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The Productive Programmer [Paperback]

Neal Ford
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 13 2008 0596519788 978-0596519780 1

Anyone who develops software for a living needs a proven way to produce it better, faster, and cheaper. The Productive Programmer offers critical timesaving and productivity tools that you can adopt right away, no matter what platform you use. Master developer Neal Ford not only offers advice on the mechanics of productivity-how to work smarter, spurn interruptions, get the most out your computer, and avoid repetition-he also details valuable practices that will help you elude common traps, improve your code, and become more valuable to your team. You'll learn to:

  • Write the test before you write the code
  • Manage the lifecycle of your objects fastidiously
  • Build only what you need now, not what you might need later
  • Apply ancient philosophies to software development
  • Question authority, rather than blindly adhere to standards
  • Make hard things easier and impossible things possible through meta-programming
  • Be sure all code within a method is at the same level of abstraction
  • Pick the right editor and assemble the best tools for the job

This isn't theory, but the fruits of Ford's real-world experience as an Application Architect at the global IT consultancy ThoughtWorks. Whether you're a beginner or a pro with years of experience, you'll improve your work and your career with the simple and straightforward principles in The Productive Programmer.

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Product Description

About the Author

Neal is an Application Architect at ThoughtWorks, a global IT consultancy with an exclusive focus on end-to-end software development and delivery. Before joining ThoughtWorks, Neal was the Chief Technology Officer at The DSW Group, Ltd., a nationally recognized training and development firm. Neal has a degree in Computer Science from Georgia State University specializing in languages and compilers and a minor in mathematics specializing in statistical analysis. He is also the designer and developer of applications, instructional materials, magazine articles, video presentations, and author of the books Developing with Delphi: Object-Oriented Techniques (Prentice-Hall, 1996), JBuilder 3 Unleashed (Sams, 1999) (as the lead author), Art of Java Web Development (Manning, 2003), and No Fluff, Just Stuff Anthology: The 2006 Edition (editor and contributor). His language proficiencies include Java, C#/.NET, Ruby, Object Pascal, C++, and C. His primary consulting focus is the design and construction of large-scale enterprise applications. Neal has taught on-site classes nationally and internationally to all phases of the military and to many Fortune 500 companies. He is also an internationally acclaimed speaker, having spoken at numerous developer conferences worldwide.If you have an insatiable curiosity about Neal, visit his web site at He welcomes feedback and can be reached at

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I ordered this at the same time as The Clean Coder (having already read Clean Code) and read this last - I think had I read it first I may have been a little more forgiving in my critique, but I feel this book offered me nothing of real value. The snippets/suggestions for improving your mechanical productivity are unimpressive, and I can't help but wonder if the audience that would most benefit from them (in other words, is unaware of them) are even the type to buy these books? Moving past that, I found the writing to be unconvincing - not that I necessarily disagree with what was being said, but when you've read the work of Robert C. Martin (and immediately before, at that!) you become accustomed to a certain amount of justification for what is being said: a lot of it is anecdotal, but it is nonetheless enjoyable to read and digest. This is not the case with The Productive Programmer: I felt mostly like I was reading suggestions casually gathered from around the web, not forged through trial and tribulation.

The other reviews are correct in that the order in which you read this book appears to be of no significance, so perhaps I will return to it at a later time and see if I feel differently... but I can't find any reason to recommend someone read this rather than (Clean Code + The Clean Coder).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Productivity made interesting Sept. 20 2008
When I first read about this book, it sounded too much like the Pragmatic Programmer. However, it turns out the books are very different.

The book feels like a collection of almost unrelated essays. This can make it seem a bit disjointed at times, but it also means you can read it in almost any order.

I also bought the Windows Power Tools book and would recommend the Productive Programmer over that book. They don't cover the same ground, but a compact book that mentions really useful tools that won't date as quickly is better than a huge book of tools with very little detail about each.

Neal Ford's writing style is concise yet fun and interesting. Examples are given using a variety of platforms and languages which is really unusual in a book - and he pulls it off without it becoming distracting.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Productivity increased June 14 2009
This book is chock full of useful tips both in terms of concrete solutions and high level approach to software creation. I especially appreciated Neal's learned yet down to earth tone, as well as the dash of humor he throws in for good measure. Lots of links to useful downloads and further reading. Read it while the links are still live!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  40 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise work for productive, common sense development Sept. 13 2008
By James Holmes - Published on
This is a terrific book for boosting your productivity in two areas: how you work, and how you code.

The first section of the book, Mechanics, focuses on tools you can use to boost your productivity as you're working with your system. Ford launches off into an exploration of lots of little crazy tools that help you automate or ease repetitive tasks. You'll find lots of goodies from virtual desktops to shortcut tips/launchers, to using Ruby to script everything from splitting up SQL to automatically sorting your laundry and washing it for you.[1]

All these little tools and tricks add up to drastic decreases in the amount of friction you're forced to suffer through while doing your daily job. Cutting this friction lets you focus on the job at hand, instead of trying to bend your environment to your will.

The second section of the book, Practice, discusses ways to speed your development. There's an awful lot of goodness in this portion of the book, ranging from re-emphasizing critical aspects of object oriented programming, to object and method composition. Ford walks through a lot of great stories meant to get you to re-evaluate why you do things a certain way. The infamous Angry Monkeys story gets pulled out as an example, and Ford also concisely covers development principles like the Law of Demeter, Occam's Razon, and his Polyglot Programming meme.

