I recently finished reading another book recommended by a career/professional development specialist. This one, titled “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” by Daniel H. Pink, presents evidence of why “left-brained” jobs are becoming obsolete (in the U.S.A.) and recommends skills that can be developed for individuals in those careers to become more “right-brained”.
While “left-brained” and “right-brained” are not physiologically accurate (pretty much everything we do requires both hemispheres of our brain), the author uses these terms to describe the amount of creativity required to do that job. Examples of left-brained jobs given include lawyers, accountants, and software engineers. While I cannot speak to the day-to-day activities of lawyers or accountants, as I have no experience with those professions, I can speak a fair bit to the skills required to be a software engineer/programmer.
My Bachelor’s degree is in Biomedical Engineering, which required me to take courses in Java & MATLAB programming. The book’s author on a couple occasions also categorized science as a left-brained field. Based on my experiences in the science and tech, I fundamentally disagree with Pink’s assertion that people in scientific and technical fields lack creativity.
I hope that Pink’s beliefs that science and tech don’t inherently require creativity is due to an insufficient understanding, rather than willful ignorance, or what those fields entail. Generally speaking, scientists and programmers are presented with a problem and tasked with discovering or creating a solution. In the case of science, unsolved problems include climate change, limited natural resources, everything we don’t yet know about the human brain, and countless others. In software programming, unsolved problems may include incorporating a new feature into a larger existing software package or creating the next big social media app.
**I apologize that the relative significance of the example problems given for science and tech are starkly contrasting, but I am not personally familiar with the big-picture questions programmers are trying to answer. Feel free to educate me in them.**
Ultimately, the solutions to all of these problems will require creativity to both think up and design experiments to test the solutions. In science, we use experiments to answer small parts of a larger question. It requires creativity and intelligence to think of the fastest and most accurate ways to answer our question given a limited number of resources (e.g. money, time, personnel, equipment, etc.). In programming, they use different coding languages and progressive logic to come up with solutions to their problems.
Two different programmers given the same problem are highly unlikely to write the exact same code as a solution. Both will be able to understand what happens in each line of code and how that contributes to the outputted solution, just as scientists understand how each experiment answers a small part of the larger question.
I would also like to note that especially good experimental designs and software code are commonly described using the same terminology as is used for art and music: elegant, cohesive, balanced, creative, complementary, imaginative, etc. This is not a coincidence.
I found reading Daniel Pink’s superficial assessment of science and tech to be especially frustrating because, while the book is not new (it was first published in 2005), I’m sure that many people outside these fields hold the same misunderstandings of what kinds of people do well in science and tech. I want creatively-minded free-thinkers to know that they have a place in science and tech, and are very likely to thrive here. Even more so, if they don’t already, I want scientists and programmers to recognize and celebrate how creative they really are.