December 2014 Entries
Makers and Professionals
During the last years I've seen many debates between "makers" and "professionals".
Makers proclaim their contribution to innovation. 
They claim that "learning by doing" and not having a lot of formal education on a specific subject may allow them to have a more open minded approach to problems. They are able to create solutions that people used to think in a more "formal" way can't elaborate, because it breaks too many rules.
On the other side professionals state that they design and build (in two separate steps!) solutions that are made to last, can withstand the "real world" and never or almost never fail. 
They show their competence and knowledge and are usually proud of having big companies and successful products in their portfolios.
Why did I decided to write a blog entry about this?
Yesterday I visited the museum of flight at "Volandia" (, close to the Malpensa Airport and also to my hometown. 
It's a nice experience, with lots of airplanes, helicopters and nice playgrounds for kids. Even some space ships!
But this is not the point.
What struck my mind was a plane from the first years of the 20th century.
It was built by mr. Caproni in 1910, a few years after the Wright brothers first flight.
I was talking with a friend discussing how crazy someone should be to try to fly on such an unstable ensemble of wood and cloth powered by a primitive engine.
And, as you can see in the picture, wearing a leather helmet and a nice pair of mustaches doesn't seem to help much in case of a rough landing.
But it's thanks to those people if today we can travel around the world and reach in a few hour places that would had required days or even weeks of travelling using ships or ground vehicles.
Was mr. Caproni a maker or a professional? 
For sure, after he survived his test flight, he built a successful company and designed many reliable and relatively safe airplanes afterwards. So he had a great professional career in airplane making.
But for sure at the beginning he was a "maker". 
Going by trial and error and being forced to test his own planes because no one was trusting their capability of flying and landing safely.
Probably at that time "professionals" were trying to design faster ships and cars. Thinking that the idea of flying was naive and unprofessional. And considering those people risking their life on airplanes just crazy freaks.
But nowadays who would board a plane that proudly claims to be designed by "non-professionals" with no previous experience in designing planes? 
Would you trust that?
Sometimes I wonder if I should consider myself a maker or a professional. Or both. Or none of them...
For sure being a "maker" is in my DNA. 
My father was a maker. 
He had no formal education (being born in 1934 he just attended primary school), but he was able to build and fix almost anything.
Maybe anything but my computers. 
In his job he had to travel around the world mounting textile machinery. I guess that in many places he had to figure out some "creative" ways to make those machine work in places and environments quite different from the industrial building where they were produced.
He was able to work with metal, wood and electricity.
And also at home he never stopped improving many of the different things he built himself.
And proudly refused to call a "professional" when a tap was leaking or some appliance refused to work.
I also like to play with things and I managed to build something, like my own standing desk. 
But, I should admit, without my dad's manual skills and patience.
I also don't have a lot of formal education. I never attended university and started to work as a software developer at 20, after one year spent in the army.
I learnt many of the languages, tools and technologies I use in my work just by experimenting and reading books and, lately, blogs and articles.
I like to experiment and sometimes I waste some time trying solutions that seem to be brilliant only in my mind.
On the other side I've been writing software (mostly for embedded systems) as my main job for more than 20 years now. So should I call myself "professional"?
First of all I think that "professional" is the mostly abused adjective ever.
Here you can see a nice sample of that.
It's "professional toilet paper". I took this picture in an Italian hotel, wondering what would make that toilet paper more "professional" than the one I use at home. Luckily it seemed exactly the same, and I didn't need help from a professional to use it.
On the other side I think that experience (and formal education) may deserve some kind of recognition.
The Wright brothers in their whole career flight for a distance that today may not be even worth a few bonus miles on a frequent flier's plan.
The work of many "boring" professionals engineers lead to the reliable (and sometimes comfortable) planes we use nowadays.
And strict, planned and methodical checks and maintenance is what keeps commercial flights one of the safest means of transportation.
The first airplanes were prototypes that could be used only by their inventors (at least because no one else would like to risk his life fying them!). 
Today the most complex operation required to most of the people travelling by plane is the on-line check-in.
In my idea a "maker" has the creativity to experiment with new ideas and find creative solutions. 
On the other side a "professional" has the experience and knowledge required to avoid some errors (and experience comes from previous mistakes!), evaluate risks and make things more reliable and translate a "prototype" into a real product.
Sometimes adding some additional mistakes in the process, of course.
Nothing prevents you from being both, but you should understand when you are prototyping and when you are building something made to last. 
Technology is getting more complex and more easy to use at the same time. 
This is a wonderful moment for people that want to experiment and then learn and master the complexity that's sitting under something that is so easy to build.
There is space for "makers", assembling technologies and building great prototypes, and for "professionals" that will take care of the details and turn them in object that millions of people can use every day and even trust enough to board them and flight ten thousand meters (or feets) over the ground.
I work in a (great) company that takes complex technologies, build objects made to last (and be produced at a reasonable price!), but also allows other people to use those very complex hardware and software components in an easy way. 
This will allow them to build simple devices or even more complex systems, applying their own skills and creativity.
Most of the things we use every day are too complex to be designed by a single person (and, no, Steve Jobs didn't design the whole iPhone!). 
Integrating different parts, building quick prototypes, being able to access technologies in an easy way and, at the same time, caring about the details, thinking about production and long term maintenance etc. are key skills that are usually split between different people in a team.
Having "makers" and "professionals" working together and not just debating is the best thing for a company.

Posted On Monday, December 29, 2014 3:38 AM | Comments (0)
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