If you watch wildlife documentaries, you’ve probably seen pronking, or stotting—the strange four-legged jump that gazelles do:
Pronking is Afrikaans for “showing off,” and that’s certainly part of what’s going on, but it’s not quite as simple as that. Gazelles don’t only pronk to show off—they also pronk when they’re being chased by a predator. I always assumed that this was about evading the predator by being unpredictable, but it turns out that there’s a rather surprising alternative explanation.
Pronking slows the animal down and uses up energy that (you might think) would be better spent running away. But it works—animals that pronk are less likely to be caught than those that don’t. So what’s going on?
The theory is that pronking is a way for a gazelle to demonstrate that it’s fit. “Don’t bother chasing me—I’ll be too difficult to catch. Chase my cousin over there, the one with the limp—he’ll be much easier to catch.”
Pronking works because it’s expensive. If every gazelle could pronk, predators would pay no attention. But only fit gazelles can, so it’s an honest signal.
So what does this have to do with programmers? Too many pizzas and donuts mean that quite a few of us won’t be able to literally pronk, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it in our own way…
I think that we pronk when we contribute to open source.
There are lots of reasons to contribute to open source. It’s a great way to improve the tools we all rely on, give back to the community, and learn new skills. But, let’s be honest, it’s also a great way to show off and demonstrate our fitness.
And it works—when I find myself sifting through a pile of CVs, evidence of significant open source contributions is virtually guaranteed to make sure a CV doesn’t find itself on the “rejects” pile. And like pronking, it works because it’s expensive—the time and effort required is concrete evidence that the candidate cares about their craft.
So if you can pronk, perhaps you should?