Moving Mountains

Nisar works at the Ministry of Road Transport. If you don’t know much about government jobs, there’s surely one thing you know - things move at a snail’s pace. I met Nisar after many years, and naturally we got to talking about his job.

“I’ve been in this department for 7 years now. 7 years! It’s incredible how much power you have once you’re in the system”.

He speaks of his job very passionately. He’s the lead ML Engineer in the Ministry, having created the position when he first joined. He has since led initiatives for where roads should be constructed based on all the data the government has collected about public movement. He describes how his team decides where the roads should be built. 

He tells me how they end up using really simple ML models, and most of the things can just be done using regular Excel Sheets (!!), and that the core engineering isn’t actually very difficult. 

“Doesn’t that bother you though? That you you're far from doing sophisticated engineering, and that things move extremely slowly. You've done complicated engineering in the past, and what you're doing now is rather elementary!”.

I think of the answer he told me a lot. He said

“You must understand that my job is getting the work done within the bounds of my organization. One’s problem statement is not just that part where one sits down by themselves and punches away at a keyboard. It’s the holistic process of moving the entire organization just a millimeter beyond where it was before one started. My problem statement was never to sit down and do sophisticated engineering with government data. It was to meaningfully deploy the results of some engineering work out on the field. And once I define the problem statement that way, I accept the limitations of my organization, and the slowness doesn’t bother me."

My job isn't to conquer the mountain, it's to move the mountain altogether.


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