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Awesome Projects

October 25, 2010
Aerospace project

Some majors just get to do awesome projects

As I’ve written before, I don’t regret my major, because I like the idea of having a job when I graduate. And I don’t buy the arguments of those who believe that accountants don’t provide any value to society. These people say that instead of designing or building something, accountants and financiers only shuffle money around. But my argument is: how could anyone afford to build or design anything complex without a robust capital system in place? The more complex we wish society to be, the more complex the capital structure must be.

…this article is not accounting apologetics. I just wanted to get all of that out before I made my concession: I don’t often feel like I get to do a lot of awesome projects in accounting.

That’s not completely true.

Civilization 5 Social Policies

It's only a matter before Tax is one of these

After this week, I will be engaged in a two week project to reform parts of an imaginary country’s tax code in order to address a given issue (where, much like Law and Order, any similarity to any current or past political issue is merely coincidental.) In the process, I’ll try to tap into my creative juices and tap into the creative juices of a junior and two sophomores, ultimately to demonstrate to those underclassmen (as was demonstrated to me when I was a junior) that tax policy can be like a fun, economic strategy game. (Yeah, I’m waiting for the day that Sid Meier includes tax policy a tier for social policy changes.) We will perfect a presentation that can be as all-out as we want it (while meeting the utmost standards of professionalism), and we’ll also see how differently other teams worked with the same code sections to make very different policy changes.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers LogoPriceWaterhouseCoopers xTax competition is what sold tax to me in the first place. It is, I believe, an AWESOME project. Yet, even it isn’t everything.

For one, going into the Big 4, I won’t be setting tax policy. Secondly, unlike Civilization V’s social policies, tax policies aren’t something you get to pick once you accumulate more culture in a straightforward manner. Instead, tax policy is an intensely political process where ideal policies from any sort of tax or economic standpoint will be suicide from a political standpoint.

And most of the in-class projects in accounting classes are decidedly more mundane.

Maybe I’m failing prey to the greener grass fallacy, but it seems like there are plenty of other majors where this isn’t the case. Two years ago, I had a roommate who was a senior aerospace engineering major. I rarely saw him. You know why? Because he was in the lab. You know, building a plane.

Yeah, that’s the senior aerospace project. Great.

Even when it’s not something big, other majors seem imminently more…practical. How awkward is it to say that in contrast to accounting?!

As someone who now is a technical administrator for a blog (have y’all checked out Wheat & Tares yet? We started with C. Bavota’s Feed Me, Seymour theme, but a lot of the design tweaking is all me), I now am imminently envious of those whose majors naturally acquaint them with programming languages. And I mean, CSS and HTML aren’t even the depth of programming! How cool must it be to come out of school knowing how to develop a program whenever you need to accomplish something, rather than waiting for someone else to get around to it?

Reading the stories of web 2.0 entrepreneurs, who just got up and decided to design a site around some service, makes me realize how valuable programming knowledge is.

…but that’s not all! It’s not just about the practical. It’s not just about these hands-on things.

I read several posts from Kathy Sierra (an unfortunate casualty of the Internet…but that’s another post) about how companies can create passionate users by giving them superpowers. The gist was that instead of trying to explain why the company is awesome, a company should use its manuals to teach the user to be awesome. Even if this may seem counterintuitive (a manual that tells how users can take more satisfying photos doesn’t seem to help Nikon at all), it actually creates more loyalty for Nikon by associating the success with the company.

That was a bit of an aside. I actually wanted to reference something slightly different (but then again, there is that association effect in play…I associated the awesome with that one post from Sierra). The point I wanted to address (but now can’t quite find) was that…there are certain endeavors that lend themselves more to people “kicking ass” at. These are the things that make dreams, about which people become passionate in the first place.

So, even if I think going to school for an art major isn’t the best course of action to maximizing the probability of getting a job, I have to recognize that aesthetics are things that I can feel passionate about.

Design itself is something I wish were emphasized more. I love presentations because presentations give me a chance to flex (my admittedly puny design muscles) on design. Unfortunately, within a business context (where terrible presentations and slide decks run rampant), design is seen as window dressing, as a non-value-add.

I think Steve Jobs would differ. Apple makes hand over fist in revenues not just because it provides a decent product (because people can disagree about its product directions [Fun fact: a Mac crashed while I was writing this article]), but because it delivers a beautiful experience.

In this, the culmination of my formal education, I find the most joy in projects that allow me to incorporate a variety of skills — including those which seem to the uninitiated as being irrelevant to accounting and business. But as I do so — with no formal training — I always have to hope that I won’t do something terribly wrong.

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  1. Of course the world needs accountants. What’s the joke? The only things you can depend on are death and taxes? Someone has to crunch the numbers. Just like someone needs to clean the toliets. Everyone has different talents and abilities. Just because lots of accountants (and computer programmers) don’t spend time on design – doesn’t mean it’s not important.

    My career is not life or death either. The very worst that could happen is that a server somewhere would crash and data would be lost. There is a comfort in that for me personally.

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