Lispian Random meanderings on whatever catches my fancy

Lispian
Coders at Work

I recently finished reading Coders at Work by Peter Seibel. You can pick up a copy at your local bookstore or on online at places like Chapters or Amazon. You can read Peter’s blog here, also well worth visiting.

I found it a great read, though there are a number of typos, format errors, and grammatical mistakes. I do also find he should have cleaned up the format a bit. It’s in an interview format, which is fine, but there are places where it could have flowed better. Sometimes there’s a single interjection by either the author or the coder being interviewed. I didn’t quite see the point as those small interjections didn’t offer much, if anything.

However, overall, I really enjoyed the book. There are some nice tidbits, including the overall dislike of C++ — with which I can sympathize.

While reading the book I decided to tag passages I thought were insightful or interesting. Here’s a summary.

  • Jamie Zawinski   (7)
  • Brad Fitzpatrick  (7)
  • Douglas Crockford  (12)
  • Brendan Eich  (7)
  • Joshua Bloch   (7)
  • Joe Armstrong   (9)
  • Simon Peyton Jones    (4)
  • Peter Norvig   (4)
  • Guy Steele   (14)
  • Dan Ingalls   (7)
  • L Peter Deutsch  (13)
  • Ken Thompson   (9)
  • Fran Allen   (4)
  • Bernie Cosell   (6)
  • Donald Knuth  (14)

Obviously I found Douglas Crockford, Guy Steele, L Peter Deutsch, and Donald Knuth the most interesting.

The above stats are rather meaningless since they apply to my particular read of the book and reflect my interests or where the interviewee is actually stating something that makes me take notice. Others may not be so enamoured with what a given interviewee stated at a given point, but no matter.

Ultimately, the book was a satisfying read. I like reading up on computer history from a personal perspective. I think the lack of computer historians is rather troubling as we’ll lose these first person reflections as folks retire and then pass on. Knowing why things are the way they are is important to understanding how we can fix them, improve upon them, or when it’s time to throw something out.

In fact, I think that last is a big problem. We seem unwilling to walk away from something and simply say that it’s past its best before date. That it’s time to rework a system or solution or redo it entirely. Instead, we patch and patch and fix and extend until we end up with totally unmanageable messes on our hands. It’s totally aggravating. And having been in the computer industry for 30 years now I bemoan how bad its gotten. Seibel is right in asking many of his interviewees whether or not they could be a programmer today. That one question resonated most with me. Today I find computer science rather infuriating, frustrating, and depressing. Instead of getting smaller, better, more efficient, more expressive I see bigger, more cumbersome solutions and languages. I thought by now systems would be much much better. But it just isn’t so.

Thus, I can’t recommend the book highly enough. It’s a great read. You get historical perspective from a variety of people. You can read some fairly blunt assessments of where we are and what some are trying to do about it. And yet you can’t but help hear an underlying lament over what’s become of the field. That somehow we’ve seriously lost our way. That it just isn’t what we all thought it would be 30 years ago and that that is highly depressing for all involved.

For the nerd or geek in your life, this would be a great present. I’d actually recommend it along with Founders at Work.

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December 2009
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