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Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World

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From acclaimed tech writer Clive Thompson, a brilliant and immersive anthropological reckoning with the most powerful tribe in the world today, computer programmers - where they come from, how they think, what makes for greatness in their world, and what should give us pause.

You use software nearly every instant you're awake. And this may sound weirdly obvious, but every single one of those pieces of software was written by a programmer. Programmers are thus among the most quietly influential people on the planet. As we live in a world made of software, they're the architects. The decisions they make guide our behavior. When they make something newly easy to do, we do a lot more of it. If they make it hard or impossible to do something, we do less of it.

If we want to understand how today's world works, we ought to understand something about coders. Who exactly are the people that are building today's world? What makes them tick? What type of personality is drawn to writing software? And perhaps most interestingly -- what does it do to them?

One of the first pieces of coding a newbie learns is the program to make the computer say "Hello, world!" Like that piece of code, Clive Thompson's book is a delightful place to begin to understand this vocation, which is both a profession and a way of life, and which essentially didn't exist little more than a generation ago, but now is considered just about the only safe bet we can make about what the future holds. Thompson takes us close to some of the great coders of our time, and unpacks the surprising history of the field, beginning with the first great coders, who were women. Ironically, if we're going to traffic in stereotypes, women are arguably "naturally" better at coding than men, but they were written out of the history, and shoved out of the seats, for reasons that are illuminating. Now programming is indeed, if not a pure brotopia, at least an awfully homogenous community, which attracts people from a very narrow band of backgrounds and personality types. As Thompson learns, the consequences of that are significant - not least being a fetish for disruption at scale that doesn't leave much time for pondering larger moral issues of collateral damage. At the same time, coding is a marvelous new art form that has improved the world in innumerable ways, and Thompson reckons deeply, as no one before him has, with what great coding in fact looks like, who creates it, and where they come from. To get as close to his subject has he can, he picks up the thread of his own long-abandoned coding practice, and tries his mightiest to up his game, with some surprising results.

More and more, any serious engagement with the world demands an engagement with code and its consequences, and to understand code, we must understand coders. In that regard, Clive Thompson's Hello, World! is a marvelous and delightful master class.

448 pages, Hardcover

First published March 26, 2019

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About the author

Clive Thompson

22 books114 followers
Clive Thompson is a Canadian freelance journalist, blogger and science and technology writer.

Thompson graduated from the University of Toronto with majors in political science and English. He previously worked for Canada's Report on Business magazine and Shift magazine, then became a freelance contributor for The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Lingua Franca, Wired, Shift, Entertainment Weekly and several other publications.

Thompson writes about digital technologies and their social and cultural impact for a number of publications, including the New York Times Magazine and Wired.

In 2002, he was awarded a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 336 reviews
5 reviews2 followers
May 31, 2019
Clive Thompson's "Coders" is a long and verbose book which, ultimately, fails to deliver significant insights and focuses too much on transient hype, controversy, cherry-picked anecdotes, statistically weak research, frivolous pop-culture references and nitpicked factoids, all filtered, distorted or amplified through the author's narrow and rigid ideological lens.

Thompson's coders (the people whose opinions and stories are presented in the book) are not exactly selected based on their contributions to the industry or the world, either. Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web, the first browser and other technologies), Vinton Cerf (co-inventor of TCP/IP & the Internet), Donald Knuth, Barbara Liskov, Claude Shannon, Vinod Dhamm, James Gosling, Leslie Lamport and many other Computer Scientists or Software engineers who have made major contributions are not even mentioned in the book. Instead, you'll mostly read about smallish and not-quite-important names like Max Whitney, Saron Yitbarek, Anil Dash, Dennis Crowley and many others who seem to be in the book primarily because the author considers them his friends, has managed to hang out with them (at some point), or whatever.

A few major pioneers are mentioned in the book, though briefly e.g.: Whitfield Diffie, Adele Goldberg, Grace Hopper (about which Thompson erroneously claims that she invented the "compiler"; she actually invented a component of a compiler, the linker/loader, and coined the term; the first compiler was created several years later by an IBM team).

