“Damn good coffee!” I said to myself. I was sitting at my usual table in the “Restaurant at the end of the Universe”. My waitress, always the same girl, had just taken the order and left for the counter. “Lovely Rita”, I called her, because that’s her name.
I take pride in getting my lunch meals right. I believe that what we eat says something about who we are and who we’d rather be. Or something.
Today I had ordered the “Bundle-O-Burgers”, or BOBs, as they were conveniently called here, my favourite meal in this particular restaurant. Taken simply with plenty of water to drink. And, not to forget, while waiting for this feast, a cup of the famous “Barista Guild’s Cuppacano(tm)”, or, a little less convenient, but good enough for this story, I decided, “Barcano” for short.
There had been a bit of dispute over the Barcanos lately, since the Barista Guild refused to tell the public what was in them – “Secret of the trade” they called it, and argued that the Guild “knows what’s good for you”. A lot of people were put off by this. I never really cared one way or another. As long as someone knows what’s good for me. Can’t be bothered myself. Damn good coffee, indeed.
I got my book out and was just finding the page I’d gotten to when I heard a dear and familiar voice. “Uncle! Hey, may I join you?” I looked up and there was my nephew Danny with a boiling-hot Barcano in his hand, newspaper in the other. Like me, he was in his work clothes, so I figured he was here for his lunch, too. We whatsupped each other and even did a casual high-five as he was sitting down opposite me. “Cool”, I thought. Oh yeah.
Danny is a builder – a plumber to be precise. He started his own business a couple of years back, and as I understood it, he was a good craftsman and well-respected among both his co-workers and customers. His business was a testament to this, as it had been doing well from the beginning. So, in the way of male professionals, I enquired “How’s the business going, Danny Boy? The pipes still calling?” Not surprisingly, since the joke was pretty lame, he didn’t laugh at this at all. “Well, yeah, good, I guess.”. Fair enough, I thought. If he’s got something to add to it, he’ll do so eventually.
Our BOBs arrived and we dug into them. Delicious, as always. I was on my way into the third one when Danny craved my attention – “Uncle?”. “Stop calling me that”, I said. “I’m not your uncle, It’s just an economical narrative technique I employed, so that everyone would make the assumption that I know you really well.”. Danny went “Umh, OK, ah, er – Dude?”. Oh no. “Just call me ‘Man’”, I demanded. “It sounds cool but not overly so, and besides it’s true”.
That out of the way he continued; “You know, the business, the plumbing? I’ve been working on something new there.” I listened. “I’ve been feeling a bit – I dunno, well, tired of the whole thing lately.”. “How so?”, I prompted. “Well you know, I get a feeling that I – that we – plumbers, that is, and actually most others in the building trade too, now I think of it, aren’t really respected enough – you know, as craftsmen. It’s like we’re just brought in to do some work. And we do it, but no one recognizes the competence and craft that goes into it.” I didn’t get it. He noticed as much, and tried again: “The projects that we’re brought into have budgets, and they never, you know, consider the crafts that they are dependant on while they’re planning this – so it invariably ends up being just another building that we install plumbing in. Houses, schools, apartments, train stations, they’re really all the same. And we don’t get any recognition for doing our parts of them – the craft that we actually deliver”.
I looked at him, baffled; “You get paid, don’t you? And I mean, a satisfied customer who pays you what you are owed, and possibly even retains your services on his next project, isn’t that recognition enough? What more can you realistically hope for?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know that” he said. “The problem is I don’t feel we’re being recognized as the true professionals that we are. Not given the appropriate respect. I want the building trades to be recognized as a craft! A craft that has to be learned, developed and encouraged!”
I thought about this for a bit. Some chewing and some swallowing of coffee transpired. “Danny”, I said, “plumbing is a craft. Everybody recognizes and respects that. It involves the learning of skills, and performers of this craft learn the skills. They evolve them, cherish and take pride in them. You know all this.”. A thought occurred to me; ”Are you saying that the craft isn’t valued high enough – you simply want to make more money performing it?”
-“Everybody wants more money. That’s why it’s called money”, he said. An image of Danny DeVito fluttered across my mind for no reason I could think of. “But that’s not my point – at least not in a direct way.”
-“Consider this, Man”, he said, and I realized my poor choice of nomenclature, “I have this idea, I’m going to found and organize a – er, craftsman’s movement of sorts.”
-”Like a guild?” I interrupted, “like the baristas? Secret handshakes and hooded capes?”
-”No no – nothing that formal, although I’d like to present it in a way that reminds people of a guild, perhaps give it a sheen of authority, and maybe even inspire some romantic associations – you know, something that reminds people of ‘ye olden days’, when a blacksmith taught his son the craft, and – well, you get the picture”. I did. I was looking at Dada. So I enquired “What’s the point?”.
-”The point is that it will make a statement.”. he gulped down the last of his Barcano and looked at me. “And enable us to raise awareness of our continued efforts to do really high quality plumbing”.
