Saturday, November 18, 2006

A little message to the Chair Force Engineer

Engineering is mostly data plumbing. What matters is that the right people understand the right bits of the problem. All those meetings, all those revisions of all those specs, it's all about exploring the problem and getting the right bits to the right guys and gals. Everything is specialized. For the most part, that means you aren't ever going to get it all. Those windbags probably mean well.

The good news is, you don't have to get most of it. You need to understand who needs to know what, and how to get them what they need. Know what is the critical path. There will some small part that's your specialty. Make sure you're on top of that. The rest is plumbing. You're smart enough. Relax.

As for the whole nihilistic thing... What drives you? I'll tell you what drives me: what is the coolest thing I can pull off and actually make work? I've long since realized that a team can make stuff happen that I could never do myself. Right now I'll take the trade of having a smaller part in achieving a more audacious goal.

For the next 30 months, concentrate on getting experience, especially practical experience. You're going to be around for a very long time. This idea that you were going to figure out by 30 what you are going to do in life is a (boring) fantasy. One of the best CPU hackers I know started doing serious astrophysics, did CPUs, moved on to chip assembly tools, and now does something completely different. You know what my dad remembers from hacking on accelerators at Berkeley in the 60s? Plumbing. He's awesome with solder and 3/4" copper.

It sounds like you're motivated by Serving America. Very noble. You can probably see lots of ways of projecting force better than we are now. You don't need to implement that right now. You might take a 20 year detour first. Hell, you might try raising kids. That'll throw a wrench in things, I promise you.

Oh, and when you get out, give me a call.