When talking about modern "Coders" Thompson loves to rely on stereotypes, cliches and shallow pop-culture caricaturizations, e.g.:
- "These days, the stereotype of a coder is what you'd see on a show like Silicon Valley or Mr. Robot"
- "Nobody is more like a stereotypical coder than one you've just interrupted."
- "Some identified strongly with the Mr. Robot TV series lead hacker character, Elliot, who suffers from depression and deep social anxiety and self-medicates with morphine"

The focus on hype and controversy even manages to botch a few chapters that might have been decent otherwise (Chapters 5-6, 8-10), e.g.: in Chapter 9 (which mostly deals with AI) undue weight is given to multiple rather insignificant stories, e.g.:
- classifying and sorting cucumbers, a story which was given its 5 minutes of fame by the always-searching-for-sensationalism-and-clickbait-media at the expense of other, far more notable developments
- the controversy started by Ali Rahimi (the “Machine learning has become alchemy" guy and not exactly an AI expert himself). Thompson is using a rhetorical trick (known to Wikipedia editors as "weasel words") to emphasize that "Many experts agreed with Rahimi" - but he deliberately omits the strong rebuttals that Rahimi's remarks have received from major AI/Deep-Learning scientists (like Yann LeCun, for example).

When discussing problems with machine learning models, Thompson doesn't seem to understand very well what bias means, either. Imbalanced class problems, Simpson's paradoxes (where bias, is not actually present or even tends to be in the opposite direction of what Thompson expects) are all lumped together and mixed with examples that are probably fair examples of biased models (which, most likely, are caused by training on data-samples that don't properly generalize to the populations intended to be modeled). Some of the solutions Thompson is lauding (e.g."manually de-biasing each gendered word") are silly (and come with the risk of creating more bias and more problems than they actually fix, especially in non-open, non-public systems). Thompson claims that "manual de-biasing" is the "sort of inefficient hand-coding scut work that efficiency-obsessed programmers tend to loathe particularly when the point is to save time". There is some truth in that, but it's not the only and not necessarily the biggest problem. Too often, "manual de-biasing" is just an euphemism for manually introduced bias.

Thompson fails to deliver much insights about Tech & the people involved in it (outside of what you'd expect from an average clickbait/gossip magazine) but, at least, he manages to compensate by parroting several generic grievance studies' themes. He laments: "feminism and diversity are, indeed, sore points in the industry". No, they are not; they are sore points in the grievance studies and media industries. Those are studies bent on complaining; tech is bent on building the future. He goes on to claim that "The racial makeup [of most tech cos] is not more diverse," then goes on to admit that Asians are dominant in tech. Do they not count as diversity?
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
April 20, 2019
This is a really interesting anthropological account of coder culture--but actually, more broadly of tech culture. What I loved was his account of how these stereotypes of coders get made up and then they self-perpetuate because companies start to hire a certain profile. And then this insular community of awkward, egotistical, monoculture of white men end up creating all our entertainment, tech, and shape our culture. I was glad this was not a veneration of these iconic men, but it also wasn't a polemic takedown. I thought it was a really fair portrayal of the culture
Profile Image for Sallar.
38 reviews38 followers
May 2, 2019
This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I would definitely recommend reading this, especially if you’re a Software Engineer or somehow work in IT, or even if your partner is.
I enjoyed every page of the book, but I especially liked the chapters about mental health, sexism and blue collar coding. The author remains fair and unbiased throughout the story and he has interviewed a ridiculously high number of people to write this book. The book never gets boring or too far fetched from reality. As a software engineer I wholeheartedly agree with every single word of it. A strong five stars!
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,628 reviews326 followers
June 28, 2019
A good book by a good writer. Here's the review that led me to read it:
If I were you, I'd read that first.

Back already? The book suffers a bit by the chapters starting life (mostly) as magazine articles. But Thompson has done his homework, is enthusiastic about his topic, and talked to a lot of coders and related people over the years. I was happy to skim past historical stuff I already knew -- and actually, Thompson puts a fresh-enough spin on most of this that I read it anyway. I liked his description of good coders in "The Zone" -- "thinking about the enormous hairball of the entire system" while trying to fix what went wrong. Which is mostly what they do. I liked his description of the engineer's mindset (which I largely share), and how it can go wrong at the edges, when regular people get involved. And Google's mighty AI project, which pretty early on learned to recognize -- Cats! Those pointy ears, those cat-shaped faces. . . .

Thompson's musings on what went wrong at Twitter, Facebook and You-tube, how they amplified political divisions and gave free rein to some real nastiness, is sobering. His suggested fixes? Well, maybe. Worth a try?

