Doing work that scales requires being able to scale your work

December 5, 2023

Several years ago I read Tobias Bernard's Doing Things That Scale. To summarize the article badly, Tobias Bernard talked about how they had moved away from customizing things (and then having to maintain the customizations) in favour of doing generally useful changes to upstreams. I have various feelings about this as a general principle (and comments on my entry on thinking about the sensible limits of customization gave me more things to think about), but one of the thoughts that firmed up is that you can only do work that scales if you can scale your work.

As I read Bernard's article, scaling your work in this context means getting the things you want into the upstream, even in some imperfect form, or perhaps becoming an upstream yourself (by creating something of and for general use). In order to scale your work this way, you must be both willing to undertake this and able to do so. For the most common way to scale your work, this means working with the upstream and even becoming part of it, if you think there are significant things that need it. This is work, which is to say that it takes time and energy, and with some upstreams it can be a challenging and fraught endeavour (I suspect readers will have their own examples).

(In the other option, you need to have the time and energy to build and run a successful, generally useful thing that becomes reasonably popular. This is often considered an especially thankless and wearying task.)

If you won't be scaling your work for whatever reason (including lack of the time required or lack of willingness to wrestle with muddy pigs), your choices are to either live with the current state of affairs, whatever it is, or do work that doesn't scale, the sort of personal, individual customization that Tobias Bernard discusses moving away from. I have some broader views on this that I've decided don't fit into the margins of this entry, so I will confine myself to saying that I think there are plenty of people who fit into this general category.

(As noted in comments on my earlier entry, there's also the aspect of customization as something you enjoy doing for fun. There's no reason to restrict yourself from fun because it only benefits you; if anything, that's kind of the point of fun.)

Written on 05 December 2023.
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Last modified: Tue Dec 5 22:40:54 2023
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