Reflecting on my hash table post

My blog post on hash tables was shared 400 times, had 12,000 views in one day, and 28,000 views in the month it was published. There were long threads on reddit and Hacker News.

The sentiment is more negative than positive – folks pointing out that the article was obvious, picking apart one or more points, or stating I don’t know what I’m doing. There are valid points. There are incorrect points too.

This blog went relatively crazy last October. The cause was my post on hash tables.

This blog went relatively crazy last October. The cause was my post on hash tables.

When I speak to people, the sentiment is mostly positive. They thank me for explaining something they’ve long forgotten, and asking them to think before they use a library function.

I enjoy writing simple, accessible posts: my first book sold over 100,000 copies because I wrote plainly in an accessible way. That’s always how I’ve taught too: by explaining through analogy or in simple terms concepts that are complex. I’m just not the guy to explain concepts using math or who’ll offer the shortest, densest, most information-rich explanations.

I agree that my hash table post paints a simplified picture for the average reader. Yes, that makes it problematic at the edges. For example, you’d want to be careful of a hash table’s worst-case complexity in a mission critical or cryptography application. Yes, there are hash functions that distribute string keys better —  this one is reasonable, and I said it was fast. There are other valid points too.

Here’s where I was coming from: Are most developers using a library hash function without thinking about it? I think so. Will reading my article help them think and make better choices? I hope so. That’s the intended audience. No apologies from me — I’ll stir up more trouble soon with a post on how trees work.

See you next week.

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