And here's Li Gong, Nature's reviewer: "People who interact with coders routinely, as colleagues, friends or family, could benefit tremendously from these insights. . . . Coders might get even more out of the book. They already know the technical terms, would appreciate the analogies (“refactoring software is like editing an article”) and would perhaps understand themselves a little better. "
Profile Image for Kimee.
324 reviews10 followers
April 20, 2021
Before I learned programming, I worked at a tech company in a role where the longterm goal would've been to become best friends with reporters like Thompson. I was in Public Relations, and I was told to never use the word "coder" to describe the people building our software, because it sounded amateur. Later, when I started learning JavaScript, I and friends like me were told something similar: Never call yourself a coder; nobody will take you seriously.

I now work in a hybrid role, Developer Relations, around engineers building complex video technology. I polled them, asking what they thought of the word coder, and one of them said something I really liked: "I think it describes, some, but not all, of what we do. An author is sometimes called a writer, but literally writing (or typing) is probably a minority of what they do."

This colleague unknowingly articulated my problem with this book. It doesn't take this into account, but instead, it makes broad generalizations about a group of people, the kind of people drawn to programming, and doesn't do much to question the harm those same generalizations about a kind of person have caused. Thompson interviews many people in the industry that I follow, and I was particularly annoyed at his unfair characterization of Scott Hanselman. It lacked nuance, and was used to prove a particular point the author wanted to make.

Thompson has spent decades reporting on tech, so he undoubtedly understands members of the industry better than I do, and has seen more than I have. Still, a lot of the generalizations really made me cringe. Also, there was no real conclusion? Despite the anecdote at the end about how coal miners can learn to code, the book still seems to paint programmers as superior to others in a way that I reject.

This book reminded me why I'm so much more drawn to personal stories that paint bigger pictures, like Ellen Ullman's "Life in Code" or Vikram Chandra's "Geek Sublime." If you want to understand people responsible for building the software the world runs on today, I'd hand you those two over this any day. Along with that one Planet Money episode about how marketing ploys in the 80's caused women to stop learning to program, you'd be golden.
Profile Image for Marks54.
1,332 reviews1,154 followers
March 31, 2019
This is a brand new business trade about the coding frenzy that has been around in recent years. It is well informed and well written. What I found most attractive about it was its intelligent discussion of coding and programming as an occupational structure and not just a passing fancy of coding academies and proprietary trade schools. It also provides an intelligent history of the fields and some good commentary on some of the less desirable aspects of coding (unfriendliness to minorities and women, brogramming bad habits, pay issues, etc.). Mr. Thompson presents the good and the bad and does not seem to have too much of a particular axe to grind. This is not a specialized book on coding but it will be informative and entertaining to anyone wanting to learn about the area.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,647 reviews289 followers
November 13, 2019
This is essentially a book of essays – a format I avoid. Collected essays are like “greatest hits” albums with one or two highs and not much holding the work together. Clive Thompson has written a welcome deviation by writing a book of cohesive topical essay-chapters where most information packed chapters build on the ones preceding.

It is also welcome that he sticks with his topic. This is about coding, not hardware or the internet.

Thompson starts at the beginning so you learn a bit about the simplicity of the early code. You come to understand how it became an art based on logic. You learn how there are many ways to code the same project and understand the difficulty in finding “bugs”.

You meet a lot of people in this book. The first employed coders who were women hired in positions viewed as secretarial. Later men, who as teens used the prototype computers of the 70’s and then those who gamed in the 80’s, filled coding jobs. An “animal house” atmosphere often evolved in the workplace. While a few early coders became billionaires, as a group, the early coders had a communal ethos and shunned programs for profit.

While today’s coders see their world as a meritocracy, the numbers tell a different story. The most stunning being the resume study where in blind reviews (no names or gender neutral names) resulted in 50 something percent of the women landing interviews and when gender could be known by names, only 4% did. He also includes some very disturbing quotes from coders to the effect that women are genetically unable to code and that women are better at home.

Thompson shows how not just male dominance, but white male dominance, impacts the code and how the code impacts the daily life of people who rely on it. For instance the data shows the dominance and intensity of cyberbullying of women and minorities. White males, particularly those with degrees from “good schools” typically don’t experience this and when they write code for social media they have little concern for safeguards. Systems coded for use in bail or parole decisions use past data which perpetuates racial bias. For good and bad, facial recognition systems easily identify white, but not black, identities. An aggregation of restaurant reviews was found to biased because the algorithm included all the negative associations for “Mexican” (a word heavily used on hate web sites) brought down the scores for Mexican restaurants. A Mexican coder (and probably most Hispanic coders) would have caught this.

