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Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  4,838 ratings  ·  241 reviews
Peter Seibel interviews 16 of the most interesting computer programmers alive today in Coders at Work, offering a brand-new companion volume to Apress’s highly acclaimed best-seller Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston. As the words "at work" suggest, Peter Seibel focuses on how his interviewees tackle the day–to–day work of programming, while revealing much more, like h ...more
Paperback, 632 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by Apress
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Todd N
Nov 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, big-data
One of my many, many areas of deep intellectual insecurity is computer programming.

As a kid I remember writing BASIC programs on paper in the backseat of the car during family trips to Florida. I also remember spending hours on my Vic 20 as a kid and even crashing it a few times trying to execute 6502 assembly with POKE and JMP. I whizzed through FORTRAN and Pascal my freshman year at Purdue.

Then tragedy struck the next year as I got my first B in college from a microprocessor class based on the
Nov 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
What felt missing to me, and why this is only 4 stars, was any attempt to pull the interviews together and synthesize something from them.
Instead, we get a book where, for example, N-1 coders are asked if they read Knuth right through, or use it for reference, or have not read it; and this is followed by Knuth basically demolishing the foundations of any conclusions you might be able to make from their answers, with a offhand comment that "I sometimes wonder if I can read them."

Anyway, this book
Michael Scott
Aug 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Coders at Work is one long read into the lives of several fantastic computer scientists, the software-writing variety. Peter Seibel interviews sixteen "programmers", among them Joe Armstrong (Erlang), Brad Fitzpatrick (OpenID, memcached), Simon Peyton Jones (Haskell), THE Donald Knuth, Peter Norvig (AI), and Ken Thompson (UNIX). A few of the missing topics: high-performance computing, social networking, peer-to-peer file-sharing, more Internet.

Each interview goes over a number of standard questi
Dec 27, 2009 rated it liked it
The book was requested by my 20-year old son, who is a computer science major studying programming language, for his birthday. I browsed through it, found it interesting and ended up reading the whole thing. This book satisfied the geek in me. It was self-validating for me to read about others who are passionate about software development - its not something you read about often. Quite a few of the people interviewed were actually quite a bit older than me - so it was interesting to read about t ...more
Oct 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Four start with a big asterisk.

Overall, this is a fascinating book that any programmer will enjoy. Seibel does a nice job asking questions that are particular to each person, but also trying to get a variety of opinions on the same questions that face all programmers. (E.g., how do you debug? how do you read new code? how do you identify good programmers?)

The problem with the book is the interview with Fran Allen. If you look up "women" in the index, you'll find about a dozen pages, all of them
Simon Eskildsen
Mar 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Terrific account of programming adventures and convictions by some of the disciplines stars. My favorite chapters were on Jamie Zawinsky; Netscape, Brad Fitzpatrick; author of Memcached and now working on Go at Google, Douglas Crockford, Joe Armstrong, Simon Peyton Jones, and Peter Norvig. I found most of the other chapters fairly weak, hence the 3-star rating, despite the interviews with the ones named easily being 4-5 stars.

It's interesting how a few of them have somewhat quit the disciplines
Nov 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: math-as-art
I never read books on programming, or coding, or whatever. Maybe that's a personal flaw. It's been my job for my entire adult life, and a little bit before that. But I grabbed this book after seeing an image of the cover, and I ended up devouring it.

The book is a set of interviews with some of the supermen of programming. Sometimes very, very technical. Sometimes funny. Sometimes I felt like an idiot (these people are incredibly, incredibly good) but it also reminded me of the reasons I got into
Amar Pai
Nov 29, 2010 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this, but it's something you're only going to care about if you're a programmer by trade.

The book is a collect of interviews w/ a lot of progamming luminaries, ranging from jwz to ken thompson (unix guy) to the dude who wrote livejournal to the guy who wrote the first "internet-message-processor" (IMP)-- essentially the world's first internet router.

a lot of the older dudes recount starting off on punch card machines or time share PDPs.... it's interesting to get their thoughts on how
Dec 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The best book that I read all year was also the best book I read all year.

Jo Oehrlein
Feb 17, 2012 marked it as on-hold
Favorite quotes:

Zawinski: "It's great to rewrite your code and make it cleaner and by the third time it'll actually be pretty. But that's not the point--you're not here to write code; you're here to ship products."

Zawinski: "If you don't understand how something works, ask someone who does. A lot of people are skittish about that. And that doesn't help anybody. Not knowing something doesn't mean you're dumb--it just means you don't know it yet."

Crockford: "Readability of code is now my first pri
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
I am pretty glad I ended up reading this book.

This book is structured as a set of interviews of veteran software developers; some well known: like Don Knuth, Brendan Eich, Ken Thompson and Peter Norvig, while others I had never heard of. The interview asked a similar set of questions to all the people covered in the book, that covered topics such as: their workflow, their thought process while planning system design, philosophical takes on problem solving, and programming as a profession over th
Ben Haley
Oct 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Coders at work transcribes 16 some odd interviews of both new and old school programming giants culminating with Donald Knuth. For me it was the right book at the right time. After a year of studying algorithms, languages, and hardware, it was good to hear the voices of experience detailing the struggles of their day-to-days. In some cases their lessons reassured me that I hadn't missed some magic programming spells, in others I felt grossly outmatched by their experience and casual referencing ...more
Ignacio Torres Masdeu
Coders at Work is not a technical book: any computing aficionado with curiosity towards computing history will enjoy it and programmers can learn a lot from the first hand experiences of computing legends.

