Long Now: Views: Essays
This is a nice article describing Thinking Machines and Richard Feynman, a physicist that worked on the bomb, and is known for his sense of humor. The article got me thinking...how would I get to work with Richard Feynman? This was what I came up with off the top of my head.
Going to MIT or Caltech would help. Not necessarily those actual places that matters, but being at a place that attracts passionate and smart like-minded individuals would help. That way, you can learn from them and expose yourself to different ideas. I've found that knowing about different far-flung things really help in your creativity and problem solving skills. For example, I never thought reading and learning about the election process was anything other than being a responsible citizen of a Republic. But with the rise of social media news sites, different election systems gives a good perspective on it.
The other point is probably to be working on an interesting problem. Nothing swarms geeks like an interesting problem. I think this is what managers and business fails to take into account. If you're going to get engineers to work on something, you have to cast it as an interesting problem. Don't tell engineers that they're going to work on airline reservation system. Tell them they're going to work on a distributed large-scale scheduling problem. (On the other hand, engineers need to learn to explain to their cocktail party cohorts that they work on airline reservations systems.)
In this day and age of the Internet, the bar is lower than before to get started on working on something important. You can learn all sorts of stuff to get started. But you still need to be in the right environment to help you along.