Multidisciplinary Outsiders

Pigeonholes, engineers, and writers by Ben WerdmüllerBen Werdmüller (Ben Werdmüller)

I became an engineer after graduation - although I also had a website on the side that was getting millions of pageviews a day. Then I became a startup founder. And then a CTO. And then another startup founder.


I was writing thousands of words, putting together pitches and decks, speaking all over the world, having partnership conversations and leading product development - but all the while, I was still described as an engineer. It was a label that stuck.


This is a disservice to the people who have spent their life in true engineering. It's also a misdescription: I'm not a top-level engineer and could never pretend to be, but I understand the technology and how it fits into the broader narrative, and the broader social context. I can lead products well because I can understand both the engineering and the business sides. I can use human-centered design and design thinking - both journalistic processes - to de-risk businesses quickly. I can wrap it all up in a narrative, and I can use that narrative to build a community of support that snowballs, Katamari-style. It's not something that fits into a neat pigeonhole, but I think it's more interesting.


I've become really appreciative of other people who don't fit into the pigeonholes that others try and fit them in, both in work and life. Observing from the outside, the people who are really making change are multidisciplinary, often guided by an overarching mission. They're not worrking on something because they want to become the best at a particular skill, but because they want to build something that achieves a certain effect. It's the difference between trying to ace an exam on a particular subject, and trying to create something that nobody knows exactly how to grade because it uses so many different skills. That can make it more difficult to find the right job - I've often had to make jobs for myself, and when I haven't (like now), I'm drawn to collaborate with similarly multidisciplinary outsiders. But for me, it also makes for much more fulfilling work.

I think we would have been good friends. I'm a shitty writer in high school and college, and I was focused on electrical engineering and physics, but the majority of my friends during those times were studying literature, political science, acheology, etc. I did not hang out with many engineers.

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