A comment on one of my recent blog posts on Gray codes led me to an article by Mark Dominus Gray code at the pediatrician’s office, which led me to his article explaining why the pediatrician used what was apparently an unnecessarily sophisticated piece of equipment.
Mark segues from appreciating the pediatrician’s stadiometer purchase to appreciating source code that he initially thought was idiotic.
Time and time again people would send me perfectly idiotic code, and when I asked why they had done it that way the answer was not that they were idiots, but that there was some issue I had not appreciated, some problem they were trying to solve that was not apparent. … These appeared at first to be insane, but on investigation turned out to be sane but clumsy. … [A]ssume that bad technical decisions are made rationally, for reasons that are not apparent.
The last sentence deserves to be widely used. I’d suggest calling it Dominus’s law, but unfortunately Mark’s name ends in “s”, and that lowers the probability of a possessive form of his name catching on as an eponymous law. However, there is a Gauss’s law and a few other similar examples, so maybe the name will catch on.
3 thoughts on “Overestimating the number of idiots”
Not just useful in coding, but I learned the hard way to apply it to old house renovation. A good life rule.
“Assume that bad technical decisions are made rationally, for reasons that are not apparent.”
Sure, but then also the converse:
Assume that good technical decisions are made irrationally, for reasons that are not apparent.
That same post motivated me to nominate “Never attribute to complete stupidity what can adequately be explained by ordinary stupidity and a good reason” as Dominus’s Razor (building on Hanlon’s)