My great-grandfather was great at filing work, but he didn't work in an office. He was a tool-and-die maker for IBM. New employees would get the drudge work of filing burrs off metal parts.
The art of filing has always had a great part in America's industrial history, back to the very beginning of our industrial boom and Eli Whitney. When Eli (oddly known for his failed cotton gin business today) invented the idea of precision-machined parts, he failed to invent the technology for precision machining. Whitney sold the U.S. government thousands of rifles with supposedly-interchangeable parts.
Like most weapons of the day, Whitney's new repairable rifles weren't very repairable. But some were amazing. If one of the gun mechanisms broke, they could unscrew it, replace it with a brand-new part, and keep the weapon out of the trash heap. The U.S. government was elated.
The other gun manufacturers were scared. They rushed to invent ways to mechanically-manufacture gun parts. They didn't know that Whitney's plan was a scam.
Archeologists have dug around Whitney's old gun-manufacturing plant. They found hundreds of broken files. Instead of mechanically-manufacturing the guns, Whitney was producing them the old way -- and hiring dozens of men to file the pieces until they fit.
Whitney was a hero, but he never got significant financial success. Why? The other gun manufacturers were so scared of Whitney's fake technology, they turned around and actually built the real thing.
But a century-and-a-half later, people still filed away at parts to make them fit. But my great-grandfather wasn't content to file away at uneven steel. Now a tool and die maker, my great-grandfather built the mechanical equivalent of software for the mechanical industry behind IBM. It wasn't his first job -- he had worked at the Pennsylvania coal mines for years -- but it was perhaps his most creative. He and the men he worked with would turn the engineering prowess of IBM's designers into something that could be mass-produced.
Today people don't like to get their hands grubby. They get into an office and fret away in air-conditioned towers. But those mechanical minds of the industrial age? They were real hackers. They were real artists.