An amazing speech by Richard Hamming
Richard Hamming was an American mathematician whose work had many implications for computer engineering and telecommunications.
I heard about his most famous speech “You and Your Research” in Haroon Meer’s Nullcon 2018 keynote. After reading the written version of his speech I was totally blown away. This is one of the most inspiring speeches for engineers and scientists (in human history I could say). For a beginner like me, Richard Hamming describes the path that he followed to become a successful person by doing, what he calls, a first-class work.
If you want to see his speech, you could click on the YouTube link below:
Quotes from his speech
I have to get you to drop modesty and say to yourself, “Yes, I would like to do first-class work.”
Newton said “If others would think as hard as I did, then they would get similar results.”
One of the characteristics you see, and many people have it including great scientists, is that usually when they were young they had independent thoughts and had the courage to pursue them.
One of the characteristics of successful scientists is having courage.
When you get early recognition it seems to sterilize you.
Many scientists when they found they couldn’t do a problem finally began to study why not.
Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.
The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity – it is very much like compound interest.
You have to neglect things if you intend to get what you want done. There’s no question about this.
Solid work, steadily applied, gets you surprisingly far.
The misapplication of effort is a very serious matter. Just hard work is not enough – it must be applied sensibly.
Most great scientists are completely committed to their problem. Those who don’t become committed seldom produce outstanding, first-class work.
If you are deeply immersed and committed to a topic, day after day after day, your subconscious has nothing to do bu work on your problem.
If what you are doing is not important, and if you don’t think it is going to lead to something important, why are you at Bell Labs working on it ?
What will be the impact of computers on science and how can I change it ?
It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.
If I have seen further than others, it is because I’ve stood on the shoulders of giants.
You should do your job in such a fashion that others can build on top of it, so they will indeed say, “Yes, I’ve stood on so and so’s shoulders and I saw further.”
There are three things you have to do in selling. You have to learn to write clearly and well so that people will read it, you must learn to give reasonably formal talks, and you also must learn to give informal talks.
Once you’re moderately successful, there are more people asking for results than you can deliver and you have some power of choice, but not completely.
You set your deadlines; you can change them.
The people who do great work with less ability but who are committed to it, get more done that those who have great skill and dabble in it, who work during the day and go home and do other things and come back and work the next day.
Look, if you adopt the present method and do what you can do single-handedly, you can go just that far and no farther than you can do single-handedly. If you will learn to work with the system, you can go as far as the system will support you.
Good scientists will fight the system rather than learn to work with the system and take advantage of all the system has to offer.
After all, if you want a decision ‘No’, you just go to your boss and get ‘No’ easy. If you want to do something, don’t ask, do it.
You should dress according to the expectation of the audience spoken to. If I am going to give an address at the MIT computer center, I dress with a bolo and an old corduroy jacket or something else.
By taking the trouble to tell jokes to the secretaries and being a little friendly, I got superb secretarial help.
By realizing you have to use the systems and studying how to get the system to do your work, you learn how to adapt the system to your desires.
Originality is being different.
Another fault is anger.
I used my ego to make myself behave the way I wanted to. I bragged about something so I’d have to perform.
I have seen, as I studied the history, the successful scientist changed the viewpoint and what was a defect became an asset.
I claim that some of the reasons why so many people who have greatness within their grasp don’t succeed are: they don’t work on important problems, they don’t become emotionally involved, they don’t try and change what is difficult to some other situation which is easily done but is still important, and they keep giving themselves alibis why they don’t. They keep saying that it is a matter of luck. I’ve told you how easy it is; furthermore I’ve told you how to reform. Therefore, go forth and become great scientists!
Many of us were earlier forced to learn other things – we were forced to learn the things we didn’t want to learn, we were forced to have an open door – and then we could exploit those things we learned.
I picked my people carefully with whom I did or whom I didn’t brainstorm.
If you want to think new thoughts that are different, then do what a lot of creative people do – get the problem reasonably clear and then refuse to look at any answers until you’ve thought the problem through carefully how you would do it, how you could slightly change the problem to be the correct one.
The reading is necessary to know what is going on and what is possible. But reading to get the solutions does not seem to be the way to do great research. You read; but it is not the amount, it is the way you read that counts.
In the short-haul, papers are very important if you want to stimulate someone tomorrow. If you want to get recognition long-haul, it seems to me writing books is more contribution because most of us need orientation.
I believe that books which try to digest, coordinate, get rid of the duplication, get rid of the less fruitful methods and present the underlying ideas clearly of what we know now, will be the things the future generations will value.
It takes courage to say, “Yes, I will give up my great reputation.”
When your vision of what you want to do is what you can do single-handedly, then you should pursue it. The day your vision, what you think needs to be done, is bigger than what you can do single-handedly, then you have to move toward management.