Maker vs Manager

I wrote this article a year ago. Somehow it sat in my drafts despite being essentially finished. I publish it now as is. Any mention to what I am doing now refers to September 2019.

A short homage to Paul Graham who, among others, so nicely captured the issue of Making things vs Managing teams.

I had lunch with a friend recently – a former tenured professor, he’s now a VP and director of data science. He’s approximately 10 years, ahead of me, down the road to senior management in Data and AI. He told me that my current situation reminds him of when he transitioned out of academia.

All my life, I have worked at the intersection of topics. I code better than almost anybody I have ever met – I wrote my first DB at age 5. I do advanced mathematics, and I am not afraid of learning new techniques. And, I work on applications in which domain knowledge is vital for success. I love Making stuff.

In order to scale-up my impact, a number of years ago I started making sure that I was supervising do-ers rather than doing the work myself. I went through all of the usual transition problems. I thought I could do the work better. I wanted to do it myself. But, I persisted and in the process I learned how to Manage people. I learned that I also love this.

Then I had a start-up. A classic Maker-Manager paradigm, which I truly loved. I got to do both. Of course, you can only do this for so long. The requirements of both jobs are quite distinct. Juggling them burns a whole lot of energy.

Following my most recent role, I felt that I missed doing. I’m still quite young to switch to full-time managing. And so, I’ve returned to a model I ran much earlier in my career: I undertake an extremely technically challenging Maker topic myself, then I Manage a team doing something much more product oriented which leverages this topic.

Since writing this article, I undertook a number of advanced topics projects, most notably one in causality theory and the other on how to validate medical AI. I also published a guide to developing medical AI products. Today, I am looking for opportunities to apply all of this experience again.

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