NODES VS EDGES

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Over the course of my study and career, I've come to realize that people largely fall into one of two groups of thinkers - they're either node people or edge people. With most dichotomies, there is usually a huge amount of grey area. This is one of the rare cases where I've found that people fall pretty fully into one category or the other.

Node People

Node people live in the world of facts, figures, quantifiables, and spreadsheets. They can cite dates for historical events. It is easy for them to memorize method names from new programming languages or libraries. It's easy for them to recall algorithms from memory in interviews. They might ask how your spouse and kids are by name when talking with you because they can easily memorize this information. They got good grades in school and probably went to a respectable college. Node people have formidable intelligence - the best of them have minds like steel traps.

Our society's definition of intelligence is synonymous with "highly developed node person". The entirety of our society is organized toward the fostering and development of good node people. Standardized test scores are scored on the level of node-knowledge one can recite.

Node-knowledge is rewarded straightforwardly in the workforce, however, there are more node-people than edge-people which creates an oversupply of node people. Node people seem to universally make a respectable income within their industry, with those who are exceptionally talented becoming subject matter experts in extremely narrow domains where they have the opportunity to create new knowledge. Due to the higher number of node people, these roles are incredibly competitive.

Edge People

Edge people go by feel. Despite potentially having a broad knowledge of subjects, they may have difficulty recalling the concrete facts of the subjects they are familiar with. Chronology may be important to them but the dates are usually unremarkable. They may have a strong connection with art and maybe even make their own. The best of them are like spiders sitting on a broad web. It is as if their sensory system extends out into the world. They don't see but instead, feel how things that seem extremely disparate are intimately connected.

Our society doesn't hate edge people, it just pretends they don't exist because they are hard to quantify. Since it's hard to "measure" edge people's knowledge against existing yardsticks such as standardized testing, grades, et al., their worth is typically assessed by how their previous "bets" have played out. The lack of recognition for early-career accomplishments in edge people leads many of them to become discouraged or otherwise disillusioned with society. The only way out of the trap is for them to pretend they are node people, knowing that they will never compete in that domain at the same level or stay true to their way of thinking for long enough to build up a corpus of "wins" so that their approach is unquestionable.

Edge-knowledge in the workforce is either highly rewarded or severely punished. Edge people seem to mostly become either the hippie/conspiracy theorist "everything is connected man" type or they leverage their creativity to drive innovation. There is very little middle ground between the two extremes.

Working Together

There are many roads to Rome. Node people and edge people have very different ways of being and growing in society each with their pros and cons. In software development, it takes both types to build incredible things. One of the reasons the software industry is so interesting is that at various points throughout history, it seems to have had equal numbers of both node and edge people. Although, we seem to be in an era where edge people are being marginalized.

The issue I see across the software industry is that once the node people take over, hiring is optimized for node people. The industry has been led to believe by Silicon Valley that we must scale quickly. To scale quickly, convenient heuristics need to be put into place that make the hiring process faster. Sadly, most of these heuristics ignore the existence of edge people leading to massive corporations full of node people and edge people badly pretending to be node people.

I'll reiterate - node people are essential. They are the stability of an organization. They maintain processes and a sense of normalcy. A business without any node people is a garage band playing for beer money. On the other hand, a business without any edge people is a beige, conformist megacorp that never innovates or creates anything truly new. Meta is a great example of the former unfortunately becoming the latter.

Once you have a good equal-ish mix of node and edge people the results are incredible, although it can be time-consuming to create the conditions necessary to get the node and edge people talking to each other. Throughout my career, I've seen edge and node people butt heads countless times. Typically the nodes think that the edges are wasting time and the edges think that the nodes are trying to control them. The toughest thing is that sometimes one of them is correct in their assessment. If the manager has a good sense of where to keep the dial between "innovate" and "deliver" then all it takes is a bit of occasional nudging one way or the other to keep on course.

A product that is innovative and reliable is greater than the sum of its parts. It transcends the category and is a new thing entirely. Keep balancing the numbers between node and edge people, gently keep the ship on course, and the product will be forged out of the healthy tension between two different ways of doing things.