Typical Y Combinator Interview Questions says:

Where is the rocket science here?

The question might be simple for Americans, but I am outside USA, and I haven't found a reliable answer. I need clarification because I plan to translate it into Chinese for knowledge-sharing.

I guess from posts containing rocket science that it may mean silver bullet (a term used in saying "no silver bullet" from a book named The Mythical Man-Month).

Can I say that rocket science means something over-complicated that still makes people feel like it's magical, although it is a step-by-step science?

Note: one commenter has pointed out that "silver bullet" is not "a complicated implementation". so my guess is misleading.

  • It just means there's nothing complicated about it. Or in the words of George Bush, it's not exactly "rocket surgery". – Soulz May 30 '13 at 10:09
  • 2
    @ PIM Geek: In case you didn't realise, a silver bullet (or magic bullet) doesn't particularly imply anything complicated. Rather the opposite, in fact, since it's usually used in hypothetical contexts where the hoped-for solution would be easily implemented, if it did in fact exist. – FumbleFingers May 30 '13 at 16:07
  • Thanks, if you didn't mention it, I would still keep that misconception in mind... – pimgeek May 30 '13 at 16:25

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when ballistic missile design was the cutting edge of military technology, and first the 'missile gap' and subsequently the 'space race' commanded national attention, the 'rocket scientist' was a cultural icon in the US.

            enter image description here

(Never mind that the creative imaginations in the missile and moon programs were mostly engineers rather than scientists; to the public they were all 'scientists', heirs to the team which produced the atomic bomb.)

'Rocket science' came to symbolize arcane mathematical and technological understanding.

Rocket science itself has faded into the background these days; but it has left behind the fixed phrase             

            enter image description here

meaning "X does not require specialist knowledge; anybody can understand the principles and perform the necessary actions".

"Where's the rocket science?", then, means in this context "What technological or methodological breakthrough have you achieved which will distinguish you in the marketplace from your competitors? What have you got that they ain't got?"

  • 1
    I cannot imagine a more impressive answer, thanks! – pimgeek May 30 '13 at 14:54
  • 1
    When I was in the Air Force, a friend of mine told me that when he was working on the jet-assisted take-off units for the B-1 bomber, they ran into some technical problems, and in exasperation he said, "Come on guys, this isn't rocket science!" One of his co-workers replied, "Well actually, it is." – Jay May 30 '13 at 15:37
  • 1
    @Jay My late father-in-law (who was the guy responsible for getting the astronauts down safely into the water) would have said "No it isn't. It's rocket engineering, which is just as hard and also has to work." – StoneyB May 30 '13 at 16:48
  • 4
    In this context, "rocket science," "nuclear physics," and "brain surgery" are more or less synonymous. – Tom Au May 30 '13 at 22:24
  • 1
    @Tom: Spot on. Really, any complex field that might (a) intimidate the layman, and (b) require a rather extensive education to master would suffice. We've named some of the common ones here, but there's no reason someone couldn't use, say "quantum mechanics" or "differential equations" or even "it's not like making a soufflé." – J.R. May 31 '13 at 17:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.