"Garbagemen make the world go round. Without them, we would drown in our own filth"
"Nannies make the world go round. Without them, half the workforce would be stuck at home"
"Auto mechanics make the world go round. Without them, we would have no way of getting places"
Ultimately, all such arguments are inane and pointless because every single job that exists in society
A) is important to the people paying for it
B) has wages that are based on both the importance of the job and how easy it is to find someone capable of doing it
C) The idea of glamorizing any job, and allowing yourself to be influenced by a job's glamor-rating, is just superficial drivel. Don't judge yourself or others by the job listed on their business card. If you feel the need to judge someone at all, judge them by the impact that they, as an individual, are making in the world.
Basically, maintenance of complex systems or assets, are intellectually demanding tasks. All your examples, however, are completely the opposite. I am not saying that the jobs do not require skills, it's just that these skills are not that valuable.
Also maintainer adds value in the positive way. Where all your example is to prevent value loss. The 2 are fundamentally different.
Contrary to common knowledge, maintainer is not needed to make the system running, if nothing changes. Maintainer is necessary to make the system running in changing environment. Real-world software or any valuable assets require change to keep up with the world surrounding it. A great mental bias is to implicitly think maintenance is about "keep it running", where at the same time conveniently omit the part about changing environment.
Something tells me that you haven't maintained badly designed systems. Some actually do require manual attention from time to time, even if nothing changes. A single non-rotatable log file becomes too big and a restart has to be scheduled or an application starts behaving weirdly because a buggy and rarely used bit of code suddenly got used once and it destabilized the entire thing... I'm sure there's a lot of other ways in which applications can require maintenance even if it hasn't been updated for months.
Not as hard as making those systems in the first place.
> I am not saying that the jobs do not require skills, it's just that these skills are not that valuable.
I'm not convinced that an average network engineer does a more challenging (or valuable) job than an average car mechanic.
Maintenance (physical or virtual) can often be made extremely difficult or expensive because of the need to avoid disrupting working systems, and the need to integrate with what's already there.
Mechanical work on cars isn't rocket science, in the same way that IT work isn't. It's difficult if you don't know what you're doing, and not hard if you do.
Both things most anyone could do (at least at a basic level) themselves, but most people don't care to learn.
This actually supports my point that making a decent system in the first place is hard. And if you have a reasonable estimate that a rewrite would be cheaper than incurred maintenance costs, it might be worth it.
I was speaking generally though: an average quality system and average maintenance work. Some systems are terrible and fall apart from an angry glance, some are so good they require almost no maintenance. In my personal experience systems maintenance can be menial and time consuming, sometimes clever, but it ain't no rocket science.
For my entry to Improbable Ideas day.... why don't we bring children to work? After they're no longer infants, its' plausible for children to simply run around the office, sitting quietly in the same rooms as their parents, and perhaps doing odd-jobs.
It'd require a more holistic attitude to education than is presently allowed, but it is certainly possible to implement.
Why all of this working? How can the work be explained, made interesting and relevant. Is there some way of involving the child that is educational rather than abusive? (Also, if a 5 year old can understand how to correctly use the UI for the application, why can't your client?)
Could you involve the child? Maybe, but training someone for work is non-trivial. When I'm just starting to train someone, our collective output is usually less than mine working alone, and that's for someone with the requisite skills. How much work could reasonably be assigned to children in a way which isn't just a waste of time? How much are they really going to benefit from that?
Still, I started programming and using UNIX when I was 9. I imagine I was probably capable of some amount of useful output by 11-12, though it would have to be carefully directed by a pragmatic mentor with a view to bottom-line impact.
From my side, in the company where I work there are a small handful of people who could easily be replaced with fully unskilled labour (ie. an 8-12yo) with no negative effects.
I wouldn't want to actually implement it.
My parents were artists who both worked from home, it was generally established that I didn't bother them in their offices when they were working on their projects.
I am grateful to have grown up in such a situation and if in the future I decide to have children I will definitely switch to a primarily or entirely remote position.
Father was a blacksmith? Children would go with him, and sweep the floor, pump air into the furnaces, and organize things. As they matured (both in age and skills), their tasks would grow.
