There’s a superstition out there that lightning never strikes the same place twice. This is stupid. The Empire State Building averages 25 lightning strikes per year, usually in the same spot: a lightning rod. The idea behind podrag’s Engzig website is the recognition that creative genius is a lot like lightning. The best way to predict where it will strike is to look at the places where it has already struck hundreds of times.
People who have solved hundreds of problems in the past will probably solve more problems in the future.
Ask me to hire an engineer from a pool of applicants, and I’ll pick the one with the best portfolio. Pretty pedestrian stuff. Gosh, I wonder why HR hasn’t figured out how easy this is. Oh that’s right…they can’t tell engineering from a hole in the ground. Which is probably where they’d try to stick a lightning rod to satisfy a corporate diversity requirement or something. But those few of us who aren’t idiots know that if National Geographic gives you a contract to take a photo of a lightning bolt, you go to a nearby skyscraper.
This is the basic problem of recruiting so-called knowledge workers. Their job is to solve new problems that are similar to problems they’ve already solved. If bosses could plug a work order into a computer and print off a blueprint, they wouldn’t need to hire anybody. And let’s face it, if they were both business-savvy and engineering-savvy, they’d be contractors. Better money that way. But that’s not usually an option for starting and mid-level engineers. Nobody hires a contractor without a portfolio.
There’s that word again: “portfolio”. Hmm…we’ll get back to that.
Sometimes, a boss is just trying to fill a cubicle for the same reason you’d patch a hole in a white picket fence. It doesn’t look nice to have a bunch of empty cubicles and, anyway, over whom would he lord his great and powerful status? Yes, it’s true that many bosses believe that productivity is measured in man-hours per butts spent in office chairs. These bosses are big fans of the H1-B program. Summa cum laude at the India Institute of Technology? Excellent, just like the last 500 hires! $25K apiece, and those guys don’t even know the word “telecommute”. We’re prepared to offer a starting salary of $22K and a 50% discount on your parking spot.
Good engineers will put up with this for a short while in order to find better jobs. Good jobs. But how does one get a good job? By doing good work on their assigned projects and building a portfolio. Hmm…
It seems, in retrospect, like the only obstacle between good engineers and good jobs is that most of the time, the HR department doesn’t have a clue what a good job looks like. (“Valves, flanges, sounds like patriarchal oppression to me!”) This is because there are three sorts of workers in the modern economy: the smart producers, the dumb producers, and…the rest. The first type are the useful engineers (and a few salesmen), the second type make a humble living by sweeping floors, and the other 90% are “people” people…who tend to wind up in HR.
Podrag has decided he’s had enough of HR departments, hiring managers, headhunters, and other “horse traders” (as he calls them). Why not ask other engineers what good engineering looks like? Well, because it’s hard to weed out the narcissists and mutual admiration societies, and anyway engineers smell funny. But! We have the internet now. Asking engineers about stuff like this should be easy by now, and you don’t even have to smell them. You could just look at which projects have the most “Likes” on Facebook, or something. Except Facebook doesn’t have engineering portfolios, and narcissists and mutual admiration societies are a feature of Facebook rather than a bug.
That’s the point of Engzig. At long last, we find it’s quite simple. It’s just a website where petroleum engineers post their portfolios and other petroleum engineers verify that the work actually happened and is not the feverish illusion of a charlatan looking for a one-way H1-B visa.
What I’ve explained here is not the revolutionary impetus of Engzig. This is all elementary reasoning. The true force of this idea, the reason it’s fundamentally different from LinkedIn, and the reason podrag wants other entrepreneurs to plagiarize it and spread it to other industries, is that it satisfies a basic social desire: the desire of competent people to seek the company of other competent people. Genius is more like mass than magnets- like attracts like. Skyscrapers are more impressive in the company of other skyscrapers, not less.
Lightning rods have a lot to teach us about genius. More about this next time ;-).