Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dreaming in Code book review

It amazes me how seldom the death struggles and victories of programmers are ever sung. Behind every program and script there are intractable problems that had to be solved,  impossible deadlines, kludges and clever elegant solutions, wild goose chases, tears and triumphs; some of these worthy of epic poetry or of Agatha Christie. Few of these stories ever surface into public consciousness.

After a fashion, Dreaming in Code opens this world to the larger audiences.

Starts fine, comparing software coding to bridge building and pointing out the ways in which wholesome projects break down. Somewhere around here the author refers Britcher's The Limits of Software  as " a disjointed, but impassioned book". Ironically, the same description applies to Dreaming more and more as it progresses: it jumps from here to there making the reader only catch glimpses of what the author tries to show, but not in an ordered fashion. This is not an altogether a bad thing: this is one of those books where you can open it at any page, begin reading and find something interesting to be delighted with.

There is central thread though, Mitch Kapor's Chandler project. We get the inside scoop of its development, decisions and travails. This is where in one way or another the anecdotes sprout and return to. There are also about half a dozen previous books on programming projects that the author frequently refers to, being The Mythical Man-Month the most cited. These mentions in a way feel quite similar to how the characters of the Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy refer to the Guide as a beacon. With these books Rosenberg also shows that despite the better tools there is nothing new under the sun.

Tribulations are one thing. There is also a large component of programming philosophy which waxes towards the end. Programming, not being an exact science, has several schools of thought on how it should be done. Dreaming presents some of these, many relating to the work at hand, others, historical.

Notwithstanding its externally disordered nature, an overall nice book that warrants a reread here and there. Recommended if you have any interest in programming.

(If you want more on team projects try Code Name Ginger for a story on hardware. For a biology one, try the Billion Dollar Molecule) 


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