Of Mikes and Davids


Mike is a professor at a reputable university. He teaches advanced machine learning and robotics, he’s finishing up his PhD in computer science, and he always has a new gadget he’s playing with.

David is a software entrepreneur. He has sold a software company or two for modest profit and he always has a business angle he’s working.

I had talked shop with Mike and David separately over the span of several months but one day the three of us managed to get together. Since Mike and David are both in the general information technology field I naturally assumed that we could find a common ground on that topic. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Mike and David clashed on almost every level and in the aftermath I learned a very important lesson about two distinctly different groups of technologists that I now classify as Mikes and Davids.

Mike is meticulous in his work. He needs to understand everything about the problem he is attempting to solve and all of the intricate mathematics behind any possible solution. As a result, it takes Mike a long time to ship a high quality product.

David, on the other hand, is focused on delivering something of value as quickly as possible. As a result, David can quickly churn out a working product which will likely need several iterations in order to work out all of the bugs.

These are fundamentally different approaches which I believe serve as a rosetta stone of sorts to help us decode the motivations and likely future actions of these two different schools of thought.

Let’s say, for example, you need X. David will bang out a version of X for you after pulling a week of all-nighters wherein his kids briefly forget they had a father. What you get will work according to your specifications. But don’t expect it to be pretty. But you’ll put it into production anyway. Because why not? Several months down the road you’ll wonder why your app is so sloooow and you’ll have to go back to David to have him fix a growing list of bugs. Thats not a knock on David. That’s just the nature of his work. Its fast and it’s to specifications.

By contrast Mike will take a very long time to complete a task. But when they do, you will have a rock-solid solution that has been thoroughly vetted. You will also have pages of proofs and data to go along with that solution.

In short, call David when you have an idea you want to have built quickly. And after David builds it, call Mike to build out the next version that will scale.

Both approaches have their place.

Having worked with startups for a long time I can appreciate each one in their own unique way. I am a Mike or a David depending on who I’m working with. I take great pains to build up my Mike and David skillsets equally. I can use Yeoman to quickly generate a skeleton of an application. And I can use SciKit Learn to discover patterns in data to make my processes more efficient.

I’ve decided the best engineers are honest with themselves on whether they are naturally more of a Mike or a David and are actively working to move towards the other end of the spectrum.

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