On quality, beauty and elegance. Parting words of a fellow Xebian
This week we said goodbye to a long-time colleague, Luuk Dijkhuis, senior consultant with a history in multiple Xebia units. He agreed to let me share his parting speech with you, here goes:
My dear Xebians, thank you for your kind words. Now, I could say, “thank you, it’s been six nice years, bye bye”, but you deserve more than that. I want to talk a bit about one of our key values. I will keep it short, don’t worry.
So. Quality without compromise. What kind of nonsense is that? Quality is always a compromise, or you will never get anything live, will you. So what ARE we on about?
Like the poet John Keats said, “beauty is truth, truth beauty, that’s all you know on earth and all you need to know”. He said it specifically about the concentrated and timeless austerity of a Grecian urn, but in general there is something to that combination of beauty and truth that resonates.
As most of you know, I have started out as a musician, and I have always had a close relationship to beauty and aesthetics in general. If you want to produce beautiful things or sounds then you must try to see beauty everywhere, that is to say, you must open your eyes to absorb all kinds of it, in order to be able later to produce it yourself. And indeed when you do, it does seem like there is a relationship between truth and beauty. Although the well versed cynic will always be ready to point out some counter examples.
The famous scientist Paul Dirac had a special thing for beauty, he was convinced that mathematics could only be correct when it is beautiful, he said: “What makes the theory of relativity so acceptable to physicists is its great mathematical beauty. This is a quality which cannot be defined, any more than beauty in art can be defined, but which people who study mathematics usually have no difficulty in appreciating”
And it’s the same here in our trade, be it software architecture, or process, or actual code: this notion of beauty, of elegance let’s say, plays an important part in how we do things right. A well known quote of Edsger Dijkstra is “Elegance is not a dispensable luxury but a quality that decides between success and failure”. There you are. You guys all know that, and not only do you know it, you breathe it, you live it. It’s not the actual “Quality” itself that is without compromise, it’s all about the relentless pursuit of it. In our branch, actual quality is obviously contextual, it is in the end all about “fit for purpose”, but elegance in its creation is what makes it stand out and shine.
It was an absolutely exhilarating experience in 2007 to suddenly be plunged into a community that had that kind of attitude towards the things they were doing, and that first sense of “wow, this is great stuff” has never left me. I am truly proud to have been a part of you, of this, of what I have come to see as my extended family of Xebians, with all their crazy quirks and oddities. Hey, I never said that beauty is about being normal 🙂
But now it is time for me to leave you all, not because I have had enough of you, but because there are other things in my life that need to be tended to now. So I say: “goodbye, see you around”, not “farewell”, and I know you will keep that spark going, that search for elegance. It’s only as a community that you can pull this off, so please, despite all that splitting off of Business Units stuff, PLEASE keep doing things right together. I will miss you. Thank you.