@adlrocha - You and Your Research

Work in the right problem, at the right time, in the right way, and become somebody worth being.

assorted-title book lot on shelf

Richard Wesley Hamming was an American mathematician whose work had many implications for computer engineering and telecommunications. In case you are wondering, yes, this is the guy that conceived Hamming codes, a mathematical apparatus that still fascinates me, and which is still applicable to many problems in our field.

But today I am not introducing Hamming to talk about his codes (maybe some other day), but to share a talk he gave on how to be successful (if I had to summarize the talk in just want sentence): “You and Your Research”. I was completely unaware of this talk, and it was brought to my attention after a conversation about “favorite Nobel Prize winners” (I know, not the typical conversation to bring up while having some drinks with friends). I decided to watch the talk this weekend, and man! I was completely taken aback by the pieces of knowledge shared by Hamming. They are all things you “kind of know”, but being shared by someone with a Nobel Prize in the top of his shelf makes you rethink your priorities around work.

Personal notes on the talk

If you watched the full video just skip this section, I am just going to share my notes of the talk paraphrasing some of the pieces I liked the most, so I can come back and read through them every once in a while. If your are more into reading than watching, here you can find a transcription of the talk.

Either way, dear future me, here are some things about work you should never forget if you want to succeed professionally:

  • Live the life you want to live. Do significant things, and work in things you won’t look back and regret in your death bed.

  • If what your are doing is not important, why are you working on it? People that succeed professionally work on important problems for which they have ideas on how to solve it. Work in problems that can become mighty oak trees.

  • Shannon once said: “I am scared of nothing”. People that succeed have confidence on themselves, but careful with being extremely overconfident.

  • Have a clear vision. Its not only about doing a good job, but a first-class job.

  • Sometimes problems need to be redefined for them to become significant.

  • Study your successes and other’s, and learn from it. Don’t rejoice in your failures.

  • The one that wins is not the one that works harder, but the one that works in the right problem in his field.

  • Never assume theories are right. See what people have missed and focus on enhancing their vision (this is what science is all about, right?).

  • Progress requires change. So embrace change.

  • Demonstrate greatness and you will be given the opportunity: “research and then you will teach”.

  • Here I will share a piece of my own learning: don’t get frustrated if one of your ideas is stolen, or someone gets there first to develop it, if you are creative you will have more and better ideas. Getting frustrated for a single “lost” idea simply evidences the fact that you are not creative, therefore, that single idea was just a strike of luck. Keep creating.

  • And a cite of my favorite phylosopher, “The unexamined life is not worth living” - Socrates.

But the best way of summarizing Hamming’s teachings in this talk is “be somebody worth being”. Of course, many may think that living like this means having a constant pressure on you to “become the best”, but for me, this way of living is simply a good way of remembering to “prioritize the important”.

Any thoughts on Hamming’s talk? Weird publication, right? I wasn’t into writing anything technical this week, I needed some time off from blocks and chains, so what better than sharing some food for thought. See you next week!