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Mark Trescowthick - GUI Computing
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During my recent sojourn on the road (to Africa and the Olympics, to be precise) I've had the time to read. In fact, I've had a LOT of time to read - just love those 16 hour flights! Now, normally, I read trash... the latest Robert Ludlum, great scads of Science Fiction and Fantasy, occasional 'real' books like Helen Garner's The First Stone and an assortment of whatever other interesting stuff that can be detected in the current airport's bookshop - which often means not that much at all!

But I have recently stumbled on two books which went straight into the 'must read' classification - at least for software developers.

The first will perhaps be vaguely familiar to readers of Wired. Microserfs sprang initially from a Wired article of the same name (in fact, that article is the book's first chapter). The article dealt with life inside Microsoft, and in itself it was a perceptive and amusing piece.

The expansion of this article into a novel sees this group of Microsofties leave for the perils and delights of a Silicon Valley startup, developing a hypothetical new game (sort of computer Lego, actually) by name of OOP!, and author Douglas Coupland provides a fascinating view into the development process - to the extent that he must surely have once been a developer.

This is a book that will alternatively amuse, delight and offend the current generation of software developers. It will amuse because so many of the book's characters are readily identifiable with someone on your current development team - from the 'resident weirdo' to the slightly sleazy Marketing Director. It will delight with its developer-centric view of the world (Geeks of the World, Unite!). And it will offend most developers because of its sheer accuracy ("Am I really like that?").

Anyone who has struggled to get a new product out the door - or who has worked in the typical cash-poor, event-rich, independent development environment Microserfs portrays - should love this light, but not lightweight, cyberpunk comedy. So should those who have the fortune (mis or otherwise) to be managing or married to developers. Definitely recommended.

From the fictional to the factual... not two days after I finished Microserfs, I ran across the fascinating I Sing the Body Electronic by Fred Moody.

This is definitely mandatory reading for anyone managing projects in a modern development environment. Moody was privileged to sit in as part of the development team for Microsoft's Explorapedia product, and he documents (with no little sense of ongoing amazement) the development 'process' - including all the typical big-project personality clashes and frustrations, the interface traumas so typical of any GUI development, and the day to day annoyances which go to make up any major development.

Moody obviously became something of a father/confessor to the project team members, and his book is consequently skewed strongly to the personal side of software development, which makes for an interesting and informative perspective. On odd occasions, his determination to make the book comprehensible for the masses gets in the way of a good story (three pages on the minutiae of developing a pop-up??), but overall the story runs along with little to interrupt its fascinating flow.

Project Managers should definitely read I Sing the Body Electronic. Developers probably should. Multimedia developers definitely should. And anyone who has any interest in Microsoft's successes and failures absolutely should.

Recommended.

I Sing the Body Electronic. By Fred Moody. ISBN 0-14-017655-1. Published by Penguin Books.
Microserfs. By Douglas Coupland. ISBN 0 -06-098704-9. Published by HarperCollins.



Written by: Mark Trescowthick
August '96

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