In my late teens and early 20s, I used to be fiercely left wing. I attended marches for the NHS, met up with the local socialist student group at my university, and sold the paper, the socialist. Whilst other students were enjoying the weekends I was spending mine manning a socialist stall on the street trying to get people to buy the paper and sign up to the email list. Life was simple. There were bad people exploiting poor people for gains if everybody just thought the way I did, then life would be so much better. It was the greed of these rich powerful people who were the source of all the problems in the world. My mother thought the same way to an extent, she taught physics at a comprehensive school. She wasn’t socialist, but she religiously voted Labor, and there was a slight personal value judgment about people who voted Tory.
Now I am a free market advocate, I dislike the government getting involved with most things, and I am no longer angry at CEOs of companies. My mother has gone from consistently voting Labor, to being worried that Corbyn might get in. So what changed? We both got a heavy dose of education that loads of people can go throughout life without ever receiving, we both set up and ran our own businesses. My mother took all of her pension out, brought a couple of houses that were in such disrepair you couldn’t get a mortgage on them, and pulled 15 hour days renovating them with my step-dad so they could be rented out. She made some profit but considering the amount of physical work she put in, expenses of materials, and management of collecting rent, sorting out legal issues and advertising it wasn’t a gravy train. One tenant recently left. What reward did she get from this exchange? The tenant smoked in the house to such an extent she now has to repaint the whole place. He kept cats and dogs despite the smoking and pets not being in the contract, and several rooms now need to be completely renovated. He also left without giving proper notice, just a torn off piece of paper with no date or anything, and it was not the two months leaving my mother in the lurch, she didn’t have time to prepare for renovations and put an advert out to start looking for other tenants. Again he breached the contract. However, my mother had to grin and bear it. Why? Because the damage was so extensive his deposit didn’t cover it. If she annoys him there is little to stop him damaging the property more. It’s not the high return the media wants you to think. She probably would have earned more money if she converted those hours into supply teaching. Does anyone thank her for the hours, stress, and risk she undertook to provide housing on properties that someone couldn’t get a mortgage on? Improving the supply of housing to the area for a modest return? No, the press constantly run stories about greedy landlords, some of her friends have openly told her that she is greedy and obsessed with money, and she has to stay silent at teacher reunions for fear of being scoffed as once the drinks start flowing, multiple teachers who didn’t receive the insights my mother obtained, start talking about how the world would be a better place if these greedy landlords had their assets seized and that they cause problems as they exploit poor people. Of course, there are some exploiters out there, but their simplistic view of the situation has led to an unfair, alienation of my mother. She openly admits that she also had a simplistic view of the situation until she actually entered the field. A lot of the outcomes don’t even make sense, as they are dictated by masses of people who are not logical or have different incentives and interests to you. For instance, there has been a rise in acid attacks in London. Some of the reasons cited are down to cost, as you can create an acid weapon for a pound as opposed to buying a gun or a knife, legalities, being caught with acid has a much lower sentence if any compared to a knife or gun, and ease of obtaining acid compared to other weapons. I never saw this coming myself, simply because I have no incentive to get creative about attacking someone. When it comes to attacks, I respect the opinions of the professionals who understand the nuances and the people who live on the wrong side of the law in this area. Not the latte sipping, privately educated liberals who will be just as surprised as me about the development, but will no doubt blend it into their simplistic model and reckon they know enough to point the finger of blame and come up with an equaliy simplistic solution to the problem.
I was lucky, or unlucky (depending on how you see it), to receive this education earlier in life. I developed a website with a GP, and I started writing code at a financial tech firm in Holborn central London. The aim of the firm is to replace the payday loan for payments for car repairs. The company uses machine learning algorithms for the car repairs with multiple credit scores to calculate the risk of the borrower not repaying the loan. If the loan gets approved then the borrower can repay the loan over three months at 0% interest. The company makes money because they get a 10% discount when they pay for the car repairs because they are bringing more custom to the garage. This gives us a 10% error window. If 10% of the borrowers default we will lose money as hiring an office, paying employees and running servers cost. The more I understand the nuances of developing a platform that approves loans quickly, the more I understand that high-interest rates are needed if you’re going to approve a loan instantly for any purpose. A specific purpose where you can collect and analyze more data to get a more accurate prediction has a lower risk. The higher the default rates, the higher the interest you have to charge to cover the costs. If you have a way of predicting default rates accurately for any loan quickly, then I suggest that you enter the payday loan market, undercut the existing companies, and dominate the market whilst making plenty of money for yourself. The reason why you’re unlikely to do this is that it’s really hard to make accurate predictions on loans for any purpose quickly. My dislike for pay a gender also subsided when I obtained a math orientated degree physics. I started to look at data more critically. A turning point for me was when I found out that even in 2014 the office of national statistics showed that when over time is excluded, women earned more than men between the ages of 22-39 [link page: 12]. Post 39 could be a result of reforms just not meeting that generation as they were too far down their career path. However, I still see university educated friends brandish one-dimensional statistics with the argument that there’s a group of sexist white men who dictate everything and simply enjoy paying women less. The more I learn about a system, the less angry I get, and the more foolish simplistic models of how that system operates appear. The exception to this is government intervention. The government wields large sums of money that are forcefully taken from the public. Unlike a company that has to deliver some value otherwise customers will not choose to give over their money, the government can send people round who will lock you up if you don’t give over your hard earned cash. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have government intervention at all, there are vulnerable people who are in need. What I am saying is that they have a different incentive. They just have to convince the public on an emotional level that what they are doing is good.
I know what you’re thinking. This is a blog for clinicians who want to innovate with technology. Why am I telling you these stories? I’m highlighting that there is a difference between wisdom that life has beaten into you and academic education. I have multiple degrees and they have taught me a lot, however, taking the untrodden path and trying to create a solution has been a steeper learning curve. If you manage to get a government grant great, do with it what you want. I have seen plenty of government grants pissed up the wall with little to no consequence. However, if you want to create a tech solution that is sustainable and produces a profit so you can grow it, be prepared. Be prepared to understand the nuances of a system where you have to do things that are not straightforward to the outsider. Be prepared for educated but clueless people who have simply turned up to their day job, collected a pay check, and never had to think about the bigger picture put you in their simplistic model, and judge you for it. Be prepared for the press to write simplistic click bait articles about people who are doing what you’re trying to do and demonize them in order to fit the simplest model of what’s going on. You are creating a solution, therefore people are not going to like you for it. An example I have used before is curing cancer. Your opposition will be near enough zero if you stand up and say that we should cure cancer. However, your opposition will grow if you try and create a solution. If you stand up and say we are attempting to cure cancer using stem cells, you will get more opposition than the guy who just said that we need to cure cancer. The only people who can afford to have unrealistic high standards are the ones who are not actually doing anything, just commenting on the sidelines. There is little need to listen to these people. Your time is limited. My life improved drastically when I sought advice from people who had left the confines for their day job and created something. Not all of them created high-value companies, but their experience has beaten wisdom into them that a someone plowing through their day job, moaning how stuff isn’t perfect cannot match. One of the most motivational quotes that fit this narrative is:
“Be the change you want to see in the world”