my recent reads..

Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters; From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima
Power Sources and Supplies: World Class Designs
Red Storm Rising
Locked On
Analog Circuits Cookbook
The Teeth Of The Tiger
Sharpe's Gold
Without Remorse
Practical Oscillator Handbook
Red Rabbit

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister is often cited as the classic software development management text; one that rightfully puts the focus on people.

So I had heard about it long before finally getting around to reading it recently.

It is a really good collection of insights, suggestions and anti-patterns that makes a great read, and good food for thought. Especially because it sweats the little things, like office furniture, interview techniques, and the evils of the telephone.

My favourite phrase in the book:
Management by Hysterical Optimism
Haven't we all seen that in action at some time? (unfortunately)

The authors do however take a little liberty in claiming the Hawthorne effect says people perform better when they're trying something new. Which I believe to be true, but isn't exactly what the Hawthorn effect is (people will be more productive when appreciated or when watched).

My report is not all good however. There more I read into the book, the more I felt the authors' advice was biased towards a certain ideal organisation that is I think by no means universally applicable.

In short: workers all strive to be master craftsmen; they provide their own motivation, vision and goals; management is best advised to just provide the creature comforts and get out of their way.

While many may relate to this (personally I do too), as a general theory of management I think it is a crock. In the 60's they would have called this 'flower power'. In the 50's it would have been labeled a 'communist conspiracy'.

No, I think the real world is a little more complex than that. But Peopleware nevertheless delivers a great deal of practical advice.

Seven False Hopes of Software Management

My favourite "list" from the book...
  • There is some new trick you've missed that could send productivity soaring

  • Other managers are getting gains of 100% or more

  • Technology is moving so swiftly that you're being passed by.

  • Changing languages will give you huge gains

  • Because of the backlog, you need to double productivity immediately

  • You automate everything else; isn't it about time to automate your development staff away?

  • Your people will work better if you put them under a lot of pressure

With a preference for the decimal system, I have the temerity to add:
  • Build it and they will come!

  • We just need a SOA architecture!

  • It's going to take too long/cost too much, so can you revise your estimates?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Think Like a Rocket Scientist

I've been lax in my little posts about books I've read. One of the reasons is that I'm now addicted to bookjetty, which makes it sooo easy to track my reading and think "I'll review/blog it later". The other reason is simply time.

But reading Jim Longuski's The Seven Secrets of How to Think Like a Rocket Scientisthas prompted me into action again.

This is a great book on practical innovation, and generally just getting things done. Although it takes the "Rocket Scientist" as the model (understandable, since Longuski is one), it largely avoids the trap of being elitist and sycophantic. It's just an honest and thoughtful analysis of how rocket scientists work, and presented almost like a pattern language for knowledge workers.

The "seven secrets" are actually seven stages of the creative process, from the initial idea generation through to delivery. Each stage includes half a dozen or more "secrets" (or patterns), so the book is more like "The 50 Secrets of How to .."
  • Dream

  • Judge

  • Ask

  • Check

  • Simplify

  • Optimize

  • Do

The book is also littered with great quotes, has a bibliography that immediately adds many books to your "must read" list. Perhaps the best part is however Longuski's ladder of the "Greatest Sci-Fi Films of the Twentieth Century" gratuitously included in the appendix. Longuski clearly has some "issues" with Shuttle-era NASA, but when these intrude on the text, they just serve to highten the drama!
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of courage-to move in the opposite direction. -- Albert Einstein

When you find a good move, look for a better one. -- Dr Emanuel Lasker

Do. Or do not. There is no try. -- Jedi Master Yoda

It is often said you can lie with statistics. But-it's even easier to lie without them -- Jim Longuski

PS: I since wrote a reflection on this book called Code like a Rocket Scientist