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Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming 2009th Edition

79 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1430219484
ISBN-10: 1430219483
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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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 632 pages
  • Publisher: Apress; 2009 edition (September 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1430219483
  • ISBN-13: 978-1430219484
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Brian Carper on 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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58 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Luke John Crook on 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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63 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Jones on 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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