Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Dreaming In Code

I finally finished Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg.  It was initially hailed as the Soul of a New Machine for a new generation.  As such, it fails.  Its depiction of the process and the characters involved is just not that compelling.  It's not poorly written, it just isn't outstanding.  It is, however, an interesting look into the realm of software process theory.

Scott was given inside access to the team creating Chandler.  Chandler is Mitch Kapor's project to create a new e-mail/calendar application.  Something akin to Outlook but much more flexible.  Scott tells us about the formative stages, the constant changes in direction, the endless meetings.  Some interesting characters like Andy Hertzfeld were part of the team.  As a description of a software project, it is palatable, but not exciting. 

We're given a view of what can only be described as a failure.  Chandler may become a success eventually, but it's taken over 4 years and is still not ready for prime-time.  It is this failure that provides the interesting part of the book.  Many software projects run aground, but most do so behind closed doors.  It is rare to have a chance to observe a failure and analyze what happened.  Perhaps this opportunity will give us some insights into why things failed which can be applied to avoid failures in our own projects.  I've posted elsewhere with my ideas on this.

Scott seems to have decided that a description of a failed software process was only moderately interesting and gives us an overview of much of the modern theory of software project management.  He references the writings of Fred Brooks, Alan Kay, Joel Spolsky, and many others.  These discussions are interspersed throughout the text and make up the bulk of the last third of the book.  In my opinion, the book is worth reading just for this content.  It's a great introduction to the subject and would make a good jumping-off point for more detailed research.

Overall, I recommend reading this book if software theory is something you find interesting.  If you are looking for a history book telling the story of a small team creating something amazing, stick to the original classic.

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