Father's brother was a leather worker, so it was easy to send your kids to work with your brother, so they would see if they wanted to be blacksmiths or leather workers.
The Industrial Revolution destroyed the father-son relationship. Fathers would leave the house at 6:00am, and come back at 8:00pm. Young boys would have a blackhole regarding what their fathers did during the day. This blackhole, Bly argues, would get filled with "demons". Not voodoo-demons, yet "demons" in the sense of a "lack of knowing what my dad does every day".
In part, we as a society in the West have been suffering the effects of this destruction ever since.
In the 80s and 90s, with the increase of mothers in the workforce, the same thing is now happening to the mother-daughter relationship.
We have to wait a couple of generations to see what effect this has on women.
...what does this mean? Is this something that children can do?
Both my wife and I have taken our kid to our respective offices and it was fine. She just sat there drawing and playing on her tablet. This was when she was 6-7 years old.
Not all kids are brats.
Personally I enjoy spending a portion of my day not interacting with humans, let alone my children.
Some days I even enjoy my commute, because even though I'm on a busy line and we're all jammed into each others armpits, my mind is my own and nobody wants anything in particular from me.
- They'd be yet another distraction
- Who pays for the resources (space, nutrition, time)
- What if you don't work in an office
- Work environment might not be a great place for a kid
I think work can be much more interesting to a child than school or a nanny and the playground.
Also, it would be so much cheaper to spare school/nanny costs that a lot of money could be spent to make the environment better for the child.
We're talking about children older than 7 or so, right? I think children from 7 to 20 could be taken to work and actually learn much more.
I mean, to some extent they do. Kids are born with an amazing amount of cognitive bootstrapping and initrd. But by elementary school years, the difference between children who were reared in intellectually stimulating ways and ones who weren't become patently obvious and to a larger extent entrenched.
(OK, fine the dollars aren't real either, but what they can buy is.)
As a semi-philosophical aside: in what capacity are dollars not real, but the things you can buy with them are?
Since everything seems to be a means to an end, from glamour (gets you money), to money (gets you food) to food (provides energy to your cells) to species (reproduction, evolution) to more efficient use of resources, all accelerating the universal march toward the heat death of the universe.
At which point do things in this optimization chain become "real"? What makes a specific segment "not real"?
If elephants get wiped out, there will be some consequences.
If insects or algae gets wiped out, the world is apocalyptically screwed.
(Here's one source for my counter-analogy:
>"WE DO NOT BREAK USERSPACE!"
In response to the notion that we need to break userspace in the name of progress/innovation.
Not really. The need for maintenance occurs when a specific "Thing" has been around for long enough, and when the institutions, schools of thought that sustain that Thing persist for long enough. When there are radical, rapid political/economic/political changes, "maintenance" and the need for maintenance goes away. This article focusses on maintenance of industrial artifacts, and nowhere in recent times have industrial artifacts (boats, lifts, software), the companies that produce them, and the living standards they create, and the governments that encourage them been continuously existent longer than the "Western countries" (since the early 1800s at least). If you were to look outside the sphere of industrial artifacts, for example at old religious buildings - churches, mosques, temples - you'll see solid examples of good maintenance all over the world. The Koran, a literary artifact, for example, has been well-maintained for over a thousand years across the world by a mostly pre-industrial society.
TLDR: Keeping something running isn't just a "Western" thing - but keeping industrial products running is certainly Western, because only the West has seen a continuous and sustained industrial movement for over 200+ years.
There's something to be said for that.
Nonetheless, it does diminish the quotation.
I don't think anyone would suggest Germany didn't perform a minor miracle by rebuilding as quickly as they did (with massive support), but the Russians went from having half their country burned to the ground, to a world superpower (also with a large amount of support), in a shorter time span than it took West Germany to return to pre-war industrial levels.
p.s. many parts of eastern europe has been destroyed during the war as well; and was getting rebuild themselves.
