The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master 1st Edition
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From the Publisher
Some of the authors' nuggets of pragmatism are concrete, and the path to their implementation is clear. They advise readers to learn one text editor, for example, and use it for everything. They also recommend the use of version-tracking software for even the smallest projects, and promote the merits of learning regular expression syntax and a text-manipulation language. Other (perhaps more valuable) advice is more light-hearted. In the debugging section, it is noted that, "if you see hoof prints think horses, not zebras." That is, suspect everything, but start looking for problems in the most obvious places. There are recommendations for making estimates of time and expense, and for integrating testing into the development process. You'll want a copy of The Pragmatic Programmer for two reasons: it displays your own accumulated wisdom more cleanly than you ever bothered to state it, and it introduces you to methods of work that you may not yet have considered. Working programmers will enjoy this book. --David Wall
Topics covered: A useful approach to software design and construction that allows for efficient, profitable development of high-quality products. Elements of the approach include specification development, customer relations, team management, design practices, development tools, and testing procedures. This approach is presented with the help of anecdotes and technical problems.
From the Publisher
Simply put, this book tells you how to program in a way that you can follow. You wouldn't think that that would be a hard thing to do, but it is. Why? For one thing, not all programming books are written by programmers. Many are compiled by language designers, or the journalists who work with them to promote their creations. Those books tell you how to talk in a programming language---which is certainly important, but that is only a small part of what a programmer does.
What does a programmer do besides talk in programming language? Well, that is a deeper issue. Most programmers would have trouble explaining what they do. Programming is a job filled with details, and keeping track of those details requires focus. Hours drift by and the code appears. You look up and there are all of those statements. If you don't think carefully, you might think that programming is just typing statements in a programming language. You would be wrong, of course, but you wouldn't be able to tell by looking around the programming section of the bookstore.
In The Pragmatic Programmer Dave and Andy tell us how to program in a way that we can follow. How did they get so smart? Aren't they just as focused on details as other programmers? The answer is that they paid attention to what they were doing while they were doing it---and then they tried to do it better.
Imagine that you are sitting in a meeting. Maybe you are thinking that the meeting could go on forever and that you would rather be programming. Dave and Andy would be thinking about why they were having the meeting, and wondering if there is something else they could do that would take the place of the meeting, and deciding if that something could be automated so that the work of the meeting just happens in the future. Then they would do it.
That is just the way Dave and Andy think. That meeting wasn't something keeping them from programming. It was programming. And it was programming that could be improved. I know they think this way because it is tip number two: Think About Your Work.
So imagine that these guys are thinking this way for a few years. Pretty soon they would have a collection of solutions. Now imagine them using their solutions in their work for a few more years, and discarding the ones that are too hard or don't always produce results. Well, that approach just about defines pragmatic. Now imagine them taking a year or two more to write their solutions down. You might think, That information would be a gold mine. And you would be right.
The authors tell us how they program. And they tell us in a way that we can follow. But there is more to this second statement than you might think. Let me explain.
The authors have been careful to avoid proposing a theory of software development. This is fortunate, because if they had they would be obliged to warp each chapter to defend their theory. Such warping is the tradition in, say, the physical sciences, where theories eventually become laws or are quietly discarded. Programming on the other hand has few (if any) laws. So programming advice shaped around wanna-be laws may sound good in writing, but it fails to satisfy in practice. This is what goes wrong with so many methodology books.
I've studied this problem for a dozen years and found the most promise in a device called a pattern language. In short, a pattern is a solution, and a pattern language is a system of solutions that reinforce each other. A whole community has formed around the search for these systems.
This book is more than a collection of tips. It is a pattern language in sheep's clothing. I say that because each tip is drawn from experience, told as concrete advice, and related to others to form a system. These are the characteristics that allow us to learn and follow a pattern language. They work the same way here.
You can follow the advice in this book because it is concrete. You won't find vague abstractions. Dave and Andy write directly for you, as if each tip was a vital strategy for energizing your programming career. They make it simple, they tell a story, they use a light touch, and then they follow that up with answers to questions that will come up when you try.
And there is more. After you read ten or fifteen tips you will begin to see an extra dimension to the work. We sometimes call it QWAN, short for the quality without a name. The book has a philosophy that will ooze into your consciousness and mix with your own. It doesn't preach. It just tells what works. But in the telling more comes through. That's the beauty of the book: It embodies its philosophy, and it does so unpretentiously.
So here it is: an easy to read---and use---book about the whole practice of programming. I've gone on and on about why it works. You probably only care that it does work. It does. You will see. --Ward Cunningham
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- The advice on metaprogramming is probably the strongest part of the book. I really liked the clarity of the examples. The key idea is that you should program the structure and methods in code, and provide the detailed implementation (business rules, algorithms etc.) as data.
