Sunday, January 20, 2013

January 19, 2013

I write this at the end of a difficult week, one full of sadness and reflection.  It started on a high, amid 3250 sales leaders at our FKOM in Singapore.  But was quickly followed by the devastating news of the death of two very special colleagues: Andreas Raab and Dean Jacobs.  I have never written an obituary before, and this isn't one.  Rather it is my attempt to piece together what their lives, and now their passing, have meant, and what I've tried to learn from this, after a few fragmented moments of reflection.

Andreas was a key developer of Squeak, under Alan Kay's guidance, and a distinguished member of our technical team at SAP.  He died suddenly, and abruptly, earlier this week.  And Dean, or Deano as I called him for years, another distinguished colleague and dear friend, succumbed to cancer, but not before giving it a hell of a fight.

All week, since absorbing these two hits, I've found myself wandering along, somewhat numb, wondering just how fragile, and fleeting, transient, life is.  How quickly, and abruptly, and certainly, it ends.  And how we are never prepared, even when we know.  How complacent we are, assuming that there is a tomorrow, and carrying on with minutiae and trivia, knowing, certainly in the back of our heads, if not in the front, that these amount to nothing.  How much energy we waste chasing after ghosts, fighting off stupidity, even when we are better off ignoring it, how much time we spend mired in nonsense, being slowed down by the viscosity of the inane and the mundane.  Unaware that moments of joy, and togetherness, and love, and passion, and giving, and creating, and being in touch with the nature within, and the nature without, constitute  precisely the intransience, and the permanence, that we seek, and yet assume for granted and ignore for the shallow and the meaningless.  And yet every once in a while, even if far too rarely, these truths shine through in our work.

After 9/11, Andreas wrote in his blog:



Dear friends and collegues,

The shocking incidents of today make it important for me to say two things: First of all, I wish to express my sadness about what happened in New York and D.C. and I am sure that all of the World is with the U.S. in this hour.

The second issue, which is actually far more important, is that we are in fact working here for a better future - a future in which such horrible incidents don't happen, a future in which our children will live and learn in peace. Computers - the internet - can help to understand other cultures better, can help to understand problems of regions far away better, can help to raise our attention to both, tragedies and threats from parts of this world seemingly far away.

Let us not get distracted by these horrible incidents. Let us work for a better future for all of us, and our children.

My prayers are with the families of all the people in the New York and D.C. area. Although the world will never be as it was yesterday, we can still work to make it a *better* world than before. What I've seen and heard today is in fact giving more hope than one would expect in such an hour.

- Andreas


Andreas, you were right.  Computing technologies are still early, with a promise to improve our lot that is far and wide.  We can, and must, continue to work for a better future for all of us.

Deano once patiently heard me out on an idea I had, back in 2008, and immediately called it VINA.  Those of us who know why I'd named my product HANA, can surmise what VINA would be an acronym of (these were different things).  He told me to pursue it with all vigor and passion I could, and even wrote up a two page plan and description for it.  He almost single-handedly woke SAP up to some harsh realities of the Cloud world.  His observation, that about 2000 1TB DRAM servers could hold all the energy consumption data and compute power to enable more than a billion people around the world (customers of SAP's utilities customers) to play with it, and take better control of their energy destiny.

Both voices now silent, taken far too soon, their dreams far from finished.  And yet both lived lives of passion, and love, and creativity and curiosity.

Jiddu Krishnamurti once said, when reflecting on death, that one cannot fully understand death without understanding life, and that "One may try to give meaning to life, as most people do, saying life is this, or life must be that, but putting aside all these romantic, illusory, idealistic nonsenses, life is one's daily sorrow, its competition, despair, depression, agony - with the occasional flash of beauty and love."  Both Deano, and Andreas, up wherever you are now, thank you, and Godspeed.  You gave us plenty of flashes of beauty and love to celebrate, to remember you by, and to carry on your work and your legacy...

V

11 comments:

John Mathew said...

Great comment Vishal. It is time to reflect what we are up to and what we are doing. " Life is this , Life must be that ..." all surely an illusion. Billions of years old Universe and Billions people passed by. Who are we a billion year from now (or even 100 years from now ) ?

Vijay said...

"nainam chindanti shastrani
nainam dahati pavakah
na chainam kledayanty apo
na sosayati marutah"

I am sorry for your loss, Vishal.

Unknown said...

Hi Vishal:

While I did not know Dean and Andreas as well and deeply as you did, I did know Dean from BEA days and met him often at SAP; Andreas I had met only recently in August 2012 during the Berlin SAP StartupFocus event.

Thanks for writing this blog - it brings the focus back on living life, and celebrating the work and life of people like Dean and Andreas - both wonderful, passionate people, as we try to cope with their passing

As I mentioned earlier, I knew Dean from BEA days, but also spent sometime with him at SAP whenever he visited from the east coast. His humble, can-do attitude made his brilliance even more endearing. He was the quiet driving force behind some of your key technology initiatives and was equally at peace with those initiatives that saw the light of the day and those that didn't. His smiling face will always be with me

Andreas I met for the first time when I was over in Berlin, and thanks to his passion, and Cafer Tosun's support - Andreas had made himself an integral part of the StartupFocus team - with no heed to org boundaries. It is the passion of people like Andreas that gave the StartupFocus program a chance to be successful. I particularly remember Andreas helping us qualify the insane number of entries we had received in Berlin and goading us to accept ALL the companies that met the criteria without worrying about taking an artificial deadline of 10-12 companies. If I remember correctly we came away with 17 companies accepted that day. At the end of that day I remember Andreas announcing that he would ask to be assigned full-time to the StartupFocus effort.

