Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Assignment #6

(Question #2)

An aspect of my life and our culture as a whole that I believe is prevalent in The Principles of Scientific Management is the idea of finding the most appropriate man for a task and moving/removing those that aren't fit for it. I think this is the result of our current academic system, as well as the end result of the field of my future employment of computer science. Put simply, I believe all humans academically are challenged to prove themselves of being worthy of higher positions in the hierarchy of American employment, and I feel that computer related jobs with which I am most familiar are similarly organized.

To expand on his own words I will will quote him as saying "And indeed it should be understood that the removal of these men from pig-iron handling, for which they were unfit, was really a kindness to themselves, because it was the first step toward finding them work for which they were peculiarly fitted." Here he is demonstrating how his ideal system as a whole benefits both the employee and well as the employer because people are found to be fit for different tasks rather than wholely useless. His emphasis in the text is in making use of men and analysing their almost inherent abilities and finding what position best makes use of each man, this is clearly for the purpose of efficiency of society as a whole as well as in one factory. He also explains a division between the ability to think and the ability to do manual labor, as mentioned in class. Because of this, he assumes that a man best suitable to do hard physical labor should be so dumb that he requires instructions, and aptly so because each physical task should be treated methodically and the man should be "taught" to do things algorithmically. Conversely, men too smart to fix the role of "ox" should be intelligent enough to do other activities or even create these "algorithms".

As this relates to education and academics, I feel that students are put into their positions of society by similar thinking, that each person will be best utilized if they have to prove themselves capable of higher positions on a hierarchy. For example, a high-payed lawyer is going to want a more respectable degree than a systems analyst, and will have to work much harder for it. Most would also argue that logically, to obtain a PhD one would have to be "smarter" than somebody who is only working to Bachelors. And of course, there is always the chance that in trying to work your way up, you might fail out of college and end up working at the mall, or if you get a philosophy degree you might be working at Verizon (I met that guy tonight, apparently it's "not that bad").

In my own personal experience as a computer scientist, I notice something very similar. For example, many professors advocate the view that it is not the job of the programmer to understand the underlying architecture of code, but rather how to use it. I am referring to object-oriented programming which essentially advocates that a programmer re-uses code that other people have made while only knowing it's function rather than how it was made. Much like in Taylor's model, I believe that this makes a general model where people who know less are placed further down on a hierarchy in technical jobs, and the professor interestingly comments on the positions of those below him or her. Somebody who codes using C# only needs to know little about technical details, which was my job in automation. After college then I would be expected to create much more complex programs for higher pay.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

Computer programming is an interesting case re: Taylor, because at least in some ways and times, the programmer is standing in the role of Taylor's "scientist," introducing efficiencies and, hopefully (as in Taylor) eliminating many or all of the laborers in an old process. I've worked creating software both for mail order pharmacies and for processing various forms of financial aid (Don't hurt me, anyone! It wasn't at Pitt! I'm not responsible for that time you didn't get a student loan on time...) Certainly in both cases our goal was to eliminate labor.

One irony was that in both cases I was in a rather Dilbertesque organization, top-heavy with truly clueless managers. Programming -- if this makes sense -- is inherently Tayloresque (driven towards algorithic efficiency), but hard to Taylorize: even in good shops there tend to be lots of bad programmers and even worse management, because programming itself is so hard to boil down to an algorithm...

Let me, the educator, be the first to raise a little skepticism about the hierarchies which academia creates. At all levels ability (intelligence) is important, but dogged consistency is even more important. While A students _on average_ may have greater ability than B students, the biggest noticeable differences have to do with determination. Similarly with the Ph.D. Those who finish their doctorates may be slightly more able, on average, than those who drop out (usually 50% or more) -- but mostly they're distinguished by working harder and especially more consistently.

Where am I going with that? While Taylor's model may be right, I think you accept it a little uncritically...