A Work Allegory

This is a story about an issue that I currently face at work. Perhaps some of you have experienced a similar situation.


Imagine that you live in the arid desert of the American Southwest. You live in a house built of adobe. It’s a good house, sturdy, and it has lasted many centuries. Nobody builds houses out of adobe anymore, and occasionally a piece of wall falls off or a leak develops in the roof, but you can patch it because you know how to fix your adobe house: you’ve done it many times in the past.

However, the house is rather small (having been built around the time of the Anasazi, or approximately 1000 years ago) and you have a pressing need to add a utility shed out back. And because of your remote location you cannot simply go to Home Depot and have a pre-built utility shed delivered: you have to build it yourself.

Now, you could build it out of adobe, and it would certainly match your house. But none of your family members in town know how to work with adobe, so you’d have to send for a distant uncle who is skilled working with adobe structures. Adobe is a time-tested material and, while it is quite cumbersome to work with, has proven its usefulness.

Or, you could build a utility shed using modern techniques and materials that are readily available. In fact, many of your neighbors and community members have the tools and experience necessary to build a utility shed out of 2x4s and plywood if your immediate family should flake out on the project.

Both options would be functionally equivalent for your immediate storage needs. Both sheds will require constant maintenance in order to stand for many years. The adobe shed’s walls will be thicker and heavier to build, but the modern 2×4 & plywood shed requires you to pour a concrete foundation first. Also, it is easier to add on to the 2×4 shed in the future due to the nature of its construction, whereas the adobe shed would require more extensive modifications (and may completely collapse on you if you’re not careful).

The weather forecast calls for a thunderstorms late next week, so you will have to get it built by then. The choice is yours.

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Author: PhilRW

software engineer, pianist, polymath

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