The Soul of a New Machine
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In my high school Biology, H.G. Wells' The Time Machine was assigned to be read over the winter vacation. It was a bit of a stretch, but did make the class a bit more interesting. As I read Kidder describe the toil undertaken in creating this new computer - working under the pressure on the brink of insanity to find those incessant bugs - I thought this the perfect companion for the CS154B Computer Architecture clas ...more
Tracy Kidder, a journalist, not a computer engineer, took on the task of capturing the new computer building process when it was par ...more
I loved it the first time I read it but somehow was able to love it more. At the time I didn't understand the historical context accurately. I've recently been reading about the timeline of computers which was a big ...more
The Soul of a New Machine describes the development process of Data General's Eclipse MV/8000, but Kidder has no particular insight into the industry or any specific aspect of hardware development. Like most journalists, he does have a tremendous capacity for taking deeply shitty p ...more
I read this book as background reading for a trilogy of books I'm reviewing and so pleasant to find such enjoyment in my research.
Oh, and the book also won the Pulitzer Prize...
The underlying theme of this book, if there is one, would seem to me to be the general feeling that your work needs to have meaning to you. This is a view, in a variety of ways, that most of the engineers seem to hold at this company. The company being Data General, a company I had never heard of, but apparently was quite a big deal in the late 70's and early 80's.
In my o ...more
Retells the story of the development of the first 32-bit minicomputer offering from Data General (I'm not nerdy/old enough to really know about them). Much of it centers on the defiant attitude that the engineers took to build this computer even when it appeared that Data General was doing its best not to make it happen (relatively low pay, few resources, few engineers, crazy deadline). But they do (only about 50% over schedule), through allnight ...more
"[The book's title implies] something about the collective character and effort of a group of people who worked only party for their pay, most of them reveling in the difficulty of their circumstances and the complexity of their task, to create something that they knew was transitory. As Camus said of Sisyphus, one must imagine them happy."
They were building temples to God. It was the sort of work that gave meaning to life. That's what West and his team of engineers were looking for, I think.
An incredible account of what it feels like to work in the computer industry, an accurate description of computer architecture (that is still relevant today), and an all-around amazing book. Touches many aspects of hardware, management and the emotional intricacies of engineering.
On a personal note, to me, it captures the essence of comput...more
It's a little hard not to view this work environment as toxic, despite the obvious love the author has for the project. Sadly, a lot of the love for a project like this one became the go-to idea that eventually fueled much that is worst in the tech industry. 70 hour work weeks as the expected norm? Check. In this book we have recent-grads who are exploited for their willingness to try anything-- which has now become using interns as ...more
This a fundamentally human exploration of how to inspire and lead people to tilt at windmills. You see how technical credibility is earned, and how teams come to inhabit a realm of their own as they approach launch.
Lots of crazy debugging stories, some fantastic character sketches make a book that is we ...more
This is really one of those plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose things. While it is so much of its era - maybe the bronze age of the computer ...more
A fascinating insight into the work it took to launch an entirely new computer back in the days of hand-soldering and oscilloscopes, as well as a pseudo-biography of the strange and charismatic leader of this particular team, Tom West.
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