Sunday, July 5, 2015

The New Goliards

It has been more then a little while.

The lost decade may finally be over, maybe.  Some things have changed and other things haven't. If nothing else the ambiguity is here to stay. Work has become a collection of hard skills extruded onto the moving build plate of the modern economy.

With this in mind please humor me as I make reference to my own convolute path around the reel and onto the plate. I've somehow managed to make it into engineering school. Ten years ago I turned my nose up at the notion. Algebra was the absolute worst, no matter how much I tried (or didn't) I couldn't seem to figure it out. I did well with and liked geometry and surprise surprise I was good at wrenching on matrices but for whatever reason I was dense on all those pesky subtleties of Algebra.

Looking back it is all quite farcical, calculus really does make your math-life easier. The fact remains though that some important things have changed. The order demands a curious sort of skill, The Polytech. There is always a place for research; yet, for those of us engaged in the simple substance of stone cutting the rules have been radically altered.

What has stayed the same? In reality all trades are a collection of related skills and different crafts mix different skill levels of work. Calling someone a, "Sheet Metal Mechanic" may be useful for polite society but the title, like all titles, is ambiguous. What kind of "Sheet Metal Mechanic" do you mean? Do you work on cars or buildings or planes - HVAC systems perhaps? Each of these categories represents a different subset of skills that are all collected under the umbrella.

By now you have to be wondering why the title mentions The Goliards. What does a bunch of wandering 12th and 13th century clergy have to do with craftsmanship?

Critics of the Order

The Goliards are analogous to the modern engineering and trade student in some surprising ways. Just as the world was unsupportive of the Goliards so to is the modern economy unsupportive of those who accept it uncritically. "Disruption" carried the day and it washed away those who were not supple and strong. We have seen a similar deluge this last decade.

Technology does not go quietly into that good night. It hangs around in a cloud of acrimony: it must either be maintained or broken down for scrap. Striking this old infrastructure is labor intensive and dangerous, there is a natural apathy around such endeavors. It is in this environment that the modern polytech student arrives. Math is just the tip of a very malformed iceberg.

The frozen wastes of technology ply the depths of the surrounding science. The only way one can enter such a harsh environment is through rigorous preparation and training. The singular - comfortable - distinction between the "Office" and the "Shop" is no longer placid nor still. Everyone must fight for balance and the prudent individual will collect the right blend of skills to handle either environment.

Yet this preparation must not be unquestioned. This stormy order and frigid society cannot last.

Mind the Gap

Lots and lots of invective has been directed at those who made a bad career decision (like art school or the military). It has been rather painful to watch and frankly its time for it all to stop. Who among us would so proudly declaim one's neighbor? Sadly this is what the old order has done decimating its own job pool.

Caught on the wrong side there is little choice but to do whatever it takes. This process could involve multiple degrees, code camps, or, if nothing else, a dogged tenacity and a quick wit. Whatever the path taken it is not singular. Every single individual who will crawl out of the economic sewers will do so with polytech. No singular skill is purchase enough.  

Turning to my own experience I would have never had the opportunity I have now without my trade degree. There is a paucity of what might be called "street" or "shop" wisdom among those striving to the profession. Now mind you I am not talking a thing about "how to" such individuals are not lacking for knowledge or tool use. What they are lacking is the rough-cut human wisdom that comes from fighting one's way up from the bottom.

For all the talk of startups it seems that it is in many ways all just that - talk. The gap isn't in any one particular skill - it lies in the heart and spirit that unites them. Those who are truly hungry will find each other and the rest will continue to follow a singular path - right to the precipice edge.

The New Goliards

The way forward, the way to further innovation is simple. The problem is not: the education, the economy, or the artful turning of phrases; it is in finding effective ways to motivate individuals. The spirit of the Goliardic Journeyman must be re-ignited. There must be efforts to support those who are a little rough around the edges and have taken a few scars. These are the only individuals who will have the tenacity to ensure that the talk becomes action. Even if this offends the existing order.

Cathedrals aren't built overnight, they start with the first stone - the sharp edged cornerstone. Someone must have genuine skill to cut that stone.