Other cyber-social issues show how coding, due to the biases of the people who create it, made the big social media sites vulnerable to propaganda in the 2016 election. He also talks about the role of coding in creating artificial intelligence and has some provocative things to say about its benefits and threats.

The book ends with a chapter on “blue collar coding” which adds to the many social and economic issues brought forward in this book. Coding, like many fields, is dominated by those who select the personnel. By the time you reach this chapter, you know that a degree is not needed to do the work of coding. The money to be made means that those with the best degrees get the best jobs because they “are a good fit” with the crew that is there. When former workers in the coal industry learned to code they had (and still have) credibility difficulties in the labor market.

This is a comprehensive survey and should be widely read.
Profile Image for Louise.
945 reviews291 followers
January 7, 2021
I mainly jumped around in this book since it's organized more as a collection of long essays. Some things that Thompson observes in his writing are spot on (like how coders mostly have "boundless, nigh masochistic ability to endure brutal, grinding frustration."), but others are just lazy reporting and further perpetuates the stereotype of what a coder is and what they're typically thinking. Reading the book made me jump wildly between, "Hey, that's me!" and "Ugh, that's not true."

Maybe I'm not the intended audience for this book, but if I (a coder) am not, then I don't know who this book is for. Surely people who don't write code don't actually want to read about people writing code, right? It's not exactly exciting or glamorous.
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 29 books403 followers
April 24, 2019
The first computer programmer was a woman. Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter, wrote code in 1842-43 for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine, a computer that was never built. And a century later, when the first digital computers finally came into existence, the programmers were predominantly female. In fact, women continued to dominate the field well into the 1960s. Only then did men begin to find the job attractive. Today, of course, coding—a trendier name for computer programming—is overwhelmingly male. And some men even make the outrageous and easily refuted claim that women are genetically unsuited to the field.

The shifting roles of women and men in the software industry

In his riveting new book, Coders, journalist Clive Thompson traces the history of the computer industry and reviews the shifting roles of the women and men who write the instructions that govern the machines. He also examines the industry's heavily skewed ethnic mix, with white and Asian men now holding the overwhelming majority of the jobs. The picture Thompson paints is unflattering, to say the least.

When women programmers dominated, "the coding back then was harder than today's programming"

"[I]f women's biology made them temperamentally unsuited to coding—and uninterested in it," Thompson writes, "it's difficult to explain why they were so prominent in the early years of American programming. After all, the coding back then was, if anything, harder than today's programming." And the logic, or rather the lack of it, that keeps larger numbers of African Americans and Latinos out of the field is even less persuasive. So, why is the industry so heavily skewed toward young white males? Thompson attributes this, in part, to the "frat-like nature of tech start-ups." And he notes, quoting the former head of the Wikimedia Foundation, "'it's not that women are excluded. It's that practically everyone is excluded if you're not a young white man who's single.'"

A cold, hard look at the software industry

Given this reality, why should we care? Thompson's explanation is compelling. "Programmers are . . . among the most quietly influential people on the planet. As we live in a world made of software, they're the architects." And their biases work their way willy-nilly into their work, which sometimes leads to tragic consequences. For example, the artificial-intelligence-based software used today in many court systems to screen prisoners for bail, probation, or diversionary treatment has been well-documented to discriminate against prisoners of color. Why? Because the limited data on which its decisions are based simply reflect the racist outcomes of the past. ("ProPublica found that [the software] was almost twice as likely to label a black defendant as getting a high-risk recidivist score than a white defendant, even when they controlled for these defendants' prior crimes, age, and gender.") And because the programmers who created and tweak this software weren't sensitive enough to this problem to find ways around it.

The politics of Silicon Valley is widely misunderstood

In Coders, Thompson also explores the political attitudes prevailing in Silicon Valley's leadership. It's widely believed, of course, that libertarian sentiment is widespread in those quarters, and that's certainly true of some of the Valley's wealthiest entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Ironically, however, the impulse to oppose all government influence on the computer industry is far off base. "When R&D magazine surveyed the top innovations from 1971 to 2006," Thompson reports, "they found 88 percent had been funded by federal research dollars." Even the Internet itself was a product of government funding—decades of it. And, despite the widespread belief that libertarianism is dominant in Silicon Valley, Thompson relates the findings of several studies that show the industry is overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic.

