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I have no answer to that

When Margaret Hamilton, software engineer on the Apollo Project, was asked how researchers could overcome the suffocating bureaucracy at NASA, she said “I have no answer to that”.

She was the person who coined the term “software engineering” to distinguish it from hardware and other kinds of engineering. In an interview about how this term started to be used, she said:

“When I first started using this phrase, it was considered to be quite amusing. It was an ongoing joke for a long time. They liked to kid me about my radical ideas. Software eventually and necessarily gained the same respect as any other discipline.”

Nobody has the answers to all the questions at the beginning. Nobody knows how it was possible to work in a company like this and develop this product; nobody understand how, against all odds, the launch was successful.

One thing is certain. It wasn’t luck.

When they asked Margaret Hamilton how she felt when the Apollo landed on the moon, she said that she was more excited about the success of the programme than about the fact that they’d reached the moon.

She knew that lives were at stake, and that the software must not fail. Her commitment was to making it right and to making it happen, not to reaching the moon.

We all need a dream, but the dream and the outcome are not why we do what we do.

Caring, commitment and accountability need to be part of your story, but the dream is not the story: it’s only one fraction of it.

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