This is the second time I have read it from cover to cover but I also pick on some interviews from time to time. The fact that Seibel is a class 1 programmer himself makes the interviews quite enjoyable.
Jul 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved it. It's light to read, it contains interviews with some of the best programmers/computer scientists/hackers, giving their opinion on many cool topics, usually differing between themselves. It also presents with a good overview of the history of CS.
Yevgeniy Brikman
Jul 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
A fun read to hear the stories of famous programmers and to understand how they think about their specialties. It's inspiring to see that almost all of them come across as normal, humble people that are started like everyone else. Unfortunately, not all the interview questions brought out interesting responses: the questions that focused on the programmer's expertise and history were great; the canned/rigid questions like "how do you read code" or "do high level degrees matter" were less great, ...more
Mahdi Hosseini
Oct 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Easy read and nice interviews.
My favorite part was interview with Peter Norvig.
The questions being asked were all relevant to the background of interviewee. Also this book gives you a grasp of functional programming worlds vs Object oriented style as well. I enjoyed it and learnt from it.
Nathan Glenn
Aug 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was an awesome read. It contains 15 interviews with programmers of well-known skill, giving their opinion on history, current state and future, sharing their valuable and now unobtainable experience programming with wires, switches and punch cards, and explaining what programming means to them personally. There is a lot of diversity here, spanning the whole theoretical/practical spectrum and including some who left the field for other work (running a bar, composing music).

The historical vie
Andrew Leschinsky
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is probably the best non-technical book on software I have every read, the interviews are amazing - mostly because the people interviewed are total rockstars. The book provides a great indirect overview of industry as a whole. For me personally, working mostly on the web it's too easy to lose sight of the big picture, how huge the world of software really is, how different the challenges are, and how prominent and brilliant are the industry leaders. Highly recommend this one.
Sep 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
If you are thinking about being a programmer, pick any interview from this book and read it. If, after reading it, you aren't excited about programming, then just stop. This is the best book I've ever read that gets inside the mind of a great programmer. True greats, the pioneers of computer science and industry achievement.

I learned things about programming, such as the usefulness of monads and closures, that had been previously under appreciated. I found the interviewees to be extremely candid
Apr 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A great collection of interviews with fifteen different programmers, conducted by a programmer.

It's been a long time since I've read a technical book that really resonated with me, but this is one of them. I picked up this book on the recommendation of a programmer who included it in a small collection of great books about programming that included 'The C Programming Language' and 'Programming Pearls' -- two of my favorites. I wasn't disappointed.

The collection of programmers here includes a nu
Christoffer Ventus
Jan 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book is made out of interviews with influential and well known people from both the academical side and from the industry of software development. It gives the reader a good glimpse of how these people conduct their work and their history with programming and computer science. It was very rewarding and inspiring at times and also burst some bubbles about these hero coders.

A lot of the interviewed people are computer language creators or evangelists (Steele, Armstrong, Allen) and many have
Mar 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Not quite what I expected. I was hoping for more information and less blathering--"I worked here, then here, and then I went back to that one place because they offered more vacation time. Then I quit again because I didn't like it anymore. Then I had a kid. Then I stopped programming."

I understand the desire to explore the interviewee's personal backgrounds, but isn't this book supposed to be about the practice of programming? I can't say I learned much from this book, and since the vast majori
Bob Grommes
Nov 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for any software developer, this book consists of at-length interviews with top talent in the craft. This book drives home that software development is about clear, literate communication and deep thinking about philosophical approaches to problem solving, as much as it's about tools and techniques. It'll also be eye-opening for some to see some of the popular fads and fetishes that these experts call "BS" on.

As s software developer I found this book inspiring, invigorating and valid
Jan 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
I'm not saying that my code is as good as Bernie Cossell's but, as it turns out, I work like he used to. I try to think many steps ahead, I use any change in the client's requirements as a good excuse to fix things that actually work, then feel guilty about the time spent that way but stay hopeful that the resulting increase in elegance and reliability will somehow pay off someday. I'm happy he approves of doing business that way, though it's discouraging that he gave up on the whole field. I'm ...more
Michael Hirsch
Mar 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very good interviews with well known coders. They were all over the spectrum--from some folks who never graduated college, to Stanford professor Knuth. It was good to see how such a disparate group answered the same questions in such different ways. I liked thinking about whether I would want this or that person, who is a far better programmer than I, in my team. There were some I definitely don't want even while I respect their ability.
Jul 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
A bit long on some of the interviews, but a great insight into the minds of highly skilled programmers and how the get stuff done/learn/improve the field forward. If you're into Computer Science or Programming is a good book to have on the nightstand and come back to it at least once a week to read a chapter.
Jeroen Vaelen
Feb 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: compsci-math
Valuable resource for programmers who take their work seriously. Throughout the book, the interviewer asks interesting and practical questions. Learning about the perspective of different coders that have proven their worth gives new insights that can help anyone grow in their own development as a software developer.
Jul 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: digital-owned
This book is fantastic. It has easy chunks to get through and each interview is with someone very interesting. You get a view into the lives of people who all experienced computers a different way and helped affect the art of programming.
Feb 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: programming
A must read for every programmer.
Enrique Mañas
Oct 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I started reading this book during my process to publish "Living by the Code", in order to capture an idea or two about interviews for people in tech. It took me a while to finish it though, the book is intense and long!

Peter Seibel interviewed 16 very relevant contributors to the tech world. I was particularly delighted to read the interviews with Joe Armstrong (author of Erlang), Donald Knuth, Peter Norvig (coauthor of Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach,), Joshua Bloch, among others.
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