The Importance of Vision

Vision is a conceptual grasp of the whole. More, it has a visual element; or rather, an ‘in the mind’s eye’ visual element.

Aristotle, in his treatise De Anima, puts forward an idea which says that all human thought carries at least some vestigial image – he calls this phenomenon, the imago anime,  ‘the picture conjured in the soul’; and further , he claims that strong images thus visualised show as if the objects of thought were present to the senses.

Now this claim, that ‘strong images thus visualised show as if the object of thought was present to the senses’, is not necessarily hyperbole or exaggeration.  Many recorded instances, especially amongst artists (musicians, poets, painters,) of them, as it were, being able to ‘hallucinate at will’ are reliably documented.

Ben Jonson, a dramatist and a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, writes of how he fell asleep at nights watching and enjoying at his feet noblemen with swords duelling together in animated combat, because his imagination worked on his senses so powerfully.

So it is not uncommon for people to ‘see’ in a way that in some sense is analogous to literal and actual vision; see items of their thought when set before their imaginations.

Furthermore, from my experience working with persons whose employment has required them to put into practice certain complex and detailed procedures accurately and methodically, it has been my observation that there is always a select few amongst them who are able to read and digest amendments and revisions of procedure so as to understand them and act upon them, purely from the written documents.

The remaining majority of employees got by because of these select few, whose duty of care it fell out to be to ‘translate’ these written word instructions into verbal communications able to be digested aurally and applied in their work by the others.

Taking these two qualities together: the strong pictorial imagination and the high competence in comprehension and application of complex written instruction; one might observe from experience that there is always in most walks of life, just a minority of participants whose capabilities allow them to perform at such high levels.

The profession of web designer of course benefits exponentially from having attached to it persons of strong visual imagination – this much is more or less self evident.

That developers perhaps might benefit from owning these characteristic, is perhaps a little less obvious to us?

But indeed, the best developers are most likely to be those whose minds and experience have melded over time so as to enable them to grasp as a whole the conceptual range of a complex and intricate task. And to be able to grasp such a range from the written word only also.  They will also be likely to be able to visualise in some depth of foreknowledge and in the abstract and in the round, written specified requirements expected of them.

Matthew Arnold, a Victorian cultural critic and poet famously wrote:

But be his
My special thanks, whose even-balanced soul,
From first youth tested up to extreme old age,
Business could not make dull, nor passion wild;
Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole

these words about the Athenian tragic dramatist Sophocles.

The seeing of discrete tasks and their corollaries and implications ‘steadily and as a whole’ is also what is best required in a developer one would choose. For a developer to have come so far in the course of her life experience so as to be so proficient will have been the fruit of her having employed and practiced her gift for imaginative vision and visualisation; and having joined it to the nurture and improvement of her reading and writing skills (her vocabulary, sentence structure, syntax, grammar, clarity and precision) in both natural language and in her software scripting.

These qualities when embodied together in her will make her a formidable developer; one who is a rare find and a treasure to be cultivated.

The signs that any developer one has in mind for doing a task has such gifts and accomplishments ought to be looked for right from the time one begins preliminary negotiations and discussion with her (or him).

The $64K question remains: what are these telltale signs?

Well, we have some written up here already – like command of natural language. A person whose head is clear and whose mind considers sequentially, a step at a time (and this is not incompatible with imaginative vision – indeed it enables, enhances it) will express herself eloquently in natural language as well as in script.  She will have a care to syntax and vocabulary, punctuation and grammar, so as to be understood rather than to be strictly observant of artificially imposed rules.

There is also temperament. Matthew Arnold compliments Sophocles on being an ‘even-balanced soul’ (see above). The dramatist Ben Jonson (also mentioned above) held a maxim about people generally. He said:

‘Words make a man: speak let me see thee.’

And it is true that a person’s disposition, whether wild or staid, or rash or impulsive, considered and measured; is all illuminated and can be seen because it is revealed, given away, in the way they use speech and handle language.  And so one should study the way in which a developer you are considering speaks, writes, negotiates; is she polite; is she considerate, does she appear to have some ‘depth’; does she interrupt you a lot; is she overbearing; is she confident yet not pushy; is she sensitive to others; does she broach tricky matters with tact?

Has she discretion, integrity, common sense, aptitude, does she talk well about her subject disciplines; does she try to baffle you with science; does she dismiss you because you know little about technical things; is she patient?

This long list of character traits may seem to have little bearing on her developer skills and experience; but you would be much mistaken to believe so. Good qualities in a person carry over into their works and into what they make and produce. Likewise bad qualities act in the exact same way.  Attention to detail for instance: can anyone doubt that attention to detail is an important thing for any developer you’d want to hire?  A general negligent, idle air – would anyone hire a developer who seemed to be wholly uninterested in the project of yours in hand?

Just think about how many mistakes and errors are made in development work by developers whose hearts and minds and selves are not in their works?   The Romans had a saying:

Laborare est orare’ (‘Work is prayer’)

The mediaeval masons working on the great Gothic cathedrals carving beautiful intricate stone-works and statuary wholly in the service of God; with stupendous skill – their names are unknown to us and they were not considered in their time to be celebrities – crafted exquisite traceries and ornament even in the roof arches of their buildings; in those places which never saw the light of day and are hidden absolutely from human view.

The first human eyes since the masons’ own to look upon their hidden works have been the modern day church roof restorers; yet the masons made as much effort, took every bit as much care, in these as they had taken in crafting the parts sculpted for human eyes and approbation.  Thus: ‘work is prayer’

The good developer works likewise. Those parts of her task which will never be inspected by her client; the backend, the coding, the scripts, will be tasks carried out in due honour to his profession and in the service, at the very least, to excellence; and as such they will possess a holiness of sorts about them also, for as long as they remain extant.

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