tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
I stumbled upon this essay I wrote almost ten years ago, which I wrote in order to shake out all the laughs before writing a genuine statement of purpose.

I have edited it heavily in order to remove the more libelous parts and to redact the names of the person I was asserting I wanted to work with as well as my own name-at-the-time. Those mentions of specific people that haven't been edited out are of people who I think highly of. Really. I meant well.

I'm posting it not just because I think I'm funny, but also because the parts of this that aren't lies are a little bit revealing of the career path I actually took and I like to think that might be helpful for someone reading this who's starting out in the same field. Not that I would recommend anyone do what I did.

At the time, I said I was going to make this public once I had tenure. Since I'm never going to have tenure, I'm posting this now. And really, isn't knowing that I'll never have it a little bit like getting it, without all the hard work?

"Statement of Purposelessness".

Originally written in Cambridge, England, November 21, 2006
Heavily edited, May 10, 2015

Dear [REDACTED UNIVERSITY],

I would like to be admitted to your graduate program in order to study functional programming. I like functional languages (particularly Haskell), because they let me be as lazy as possible when I write programs, and I'm a very lazy programmer. I also like Haskell because Haskell programmers seem to be a lot hotter than other programmers on average. What can I say, I have a weakness for guys with ponytails. The only problem is that there aren't enough women who do Haskell, but the men are girly enough that that kind of makes up for it. I mean that in a nice way.

I want to attend your university and work with [REDACTED] because few other professors are as successful nerds as the one I aspire to be. I hope to learn from him about how to title papers with ridiculous puns, take off my shirt during talks, and still be respected by more or less everybody. I would also like to learn from him how to get a cushy industry job during the tech bubble and then retreat back to a cushy academic job when the bubble bursts.

I've achieved my current state of programming language enlightenment by being stubborn, unimaginative, lazy, and foolish, so I plan to stay on that horse and ride it to the finish line. 13 more paragraphs )

In summary, please admit me to [REDACTED UNIVERSITY] because if I don't get into your school, and don't get into Cambridge either, I'll probably have to go to Portland State [**], and people will laugh at me. Then again, I might end up working in the operating-system-in-Haskell project if I went there. So like I said, people will laugh at me. Also, if you don't accept me, I'll [REDACTED SERIES OF CRUDE THREATS AND BOASTS WHICH NO LONGER REPRESENT MY VIEWS ABOUT WOMEN]. No, but srsly, I would like to be IN UR UNIVERSITY IMPLEMENTING UR LANGUAGEZ, because god knows the faculty aren't going to do it.

Love,
[REDACTED NAME]
aged 25 11/12


2015 footnotes:
[*] This seemingly-incredible statement was based on working in the Valley during the dark hour between the 1990s tech bubble and the San Francisco-based tech bubble.
[**] The redacted university either rejected me, or I never even finished the application. I honestly can't remember. I wasn't even planning on applying to Portland State when I applied to [REDACTED], instead applying at the last minute in March, so really, the joke's on me.
tim: Mike Slackernerny thinking "Scientific progress never smelled better" (science)
A work of parody by Tim Chevalier, based on "Hackers and Painters" by Paul Graham.

The following is a work of fiction.

When I finished grad school in computer science, I decided I had just wasted eight years, and went to firefighter school to become a firefighter. A lot of people seemed surprised that someone interested in computers would also be interested in fighting fires. They seemed to think that hacking and firefighting were very different kinds of work: that hacking was an inner-directed pursuit of personal pleasure (a little like doing drugs, but slightly more socially acceptable), while firefighting involves self-sacrifice and taking risks for the benefit of others.

Both of these images are wrong. Hacking and firefighting have a lot in common. In fact, of all the different types of people I've known, hackers and firefighters are among the most alike.

What hackers and firefighters have in common is that they both like to jump into situations that most sensible people would steer clear of. Along with doctors, nurses, and traffic cops, what hackers and firefighters are trying to do, at least in part, is save other people from the consequences of their poor life decisions (without passing judgment on those decisions; or, at least, doing so quietly among friends after one gets the job done). They're not doing research per se, though if in the course of trying to mitigate disasters they discover some new technique, so much the better.

Hackers need to understand the theory of computation about as much as firefighters need to understand thermodynamics. You need to know how to calculate time and space complexity and about Turing completeness. You might also want to remember at least the concept of a state machine, in case you have to write a parser or a regular expression library. Firefighters in fact have to remember a good deal more about physics and chemistry than that.

I've found that the best sources of ideas are not the other fields that have the word "computer" in their names, but the other fields inhabited by public servants. Firefighting has been a much richer source of ideas than the theory of computation.
Read more... )

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tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

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