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Diploma problems, toothbrushing problems, and Russian Dolls

Some problems are like getting a diploma: you work at it for a while, and then you’re done forever. Learning how to ride a bike is a classic diploma problem.

But most problems aren’t like that. They’re more like toothbrushing problems: you have to work at them forever until you die. You can’t, as far as I know, just brush your teeth really really well and then let ‘em ride forever.

Adam Mastroianni – Experimental History – So you wanna de-bog yourself


  • Diploma problems are, in fact, time-limited tooth-brushing problems…
  • …but their relatively short time spans mean that it’s (more) possible to get away with the “last minute deep-clean before visiting the dentist” approach.
  • One danger of the diploma mindset is a concern with appearance of mastery over mastery: “I need to look like I know this to pass the exam.”
  • Another is a kind of short-termism created by repeatedly abandoning one’s technical or organisational debt (read: poor admin and chaos) on “graduation”.


Brush your teeth.

(The rest of the article is worth a read too.)

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