Survivorship Bias

Published in Career - 2 mins to read

I have been on a huge James Hoffman binge recently. Part of it is because I would like to start trying to make nicer coffee, but I also find his videos incredibly relaxing. His voice is soothing, his vocabulary expansive, his sense of humour delightful. He’s a winner.

In this video, Mr Hoffman takes a break from discussing the ins-and-outs of the perfect espresso to share some of the mistakes he made early in his career, particularly when starting a new business. The first thing he points out is the survivorship bias of succesful people, that they assume that whatever actions they took or qualities they had were the reasons behind their success. Clearly this is not necessarily the case, and it got me thinking about my own survivorship bias, especially as I have come dangerously close to doling out career advice a couple of times recently.

I definitely don’t think I have much to offer in terms of advice that would genuinely help someone in the software biz, at least not that hasn’t been shared by a million other people already anyway. Unlike James, I’m not sure I have any particularly useful failures to share either, because while I’ve been a programmer I’ve had to make few, if any, big decisions. The one thing that occured to me while watching his video was simply the quantity of opportunity I’d had - they just kept coming and coming and coming. If you have infinite opportunity, then of course eventually you’re going to have some modicum of success.

Obviously I hope to have more success in the future. But I think it’s good to be realistic about how I’ve got to where I’m at; with a truly brain-breaking amount of luck. Whether or not I can make any progress off my own merits remains to be seen.