Complexity Sells

A blog post on Packet Pushers contained a quote by E. W. Dijkstra (of the SPF fame) and while trying to figure out whether that quote was real I stumbled upon his keynote address from a 1984 ACM conference (original). Not surprisingly, nothing has changed in the last 30+ years…

Since the Romans have taught us "Simplex Veri Sigillum" —that is: simplicity is the hallmark of truth— we should know better, but complexity continues to have a morbid attraction. […] The sore truth is that complexity sells better.

MacGyvers are also not a new phenomenon:

And it is even more diabolical in that we even use the complexity of our own constructs to impress ourselves. I have often been impressed by the cleverness of my own first solutions; invariably the joy of the subsequent discovery how to streamline the argument was tempered by a feeling of regret that my cleverness was unnecessary after all.

Neither is the tendency to underestimate complexity of other people’s jobs…

The intrinsic difficulty of the programming task has never been refuted, it has only been denied because admitting it was socially unacceptable.

… or the wonderful ideas of “X will get rid of Y”:

People tend to forget that "doing away with the programmer" was COBOL's major original objective.

Replace “programmer” with “networking engineer” and COBOL with SDN ;)

Finally, these great ideas usually fail spectacularly:

Fifteen years later, 80% of the world's programming force was absorbed by the use of COBOL, a figure which gives us some idea of how effective that elixir has been.

I wonder what we’ll be saying about SDN fifteen years from now…

I could go on and on quoting mr. Dijkstra’s ideas, but it’s much better to enjoy the original.


  1. One of the best posts on SDN. Thank you.
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