Creative Engineers + Etc
I’m finally revisiting some older notes I took for this blog. Here are some of them.
This podcast really resonated with me. The audio quality has issues in the first half, so if you listen, just scrub ahead; you won’t miss the good parts.
I view technical folks–engineers–in a lot of ways. One view of that resource on the team is it is the most expensive thing in the room, bar none. Often more expensive than the executive leadership team. So you have to be very careful about who you assemble and rally to be on that team. A lot of care goes into ensuring technical capability and creative skill and creative capability around the approach to solving problems and approach to solving issues in the software. A lot care. That’s typical. We all put care into how we’re building the team. Once that starts to congeal, the challenge then becomes deployment of that resource. Because it’s the most expensive thing in the room. If you screw up the understanding of what it’s trying to build, you are wasting some untold sums of money. Startups die every day because of this problem. There is an intense focus on ensuring the right degree of definition and what the company wants to build. Such that these expensive resources that you’ve pulled together on your team can apply their technical capability as well as their creativity to solving the problem.
If you’re too overbearing with definition as a leader or product manager or what have you–whoever is defining the “what”–you are quelching this resource. This very expensive resource. Some startups take that route. They believe the leadership or the product leaders in the company believe they know exactly what they want to build, and then they go hire engineers that lack creativity. An engineer that lacks creativity is relatively inexpensive. You can save budget by hiring “cheaper engineers,” but you lose that critical component of creativity that blends technical skill and capability with exploration of the product you are trying to build.
I’d been traveling for work in the beginning of the summer, and then spending some time with my new boyfriend, Benjamin, who’s Canadian, so we were exploring the West coast of Canada. And I got a text message from my neighbor saying there’s this postcard, this random postcard. She’s like, “We’re looking at it, and it seems like it could be something really important, but it’s also really strange.” And it was, indeed, very strange.
I have always tried to avoid looking at productivity that way, and what we do in developing software products is sort of this interesting intersection between engineering and art. So if you look at it as a little bit more of an artistic endevour you say “Wow, I’ve created something kind of beautiful, let’s not get too hung up on how useful it is.”
You can get to a certain point if you treat a software engineer or a QA engineer or a technical writer as a reusable component. You can get to a certain point if you apply rigid standards to how a product is specified and documented and coded. We’ve seen a lot of this with the outsourcing that happened in the 90’s and early 2000’s where these big software companies would say, “Let’s industrialize the process of making these products. Let’s specify them so thoroughly that we can hand [some parts of] the engineering to a team in India and hand other parts of the engineering to a team in California and then…we’ve got people working on this 24 hours a day.” And as we’ve seen, you can get pretty far with that, and you can develop good products and you can develop complicated products. But I think what happens when you industrialize that process is you lose a lot of fluidity, you lose a lot of creativity; you take away, in my view, a lot of opportunity for the people who conceived the product to influence it, to rapidly move in a new direction when necessary.
…and our left hemisphere thinks in language. It’s that ongoing brain chatter that connects me and my internal world to my external world. It’s that little voice that says to me “Hey, you gotta remember to pick up bananas on your way home, I need ‘em in the morning.” But perhaps the most important, it’s that little voice that says to me “I am. I AM.” And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me “I am,” I become separate, I become a single, solid individual, separate from the energy flow around me, and separate from you. This was the portion of my brain that I lost on the morning of my stroke.
When I lost that language, I became detached from my job and the stress related to that, or my relationships in the external world and my stress related with any of that. When all that was gone, I was left with the experience of the present moment.