Learn To Be Null

I know a lot of developers and most of them are "binary" people:  They tend to see things as right or wrong, good or bad, elegant or kludgey.

In addition to (or perhaps due to) being binary, they have an opinion on just about everything: .NET vs. Java, emacs vs. vi, MacOS vs. Ubuntu.

Having these opinions and practicing a geek form of the Socratic method serves us very well in the technical portion of our lives.  The best programmers I know have both the depth and breadth of knowledge required to support their position against all other arguments.  The best developers I know are the ones who know when to be quiet.

One of the secrets to being a Big Swinging Developer is to know when to be null.  The realization that you don’t have to be right or wrong is not only liberating, it’s a great boost to your career.   The key here is balance.  On one extreme you have the folks who jump into every discussion within earshot.  At some point they usually get labeled, "likes to hear himself talk".  The other extreme is people who literally say nothing.  They stop getting included in important discussions because they offer no value.  So how do you strike the balance?  Start asking yourself if what you’re considering saying will be valuable to anyone other than yourself.  Is it actionable?  Is it something that needs to be said?  Is it relevant?  Is it inspirational?  The definition of "valuable" will change depending on the context of the discussion, the important thing is to think before you speak.


  1. Chris L says:

    I'm reading a book by Phil Hellmuth, who's on the shortlist of Greatest Hold'em Players of All Time. He repeatedly cites his greatest strength as being able to read people. And yet several times he casually drops in, "I didn't have a read on (some player) so I called". Or folded. Or something.

    So, Mr. Hellmuth, reader-of-people extraordinaire and self-proclaimed arrogant bastard, didn't need a clear yes/no on everyone. Instead, he allowed himself to be Null.

    I wonder how much money that's made him?

  2. Chris L says:

    This post probably should have had a shoutout to ternary logic. Here you go: