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on August 3, 2005
This is a collection of 29 essays about software development, selected and introduced by Joel Spolsky (of Joel on Software fame).

I've been a regular reader of Joel's site for many years, and many of the themes Joel has been writing about (social software, outsourcing, the dangers of measuring the performance of individuals using simple bug metrics, and sales and marketing of software) are reflected in the included essays.

Many of the authors have already published books of their own (Bruce Eckel, Paul Graham, Mary Poppendieck and Ron Jeffries come to mind), but regardless of whether they've been published before or not, the writing is consistently good. This isn't surprising, since according to the back cover, the goal of the book is to show-case good writing, and since Joel himself is a very good writer.

I had read a few of the essays before the book was published (and in the case of "Great Hackers" by Paul Graham, I had actually listen to it, thanks to ITConversations), but most of them were new to me. They cover a lot of different angles on software development, from how to format your code, to forced overtime.

The best essays in my opinion are "The Pitfalls of Outsourcing Programmers" (a short but well argued piece on why outsourcing many times isn't such a good idea), "Strong Typing vs. Strong Testing" (on the benefits of automatic unit tests) and "Style is Substance" (why not standardizing on one coding style - why not indeed).

Actually, as I look through the contents to pick which essays I liked the most, it is hard to choose. Many of them are really good. I have to pick a few more: "Measuring Testers by Test Metrics Doesn't" (with a great example of exactly how this can create a lot of extra work without adding any value), and the cleverly named "How Many Microsoft Employees Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?" (explaining how a seemingly small change ripples through a big company).

Also, honorable mentions to Clay Shirky's two entries about social software (I had read both before, but they are very insightful and worth re-reading) and to Eric Sink's about software sales and marketing.

The least interesting for me were "Processing Processing" (musings on the nature of the web) and "Passion" (about passion for programming, which is a good subject, but this essay just didn't work for me).

There are also a couple of entries in the "Humor" category. The second essay is a hilarious send-up of the crappy Windows search, and the last essay made me laugh aloud several times. It's a quick tour of Ruby (the programming language), but with lots of stream-of-consciousness side tracks. And cartoon foxes! Not to be missed.

Joel's introductions are generally good and add to the experience. There is also a liberal sprinkling of footnotes, where Joel explains certain names and terms. Mostly this is OK, but it goes over-board sometimes. Given that this presumably is a book the will mostly be read by software developers, do we really need explanations of API-call, iTunes or Skype?

I suspect this collection will be followed by a "The Best Software Writing II", and I'm looking forward to reading that one too. By the way, since all the essays were culled from the web, you can probably find all of them just by surfing. But for me, it was worth it to have them all collected in book-form.

To summarize, a varied collection of interesting and well written essays on software development. Recommended.
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on March 28, 2013
If you're interested in the business of software, Joel Spolsky is a name that should definitely be on your bookshelf. He is smart, experienced, and has a wealth of knowledge to share. His writing style is plain-spoken and filled with interesting anecdotes that hold the reader's attention while he teaches them something good.
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on December 13, 2012
It is very help for the software company!
If you can implement some of the tips, your company will change in deep I think!
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on August 21, 2007
I reread this book the other day, and I had forgotten how much I love it. Two words: Eric Sink. Eric is an incredibly good writer, who of course, has at least one of his own books as well. Anyway, this compilation is terrific.
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on July 25, 2005
Being familiar with Joel's website, and judging by the title of the book and the excepts I had seen I bought this book expecting it to be about software development. Success and failure stories of projects, designs, development, testing and deployments. What works for people? how much abstraction is good? What testing methods and tools work well and how to use them? Stuff like that. What I found however is that this collection of stories and essays has very little to do with software writing. It would be more correct to entitle is "The best of writing by people loosely related to software development." While some of it does go over some great aspects of development (The articles on social software are excellent!) there are some article that are completely assinine. For example a chapter where the author describe the best 'hacker' recruitment style, including all the offerings of your mother's basement. The author also goes to great extents to chastise anyone who isn't a python developer. There are also many articles on managing intelligence production teams(Software development, testing, deploying, etc...) and while these article were neat, they had nothing to do with the actual writing of software. Over all I was greatly disappointed in the book, and it would have been a complete waste had it not been for the (very few) burried gems in the rough and the social software articles.
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on May 29, 2009
Little of value. Sold it almost immediately. His "Joel on Software," which I kept, is much more interesting.
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on November 9, 2005
The blurb on the back cover reads:

"At my own company, we instituted a policy: we only want to hire software developers who can write, and write well. Just try submitting a résumé to me with grammatical errors or a cover letter that reads like it was written by that guy who translates those instruction manuals for really cheap consumer electronics. I dare you."

I think this is a great policy. Being able to communicate well is one of the greatest and most overlooked assets to look for in good software developers. With this book, Joel Spolsky shows us some of the best examples of good writing in the field of software.

