Software Engineers, The Black Box, Idea People, and Business People

In Anathem, humans were grouped based on intellectual ability. There were "the avout," and there were "the Secular." The avout were the smarties and the Secular weren't as smart. Each avout had something called a sphere. A sphere could turn into, basically, anything under the Sun.

There are software engineers, idea people, and business people.

Software Engineers

  • Doers.
  • Usually good at solving problems.
  • Full of ideas, usually super technical.
  • Good ones aim to simplify problems and systematize approaches to potential solutions. Too technical for their own good sometimes.
  • "Analysis paralysis" can be used to describe a good chunk of them.
  • On the other hand, application is what they're about, so the paralysis isn't permanent although a hindrance. Might be bad at business because of this, though—the idea of being 'first to market' may conflict with their propensity to solve problems adequately. Good ones are thorough.

Idea People

  • Everyone.
  • Always has an idea for a new app.
  • FUCK. Stop mentioning "C-plus" throughout our conversation. No, I won't use "C-plus" to build your social network for people who like polka dot patterned trash bins. Sweet Jesus.
  • Application isn't what they're about. Won't test a damn thing, normally. Half-assed concepts are often the beats they bob their heads to.

Business People

The Black Box

I'd be lying to you if I told you that I don't have a problem with any of the people from the groups I described. In all real-shit honesty, I have a problem with everyone, and my perspective, although lacking an obvious source, is attributed to my hatred of extreme egos, noise and unfathomable expectations. Again, I don't know what the source of my irritation is and as I write this, I don't wish to pry into my reasoning. Seems unnecessary.

The black box is what I call the fictional process of bringing an idea into fruition.

When you're an engineer, you encounter said process whenever you tell a group of people what you do.

I wrote my first line of code at around 12. Before that, I became the person in the house who was bestowed the privilege of dealing with tech support whenever the computer broke—that was mostly because I used the family computer more than anyone else did.

Other people, those outside of my immediate family, learned that I did that sorta thing. Eventually, I was the kid who'd have to hear questions about a variety of computer issues at gatherings with friends, in school, etc. It's a common story among 'wiz kids', although I wouldn't flatter myself by calling myself a wiz kid other than within the context of the point I'm trying to get across here.

The average askers of computer questions have something in common: they all believe that someone who works with computers can resolve any tech issue under the Sun. To them, you, as the resident computer guy in their heraclitian house of technological chaos, ingest super abstract queries and will somehow provide them with a fix-all solution. What happens between the solution and the query is in the black box.

Conversations usually go a little somethin' like this:

Me: "I build software and software accessories."

Them: "So you build websites??! I have this idea for an app..."

Me: "Oh, sure. Let me go into my Black Box of Magic and pull that app out for ya."

Them: "Awesome. You do that. I'll go to sleep or send some email. You know, the business stuff."

Me: "Dope."

The Black Box holds lots of mysterious power I don't even know about yet.

Expectation's a Bitch

"Expectations is the place you must always go to before you get to where you're going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations, but my job is to hurry them along whether they like it or not." ~ "The Phantom Tollbooth," Norton Juster

People want things. When you can build things, people will expect you to build things for them. Period.

The problem with business people is that they almost always have something they want you to build, probably for free, and if they're paying you, they have lots of extremely unrealistic expectations you have to live up to as their personal builder of things.

The problem with idea people is that they're almost always vomiting their half-baked ideas during conversations with you. Somehow, most of them believe they know the solution to some problem a bunch of people have attempted to solve (but probably failed at) or a problem no one really considers a problem. Some idea people have actually alluded to some serious potential contributions to mankind (IMO), and I've been intrigued enough to start (even with my small amount of experience) helping them plan and build. Alas, the quintessential Le Penseur in them usually kicks in and more ideas take over, causing the preclusion of productivity.

There's no winning with either of them. Both the idea person and the business person expect the universe when, realistically, they can only get Europe. Nevertheless, there's benefit in encountering someone more the archetypal business person than idea person and vise versa. Those are oft at least somewhat practical.

"With great power..."

It may be appropriate of me to concede that my criticism is undue. If someone has a lot of money and I want to buy something I don't have enough money for, if I think I'm short on time, would I ask that person to teach me how they picked up that pile of cash? If I think I'm incapable of stacking as much cheddar as my counterpart does, will I decline the opportunity to ask the high roller for some of their dough?

I'm absolutely fortunate. I'm lucky enough to have been exposed to programming early on. It became a hobby and to some degree, I leveraged the hobby in order to secure a minor career doing something I appreciate doing. I didn't have to start developing my skills while fighting to manage responsibilities most adults are obligated to. I can only imagine trying to understand pointer arithmetic and the radix sort while working two jobs and a raising a kid. It's a nightmare many people live and I admire their ambition. I don't doubt that if I were in such a position, I'd suspend my pride and even my dignity in order to get ahead.

But, homie, I'm not your bitch; I can die tomorrow, and I have life goals, too. I'm a human being who wants to leave something behind, and if I'm building your shit, even if you're paying me, it's your shit, not mine, not something I feel I've personally contributed to mankind. Chill.

Whenever I'm at some business event, I shouldn't be afraid of saying what I do for money. I'm not a stripper and I don't sell drugs (although, I sold homework for some years).


At this point, there's a lot I can take from my experience as a budding software engineer:

The bad
  • I'm not actually a software engineer when I'm working for someone else. I'm just their code monkey.
  • I can't tell people what I do and what I'm interested in at certain functions, because then, almost always, I'll be looked at as if I'm a potential tool. No one's interested in being my friend after that. To them, I'm just a mule that's up for grabs.
The good
  • It's easy to live like a celebrity at my call whenever I'm at some function! I just have to say, "I develop software." Suddenly, I'm in Titty City—bitches flock, bro. I'm the shit, everyone wants my number. PARTY LIKE A ROCKSTAR! I'M ON A BOAT, MOTHAFUCKA!
  • I'll have a job. I can't be more grateful for that. Seriously. Do you know how many unemployed college grads I know? How many are aching to hear about a new, paying opportunity? You have to be a pure dumbass to think I would take a gripeless life over employment. Let's put it this way: We all have to eat. I know what it's like to want and can't as a result of having none. I can say that proudly and I had a great childhood with great parents who always managed to get me what I wanted.
  • I'm my own factory. I can build whatever I want as long as I put the time in. If I have an app idea, I don't necessarily have to find anyone to help me out. Might take me years to build and deploy as I try to juggle work and the project, but when it comes down to a raw need for tech chops, I can look within.

I'm really glad I got this off my chest.

I really, really miss you, Renee.


Software Engineer

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