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Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming [Kindle Edition]

Peter Seibel
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Peter Seibel interviews 15 of the most interesting computer programmers alive today in Coders at Work, offering a companion volume to Apress’s highly acclaimed best-seller Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston. As the words “at work” suggest, Peter Seibel focuses on how his interviewees tackle the day-to-day work of programming, while revealing much more, like how they became great programmers, how they recognize programming talent in others, and what kinds of problems they find most interesting.

The complete list was 284 names. Having digested everyone’s feedback, we selected 15 folks who’ve been kind enough to agree to be interviewed:

  • Frances Allen: Pioneer in optimizing compilers, first woman to win the Turing Award (2006) and first female IBM fellow
  • Joe Armstrong: Inventor of Erlang
  • Joshua Bloch: Author of the Java collections framework, now at Google
  • Bernie Cosell: One of the main software guys behind the original ARPANET IMPs and a master debugger
  • Douglas Crockford: JSON founder, JavaScript architect at Yahoo!
  • L. Peter Deutsch: Author of Ghostscript, implementer of Smalltalk-80 at Xerox PARC and Lisp 1.5 on PDP-1
  • Brendan Eich: Inventor of JavaScript, CTO of the Mozilla Corporation
  • Brad Fitzpatrick: Writer of LiveJournal, OpenID, memcached, and Perlbal
  • Dan Ingalls: Smalltalk implementor and designer
  • Simon Peyton Jones: Coinventor of Haskell and lead designer of Glasgow Haskell Compiler
  • Donald Knuth: Author of The Art of Computer Programming and creator of TeX
  • Peter Norvig: Director of Research at Google and author of the standard text on AI
  • Guy Steele: Coinventor of Scheme and part of the Common Lisp Gang of Five, currently working on Fortress
  • Ken Thompson: Inventor of UNIX
  • Jamie Zawinski: Author of XEmacs and early Netscape/Mozilla hacker

What you’ll learn

How the best programmers in the world do their jobs!

Who this book is for



Programmers interested in the point of view of leaders in the field. Programmers looking for approaches that work for some of these outstanding programmers.


Table of Contents

  1. Jamie Zawinski
  2. Brad Fitzpatrick
  3. Douglas Crockford
  4. Brendan Eich
  5. Joshua Bloch
  6. Joe Armstrong
  7. Simon Peyton Jones
  8. Peter Norvig
  9. Guy Steele
  10. Dan Ingalls
  11. L Peter Deutsch
  12. Ken Thompson
  13. Fran Allen
  14. Bernie Cosell
  15. Donald Knuth


Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Peter Seibel is a serious developer of long standing. In the early days of the Web, he hacked Perl for Mother Jones and Organic Online. He participated in the Java revolution as an early employee at WebLogic which, after its acquisition by BEA, became the cornerstone of the latter's rapid growth in the J2EE sphere. He has also taught Java programming at UC Berkeley Extension. He is the author of Practical Common LISP from Apress.

Product Details


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
83 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Inspiring September 16, 2009
Format:Paperback
If you are a person who cares at all about the art, craft, or science of software development, you will not be able to put this book down.

Seibel (a hacker-turned-writer himself) talked to some big names in our field. Topics covered include: How do you learn to be a programmer? How do you perfect your skills? How important is formal education? Which programming languages are good and which are terrible? What kinds of tools do great programmers use? (Which text editors? IDEs? Debuggers?) How do you reason about a program, bottom-up or top-down? What's the best way to collaborate with other coders? etc. etc.

As you might expect, the interviewees agree in some areas and wildly disagree in others, but there are insights aplenty. Some answers may surprise you, like how many of these coders shun formal debuggers and use mostly print statements, or how many of them shun IDEs for Emacs (or even pen-and-paper).

Aside from the broad questions, Seibel gets the interviewees to open up about what it was like to work on the projects they are famous for. These stories are engaging and entertaining. Any coder who has stayed up till 4AM squashing bugs will find kindred spirits in these books. And the stories are somehow inspiring, as you realize that even great programmers suffer through the same frustrations and ups and downs that all of the rest of us go through.

Those interviewed also share insights into what they think of our modern world of programming. Most agree that we live in complicated and troubled times as we battle layer upon layer of software complexity. This book has lessons to be learned from the very brief history of our field, and advice for the future ("Keep it simple!").
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59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars By programmers, for programmers September 18, 2009
Format:Paperback
As a book, Coders at Work is in some ways not all that great. As a collection of the thoughts and opinions of a wide range of real programmers on what, how, and why they do what they do, it is a treasure.

I have to say that the first thing I noticed about the book was the cheap binding. The paper and print quality are not very good, I can't say I liked the basic typesetting or sans serif typeface very much, and I found quite a few typos despite not being a person who looks for (or generally finds) typos in published material. The small Related Titles ad on the back cover is a bit annoying as well - that sort of thing used to be tucked away in the front matter and restricted to a list of the author's other work. Ah well.

