Research Soundbites

A field’s spirit is conveyed by the words of its practitioners.

Eric ZhangApril 28, 2023

This is a growing collection of some of my favorite things said by people in fields that my work draws inspiration from.

Some of these quotes are public, and others are from my personal experiences. Please don’t quote anything directly from this page. It mainly exists for myself to remember the essence of something powerful that I’d like to embody.

Interaction Design

  • What is software for? People turn to software to learn, to create, and to communicate.” —Bret Victor
  • “I like this definition: A tool addresses human needs by amplifying human capabilities. That is, a tool converts what we can do into what we want to do. A great tool is designed to fit both sides.” —Bret Victor
  • “But if the programmers refuse to build it, it’s not going to exist. They are the final touch point and nexus of control between the power of the computing machines and the rest of the world.” —Maggie Appleton
  • “Glisp… adopts both benefits of intuitiveness of direct manipulation on GUI and abstractness of programming language.” —Baku Hashimoto
  • “For me, Groner’s work is interesting not because it allows one to naturally communicate text to a computer system, but because it allows humans to interface with the computer through the high-bandwidth medium of drawing.” —Jack Schaedler
  • “… generations of men and women have turned to writing and printing to house and share their deepest hopes, perceptions, dreams and fears. It is to them, not to the extortionist – nor to the opportunist or the profiteer – that the typographer must answer.” —Robert Bringhurst

Programming Languages

  • “To me, a PL researcher is someone who views the programming language as having a central place in solving computing problems.” —Michael Hicks
  • “… the Rust programming language is fundamentally about empowerment: no matter what kind of code you are writing now, Rust empowers you to reach farther, to program with confidence in a wider variety of domains than you did before.” —Niko Matsakis and Aaron Turon
  • “It’s not that software is cursed by being particularly hard to understand compared to other creative products of labour. It’s the absence of other barriers that allows programmers to create and create and create, until we have a thing with more moving parts than any physical device we could ever construct, and keep creating, until we can’t keep our own creation in our heads and get slowed down in a mire of complexity and run out of time.” —Jakob Nybo Nissen
  • “There’s great value in keeping a language small: it makes code much easier to read, write, and maintain, since there are fewer reasonable ways to accomplish a task.” —Sameer Ajmani
  • “My biggest complaint about System R is that the team never stopped to clean up SQL… All the annoying features of the language have endured to this day. SQL will be the COBOL of 2020…” —Michael Stonebraker
  • “C is not a low-level language. Your computer is not a fast PDP-11.” —David Chisnall
  • “Oops! Now C isn’t just a programming language, it’s a protocol.” —Aria Beingessner
  • “I guess what I really don’t like is that we’re making language design and engineering decisions today based on fear. Few people today have any subtle understanding of the problems and benefits of goto. Instead, we just think it’s ‘considered harmful.’ Personally, I’ve never found dogma a good starting place for quality creative work.” —Robert Nystrom
  • “The journey of discovering new languages, the excitement of exploring unfamiliar paradigms—for me, these moments, arcs, and emotions carried my passion for programming languages through the years moreso than abstract theory.” —Will Crichton


  • “Operating systems are some of the most complex software artifacts that exist.” —James Mickens
  • “… a very senior systems researcher told me that systems research is also no longer about operating systems, or even distributed systems, but about how to apply computing power to solving problems, and providing the proper abstractions to do so.” —Sean McDirmid
  • “Make it work, then make it pretty, then make it fast… Performance is about being thoughtful about the metrics that matter to us and allowing ourselves to be aware of them while making decisions.” —Tyler Neely
  • “When you’re fixing a systems issue, ask yourself: is your bottleneck compute, memory, or communication? All computer systems are limited by one of these three things. Measure if you don’t know. Every time I’ve done this, I’ve learned so much.” —James Mickens
  • “… I’m honestly not going to be very serious … I think programming should be fun, dang it! If you’re the type of person who wants maximally information-dense, serious, and formal content, this book is not for you. Nothing I will ever make is for you. You are wrong.” —Aria Beingessner
  • “Hardware changes all the time, so us systems designers have busy jobs. The really good systems are always balanced systems, where no resources are wasted.” —Minlan Yu
  • “When you’re reading a paper, you should think: Is it solving the problem today, or is it solving the problem in the future?” —Minlan Yu
  • “… the work we do, programming, did not start just in order to produce something useful. Initially it was mainly a matter of exploring possibilities … computers are about humans, and … it is not possible to reason in an aseptic way just thinking at the technological implications. There are people using systems, people building systems, and so forth.” —Salvatore Sanfilippo


  • “The best network is the network that disappears.” —Minlan Yu
  • “Given all of these new and exotic devices, how can we put them together in the best way to achieve a computation goal?” —Minlan Yu
  • “Technology ecosystems are often shaped by their origins. … every successful technology revolution must make the perilous passage from the seemingly impossible to the obviously inevitable.” —Sky Computing
  • “The magic moment of small trusted networks and care-free programs does not need be relegated to memory. With enough work, we can bend technology to recreate the magic.” —David Crawshaw

Classical Music

  • “Our goal in this class is to have fun and enjoy the process of making music together, as equals, and grow while learning about each other. Everything else is just logistics.” —Parker Quartet
  • “Try to listen more, individually lead with confidence, and play out of each other’s instruments.” —Jessica Bodner
  • “Never trust the judgment of contemporaries… You cannot be at the same time both banal and original.” —John Hamilton
  • “Sartre said, ‘Man is condemned to be free.’ Freedom is worrying when it eats at your connections with others.” —John Hamilton
  • “A composer’s work does not always reflect their mood. For example, consider Beethoven’s Second Symphony. Despite the despair permeating Mahler’s Sixth, it was perhaps written during the happiest time of his life.” —Federico Cortese
  • “His is a vision of music as narrative, as a journey toward resolution and a demonstration of the strength of the human spirit. We understand Beethoven because he recognizes so much of our experience of the world and then tells us that we can survive in that world and find our rightful place solidly within it.” —Mark Steinberg


  • “How is meaning made from still images? How can one make pictures speak? Spend the next few days with your camera. It’s your responsibility to be curious about it since it’s what you will be using to create your work. Never apologize for too many pictures. Read your pictures like tarot cards. Sometimes they’ll tell you more about your inner feelings than even your therapist could.” —Dawn Kim
  • “Yeah you’ve used that term a lot. Which term? ‘Become,’ and I think that is so important to your power, as an editor, making things become by arrangement and sequence.” —Lester Rosso
  • “The instant of photographing, instead of creating distance, is a moment of clarity and emotional connection for me. … My desire is to preserve the sense of people’s lives, to endow them with the strength and beauty I see in them. I want the people in my pictures to stare back. I want to show exactly what the world looks like, without glamorization, without glorification.” —Nan Goldin
  • “Work builds on itself and grows over time. You need to talk through your work with friends, getting feedback and support. Go through the inevitable crises, thinking your work is terrible, and build on the criticism. You can’t just drop it in a gallery right away.” —Sadie Cook