There is a legend on how Albert Einstein was admitted to the US. Among other things he had to answer some trivial questions:
- What is the capital of the state of Alabama?
- I don't remember,- said Albert, "but I am sure that the geographical atlas has this info."
- Where is the Mason- Dixon line?
- I don't remember,- said Albert, "but I am sure that the book on the US history has this info."
And so on and so on. Einstein sincerely did not understand why a person would remember such things; his point of view was that a person should know where to find such information if needed. I echo him; it is unlikely that medieval knights could memorize what was the Holy Grail but they sure as Hell knew where to go to find it. That is the way a true man thinks- he tries to maintain the path and the goal, not the means and reference points.
So if someone comes to me and tells me that he/she knows FLUENT I would simply ask this person to explain to me if he/she could solve the problem without it. That brings us to the Golden Gate bridge.
In a terrific book The Gate by John Van-der-Zee the author tells us a story about professor Charles Alton Ellis who practically designed the bridge in 1927 using pencils and slide- ruler. Of course, he verified his calculations through communication with another outstanding engineer Moiseyev. All-in-all though there is a remarkable statement in that book, "It is unlikely that such achievement (one person designing such a bridge-MS) could be accomplished in our times."
But why? Now we have computers, we have software, we have manuals and books, we have professors and graduate students; we have all the power you can imagine and still, it is unlikely that one person could design a bridge? What's the secret?
The secret is in the way a person is valued. When professor Ellis was commissioned to design a bridge he was considered a sole expert hired for a job. Nobody doubted him and nobody broke the work into pieces. It was a risk, of course, but that risk was based on an interesting perception:
- It is better to lose in the company of the smart than to gain in the company of the stupid.
Ellis was fully responsible and fully accountable. Chief Engineer Joseph Straus, fired Ellis after the design was complete because he considered that Ellis was too obsessed with details and that jeopardized the schedule. But Straus never doubted Ellis's skill and never tried to divide the work between a group of people. He respected the craft. Now the people are treated as a commodity.
Golden Gate bridge was a unique construction -- it demanded unique people. So was the Manhattan Project, so was the Lunar endeavor, so was the SR-71, so were and are the requirements of any technical challenge. And not only technical.
- We have serious problems to solve and we need serious people to solve them.