Beating The Human Wave Strategy In The Geek Trades

The seemingly insatiable demand for geekery creates a marketplace with many opportunities, but also many powerful distortions.

Among them, the one that seems most puzzling to me is the trade’s notable disregard for the urgency of enculturating the "makers making" upon whom the entire business proposition rests.

Successful geekery requires individual humans using individual judgment. That judgment is backed by a number of factors, two of which seem predominant: the range of experience of the judge, and the community in which the judgment takes place.

Yet very few software development companies seem to invest heavily in either factor. They don’t build community, and they make few attempts at accelerating and varying the accretion of experience. To the extent some few provide experience, they do it through force-feeding purely technical "training" classes. They strive to replace community w/rule-making and metric-mongering.

At bottom, they seem to believe that the binding curve for software development is centered around the developer’s ability to memorize syntax. This ability — the faculty for absorbing in advance what simple rigidly structured text will do when it’s run on the computer — this is actually an entry hurdle, not a predictor or controller for overall success. In logic terms, being able to parse structured text is necessary to successful geekery, but not remotely sufficient to it.

One way i’m fond of seeing professional geekery is as an ongoing incremental and iterative series of acts of translation. Geeks translate the fluid, analogical, idiomatic, and ever-shifting language of humans, into the simple, rigid, non-reactive language of the turing machine.

A translator must certainly grasp the syntax of the source and destination languages, without question. That is a necessary condition for successful translation. But it’s not enough. Actual translation requires far more than this. Successful translation depends heavily on exactly the two factors I just mentioned, the range of the translator’s experience, and the community in, of, and around the source and the destination.

The trade spends its extraordinary wealth building an ever-larger population of people who can more or less do syntax, instead of bringing those who pass that entry hurdle what they’d need to become great translators: experience & community. This human wave strategy, sending directly into action as many people as we can find who can get over the entry hurdle, counting on time alone to winnow the field of candidates, and hoping strong individuals will "naturally" rise to excellence, is doing a great deal of damage.

We can beat this approach the same way one usually beats it: by taking a smaller number of people, providing them a far wider range of experience, and supporting the formation of communities in which they can do excellent translation.

I believe we can do better. I am actively seeking organizations that agree with me and want assistance, support, and guidance in their efforts.

I am easy to reach. I’m this twitter handle at this twitter handle dot org.

Please get in touch.

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