14 February 2010

Coders at Work

I recently read Coders at Work by Peter Seibel. It’s a series of in-depth interviews with 15 noteworthy programmers, including Jamie Zawinski, Guy Steele, Ken Thompson, and Donald Knuth. Topics range from personal questions (“How did you begin programming?”) to occasionally esoteric discussion of computer science.

One thing I was continually struck by: that’s me! I don’t mean I’ve made a major impact on the world of computers, but so many of their attitudes and approaches were the same as mine. Perhaps that’s not surprising — a couple times it’s mentioned that perhaps 2% of the population are true programmers (who really understand and enjoy it), and I’m obviously in that group. And I’ve used some of the same computers (though one of them had a cutting-edge IBM 1620 in his high school, while our 1620 was obsolete and almost impossible to repair). But I don’t know what explains why we’re not fans of brainteaser interviews.

I’m not sure I use print statements to debug quite as often as most of them, though it is something I do often. I hadn’t realized how common it was!

Everyone (except Knuth) was asked whether they had read Knuth. I did read volumes 1 and 3 back in college, but haven’t referred to it more than once or twice since. That puts me about in the middle of the pack.

The book is marred by a few typos and formatting errors (e.g. an entire paragraph in bold), but is attractively set in Gill Sans.

I enjoyed it greatly. It was a nice mix of stories (such as what was going on at Netscape) and computer science (which as a practitioner I’ve gotten away from). Highly recommended to at least 2% of you.

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