A wealth of insight about the software industry

Coders offers a wealth of information and insight about the world that software is building for us. For instance:

** Thompson briefly explores the history of artificial intelligence. He debunks the most extreme fears AI has engendered ("'Worrying about killer AI,'" one expert told him, "'is like worrying about overpopulation on Mars.") But there are far more serious problems emerging. Among them are the inability of facial-recognition software to recognize the faces of people of color. Why? Again, because the dataset on which the programs's decisions are based is far too limited.

Like people in any profession, Silicon Valley's top coders mystify their work, implying that only those with peculiar genius and uniquely adapted personalities can handle the job. In refuting this assumption, Thompson reports on a program in Lexington, Kentucky, that is successfully retraining coal miners as coders. "'Coal miners are really technology workers that get dirty,'" the program's founder insists. And Thompson sees much more broadly the emergence of "blue-collar coding."

Women programmers, blue-collar coders, and the world they're building

This development is emblematic of the growing divide between the elite coders in the major tech firms, who often earn high six-figure incomes, and those who work in ever-increasing numbers on the routine maintenance of software in industry and commerce throughout the country. The work pays well enough, promising "a middle-class stability of the sort that has increasingly vanished from the American economic landscape." But those "blue-collar coders" are, like others in blue-collar jobs, a class set apart. And, Thompson believes, it's only the beginning: "Blue-collar code will emerge, it seems; but so will pink- and white-collar."
Profile Image for Paul.
1,064 reviews23 followers
July 8, 2019
How low has journalism fallen. Tracy Kidder's Soul of a New Machine it is not. The author is uninformed on the subject matter itself and uncritically regurgitates interviews, news articles and other people's opinions with zero insight. Most of the book has nothing to do with software engineers and is a cacophony of random complaints against social media, personal political views and tiresome anecdotes from people he knows.
Profile Image for Camelia Rose.
651 reviews86 followers
February 9, 2021
As a coder, I enjoyed reading Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World by Clive Thompson. It is true that you won't find a full list of the names from the Computer Science Hall of Fame. I don't think the book is intended to be a documentary of famous computer scientists/coders. Clive Thompson is a tech journalist. The book is about the social and cultural evolution of coders from 1950s onwards in the society at large. It is a tech culture commentary and it is mostly about the Western world, especially the Silicon Valley.

In the 1950s, the first generation coders, a.k.a computer software programmers, were mostly women. Men had more prestigious jobs such as building the computer (hardware). Programming was considered a lesser talent therefore "suitable" for women. Along with the emergence of affordable personal computers in the 1980s, men became dominant in this industry. The author does a good analysis on how this cultural shift happened. Chapter 7 is especially about the gender discrimination and harassment and diversity problems in the IT industry.

The book covers topics such as the Crypto war, copyrights vs open source, hackers of all kinds, AI and machine learning, social media and the problems faced by social medias, and the emergence of coding as a blue-collar job (if it won't be replaced by AI). It book also raises many important questions about tech industry, especially social medias today, such as the role of social media platform in speech regulation, the issues with growth motivation and ads based business model.
Profile Image for Jodi Meadows.
Author 31 books4,628 followers
July 6, 2020
Very interesting. Discusses a lot about coding, how people get into it, where it's going -- and also the racism and sexism in the industry.
Profile Image for Ali Sattari.
119 reviews35 followers
December 2, 2019
A very nice book on different characteristics of past few generation of coders, how they differ, evolved and fit into market. This is very useful to both coders, to form a better self image of themselves and colleagues, and to non-coders, to get a glimpse of it's nuances and complexities.
Profile Image for William Schram.
1,746 reviews66 followers
January 11, 2020
Coders by Clive Thompson is the fascinating account of how programming and coding turned from a Matriarchy to a Sausage Fest. Initially, programming was done by women. This was not a matter of convenience or anything like that; men at the time just thought that building the hardware was a better problem to tackle. So women were allowed free rein of the software while the menfolk attempted to make faster and more powerful computers.

Theoretically, coding and programming is a pure meritocracy. All you have to do is solve puzzles and puzzles have no issues with either skin color or what you conceal with your pants. In practice, this is far from true. People have biases and issues with other people. I mean, can you imagine a woman as a programmer? Or God forbid, a minority of some kind? Oh, the horror that would be. I don’t really know the punctuation for sarcasm, but you get my drift I hope.

