Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Soul of a New Machine

If you're interested in what it takes to create technology, take a look at The Soul Of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder, a book that chronicles the trials and tribulations of creating the next generation computer. The author provides good rhythm and the right mix of human and technical factors. The suspense builds throughout the book and I was invested in the outcome: Will they finish? Will it be a success?

Even though the book was written in 1981, the rich descriptions of what goes on in a high-tech company are still accurate. Some common themes detailed in the book are time constraints, technical debt, complexity, chaos, attrition and turf wars.

I really liked the areas that focus on estimation and deadlines. Some passages that I recognized:
West and his staff had created the deadline of April and, in the act, had agreed at least to pretend to take it seriously. Many months later, Carl Carman would say that no one upstairs believed they would finish Eagle that soon. Some evenings downstairs, West seemed to say the same thing. "We're gonna finish this sucker by April, Alsing," he'd say. "Yeah, Tom. Sure we are," Alsing would reply. They'd smile at each other.
It's sort of a poker game. Everyone's bluffing, but everone seems to know the rules of the game...
"We went with an imperfect design," said Rasala. "We knew we were pushing it." So his schedules slipped and slipped, and slipped again. "the way to stay on schedule," he said, "is to make another one."

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