Books

I’ve been reading about hackers, open source, Microsoft, project management, and the golden age of cities.

The 12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management is a quick and easy read. It gives a clear picture of an organization with good management practices – excepting the cut-throat competitive culture. The Success of Open Source analyzes open source software in hopes of discovering whether its economic and social organization are applicable to things other than software. Although open source and Microsoft are the great success stories and natural enemies of the software world, from what I’ve read so far they are nearly twins. Pekka Himanen takes a wonderfully broad and diverse – and very seductive – view of the hacker phenomenon in his book, The Hacker Ethic1.

The original Mythical Man-Month is a classic, and there are many excellent descriptions of the problems of software development; his explanation of the joy of programming is a work of beauty. However, I must say that I’m uncertain of many of his solutions, mostly perhaps because of the implicit acceptance of the waterfall model of software development2. Mr. Brooks is indeed a wise man, for points this out himself in one of the later essays. Unfortunately, many software engineers I’ve met haven’t kept up.

Reading about Renaissance Florence I was struck by how many of the descriptions and contemporary quotes would apply equally well to hackers and software development. In fact, Paul Graham’s blog, which I found through Tim Bray’s Ongoing, explicitly compares painting to software development.

References

  • The Hacker Ethic, by Pekka Himanen
  • The 12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management, by David Thielen
  • The Success of Open Source, by Steve Weber
  • The Mythical Man-Month, Anniversary Edition, by Frederick P. Brooks
  • Cities and Civilization, by Peter Hall
  • Tim Bray’s Ongoing
  • Paul Graham

Notes

1 I always thought the Hacker Ethic was, “Information wants to be free.”

2 The waterfall model breaks development down into discrete steps for analysis, design, and development. This model has since been shown to be brittle and tragically restrictive for developer creativity, but in my experience many who claim to reject it remain its slaves. The Success of Open Source attacks this assembly-line “Fordism” head on , and explains that it was implemented by companies and managers when software ceased to be the exclusive realm of hackers and academics and became a business in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The success of Open Source itself is probably the most eloquent rejection of this methodology.

2004-04-13

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