The Case for Working With Your Hands – NYTimes.com
Some diagnostic situations contain a lot of variables. Any given symptom may have several possible causes, and further, these causes may interact with one another and therefore be difficult to isolate. In deciding how to proceed, there often comes a point where you have to step back and get a larger gestalt. Have a cigarette and walk around the lift. The gap between theory and practice stretches out in front of you, and this is where it gets interesting. What you need now is the kind of judgment that arises only from experience; hunches rather than rules. For me, at least, there is more real thinking going on in the bike shop than there was in the think tank.
Although I like this article, and understand the source of Mr. Crawford’s frustration with corporate culture, I have to take some exception with the categorization of all “knowledge work” as less honest than trade work. The quote above, for example, could just as easily apply to software as motorcycles.
I’ve spent the last several weeks at work completely refactoring a major aspect of our application because we had finally reached the end of the long blind alley the existing design lead us to follow (it lasted us 7 years, so it was more like a blind turnpike). As I worked my way back out onto the main road and found the right direction to take, I broke and re-fixed several ancillary features, wandered off path myself a few times, and spent a lot of time pondering the variables involved and how they interact.
The resulting design is proving to be more malleable and simpler to test, and as a result of both of those aspects it is vastly easier to maintain. That’s a big win for us, since even though I didn’t add any customer-visible features to it in this release, by making the code easier to modify I was able to find and fix a major race condition. The redesign also lays the groundwork for future planned enhancements.
That’s all by way of saying that working with your hands is honorable, but so can be working with your mind. Just because companies like the abstracting service described in the article do a half-assed job of their work, that doesn’t automatically mean all companies do.