A couple of years ago, I watched a TED talk that changed my life.
I had just finished my computer science master’s degree and was starting out as a fresh Ph.D. student in the department of distributed systems…
… and I was overwhelmed.
There are many computer science students reading the Finxter blog so I hope to find a few encouraging words in this article.
Not only was I overwhelmed, but I seriously doubted my ability to finish the doctoral research program successfully.
I was so impressed by my colleagues, who were much smarter, wittier, and better coders.
So what were (some of) the things that were bothering me?
- Reading and understanding code.
- Reading and understanding research papers.
- Designing algorithms.
- Presenting stuff.
- Writing scientifically.
- “Selling” my approaches to my supervisors.
The list goes on and on — and I really felt like an imposter not worthy to contribute to the scientific community.
Then I watched the TED talk from a former investment banker who claimed to possess the formula to achieve anything.
The formula: break the big task into a series of small tasks. Then just keep doing the small tasks (and don’t stop).
I know it sounds lame, but it really resonated with me. So I approached my problem from first principles: What must I do to finish my dissertation within four years?
- I need to publish at least four research papers.
- I need to submit at least ten times to top conferences — maybe even more often.
- I need to create a 10,000-word research paper every three months or so.
- I need to write (or edit) 300 words every day.
So my output was clear: if I just do this one thing (it’s really easy to write 300 words) — I will have enough written content for my dissertation.
Quality comes as a byproduct of massive quantity. 😉
But to produce output, any system needs input. To brew tasty coffee, put in the right ingredients: high-quality beans and pure water. To produce better outputs, just feed the system with better inputs.
- Question: What’s the input that helps me produce excellent 300-word written output?
- Answer: Read papers from top conferences.
So the formula boils down to:
- INPUT: read (at least skim over) one paper a day from a top conference in my research area.
- OUTPUT: generate 300 words for the current paper project.
That’s it. After I developed this formula, the remaining three and a half years were simple: follow this straightforward recipe to the best of my abilities, even with serious distractions, doubts, highs, and lows.
The day before I published this article originally (in 2019), I delivered my defense. Based on my sample size of one, the system works! 😉
So what is your BIG TASK that is overwhelming you? How can you break into a series of small outputs that guarantees your success? What is the input that helps you generate this kind of output?
While working as a researcher in distributed systems, Dr. Christian Mayer found his love for teaching computer science students.
To help students reach higher levels of Python success, he founded the programming education website Finxter.com that has taught exponential skills to millions of coders worldwide. He’s the author of the best-selling programming books Python One-Liners (NoStarch 2020), The Art of Clean Code (NoStarch 2022), and The Book of Dash (NoStarch 2022). Chris also coauthored the Coffee Break Python series of self-published books. He’s a computer science enthusiast, freelancer, and owner of one of the top 10 largest Python blogs worldwide.
His passions are writing, reading, and coding. But his greatest passion is to serve aspiring coders through Finxter and help them to boost their skills. You can join his free email academy here.