Coding and programming require a certain kind of mind, a mind that I somewhat have, but not really. I don’t possess the patience required to code, and puzzles aren’t really my thing if they are too difficult. I am a lazy and unreliable person when it comes to that. I have tried my hand at programming, but it requires a lot of time devoted to debugging. When I was growing up, I did have a Commodore 64 computer, but I never used that as leverage to a programming hobby. I understood that computers only do what you tell them to do, precisely and repetitively, but they were still somewhat of a mystery to me.

When I went to college, I finally got my own Personal Computer. I went to college in 2004, so the age of MS-DOS was long gone, and while I did get to do some Run Commands, I never went beyond finding out my MAC Address so I could get online. My problem with coding and programming is that it seems like a waste to make my own code when someone else has probably done it better than I could. However, I digress.

Thompson delves deep into different aspects of programming and coding. He discusses White Hat Hackers, people that are paid to break into and crack systems to expose weaknesses in the system and so on and so forth. He also discusses attacks that people use to compromise systems. Thompson points out that the biggest security hole is the user. I know that security professionals tell everyone to use different passwords for each site and to change them often, but to many people, this just seems draconian. You can make passwords out of letters, numbers, and symbols. When your password is something like 0s1ald0 or something, it makes it difficult to remember and easy for a computer to guess.

Finally, the book delves into programming things like AI and other such deep things. We can already design computers that can beat human players at Checkers, Chess, Othello, and Go. I don’t know if the issue with balance for robots is still around, but it could very well be an issue.

In any case, this book was excellent.
Profile Image for Gary  Beauregard Bottomley.
977 reviews580 followers
June 11, 2019
Once the author got past the myth busting surrounding programming and programmers there happened to be some worthwhile gems in this book. The myths needed to be busted but I would say most people who have lived in the real world already know those myths as myths.

‘Google Bro’ was shown to be the misogynist shallow spouter of alt-right anti-women nonsense that he really is (for those who have forgotten he was the dude who wrote a letter on Google’s in house forum arguing that women are inferior to men as programmers and don’t deserve promotions and was fired for ignoring Google’s mission statement which included things like treat people like human beings even if they are women or diverse from you since diversity is a good thing for enabling creativity). The author interviewed him (I forgot his name; I’ll just refer to him as ‘Google Bro’). Google Bro was (and is) a cause célèbre for purveyors of misinformation within the pscyhologicism of evo-devo (evolutionary development) nonsense that justifies privileges of the privileged with their make America great again fantasy of reenacting the 1950s with all of the good old boys mentality and in this case making sure that women really know their place, and it isn’t as programmers or in high tech according to Google Bro. The author does a journalistically objective interview with Google Bro while contextually informing the reader that in India, for example, the majority of their programmers our women. Context always adds understanding.

The author is best when he transcends his own story, and he does that in multiple places especially in the second half of the book, that part of the book beyond the mundane myth busting of the first half of the book. Briefly, he’ll say logic, determinism, creativity, a love of the non-repetitive, and linear thinking are needed for coders, but in the world of deep machine learning a different set of tools are needed, and the best tool set to enable critical thinking required for AI would include an intimate knowledge of linear algebra, statistics and probability theory (the author only mentioned the first two, I added probability theory because it belongs on the list as well as the studying of the humanities in general). The world of AI has to be conquered with critical thinking skills and with different tools from what was needed when linear thinking was the norm. He’ll talk a lot about this kind of stuff and does a really good job.

There was one example the author talked about that floored me and I want to summarize. A person (I forget her name) looked at all restaurant reviews and wanted the computer to learn what good versus bad means in the way of restaurant reviews. Her program determined that Mexican restaurant reviews were less ‘good’ than other reviews. Of course, that wasn’t true and was because the vector that points to Mexican will include racial negative stereotypes that get reinforced by what we read or see and so on into a vicious circle such that intending to be fair minded police will create a self reinforcing loop thus creating bias and not be aware of it. I thought it was an incredibly interesting conversation the author was bringing up and definitely needs to be grokked (‘A Stranger in a Stranger Land’ word) by everyone. It’s similar to the stories that the Washington Post and the New York Times had this week showing how Youtube’s algorithms skew towards racist white nationalist recommendations by weighing self referential reinforcing variables that get trapped within a epistemological vicious circle of hate and often remain in that circle of hate.