If it were just a matter of good writing style, the importance of this book would be rather limited. But its real value, besides the stylistic aspect, is the great content. Most articles are not just well written, but also very interesting, insightful or outrightly funny. Great content in a nice package.

I've previously referred to Paul Graham's essay "Great Hackers", which is one of the best. My other favorites are Ken Arnold's "Style is Substance" and why the lucky stiff's introduction to the Ruby language.

My only small gripe with the book is the fact that most, if not all, the material inside is already available on the net. It sure is pleasant having it all nicely collected and printed in a book, so that you can read it on the plane or at the beach, but I find it quite improbable that all good software writing can be found on the net and none in print magazines and book. Or maybe it is simply easier to obtain republishing rights for online material than it is for printed stuff? A couple of comic strips seem quite out of place, too.

Apart from these minor details, a very entertaining and stimulating read. Highly recommended.
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Having been in process management in a software organization for over ten years, I've seen too many articles and books on the topic that worked better than Valium for putting me to sleep especially since they have no side effects. Many say Joel Spolsky is one of the best writers on the topic of software. However, in this book he stands aside and lets others demonstrate that he isn't the only one who can write about software in English and captivate you.

Joel on Software (his Web site slash blog) fans won't be disappointed in the selection of authors as they deal with the concepts he writes about on his site. Some readers may be expecting a book solely on software development. Even Spolsky's writings goes beyond this. Some folks might be disappointed that most of the articles, blog entries, speeches, and essays are available somewhere on the Web. I only recognize a few of the authors and their articles, so I would've never known about the others had I not found this book.

The essays cover a gamut of development-related topics. They include coding style, outsourcing programmers, dealing with Excel as a database, using social software (Friendster, LinkedIn, Tribe, and all that) and the things that are right and wrong withthese shared spaces, emerging digital rights, and defining the two-phase commit process a la Starbucks. Even a couple of them are nothing but comics. The one on Windows search makes me laugh.

The book also contains business-related essays that address a few problems affecting many companies -- namely team compensation and forced overtime which often spills over the weekend. Spolsky introduces every essay and includes notes clarifying abbreviations, names, or terms that aren't widely known. After all, the world of software is vast and it's impossible to know everything about it. I want to make sure it's clear -- Spolsky does NOT contribute an essay in this book.

A manager can benefit from the book because of the insight into the developer's perspective which could help the manager become a better leader. The developer benefits because many of the issues covered can impact developers no matter what language is used for development. If you belong to neither management nor development, the best way to decide if the book is for you or not is to review the table of contents and reviews. If you find only one or two interesting possibilities, search for them online instead.

I'm one of those who belong to neither group. My software organization background has been along the lines of an analyst and process manager. Even I find that most of the essays are enjoyable or educational. Only one or two lost me.

While most of the content is available on the Internet for free, the book is worth the bucks. It's nice having a collection of high-quality writing related to software and the business in one place instead of surfing the Web for it. Furthermore, you get an opportunity to read about business offline -- I read most of the book while traveling on an airplane. Thanks to the book, the flight felt shorter. I appreciated and absorbed the essays better by reading them in the book than I would have had I read them online.
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on June 14, 2006
I agree with the reviewer who said the book can keep you awake at night (in the good sense!) because that is what the book did last night. It is very refreshing to back off from the keyboard and reflect on the broad issues and directions of our coding environment.

I had not heard of Spolsky until I encountered his essay on how Microsoft has lost the API war. On a daily basis I deal with GUI standards and usability issues for browser-based Web applications. That particular essay had real value for me and I went on to read other contributions by the author.

As others have noted, this book contains essays by a wide range of grizzled veterans of software development. These essays, depending on the subject, will have greater or lesser value for you. What has not been emphasized enough however, is that each contributor essay is prefaced by one by Spolsky -- each of which I found informative and entertaining.

So -- when is Best Software Writing II coming out?
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on December 27, 2005
Joe Spolsky has a lot of great things to say: insightful comments on software development, business practices, and the industry in general. I have been impressed with his writing as well as with the books that Apress publishes, in general. While this particular collection of essays is not by Joel, nor were they originally published by Apress, I think that the effort put into identifying, collecting, and editing (yes, Joel provides nice introductions to each and every essay) transform these already great parts into an excellent whole.

The bottom line here is that this is a collection of must-read essays for every developer or software manager. Sure, many of them can be found online, but Joel has made the effort to choose the best ones, identify the salient points, and introduce them in such a way as to keep them relevant to his larger (implied) thesis: there is a slippage between the good writing that identifies where software development should be/go and the wrong-headed notions ubiquitous throughout the industry so that we all need to be aware of the critics on the edges, whether they are the anonymous bloggers or erudite Paul Graham, and test their assertions against our own environments. To this end, Joel has provided an excellent start for our reading fodder.

In other words, this is a must-read for anyone in the software industry. You may not always agree with the authors (or Joel), but this book provides such a breadth of approach and perspective that you are bound to learn something - even if you have read all of these before.
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