Eat Chaos, Poop Order


Chaos and order are the theme of my life. I consume one and produce the other.

As a student I was very active as a writer, illustrator, organizer, treasurer, commissioner and village idiot for our faculty's Student Association (for Mathematics and Computer Science). It was a very dynamic period of my life. The room our organization was located in, was the most disordered, noisiest and filthiest room I had ever worked in. If you wanted a desk to work at, you first had to move aside piles of paper, binders and coffee cups left behind by one of the other groups or committees. The overused coffee pot had not been properly cleaned since the last ice age. And one of our favorite games was trying to make used tea bags stick to the ceiling for as long as possible. (Preferably until someone had just been able to create himself a nice and clean spot to work in.)

It was also the most productive and rewarding environment I had every worked in.

We organized excursions, student guides, parties, lunches, seminars, you name it. (And we made a nice profit along the way too.) One time, when I had volunteered myself into the new yearbook committee, the question was raised what the theme for the new edition was going to be. I looked around the room and I found the theme for our yearbook all around us…

CHAOS

Jaarboek
I suggested the title because the initials of the Student Association were "CH" (for "Christiaan Huygens"), and because chaos didn't seem to bother us. In fact, we thrived on it. What I didn't realize was that Chaos Theory happened to be one of the hottest topics in mathematics at the time. My own passion was in computer science. (I thought math students were a bunch of loonies and alcohol addicts, half a universe removed from creating any real business value. I was wrong, of course. It turned out most of my fellow computer science students were completely bonkers, and loved a drink as well.) When I left the Student Association, despite the anarchy, insanity and flying tea bags, I left them my self-made bookkeeping software, an extensive how-to guide, and a little more structure than I found when I had first entered that room. I was happy to leave, because I had created something.

ORDER

Being a practical guy I choose Software Engineering as the main focus of my studies. I think theories are nice, as long as they enable me to build something. My master's thesis was a feeble attempt to set up a virtual world with Prolog, using a small set of logic rules. I had tiny populations of virtual wolves and virtual sheep running around in a world of just four squares. It was the first time I saw order being created out of chaos, without touching anything. I was thrilled. And my supervisors were not. Being the anarchistic person that I am, I had not followed any of the directions they had given me. But they made sure I graduate anyway, probably just to get rid of me.

The rest of my life has seen lots of iterations of the same pattern. I adopt an environment of anarchy. I thrive on it. I disregard the official rules and create my own structures. And I leave.

I eat chaos and poop order.

Having followed our industry for some years now, I have been watching the anarchy unfold. It seems as if all the methodologies, models, frameworks, concepts, principles, practices, disciplines and strategies have turned the field of software engineering into a war zone. You can hardly walk anywhere or there's bound to be someone trying to shoot you from one of the trenches. If I claim that specialization is great, the generalists will ridicule me for it. When I say I find user stories very useful, the use cases camp is likely to scorn me. And let's not bring up the knowledge-over-experience debate again. I'm still licking my wounds from last time's encounter with a number of (very experienced) flamethrowers.

But enough of me and my past life. Let's look into the future. These last couple of years I have been very busy consuming. I was hungry. My digestive system has been running in overdrive. And though I haven't quite finished eating, I think I'm ready to start producing some order.

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  • http://www.ingenuityarts.com Milton Friesen

    Great blog. I just found it and will write a post about it in the next while. I like the chaotic/ordered spaces you’ve mapped out and the direct language that you use. Very fine style.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/jurgenappelo/ Jurgen Appelo

    Hi Milton. I’m glad you like it! And I look forward to your review 🙂

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