November 13, 2017
The Impermanent Nature of Our Work
Over this past weekend, I had the incredible opportunity of visiting Harry Potter world in Orlando, Florida for the first time! For those who don't know, I'm a huge Harry Potter nerd and to be able to get my robe at Madam Malkin's and then buy my wand at Ollivander's was absolutely magical. That said, while I spent my time in the park, I couldn't help but be blown away by the attention of detail and work that was put into the recreation of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. And for whatever reason, it suddenly gave me this moment of reflection on the impermanent nature of our work.
Don't get me wrong. I know that nothing lasts forever and there may come a time where something new and shiny will take the place of Harry Potter world. However, in my experience, it's very often that the work we do in the digital space often disappears at a moment notice. And while there is the common saying that "once it's out on the internet you can never delete it," the reality is that so many designs and hours of coding often disappear at a drop of a hat once a new system or redesign is put into place. And short of someone archiving those designs somewhere, they are truly gone.
One of the most insightful pieces of career advice I have ever read went something like this:
If you work in the digital space, don't get attached to your work. Any living codebase will always go through new changes, refactoring, or deletion as time goes on. And designs will outgrow their usefulness and be replaced by new goals and trends.
While the sentiment can probably be shared in many fields, it rings particularly true in the digital space because iteration and change happens so quickly. In fact, I'm sure there are countless stories out there of projects that were abandoned at the 11th hour even though people had spent numerous hours working on it. And let's not even begin to talk about scope creep or changing priorities midway through a project.
However, I write about this not because I find this discouraging; but more instead as a moment of reflection. In fact, whether people realize it or not, this fast pace of change and iteration is what allows us to grow and experiment at an incredible pace. And even though our work may not have the physical impact that beautiful structures like those found in Harry Potter world have on people, our work still has critical value to the day to day operations for many people. And let's not forget that well designed experiences mean that people have a more enjoyable time using a product which is its own reward.
So I end this post reminding myself that even though my work is often impermanent, I should still strive for the same level of beauty and impact that I came to love and treasure while in Harry Potter world. Because at the end of the day, with technologies like VR and AR fast becoming mainstream, it is only a matter of time before our work will begin to have the same impact on people.