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The title says it all. Where/When was "a good developer is a lazy developer" (or its equivalent) first said, in which context and for what purpose?

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    I remember my junior high school math teacher saying laziness was a good quality for mathematicians; that was in the late 1970's when I first heard it. I'm sure the theme of lazy = efficient was well known in many circles.
    – Erik Eidt
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 14:27
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    Can confirm the "mathematicians are lazy" saying being around in the late 70s.
    – dirkt
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 17:12
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    The one I like the most is: the goal of systemic is to what? They answer with good stuff, systems working, automation and the like. And then I tell them nope! Doing all that is so time is free to listen to mp3 files! I love the face expressions and comments. Never gets old.
    – Spud
    Commented May 23, 2023 at 1:12
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    From my perspective, it first appeared on 22 May 2023 on Retrocomputing, because I've never heard it before. It's also nonsense, but you weren't asking about that.
    – JeremyP
    Commented May 23, 2023 at 12:00
  • A few months before "cut and paste is the lowest form of programming"? Commented May 24, 2023 at 17:12

3 Answers 3

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Not so sure who was the first, but the quip is neither specific to software or engineering at all. For example the Polish politician and Nobel Price laureate Lech Walesa once mentioned:

I'm lazy. But it's the lazy people who invented the wheel and the bicycle because they didn't like walking or carrying things.

Likewise Clarence Bleicher, then President of Crysler's DeSoto brand, stated at a 1947 Senate testimony:

When I have a tough job at the plant and can't find an easy way to do it, I have a lazy man on it. He'll find an easy way to do it in 10 days. Then we adopt that method.

In software Mr. Bill Gates is often cited to have said

I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.

Except, that quote can not be found in any of his books, but shows up in an 1920 article in ‘Popular Science Monthly’ where Frank B. Gilbreth mentions it as his family's motto.

Bottom line, it's a very common quote used in many areas, more often around engineering and organizational task. I wouldn't be surprised to find quotes going back more then 200 years.

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  • Your one but last paragraph about the 1920 article must be misplaced and thus accounts Mr. Gates for a quote that was said even before he was born.
    – tofro
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 15:20
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    @tofro I'm not sure what you want to tell me. Searching the web will show up Mr. Gates being mentioned with that quote - which he may or may not have used. Point is that the quote attributed to him has been used at least 60+ years prior by Mr. Gilbreth.
    – Raffzahn
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 16:33
  • There is also this quote which may or may not qualify as equivalent.
    – AndreKR
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 15:03
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I don’t know whether this is the first appearance, but the idea was popularised in programming circles (at least, those I frequented at the time) by Larry Wall, Perl’s creator. The first edition of Programming perl (1991) says

We will encourage you to develop the three great virtues of a programmer: laziness, impatience, and hubris.

and its glossary defines laziness as

The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful, and document what you wrote so you don’t have to answer so many questions about it. Hence, the first great virtue of a programmer. Also hence, this book.

Later on, Larry Wall would explain the history thus:

The beginnings of Perl were directly inspired by running into a problem I couldn't solve with the tools I had. Or rather, that I couldn't easily solve. As the Apostle Paul so succinctly put it, “All things are possible, but not all things are expedient.” I could have solved my problem with awk and shell eventually, but I possess a fortuitous surplus of the three chief virtues of a programmer: Laziness, Impatience and Hubris. I was too lazy to do it in awk because it would have been hard to get awk to jump through the hoops I was wanting it to jump through. I was too impatient to wait for awk to finish because it was so slow. And finally, I had the hubris to think I could do better.

I imagine there are earlier references on Usenet but I haven’t found them.

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    I was saying that well before 1991, and I think I invented it for myself, rather than reading it anywhere. I hold it to be a truth that is self-evident, so there's likely no single originator. I also refer to 'applied laziness'.
    – dave
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 13:27
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    @another-dave I agree. I independently invented the idea myself in order to justify the hundreds of hours I would spend to write a tool to save 10 hours of work. I had the idea right, but failed when it came to the math. Commented May 22, 2023 at 18:03
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    I think I agree that Larry Wall can at least be credited with popularizing the concept in the programming field, and enshrining it as a widely-accepted virtue. Of his three virtues, I think this is the one everyone remembers. Commented May 22, 2023 at 21:35
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    I would like, however, to claim ownership of the phrase "we don't have the f***ing time to take shortcuts". This might sound like it's in opposition to the applied-laziness principle, but it's actually about how not doing it right results in more work in total.
    – dave
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 22:53
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    @WayneConrad it's only 100 hours the first time, and usually 100 hours of fun weight less that 10 hours working. Me e.g, I cannot work at all; There's no company in the world that can pay me that much, I need to have fun. And: the 2nd time when that 10 hours task comes up, and you can say "wait a sec, I have already made a tool for that", you're the man ;)
    – Tommylee2k
    Commented May 23, 2023 at 9:13
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Here are some older statements of the general concept, not specific to software development:

Quote Investigator attributes to Agatha Christie in 1977:

I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention-- invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness.

I have been unable to find it online, but I believe something similar was spoken by Ensign Pulver in the play Mister Roberts from 1948, which I read in high school. (This line didn't appear to make it into the 1955 film script which is available online.)

Also, German general Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord is quoted as dividing his officers into four "quadrants" like this:

I distinguish four types. There are clever, hardworking, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and hardworking; their place is the General Staff. The next ones are stupid and lazy; they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the mental clarity and strength of nerve necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is both stupid and hardworking; he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always only cause damage.

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  • Nice. I think remember the Hammerstein quadrants in a different context.
    – Raffzahn
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 22:42
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    In Robert Heinlein's "Time enough for love", there is a chapter devoted to a naval officer (Dave?) who was both lazy and inventive. Commented May 23, 2023 at 5:05
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    @No'amNewman thanks for the reminder on that one too! It's probably 40 years since I read TEFL.
    – Theodore
    Commented May 23, 2023 at 13:29

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