The 10,000-Hour Rule
" I N H A M B U R G , W E H A D T O P L AY
F O R E I G H T H O U R S ."
The University of Michigan opened its new Computer Center in 1971, in a rand-new building on Beal Avenue in Ann Arbor, with beige-brick exterior walls and a dark-glass front. The university's enormous mainframe computers stood in the middle of a vast white room, looking, as onefaculty member remembers, "like one of the last scenes in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey" Off to the side were dozens of keypunch machines—what passed in those days for computer terminals. In 1971, this was state of the art. The University of Michigan had one of the most advanced computer science programs in the world, and over the course of the Computer Center's life, thousands of studentspassed through that white room, the most famous of whom was a gawky teenager named Bill Joy.
Joy came to the University of Michigan the year the Computer Center opened. He was sixteen. He was tall and very thin, with a mop of unruly hair. Fie had been voted "Most Studious Student" by his graduating class at North Farmington High School, outside Detroit, which, as he puts it, meant that he was a"no-date nerd." He had thought he might end up as biologist or a mathematician. But late in his freshman year, he stumbled across the Computer Center—and he was hooked. From that point on, the Computer Center was his life. He programmed whenever he could. Joy got a job with
a computer science professor so he could program over the summer. In 1975, he enrolled in graduate school at the University ofCalifornia at Berkeley. There, he buried himself even deeper in the world of computer software.
During the oral exams for his PhD, he made up a particularly complicated algorithm on the fly that, as one of his many admirers has written, "so stunned his examiners [that] one of them later compared the experience to 'Jesus
confounding his elders/ " Working in collaboration with a small group ofprogrammers, Joy took on the task of rewriting UNIX, which was a software system developed by AT&T for mainframe computers. Joy's version was very good. It was so good, in fact, that it became—and remains—the operating system on which literally millions of computers around the world run. "If you put your Mac in that funny mode where you can see the code," Joy says, "I see things that I remember typingin twenty-five years ago." And do you know who wrote much of the software that allows you to access the Internet? Bill Joy.
After graduating from Berkeley, Joy cofounded the Silicon Valley firm Sun Microsystems, which was one of the most critical players in the computer revolution. There he rewrote another computer language—Java—and his
legend grew still further. Among Silicon Valley insiders,Joy is spoken of with as much awe as someone like Bill Gates of Microsoft. He is sometimes called the Edison of the Internet. As the Yale computer scientist David Gelernter
says, "Bill Joy is one of the most influential people in the modern history of computing/' The story of Bill Joy's genius has been told many times,
and the lesson is always the same. Here was a world that was the purest ofmeritocracies. Computer programming didn't operate as an old-boy network, where you got ahead because of money or connections. It was a wide-open field in which all participants were judged solely on their talent and their accomplishments. It was a world where the best men won, and Joy was clearly one of those best men. It would be easier to accept that version of events, however, if we hadn't justlooked at hockey and soccer players. Theirs was supposed to be a pure meritocracy as well. Only it wasn't. It was a story of how the outliers in a particular field reached their lofty status through a combination of ability, opportunity, and utterly arbitrary advantage. Is it possible the same pattern of special opportunities operate in the real world as well? Let's go back over the story of...