I usually like none of the new books I read on this kind of stuff because the authors give me nothing new, but I am not at all critical with anything this author had to say. He has a couple themes beyond coding such as meritocracy is a myth, the world is complex and there are not universals that aren’t subject to change, and that the world is fundamentally changing because of coders and coding and all of those items make this book beyond the mundane. His segues into cryptology, importance of humanities, AI, and so on are worth a read, and if I went to the beach this would have been a very good summer beach reading book for me.
Profile Image for Evie.
30 reviews
January 9, 2022
Was not expecting this to be such a good read! Dad bought this for me to relive his IBM days and had some great chats with him about programming in the 80's.

The best chapters were on the ENIAC girls, the myth of meritocracy, and blue collar coding.

The best part was Thompson dissecting how female programmers pioneered many foundational elements of programming in the 60's but were gradually pushed out of the discipline through the 80's. Its fascinating to me that a field with so many trailblazing women from the outset became such a male hegemony, disciplines with women spearheading research from the outset (like primatology) usually become less sexist, not increasingly male dominated. Thompson walks through the development of the field signposting the significant technological and social shifts that led to this pattern, and it makes so much sense!!

Super readable, chapters chunked up into short interviews and sections.
Profile Image for Andy Foster.
7 reviews
August 12, 2019
A fascinating and easy-to-read guide to the modern software world; who becomes programmers and why, who gets excluded, the impact that just a few people have on the world, and the problems that having so many white males has brought about.

This book particularly revolves around the large American/Silicon Valley software companies that have had an outsized impact on recent history: Uber, Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

Each chapter goes into a different aspect of the software industry, from the possible future of AI, to ways to get more people from minority groups into programming, and the problems with the “10x coder” mythology.

There are surprisingly in-depth descriptions of some of the most influential scandals that have plagued Silicon Valley recently and Clive has interviewed some of the main players in these cases. I knew of most of the incidents he mentions but it was nice to get a reminder and hear some more perspectives.

Clive doesn’t assume any prior knowledge of programming so this book is perfect for anyone who wants to know more about the world we are living in, how it got this way, and where it could be heading.
Profile Image for Chip Huyen.
Author 7 books3,156 followers
October 16, 2019
The first half made me want to give up. But the second half made up for it.
Profile Image for Filip Tepper.
103 reviews9 followers
August 9, 2020
Bardzo dobrze napisane, podchodzi do tematu z wielu stron - trochę tłumaczy społeczne uwarunkowania dla przełomu lat 80/90-tych, trochę buduje profil osób związanych z kodowaniem (adekwatny dla mnie, ale dziś już raczej w mniejszości), a przede wszystkim odziera zawód kodera z fałszywego i szkodliwego romantyzmu i zwraca uwagę na liczne problemy branży.
Profile Image for Dima Yousef Jadaan.
85 reviews7 followers
April 5, 2021
I found this book to be a fascinating read. It blends psychology, entrepreneurship, and history, with a sociological account of coders, coder culture, and coder mindset. It is well-researched and contains numerous interviews with coders, tech entrepreneurs, and researchers.⁣

Clive Thompson navigates through the history of coding and how coder culture has changed since the 1950s. The author digs deep into the psychology of coders and how it affects the code they write and the software they produce. He also presents a balanced discussion of the stereotypes, sexism, and racism in the industry and whether coding is a meritocracy. I really enjoyed every page of the book, particularly the last 4 chapters, which delve into hacker culture, bias in artificial intelligence and how it influences society, social media and issues related to scaling and big tech, and finally, the rise of blue-collar coding.⁣

In short, the book is deep, insightful, engaging, and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Take your time reading it because there's a lot to absorb, but it is well worth it. I've read it twice and I'm sure I'll revisit the book again.⁣
Profile Image for Pete.
804 reviews52 followers
April 6, 2019
Coders : The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World (2019) by Clive Thompson looks at who coders are, what they do and the culture that surrounds them. Thompson is a successful journalist who has written for various publications including Wired magazine. 

The book starts by looking at some coders at Facebook and their role in introducing the Facebook newsfeed and the like button. Some time is spent looking at different eras of programmers. There is an excellent chapter called 'Constant Frustration and Bursts of Joy' that captures what it's like to be a coder. Another chapter looks at Bram Cohen and his work creating BitTorrent. There is a good chapter on AI. There is also a chapter on Cypherpunks. The book ends with a chapter about teaching laid off miners coding. 

