Sunday, June 28, 2009

The World Is Flat

Some professions are satisfying and some are not. What is it that differentiates a satisfying profession and dissatisfying profession? Simple. The end result. If you sweat out for for days together, you want to see the end result and the end result should make you happy, should inform you that what you did, the hours you sweat all those days were really worth it.

A doctor would like to see a patient walking out of the hospital free from pain with which he was writhing when he entered the hospital. A teacher would like to see his disciples doing well in life. A mechanic would like to see the problem in the vehicle solved. An editor would like his readers to enjoy the publication. A retired civil engineer would like to stand and admire his bridge after years of designing and construction. An architect would like to appreciate the beauty of the construction he just completed. A driver would like to deposit his passengers from station A to station B on time and safely. A chef needs to see the patrons enjoying his recipe.

In most professions, the end result is directly visible. Its almost physically visible, like the bridge, the taste of the food, the cured patient, the beauty of the building, the article in the newspaper, etc. Outputs of some professions are meta physical. Its not really there, yet its there.

The professions with meta physical end results can be generally classified as dissatisfying professions. Basically its because the end result is not seen, and if seen, is not enjoyed, or even if enjoyed, cannot be enjoyed as one’s own creation because there were so many participants involved.

Lets say, someone comes to you and charts out a problem. You think about the problem and provide a solution. The solution works, the customer is happy. This gives joy to you. The profession as such gives joy to you.

Lets say now, some group of people, say GOP, go to someone else, say SE1, and tell a problem. SE1 discusses pros and cons and whats in scope and whats out of scope with GOP. SE1 then breaks down the architecture into different modules and goes to groups of someone elses SE2, SE3, SE4 and assigns tasks to each sub group. Lets say you are a part of SE4 group and your task is this and that. You do this and that. A number of people in SE4 also do their parts, and the number of people in each of the sub groups do their parts and finally, its one whole nice part that integrates perfectly. SE1 reviews this final part with GOP and GOP likes it and starts using it and the work for GOP has become a little bit easier.

You, being a part of SE4, never saw GOP. Never saw GOP using the small module that you created. Never saw the GOP’s smiling faces as GOP’s trouble got solved. Never realized that GOP’s life became easier. You perhaps just got impersonal mail stating ‘Thanks for a wonderful job!’ that meant nothing to you. Somewhere, that happiness didn’t flow down to you, and you felt you just did what was asked of you and you are not even sure if its being used or not and to what it was worth. Worse, you are out of that project and put in some other project midway during project execution, and here you are doing something else.

This happens in many professions. Nothing can be done about it. That’s how the system works. That’s why there are so many people cribbing about their professions. Me, included.

I am in software engineering profession. The profession involving computers. I am just a guy in that SE4 or some such sub-sub-group who don’t end up seeing the folks using the end result which I created. Who didn’t see the trouble suffered by the users in the first place, nor did see the solution being implemented.

That’s why open source and freelancing is so popular in computers. If someone has a problem and poses a problem, there will be innumerous people wanting to help. Come to think of it, many a time, people have come to me asking for help in computers like writing a small program, designing an excel spreadsheet with multiple requirements. When I get down to it and give this final result to the person who asked, after working on it for hours together, I feel happy because someone wants to use it, someone is happy to use it, because I made someone’s life easier and happier. This gives me joy. This gives joy to the freelancer.

Technology has bridged the continents and made this world a smaller place. A person in India codes a software program that interacts with a hardware device written in China and the whole thing is integrated in America to be used in Australia. Who’s happy, who’s smiling, who’s trouble is solved, we will never get to know.

I have never read it but I guess this is what Thomas Friedman meant when he said ‘The World is Flat’: Putting a piece of electronic information in a digital file across the globe whose real result you will never see but assume that it has made life for someone a little bit easier.

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