5 Books on Technology That You Should Read

Posted by Jayasankar

5 Books on technology that you should read; ‘You’ = anyone who makes a living out of information technology. Whether you are a programmer, a hardware guy, in sales, in support, a manager, even an enthusiast …

1. The Mythical Man Month by Frederic Brooks

One woman can deliver a baby in ten months, so ten women can…. or “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”

Well, this is perhaps ‘the’ book on software project management. Prof. Frederic Brooks’ book is based primarily on his experiences while developing OS/360 while at IBM. A great read, it tells you why making complex, working software is such a tough job, how to do it better and why there are no silver bullets.


2. The Soul of a new machine by Tracy Kidder

Data General needs to build a machine to compete with Digial Equipment Corporation’s new VAX minicomputer. This is the inside story of how a team under Tom West built ‘Eagle’. The writer ,journalist Tracy Kidder, was ’embedded’ in the team and returns the favor by producing a brilliant book.

This is perhaps the best written book of the bunch, being written by a professional journalist. More than the technology, the book is able to throw light into the most challenging part of building technology – the ‘soft’ stuff that deals with people. The turf wars, the frustrations, the bordering-on-insane deadlines are all portrayed brilliantly.

3 . Patterns of Software by Richard P. Gabriel

This is part autobiography, part company history, part advice to the next generation and part musings on software engineering. The musings on software part deals with questions like how building software is similar to building a house, of why code should be ‘inhabitable’, and of course, on why ‘worse is better’. Great stuff.

4. Just for Fun by Linus Torvalds

The author wrote something called Linux before he wrote this book. He has a caustic sense of humor and he did it just for fun.’Nuff said.

5. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore

This book is about high-tech marketing.

How did Oracle become the predominant relational database though arguably, their competitors had as good or better products in the earlier stages?

Why is that Autodesk seems so cool now while Novell looks so sad though the former had a perhaps bigger screw up?

How the hell is IBM still able to sell AS/400 – a proprietary minicomputer technology which should have died off years ago?

…This book on high-tech marketing will try to give you answers to these questions.

Actually, he does.

(Answers :-

1. Mostly following Standards and the able to convince the world that they do.

2. Autodesk hunkered down after a poor release of their flagship product Autocad and built something which sort of resolved all the performance issues. Novell, meanwhile, used all the money they had once made by selling Netware to buy stuff completely unrelated while Microsoft was eating their lunch on their flagship product.

3. Milk and add to the installed base and give them no reason to switch. Keep the platform up to current performance standards.Give great customer service and make add-on offers that incrementally upgrade capabilities without technological risk – more disk-space, link to Internet etc. All this while the core system chuggs along, relatively untouched. And of course whisper in the IT manager’s ears “No one ever got fired for not switching off an IBM.”

It primarily deals with the biggest challenge that all technology new high-tech companies have to deal with – that of crossing the chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. And once crossed, how to go on from there.

And, if you still have time, try these.

The Nudist in the late shift by Po Bronson

Po Bronson is the guy who wrote #1 New York Times best seller ‘What should I do with my life.’ Before he was dealing with the meaning of life he wrote a really cool paperback about the Silicon Valley ,its people and its culture. Bronson goes much beyond the Jobs-Grove-Ellison interview/feature/biography. You will meet Oma Kemmis, a 60 year old mom who is the number one closer in software sales. You will meet Max, the programmer whose squirrel hunting vacation is inviolable, whatever his employer’s priorities. You will meet David Filo, the multimillionaire founder of Yahoo who still sleeps under his desk one night a week. You will meet a libertarian futurist, and of course, you will meet the nudist on the late shift.

Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance by Lou Gerstner

Lou Gerstner was a complete outsider with zero experience in the technology industry when he was hired as the CEO to turn around an american business icon which was in free fall, in the early 90s. This is the story of how the Big Blue found back its mojo (arguably) – how it turned from primarily a mainframe and add on sales company to a sevices company. Some (including Ellison) blame Gerstner for turning the iconic co from being an innovator to being a services sweatshop.

Btw, do you know which co has the biggest share of the Indian market? TCS? Infosys? nope. Big blue again.

Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg

This is the one book in the list that I have not read, but I find the reviews, the authors blog and the excerpt good enough to recommend it.

“Our civilization runs on software. Yet the art of creating it continues to be a dark mystery, even to the experts, and the greater our ambitions, the more spectacularly we seem to fail.

Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software sets out to understand why, through the story of one software project — Mitch Kapor’s Chandler, an ambitious, open-source effort to rethink the world of e-mail and scheduling.

So while I hope that programmers will enjoy this work, it is meant equally or more for the rest of us. It poses a question and tells a tale. Why is good software so hard to make? Since no one seems to have a definitive answer even now, at the start of the twenty-first century, fifty years deep into the computer era, I offer, by way of exploration, the tale of the making of one piece of software — a story about a group of people setting their shoulders once more to the boulder of code and heaving it up the hill, stymied by obstacles old and new, struggling to make something useful and rich and lasting.”

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