About a year and a half ago, we started experimenting with a company structured around project-based work. I remember Peldi asking me what I thought we should name the project for the more operational things he, Anna, Joy, and I work on. When I suggested simply Admin & Finance would be fine, I realized he had been worried I might be offended in some way to be labeled as doing administrative work. He knows the value and importance of the work we were doing, without a doubt.
But on thinking about it some, I realized he's right. There is often some sort of preconceived notion that admin and accounting departments are, well, the unglamorous, uncreative, and perhaps less important areas of a company.
Maybe it's some old notion of the secretary pool, typing away at mundane and repetitive work? A left over comedic archetype of the 1950's stenographer? (By the way, I think we all know in our hearts that secretaries --though hardly ever called that any more-- often are the ones really keep the show running).
Or maybe it's the classic image of bad middle management that "administrates" by pushing paper around, not only being unhelpful to the innovation of the team, but often even stifling it?
Sure, the entry-level, pretty-darn-replaceable admin jobs exist. Sure, there are those paper pushing useless administrators around, but I'd like to give a little shout out to the awesome admin and finance folks out there, that are making and creating in fantastic ways.
It came up again for me recently as I was listening to a story on Marketplace. The author Andrew Yang was being interviewed about his new book Smart People Should Build Things and how he believes we need to encourage our top students not to go get "good," safe, well paying jobs, but instead to be the creators, builders, and risk takers.
I haven't read Yang's book, but what stuck out to me as I listened was he wasn't talking just about those we typically think of when we think of innovators and inventors: "Yang says there's a misconception that start-ups only need coders and engineers. 'Early stage companies need talented salespeople, customer support, management, operations, marketing, administration. They need talented people at every part of the organization, in a variety of roles.' "
I'm fortunate enough to work with folks who appreciate what I do. But that's not always the case. And in fact, some times I don't even appreciate what I do. I didn't study anything related to what I am doing now. I sort of fell into it over time, and something about that makes it seem invalid (i.e. If what I was doing required me having a specific degree, then it would be important.)
But I want to encourage those folks working in admin, accounting, human resources, and business operations, to not fall into the trap of seeing what you are doing as just boring work that sustains others who are doing the real creating.
What we do can be a craft. It can be creating something new: improving relationships, systems, and flow for the company.
And for all those programmers and coders out there, help your co-workers recognize that they are administrative engineers, with the ability to create, to be discoverers of solutions, and inventors of new ways of doing things.
Our good old friend Wikipedia says "Engineers design materials, structures, and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality, regulation, safety, and cost."
We may not be using code to analyze, design, and create, but let's challenge ourselves to remember we can be builders and problem solvers using things such as words and numbers, facilities and logistics, bookkeeping systems and customer records, people and relationships.
Don't let your admin title fool you; we can be makers too.