Truly great software development
It’s vacation time, and a happy byproduct of vacation is a chance to catch up on my reading. I’ve always been fascinated with the seminal software systems development projects that have taken place over the history of the industry.
The History of Software has a good retelling of the development of the first real time air defense system (SAGE) which at one point employed more than half of all of the software engineers working in the United States.
I’ve read The Mythical Man Month several times over, which is a collection of lessons learned from IBM’s OS 360.
This vacation I recently finished Showstopper!, an inside view of the development of Windows NT, led by the widely respected Dave Cutler. Four years and over a $ hundred million in the making, NT was a moonshot effort that’s shown incredible longevity. Now 15 years old, the kernel of Windows NT is still essentially the core of today’s Windows Server and Windows XP operating systems. The book does a great job of describing the different key contributors, their personalities and how they intermeshed, which neatly sums up pretty much all there is to learn about successfully creating a great software product.
The author had an excellent observation towards the end of the book that struck me as an important reminder with today’s mindset of “Anything worth doing can be done with three engineers and some Ruby on Rails.”
"A quarter century since the first fissures were spotted in the edifice of Bigness, it is now fashionable to dismiss big organizations and dinosaurs, incapable of managing complexity. It is hard to argue against specific examples. But this does not mean that small organizations are by definition to the answer to the challenge of complexity. While the entrepreneur and lone genius are rightly celebrated as engines of creative destruction, “small is beautiful” is a false cure for the Bigness disease. The really grand dreams of humanity increasingly require immense resources and armies of skilled people; however nimble, small agencies are ill equipped to marshal the required people and resources."
I’ve still got The Soul of a New Machine and Rebel Code to read. Please let me know if there are other great books about software projects that I should know about.