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Programming as if People Mattered Paperback – July 11, 1994

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Editorial Reviews


"This book is very easy to read, and is so entertaining that it is hard to put down.... An excellent book, and a must-read for software professionals."--Choice

"The book provides a stimulating read, with a fair sprinkling of controversial opinions from which intelligent readers . . . will draw their own conclusions."--J. Dodd, Information and Science Technology

"This book's great glory is the author's implicit, but pervasive, notion that the human interface extends through software; and that programs are just ways that people tell computers what they should be doing. . . . [A] book filled with points to think about well before you start coding menus or screens."--UnixWorld

"A witty look at the foibles of software engineering, based on real examples. . . . This voice of experience offers a good dose of humility to arrogant young programmers."--American Mathematical Monthly


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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Legacy Library
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (July 11, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691037639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691037639
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,370,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Pat LaVarre on June 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
Inspiring. Guerrila tactics for programmers who want to care about people yet somehow still get paid to work. On the whole, politically incorrect and true, thus delightful. In places, a touch sour. On my web page at home, the most recent of the three great art-of-programming books I list.
I liked one chapter so much that I typed out a softcopy myself by hand: a copy to read whenever I like. I mean Chapter 20 "The Ivory Tower". That chapter says ... We should reinvent the university experience of programmers to make the experience useful to the programmer. To become the first to teach programming well, let's try applying the approaches used to teach similar disciplines like architecture, or even anthropology, art, and drama.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Rob Purser on May 2, 2002
Format: Paperback
Once upon a time, "Programming as if People Mattered" might be mentioned in the same article as books like "The Design of Everyday Things." Alas, unlike wine, even excellent software design books do not age well.
Whereas "The Design of Everyday Things" has been updated and refined, this book is stuck in 1991. Many of the insights of the book are excellent, but there's a lot of material that is simply no longer relevant. I can only recommend this book to people who are willing to look past the pedantic style, occasional irrelevancies, and evaluations of decade old technology. I'd recommend Alan Cooper's book The Inmates are Running the Asylum instead, though that has its own problems.
If you can look past the obvious defects, there's a lot here for readers interested in user interface design. It's all anecdotal, but it's squares well with other quantitative works.
If you got this far in the review, there's a lot in the book to reward you for looking past the obvious defects. The primary source for Borenstein is his work on Andrew, a large Carnegie-Mellon University project, which, for various reasons, was reduced to a footnote in the history of computing.
One of the most notable observations a reader will make of the book is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Many topics are just as relevant today as they were in 1991. For instance, his discussions on standards still offer insight. Part one starts us off on the basic problems of user interface design, and the chasm between regular users and programmers. Cooper offers a similar analysis, though the tone here is a lot more constructive.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alex Moffat on August 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
Some of the reviews seem hung up on the "dated" quality of the examples. I think you need to look past this to see the underlying principles. For example, there is a chapter called "The quest for the perfect line editor". The example given is the change from line editors like ed to full screen editors like vi. The underlying principle is difficulty people have in accepting change. Or, the following quote "It may help to think of the user community as being like a preschool full of screaming three-year-olds. One doesn't have to rush to respond every time one of them cries a little bit, as crying is entirely natural for young children. But if some of all of the children begin to wail frequently, something is probably wrong and an investigation is warranted. If what they're all crying is "I want a cookie," that doesn't necessarily mean you should give them all cookies, but you might consider making them a healthy lunch to meet the underlying real need." Excellent advice, and a universal principle, from a chapter called "Listen to your users, but ignore what they say".
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By B. Scott Andersen on January 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
Published over 10 years ago, this work still has a few interesting tales to tell. Most of the stories and analysis are centered around the Andrew Project, a collaborative effort of IBM and CMU to build a new software and hardware environment for University computing. The project provided an opportunity to perform Human/Computer Interface studies which are discussed throughout.

The book is an interesting look back at history. It has the text from the GNU General Public License from February 1989 and a chapter entitled "Information Wants to be Free." It also show how very lost the computer industry was at that time with regard to computer usability.

There are some war stories here about the cryptic and often dangerous UNIX command line. There are also some rants against the computers of the time (PC MSDOS, Macintosh, etc.) made by folks who made something they thought was better but "weren't getting any respect."

After rereading it recently those few interesting stories were still there but the book's disorganized structure, lack of index, and pedantic style haven't aged well. Those interested in HCI are better advised to read anything by Donald Norman, or any of the other excellent books written recently on HCI or cognative psychology.
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Format: Paperback
I first read this book around the same time that I read The Road Less Traveled, 25th Anniversary Edition : A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. Both are books filled with anecdotes, basically slice-of-life books about their areas of expertise.

Programming as if People Mattered gives a series of very specific stories about some software systems that the author worked closely with. The close-up view offered to the reader is (to me) invaluable. Plus, it has some great one-liners that will probably stick with you for a long time.

Programmers (and all technologists) should occasionally take a step back from their work to get the larger picture. This book will help to do that.
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