February 18, 2020

Maker <-> Puzzler

Every engineer I’ve met falls somewhere on this spectrum:

The maker to puzzler spectrum

One side is Maker, the people who like engineering because they like building things. They often get joy and satisfaction from seeing a thing they built out in the world and used by people. Makers tend to flock to product-focused companies.

One side is Puzzler. A Puzzler gets their joy and satisfaction from overcoming difficult problems. They might feel an electric sense when all the pieces come together, and when the universe feels theirs to command. Puzzlers tend to flock to companies with deep pockets of thorny technical problems.

This specturm comes from the answers to this question: What do you like about engineering?” I’ve asked this question to dozens, maybe hundreds, of engineers, and the answers I’ve received gravitate towards either I like to make things” or I like solving puzzles.” That gravitate” here is an important word, as is the fact that I’m calling this a spectrum, not a binary.

Every engineer I’ve met is closer to one pole than another, but I’ve never met anyone who is entirely one or the other. Beyond that, how much an engineer leans towards Maker or Puzzler can change over the course of their careers, because of the company they’ve joined, or even from project to project.

I know about myself that I lean heavily towards Maker. I get deep satisfaction from building systems that others use. I still get the electric thrill from solving a thorny technical problem, but my deep well of satisfaction comes from having built something and continuing to improve it.

Where you fall on this spectrum says nothing about your quality as an engineer. Excellent engineers come at every spot on the line. What it tells you is where you’re likely to draw the most satisfaction, and how you’re likely to go find new projects. If you know you lean Maker, a project that involves a lot of research and technical spelunking might exhaust you. If you lean Puzzler, a project that provides value to the user by cloning an existing pattern might leave you feeling unsatisfied.

For technical leaders, this is another criteria by which to evaluate your next hire. I strive for balance in my teams, a healthy blend of people who focus on building and getting things done alongside those who delight in technical puzzle deep-dives. I think about this spectrum and my current team make-up when I’m crafting a job posting and developing the interview panel for a role.

Where do you fall on the spectrum? Where do you think your teammates fall? What aspects of the Maker <-> Puzzler spectrum might need balancing on your team?

engineering culture

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