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The Genius and Tragedy of Patrick McKenzie

I. This post outlines Patrick McKenzie - a brilliant technologist and entrepreneur - how he's done such amazing things and learned so much, and why he's getting drastically underpaid and how it's his own fault. This post will be most valuable for technologists who underestimate themselves and undervalue themselves.

II. Hacker News is the best tech community on the internet, and patio11 - Patrick McKenzie - is the best contributor there. I don't even think that's controversial, I think it would be near universally agreed by the HN crowd that Patrick has made as many or more important contributions as anyone.

If you're from Hacker News, you know Patrick already. But for my readers that don't know him, let me give you a quick overview.

III. Patrick is a multi-faceted genius, and I don't throw the word genius around casually.

Patrick McKenzie is many things - he's an expatriate to Japan, he's a talented coder, tester, metrics/split-testing/analytics user, a great writer, extremely modest and helpful. He can recruit people, evaluate talent, and manage people well. He understands ROI very well and is good at purchasing advertising. He's good at customer service. Outsourcing. Automation. Coding. Ecommerce.

Learning Curves

On Isaac Lewis

I read two interesting articles about learning recently, both from the same website. The first is based on this academic paper, and talks about how almost all skills follow the same power law curve. That is, you start off learning rapidly, but then you hit diminishing returns where you see less improvements for the same time spent practicing. There's two suprising things here: one is that you do keep on improving, even when you've reached a high level. The improvement becomes very slow and hard to measure, but it is there. The second surprising thing is that every skill the researchers looked at followed this curve. They speculate that it's either due to the way the human brain forms new connections, or it's because most subjects are hierarchical -- you start off by learning low-level, commonly-used actions, and slowly advance to learning higher-level patterns and strategies that provide less immediate value.

The second article was a review of the book Mastery, by George Leonard. The book draws on the author's experiences with aikido to analyse what it takes to reach mastery with any skill -- in particular, how hard it is.

In his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Zen master Shunryu Suzuki approaches the question of fast and slow learners in terms of horses. “In our scriptures, it is said that there are four kinds of horses: excellent ones, good ones, poor ones, and bad ones. The best horse will run slow and fast, right and left, at the driver’s will, before it sees the shadow of the whip; the second will run as well as the first one, just before the whip reaches its skin; the third one will run when it feels pain on its body; the fourth will run after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones. You can imagine how difficult it is for the fourth one to learn to run.

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