There is a short introduction describing the author's inspiration and a few themes he picked out after the interviews were completed, but not much else in the way of structure; the entire content of the book is the series of fifteen transcript style interviews, prefaced by short introductions. Many of the same questions are asked of each interviewee, which is nice for comparing their answers, but I got the impression that Seibel was pushing some people harder on certain issues: Ken Thompson on the wisdom of pointers for example, or Fran Allen on why it's really necessary to have more women in computer science, or Don Knuth on why it's important to pry open black boxes. It felt a bit like prefigured puzzlement in the face of programmers who hold on to ideas that go against what passes for conventional wisdom nowadays, and I would have preferred a more thoughtful and after the fact summary of what the author thought these less common ideas might have to contribute to the mainstream.
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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than expected September 16, 2009
Format:Paperback
Imagine a really good episode of "60 Minutes" dedicated to each programmer in this book. Well, this book is better.

The first questions asked of each interviewee serve to set the stage; "How did you get into programming". The detailed answers given allow the reader to relate to the interviewee as an individual. Did they fall into programming by accident as part of their existing job? Did they train to be a programmer? Did they start on a Lisp machine or an Atari 800?

From this initial introduction the author begins to dig deeper. These questions are not formulaic. The author does not rattle off the same 40 questions to each subject but has a deep understanding of the domain. Questions demand answers to problems or serve to highlight issues that the interviewee presents.

Ran into a problem? Was it a language problem? A design problem? A management or coworker problem? What issues lead up to the problem? Could anything have been done differently? Questions are asked on working conditions, languages, approaches to problem solving, influences from upper management, influences from other programmers, burn out, love for programming (do they still like it).

In the first interview in the book with Jamie Zawinski; we know his approach to software design, his approach to programming (top down/bottom up) his feelings on over-engineering, crunch-time, refactoring, how he knows when he is in over his head, his philosophy to coding in general "At the end of the day, ship the **** thing... You are not here to write code, you are here to ship products."

This is not a "Coders at work for Dummies". There is no appendix tallying up how many of the interviewee's prefer waterfall to agile, functional to imperative and there shouldn't be. Each interview requires thought and reflection from the reader.

I read until 3:30 am and then wrote this review. This is a good book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read for programmers
Interesting compilation of interviews from programmers & computer scientists widely considered as the best in the business. It's a must read for everyone in tech.
Published 2 months ago by semk
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Book
This is a brilliant book if you like getting an understanding of how other people think. You won't find any magical insights, just a solid understanding of how some really smart... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Christopher M Lozaga
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly good interview collection
Although the idea of an interview book is so simple --go talk to a
bunch of people good at what they do, and write down the interesting
stuff they tell you-- they somehow... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Ulas Tuerkmen
5.0 out of 5 stars Good inspirational book
I read a few pages every time I need inspiration for coding, as I sometimes lose my excitement, and it's excellent for this purpose: it's a pleasure to read, and the interviews are... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Poczkodi Gábor
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing advice and lessons to learn
Couldn't put it down! Lots of great insight about programming, languages, etc. Helpful for beginners and experts alike! Loved it.
Published 11 months ago by Veronica Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read...
Enjoyed the reading... I would recommend this book to anyone who would seek to find out more about what the specific techniques are and hints or ideas that would help programmers... Read more
Published 12 months ago by dveenk
2.0 out of 5 stars Overrated and outdated
As a college student, I often ask people what should be on my reading list as a prospective software engineer. Many tell Coders at Work is a must read. Read more
Published 14 months ago by wareagle920
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
It was fun reading about different computer science luminaries, though I tended to skim some of the longer interviews.

Minor complaint: some typos in the kindle version.
Published 15 months ago by M. Donahoe
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice book for programmers wanting to become good coders, but...
I would recommend this book to intermediate level programmers. It is very inspiring and contains many interesting stories. New programmers would find it hard to feel inspired.
Published 15 months ago by Lusha
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing book
If you are the kind of person who is fascinated to know what makes some of the greatest programmers of all time tick, how they think, or if you simply want to feel like you've... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Vivek Pachauri
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More About the Author

Peter Seibel is either a writer turned programmer or programmer turned writer. After picking up an undergraduate degree in English and working briefly as a journalist, he was seduced by the web. In the early '90s he hacked Perl for Mother Jones magazine and Organic Online. He participated in the Java revolution as an early employee at WebLogic and later taught Java programming at UC Berkeley Extension. Peter is also one of the few second-generation Lisp programmers on the planet and was a childhood shareholder in Symbolics, Inc.

In 2003 he quit his job as the architect of a Java-based transactional messaging system to hack Lisp for a year. Instead he ended up spending two years writing a book, the Jolt Productivity Award winning Practical Common Lisp. His most recent book is Coders at Work, a collection of Q&A interviews with fifteen notable programmers and computer scientists.

When not writing books and programming computers Peter enjoys practicing tai chi. He live in Berkeley, California, with his wife Lily, daughters Amelia and Tabitha, and their dog Mahlanie.




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