Digital masons assigned and awaiting

The human flow, waiting to fly out of Thailand’s new Suvarnabhumi Airport.  

Masons once wandered the medieval world, moving from project to project, bringing with them a codex of knowledge, understanding and experience in working with stone. Building cathedrals, bridges, and houses from hewn rock and timber was no easy task. It took years to learn the practical and theoretical methods for getting a building to stay upright.

The way I see it, software programmers have become the itinerant builders of the digital world. To enter their profession takes aptitude, study, experience and skills that are not visible to ordinary folk.

Many of these wandering programmers are from the subcontinent. Intellectual body-shop firms hire them out into software development projects around the world. They fly in and fly out, do the work, send the money home and hope one day for that big break that will get them hired full-time by one of the enormous multi-national software firms. Then, as they move up the ladder, they might relocate and finally bring their families with them.

The subject of this photograph is the two bright-looking, highly focussed men deep in thought, waiting to fly out of Thailand’s new Suvarnabhumi Airport. Experienced international business travellers wear these kinds of patient, far away looks on their faces.

They know from long experience that sitting, waiting and watching the endless human flow is simply part of the game.

Writing software is a team effort, just as was building from stone back in the day. One of the frustrations of being in software is your hard work is invisible to all but a few people. Those are the people who can look at your source code and understand the cleverness of your creative endeavours.

One does not have to be a mason to understand the grandeur of a cathedral. If you built it well, it speaks to people of uplifting spirituality, power and beauty. With any luck, it will have lasted for centuries.

Good software is invisible. Well written software never interferes or calls attention to itself. However essential it is, however deep you have had to plumb into the technical aspects of computer science and human behaviour, the digital mason and their works are best when totally invisible to the user.

And ephemeral. The next software update is likely to overwrite your work, and all your care, effort and expertise are over-written, wiped out and lost forever. It is a good thing programming pays well – it has to have something going for it.