Vicarious experience aggregation

My background in computer science and software engineering is limited (so far!) to basic data structures and algorithms, with some experience in Python and C++. At work, I’ve picked up a preliminary understanding of how software product development and collaboration works. 

Regardless of location of software collaboration – Github or vehicle firmware development at Tesla – all have common elements of version control of code. The idea is to maintain all major ‘versions’ of code when changes are made, in case there is a need to revert to earlier versions for any reason. And development occurs by combining, slicing, and dicing stable versions of code for different features into larger sums. 

People keep their code and projects in ‘repositories’ – all their files and directories. 

If I want to build features based on someone else’s existing code, I can ‘fork’ or copy his/her repository. Allows me to play with the code without disturbing the original, while also not having to re-invent the wheel. In the open source world, someone else’s end point can be my starting point. I can create my own unique ‘feature branches’ off of the main repository fork with my own updates. 

And finally, when we have multiple branches with various features that we’d like to combine for a final product, we can ‘merge’ those branches together in a stable way to create a software release. 

Almost everything I learn in life uses the same framework – combining existing ideas into insightful new ones. Putting this development mechanism on paper and acknowledging its existence makes it even more powerful for me. 

I have had the fortune to work with and learn from amazing people over the last decade, and continue to do so. A good majority of them are people I know in person, but some are more mainstream ones, including three in particular. 

In 2014, third year of college, a friend of mine – Videt – told me about Tesla. Living in my college bubble, I had no idea who Elon Musk even was at the time. Once I started learning more about Tesla, SpaceX, and Elon Musk, I tried to ‘fork’ his repository of work, work ethic, and his learning process into my own. 

In 2019, I learned (from Videt) about the angel investor Naval Ravikant, and his take on startups, wealth generation, and happiness. This opened up a new world of startups for me, what’s happening in the world, what to read, what to stay updated on – the list goes on. I have followed him regularly on Twitter since.

In 2021, I learned (also from Videt!) about the writer David Perell, and his view on the importance of writing for professional growth. ‘Forking’ his repository of writing and note taking, I started writing on yugal.me in March 2021. It’s insane how this recent of a hobby is so important to me now. 

All three of these are public personalities. Even though I work at an Elon company, it’s not as if I work side-by-side with him in my current role, ha! 

Yet I believe that I can learn from these people still, even if I don’t know them in person. I think learning vicariously from people you don’t personally know is a superpower that anyone can cultivate. 

I first attempt to understand what problems they’re working on, staying up to date online on the nature of the problems. Following from that, some active thought experiments on what I would do to solve the problem, if I were them. Then I would read about what they actually did to solve their problem, allowing me to course correct my own train of thought. 

Effectively, I try to learn how they think. When a unique problem comes up, I think to myself ‘what would person X do?’. Having merged the repositories of experiences from successful people into my own master experience branch, I’m able to tap into that for inputs. Talk about sitting on the shoulders of giants, digitally. I effectively recruit them as my mentors.

If I were to summarize all of this with a phrase, I’d call it vicarious experience aggregation. It’s not as one-dimensional as taking everything that someone says as gospel. Instead, it’s a framework to course correct your decision making process based on someone whose thinking you’re trying to emulate. It’s perhaps a more fleshed out version of the last mover advantage – you don’t need to reinvent the wheel that someone else already invented; easier to just learn from it, and build upon it. 

It’s important though to try and get the information from the people directly instead of getting second-hand information. Usually achievable through various online media – interviews, Twitter, blogposts, autobiographies, or podcasts – you get the idea. 

I wonder that if there existed a tool to actively visualize one’s “master experience branch”, would that help inform good decision making? You would decide what all things you’d want to learn about, and then the tool would spit out relevant people to learn it from, and which media to use to achieve that. Perhaps something like this exists already? I’ll keep looking. 

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