Why aren't there more engineers in politics?

2013-01-23 2 min read

    At Aaron Swartz’s memorial service in New York, Doc Searle said something that struck a chord: Aaron was one of the few tech people who would get involved in legal and political issues. It’s true - we hackers aren’t into it. We claim we’d be better off if there were more engineers in charge and yet we’re not making an effort to be those engineers. I’ve heard a variety of unconvincing reasons: it’s just not interesting; there’s too much bullshit; it’s more about selling than creating. I think the real reason is that we’re just too impatient.

    Our roles and jobs have made us this way. Our work tends to have well structured problems that are solved through individual effort. Only when we have to rely on someone else do we become aware of how slow things move and how long things take. Even the agile methodology, for all its wonders, focuses on the short term and encourages small, easy achievable tasks. It’s no surprise that when we encounter something that takes longer than we’re used to that we dismiss it as not for us.

    Impatience is also why I had difficulty as a product manager after coding for 5 years. I had a grand vision of what needed to be done but wasn’t able to execute it. I blamed it on the politics but it was really my impatience and immaturity. It was easier to work with developers to build the product features and just release them than it was to work with the actual users and get them on board. That would have required understanding their use cases, listening to everyone’s concerns, having a trial period, and all sorts of other things that would take too long.

    Most of us do want to make the world better and do make an effort to contribute; we give up too soon. During the service, Roy Singham quoted Frederick Douglass: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Real progress takes time and we need to get comfortable with that if we want to see it happen.