When I was young I heard a lot of crazy stories about the Russians in Germans (I grew up in the Erzgebirge mountains where the Russians mined the Uranium for their atomic bombs, think of an Eastern 20th century gold rush), some of those stories are how entire production lines were moved onto trains and to the Soviet Union nearly over night (they had a lot of experience with this since a few years earlier the Soviet Union basically moved their entire military production a few thousand kilometers eastward, out of the war zone).
At least, that's what I got out of it.
Yep, no other cultures maintain anything.
TL;DR: Japan is nice.
("Whiteness" is not simply about skin colour. There's a fascinating/ugly history of how various immigrant groups to America became "white")
In Japan they are treated as basically disposable.
True, but was also devastated by a war that allowed rebuilding almost from scratch.
Ask yourself this: who is the most famous maintainer you can think of? (Not someone who devised an innovation and then maintained it - pure maintenance)
I think we should be putting more effort into recognizing/compensating those involved in maintenance work rather than steering folks away from it. The raw technology invention is important, but the maintenance work is what makes it ship and continue to work for customers. There are also plenty of widely-used projects remain relevant only due to maintenance. Projects like OpenSSL or the Linux Kernel come to mind here.
Don't downvote because someone hurts your feelings - that's not what this site is for, guys.
It is difficult to tell if not-agreeing is due to a difference of opinion or the statement being off topic.
Thus while it may seem natural to cast to two directions the implicit difference between agreeing or not is actually more nuanced. The /reason/ is important in the latter case.
Next time I have a say in hiring I'm not even going to bother looking at people who have only done green fields work. They've never had the opportunity to learn from their (or others) mistakes.
> Ask yourself this: who is the most famous maintainer you can think of? (Not someone who devised an innovation and then maintained it - pure maintenance)
What do you consider innovation? Two I'd point to are Bram Moolenaar (vim) and Linus Torvalds. They both wanted to clone existing systems, not to innovate. The same goes for many other open source creators, they had a need to solve, it wasn't a creative exercise.
It's a tradeoff. Innovating employee #10 at a big succesful startup will be better-rewarded than your average maintaining employee at, say, Facebook today, but that "maintainer" is going to be far better rewarded than innovating employee #5 at some-startup-whose-new-thing-proves-unwanted.
It seems to me that the best businesses are mostly about maintaining and profiting from some technology. Startups are advised to keep costs very low until they have "product-market fit", that is, until they have innovated enough to have made something that people want. After product-market fit has been achieved, marketing and sales begin to dominate; the technical innovation is over except for maintenance and incremental improvement.
Most businesses don't require innovation at all. McDonald's, for example, didn't invent the hamburger, but it has grown large because of its ability to grow while maintaining high standards.
Even businesses that we would think of as very innovative don't make their profits on continual innovation as much as growing and maintaining a standard process. YCombinator, for example, has a process of selecting great companies and nurturing them. The companies do a lot of innovating, but YC itself is basically maintaining and incrementally improving the innovation of Paul Graham and the other original founders.
Profit comes during the maintenance stage.
McDonalds and its competitors have been continually innovating on the details of how to provider hamburgers and chips to customers quickly and cheaply.
I can think of a few, actually. Pretty much every BDFL in every open source project ever. Most famous is probably Linus Torvalds. He invented the first version of Linux, yes, but he's been primarily a maintainer not inventor ever since.
Everything you've mentioned doesn't count.
The question isn't who's "necessary", since everyone who is necessary, no matter in what way, is necessary; necessity is a tautology.
The question is whose contributions are more replaceable.
I'm not sure there's much relevance here, but there's something to watching someone maintain competitiveness as they age.
Similarly, businesses need the sales guys to go out there and get the customers. But without disciplined design, engineering and maintenance you're going to end up leaking all your revenues in support costs, not to mention intangibles such as reputation.
Putting in the years of work to implement them, on the other hand, is rare.
There's a great piece in the Lapham's quarterly about maintaining NYC's infrastructure and how without any maintenance, NYC would be replaced by forest cover within 200 years. Can't find it right now but it is a great read trust me.
