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Masterminds of Programming: Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  436 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Masterminds of Programming features exclusive interviews with the creators of several historic and highly influential programming languages. In this unique collection, you'll learn about the processes that led to specific design decisions, including the goals they had in mind, the trade-offs they had to make, and how their experiences have left an impact on programming tod ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published April 3rd 2009 by O'Reilly Media, Inc.
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Doran Barton
Sep 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Masterminds of Programming Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages by Federico Biancuzzi and Shane Warden and published by O’Reilly and Associates is a large (480 pages), dense book packed full of exposition about language design, software engineering practices, software development lifecycle methodologies, Computer Science curricula, and unique insights into computer and computation history.

The format of the book is straightforward. Each chapter is dedicated to a programm
G. Branden
May 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Interesting and fairly engaging, but not essential.

This was an impulse buy which threw an interrupt into my current-reading stack.

I'm glad I got it at a steep discount, because much of this looks like material one could just as profitably read on a webpage, and O'Reilly's listing it at $39.99.

As far as the content goes, I can say that it consistently held my interest. There are some entertaining snipes between various language designers about each others' work, but also a diplomatic (and, I woul
Jul 06, 2015 added it
Programming is a fickle profession. It's one that encompasses pragmatism and elegance, fashion and science. Much of the entire body of knowledge involves things somebody has already figured out and the rest of us have forgotten. It's a young discipline, and a confused one. We fight turf wars over all the wrong things. Is OO the best? Is functional programming the best? What IS true OO? What IS true functional? What language should I use for everything? What is the killer app of this language? Wh ...more
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Not one star because of the APL interview which is really enjoyable and because of one interesting aspect: the predictions of the language designers. The book is almost ten years old now so it's interesting to see language designers saying "X is the future of programming" (Hint: they're mostly wrong)

Here are the notes I took while reading it:

The first interviews (c++, python) are really bad. The questions aren't interesting, the answers are sexist (programmers are always "he" in this book, and t
Dec 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: to-read-dev
Chapter on Eiffel and Forth was decidedly best reads. Some of the language designers may have gone a bit too philosophical and off-ground as to my liking.
Kai Weber
Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: it
In everyday life people usually discuss a programming language looking at their practical usefulness, either for certain tasks or for the applicability to a wide range of problems and fields. It is absolutely natural for engineers and business people to focus on this aspect of economy. However, there's a second stream (not a creek!) that speaks about the beauty of a language or program code, about elegance, coherence, etc. To a person who comes from the humanities' end of the academic spectrum, ...more
Feb 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely astonishing book. Not "must read", but very tasteful and refined reading.
By the way this book is great example of sophisticated interviewing.
Senthil Kumaran
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a lengthy book. The interviewers did a fantastic job with their questions and covered a range of expert programmers and language designers across the spectrum. The important thing I gained from reading this book was my "enthusiasm" again for different programming languages and styles.
Each different language creator had some "opinions" about the state of affairs and went about in a personal way to do something about it, create a language, create a community, solve the problem, and usual
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating way to look under the hood of one of the most tricky and powerful design processes! A great blend of qualitative insights into entertaining personalities, and real bare-metal technical considerations. Some chapters go more slowly than others, but the good ones a *great* and in no short supply. One of my most frequently-recommended books.
Sweemeng Ng
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
While programming language focus, it have a lot of wisdom on building a system for people. Highly recommended
Suraj Sood
Apr 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really good book for any level of programmer. Stories brought out in interviews with language founders in particular offer a good feel for recent history of the subject!
Mar 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
I was very excited about the prospect of this book, but in the end, it wasn't terribly satisfying — I gained no particular insights about language design, except that everyone, even the designers of utterly baroque languages, likes to quote Einstein ("... as simple as possible, and no simpler."). This book is worth skimming, but certainly not worth owning.

The interviewer is, generally, knowledgeable and passionate, but the interviews are poorly edited, giving the sense that many of the interview
Dec 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: computer-science
Over 400 pages of interviews with a bunch of programming language designers, who come out all too human. Bjarne Stroustrup thinks that C++ is superior to Java because in C++ you can write a multiplication operator to multiply a matrix and a vector, and in Java you have to arbitrarily assign it to the matrix class or to the vector class. James Gosling thinks that C#'s unsafe pointers are "grotesquely stupid". Anders Hejlsberg is "puzzled" about why Sun doesn't evolve the Java virtual machine. Chu ...more
Aug 27, 2014 rated it did not like it
At first, I planned to read this book because someone recommend me to do it, and I didn't have any interests of any other languages but java and SQL. So I decided to only read about them.

The book is an interview between the writer and each creator of the languages, just question-answer conversation.

In SQL, it talks about the story behind the invention of this language and the challenges and the methods they used and he mentioned some of the useful tips that might helped if you are claiming to c
Feb 11, 2015 rated it liked it
[3.5 stars]

Pretty interesting look into the thought processes of the people who invented various different programming languages. Mostly for how closely intertwined the objective aspects of the language were with the various tastes and prejudices of their authors (though of course they probably wouldn't see it that way). Chuck Moore of Forth thinks you've been swindled into buying a machine with an operating system (who needs that?), Larry Wall of Perl fame views himself as the linguist out to s
Ondrej Sykora
Feb 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
A book of interviews with the authors of some of the current popular and interesting programming languages. For a book of interviews, the quality and interestingness is directly proportional to the interestingness of the people in the interview. Not surprisingly, some of the interviews are more engaging than others, but the overall quality is surprisingly high.

