What’s our legacy?

You put in, on average, somewhere between 40 and 50 years working. Long hours, endless meetings, changes, deadlines and requirements. And at the end of it all, what’s left?

When I walk around in old cemeteries looking at the tombstones for people who were born during the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th century, it also states their profession. As if this is the defining factor, besides when they were born and when they died (Would I want a title on mine? Absolutely not).

And it just makes me wonder, in the times we now live in and the profession we have, what will be left to remember us? The work from generations before us is something we now admire, many hundreds of years later; architecture, paintings, music, writings. sculptures. If I were, say, an architect, I could leave something, a mark, to our children and their children.

When you work as a web developer, and especially a consultant, you know that within maybe two, three years, all, or at least a majority of what you did, will be gone. Just as of lately, maybe 80% of the work I’ve done for a customer since October last year was swiftly replaced just as my assignment ended. Not that it was poor code, but rather that they wanted to tweak and adapt it to their new strategies. And really, that’s fine. They paid for it, they own it, and of course they should do what they seem to be the best fit.

But the moral of it is what we have to deal with: here today, gone tomorrow. Literally. I bet that in about thirty (twenty? ten?) years from now, no one working with software will be able to name the famous developers of today. Software is ever-changing, technological progress just gallops ahead, and each year everything is four times as fast, lean and efficient as it was the previous year.

What’s my legacy?

I think I’ve given up on the naive ambition of leaving any legacy through my day-time work. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and I’m extremely interested in it. I just don’t believe that it will be remembered. Maybe it’s cynical, but on the other hand, maybe it’s better being realistic than nurturing some fake dream of living forever.

I guess that my humble hope instead lies in that with this blog I will make people think, hopefully inspire them, and instead build friendships. Legacy can come from writing, but it’s extremely rare that it comes from software developing. Which somewhat leads to the question: do we need a legacy?

Yes and no. I think it would be nice to know that we will remembered, not out of a kick for your ego, but rather that all you did in your life mattered at all. It is a dreadful thought if your entire life were to be forgotten a year after you’re gone…

I guess that my, no doubt, biggest legacy will be my wonderful daughters. To teach them well. To help, to guide and to assist them through life. The hardest part will have to let go, eventually. What I can do and leave behind me is two fantastic persons who will have been taught the lessons of being humble, sensitive and emphatic but also strong, ambitious and goal-oriented.

No doubt all of these are lessons they will have to learn themselves as well, but at the very least I can get them off to a good start. That will be my legacy.

14 Comments

  • Nathan Smith says:

    Robert: Well spoken, my friend. I appreciate the humility with which you approach life. That's something I could stand to have more of, myself. As far as legacy, I see things like this (for me personally, not trying to bash anyone else over the head with my beliefs)…

    1. God is timeless.

    2. Design principles endure, but change gradually.

    3. Code is constantly changing and being refined (ex: current popularity of Ruby).

    What drives the vision of Godbit.com, for me, is that we're using a medium that (at the moment) is the best way to facilitate and get the word out about the (in my opinion) timeless message. To me, that's legacy. Whether or not someone remembers my name, or what I did, is ultimately irrelevant and doesn't matter to me. All I want to do is faithfully keep the torch kindled until it's time to pass it on.

    When I eventually have kids, I imagine that my sentiments will be similar to yours. In that aspect, we are alike. We want to instill and inspire something in future generations.

  • Rob Kirton says:

    Robert: A very thoughtful and thought provoking post. I have two daughters and two sons myself; and a short while ago came to similar conclusions to yourself.

    I can only hope that the values instilled in my children live on. As a bonus, after my death, maybe something will grow in the soil that my body composts :0)

  • I totally agree that if I were thinking about what to put on my tombstone, I wouldn't be thinking in a professional title.

