The Second Programming Brain

3 min readSep 7, 2017


Do you have a plan when a key developer leaves the team? Do you have a freak out thinking what might break when said developer leaves? Let me get back to that question.

The other day I saw the following tweet from a developer that had an interesting conundrum about Googling programming questions:

LOL, but seriously, this is really a thing. One of our developers responded with “(Mental) buffer overflow”. Maybe you have your own witty remark to share (please do send my way).

A good friend of mine mentioned that he saves questions he looks up on Stack Overflow as bookmarks. He calls this browser bookmarks folder “My Second Brain”. It’s his institutional, one source of truth, knowledge store when his brain is too scrambled and frazzled to retrieve the information.

I have even started doing this. Here is my favorite one about Excel, the bane of my existence. I can never quite remember that formula for removing the white spaces from a block of cells.

This is exactly what my brain looks like…

The brain has a way of being selectively forgetful, almost like it is “too full”. The challenge is that we are processing so much more information these days, the brain has to adjust in order to handle the rate and volume of information. By one account, the amount of daily information absorbed by our minds is 34 Gb across all media. No wonder we tend to “forget” things.

This is where it’s helpful to have that “Second Brain”. In a similar manner, this is what having a trusted, reliable, and searchable knowledge repository can be for an internal developer team. No one has to ask “who do I ask” or “where do I go to find that”. You are no longer susceptible to the “walking knowledge” syndrome. The people may come and go from the team or company, but the tribal knowledge remains in one easy to find place.

You may not be able to ever fully replace top talent that does leave. It is also nearly impossible to convince developers to write full documentation. If you made it easy for your team to quickly jot down tidbits of knowledge in small increments though while doing their work however, you start to capture the most relevant knowledge in manageable chunks. That is how you build an institutional “Second Brain” and fill it continuously over time.

So do you have a plan when critical knowledge walks out the door? What is that transition and onboarding plan?

With supercomputers doing calculation in petaflops,
have we crossed the speed of Human Brain?

No worries, the singularity is not yet upon us…

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Thoughts on developers, digital transformation, startups, community building & engineering culture. Author is Mark Birch @ AWS 👉