Hero Typing


“Who is your hero?” is a question I’ve been asked, but never had an answer for. Why is this a question that people are compelled to ask? Are we expected to have a hero, like a favourite colour or number?

In his book The Passionate Programmer, Chad Fowler quotes jazz musician Pat Metheny when he writes this advice to aspiring developers: “Be the worst guy [or girl] in every band you’re in” (an excerpt is available here). Chad argues that being in proximity of more talented programmers can make you “better via osmosis”.

As programmers, we have many opportunities to find a better band (e.g. open source) – however, I think that this advice can be reapplied to nearly any domain, and the benefit gained remotely. In general, if it is against your current nature to be as awesome as X, consider X your hero. This is why we should have heroes; not to be in awe of them, but to hypnotise ourselves to want to quack like a duck.

I’m writing this at the risk of quacking like a motivational speaker. I’m not a fan of people who try to motivate you by saying obvious, non-actionable things like “believe in yourself”. How the fuck am I meant to do that? No, I’m talking about heroes who can actually stir some change of behaviour in you, for the better. Teachers, if you will.

One of the reasons I found it hard to answer “Who is your hero?” is because I didn’t know what a hero was. Take Superman for example: Superman is not a hero in my sense of the word, because he only saved us from the baddies. He didn’t improve the human race, he didn’t encourage our evolution. He didn’t teach mankind to fish, so we only ate for a day.

In case you want to know who my heroes are, I like the way Paul Graham quacks. If you know me then I have probably mentioned him to you before. The guy has ideas and he knows how to write.

Then there’s Galois. His legend says that he stayed up all night writing everything he knew about group theory before dying in a gun duel the next day. He was 20 and the duel was over a girl. I like that someone who contributed so much to mathematics was also crazy enough to die for a girl. It’s chivalry, it’s destructive and it’s rock and roll.

I didn’t have to choose these heroes, they are just people who I admire. I think that choosing to admire someone is a strong commitment, one that forces you to consider what you care about (tip #1 in The Pragmatic Programmer). Think about who your hero is; if it doesn’t make you more awesome, then at least you’ll have an answer when people ask you “Who is your hero?”

So, who is your hero?