do it again tomorrow.

Too often I talk to engineers who treat excellence as a thing that only matters on special projects or in special areas. They might say they’re working on code that will soon be thrown away, or that it’s in a non-critical path, or that they just don’t have time to do things thoroughly. Setting aside all other concerns, don’t they realize they are training themselves to be mediocre? The ability to write good code isn’t a limited resource to be cheaply doled out; it’s a muscle to be exercised at every opportunity.

There is no such thing as game day in this line of work. Every day is training. Every day is game day.

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