I came across an article
in Computerworld
that has some good advice on designing and building IT systems. The
article is by Michael Hugos and he starts out by defining “Systems Builder”:

“This person can speak both the language of technology and the language
of business. This person understands the specific business issues that a new system is
supposed to address and is always looking for simple and effective ways to use technology
to get things done. I call this person the systems builder.”

The whole article is worth reading, but there are a couple of points in particular
that resonated with me. Firstly:

“Look for the simple underlying patterns. This is the creative leap
where investigation and analysis give way to synthesis and the design emerges.”

Synthesis in logical terms is the opposite of analysis. It’s when you combine
individual elements of thought (the results of your analysis) into a coherent whole (the
design). I loved the way Hugos expressed this: the “creative leap” that takes you from
analysis to synthesis and the emergence of a design. It sounds more organic than
iterative, doesn’t it?

But it’s not just any design that you want to emerge. Ideally the design should display
these properties:

“Strive to create system designs that display an elegant simplicity. Use
as few technology components as possible, and use each component for what it does
best.”

Elegant Simplicity… I should get that tattooed onto my forehead.

btw a follow-up article by Hugos is online: The
Systems Builder as Leader
.

I also did a bit of googling on “systems builder” and this article about INTJ types came up. As
I’m an INTJ, this bit appealed to me:

“INTJs are known as the “Systems Builders” of the [Myers-Briggs] types,
perhaps in part because they possess the unusual trait combination of imagination and
reliability.”

Yes, you definitely need imagination to make that “creative leap” and reliability to turn it into reality.

On another tangent,
yesterday I listened to Dave Winer and Steve
Gillmor
and at one point they talked about 3 types of people in the Web world: users,
visionaries, and implementers. Dave defined a visionary as being someone who has “an
expansive view of what’s possible”. So I guess you’d put the Systems Builder into that
visionary category.

When I think of visionaries of the Web, names like Mitch Kapor, Dave Winer himself, Ted Nelson, Tim Berners-Lee, Marc Canter come to mind. I’d like to think I’m in that
mold as well, although of course I’m yet to prove myself in the real world like those
other folks have. I’m working on it though 😉