The book's concise, amazingly well written, and a definite must-have for your bookshelf.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Mechanics of a Pragmatic Programmers daily work July 27 2008
By Michael Hunger - Published on
I've been reading Neal's blog for a while. So I've been looking forward to the book. (I even accidentally ordered it twice - one was the pre-buy at amazon, which I forgot about).

I spend the last two days reading the book and found it quite helpful. There are a lot of concrete tips and examples for immediate use and daily improvement of your mechanic skills. Many of the experiences regarding the effective use of the tools at hand that he describes are well known to me. I can't really understand how developers are not keen to improve their productivity.
Neal's book is a good addition to the PragProgs masterpiece. It concentrates more on the mechanics and on some principles of productive software development. So the triad of values-principles-patterns got a son named mechanics.

What I missed in the book was:
* a comprehensive list of the notes at the end.
* Christopher Alexanders appearance as one of the philosophers.
* the notion of cheat sheets/refcards
* references to Martin Odersky's Scala the scalable language
* references to Kent Becks "Implementation Patterns" (especially in the SLAP section)

As being a developer myself I was a bit disappointed by the quality of the examples (the solutions not the starting points) and a bit by the correctness of the text (typos). I spotted several errors, some bad designs and some uninformed choices even on the first read of the book. I'll post them to the errata page.

Neals suggestion of an online repository of productive programmers tools, tips and mechanics is a great idea. I'd really like to join this effort.


13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book but not without faults Jan. 10 2009
By Markus Oehler - Published on
I saw Neal the first time at DLW Europe. I'd like to check out the speakers online before deciding which talks to attend - the results were not positive at all; IT consultant (we've had our share at work) + spending lots of time speaking on conferences, that's a combination not likely to give me warm feelings. I still ended up in attending his talk because of lack of alternatives and thank god I did. Neal isn't only a great speaker but he also had something to say and the necessary experience and war stories to back it up. I ended up by attending every presentation of Neal plus - back at work - giving a presentation of his talks to my fellow co-workers.

Finding out that he now has written a book - I instantly had to read it. And the book is certainly a valuable read that I'll keep around as reference at least for a while. There's lots of great tips about tools, automation, ... that will certainly find their way into my professional life. However, it did not blow me off my feet. I've read "Pragmatic Programmer - From Journeyman to Master" before (a perfect book in my opinion) and this book does not quite measure up to it. The style is not as perfect - the information not as well-presented. However what I miss most is that Neal sometimes present a topic but then does not follow up with "How to get started" - most notably with "Polyglot Programming" and "Test driven design". I know that both topics are maybe out of scope of the book but then at least a reference to another book, website, ... would have been great. So even if I'm all psyched to up try to apply this principles now at my current projects, I know from past experience that adding new languages in any mix more often result in time wasted time because of integration issues... and how to start TDD on a project that's been going on for 15 years without any unit tests is beyond my imagination.

Don't get me wrong - it's a great book and well worth the read; it just needs some polishing to get it to excellent...
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good collection of tips, possibly interesting software practices Jan. 3 2011
By John Brady - Published on
The Productive Programmer targets the developer audience, with the stated goal of discovering patterns and practices which make a developer more efficient. If you are not a developer, this is not the book you're seeking.

The first section of the book, which I found to be of greatest value, is a collection of tips and suggestions intended to streamline your interaction with the computer. These would most applicable to those working outside the constraints of "locked down" corporate desktops, since many of the ideas presented involve the installation of open source software - that may not be an option in some environments. Specific tools, of course, aren't the point, it's the concept of saving keystrokes, automating where you can and scripting anything you'll repeat that matter, and the author succeeds in making these points.

One negative aspect to these tips is that because the book attempts to cover the primary workstation operating systems, discussions about Linux, Mac and Windows can be interspersed. I found that format distracting.

In the second segment, the book discusses a collection of programming practices and parables. These chapters seemed to center on Java foibles; the author makes cogent observations about coding principles, but the specifics didn't resonate with me because they don't apply to my usual programming environments (Perl/Python/Ruby). These are still worth reading, since Ford has obviously seen his share of real-world projects, and his "take" on a problem may lead you to some new pathways.

I received free access from O'Reilly to an electronic copy of this book for the purpose of writing this review.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Make the computer work for you, not the other way around. Aug. 27 2008
By Amazon Customer - Published on
I expected a list of cool tips and tricks, but this book is much more. The Mechanics section organizes the tips into 4 broad approaches to productivity. This allows Ford to not only provide interesting tricks, but also help you think about ways to improve your personal productivity in ways that make sense in your environment.

Much of his advice contradicts the point-and-click, user-friendly mindset of many computer users and suggests that to be really productive you need to be able to take charge of the computer.

The second half of the book focuses on more high-level approaches to productivity. How do you make certain the code you write is the best it can be and solves the problem you need to solve? How do you avoid writing code that does not need to be written? How do you get the most out of your tools?

This book is a must read for programmers and other computer power-users. The first section gives many tricks that would apply for anyone who is trying to do a lot of work with a computer.

My only quibbles with the book are that I would have liked to see even more tips and I would have liked a bit more attention paid to Linux, which is where I spend most of my time. Many of the tools Ford recommends have versions for Windows or Mac OSX, but not Linux.
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