At LinkedIn, a while ago, my headline read, “Inventor; Engineer; Writer;”. A friend asked if there is any reason for the order. At the first instance, “I replied with a shrug, meh!” then something changed.
I thought about it.
When I wrote the headline, I was only listing highlights of my career (a decade young now). It didn’t have any logical sequence. But, I am a computer engineer–one who plays with programming languages and knows the order of import decides the precedence of functions.
So, I looked at it again—this time considering how I decode the world around me. The one listed first should have a global scope, and it will keep getting narrower as we move through the list. In non-geek, the priority will be ascending in nature–the last one the list will supersede the previous in case of conflict.
So, how do I look at the world at scale, and what lenses I wear when I look for meanings in it? I decided to examine closely what these three titles mean to me.
Inventor: I wrote this because I attended conferences, published papers, and got awarded patents. But do I look at the world as it has solutions for hypothesis-driven queries? Once upon a time I did, when I got paid for it. I don’t do this anymore.
It taught me to explore the past work extensively, and acknowledge the immense wisdom hidden in history. Though, it also exposed me to cross paths of lives, making me choose a philosophical and personal resolution over an empirical and structured one.
Engineer: Science always had elegant solutions for my fable-like questions. It took me on strolls through galaxies and atoms, made me understand the cycle of life and water, taught me about the respiratory system, and told me that it was gravity that makes the moon feel like a trampoline in those black and white videos.
I wondered how can anyone not appreciate these satisfactory answers. Hailing from a moderately religious family, I choose to turn to science for my answers. I was sure since very early that I am going to be a computer engineer. Engineering taught me there is always an easier way to do things–use levers to raise, wheels to move, and pulleys to lift. It also taught me that the far side of curves on roads are banked for safety, and oil floats on water because of the same reason that helium balloons stay up in the air.
Computer engineering taught me how to package functionalities, execute instructions, define choices that can repeat conditionally. It showed me how even the best intentions could have unintended exceptions. I learned the importance of regressing in become better. But above all the most important thing I learned as an engineer is, everything is eventually decommissioned.
As an engineer, I try to make everything last a little longer. Like a doctor, who can’t make people immortal, but can delay death, I push the decommission dates for machines, algorithms, and software.
Writer: Before I started to write creatively, and pen thoughts that aren’t quotes, notes, or assignments, I use to write letters to myself, every birthday. These letters reflected how the last year was for me. As I can recall, I would talk about my best friends, my love stories, my fantasies, and my hope of becoming something when I grew up. As a kid, I thought adults were just so powerful to do everything they wanted.
These letters were sweet but stupid. It reflected a year with aspirations, love, and friendship in it. It wasn’t talking about more significant purposes, and nowhere it detailed my talent to pick on the tiniest details. Instead, it had useless pieces like if my dad gets transferred to Manali, I will take these three friends with me; even if we don’t have a car, my dad and mom are better than everyone else’s; and what will I write on the paper earrings I made for my crush on her birthday.
Written words were facts. Books were a precious source of information. They didn’t lie. Oh! The naivety, innocence and stupidity of that kid baffle me! But, you know what? I believed in the things I wrote. I was honest and truthful, even about the things that don’t matter to me or anyone now. I pondered, reasoned, and reached a conclusion because I gave myself the hypothetical situations.
That is what being a writer is to me–to play with situations, create thought experiments, and to wonder about ‘what-ifs’ and ‘why-not’. To me, being honest and truthful to the best of my ability is still the purpose of written words.
Phew! Where were we?
Is there an order to the list “Inventor; Writer; Engineer;” for me?
Nope. There isn’t any order to these labels. Instead, they represent primary facets of my thoughts. If who you are, formulate your behaviour, then:
- I am an academic who digs the past to reach for hypothesis and seek empirical evidence,
- I am a philosopher who seeks idealism in the real world,
- I am a writer who craves honesty from written words and society while challenging myself with made-up existential queries, and
- I am a scientist who wants to believe everything can be solved more efficiently, effectively, and economically,
- I am a computer engineer with the awareness of our world’s design problems and the knowledge that it has more exception than rules,
- In the end, I am an optimist too, who takes the chances most don’t because, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
As these profiles don’t always gel together, at times, I end up contradicting myself. I Imply more than I say. I trust subliminal messages stretched over time are more effective than explicit one-time instruction. I believe in DIY rather than off-the-shelf solutions. I know enough to know I know nothing. I am none and all, never and forever, confused and sorted. But the good thing is, I at least know myself.