Reading List: Toolkits for the Mind

By Zach Hurwitz hurwitz, Reading_List

By Zach Hurwitz

Reference Article:

Technology Review‘s “Toolkits for the Mind”


It’s how [developers] size up companies, products, their peers: “What language do you use?”

Across Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, and even Jane Street Capital, James Somers delivers insight on how various modern languages shape the projects — and people — around us.

Just as with human linguistics, different code structures impart different design tenets on the programmer.  Some are geared towards rapid development (PHP) while others (OCaml, originally an academic language) sacrifice speed for the sake of certainty.

[PHP’s] creator, Rasmus Lerdorf, freely admits he just cobbled it together. “I don’t know how to stop it,” he said in a 2003 interview. “I have absolutely no idea how to write a programming language—I just kept adding the next logical step along the way.”

Whatever the limitation, the phrase holds true — ‘from limitation comes genius’ — in that a coding language outlines the rules of the intellectual game by which we play, whether JavaScript or Python or something unique.  Most coders, let alone most traders, rarely consider the separation of logic and syntax:  the former being relatively language-agnostic and the latter being categorically defined.  For every hundred people who have ever said, “I will never learn to program”, there are probably fifty who are ALREADY enacting the first half of the struggle — logic — in their daily lives with if-then-else decision trees or a hierarchy of inputs, well-organized (mentally) but never put to digital paper.

One wonders if [Jane Street’s programmers] have internalized the system’s constant nagging over time, so that OCaml has become a kind of Newspeak that makes it impossible to think bad thoughts . . . Facebook, by contrast, is a bazaar of small experiments, a smorgasbord of buttons, feeds, and gizmos trying to capture your attention. PHP is made for making—for cooking up features quickly.

It’s up to each of us as traders to find a language that resonates with the principles of design (an admittedly lofty goal for aspiring coders) most important to us.  On the flip side, as Facebook’s chief hack Mark Zuckerberg puts it, “Move fast and break things.”


Read Technology Review‘s “Toolkits for the Mind”

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About the Author

Zach Hurwitz

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Zachary is an independent equities trader, trading coach, systems developer, consultant to emerging hedge funds and proprietary trading firms, Volume-Weighted Average Price (VWAP) specialist, and in his spare time, a totally average guitarist. Zachary graduated with an Economics degree from Tufts University in 2008 and resides in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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