RWDevCon 2017 Inspiration Talk: I’m an Idiot by Richard Turton

Rich is a professional idiot. In this talk from RWDevCon 2017, he talks about how to leverage your inner idiot to make you a better coder, writer and communicator. By Richard Turton.

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We recorded these talks so that you can enjoy them even if you didn’t get to attend the conference. Here’s an inspiration talk from RWDevCon 2017: “I’m an Idiot” by Rich Turton. I hope you enjoy it!

Note from Ray: At our recent RWDevCon tutorial conference, in addition to hands-on tutorials, we also had a number of “inspiration talks” – non-technical talks with the goal of giving you a new idea or some battle-won advice, and leaving you excited and energized.


Hello. My name’s Rich, and I’m an idiot.

“Surely not,” you’re thinking. “I haven’t come all this way to listen to an idiot speak.” I’m afraid you have, and today I want to tell you three things: That I am an idiot, that maybe you’re an idiot, and how to idiot.

If I’ve spoken to you before or you saw me this morning, you might not need much persuasion on the first point.

But maybe some of what I’m going to say will resonate with you, and you’ll start to wonder, “Maybe I want to be in this idiot club because of all the cool and successful people that are in it.” If so, you’re going to be interested in point three, because I’m going to tell you how I unleash the idiocy to achieve, if not greatness, then at least non-terribleness.

Step 1: I Am an Idiot.

That’s me on the left.

How can I prove to you that I’m an idiot? I’m standing in a room full of potential colleagues, clients, employers, in front of a massive slide that says I’m an idiot, wearing this T-shirt.

All signs point to idiot.

That’s not the smartest move in the book, is it? I’m giving a talk in public, which makes me incredibly nervous. I didn’t have to do this. I could have come here for free by reviewing the talks, or I could have bought a ticket, or I could have stayed at home in bed. But I came here to do this talk. Why?

I regularly get confused at the most basic and simple things in life. I’ll give you an example: I’ve got two young daughters and they have drawers for their clothes. Two drawers each. It’s the same way I do my clothes. I work at home, so I do all the laundry while Xcode is recovering from crashes or processing symbols or whatever it is it spends most of its time doing. So when I’m doing the laundry and putting clothes away, I think, well, two drawers. One drawer for tops, one drawer for bottoms. That’s how I do my clothes, that’s the only way that makes sense. So I put their clothes away. There’s a T-shirt, that’s a top. Leggings, that’s a bottom.

A dress? Is a dress a top or a bottom? I don’t know. Science doesn’t know. I give myself a different answer every single time, which is probably one of the reasons it takes my kids so long to get changed.

I blunder about with a similar level of confusion at work, which means that sometimes in the cold dark nights, I get the fear. The fear that I don’t belong here. The fear that I’m only doing this job until I get found out.

This dog knows more than I do.

I had no programming or computer science training. I was a biochemist, and then I was a chef, and then I went back to being a biochemist again. I tried to cure cancer. That is really hard. Then I worked a bone marrow registry at a blood bank, and then I thought, “I quite fancy being a programmer.” But I couldn’t get a job anywhere because, of course, I’d had nothing to do with programming my entire life. The only place I could get a job was at a company that had written its own programming language, so nobody who ever applied there knew how to write in it.

So while I was working there and sort of learning the art of programming, which is kind of generally applicable to everything, I taught myself Objective C, I taught myself how to make iOS apps, and I managed to trick my way into a job where someone would pay me to write iOS apps.

But I’ve never had one of those interviews. If you asked me to implement a binary sort on a whiteboard, I’d have two problems:

  1. I don’t know what a binary sort is.
  2. I’m left-handed, so when I write on the whiteboard, it just gets wiped out.
  3. In fact, three problems, because my writing is illegibly bad.

When I’m coding, there are certain kinds of mistakes I make all the time. For example, the greater-than and less-than operators. I always get those confused, even though I know the rule about the hungry crocodile. It just doesn’t fit in my brain when I’m typing it. It’s the same with min and max. If you were in Caroline’s talk this morning, she had a thing where she did the min of this and the max of that and zero and it’s supposed to be one or zero. Every time I try and do that, I always get it wrong.

Today, I work with some super smart people at an agency called MartianCraft. I don’t know if you’ve heard of MartianCraft, but the people that founded MartianCraft literally wrote the books on how to make iOS apps. So you can easily imagine that I sometimes feel like I don’t belong there, that these people probably can use the greater-than and less-than operators correctly the first time they try.

But this is fine. If you think you’re the best person in the room, you’re either wrong, or you’re in the wrong room. If I’m working or chatting at a conference or on Twitter or Slack with people, and I think, “Oh, this person is so much smarter than me, they’re so much better than me,” that’s great! That’s my chance to learn something from them.


But, and this is my key point, or one of my key points: it’s entirely possible that those people feel the same way as well. It’s entirely possible that we’re all idiots, and successful people are just good at idioting.