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Case 145

Five Years

The new abbot of the Spider Clan happened upon the old monk Shinpuru weeding his garden.

Said the abbot, “You have been content to remain a humble developer all your life. Many times you have been offered the post of abbot, yet each time you declined. Now the few hairs clinging to your head are pale and thin. Have you no ambition? As we ask the applicants: where do you see yourself in five years?”

Shinpuru plucked a dandelion that had gone to seed and blew hard upon its puffball. Silver seedlings scattered, wafting up on the breeze. Shinpuru gave the bald broken stem to the abbot, and without another word resumed his gardening.

Later that day the abbot told this story to master Banzen. Producing the dead stem from his robes, the abbot said, “The aimless monk Shinpuru looks forward to nothing but his own death.”

Banzen only laughed. “I asked that same question of the applicant Shinpuru when his face was framed by a lion’s mane, and I received the same answer. There was no Java in those days, no XML, no HTTP. We coded in C and shell scripts, and spoke with wonder of the changes we had seen: for the days of punch-cards and abacus-engines were still fresh in our memories. And now? Now the venerable Shinpuru downloads odd source packages from distant lands, toying with Ruby and Dojo as a gardener might experiment with exotic seeds. Who knows what strange languages he will have mastered five years hence? Meanwhile I will have conducted two thousand miserable code reviews, and you will have filed two thousand unread daily reports.”

The master pointed to the sky. “Tell me: where now are those ambitionless seedlings that Shinpuru blew into the air?”

“I cannot say,” said the abbot. “West or east of where we stand; drifting on the ocean or circling that tree.”

“Five years hence they could be lighting on the moon, with a splendid view of the world below,” said the master. “Remember Shinpuru’s rebuke while you savor your new station, young abbot! The stem may grow tall, but its roots are stubborn and its fate is easily foreseen.”