What is art? [Was Re: Hello 2015]

Gary Lawrence Murphy garym@canada.com
05 Mar 2002 11:39:00 -0500

>>>>> "E" == Eugene Leitl <Eugene.Leitl@lrz.uni-muenchen.de> writes:

    >> .. boom. You bring in a specialist to solve your problems and
    >> send them on their way, saves you 10k or so just in hiring
    >> costs due to government overhead.

    E> I'd rather welcome war stories from people here who're at
    E> similiar crossroad in their professional career.

I hit those crossroads in 1985. Although I occasionally wandered back
across the cubicle line, these were only fleeting and universally 
were Bad Moves.  Billy, don't be a hero.

Curiously, I started out as a specialist: While all my contemporaries
would write any-purpose code for a variety of hardware, I only did
CP/M structured programming for financial apps.  Oh, I knew Cobol and
Fortran all right, but I didn't relish the environment where 90% of
the jobs sat.  CP/M was young, innovative, you could sit on the floor
if you liked, never wear a tie (or even shoes), and the hardware was
sleek and funky coloured.

   What I didn't know then was that, where you find 97 jobs posted,
   90% of them are suicide missions, and of the 9.7 jobs left, the
   environment would be so cool that even VAX Cobol could be fun.
   Live and learn.

Anyway, what I discovered, being a de-jobbed entrepreneurial
free-agent, was that you don't stay a specialist for very long.  There
are two forces at work: The clients' demand ever broadening skills,
and no two clients want the same mix.  As a result, exposure to an
ever wider range of clients brings ever most generalist knowledge and
experience, which makes the free-agent more useful to more clients,
who demand more branching into even more different skills ...  like a
coatrack nailed to the floor it's a trap. (that DuChamp ref is for the
"is it art?" thread ;)

The Specialist can only exist inside an Accenture where the company
can provide a "team" to their customer.  In a cloistered
cathedral-model consultancy, it's important to keep you narrowcasted
so you don't start asking questions, so you don't see how the
whole-systems pieces don't fit, and so you don't get digusted and go
get de-jobbed, so you and your buddies don't pack up and go do a
better job on your own.  All the perks are there for a reason: I don't
want to draw any conclusions, but "retension" is a word very often
paired with "anal".

It is mythinformation to believe that any businesses in the business
of staying in business will "bring in a specialist" to solve narrow
problems.  They don't.  Businesses hate writing cheques, so they take
the path of least cheque-writing: If the job is large and complex,
they look for an Accenture that can cover all the bases, otherwise
they look for the entrepreneural _generalist_ who can cover many small
bases, or many bases quasi-well ("good enough for jazz").  

Even where they hire several free-agent entrepreneurs, the client will
build in redundancy by seeking overlapping skills.  I may bring
performance webserver design, some basic rdbms dba skills and the
servlet development process, another may know unix server performance
tuning and collaborative java development tools, and a third may be a
certified dba with a unix sysadmin brother -- if there is a crisis in
the system, any one of us can at least make sense of the other's work
and offer a work-around.  Like watching a Clapton guitar solo, I
probably wouldn't have thought of the DBA's or the sysadmin's solution
on my first try, but once I see it done, I understand it _because_
I've fallen into the generalist mill.  The same is true for a caching
technique I might use when seen by the sysadmins or the dba.

This was not the case when I lived in a specialist environment.  There
the domain of each "honoured" specialist was kept arcane, part
self-perpetuated as job protection, part org-inflicted as payment to
keep them from looking outside their cubicle.  Every true genius
expert I have ever met, in or out of cubicle land, may have had their
pet domain, but they _understood_ _everything_ about all the other
components of the project, they were anything but a specialist.

Gary Lawrence Murphy <garym@teledyn.com> TeleDynamics Communications Inc
Business Innovations Through Open Source Systems: http://www.teledyn.com
"Computers are useless.  They can only give you answers."(Pablo Picasso)