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We're all versions of Pygmalion

In Ovid's narrative, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor of great renown. According to the writer, Pygmalion had no particular interest in women.

Pygmalion loathing their lascivious Life,
Abhorred all Womankind, but most a Wife.

(Pygmalion And The Statue - Poem by Ovid)

But when he unleashed the best of his creativity and focus, that resulted in the most beautiful and realistic female ivory sculpture he has ever created, Pygmalion had nothing left but to fell in love with his creation.

Pleased with his Idol, he commends, admires,
Adores; and last, the Thing adored, desires.

[...]

He knows 'tis Madness, yet he must adore,
And still the more he knows it, loves the more.

(Pygmalion And The Statue - Poem by Ovid)

In time, Aphrodite's festival day came, and Pygmalion made offerings at her altar. There, too scared to admit his desire, he quietly wished for a bride who would be the "living likeness of my ivory girl". When he returned home, he kissed his ivory statue and found that its lips felt warm. He kissed it again and found that the ivory had lost its hardness. Aphrodite had granted Pygmalion's wish. The poem ends with the sculptor marrying his creation, only to live happily ever after.


I had thoughts before, about how people in IT tend to become severely attached to the outcome of their minds (which can be as tangible as some lines of code, or as abstract as an idea without any practical or rational foundation) when creating, but I was never able to clearly anchor these thoughts on a tangible example until I read this poem.

Ovid does not go to greater lengths in narrating the continuation of Pygmalion's life (apart from the marriage). I, for one, would be interested in the answer to the following question:

How did his sculpting skills evolve after he fell in love with his creation?

I'm always tempted to fall back to this question (and subsequently, try to find an answer) whenever I see people in IT being emotional about their work. Because I strongly feel that getting attached to something you produce (strictly speaking about your professional life here) will impede future ideas and creativity.

I remember reading time again, that you should produce code that is ready to die the moment it works. You should write things that are easy to delete, not easy to extend. Or, as Jeff Atwood puts it:

As a software developer, you are your own worst enemy. The sooner you realize that, the better off you'll be. (Jeff Atwood)

And yet this seems so hard to achieve. As IT people, we get so easily fixated on ideas, on frameworks and tools, on design patterns and approaches that we're left to wonder how come not everyone is doing things like we're doing them? And contradictions end up feeling almost like real, visceral pain and we usually think of them as personal attacks. It's easy to love what we create and defend it via biases and preconceptions.

In a way, we're all versions of Pygmalion, aren't we?

I've grown to despise professional attachment towards the work produced (read this as being prepared to let go and move towards the next challenge). I believe it's limiting future potential and progress. I acknowledge this may not be an idea embraced by everyone, but history proved that progress happened because of people pushing forward with their ideas, always wanting more, always exploring, never resting and never quite pleased with their work.


Despite the love I have for the poem, I fear becoming Pygmalion myself. And I constantly urge people around me to not transform either.

Because the moment we do, we're going to hinder creativity and impede progress. And then ... what are we left with?

Vlad Zelinschi

Vlad Zelinschi

Human. Entrepreneur. Speaker. CTO. Google Developer Expert. Advisor for https://codecamp.ro and https://ndrconf.ai.

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We're all versions of Pygmalion
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