Dave Jones's Reviews > Coders at Work

Coders at Work by Peter Seibel
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's review
Aug 25, 12

bookshelves: biography, ebooks, technology, history
Recommended for: Computer scientists
Read from July 06 to August 25, 2012

I would recommend this book for those who have a bent toward computer science biographies. Others will find it dry and boring.

I picked this up on Amazon as part of a special. I learned a bit of systems' history and the mindset of those who brought the industry forward. It was kind of cool to revist some machinery/code that I had used.

It was done in a q & a format. There were some surprising insights, similarities (and differences!) that I found intriguing. It had a lot of jargon that I could not fully understand. It is ok history but a bit dry. I'm glad I'm done! I now need some literary entertainment!

I appreciate the Kindle-friendliness of this work. It had a linking index that greatly enhances its usefulness.

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Reading Progress

1.0% "I'm going to take a different approach with this book: Since it contains 15 different bios, I think I will present my thoughts after each bio. I don't feel obligated to read this straight through."
8.0% "Jamie Zawinski.
He really stumbled into programming. In that sense his story is not unlike Bill Gates. Through serendipity he found himself embedded within projects involving brilliant programmers.

The bio illuminated why the Netscape browser (remember?) failure; Fascinating story of internal sabotage.

His guidelines for good documentation struck a chord with me. I almost shouted "Amen!" at times."
15.0% "Brad Fitzpatrick
Mr. F is the youngest person in this book (b. 1980). He started programming when he was 5 years old. By his high school years he was already a success. Much of his story resembles Mr. Zawinski (1st bio) except that Mr. F. went to college. Although he relates that it started to "get interesting" just before he graduated (should've gone to grad school!). He started LiveJournal.com."
21.0% "This book has 2 chapter 3.
Douglas Crockford. He's a senior JavaScript Architect @ Yahoo. Highlights:
1) He favors code reading in which small groups of testers and developers collaboratively review code at regular intervals.
2.He suggests Exodus 23:10-11 as a (letting farmland lay fallow every 7 years) means of quality control. Every 7 cycles, clean code up.
3. Study history: Systems & assoc.problems, etc."
27.0% "Brendan Eich. Inventor of JavaScript while working at Netscape. He convinced Netscape to open source its browser leading to the formation of Mozilla.org and the creation of the FireFox browser. He stumbled into Computer Science while pursuing a Physics degree. He tries to "push the research needle" while simultaneously trying to keep such research practical."
32.0% "Joshua Bloch. A major force behind the development of Java -- one of the most important languages in our increasingly multi-core technocracy. Mr. Bloch has a very pragmatic approach to project development. He likes collaboration and keeping things simple. He's also a great believer in writing the code so that it's maintainable. He's another soul in this book that links linguistics to programming languages."
38.0% "Joe Armstrong - inventor of the Erlang language (used in telphony), OTP platform, and also is involved in Robotics. Mr. A is an actual rocket scientist who has done a stint in a Euro space program. This is the most fascinating bio so far. Mr. A touches on the mental processes behind programming; thinking about a problem long before putting it in code. Fascinating. (I could say a lot more but I don't have room!)"
45.0% "Simon Peyton Jones - Inventor of Haskell and a principal researcher of Microsoft Research labs. He believes (or quote someone who believes) that Moore's law will be broken in his son's lifetime. However, this will not be a constraint on SOFTWARE as the ideas leading to software development have no such limitation. He is a rare bird in that he was a full professor at Glasgow without having earned a Phd."
51.0% "Peter Norvig - Director of research @ Google who has also worked @ NASA. This is the most entertaining bio so far. Mr. N has a quirky sense of creativity but is also very smart in a pragmatic way. He has written programs to turn Google searches into Haikus. He stumbled onto programming almost accidentally and discovered early on that he had an aptitude for it. Has deemed some problem-solving tests as "cheating.""
59.0% "Guy Steele - A programming language polyglot who is involved in creating lisp dialects and involved in the language specification of Java. He is another one in this all-to-frequent pattern of developing an interest in programming by virtue of a computer in his high school. He was phenomenally fortunate to work as a teenager at MIT. He was developing quite the proficiency in programming while still a high schooler."
65.0% "Dan Ingalls -- Inventor of SmallTalk and pop-up menus et al. He noted that in his day it was possible for a programmer to know EVERYTHING about a system. Those days are gone forever. He is another brain trust (yet another Physicist) who stumbled upon programming. He talked about making software literate and how software (a la SmallTalk?) can encourage others into other areas of thought."
71.0% "L Peter Deutsch A prodigy who was working on the software for particle acclerators as a pre-teen. He started out as an idealist who wanted to use software to change the world. After about 50 years in the biz, he got burned out and walked away. Now he is developing software to aid in musical composition. Sounds like a good blend of a right-brain-left-bran task."
76.0% "Ken Thompson - Creator of Unix. This guy was a hippy before it was cool (circa 1960). Yet another story of how a high-schooler found a computing outlet at HS and went on to make a career out of it. He worked at Bell Labs as a researcher straight out of HS! He taught classes when he was a student in those same classes (bet he got an 'A'!) He now works @ Google and has some sharp words about some of G's practices."
81.0% "Fran Allen - Worked her entire career (45 yrs) for IBM on a number of big projects. First woman to win the Turing award. Started in the 1950s. Got a job w/IBM because she needed to pay student loans immediately. Found her niche. Good history of IBM. Innovators in REAL diversity (not the PC crap!). Poignant horror stories of women who had their research hijacked. She still has good ideas about IT cultural progress."
88.0% "Bernie Cosell - Had a hand in laying the foundation for the WWW but later became a sheepfarmer -- using dial-up! His philosophy is the closest to mine: if you don't understand code, rewrite it to something that is easier to maintain. At some point code needs to be modified this is reality. Getting it to work is only a means to an end. Great practical stuff. Has a realistic view of his limitations."
94.0% "Donald Knuth - Author of The Art of Computer Programming and inventor of TeX. He has won just about every award in the industry. His book was named as one of the top 12 physical monographs of the century. He took a 10 year hiatus from authoring it so that he could develop TeX. Likes computer sci history and reading system code. He's an outstanding tester and has Sherlock Holmesian ability to figure out code."

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