Why Performance Matters

10 Apr 2008

I just watched this presentation on git* by Linus Torvalds. The highlight for me:

“A lot of people seem to think that performance is about doing the same thing just doing it faster and that’s not true. That’s not what performance is all about. If you can do something really really fast, really well, people start using it different.”

The thing that matters most about performance isn’t the time saved by doing the same thing faster it is the resulting change in behavior. If I did took me 3 minutes to do and I did it a few times a day I might not think to automate it and or optimize it so that it took 1 second. What would that save me? 6-9 minutes every day? Insignificant.

What might happen is that instead of doing this 3 minute task 3 times per day, I might decide to do it more. In the days of dial up how long would it take to check your email? 5 minutes? How often do you check your email today? My mail program is open all day and continuously checking.

I’m not trying to suggest that there is a correlation between well being and the number of times we check our email per day. I know there are people out there that spend time in amazingly complicated spreadsheets. You know them too: the need-to-upgrade-to-Office-2007-because-they- ran-out-of-room people. Spreadsheets are fine tools but if I could build a tool that would allow you to manage your monthly monster-spreadsheet task in minutes instead of hours you might do that task more often. You might do that task better. You might be more thourough. You might be more creative. You might be more gasp productive.


*Git is a source control management system which is used by the Linux kernel team and is quickly gaining a lot of popularity.