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The Computer Boys Take Over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of…

by Nathan L. Ensmenger

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This is a book about the computer revolution of the mid-twentieth century and the people who made it possible. Unlike most histories of computing, it is not a book about machines, inventors, or entrepreneurs. Instead, it tells the story of the vast but largely anonymous legions of computer specialists--programmers, systems analysts, and other software developers--who transformed the electronic computer from a scientific curiosity into the defining technology of the modern era. As the systems that they built became increasingly powerful and ubiquitous, these specialists became the focus of a series of critiques of the social and organizational impact of electronic computing. To many of their contemporaries, it seemed the "computer boys" were taking over, not just in the corporate setting, but also in government, politics, and society in general. In The Computer Boys Take Over, Nathan Ensmenger traces the rise to power of the computer expert in modern American society. His rich and nuanced portrayal of the men and women (a surprising number of the "computer boys" were, in fact, female) who built their careers around the novel technology of electronic computing explores issues of power, identity, and expertise that have only become more significant in our increasingly computerized society. In his recasting of the drama of the computer revolution through the eyes of its principle revolutionaries, Ensmenger reminds us that the computerization of modern society was not an inevitable process driven by impersonal technological or economic imperatives, but was rather a creative, contentious, and above all, fundamentally human development.… (more)

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Covers the transition of computing from its early origins and division between largely male scientists/engineers building the machines and mostly female "coders"/programmers through a process of masculinization and professionalization, as well as the creation of academic "computer science" and its fight for legitimacy as an independent field rather than merely a subset or melange of mathematics, electrical engineering, business, or other existing fields with which it overlaps.

I found the discussion of the divide between industry and academia in defining what computing encompassed, and the different approaches to professionalization of computing careers to be particularly interesting (and somewhat amusing), with industry complaining about the uselessness of computer science graduates and academics distancing themselves from engagement with physical computing machinery in pursuit of scholarly legitimacy. That divide is particularly interesting given my position as a systems adminstrator at a college with a very strong computer science program that is still working out the balance between preparing graduates for industry and academia. ( )
  cmc | Apr 10, 2016 |
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This is a book about the computer revolution of the mid-twentieth century and the people who made it possible. Unlike most histories of computing, it is not a book about machines, inventors, or entrepreneurs. Instead, it tells the story of the vast but largely anonymous legions of computer specialists--programmers, systems analysts, and other software developers--who transformed the electronic computer from a scientific curiosity into the defining technology of the modern era. As the systems that they built became increasingly powerful and ubiquitous, these specialists became the focus of a series of critiques of the social and organizational impact of electronic computing. To many of their contemporaries, it seemed the "computer boys" were taking over, not just in the corporate setting, but also in government, politics, and society in general. In The Computer Boys Take Over, Nathan Ensmenger traces the rise to power of the computer expert in modern American society. His rich and nuanced portrayal of the men and women (a surprising number of the "computer boys" were, in fact, female) who built their careers around the novel technology of electronic computing explores issues of power, identity, and expertise that have only become more significant in our increasingly computerized society. In his recasting of the drama of the computer revolution through the eyes of its principle revolutionaries, Ensmenger reminds us that the computerization of modern society was not an inevitable process driven by impersonal technological or economic imperatives, but was rather a creative, contentious, and above all, fundamentally human development.

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