Greenfield vs. Brownfield

I came across a fantastic article today from Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter that he wrote called “The pirate gardener”. It’s worth reading in full.

In it, he shares that Brian Eno suggests that artists can be divided into either farmers or cowboys. Then Dave Hickey gave a different spin on the same idea, classifying people as either farmers or pirates.

Austin challenged the idea that we can define people by those categories:

This got me wondering, as I often do, about nouns and verbs. Maybe it isn’t a question of being a farmer or a pirate, but whether you’re farming or pirating. Maybe they’re two different artistic modes that we operate under.

This made me think of a corollary in software engineering. Projects can be classified as either greenfield or brownfield. Often, software engineers have a strong preference one way or the other, and shape their careers accordingly. But that is not who they are.

It is interesting to think about how much our preferences define us. We attach labels to ourselves, and to others, that we call our “identity.” I’m leery of reducing anyone to a single part of their life. People are complex beings. We need to acknowledge that in ourselves and recognize that in others.

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