My wife and I both got genetic analyses from 23andMe recently. I discovered that my ancestry comes from Britain and Northern Europe. My wife is Mexican, and she found that her ancestry is very diverse.

One of the services of 23andMe is that they offer to connect you to relatives who have also used 23andMe. Using this service my wife found a second cousin whom she had never met, but whose extended family had overlapped with hers. By email they were able to compare the names of aunts and uncles, and the towns where they lived. The more they talked, the more they realized that the overlap with the extended families was large.

Some years back I went through the effort of scanning all the old photo albums that we had created or inherited over the years. From that trove of digitized pictures my wive was able to find a 50 year old photograph of that extended family, taken in a little town in Mexico. She shared that photo with her relative who happened to be visiting that town at the moment.

The relative showed the picture to her aunts, uncles, cousins, and they all started pointing to people that they recognized. Many tears flowed as warm recollections were conveyed. This is apparently the only surviving photograph of that extended family; and now they all have, and cherish, it.

Now I want you to consider what made this possible.

  • I scanned those pictures on a whim, using Photomyne an iPhone app that makes scanning and cataloging old photos very easy.
  • My wife was able to find that picture using the Photos app on the Mac.
  • The software at 23andMe was able to find her distant relative.
  • Email and FaceTime allowed the two to communicate.
  • And the internet ran through it all.

Software. It was software that drove the connection of all those people. It was software that enabled the warm tears of recollection to flow. It was software that provided the photo to the folks in that little town in Mexico, who had not seen the faces of their loved ones in 50 years. It was Software. It was you and I – the programmers who built the systems and the connections that made that miracle happen.

Software is the circulatory system of our civilization. Software digests, filters, and sorts the constituents of the information stream. Software routes the necessary element of that stream to the right places. Software is the heart, the lungs, the vessels, the liver and kidneys, and the digestive system of our civilization. Nothing works anymore without software. Our civilization could no longer survive without software.

But software does more than support the survival of our civilization. Software also supports those moments of joy that my wife and her relatives recently experienced.

It is things like this that make me proud to be a programmer. Without us, our civilization could not survive, and the warm connections between relatives and friends could not be made.

It is things like this that also make me yearn for a deeper discipline and professionalism for our industry. Too much depends upon us now. We’re going to have to leave the wild west of software behind and civilize ourselves, so that the civilization we support will continue to prosper.