Ed Yourdon died in New York on January 20th, age: far-too-young. He had been healthy and active — every bit the Ed we'd known for so many years — up until the early part of December. Remembrances by Guild members follow:
From Tim Lister:
I met Ed Yourdon for the first time in the late summer of 1975. I was working in downtown Manhattan, and I saw an ad in Computerworld, when Computerworld was a printed tabloid, for a Structured Design workshop to be led by Ed Yourdon in the Yourdon offices in midtown. The ad promised a pre-publication copy of the text Structured Design by Yourdon and Constantine to every participant. I signed up immediately.
Having been a protégé of Mike Jackson, the English software design genius, I was eager to see and hear what Ed was up to. I remember it was a three-day workshop with maybe 12 to 15 participants. On the first day I wore my downtown New York uniform, a suit and tie. Ed walked in wearing slacks and a light sweater, and I think I remember that the sweater had a small hole at one of the elbows. I knew I liked this guy. No suit for me for the next two days. Lunch was brought in for the class, and Ed would sit and talk with everyone as we dined on pizza or sandwiches.
It was a great class, and at its end I gave it highest marks on my evaluation sheet, thanked Ed, and headed home. That night I got a call from Ed, and to cut this short, Ed offered me a job as a Yourdon consultant/instructor. After tying up my responsibilities downtown, in October 1975 I became Employee 8. I was 25 and Ed took a shot on me, and it turned out he gave me the biggest leap I ever had in my career.
I reported to P.J. “Bill” Plauger who had come to Yourdon from Bell Labs. With Brian Kernighan he had co-authored Elements of Programming Style in 1974. I never knew how Ed got Bill to join him. All of a sudden I was swimming with some very large fish, yet Ed and Bill never treated me like a minnow. In training I spent most of my time on the road with Ed, giving courses to client companies and consulting on projects trying to master Structured Design for the first time on real projects. I started to teach by myself, and by Spring of 1976, I was off to Australia on a Structured Programming, Structured Design lecture tour, thanks to Ed who convinced the Australian agent, Dennis Davie, that I could handle it all with ease.
The company was doing well and Ed was growing it. Bill Plauger took over the new software development group, and Ed opened his wallet and we got a PDP 11 with Unix. I think we had the first commercial license for Unix. Ed started Yourdon Press because he was frustrated by the book publishing industry’s slow pace. I became head of the consultants/instructors. Tom DeMarco joined as a full time contractor. Steve McMenamin, John Palmer, Ira Morrow, Brian Dickinson, Pat Duran, Lou Mazzucchelli, Becky Winant, James and Suzanne Robertson, III, and Matt Flavin joined the staff. I am sure that I’ve missed many more people whom I should have included on this list.
To Ed’s great credit, the man whose name was on the door, the man with the highest technical credentials, never made himself CTO. Technical ideas met a trial by jury of peers, and Ed made it clear that he was a peer, and that was it. Everyone was encouraged to improve our knowledge base, to improve courses, to invent new ones, to write articles, and to write books. Ed had given the keys to the asylum to the inmates. It was a courageous move. Yourdon Press published a book on Structured Analysis by Victor Weinberg, and a very different take on Structured Analysis by Tom. Let the best ideas win. Yourdon Press published Essential Systems Analysis by McMenamin and Palmer, and Fundamental Concepts of Information Modeling by Matt Flavin, and the process-data battle had been joined. It was such an intellectually exciting place to be.
And all along it was Ed Yourdon’s place. Thank you, Ed. It was the best time of my life.
From James and Suzanne Robertson:
Suzanne and I are grateful for the all-too-brief existence of Ed Yourdon. He changed our careers; he changed our way of thinking. This was not an enforced change, but one we willingly undertook almost from the first meeting with Ed. His ideas, his enthusiasm, his energy, all inspired us to want to be like him. These Ed-inspired changes have been some of the best things we have done in our professional lives.
We first met Ed in London, and shortly after he offered us the opportunity to become the first instructors for the nascent Yourdon Europe. We couldn’t quite believe how lucky we were, as this was the chance to be part of the most exciting organisation we had come across. It was here that we spent happy years being part of the Yourdon “Ideas garden”. We are further indebted as it was here that we met our future Guild partners.
It is impossible to think of anyone in the Yourdon years that did not benefit hugely from being in the orbit of Ed Yourdon. To come in contact wth Ed was to have fairy dust sprinkled on you — you changed .. for the better. You did things that you didn’t think possible, and you did them in a way that was immensely pleasing to yourself and to the people you were doing it for.
There are things we do and thoughts we have today that can be traced back to the time of our association with Ed Yourdon. Before you think we haven’t had a new thought in years, I must add that the man was just plain right so often that his ideas are still valid today. We don’t stop thinking about gravity because it was discovered over 300 years ago — we don’t stop using valid systemic ideas because they were brought to light last century.
Ed Yourdon was a man of ideas and action. He spoke extraordinarily quickly, but this was not idle chatter. These were ideas cascading at you, and you had to listen carefully or they would pass you by. He wrote almost as fast, and the bookshelves crammed with Ed Yourdon’s books are testament to his prolificacy. And everything, everything, was inspirational.
Sadly, a light has gone out in Manhattan. No, not a light; a whole city block.
From Tom DeMarco:
I think of Ed first of all as a dear friend. We first worked together in the late sixties at Mandate Systems in New York. So ours was a friendship of nearly fifty years. During this entire time, I have the sense that Ed never missed a chance to do me a good turn. He critiqued and encouraged writing of mine, and much later, hastened to be the first to offer up a thoughtful review of anything I published and get his review placed optimally to be seen by as much of its market as possible. He helped me shape course material and arranged for my courses to find their niche in the marketplace, always with the most generous imaginable royalty. In fact “generous” is a word I will always associate with Ed.
We often traveled together. The first time he surprised me by springing for a two-bedroom parlor suite at the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong, so we had a common living room between us. And it was there that I first became acquainted with his personal writing habits. The man wrote at typing speed. And he was one of the fastest typists I’ve ever known. What he mostly wrote were letters. A letter from Ed — in spite of how quickly he produced it — was almost always charming, humorous, and gracefully organized. I still have many of them to comfort me at this time of loss.
All this has been highly personal. Ed also accomplished extraordinary things in his all-too-short stay on earth. I expect others will write of his accomplishments, but I will toss in one observation: Ed was the conduit through which many new and valuable practices found their way from academia to industry. Most of us had never heard of Dijkstra, Parnas, Mills, Hoare, Boehm, Basili, Dahl, Fagan, or Nygaard, until we learned of their work from Ed. “Here, read this,” from Ed would often open us up to insights that were simply not yet incorporated into the state of practice in the software world. Academics sometimes grumbled that he was a mere “populizer,” that he was piggybacking on the work of others rather than supplying invention of his own. And yet, their best ideas might have never made their way into general use without Ed. And of course, he was scrupulous about crediting good breakthrough work to the people who had made the breakthroughs. A win-win for everyone: for the software industry because its practice improved and for academics because their work became better known. Ed was not a mere anything; he was a catalyst for the maturing of our entire industry.
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