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The Soul of A New Machine Paperback – June 1, 2000
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The computer revolution brought with it new methods of getting work done--just look at today's news for reports of hard-driven, highly-motivated young software and online commerce developers who sacrifice evenings and weekends to meet impossible deadlines. Tracy Kidder got a preview of this world in the late 1970s when he observed the engineers of Data General design and build a new 32-bit minicomputer in just one year. His thoughtful, prescient book, The Soul of a New Machine, tells stories of 35-year-old "veteran" engineers hiring recent college graduates and encouraging them to work harder and faster on complex and difficult projects, exploiting the youngsters' ignorance of normal scheduling processes while engendering a new kind of work ethic.
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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize winner Kidder's 1981 volume was published when mini-supercomputers were still the stuff of science fiction. How the world has turned. Though technology has grown immeasurably since then, this volume still serves as an interesting history of the machine that conquered the world.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
That was nearly thirty years ago.
Recently, I mentioned this book in a conversation with a colleague and subsequently decided to read it again. I hoped it would be as good as I thought it was the first time, but I was skeptical. Technology has changed a lot; and both the MV/8000 and Data General Corporation are now long gone. Would "The Soul of a New Machine" still be as gripping a story as it was originally? The answer, in a word, is YES!
In rereading the book in 2011, I was struck by the diversity of the team engaged in this effort, the various work methods and styles that had to come together for success. Kidder introduces the reader to a wonderful cast of characters who worked incredible hours and faced enormous time pressures under great stress for months and months to birth a new computer.
It may sound simple, but it wasn't. "The Soul of a New Machine" is a gripping, circuitous, wonderful tale of a dream and the team that brought it to life.
At the end of this book I found myself split on two separate opinions:
1. The ability for a team to come together and against all expectations to produce something faster then anyone expected. This was an amazing feat.
2. Given the right circumstances, a strong leader, fresh college graduates, managers willing to push, and a lofty high goal, a team and it's members can be pushed to work 80 to 100 hours a week for years to achieve said lofty goal for a company that only pays them for 40 hours a week. It's shows the ability to create/exploit cult like behavior to create something new.
I have no doubt that a similar story could be made for countless products. We hear stories of the first Macintosh and iPhone, and how much work and sacrifice was put into these products. We praise the iPhone and Mac as being revolutionary products, but what if in the end it was just a normal product. This is the story of that machine.
In the early 80s such was not the case. Data General, left the stage in 1999 when it was acquired by another company. But when it was making new computers, and the men assigned to make new computers, that was a time little grasped by the world.
Kidder is able to inform us of that time, but then he also goes to extremes such as always describing like a terrible dime store mystery, each member of the team when he introduces them. What he thinks might be infusing these sketches with depth actually reads like details from an index card that have to be injected in a particular order.
Then, he does not seem to have a computer persons understanding of a computer. He breaks up the distinction between hardware and software and thinks he gives us and overview of what the two are doing but as a geek, as a writer of software and a electronics lab guy in high school, I am at a loss to understand what he was trying to say. That disconnect just does not hold up. We want to understand more about the boards constructed and how system language was so important on a new 32 bit project.
Kidder captures that a team went in and built a computer that had not been built before, but there were other 32 bit computers out there already and profiling the first, the challenges to overcome from 16 bit to 32 bit, or really focusing on why this 32 bit was so much better, was needed. This is not anywhere near the iconic Insanely Great. And for that it suffers.
This is a great book, one of the best on a management style that returns real results. It is as valid today, probably even more so today, than it was in the 1980s.