Manager, Operator, Innovator, Creator

I have the discussion all the time with my students. A student will come to me and say they heard “X” student was making a bazillion dollars at Google and they figure they are going to do the same thing. I ask them how many languages they can code in and how many open source programs they’ve written for people to evaluate. The answer is usually zero and of course zero.

They are working on the assumption that superficial knowledge of a topic is enough to allow them to manage and thereby run projects. I have a tendency to yell and scream a bit about MBAs pushing information technology projects, but that is what we have in industry. As you move off the manage element you get people who can operate the technology and keep it running. These are the integrators and operators of computer and network systems. They literally are the foot soldiers of the information economy. Rarely we get a few innovators that come along and can turn one technology on it’s head. They aren’t creating anything new just marketing it correctly or perhaps applying it to a new problem set (Zuckerberg an Jobs did this) . Finally there are the few creators. Steve Jobs didn’t create anything Jonny Ivy did. Creators in general make more money than innovators but have a tendency to not be as recognized.


Understanding where you are on the curve might help expectations. Entire social philosophies are set up around the idea of innovation in some cultures. Being able to make something just a tiny bit better is considered an innovation. Computer Science (CS) dissertations are written on making a particular search algorithm just a tiny bit better.


I’ve talked about this a few times, but this gives a simple indicator and visualization of an overall view point. This is important for understanding how curriculums work, how it is expected to produced students, and why particular students have one track of study over another. One final point is that though I applied degrees to the structure there is one other structure that applies. That is the principle of associates degree through doctoral degree. We require doctoral degree students to be at the creation point. We expect people at the associates level of college to be in the work place. Of course there are always counter examples. This is nothing but a generic pattern.

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