You build the tool, I use it

 I grew up in an industrial town. The steel plant was the major driver of the economy there, since most other businesses, schools, hospitals, etc flourished due to the scores of workers at the plant. As a kid, I would always be amazed by the huge chimneys spewing white smoke or the conveyor belts carrying coal to the furnaces, or even the electromagnets carrying scrap metal for re-use. I think the image of the skyline for the town was pretty much an outline of the chimneys and the tall furnace building. The ensuing pollution and all -- well, that is a completely different story.

 So one day I was headed homeward on a local mini-bus and happened to sit beside a bunch of middle-aged people who got in at the stop in front of the steel plant gate. Typically at these older industrial plants, the concept of a weekly team meeting is non-existent. Therefore, as anyone who has had a close family member work at such places will know, time off from work where they meet a colleague socially is like the ideal time to discuss everything related to the office. So unsurprisingly, these people started discussing the details of their work. The discussion veered towards operating one crane in one of the plants, and one person suddenly said (pointing to another person), "Of course Mr Guha here knows how to operate this crane". The gentleman in question suddenly had his chest puff up by two inches. In a tone of immense pride, he declared, "I can operate any crane built between 1970 and 1985 by this company". The others gave him a real deferential look and seemed kind of awed.

 I was attending an engineering college at that time, and found it very amusing that someone should be proud of this. As an engineer, I imagined people hunched over blueprint diagrams and torque/shear analysis. And how maybe the architects who built these cranes would be so proud of producing an engineering marvel of this sort. And then here was this guy into his fifties feeling proud that he can operate half a dozen cranes.

  But since then, this incident has been etched into my mind, and I have thought about it a lot of times. I think both the engineer who makes a tool and the person who uses it for a purpose have reason to be proud of not just himself but of one another as well. The man who designed and built the tool, of course -- you did it! But here is the catch -- when you built the tool you had one single purpose and scenario in mind, where it will be used. If not one, then maybe a set. But the man who uses it for his daily job also has equal reason to be proud of himself. Over years he has mastered the art of adapting the tool to the various circumstances. What is more, he understand the maintenance of the tool way better than the original architect. Every little crank noise, every little push and feel of the levers -- he can feel what exactly the lifeless ton of steel is telling him. Like so many people like to repeat, "Put the college boy at the reins of that machine and we'll see who does what". Indeed, I doubt if any of the original engineers would be able to handle the crane with the dexterity of the gentleman in question. Today I feel ashamed that I had felt that false sense of superiority at that time.

 You see, the little things we create often surpass our own selves and become something far greater. When Linus Torvalds released the source code for linux, he never could have imagined what it has become today. Do you think the man who invented the test tube ever thought one day people would be growing human embryos in those? Can you really imagine the possibilities of the world around you where you do your bit and it adds to the whole? Does it really make sense for you to be haughty and feel superior just because you defined a new method and a million people are using it? You are just inventing the paintbrush, some other artist is bringing the art to life. We both have equal reason to be proud of each other.


  1. :)
    Good post. Gives you the biggest excuse for peace, prosperity and mutual help.
    The sum is greater than the parts.

  2. This reminds me of all the bus-drivers in rural India who handle, on a day to day basis, those ancient creaky and often ill-maintained "air bus" type coaches from 1960s on dusty and equally badly maintained roads which resemble the surface of the moon.

    hats off to them for even getting their passengers from one location to another, let alone on time. :-)

  3. Very well written Sudipta!

  4. yeah nice read...

    And then, Einstein dint think his harmless theories and discoveries would lead to the annihilation of the twin cities of Japan...

    even bigger than who shd be proud of wat and whom... i think the intent of the tool's usage by both is more important...

    wat say?

  5. Phoenix, thank you! And an interesting perspective :)

    Hari, yeah! They know more about the bus perhaps than the person who built it!

    Mala, :) thank you.

    Priyanka, hey, welcome onboard! As a matter of fact, Einstein was one of the loudest protesters against the use his theories were put to. And a very interesting point indeed - the intent of the tool matters as well.


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