Sunday, February 17, 2013

Engineers Do It Forever

I read an interesting article on The Verge today (Photoshop is a city for everyone), which detailed a short history of Photoshop, to explain why it is the way it is, and how it will continue to be that way.

I enjoyed the article, but one quote in there bugged me:
"Many of the Adobe employees I met — all fantastic conversationalists — seem like the sort of people whose children grow up to become employees of Google. You know, smart people who’ve had their own heyday, and are now ready for the next generation to shine.”
The quote felt more personal to me because I’ve worked at Adobe (albeit not on Photoshop), as well as other venerable tech companies in Silicon Valley, and now find myself at Google.

What irks me is this: Just because an engineer has some level of success, or got the chance to work on a successful product in some previous generation, doesn’t have any bearing on whether they want to let someone else do it. In fact, I’d argue the opposite: any engineer that has worked on ground-breaking, cool stuff will continue to want to do so. You don’t reach a point in your career and think, “Okay, that’s enough.” Or at least, I don’t think you do if you honestly give a crap about what you’re working on, which is the case with most of the people with whom I’ve had the honor to work.

The fact that you’ve done great stuff in the past means you want to do it again. And again. And again.

Sure, there’s probably a time in life where you just get really, really tired. Or dead. But until that time, how the Hell could you live and work in a place and an industry like this and not continue trying to do amazing new things? Case in point: the article’s author interviewed someone that worked on the original version of Photoshop, and then more recently invented Lightroom during a summer vacation. That doesn’t sound like someone that was ready to let that next generation take over. Or maybe he just didn't have any kids to hand it over to?

Maybe this is just me mis-reading the author’s intention here, but it seemed worth clarifying this for posterity, or at least for myself:
Engineers do what we do because we love doing it, not because it pays the bills. So excuse us while we continue doing it until they pry our cold, dead fingers off our keyboards.


Tim Boudreau said...

C'mon, the notion of 40-something engineers creating hip-and-trendy technologies would completely screw up the zeitgeist!

Joe Darcy said...

In "The Soul of a New Machine," Tracy Kidder summed up this aspect of the tech industry as a game of pinball: the ultimate reward is to get to play again!