8 karmaJoined Nov 2021


When it comes to LLMs, I often compare the complexity of writing a world-class software system to the difficulty of writing a world-class novel. Any fifth grader can string together a five-paragraph essay. But it’s a long way from that to writing an astute portrayal of modern society with compelling prose and gripping characters, like Balzac did.

When you hear professional software engineers say they’re not worried about AI, I think this is a large part of what’s going on. Most production code requires you to understand the world around you — you need to understand your customers, the existing technical constraints and your operational budget (how often is the system allowed to crash? What’s the 95th percentile allowed latency? What features can we trade off to reach this?). You often need to understand the viewpoints of your coworkers and/or managers and be able to argue with them when they’re wrong. You need to understand which coworkers or customers to talk to and which ones to ignore (not something I see in the skill set of any LLM so far). In most companies, the more senior a software engineer is, the more this becomes part of their job (instead of day-to-day coding).

That said, I think 80k hours correctly notes that software engineering is a great early-stage career and a mediocre mid-to-late stage career. Nowhere else can you find a cushy, well-defined and fun job that easily pays $100-500k a year. But I think that ends up cutting against you 5-10 years in — many software engineers can get so far off of just coding and being a nerd that they never learn how to solve business problems (and companies are often built around the expectation that software engineers don’t want to learn about the business). That keeps them from moving into more impactful roles. It’s also not a job that lends itself to networking, which probably also affects long-term career prospects.

Since you’re a former business owner, it’s possible this won’t be a problem for you. In that case, working at a tech company is one of the best ways to learn how to code and how to design software systems, and it’s probably a great move for you. I’d just encourage you to keep in mind that coding, while fun, is most impactful as a means to an end than as an end in itself.

Did you consider Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross’s Talent for the Recruiting/Hiring category?

Answer by ephmecxDec 16, 20224

Many of my friends went to Harvard/Yale/Princeton/MIT/Stanford.* I also went to one of those schools. Occasionally, for fun, we compare our college experiences. Our conclusion is that there are differences between them that are meaningful but not deal-breaking. 

Given your academics interests, I would recommend Yale least. Other than that, any of those schools will give you fine preparation for a math/physics/CS degree. A fact you can weight weakly is that Princeton's (non-theory) CS program is relatively weak but its math program is extremely strong. The MIT graduates I know tend to be weaker at understanding foreign policy/economics/the arts, perhaps because no undergraduates study those subjects at MIT. I expect you will be able to take graduate classes and feel academically challenged at any of these schools. 

The thing that I've heard the most variance on is how happy people were in college, and how many smart, fun and insightful friends they met while there. The main reason I'd advise applying to more colleges is so that you can visit each of them in April and pick the one that you feel like you enjoy the most, because the social experience can be very variable (MIT tends to hyper-sort people into groups of very similar people, Princeton has eating clubs, Stanford used to have lots of interesting living groups but might be growing more boring, Harvard aiui randomizes living groups and they feel a little undifferentiated as a result).

*I don't know anything about Harvey Mudd, unfortunately. There are other schools that might be a better fit for you which you should obviously also apply to, but these are the ones that I would consider to be meaningful competitors to Harvard.

1) You believe casinos should be illegal due to societal harm caused.

Here’s an important factor: if you really believe this, you’ll probably do a bad job running a casino. You’ll probably be more successful if you try to run something else.

One might naively think that this isn't relevant to an 'EA' perspective, but I think it's a pretty straightforward application of an EA principle that the ends don't justify the means (https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/K9ZaZXDnL3SEmYZqB/ends-don-t-justify-means-among-humans).