“Okay, but…if you had to choose between calling yourself a designer or calling yourself an engineer, which would you choose?”
Specialists and Generalists
I have often needed a specialist to do a specific task for me. This is normal. Specialists have a role in the economy and one could argue (along with Adam Smith) that specialization is the very basis of economy.
But too much specialization comes at a cost to innovative tech companies…and to creative individuals. Especially now, and increasingly – into the future…
Here’s an article in the Harvard Business Review on that topic:
Nourishing My Inner Bucky
Interviewers have often asked me how I rank myself in terms of software engineering skill. As if there were a one-dimensional yardstick upon which all engineers can place themselves.
When one is evaluated with a one-dimensional yardstick, one usually ends up with a low grade.
For the same reason that there are multiple dimensions to intelligence, why not use more than one yardstick to evaluate an engineer?
The space that lies between all these one-dimensional yardsticks yields great connective knowledge. This is the domain of the COMPREHENSIVIST.
I lament the boxiness of the standard company recruiting process – even within companies that claim to employ people who think outside the box (like Google). Here’s a Google employee admitting to their deplorable interview process); “Pablo writes that his best skill is product design, but that his Google recruiters only showed interest in his ability to code.”
We hear of how generalists and right-brain thinkers are in such demand these days.
Bullshit. When it comes to finding employment in companies, we are still confronted with an array of boxes, and we are still expected to show how well we fit into (one) of them. Consider Linked-In.
My Linked-In profile has the following as my “industry”:
Why did I choose Shipbuilding? LinkedIn REQUIRES that I choose ONLY ONE of the industries from its list, and it DOES NOT allow me to choose more than one industry. Shipbuilding was the furthest thing I could find from what I do. Instead of trying to use a single box to characterize myself, I prefer to go in the opposite direction.
Linked-In = Boxed-In
Now I want to say a few things about being an older person who has faced difficulty fitting into the workforce.
We Are All Multi-Dimensional – Increasingly as we Age
Experienced (i.e., older) programmer/innovator/designers should be contributing more of those intangibles to the tech industry that Google is so bad at seeking out.
The tech industry has a fundamental problem: software plays an increasing role in people’s lives. The world’s population is aging. Young engineers who know the latest buzzwords of the last five years are hired quickly and eagerly. An aging population tries to keep up with fast-changing software interfaces. And more and more of this aging population consists of software engineers who have something the young programmers don’t have: wisdom, experience, perspective.
We are exactly what Silicon Valley needs.
No one in particular is to blame for ageism in high-tech startups. The problem does not stem from any particular favoritism of young people: it is due to the short-sightedness of the tech industry, and the emphasis on the quick-thinking, risk-taking attributes associated with youth.
People who are professionally multi-dimensional should play a key role in human-centered software design. The cultural divide, identified by C. P. Snow in 1959, is still with us. Boxes breed boxes. That’s why we’re in the box we’re in.