In this interview, @DHH talks about his approach to learning and how he, starting from high school, approached a subject only if it interested him.

In many ways, he went against the mainstream: he mentioned that he didn’t consider Math worth of his time and that it was not possible to bullshit his way through, so he failed intentionally the exam.

Fastforwards a decade, DHH founded Basecamp, invented Ruby On Rails and excelled in car racing and photography.

He is one of the many example of how school can seriously impair your progress, if you take it too seriously.

What to study

Why does one learn spontaneously?

Usually, either to achieve an objective (i.e. I need to code an application, what do I need to learn?) or just for its own sake (I love so much RDMS that I am going to study them on my own.). Cascading from this objective, everything else follows. Intuition guides you towards what is useful and what is not.

Example: I need to buid a web app. I am not going to study what is a compiler at the moment because it has no impact in what I am doing.

In this way the links between subjects build naturally. You study something because it useful for you in that moment.

In top-down mandated syllabus, everything is decided usually by a Ministry of Education which decides which is worth including, which is not, the order and the tone of the exposition. This kills completely the interest of the student because he sees no point in learning the subject.

Example: Spending five years of school studying Calculus without applying it to a physical problem which is relevant fo us. Theory for the sake of theory.

Pleasing the Superior

I spent years getting out the mentality that the objective is not pleasing a superior, but the customer.

School is built in such a way that it rewards ass-kissers. I remember my professors at high school, who were constantly lauding those who had:

  • very well ordered homework (I didn’t do them), which were mind-numbing to do
  • very well ordered and graphically appealing power point presentation

In essence, school doesn’t reward the output but just the input [0]. When you will face the world of business, your customers don’t care if you do internal team meetings, if you are the best in promoting social activities inside the company or if you get along very well with the top management. Your customers just care about how good is your product or service.

Authoritative Concept of Knowledge

There exists a superiority of a teacher on a student. However, the student should always encouraged to be skeptical of everything the superior says. How do you promote this behaviour? You point the student to the sources, you ask him to form his opinion and then to come back and argument for it.

The teacher should not be superior for its figure but for his knowledge and his ability to argument for it.

This type of lyophilized knowledge that our modern system expels works in the opposite direction. You read elaboration of elaboration of original sources. My experience with History was a textbook who was very rarely citing the sources and for once, we never had a chance to direct inspect the material on which the author was proposing his theory. Phylosophy was the same, I remember reading extracts of Seneca which offered an image of the stoic which was hypocritical. After reading Taleb, I understood why you should NEVER read the classics based on the interpretation of academic rats.


Homework swallow the major part of free time for students, thus blocking them to dev

[0] To tell the truth, university in EU is far better at evaluating just the output. The issue is that even the output is idiotic.