How vs. Why


Somebody recently mentioned that they were always more interested in the “Why” as compared to the “How” of any technical challenge. That made me think and my (current) conclustion is that there are two major groups of people (at least in the tech world) – people that primarily asks “How?” and people that primarily askes “Why?”

The “How?” Group

“How” is the focus of anybody working daily with solving problems though technology, and it is firmly rooted in us in all those Math and Programming courses at University. I am definitly in this group, even if I am slowly drifting out to the Why group. If there is any occupational hazard for computer geeks (except for destroying our hands on keyboards) it is probably that as soon as we hear about a problem we start to design the system to solve it, our subconscious is constantly working on solving some trivial or non-trivial problem. Things have to have a solution, and if we dont know what it is it is just because we havent thought it through properly.

The “Why?” Group

“Why” to do something is (in my humble opinion) not that important to most techies, and to the ones that consider the “Why” important a pure development job is probably quite unfulfilling. This is the group of where most entreprenurs belong to. They ask questions like “Why should I have to use FTP to upload my photos to the web?” before they ask “How should we implement that?” (see Flickr for the answer). This group of people is much smaller than the “How” group, but everybody in the “How” group can really benefit from thinking more about the “Why”. The best programmers I have ever worked with asks “Why” all day long. And without why we wouldn’t have most of the Web 2.0 apps of today.

More Why’s!

I am finding myself asking “why?” more and more, and “how?” less and less, and now when I am aware of this I will make sure to always ask “why?” before asking “how?”. This will be hard to do, as a programmer asking “how?” has been my focus for many many years.

If I could just expand this post to about 300 pages I can publish a management book! I also need to get a picture of myself in a suit and a tie for the cover, but that should be it…