Many thanks to Hanzík for the Czech translations!

moderately geeky  moderately geeky

Case 194


Young master Zjing had let the senior monk Wangohan choose his own technology stack for the project he was building.

“For from what I have observed in the valley,” she explained, “managing developers is like herding cattle: if you want the animal to move forward, the worst place to stand is in its path.”

Throughout the first month Zjing was confident of the wisdom of her approach, for Wangohan was happier than she had ever seen him. He arrived early and eager each morning, seldom leaving his cubicle except for sleep. He had even been observed chatting amiably with the monk Landhwa, whom he despised.

But in the past few weeks Wangohan’s demeanor had changed. He still arrived early and stayed late, but now he spoke to no one. During teleconferences he appeared so sallow and pale that Zjing had to check the color balance of her monitor.

When she finally asked the monk what troubled him, Wangohan replied only that he had encountered some unanticipated difficulties, but (he assured her) have no fear: he had Googled this, downloaded that, sent messages to these and got answers from those, and all would be right as rain soon enough. Before Zjing could ask for specifics, or even a few proper nouns, Wangohan terminated the call.

I must investigate, thought Zjing.

She began with Wangohan’s code, and discovered that everything about it was unfamiliar—even the implementation language was one which the Temple did not use. Wading through the alien syntax, she learned that the user interface was coded with an AJAX-JSON-XPath framework well beyond the capabilities of the Temple’s junior developers; the templating language made Perl4 look civilized and quaint; and the persistence layer was a NoSQL database so experimental that the release number began with two zeroes and ended in the words ‘alpha’ and ‘SNAPSHOT’.

I have investigated, thought Zjing. And now I must lie down.

- - -

The next day, after being pressed, Wangohan confessed that he could not get the various technologies to work as desired. Strange exceptions were appearing. Sometimes the application hung, sometimes it ran out of memory. Having no one in the Temple to turn to, he had resorted to message boards, mailing lists, untried patches, and wild guesses.

Zjing excused herself, left her little hut, and spent the rest of the morning leaning on a low fence overlooking a pasture, thinking.

Eventually some cattle appeared on the other side of the fence, shuffling in her direction. Then a dozen more, and a dozen behind them.

“Farmer!” she called out to the man walking behind the herd. “How do you lead so many cattle to the sweetest clover, losing not one?”

“Wú,” shouted the farmer. “I do no such thing, for bulls and cows know nothing about following—only about avoiding. See how they edge away as I approach! Sometimes I walk to their right to keep them from the forest, sometimes I walk to their left to keep them from the ditch, and sometimes I walk behind to keep them from turning around. I am always moving, yet calm; seeing all, and always seen. In this way I keep my cattle together, although not so crowded that they become anxious and take flight. For the first rule of herding is that you must produce a herd, and a herd is a nebulous thing, midway between order and chaos.”

Hearing these words, Zjing was enlightened.

* Translator Andre Bogus offers the following poem:

The herd was still, the cattle grazed
Zjing saw them and was amazed
How full of harmony those cows
unlike her monks the meadow browse