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The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder
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The Soul of a New Machine (original 1981; edition 2000)

by Tracy Kidder

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1,853323,730 (4.02)25
Member:neilernst
Title:The Soul of a New Machine
Authors:Tracy Kidder
Info:Back Bay Books (2000), Paperback, 320 pages
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The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder (1981)

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This was interesting for its own merits, a snapshot back into a specific time (and a specific project) of the computer industry.

But I found it *really* interesting for the description of personalities, work-life balance issues, issues of burn-out, feelings (and description) of people becoming 'battle-hardened' veterans, constant in-fighting... it captures beautifully many of the issues that (in large part, though not solely) lead me to leave (aka, run screaming away from) the software/tech industry 30 years after the events described here. It was in fact shocking to read those descriptions and to realize just how 'cultural' the tech culture is (for better or for worse.) ( )
  dcunning11235 | Jul 27, 2016 |
(There are enough editing/proofing errors in this edition to annoy.)

Your appreciation of this book will be dependent on your interests and tastes.

I have mixed feelings. I read it because I love Tracy Kidder's voice. I love how he makes a living by being immensely curious about a variety of subjects. I feel delighted to enter the world of his subjects. I find his writing style so accessible that, even when I don't have a clue what he's talking about, and I'm trying to skim, I find myself reading along as if it's a story.

I don't always love his subjects. Early computers, and the drives of the young engineers who created them, have no interest for me. So, I read this very lightly, which is why I tagged it 'skimmed' rather than 'read.'

Nonetheless, I learned a lot, about both subjects.

For example, I was trying to remember what I knew about computers in 1981, the year this book was published. Certainly I didn't own one, or even aspire to. As a pre-engineering student, I was expecting to learn Fortran, but I don't recall why. Turns out that the ones ppl used were mostly terminals. The computer itself was shared, generally by a dozen (?) or more users. Cash registers in retail stores were starting to be automated - those were definitely computerized. Microwave ovens, traffic lights, car engines, all already had computerized functions. And yet, Kidder in 1981 was not yet ready to recognize the revolution. Of course, the internet wasn't yet a thing - no Google, no Amazon, no smart phones. It was definitely an interesting, dynamic era.

I also learned that HAL, in the movie *2001,* is named after IBM. Look at the position of the letters in the alphabet, H,I, and A,B, and L,M.
( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
Great for computer and engineering geeks. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
@ start of Dr. to greed

The computer revolution brought with it new methods of getting work done—just look at today's news for reports of hard-driven, highly-motivated young software and online commerce developers who sacrifice evenings and weekends to meet impossible deadlines. His thoughtful, prescient book tells stories of 35-year-old "veteran" engineers hiring recent college graduates and encouraging them to work harder and faster on complex and difficult projects, exploiting the youngsters' ignorance of normal scheduling processes while engendering a new kind of work ethic.
  christinejoseph | Mar 3, 2016 |
I lost interest at around 20% into the book.
  ajlewis2 | Feb 24, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
"The Soul of a New Machine is first of all a good story, but beyond the narrative, or rather woven into it, is the computer itself, described physically, mechanically and conceptually. The descriptive passages will not ''explain'' computers to the average reader (at least they did not significantly increase my own very superficial knowledge), but they give a feeling, a flavor, that adds to one's understanding - as broadly, or even poetically, defined."
 
this is from a retrospective review of the book, nearly twenty years after its publication.

December, 2000

"More than a simple catalog of events or stale corporate history, Soul lays bare the life of the modern engineer - the egghead toiling and tinkering in the basement, forsaking a social life for a technical one."
 
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ISBN 0140062491 is for The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. Amazon has the title and author for the film "Norma Jean" by Ted Jordan, but the cover for Tracy Kidder's book.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316491977, Paperback)

The computer revolution brought with it new methods of getting work done--just look at today's news for reports of hard-driven, highly-motivated young software and online commerce developers who sacrifice evenings and weekends to meet impossible deadlines. Tracy Kidder got a preview of this world in the late 1970s when he observed the engineers of Data General design and build a new 32-bit minicomputer in just one year. His thoughtful, prescient book, The Soul of a New Machine, tells stories of 35-year-old "veteran" engineers hiring recent college graduates and encouraging them to work harder and faster on complex and difficult projects, exploiting the youngsters' ignorance of normal scheduling processes while engendering a new kind of work ethic.

These days, we are used to the "total commitment" philosophy of managing technical creation, but Kidder was surprised and even a little alarmed at the obsessions and compulsions he found. From in-house political struggles to workers being permitted to tease management to marathon 24-hour work sessions, The Soul of a New Machine explores concepts that already seem familiar, even old-hat, less than 20 years later. Kidder plainly admires his subjects; while he admits to hopeless confusion about their work, he finds their dedication heroic. The reader wonders, though, what will become of it all, now and in the future. --Rob Lightner

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:41 -0400)

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