Chefs & software engineers: what do they have in common?

November 11, 2020

A few weeks ago I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Netflix, and I was very inspired by the story of Jiro Ono - an 89 year old sushi master from Tokyo considered as the greatest sushi craftsman alive. He owns Sukiyabashi Jir: a three-Michelin-starred Japanese sushi restaurant based in Tokyo, Japan.

Jiro shows consistently his passion throughout the documentary. He wakes up early morning and goes to his restaurant with the intention to work harder and perform better than ever before, even though he's been already recognised worldwide. In his own words, he says “All I want to do is make better Sushi” and he does it with the spirit of a Shokunin.

“The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning. The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people. This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.” — Tasio Orate.

In the film it is mentioned that a great chef constantly shows 5 attributes. After I listened to them, I couldn't help drawing a comparison between the craftsmanship displayed by Jiro and his team and the one demonstrated by the dedicated and highly professional software engineers that I've met:

  1. They take their work very seriously and consistently perform at the highest level.
  2. They aspire to improve their skills. A good software engineer, as well as a chef, never stays away from new techniques, ingredients and trends.
  3. Cleanliness. The food is not going to taste good if the restaurant is not clean. In the same way, software engineers won't be able to thrive in a dirty environment, full of bad practices, poor code quality or with lack of a delivery mindset.
  4. Impatience. They are stubborn and insist on having things their own way. Good software engineers are eager to deliver their code (but also they can wait, in order to do the right thing).
  5. What ties these attributes together is passion. That’s what makes a great chef - that's what makes a great software engineer too.

The legend of Jiro lives on to inspire an entire generation towards the principles of craftsmanship (Shokunin). It should be an inspiration for every software engineer in this world as well.

Do your thing just a bit better than yesterday, and do this every single day.