    Something to be remembered for is a great concern for a lot of people, now, there seems to be little agreement in what is the best. Some want social recognition and then want to be remembered by the greatest achievements that are objective and socially recognizable, like work titles. TakeGauss , for instance, who did so many things for science, required that his tombstone had engraved the solution for the <a>">heptadecagon problem.

    I don't think the Web Developer case is so unique. It is similar to some other professions.

    A cuisine chef, for instance, what legacy will he leave? Either (s)he creates an incredible recipe, a new cooking philosofy or their work will vanish as quick as lunchtime.

    Some other professions produce durable things, but I don't think durable means valuable. I guess in all professions a stand like yours is better.

    Leaving a legacy two or three kids at a time is, not only more valuable, but also is a good way to invest in diversity of thought.

  • Pat says:

    Nice post Robert.. sometimes when I read your entries one thought comes to my mind as soon as the first paragraph is read.. and for this post my one thought was; "Your Kids.. come on!"… then of course at the end of your post.. there it was.. the conclusion I was hoping you would come to 🙂

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Thank you very much for your thorough comments! I sincerely appreciate it, and am glad to see that others share my thoughts.

  • Shadowfiend says:

    Very interesting post indeed. Children are one thing that is very important, but I think another is simply others who have been affected by us. When working in the web development world, we may not leave a direct legacy — the application we wrote, for example, may not last for another fifty years — but we may leave an indirect one, as the design principles and ideas that we instill in programmers of the younger generation are followed through. It is, perhaps, enough to be remembered simply in tales, as in those that some more experienced programmers tell today of their colleagues of old who did this or that and taught them something completely new. Few, in short, are those who will be remembered as Alexander the Great is today; not so few, hopefully, are those who will be remembered by colleagues, friends, and children who will pass that coveted memory on to their own colleagues, friends, and children. That, I think, is something to truly strive for.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Shadowfiend,

    Thank you! I think you make an excellent point. We won't necessarily be remembered for our work itself, but our ways of thinking, handling situation and how we affect and support other people.

    And I agree; what better legacy to leave? 🙂

  • I agree totally. But, I've got a 6yr old son and a 2yr old son, and as far as I'm concerned they are all the legacy I need.

    My work as a .NET developer is wonderful in that it's fun, challenging, creative, and generally right up my alley. I simply love it. But I know it's not going to be remembered years down the road. It just won't matter. But it does one final thing: It pays for me to raise those kids in a great environment.

  • […] What’s our legacy? You put in, on average, somewhere between 40 and 50 years working. Long hours, endless meetings, changes, deadlines and requirements. And at the end of it all, what’s left? […]

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Travis,

    Most definitely. Your work gives you money which in turn helps you to make the best for your children, i.e. your legacy.

  • In search for color schemes yields a great blog entry 🙂

    I concur with what you've written, enough so that I'm seriously considering changing my profession! I've been having these not-so-good thoughts about death, etc. and inevitably I ask the question, what is life all about?

    Constructing bridges, core 2 processors, monumental buildings, even writing … for what? God? Afterlife?

    Everybody goes out works, for money, fame etc. But it will eventually disappear all one day. And I'm not saying that one person's death takes it all away, but from what I know the Earth is not a forever thing, it has a lifetime. What after that?

    This thought rattles my brain, this may be a tangent to what you really said in your post, but just thought I'd share my feelings!

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Mukul,

    Thanks for your comment! I'm just glad if this in any way did make you think; I think it's important to delve deeper and to get a perspective to things. It's way too easy to just get blinded by everyday things and miss the big scheme of things.

  • R K Sabharwal says:

    Hey Guys!

    You are young and have the world at your feet. You have work to do; responsibilities to yourself and those who love you and need you. You can do a lot of good in this world utilizing your talent and helping the " have nots". You can help all by doing a good deed every day and trying to make the world a better place to stay. Stop being negative. Be happy and make others happy.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    R K Sabharwal,

    I agree that we should try and make good things. On my behalf, all the ad incomes from this web site is given to charity, and at least that's something to start with.

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