inspiration Programming Reflections

Artisan or Technician?

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My friend Maggie and I were discussing the way compsci’s approach their career. Those who take the artisan track ask “What inspires me? What do I want to create?”; they evaluate their career in terms of the difference (and things) they make. Those who take the technician track say “I’ve checked these boxes and now I will be a manager/senior architect”; they evaluate their career in terms of title and salary.

Given that my website is entitled “Created by Cate” and the fact that I give talks about “Art, Life and Programming” it is clear I’m of the artisan bent. In fact, a prof when I was in 4th year described himself as a “software artiste” and that is what I’ve aspired to be ever since.

When I think about what I want to do next, it’s all about what’s inspiring to me and what I want to create. What change I aspire to make in the world. What I’ll jump out of bed in the morning excited to be a part of.

After my interview at Google went well, someone told me that I would earn more at IBM. Honestly, I looked at them in surprise – I have no idea whether it’s true or not, but to me it’s completely irrelevant. I’ll earn more than enough as a software engineer, and whilst there is surely a debate about where it’s most amazing to work – to me it’s one of culture, projects, passion, commitment to diversity and work-life balance. Not of money.

Technicians can be bought. Not so much artisans – we need to be ignited instead.

The world – companies – projects – teams – need both. It seems like technicians will keep things ticking along, whereas artisans will be more unpredictable.

However it seems like work and life as an artisan is way more fun. What do you think?

5 replies on “Artisan or Technician?”

You'd probably make more money at Google, actually, and there's something to be said about free meals. 😉 You're right, though: after a certain point, money is irrelevant.

In terms of culture, projects, passion, commitment to diversity and work-life balance, I can tell you I've heard a lot of people tell me that's what they love about working at IBM. It's not universal–I've heard from people who've hated the long weeks they find themselves working on projects they don't love–but it does happen, and it's widespread.

I love the fact that there are people who've been with IBM for decades, and that I'm surrounded by role models who have rich professional lives and who are clearly involved with their families. I love the fact that you can practically pick any field, any science, any art, and there are probably many IBMers who are deeply passionate about it. I love the ability to work pretty much anywhere and feel really connected with people all over the world. I love the scale and breadth of the challenges we work on. I love the variety of opportunities within IBM and the wealth of learning resources.

One of the things I love about IBM is that you can create so many things that cross the borders of “typical IT.” In the past three years I've been at IBM, I've built a website to help IBMers transition into careers in teaching or the public sector; facilitated and scaled up virtual discussions focused on helping clients innovate; participated in workshops for executives of anchor clients; built a microsite platform using Drupal, learning enough along the way to share tips at Drupalcon; created community tools that are getting people excited about new ways we can use Lotus Connections; participated in research studies that might change the way we work; collaborated with people all across IBM and outside…

I'm not the only person who's done something this. I regularly come across other boundary-spanners, too. =) I suspect you're going to be one of them, and it will be awesome.

Google has a great reputation, and it's well-deserved. It would be fun to explore that. Both companies have their share of artisans and technicians. IBM is big. Parts of it are more technician-y than others. But when you find or make your artisan role, it's exciting to use IBM as a lever for changing the world… =)

(Caveat: Like in all companies, you may have to deal with or adapt to things outside your control. Resource actions, changes of direction, etc.)

Whichever company you pick, you can probably do awesome things. Just wanted to share that there are plenty of artisans in IBM, too! =)

Thanks Sacha! Your help in navigating IBM was much appreciated, and you’re totally right about the artisans – I met some! 🙂 The boundary-crossing is where the best excitement is, IMO, and that’s definitely where I would want to be as well.

Hello again!

I think the idea that work can be fun and excite you is a relatively new concept for most industries; there was probably far less emphasis on enjoying your work in our grandparents' time, and work was simply something you did during the day so you could bring home the bread and have fun spending time with your family or friends or down the pub.

So I guess technicians would argue that the more money they earn, the more fun they can have outside of work while artisans would argue that they're just having enough fun at work that they don't need to compensate for it outside of work.

Anyway, you know which one I've chosen. 🙂

“So I guess technicians would argue that the more money they earn, the more fun they can have outside of work while artisans would argue that they’re just having enough fun at work that they don’t need to compensate for it outside of work.”

That’s really perceptive 🙂 I agree!

Following up on the probability that you'd rock at both places, here are some good things that the book “The 2020 Workplace” (Meister and Willyerd) say about Google:

… at Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin set out to create a company where they would enjoy spending time. In other words, they aimed to create an environment that has the feel of graduate school, complete with small work groups, lots of experimentation, vigorous feedback loops, and the freedom to devote 20 percent of one's time to noncore initiatives. In this way, Google continually develops new products while also being known as a place where innovation can be everyone's passon.

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