Who is Bill Joy and why is he significant?

In a book published by Little, Brown & Company ten years ago, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell has this to say about Bill Joy:

“After graduating from Berkeley [with a PhD degree in computer programming], 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 further. Among Silicon Valley insiders…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 his genius “has been told many times, and the lesson is always the same. Here was a world that was the purest of meritocracies. 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 as clearly one of those best men”

And yet, there is more, much more to explaining Joy’s achievements than his intellect, exceptional as it may be. He also had almost unlimited access to the Computer Center when Joy attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate. Like all other outliers, Gladwell suggests, he reached his “lofty status through a combination of ability, opportunity, and utterly arbitrary advantage.”

Anders Ericsson and his research associates at Florida State University suggest that the combination also includes some degree of luck and highly disciplined (“deep”) practice under strict and expert supervision as well as access to other resources needed to accelerate development.

Long ago, Henry Ford acknowledged the importance of attitude: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.”

To learn more about Bill Joy, please click here.

To learn more about Malcolm Gladwell and his work, please click here.


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