22 February 2008

Ian Kemmish Lives!

He appears to be alive because I just found a website of his that has been updated recently.

Behind every successful organisation stands one person who knows the secretof how to keep the managers away from anything truly important. - Ian Kemmish's email tagline in the 1990s
Always call them "lusers" and then you'll never forget that you're the one who's making their life more unpleasant than it needs to be. - Quoted by Ian Kemmish in Technology Evangelist

When I used Ian's PostScript "clone" Jaws in the 1990s I thought he was the smartest software developer whose software I had ever used. In retrospect I think he was one of the wisest. His choices were great. He got at the core of a problem and produced just the software needed to solve it without adding fluff.

10 years later, most of them spent working as a manager, I am beginning to understand his comment about keeping managers away from important things. Google's flat engineering management structure gets at the same issue, as does the Toyota Production System edict Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others. Being a manager has its own rewards and it is difficult for an entire engineering management team to keep itself grounded in the rigors of the day to day engineering that drive technology companies. Successful companies like Google and Toyota appear to recognize this natural human tendency and deal with it.

However management was only one of the areas where I find myself appreciating Ian's wisdom today. Ian had a genius for looking past the programming fashions of the day and getting at the fundamentals of the area he was working on. His designs and code has a timeless quality that thankfully were mostly expressed in C and PostScript, two relatively straightforward computer languages.

Further Reading

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