-“Huh”, I said. It is a word I very rarely use. It didn’t come out right. “But aren’t you already striving to maintain professional standards? Isn’t that what ‘professional’ means? Your customers will surely assume as much, so who is this statement really for?”
-”It’s for our customers, suppliers, partners, actually almost everybody really. But most of all it’s for ourselves”. I almost did a huh again. “Don’t you see, if I can make this appear authoritative, sensible and profound, then I will become an authority myself. That’s just the way it works. Some of the more experienced professionals will probably recognize it as pointless bullshit, but that doesn’t matter.”
-”It doesn’t?”, I wondered, and felt an immense satisfaction that I’d shunned this potential blood-relative. I celebrated this feeling of victory by stabbing the last bundled burger with my fork.
-”No, it doesn’t”, he said. “If I and a select group of other semi-experienced professionals stand behind this, do some namedropping in the right places, refer to each other as experts in the area and so on, we will eventually attract followers, mainly of cause from the younger, more inexperienced craftsmen – who are either unsure of their own competence, or, and do not take this lightly, willing to sign up for anything that might give them some credibility and status among their peers. And the best part is that the more followers I can recruit, the more people will be dropping my name around. Everybody will know my name! And they’ll think I possess some deep insight into something that they can’t really grasp. Believe me, Man, this will work! Who knows, it may even generate some more business. I could even get paid to give talks about the profound ideas behind the movement, and why it’s so important to understand them.”
Wow, I thought. Ridiculous, but at the same time maybe not all wrong. I did a huh again – slightly more successful this time. “Well, er – what have you come up with so far? I mean, the underlying philosophy and ideas, and such, what will you base this movement on?”
-”I’m not all done yet, but I’ve come up with – well, you know, they’re more like slogans than postulates at this time.” I was all ears, and told him so.
-“The first one goes:
‘Not only working sanitary systems,
but also well-crafted sanitary systems’!”
-“You’re not serious”, I said. “You’re saying that not only will you install water pipes, but you will do it properly – in a professional matter. Is that it?”
-”So you’ll use copper pipes, pressure-test your welds, and, you know, all in all, actually do your job”.
-”You’re insane. That almost-complete sentence is a given. A statement that no-one will disagree with. It has no meaning. This will never fly. Unless you have some others that are more substantial.”
-”I think you’re wrong. The whole point is that everyone will agree. That way they’ll think that my followers and I have gained a more profound insight into this than they have themselves.”. I was getting tired of this.”And this is the only one you have so far?”, I demanded.
-”No, I got a couple more. But I’m not really as happy with those. They came out a bit to – er, general I think, I dunno. Anyway, here goes:
‘Not only responding to change,
but also steadily adding value’,
‘Not only individuals and interactions,
but also a community of professionals’,
‘Not only customer collaboration,
but also productive partnerships’.”
He looked at me. I looked at him. I didn’t know what to say, so I said it; “Listen, these statements make even less sense. They are just babble, and they’re not about your trade in any conceivable way. You can’t expect to rouse passion and commitment from anyone with this.”. He was still looking at me. “And you obviously forgot at least one: ‘Not only cooperating with gravity, but also planning for it’”. His eyes focused again. “Nah, that sounds just contrived and obvious.”. Irony wasted. I let it go.
“And”, he said, spark back in his eyes, “I thought of an introduction to the statements, too – something that defines the audience and the ‘movement’ as it were. In a suitably humble tone. I am really happy with this one: ‘As aspiring plumbers we are raising the bar of professional plumbing by practicing it and helping others learn the craft’. See? Good will and the best of intentions practically oozing off it! Everybody will know that this is good thing! Hell, I may even qualify for MVP for this! You know what that means? Being certified as “Most Valued Plumber” by the Large Plumbing Supplier’s committee is a sure-fire way to Plumbing Fame and to enable a life as an ‘opinion maker’ – I may not have to do a bit of plumbing again – ever!”.
This final tirade shut me up. It was clear he was on to something, although I had my doubts. It was contrived, it had no substance, no intended public, nothing provocative or indeed no point at all. At the same time, I realized that it might actually work if the ‘movement’ was presented convincingly enough. Assuming of cause, that the aspiring professionals of the plumbing business didn’t think to hard about what they signed up for.
-”Do you have a name for this – er – call to arms?”, I asked.
-”Manifesto for Plumbing Craftsmanship”. Not half-bad. He’d thought this through, alright.
Lunch thoroughly over, we did our takecares and our seeyousoons and I left the restaurant thinking about this “Craftsmanship” thing he’d come up with. It could actually work for more trades – any trade I could think off. Could something like this conceivably appear in my own profession?
No, I thought, people in software development communities would scoff at the idea. We are trained professionals, and at least to some extent logical thinkers. We certainly are – aren’t we? A tinge of doubt was about to settle in my mind.
But I decided we were safe. “No”, I thought. “Can’t happen here”. And I went back to coding, trying not to blow any systems up during the rest of the day.