- The advice on code generators, little languages and plain text interfaces is solid advice worth reiterating and the sections on these are good. However, I preferred the treatment offered by Jon Bentley in his really excellent Programming Pearls books
- The section on automation is a healthy reminder that programmers should have a "do it once, or automate" philosophy
- The section on contract-driven development is worthy and echoes current practice. Jon Bentley's version is a more theoretical, conceptual approach, less polluted by particular industry practices.
- The sections on test-driven development is fine, but the ideas are much better handled by Kent Beck's books
The not so good:
- The chapters on Pragmatism, Specification, Team Work and Discipline fit nicely with the general themes of the book, but say very little of practical value. If you are interested in operating in a team environment, this isn't the book you are looking for.
- The section on programming methodologies is so wishy-washy it's hard to know what advice if any to take away from it
- References to specific resources are somewhat out of date (the book was written 15 years ago)
The Pragmatic Programmer is worth the price, but if you are thinking of buying this book because you are a relatively new programmer and are looking for advice, I would strongly suggest first reading the much better books:
Jon Bentley's Programming Pearls and More Programming Pearls
Kernighan and Pike's The Practice of Programming
Kent Beck's Extreme Programming Explained
Another book you might be interested in is Susan Lammers, Programmers at Work. Although it is very old (1989), its interesting that most of the programmers interviewed discuss exactly the same themes picked up in The Pragmatic Programmer.
In case you were also thinking about buying a copy of Code Complete, which is also often recommended to new programmers, also hold off - its far too long and a great deal of it feels like a padded-out outline.
There are many classics, like "The C Programming Language," or Knuth's "The Art of Computer Programming" series. Then there are modern classics, such as "Design Patterns," and more recently "Learn Python the Hard Way." But this book excels them all in several ways.
The programming world has long-lacked a normal approach to itself for outsiders. This is why so many programmers are self-taught. We work in a budding field that still hasn't come of age. If the authors continue to revise and improve this work, I would go so far as to say this might the _the_ classic for introducing practical-minded outsiders to the befuddling world of computer programming.
I've always been a geek at heart, but my interests expanded easily past computers to things I can understand better. I found programming books verbose and filled with not enough "why" answers, except when those "why" answers served as rationalization for the author imposing their bias and subjective understanding of various problems onto your entire view of computer science.
The Pragmatic Programmer does not do this. It assumes you are intelligent and can think for yourself about problems, and need help solving them, but not necessarily to be told _how_ to solve them. So much of "teaching" software development is just faulty teachers trying to impose implicit software paradigms on incomplete problems and expecting you, the learner, to be not only satisfied with the completeness of their answer, but to understand why they picked the particular subjective approach that they did.
In truth, this happens in all fields, but it gets especially religious in the field of computer programming. Most people apply the reverse of the sour-grapes fable from Aesop to their own programs. In other words, "My programming grapes are so juicy and sweet that everyone else's in comparison taste quite sour."
Programmers love to take the religious experience of making a computer do something and assume that they should be all-powerful just because they figured out an effective, repeatable way to solve a problem. News flash: There are 1000 ways to tell a computer to do the same thing in 1000 different programming languages. The real test is not whether your software works, but if it works well enough given the constraints you faced in creating it.
So few people understand this and think it's just about the code. It's not about the code, it's about problem solving, and not just formal problem solving, but real-world and practical problem solving. What problem does your software solve, and does it solve it the most effective way you can think of? If you've been frustrated by the approach of most software books, you should give this one a try.
I was surprised at how much information I could relate to, the anecdotes and guidelines it outlines are things that I would have told my younger self when I started programming if I had the chance. Earlier this year I reread the book just to revisit the tips that were being outlined, and they still make perfect sense.
What exactly is this book about? It's series articles containing tips that are meant for programmers who want to be effective and efficient, who program as a profession, who have project risks that need to be evaluated, team-members they need to work with, code that needs to meet quality standards, code that is maintained as legacy the moment it's compiled and shipped, and it's about considering your value as a programmer to the company and updating and grooming your skills to advance your career.
Every single tip and anecdote in the book may not apply to everybody, and you may not agree with all of them, but I believe it's essential reading for anyone who wants a fulfilling career in software development. I'd say the best time to read the book would be about 6 months to 2 years after you've started working professionally; that gives some time to make real-world experiences relevant and understandable to what the book is preaching , but early enough in your career to leverage it's knowledge for the future.
Top international reviews
If you are like me, all the topics in this book are familiar to you, but you struggle to implement them, or don't always see the point - this book confirms that to be the best at what you do, you need to make these second nature.
The authors are IMO spot on almost in every aspect of software development and the book is a joy to read.
It's the kind of book you'd like to enforce all of your colleagues, your customers and partners to read. It's that good.
A must read. A must have.