Book Review -- Coders At Work

I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peek at Peter Seibel's Coders At Work, where he interviewed 15 programmers, many of whom are considered legends in programming, to get their thoughts on a wide variety of topics related to programming. These range from Brad Fitzpatrick (Live Journal and memcached to name some of his well-known projects) to Simon Peyton Jones (one of the creators of Haskell). Although I have not finished the book yet (it's 454 pages and I'm about 200 pages in) it has already left quite an impression on me.

Mr. Seibel has also previously written an award-winning book about Lisp called "Practical Common Lisp". With a pedigree like that, how could I ignore a book like this, despite my suspicion that those who understand Lisp are aliens from another planet?

While I read a lot of technical books and web sites, I have grown more-and-more to like books that get into the minds of the people behind the technology. It's not that I'm expecting to find the perfect process for creating awesome projects, because that seems to be the residue of great skill and timing. I'm interested in reading about the personalities that created these things. Maybe I'm indulging in a little hero worship, but I can't imagine a better teacher than those who've climbed to the top and also are willing to share their failures along the way.

More importantly, Peter Seibel seems to have found the right mix of questions and follow-ups to coax information from his interview subjects. When you read about this larger-than-life people who've built projects that you understand were an huge undertaking have been a success, it's, what word am I looking for, reassuring to find that they are human beings with their own unique personalities, but all driven to succeed.

The range of topics covered is just astounding. I could write a book just summarizing them, another tribute to Mr. Seibel's ability to get his subjects to open up and go into detail. Not that most techies have a hard time speaking volumes on the topics they are interested in. I've read thoughts on college CS education, virtual machines, pair programming, learning the value of interfaces to meld wildly different technologies...all things that I am interested in or want to learn more about it. Perhaps I'm the perfect target audience for a book like this. Reading these people's thoughts on them makes me realize where I actually have an in-depth understanding and where I have just scratched the surface of the available knowledge.

I highly recommend this book if you're interested in finding out what makes some of the people who have helped to build and expand the amazing world-wide computer network we call the Internet tick. If anything, it will show just how much thought goes into the planning and execution of projects that we sometimes don't give enough credit.