Sunday, January 20, 2013

January 19, 2013

I write this at the end of a difficult week, one full of sadness and reflection.  It started on a high, amid 3250 sales leaders at our FKOM in Singapore.  But was quickly followed by the devastating news of the death of two very special colleagues: Andreas Raab and Dean Jacobs.  I have never written an obituary before, and this isn't one.  Rather it is my attempt to piece together what their lives, and now their passing, have meant, and what I've tried to learn from this, after a few fragmented moments of reflection.

Andreas was a key developer of Squeak, under Alan Kay's guidance, and a distinguished member of our technical team at SAP.  He died suddenly, and abruptly, earlier this week.  And Dean, or Deano as I called him for years, another distinguished colleague and dear friend, succumbed to cancer, but not before giving it a hell of a fight.

All week, since absorbing these two hits, I've found myself wandering along, somewhat numb, wondering just how fragile, and fleeting, transient, life is.  How quickly, and abruptly, and certainly, it ends.  And how we are never prepared, even when we know.  How complacent we are, assuming that there is a tomorrow, and carrying on with minutiae and trivia, knowing, certainly in the back of our heads, if not in the front, that these amount to nothing.  How much energy we waste chasing after ghosts, fighting off stupidity, even when we are better off ignoring it, how much time we spend mired in nonsense, being slowed down by the viscosity of the inane and the mundane.  Unaware that moments of joy, and togetherness, and love, and passion, and giving, and creating, and being in touch with the nature within, and the nature without, constitute  precisely the intransience, and the permanence, that we seek, and yet assume for granted and ignore for the shallow and the meaningless.  And yet every once in a while, even if far too rarely, these truths shine through in our work.

After 9/11, Andreas wrote in his blog:

Dear friends and collegues,

The shocking incidents of today make it important for me to say two things: First of all, I wish to express my sadness about what happened in New York and D.C. and I am sure that all of the World is with the U.S. in this hour.

The second issue, which is actually far more important, is that we are in fact working here for a better future - a future in which such horrible incidents don't happen, a future in which our children will live and learn in peace. Computers - the internet - can help to understand other cultures better, can help to understand problems of regions far away better, can help to raise our attention to both, tragedies and threats from parts of this world seemingly far away.

Let us not get distracted by these horrible incidents. Let us work for a better future for all of us, and our children.

My prayers are with the families of all the people in the New York and D.C. area. Although the world will never be as it was yesterday, we can still work to make it a *better* world than before. What I've seen and heard today is in fact giving more hope than one would expect in such an hour.

- Andreas

Andreas, you were right.  Computing technologies are still early, with a promise to improve our lot that is far and wide.  We can, and must, continue to work for a better future for all of us.

Deano once patiently heard me out on an idea I had, back in 2008, and immediately called it VINA.  Those of us who know why I'd named my product HANA, can surmise what VINA would be an acronym of (these were different things).  He told me to pursue it with all vigor and passion I could, and even wrote up a two page plan and description for it.  He almost single-handedly woke SAP up to some harsh realities of the Cloud world.  His observation, that about 2000 1TB DRAM servers could hold all the energy consumption data and compute power to enable more than a billion people around the world (customers of SAP's utilities customers) to play with it, and take better control of their energy destiny.

Both voices now silent, taken far too soon, their dreams far from finished.  And yet both lived lives of passion, and love, and creativity and curiosity.

Jiddu Krishnamurti once said, when reflecting on death, that one cannot fully understand death without understanding life, and that "One may try to give meaning to life, as most people do, saying life is this, or life must be that, but putting aside all these romantic, illusory, idealistic nonsenses, life is one's daily sorrow, its competition, despair, depression, agony - with the occasional flash of beauty and love."  Both Deano, and Andreas, up wherever you are now, thank you, and Godspeed.  You gave us plenty of flashes of beauty and love to celebrate, to remember you by, and to carry on your work and your legacy...