Friday, September 13, 2019

Purists, Makers and Managers

this article is inspired by the book Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham


Whenever I hear the word Purists, I imagine John Nash working hard on his dorm room window sill or Ramanujan relentlessly scribbling on his notepad outside his scabby hut in Erode. I study in a pure science branch and the majority of interested folks tend to have a huge admiration towards the intellectual capital. Often academia and pure science seem to be filled with folks who enjoy making interrogative intonation in declarative sentences. (Usually more associated with pride rather than brutish objectivity.)

These self-acclaimed purists are often called upon by the world to solve the most difficult problems of humanity, mostly of the order of magnitude of "Cure Cancer" or "Solve the Energy Crisis" which is extremely hard to accomplish. Even to measure a significant increment of any sort of metric that has been implemented to measure growth, it takes weeks.

This is why all the programs that have been created to cater to purists are in the magnitude of >=4 years or forever. The ambiguity in the career charts is often high and most likely everyone who is purist is pursuing one or other derivative of in-depth problem-solving. The skewed timeline and sheer ambiguity are because of the fact that struggles are internal and thus the conflict is that person's own obtuseness rather than external.


This is the group of people I feel I natively belong to. They are scrappy folks who are able to mess around enough to put things together. And build beautiful things. These people mostly learn by examples (natively known as demos). I have learned how to code from online youtube videos, and from other people's open-source code (this is nothing exclusive, <90% hackers learn like this). A maker/hacker schedule often is measured in days instead of weeks.

They have to be relentlessly resourceful in order to accomplish the tasks that they intend to. A majority of hackers I know want to fit into the narrative of purists, and this is often reflected in how they describe their work. Often at hackathons, I have heard people say that they are working on “AI text to the speech-based neurological transmitter for blind people using haptic interventions” when what they mean is “Navigation Guidance Assistant for the Blind”. It seems there is an outcry to talk about their problem in a much more complex form, (I call this problem project work insecurity). They want to prove that what they are doing is really complex and a difficult task to accomplish when most of the time it is not. Also, any maker/hacker project would make for a really bad research paper/dissertation. There is zero correlation between a good research paper and a useful product (or at least should be so). A much better environment of makers/hackers is startup co-working spaces and hacker houses.


We are all managers in some aspects of our lives. We are managers for the worker that comes to clean our room, the mess worker that serves us food, laundry person that washes our clothes or just anyone that we directly/indirectly hire to do our jobs for us. A purists/hacker hates communication but a manager loves it. Most of the work of a Manager can be divided into hour slots (work gets completed in minutes) and growth trajectory is much more gamified as compared to that of the other two. Managers are basically the power of command. For someone who is purists/maker, to shift to being a manager would often mean that they have ruined their slot of work. This is the reason why some of the best scientists and innovators are absent-minded about many of the regular things that go around them. They do not want to be managers. Any purists or makers trying to manage things often break the continuity streak that is much needed for growth in above and in a world that is filled up with huge amounts of distraction it is very easy to kill off morale. In order to be a better manager, you simply need to manage less and less and do more of any of the above.