The book is an interesting view to the minds of the people responsible for the languages. And for some of the people, it was interesting
Craig Cecil
Feb 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: computers
This book provides an interview format where the author (interviewer) asks the same questions (for the most part) to the creators of popular programming languages (C++, Python, FORTRAN, BASIC, Haskell, UML, Postscript, etc). This format allows the reader to compare and contrast the thought processes, perspectives, and beliefs among the various creators. In that vein, it really succeeds, and you'll no doubt notice many more similarities than differences. But when there are differences, they are v ...more
Sep 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
I think I have a hangover from my computer science undergraduate days as seeing language developers with a certain amount of awe. One side-effect of reading this set of interviews is that I have a much better picture of the diversity of language designers and it seems much more approachable now.[return][return]A few of the interviews seem rough, as if the interviewer and interviewee weren't quite talking about the same thing. Also, it seemed like for one or two of the group interviews that there ...more
Alex Fürstenau
Jan 06, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read only the first three or four interviews. It was kind of interesting to read about the programming languages I use or I had used in the past but the majority was totally boring for me.

If you want to dig a little bit into several programming languages I recommend "Seven languages in seven weeks. I think an interview part would fit to this book much better but a book of pure interviews was just boring over time.

An audio version of the book with the voice of the real visionaries might be bett
This book was unreadable. I quite liked Design and Evolution of C++ by Stroustrup. And I've liked the various other interview/survey the greats of software - but not this one. The questions were dumb, the answers uninteresting. There weren't enough details. Perhaps it gets better later - but 100 pages in - C++, Python, APL, Forth, BASIC - I think I've got enough of a feel for it. Though Forth still looks cool. 1 of 5. ...more
Blair Conrad
Jul 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, library
Not a bad set of interviews with language creators. As you might expect with a collection of this sort, some interviews were better than others. And YMMV, depending on your tastes and familiarity with the various languages. Nearly no code was included, so it's accessible to any programmer type, even if they don't know all of the languages (although I found that my attention wandered for most of the interviews with creators whose languages I didn't know). ...more
Slávek Rydval
Jul 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
To be honest, I didn't read the whole book but just the UML chapter. It contains very inspirative interviews with three authors of UML not always about UML. I write down all interesting thoughts or mentions and make some comments on them (http://blok.ocup.cz/2012/07/co-si-aut..., sorry, in Czech only).

I am about to read about SQL and C# in the future. Am missing the chapter dedicated to Pascal which I used to use for 13 years before I dropped out of programming.
May 01, 2011 rated it liked it
More enjoyable than I expected. That may sound like faint praise, but after having this book sitting on my shelf for a couple of years I simply decided I wasn't interested in the history and motivations of language designers. But I started flicking though, and conversations about language adoption, attitudes to change and marketing issues were illuminating. ...more
Jun 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book - I wish there were more like it. The author does a brilliant job of going pretty deep with each of the subjects. This is reflected in how clearly the personality of each "mastermind" shines through - in some cases revealing almost hurtful arrogance, in others a deep respect for the work of others. I found it to be a very entertaining and educational read. ...more
Andrew Nicholson
Nov 22, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: software
Interesting interviews, and a few nuggets of insight from language designers who've shaped the modern software industry, even if their language(s) are not mainstream/in wide use.

Worth a read, but don't expect to be held spellbound throughout, as it's pretty dry in places.

Would have been better with more story & background.
Dave Bolton
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
Vaguely interesting, but overall it just seemed directionless, and there wasn't anything particularly profound in there. As another reviewer said, many of the masterminds just seemed "provincial". I can't think of any of my programmer friends who'd really get a kick out of this... they'd probably rather be programming. ...more
Jan 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: computing
As the subtitle suggests, this is a collection of conversations with the people behind some of the most important programming languages ever. In spite of some glaring omissions, such as Dennis Richie, it makes for wonderful reading.

Of course, not all subjects provide equally interesting insights (Adin Falkoff's one liners are sometimes exasperating), but very enjoyable nonetheless.
Vasil Kolev
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tech
This was pretty interesting, to see how the people who designed the languages think. Seems like you can find out a lot about a person by just using their language... Some chapters really turned me off some of the languages.

There was some loss of the thread of the conversation in some of the interviews that could've been fixed in editing.
Aug 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read for software types. This is one of those books like "Coders at Work" or "Founders at Work" where the author goes around interviewing masters of the trade, and collect wisdom from all of them. The premise being that the aggregation of their collective sums up to the "GREAT TRUTHS" of the trade. Good read. ...more
Parthan Ramanujam
Sep 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
A nice book where creators of famous programming languages share their experiences, ideologies, reasons and secrets about their brain-child
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