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work"
Innovation is if anything under-rated and under-funded and under-supported. The homes of hundreds of millions of people and energy itself is threatened by depleting fossil fuels and global warming...and some of the major efforts to stop this have depended on effectively "insane" entrepreneurs like Elon Musk...not a smart system! All the while hundreds of billions of dollars in health care costs for just say unnecessary tests flows to negative value addition maintainers.
Maintainers mostly either conservatively follow & accept or exploit the current system. It's innovators who've driven down the cost of lighting your home to a few hours of income or the ubiquity & cheapness of books & information (perhaps to the detriment of wisdom but that's another story) to stopping war through protest to ending non-man-made famine.
How do you even get to a sharp stick without innovation?
Basically peasants, once kicked off the land end up herded into cities.
Presumably the thinking at the time (beyond "lets make ourselves rich") was that agricultural production is more efficient when undertaken as a large-scale concern rather than by scattered small community holdings.
Or the invention of the various tools to actually make the agriculture viable and progressively more efficient.
Also provides an interesting corollary on the consequences of innovation.
Evolution? That's how agriculture and many of our earliest tools were created. I don't think there were many/any single steps that we would consider innovative.
We may have had a very suboptimal way of doing it for centuries while the process evolved. I'm sure a lot of people here have stories of their pets confusing cause and effect.
I think that is the reason that we hold innovators in high regard. People are very bad at it and it happens so infrequently. We rarely get the right person when we hand out credit so such idolization is usually meaningless, but I suppose in the long run that is not important. We have this irrational need to attach a person to the idea.
So we end up failing to properly credit any of the people that make and keep our civilization...
Is this really true? Plenty of innovations occur in parallel. Perhaps the people who desire to innovate dwarf the opportunities for innovation.
Workers should be weary of innovation, but they have been taught to love it, and thus they do :)
Most of the inventions came up as an easier or better way of doing something which was the current maintainer(to be innovator?) decided to rework/create .
And if the author talks about only maintenance where no development can be done(even those that make the life of maintainer easier).
IMHO , Maintenance procedures should also be constantly improved and hence that would lead to innovation.
But on a slight tangent I wondered whether the "innovation" that they complain about is a particular variant, one that we're all familiar with here: a pseudo-libertarian start-up variant
"Innovation ideology is overvalued, often insubstantial, and preoccupied with well-to-do white guys … in a small region of California"
By contrast there are those that would argue that most of the major technological and scientific gains have arisen, not from these VC hype-machines, but from large-scale state planning and investment. One of the best expositions of this argument is from economist Mariana Mazzucato: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPvG_fGPvQo
Maintenance is not the opposite of innovation, it is the opposite of good design.
And how do you check your theoretically 'no-maintenance-required' design genuinely doesn't need any maintenance? And how do you get round the catch 22 that you can't build a perfect system without perfect knowledge about what to build, but you can't have perfect knowledge without feedback from an existing system?
Instead of building a product that theoretically never needs maintenance, I'd rather build a product for which maintenance is easy.
The premise is great. From Russel's article on Aeon:
"We organised a conference to bring the work of the maintainers into clearer focus. More than 40 scholars answered a call for papers asking, ‘What is at stake if we move scholarship away from innovation and toward maintenance?’ Historians, social scientists, economists, business scholars, artists, and activists responded. They all want to talk about technology outside of innovation’s shadow."
Each boost is miniscule, but our momentum is enormous after thousands of years of human development so of course maintaining our momentum gets us incredibly far.
Personally, I've found my politics have not changed substantially as I've aged. As a 20 year old, I was liberal, and in my mid-30s with a mortgage and a family, I'm still quite liberal.
However, I've found my professional proclivities have changed. I value maintenance and conscientiousness much more than I once did. I think that's due to a few reasons. For one, I've been through a few big rewrites, and inevitably, I've seen them fail or be much harder than anticipated. But also, my focus has shifted from using cool new technologies to delivering value through working software. It's often much less effort to maintain and slowly improve software systems than it is to innovate your way out of a mountain of technical debt.
It's hard for businesses to understand this. Often, the expensive "A team" builds new software, while the cheaper "B team" maintains it, but the reality is that in short order, that software will effectively be written by the "B team". Software would last much longer and just function better in general if you kept the "A team" on to maintain, upgrade, refactor, etc.
