A Software Vision Worth Following

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/09/30

There is a really poor translation of a verse in the Bible that has been floating around for a few hundred years — I am particularly attached to it in an anachronistic sort of way.

It goes like this –

Where there is no vision, the people perish: — Proverbs 29:18a (King James Version of the Bible; 1611)

While modern translations are more accurate, there is a truth captured in that wrong translation that gets to the heart of the why questions that I find occupy the unallocated system resources of my brain more often than not.

In a nutshell it comes down to this —

What work is worth doing and what work should, frankly, be set aside?

Call it ‘Philosophy 308: The question of why in the age of tech’. In laymen’s terms —

If I can do anything with the vast array of tech tools and resources at my disposal, what, if anything, should I be doing.

In a broad sense this question is what drives me to work at a Children’s hospital – I buy the idea that I’m making the world a better place by doing work that helps sick kids and their families.

But in a specific sense (particularly in the field of enterprise software development and implementation), I often find myself aching for a clear vision of why the hard work that my collegues and I do — why it matters.

Frankly, a lot of the time I find myself wondering whether it is worth the drama — as anyone who’s been in the game for any amount of time can probably tell you – the endless cycle of scope, design, prototype, test, refine, deploy, maintain, repeat can wear on you without a clear guiding vision.

So, I’m always looking for nuggets that keep me motivated — that remind me why this is a worthy use of my lifespan — milestones of hope when the going gets tough.

Came across one the other day that I want to pass along. It’s essay ‘#46 – Why software sucks (And what to do about it)’ by Scott Berkun.

(Have I mentioned that I would stalk Berkun if I had the time? – I digress.)

While the essay as a whole is brilliant, there is a portion that I found particularly poignant. It casts a vision of software development as a gift culture.

Man, stuff like this helps me get out of bed in the morning — if it does the same for you, please pass the word —

How good things are made When you create you are exercising the greatest power in the universe: bringing something that didn’t exist before into the world. Making something for others is a gift. Few people in the world have the privilege of earning a living by creating things. If you build things for yourself, you are both the creator and the consumer. But if you are making things for others, you don’t receive the gift: you are the gift giver. Most people suck at giving gifts (even to themselves: most of us don’t even know how to make ourselves happy, much less others). We could all fill rooms with the lifetime of junk we’ve received as gifts from people that: were careless, thoughtless, insincere, cheap, indifferent to or ignorant of our needs, had bad taste, no skills, or simply didn’t know us well enough to give something we’d enjoy. Bad software is a bad gift. All of the failures that lead to bad gifts apply to bad software. Good things in the world come from people that have the gift mentality. They do care about who they are designing for. They are sincere about trying to build something that will satisfy a person’s needs. They are willing to expend time and energy refining their thinking and developing new skills so that when they are finished they can sincerely offer what they’ve made to the world as a good thing. They see their work as a deep expression of generosity and as an attempt to live up to their own ideal of quality and workmanship. Good programmers, designers, architects or creators of any kind are simply thoughtful. They are so passionate about making good things, that they will study any discipline, read any book, listen to any person and learn any skill that might improve their abilities to make things worthy of the world. They tear down boundaries of discipline, domain or job title, clawing at any idea, regardless of its origins, that might help them make a better thing.

‘More Accurate’ Footnote —

Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, — Proverbs 29:18a New American Standard Bible (1995)

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