In the past six months I’ve read two particularly great books on the computer industry. The first, Revolution In The Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How The Mac Was Made is a fantastic account of the team that created the original Macintosh, released in 1984. It’s written by Andy Hertzfeld, who maintains the folklore.org site where all of these tales originate. Even though I live with four Macintoshes, I really had forgotten how truly exciting the first Macintosh was. This book helped me to remember. Short of a visit to the Computer History Museum, there isn’t anything else I can think of that’s gotten me this inspired about the computer industry and what it has accomplished. And frankly, besides perhaps this, I can’t think of anything recently that’s gotten me so inspired as to exactly what can be accomplished by a team of brilliant people with a coherent vision. I’d have given anything to be a part of that Mac team.
The second book is The Best Software Writing I, edited by Joel Spolsky. On the back cover Spolsky notes, “at my own company, we instituted a policy: we only want to hire software developers who can write, and write well.” His company is right. I don’t think there’s anything more important to developing software in a collaborative environment than engineers with writing skills. And here’s a book that celebrates that fact. Among the best articles in this collection are Paul Graham’s wide-ranging Great Hackers, with this nugget of wisdom:
I didn’t say…that variation in wealth was in itself a good thing. I said in some situations it might be a sign of good things. Variation in wealth can be a sign of variation in productivity. And that is almost certainly a good thing: if your society has no variation in productivity, it’s probably not because everyone is Thomas Edison. It’s probably because you have no Thomas Edisons.
…and Paul Ford’s Processing ‘Processing’, a musing on how lousy the state of web development has been (and really, still is.) Most striking to me was Bruce Eckel’s Strong Typing vs. Strong Testing, an article persuasive enough that it has let me at least entertain the thought that languages that lack strong typing might actually be worth something. It’ll still take some real world convincing, but it has at least opened my eyes to the possibility.
Finally, honorable mention goes to Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age. I thought the writing style was too emulative of The Soul of a New Machine, but the story itself is incredible. I think it takes reading a book like this to understand just how radical a concept the personal computer is.