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Title: Coders at Work book review
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Date: 2010-03-28
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I finished up [Coders at Work][1]![][2] today, having received it from the
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[local library][3] only recently (I need to figure out what magical data
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source people use to put these books on reserve so early!)
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_Coders At Work_ is a series of interviews with programmers, people with
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successful backgrounds and some name recognition (to the extent people
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recognize programmers). Each interview is roughly 40 pages, and attempts to
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ask a standard set of questions in an attempt to document diversity and/or
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consensus. Most of the coders interviewed are older, both for the obvious
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reason that publicly acknowledgement of success and experience take time, and
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to cater to a celebrity history market.
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The only guy who's close to my age is Brad Fitzpatrick, who shares a bit of
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culture with me; writing TI Basic games on long road trips and losing them due
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to battery failure. His stories of rolling in advertising banner ad money is
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one I've heard before. Probably the most interesting part of his entrepreneurship is
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how open source allows him to sell a website/company and then build new sites
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using the GPL'd assets he wrote when building the site up. Judging by his
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anecdote about selling FreeVote on the cheap just to be done with it, I wonder
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if something similar happened with LiveJournal.
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The author has a bit of an obsession with Knuth and his volume of books, _The
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Art Of Computer Programming_. As best I can tell, Knuth doesn't invent
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anything but instead compiles published research into the above book. Since we
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keep graduating new PhDs but still have just the one Knuth, the series is
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unfinished and _unfinishable_. Annoyingly, many algorithms are named after him
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that he merely popularized, rather than invented. I suppose it's a worthy task
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to cut the jargon out of conference papers, as they can be really quite
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excruciating. The author's overweighting of Knuth comes in the form of asking
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every interviewee whether they've read Knuth's books and done any [literate
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programming][4], leading up to a finale interview with Knuth himself.
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Despite the author's inclinations, there are some good interviews in there.
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The Erlang author is interviewed, and after reading it I think I need to
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invest some time with Erlang. It's too bad I'm currently experimenting with
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Python/Django. It might be neat to do something web based with Erlang, but I'm
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wary of anything that decides it's easier to write a new httpd than implement
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an Apache module.
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Some observations about the group interviewed: lots of compiler and language
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people, many had early access to research university computers, or later in
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computing history, programming jobs out of high school. (I don't even know how
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you find that kind of work as a kid). Most of the people I recognized are
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mainly famous for their non-coding activities; I'd wager more people have
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looked at TAOCP than have used TeX. Overall, I'd say these "coders" slant
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academic.
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_Coders at Work_ is a pretty good read. You can easily read just the
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interviews that interest you and not miss anything for it. If you work in the
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field, consider picking it up it; makes for good night reading material.
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   [1]: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1430219483?ie=UTF8&tag=jlduggesblog-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1430219483
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   [2]: http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=jlduggesblog-20&l=as2&o=1&a=1430219483
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   [3]: http://www.jocolibrary.org/
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   [4]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literate_programming
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