The chapters could stand separately. The book is essentially a collection of essays. Coders isn't a bad book and should be of interest to people interested in the culture of coding. 
3,779 reviews78 followers
April 30, 2019
Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World by Clive Thompson (Penguin Press 2019) (005.1092). “Coders” are those who create computer software code, and they are among the most influential people on the planet. We use and depend on software every minute of every day, every stroke of which was crafted by a coder. It is said that being proficient at coding is the twenty-first century equivalent of being able to read and write during the Middle Ages. The esoteric knowledge and ability shared by the select few who can communicate in the new “language” of coding makes today's computer programmers as rare and as unique as the cloistered monks who were among the very few humans who possessed the magical power to read and write.
Author Clive Thompson does a thorough job of introducing and describing the coding culture. It's a fascinating look at a subculture which will have enormous influence in today's society. My rating: 7/10, finished 4/29/19.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
578 reviews12 followers
February 20, 2020
True to its name, the ultimate purpose of this book was to look under the hood of "coders", see what they're like and how the operate and what they think. Of course taking this anthropological route leads to much oversimplification and too-small sample sizes. So what can you really learn about coders? Well, you can get a pretty decent look at the subset of coders he talked to and studied, and the set of companies he talked about. As for extrapolating that information, well that's a little more of a stretch, and given that his political biases shone through his treatment, this is mostly a (very) overlong treatment of some coders and their culture. Way too long for so much uninteresting information.

I'll tone down that harsh paragraph a little bit to say that I did pick up some decent information about coders and what they do and what it is like to code, and that was interesting. I guess I was hoping for a little more pop-science-like good writing, and this was not that.
Profile Image for Harsha Ramesh.
83 reviews2 followers
April 7, 2019
An engaging read, and a neat packaging of the current topics in the mainstream discourse about technology. But, couldn't stop but get a feeling of déjà lu, as I follow the author's work on Wired, and the book seems more like a collection of opinion pieces in the same vein.
Profile Image for Sam.
11 reviews54 followers
April 11, 2019
This is a very light survey of an the "idea" of coders. As someone who went to a coding bootcamp and codes often, sometimes professionally, it didn't scratch the itch I had.
Profile Image for Marcus.
311 reviews299 followers
August 16, 2019
The real title is “Everything Wrong With Coders.”
Profile Image for Eileen.
58 reviews1 follower
September 11, 2020
An optimistic overview of the past and present of the coder community with an inclusive slant. A great companion book for my beginner coding studies.
Profile Image for Devika.
131 reviews
April 26, 2020
Working on an open floor is meant to encourage closer interaction with our peers at work, thus helping in bonding and better teamwork. But little do we realize that not everyone’s work is meant for constant open interaction. I work at a marketing agency that is heavily driven by technology and automation. So surely, I’m surrounded by developers. My work in client servicing by its virtue involves constant meetings. However, a developer’s doesn’t. Their highest productivity is achieved through what Cal Newport calls ‘deep work’. I’ve never thought much about walking over to any of our techies and interrupting them with any small query. But reading this book has made me respect their time more, especially helping me realize that my constant interruptions will kill their much-needed flow.

Clive Thompson has tremendously researched for this book. Hundreds of interviews and dabbling with code personally clearly demonstrate his well-informed opinion – comprehensively covering the history of coding, to as it stands today with AI and machine learning, biases in coding as a field and in AI, blue-collar coding capabilities, and most importantly the coder’s mindset.

It takes a certain kind of masochism to subject oneself to hours of frustration in figuring out what went wrong. Coding hardly ever is typing in ecstatic flow, but mostly staring at your screen and scratching your head trying to fix an error. To be a coder involves a special kind of love for puzzles, logic, and brutally honest feedback – a computer doesn’t lie. Your code simply works, or it doesn’t.

This book offers great insights. A 2x increase in coders on a project does not imply 2x speed of development. But a 3x better coder is significantly better than an average coder. Additionally, coding as a field isn’t necessarily meritocratic. In fact, when you prime someone with the idea of meritocracy, it seems to give them permission to act on their internal biases (eg: hiring men over women, ceteris paribus). Also, who knew that ENIAC, the first programmable computer, was in fact programmed by an all-female team!

Although this book requires some powering through, it’s well worth it. More interestingly, every chapter seems to be an article in itself, mostly independent of the others. So, feel free to pick and choose relevant chapters for you.
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