This is an addendum to podcast episode 20 on Orr's Talking About Machines, about copier repair technicians.

Orr uses Levi-Strauss's idea of "bricolage" as a way of talking about what makes a good copier repair tech. Broadly, bricolage is the process of rummaging through a whole bunch of things (ideas, experience, tools) you've collected to see which might help you reach a goal, then assembling the pieces you've found (possibly tweaked) to actually reach the goal. (Levi-Strauss also makes the assumption – I think – that you're limited to those sources: you only get to recombine and tweak existing resources.)

I wonder if this notion might be a better way of describing what we refer to as generalist developers, full-stack developers, specializing generalists (aka "T-shaped developers").

In any case, here's what Orr says:

The point of bricolage is the reflective manipulation of a closed set of resources to accomplish some purpose. The set is the accumulation of previous manipulations, one's experience and knowledge and, in literal bricolage, physical objects. This manipulation is done in the context of a specific goal, which influences the process. The items in the set are not limited to a single use or a single meaning, but their properties limit their possible applications. The point of the manipulation is to see whether a given item from the set may be applied toward the goal of the bricolage, possibly by some reinterpretation or modification, or whether ithas some quality that makes it inappropriate in the present context. For my purposes, the significan aspect of bricolage is the reflective manipulation of a set of resources accumulated through experience, with the range of manipulation neither totally free nor constrained to the original manifestation of any element. Like the brcoleur, the technician has a closed set of information resources that do not necessarily provide definitive answers. The bits of the puzzle must be examined in the light of experience to see which combination provides the most reasonable representation of the problematic situation. (pp. 121-122)