As an engineering post-graduate student a few years back, and now an engineer working in industry, I have often had this realization very strongly - that most problems we "adults" work on are about "scale" and managing the "chaos" in scale.
By "adults", I mean when we move beyond our graduation and towards post-graduation or industry, where we finally start to solve some real-world problems.
I will take a few examples both from industry and academia:
While doing research in robotics (multi-body dynamics) as a graduate student, I realized that, however challenging the field may have looked to me before, what I really was doing was solving some algebraic equations. As a child, I used to use simple algebra when problems had smaller number of equations; now I was using Linear Algebra to deal with the large number of equations. The problem really was no more challenging than before, only the scale had changed, and hence I had to learn the tools to deal with the scale.
Some of the most important subjects that are recommended to all applied engineering graduates are Linear Algebra and Statistics. Both these subjects really train you to how to deal with "scale".
The concept of "reproducibile research" is really about "managing the chaos" in scale. As more and more people are doing research, it is becoming imperative that academicians document their work meticulously and make it reproducible at any later stage by anyone. It's no more about simply solving problems and moving on.
Currently, working in a startup designing an IoT device, most of the design decisions we take are about the "scalability". We deployed a few devices in some pilot projects and it was easy to handle 10-20 devices. But as the number started to grow, it became so difficult to maintain the devices, that most of the innovation started to be driven by this factor.
I feel that the puzzling nature of problems (as it used to be in childhood, e.g. the thrill of solving Mathematics olympiad problems) gets diminished when you are into solving real engineering problems. The real puzzle (and the thrill!) lies in "scale".
Can someone shed some light on this? Has someone (some engineer/scientist/philosopher) written something on this topic/issue? Moreover, how true do you feel this realization really is? It may be a transient realization because of the current nature of work that I am doing in the industry.
Further, I'm not sure if this forum is the right place to ask this question. Kindly suggest me a different forum, if the question is too off-topic.