Welcome to this new blog, where I’ll be sharing with you about life and career. We probably don’t know each other yet, but maybe that can change in a small way in this space. I think a lot about people, my relationship to them, and our collective relationship to our world and to history. Don’t expect me to prattle about this generation’s industry fads here. This is about bigger things.
This first installment, entitled Change the World, sets the tone for the rest. To make a career from your calling is to change the world. If you're not changing the world, it's not a career: it's just a job.
You probably didn’t learn how to change the world in school, and your orientation meetings at work probably didn’t cover that either. You probably think I’m going to suggest making a long-term career plan to become a CEO who can influence a big company, or getting a patent that helps cure cancer.
Goal-setting is big these days. But it rarely happens like that. Life happens a minute at a time and a person at a time. Changing the world is about small things in the moment. Honesty in small things is no small thing, as we say in Denmark.
It’s not a choice: you can't help but change the world. The autumn butterflies here in Denmark really do affect the hurricanes off the American coast. Every selfless—or selfish—act at school or work affects dozens of people, each of whom in turn touches dozens more. Just look, and you’ll notice it.
As I wrote as guest editor of an IEEE Software issue in 1999, the work of computing professionals is woven into the fabric of society. We put our pants on one leg at a time; we write code one line at a time. We don’t view each one as changing the world. But the lines add up, each one contributing its small bit. This perspective captures the sentiments of the architect Christopher Alexander, who would say that communities grow through millions of selfless acts of thousands of individuals. What it means to earn your place in history isn’t to become one of The Greats, but to be fully human.
Engineering history offers plenty of evidence for this. Who invented the telescope? Photography? The telephone? History usually honors a single individual because it wrongly ascribes progress to individual genius. The anthropologist Kroeber points out that each of these was “discovered” independently by two or three people within the same year (Alfred Kroeber, Anthropology: Culture, Patterns and Process, 1948, p. 140).
Millions of earlier selfless acts accumulated in the fullness of time. We have the thousands of individuals of the preceding decades and centuries to thank for that.
It is, however, important to know where you fit in. Contemplate how your actions affect your customers, and beyond, to your end users. Think of how your actions open and close doors for your colleagues: the everyday stuff.
The bad news is that you must become more attentive to the details at work, ever comparing today with yesterday. That implies measuring yourself not by how much you know, but by the rate at which you are learning.
The good news is that you don't have to be a rock star to change the world. The few opportunities the world has given me to change its course haven't come as I stand at the tiller, but as the breath of my voice adds to thousands more to fill the sails.
Let’s change the world.