Coders at work

Just finished the book “Coders at work” from Peter Seibel where he interviewed some of the most accomplished coders/programmers in the art/craft/engineering/science of programming.

The form is a bit surprising. In a book where several of the people being interviewed insist on the importance of details, on a subject for which a misplaced semicolon (think C or Java) or an extra space (think Python) will let the edifice crumble, I couldn’t help but be bothered by the numerous missing spaces after dots, the missing or repeated words, the extra or missing boldface, etc.

Using Tex for the typesetting would have been a good illustration of the last interview (Donald Knuth).

Enough complains… the content is great and inspiring. I never heard of most of these people before (I knew only 3) but it’s great to see these different paths. The lisp community seems to be well represented, is it because every programmer did some lisp in the 60-70’s or because the author himself is part of this community? Anyway, that raised my curiosity and I’ll definitely have a look at it (or some of its children).

Javascript also appear to be worth looking at. The last look I had was around 98 when most of the time was spent making things work well with IE5 and Netscape.

As a direct consequence of this book, I’d borrowed a copy of the first volume of the “Art of computer programming”. Quite eager to start it now… Not sure I’ll practice literate programming, but looking at Tex source code is on my todo list.

There are points where they seem to all agree: the challenge of concurrency programming (most of there worst bugs were this kind) and the fact that the ideal language still has to come.

The interesting part was also in the diversity of opinions:

  • on C between those who think pointer was the best invention ever and those thinking that it prevented any further progress in computing
  • on Perl where some praise the freedom it gives and other describes its syntax on very striking terms
  • on Java whose extensibility is on debate as well as its progress compared to other languages
  • even on Lisp, some mention its parenthesis excess

It seems that there is still room for improvement to satisfy everyone! Only on C++ they seem to be quite unanimous (and negative). Bjarne Stroustrup would fit well in the interviewee list to balance this a bit.

The good stuff is that most of them still seem to have fun with what they are doing (and it’s mostly programming related stuff). It appears that the more you learn about the subject, the more windows open up and the part you think you know becomes smaller and smaller… this book definitely opened up many windows for me!

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