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The Soul of A New Machine Paperback – June 1, 2000
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Audio CD, Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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These days, we are used to the "total commitment" philosophy of managing technical creation, but Kidder was surprised and even a little alarmed at the obsessions and compulsions he found. From in-house political struggles to workers being permitted to tease management to marathon 24-hour work sessions, The Soul of a New Machine explores concepts that already seem familiar, even old-hat, less than 20 years later. Kidder plainly admires his subjects; while he admits to hopeless confusion about their work, he finds their dedication heroic. The reader wonders, though, what will become of it all, now and in the future. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
When it was first published, the book was a narrative of what was then `modern' technology, where the central processing units (CPU) or `brains' of commercial minicomputers and mainframe computers were built up on large circuit boards from individual, specialized integrated circuit chips, with each chip integrating dozens or hundreds of discrete components. This compares to today's microcomputers where the entire CPU is placed on a single chip incorporating tens of thousands of discrete functions, all taking up no more room than the average credit card. Now, the book is more a history of how this technology was developed, and yet its picture of how people work in teams developing technological projects will probably never go out of date.
The irony of this book is that the computer being developed by the team described in this book, a 32 bit Eclipse computer developed by the Data General corporation, a competitor to the larger and very successful Digital Computer Corporation (Digital), did not really achieve any major breakthrough in technology. While it was intended to compete with a new generation of Digital VAX machines, it ended up being just barely faster than VAX's in a few special tasks.Read more ›
When you're young and you get interested in something, you get _passionate_ about it. Maybe it's because you don't know the importance of money and responsibility yet, but you really get into a sport, or hobby, or any other interest, and you do that hobby or play that sport, you write stories or fix cars, making whatever sacrifices you need to just so you can do this thing you love, not because you want to make money at it, or gain respect or admiration, but because it gives you priceless rewards and satisfaction. And it's a purest love you can have. When you grow up, you get disillusioned, from paying bills and other responsibilities. You lose the spark. You start doubting your interest in what you used to love, be it the mechanic who used to love cars but has grown jaded, or the teacher on a low income who has to deal with unruly students and demanding parents.
The Soul of a New Machine is a throwback to that youthful perhaps almost a bit naive passion. It's about the antithesis of the 9-5, where if the pay is horrible, you couldn't care less, you still work overtime. This pure struggle, the essence of a profession, is what makes the book so great. It's the most archetypal element of a career or profession, the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that only something you put your soul and your sweat and blood into, can give you. In that basement in Data General, this beautiful dream became real in the form of the Eagle minicomputer. If you've felt the kind of spark that drove those young men before, this book will remind you. And if you haven't, maybe this book will kindle a new passion in what you do.
Tracy Kidder captures a technical world and gives a clear picture at the tremendous challenges of building a state of the art computer system, that must be backwards compatible with legacy architecture, all while doing it in an easy to read manner (and a brilliant original perspective).
It is a heroic, true life story. It was (and still is) one of my all-time favorite books.
engineers tasked with building a new computer for Data General. The
project is led by a curt manager with a methodology he calls mushroom
management (keep them in a damp, dark place, and feed them shit) that
would be impossible to instate in any sensible company these days. The
project is of highest significance for the company, and everything is
due yesterday, everyone working in a frantic pace to get the computer
out the door before their rivals within the same company beat them to
it. The pressure and the intense pace of work is tangible all through
the book; especially in the chapters on the debugging of the computer,
one gets a very solid sense of how difficult it should be to fix
horribly complicated hardware bugs under such intense pressure.
Soul of a New Machine hails from a time when the separate parts of a
computer were actually built and tested by hand; a time when the CPU
and the ALU resided on separate boards, a computer was debugged using
oscilloscopes, and when finished, occupied three cabinets. For people
of later generations who grew up with computers that came simply
within a shiny black box, the story of these engineers provides a nice
perspective of where the computer industry came from, and how the
computer market could have developed in many other directions.
The bigger question Kidder is after is what drives young, talented
people to spend most of their waking hours on a new computer. The
engineers he follows all have successful academic studies behind them,
and are technically inclined, having broken and fixed electrical
devices since their childhood.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great insightful book that looks in the personal side of the people who made the computers of the late 1970s to early 1980. Not too nerdy.Published 10 days ago by dan monaghan
Having been a software guy, I never thought about the complexity of designing a computer. This is a fantastic story, both the engineering and the psychology. Great read.Published 1 month ago by Herb Depke
I haven't finished this book and I have no intention of doing so. I got lost with all the names of poorly developed characters and the jumping of the timeline. Read morePublished 2 months ago by John Barry
A story of how the world was changed by the microprocessor, and about engineers and their desire to create. Extremely revealing story on many different levels.Published 3 months ago by JLD
I remember one of my engineering professors told me to get this book many years ago, after I had finished a computer systems engineering degree - and it was a fantastic... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Bruce J.
An excellent read, covers many topics and scenarios still strongly applicable in today's technical industry -- computers and beyond. Read morePublished 5 months ago by JMM
Had to read it for a college class.
Find a summary of this one, folks.