Trades, Crafts, and Certification

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Dan North says that programming is a trade, and not a craft.  I agree with him that it’s a trade, like plumbing and wiring.  I’ve already disagreed with his definition of craft.  I’d say that programming is a craft only when it’s done well.  I’d also say that plumbing and wiring are crafts when done well.  Rather than a definition, how about a couple examples to illustrate the point?

We’ve got an excellent plumber.  He’s not producing art, but he does a neat job.  The pipes run straight and are well supported.  When he’s repairing old work, he may cut out a section that’s been patched numerous times and replace it with new, more reliable, work.  When he has to cut holes in the wall to reach old plumbing, he repairs those holes so they work isn’t obvious.

The electrician who wired our new house is a different matter.  electrical panel installationHe took shortcuts as he saw fit.  Here’s the brand new electrical installation in our new house.  He sized the box with absolutely no room for expansion, even though he knew that we’d want to add more outlets in the unfinished basement.  The new box was actually smaller than the one in the preceding house that we demolished.  Our insistence that this was not acceptable was rejected, but his neglecting to allow for one circuit caused him to expand the installation.  So he slapped up a sub-panel.  Notice the care with which he mounted it partially on the wooden support and partially hanging in mid-air.  Notice how some wires go straight up into the ceiling area, some go through the board, and some go around the edge of the board.  It’s going to be a major chore to do any further work in this area.  That’s kept me from making the adjacent workshop area easy to use.  Moving forward is going to require major rework.

Dan is right that we’d rather our systems be built by craftsmen.  This was no day-jobber, though.  This electrician owns his own business (as does our plumber).  He’s certified as a master electrician.  That means he went through apprenticeship and testing.  The electrical panels are plastered with stickers from the building inspector saying that the installation meets the requirements of the electrical code.  Both the electrician, and his work, are certified by bodies empowered by law.

And yet he did crappy work that did not satisfy his customer.  And we, as his customer, will pay the price for his crappy work every time we go to add or modify anything in this area.

We, as customers, cannot rely on certifications to reassure us.  Even referrals can let us down.  The builder (who did an excellent job in most ways) provided good to excellent sub-contractors except for this one.  I think the builder has finally given up on this sub-contractor, but it’s too late to help us.

In the end, there’s no way to eliminate shoddy workmanship.  But we can promote craftsmanship and the people who practice it.  We can help those who are willing to learn and practice.  It’s a messy world and we can’t fix that.  But we must do what we can, or it only gets worse.

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