I am writing this comment for the families of the Dean and Andreas to read, and for my fellow colleagues who have known Dean and/or Andreas to leave their own comments

Thx
Aiaz

Unknown said...

Beautiful, Vishal

Ike Nassi said...

Vishal - a beautifully written (as you say) non-obituary.

Both men will be sorely missed.
-- Ike

Reghu Ram Thanumalayan said...

Dear Vishal,

Your blog reflects lot of things about life that I have also been thinking about since the time I came to know the sad news about Dean.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have got the opportunity to work very closely with a genius like Dean. We worked together on two HANA application projects since 2011. Though it's been only two years that I had worked with him, it feels like I have known him for ever. His kind and helping nature, hands on approach and technical understanding of various topics will be sorely missed.

Inspite of his illness, he had been contributing extremely high quality code towards the development of our product. The last call I had with him was on January 4th and the call lasted for about 2 hours as we were trying together to solve a technical problem. The last email I received from him was on January 11th appreciating the good job we had done in solving the technical issue. I have never seen such a commitment from anyone else.

Since I did not hear anything from him after that, I wrote him an email asking if things were fine. Dean did not reply, instead Microsoft Exchange replied with an "Undeliverable" message. The words "Undeliverable" sounded like a bad omen and I was shocked to learn from a colleague that he had passed away a couple of days before. I am extremely sad that I cannot talk nor write to him anymore and but his radiant smiling face will live in my memories for ever.

Ever since he broke the news of his illness, I had big hopes that he will be very soon back in office with his never give up attitude and ever smiling face. The hopes have been dashed now but he will remain in our memories for ever.

We miss you, Dean.

~ Reghu

Jazzy Jens said...

Thank you Vishal for these well chosen words. Dean and I got to play music together a few times last year, but our little project got cut short due to his tragic illness. What a great piano player! Even though we met only a few times, Dean remains an inspiration to me as a musician and a very special person - energetic, mindful, caring, and beautiful.
Jens

Barbara Holzapfel said...

Thank you for these tremendously moving thoughts. I did not have the fortune to have met or worked with eihter Dean or Andreas, but my heart goes out to their families, friends and our colleagues in this difficult time of loss and sorrow. Barbara Holzapfel

Barbara Holzapfel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sundar said...

Hi Vishal,

Well written.

Having had the opportunity to work with Dean for the past couple of years, I always quietly admired his child like enthusiasm and energy on several topics like technology, music, sports etc.
Not being able to control myself few months back, I asked him - "How old are you?" He told me honestly that he was 54 years old. I could hardly believe both based on his looks and also based on his energy.
Hats off to him to have motivated several of his friends, family and colleagues like me to be ever energetic.

When I heard about his death last week - it was shattering. I went through / still going through some of similar thoughts around "What’s the purpose of life?". Its still hard for me to believe that he is not around anymore.

I took the opportunity and made it to Munich on 24th Jan to attend his Funeral - a chance to meet his grieving family and closer friends. Well, it was one of the most touching and yet simple ceremony that I have ever attended.
I got a chance to learn how many people he has sincerely touched and inspired in his life. His elder son gave a fitting speech along with several other close and dear ones. In everyone's speech, there was a sense of loss yet a sense positive energy that Dean has inspired in them.
I was moved.

At the end of the funeral, I shook my hands with Dean's wife and son and wished them All the Best for their future. I saw the tired, wet eyes which still had in them the meaning and purpose of life.

May Dean's soul rest in peace.

Regards,
Sundar

Cyrille said...

Vishal, all,

thank you for those words. Having the possibility to relate to shared sorrow and thoughts is certainly helping me gathering my wits after this tragic event. I met Dean two years ago and, since then, we worked closely together. I am gradually realizing that we'll never talk again and, after reading your words, I felt like I could write some lines.

As many thoughts and memories resonate in my mind, I'd like to pick 2 of them. Dean's most striking character trait which first comes into my mind when thinking of him is probably the contagious, positive energy which he was showing in any situation to make things happen and make all of us go forward. There is so much we still had to learn from him.

The second thought would be the evidence that among the things that counts, the most important are by far people, whether loved ones, friends, esteemed colleagues or neighbors. We should never miss an opportunity to be curious and enterprising together, and should never hesitate to humbly give without counting and let people know how much we appreciate spending time with them. This kind of spirit, full of enthusiasm, was in my eyes also in Dean's nature.

Que Dieu ait son âme!

While looking for some sense in this turbulent train of thoughts, what I surely want to remember is that there is so much around us to be enthusiastic about and so much we can do to make this world better; let's continue tirelessly making meaning together.

Cyrille