Some time ago, I came across the following quote by Robert Fulton, an American engineer from the mid 1700s credited with developing the steamboat. Ignoring for a moment the unfortunately gendered language, the quote translates well to modern software engineering:
As the component parts of all new machines may be said to be old[,] it is a nice discriminating judgement, which discovers that a particular arrangement will produce a new and desired effect. … Therefore, the mechanic should sit down among levers, screws, wedges, wheels, etc. like a poet among the letters of the alphabet, considering them as the exhibition of his thoughts; in which a new arrangement transmits a new idea to the world.
A Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation, 1796
While the first sentence might seem less relevant in the modern domain of software engineering, it’s important to remember we’re already building atop foundations decades old.