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The Soul of A New Machine
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on December 12, 2000
This books is a story of building a computer, from start to finish, told in the form of an epic journey. It goes in depth on the people involved, strategy used, the company politics and how they all integrated into and affected the project.
Being in a small software organization for the last 4 years and having experience a tripling in size and about the same in revenue, it was very easy for me to find parallels to my company's growth, the people and the experiences that were at Data General when the computer was built. Here are some of the (summed up briefly) that I found:
1. Speech Period (pep ralley) 2. Leader becoming more and more distant 3. Need to be doing something interesting 4. Mushroom Theory of Management (put them in the dark, feed them s*$# and watch them grow). 5. Everyone burns out 6. All of the sudden, its just a job 7. The gunslinger 8. Management has changed and its no longer the same place ... and many others
I think that anyone reading the book curious of parallels in businesses (regardless of what they do), would find this book a good source of info.
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on August 26, 1998
This is an accomplished book but to me it fails to tackle the central issue, what is the soul of the machine ? Obviously the ingenuity of people to create a working computer. The descriptions of this in the book provide some of the finest moments. As to the root of inspiration Kidder says these engineers all have natural talent and were fiddling around with dismantling watches, radios and the like when the rest of us were playing in sand pits at age four. Just as intriguing is the point that making computers to do certain jobs isn't cost effective, so why do it ? On top of this is the notion that the engineers give little thought as to what the computer is to be used for. It could be for anything from military or scientific research to use in an insurance company. Perhaps the books construction is at fault here. it raises these important and intriguing issues then fails to tackle them convinvingly. Was the author writing with a book plan in mind ? or was it a happen-by-chance fly-on-the wall journal that happened to become a book ? The book is good, well structured and the story is kept interesting, though I felt it lets the real story get away.
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on December 27, 2003
Tracy Kidder is one of those people who can write comfortably about a variety of subjects. Whether it is school children or nursing home residents or, in this case, modern engineers and creators, he manages to give us a glimpse of their essence. He manages to delve and reveal their very soul.
I read this book some time ago and marvelled at how it remained in my thoughts for some time afterward. The hopes, the dreams, the interaction, the sheer act of pure thought - these are all captured in brilliant prose right before our eyes. And in spite of all the problems, barriers, egos and behind-the-door dealings, we see a corporate project progress and understand (finally) that all such endeavors are, in the end, human ones.
Men and women stretching the bounds of technology is what has always defined our race. We are the technological animal, the creature that uses other materials to enhance our life. Great story - great book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 1997
Outstanding book. Required reading for an MBA course on Organizational Behavior at Haas School of Business, U.C. Berkeley. Shows the personalities, the culture and the organization that would not have worked in many circumstances but at this time, in this place, succeeded. Note that the experiment was not reproduce-able
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I found this book to be a very interesting analysis of the development lifecycle of a new computer. What made it even more interesting was the fact that it is now twenty years old, which makes it practically prehistoric by computer industry standards, yet the intensity and method of attack have really not changed all that dramatically for the developers. It's like going back in a time capsule to a fascinating period in this industry. Also adding to the story was the level of access that Data General gave to the author. I would be very surprised if that would happen today, but it adds a level of knowledge that really draws the reader into the story. There were some humorous moments too - I loved the Mushroom Theory of Management: "Feed them s**t, put 'em in a dark room, and see what grows". Terrific stuff!
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on October 1, 2003
Hopefully, the recent release of Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains" will cause some people to go back and look at his impressive body of previous work. Most notably, there's this early eighties effort about Data General's attempts to design and bring a new minicomputer to market in less than a year.
No better book has ever been written about the process of birthing an IT product and running the project to get it done. 'Soul' was written before Project Management became recognized as a discipline. Even so, there's never been a better project manager than Tom West, the head of the team depicted in 'Soul' and the very heart of the book.
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on October 19, 2001
I first read this book when I was in high school. I was captivated and enthralled by the story, and I can unabashedly state that it helped refine and accelerate my interest in computer science and engineering.
Tracy Kidder captures a technical world and gives a clear picture at the tremendous challenges of building a state of the art computer system, that must be backwards compatible with legacy architecture, all while doing it in an easy to read manner (and a brilliant original perspective).
It is a heroic, true life story. It was (and still is) one of my all-time favorite books.
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on September 11, 2001
This book was written at one of the times in computer history when computers were evolving, and the industry was greatly changing; something which has happened quite a few times in the computer industry over the past 40 years. This is a must read for all engineering types, and a good intro to those outside the industry towards what goes into making new computer products - though much of what it details is now quite aged. A great read that details how engineering greatness is made...and how the creators are often passed over and forgotten.
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on June 18, 1999
...I've read in a very long time! Some of the technologies may be a bit dated but the core issues remain the same and this book is a timeless treasure. Anyone of us who has ever worked hard and under a lot of pressure can relate to the characters (which I found very well described). It's a real page-turner and you won't be able to put it down until you are done - a real thriller! All the technological background is explained very well so even the non-computer savvy folks can easily follow this exciting story.
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on July 1, 2003
Tells the tale of a bunch of developers who invested body and soul to the creation of Data General's new machine only to find out that the world views the finished product merely as a commodity with a price tag. Indeed, the soul of the new machine got lost in transit from the lab to the marketing department.
All credit to the author for coming up with a treatise understandable both to the computer engineer as well as the man on the street.
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