A walkthrough for solving technical problems using different lenses

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Courtesy of Icons8

Consider a team of engineers that’s building a feature API for Snapchat. Let’s call them Ovah’s team. They’re facing two big questions: how do they build it, and how long will it take?

If they can’t figure out how to build it, the feature is dead already. If they take too long to build it, the feature is as good as dead — Instagram would copy it before they’ve built it.

This post contains four different perspectives that look at the two problems. As you read through the perspectives, notice the tension in the examples. Both problems are vastly different, and some perspectives are better for one problem, and worse for another problem. …


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Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Most people don’t practice taking ideas seriously. I think it’s because most people don’t know how to. I didn’t either, until I stumbled upon an implication.

For example, what would it mean to take compounding seriously?

Ugh. I can feel your aversion. You’ve already heard so much about compounding, how it works, how it’s the eight wonder of the world, etc. etc.

But, familiarity is not the same as taking it seriously.

Say you start with $100, and every year, make 10% more. This compounds, since the extra money is a function of how much you already have. The more you have, the more you get. …


It’s a foundational concept in statistics, and the key to understanding a range of natural phenomena

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Meet Mason. He’s an average American 40-year-old: 5 foot 10 inches tall and earning $47,000 per year before tax.

How often would you expect to meet someone who earns 10x as much as Mason?

And now, how often would you expect to meet someone who is 10x as tall as Mason?

Your answers to the two questions above are different, because the distribution of data is different. In some cases, 10x above average is common. While in others, it’s not common at all.

So what are normal distributions?

Today, we’re interested in normal distributions. They are represented by a bell curve shape, with a peak in the middle that tapers towards each edge. …


In 2018, I started working at Bloomberg. Things have changed a lot since then

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Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

In 2018, I started working at Bloomberg. Things have changed a lot since then. I’m not the most junior member in the company anymore and I’ve mentored quite a few new engineers, which has been amazing. It helped me observe how others differ from me, absorb their best practices, and figure out things I’ve unconsciously been doing pretty well.

Yearly work reviews are a good way to condense these lessons I’ve learned. They’re valuable for pattern matching, too. Only when I zoom out do certain patterns become visible. I can then start tracking these patterns consciously. The broad theme for this year is zooming out and challenging the boundaries. It’s also about zooming in and adding nuance to the sections from last year. …


Learn how to make better decisions, challenge your beliefs, and understand why some people believe in UFOs

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Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

Have you ever noticed how you can be fuming with anger one second and absolutely calm the next?

A bad driver cuts you off on the highway, and you’re raging. A moment later, you notice him pull into the hospital and your anger melts away. “Yeah, maybe he has a patient in the car with him. Or, maybe someone close is dying. I guess he’s not so bad after all.”

An obscure rule from probability theory called Bayes Theorem explains this very well. This 9,000-word blog post is a complete introduction to Bayes Theorem and how to put it to practice. In short, Bayes Theorem is a framework for critical thinking. …


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Photo by Elijah Hiett on Unsplash

Rationality is the art and science of two things:

  1. Making decisions that help you win at life
  2. Forming accurate beliefs

If you win when you’re happy in your relationships, then that’s where rationality shall take you.
If you win when you’re a billionaire, then that’s where rationality shall take you.

Of course, it isn’t magic. Outcomes aren’t assured. To a rationalist, the world is probabilistic: Rationality aims to increase the probability of you winning.

It’s not just about using statistics and math to solve every problem. Neither is it about becoming a robot and having no emotions “interfere” with decision making. …


I built a spaced repetition app to compete with Anki

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Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

I had one goal: build a spaced repetition app I myself would like to use.

I’ve tried Anki, and I don’t like it. It’s too slow: it takes several seconds to get to the screen where you can start revising cards.

When I’m standing in a queue waiting for a meal, if it takes more than a second to open the damn app, I’m not going to use it. Revising cards should be easy and frictionless.

Or, that was the idea, anyway.

Spaced Repetition

Spaced Repetition is a learning technique where you revise things based on how often you forget them. The best time to revise something is right before you forget it. …


Vocabulary as a Meta Mental Model

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Photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash

Pica is a condition in which people deficient in a nutrient experience cravings for things that don’t contain the nutrient. For example, people who are iron deficient find themselves chewing on ice cubes.

The body’s ability to identify the nutrient isn’t great, so it applies various heuristics: if it’s hard or if it looks rusty, it might have iron. So, the same people sometimes eat dirt, too.

This is an excellent metaphor for many things we do in life. We find ourselves watching sitcoms because we want to feel like we’re surrounded by friends, or relentlessly playing mobile games because we want to feel a sense of progress and accomplishment, or buying new clothes because we want to change something deep about who we’ve become. …


Connecting the snowball, domino, and butterfly effect together and leveraging these ideas in your life

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Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

What do chinese whispers, copycat crimes, and unexpectedly slow internet have in common?

We’ve had several names for it: snowball effect, butterfly effect, and domino effect. But, they are all examples of cascades.

When you know them separately, you know three different ideas. When you understand how they occur, you create a mental model. You understand the pattern.

For example, kids want the same toy other kids want, and parents want their kids to become either doctors or engineers. Both are the same idea: Our desires are shaped by others. That’s Mimetic theory.

We are about to build a similar pattern for cascades, and connect the snowball, domino, and butterfly effect together. …


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Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

An empowering annual review and tips for you to do it too

I didn’t know this at the time, but I sowed the seeds for this review on January 1st, 2019, when I wrote about how my day went, what I did, and what I learned.

It’s funny how most reviews focus on things that happened in the past three months — that’s more like a quarterly review that happens once a year, isn’t it? Since it’s fresher in the mind, and easier to spot the recent faults, these morph into goals and new years resolutions. But what about the nine months before that? …

About

Neil Kakkar

I write about Code and Life philosophies. Sometimes both. | https://neilkakkar.com | Engineer @Bloomberg | Write (Code). Create. Recurse.

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