Of course, this isn't totally business's fault, because maintenance is seen as a career killer. So if you try to have the "A team" maintain, many will leave for greener pastures where they get to build new systems in new tools.
As an industry, I wish we cared more about the longevity of systems, rather than what new tools are used. We seem to be impressed when we hear someone talk about building a new system in React, Elixir, and Kafka (or whatever's new and shiny at the moment), but nobody wants to hear someone talk about a system they built eight years ago in, say, Java that is still working well, still helping users, still meeting the needs of the business.
I've worked in both situations, but I'm better at one than the other. It's very rare to find someone who is excellent at both. You do get the benefit of accumulated domain knowledge when you keep the initial developers on to maintain the system, but oftentimes they don't have the temperament or personality to be happy and successful in that role.
If we're just talking about bug fixes and level-2 support or something, sure, that's mostly about attention to detail, etc. However, maintenance is much more than that, in my experience.
Maintenance involves keeping a system up to date and functioning in the face of changing business requirements. So, you have a new customer come onto the system or a department wants to change a business process, and now you need to change the system. What was once a single implementation of some feature now makes more sense as an abstraction with extensibility points. Or maybe just the system has more data than anticipated, and a good developer might realize that instead of putting a bandaid on the Postgres search, it's better to integrate a dedicated search solution like Elastic.
The point is that software is never done, as long as it's being used. Drawing a line between development and maintenance is often just an arbitrary distinction.
For green-field software products (contracting is different, and much more akin to product maintenance), your requirements are unknown. Your ultimate acceptance criteria is "does the user like it?", which is an emotional one, not a logical one. This requires that you connect the rational part of your brain, which speaks the language of the machine, with the emotional part, which speaks the language of the user. Being able to exercise both parts in tandem is a very rare skillset, which is why market rates for truly innovative programmers range into the millions. (This ability to fuse emotional & rational thinking together is also a skillset required of CEOs, executives, politicians, and pop entertainers, all of which are also professions with compensation reaching into the millions.)
I was thinking more about enterprise or line-of-business green-field development. That still benefits from all of the things we're talking about, but it's a different set of problems to focus on.
If you asked a retired Evangelical Christian whether HRC was a radical, what with her gay-love and abortions-for-all banner (I kid), I think they'd agree. But of course, they would've spotted that the "left" have signalled a stronger willingness to go in that direction and have cemented their position over the last 8 years under Obama. Does 8 years make you the establishment?
And of course Obama had helped push forward a trade policy concocted as early as the Reagan era. Does 30 years make you the establishment?
That just touches upon just two surface level ideas that fragment a person's perspective about these candidates and parties. Painting HRC as the maintainer and Trump the liberal is with too broad a brush.
I don't see any particularly ideological reason conservatives (high conscientiousness, border and rules oriented) shouldn't be in favor of plenty of government. And good and hard, at that.
I have said before we are entering the era of post-modern politics, where values will invert (e.g. free speech) and maintaining coherent narratives will be increasingly difficult. Unfortunately, I think this means people will cling to whatever stable identity they can ever more tenaciously.
A stepwise abandonment of enlightenment ideals for raw inter-group Foucauldian power plays.
Oh wait, now we've blown up the whole premise of innovation vs maintenance as regards left vs right. Hmmmmmm.
It's interesting stuff and I would recommend approaching it with an open, non-ideological mind as best you can. (Certainly I'm no saint when it comes to leaving my own biases at the door: we are all all too human.)
Interesting to think about.
If you remove politics from your point, I'll rephrase as "we need both maintainers and innovators" but that doesn't get the page-hits, does it?
As the frontier of knowledge expands, increasingly more low-hanging fruit appears on the horizon.
And then this somebody would be an innovator.
Innovation is inevitable; so too are people claiming credit for it.
Honestly, we need a better label for "anti-innovator" (conservative is taken)—they have an oversized personal impact on the world.
Either way those that would have to fill the spots would likely not be as competent in the doing.
I'm a "devops engineer", and fully half of the concern around what I do is "how do we make this maintainable and know when maintenance is necessary?".