Joel on Software: And on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers, Designers, and Managers, and to Those Who, Whether by Good Fortune or Ill Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity Paperback – Aug 16 2004
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About the Author
Joel Spolsky is a globally recognized expert on the software development process. His web site Joel on Software (JoelonSoftware.com) is popular with software developers around the world and has been translated into over 30 languages. As the founder of Fog Creek Software in New York City, he created FogBugz, a popular project management system for software teams. Joel has worked at Microsoft, where he designed Visual Basic for Applications as a member of the Excel team, and at Juno Online Services, developing an Internet client used by millions. He has written two books: User Interface Design for Programmers (Apress, 2001) and Joel on Software (Apress, 2004). Joel holds a bachelor's of science degree in computer science from Yale University. Before college, he served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a paratrooper, and he was one of the founders of Kibbutz Hanaton.
Top Customer Reviews
As a developer I could see how all the chapters were applicable to everyday software developement. It's also full of tips that one can apply to their software dev cycles.
A very entertaining read!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
At several points, Joel rails against the false economies of making code smaller and sniggers at the people to whom it matters so much, then (ch 39) he rails against the size of a Microsoft runtime support package. He also points out that antialiased fonts, other than things like headlines, are a bad idea. That was already common knowledge around DEC by about 1980, since the visibly blurred margins of characters led to eyestrain as the focussing muscles fruitlessly tried to find the edge. Modern display technology with far smaller pixel sizes seems to have reversed that decision, however, except possibly at the smallest character sizes - a blow-up of a screen capture will often show antialiasing on body text that looks quite good. If he came on a bit less strong to start with, these annoyances would be a lot less annying.
Joel's incredibly high opinion of Joel wore on me after a while. Despite all the good in this book, I had to drag myself through the last half of his pontifications, repetition, and tendency towards the absolute. If you're already a fan of his other writing, that might not bother you. For me, Joel, in his role as high priest in the cult of Joel, became tiresome. I'm sure he's a skilled developer and savvy business man, but I really don't think I'd enjoy meeting him.
There are a lot of books and web sites on how business, software, computers and programming should be conducted. Most fail to understand the basics of what they are talking about because the writer has a theory that he thinks will solve everything. But the theory takes on a life of its own, and becomes more important than observed reality. Just the trap many political, religious and self-help demagogues fall into. They become pie-in-the-sky dreamers and less attached to normal life.
He seems to have a similar, if slightly younger perspective, on the field as Richard P. Gabriel who wrote his now famous "Worse is Better" essay about 10-15 years ago. Another writer/programmer he reminds me of is Paul Graham.
Others I would compare him too, though each if very different in their own ways, are the writings and blog of Wil Wheaton, The Cluetrain Manifesto, and the rants of Fred on Everything (Fred Reed), Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor, and much that appears on /.Slashdot.
Joel has not tried to generalize his very specific observations into a unified whole theory of all programming and computer management. But that doesn't prevent you, the home reader, from making those generalizations yourself. You may have to prevent yourself from thinking too much of it, least the Law of Leaky Abstractions take over. Joel gives one a good place to start.
I've used his "Law of Leaky Abstractions" in discussions I had many times.
Also, when I was thinking for a job I used his guide to interviewing when talking to perspective employers. Sure, he wrote it from employers to use, but I was able to easily enough reserve it's principals and applied them to finding out info about the company I was interviewing at. This allowed me find out what the bad interviewers really wanted to know when they didn't know what they wanted. It allowed me to show that I was smart and could get things done to the people who interviewed me. And since I'm employed again it must have worked.
Some of the best essays are:
The Law of Leaky Abstractions
Don't Let Architecture Astronauts Scare You
Interviewing (The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing)
Three Wrong Ideas From Computer Science
How Microsoft Lost the API War
Getting Things Done When You're Only a Grunt
Top Five (Wrong) Reasons You Don't Have Testers
It is definitely worth the roughly 20 bucks you'll spend on it.
A first glance at this book might give you the impression that Joel Spolsky is another bloging cynic with more opinion then experience. But don't be fooled. Joel is a very smart guy and this book is a great read. You probably won't agree with everything he says, I don't, but this book really makes you think.
An old coach of mine (Tony Blauer) told the "Good information doesn't displace OTHER good information."
Considering opinions that are the same as our own is far less valuable than opinions that differ from our own. Joel's book is full of opinions that have "growth opportunity.
Really good writers make you think. According to the chief blogger on my team at Microsoft (Rory Blyth) a great blogger is at least a but controversial, they not only make you think, they make you want to respond. Joel is on my short list of bloggers in aggregator.
The book is basically a collection of Joel's writing originally published on his blog at [...] though this is not his first book. As near as I can tell the writings span a time frame from 2000 to 2004.
Joel is an interesting guy, the kind of guy you'd love to debate. He was an Israeli paratrooper went to Yale, worked at Microsoft for a few years then Juno, and now owns Fog Creek Software in New York.
To begin with, the book is a FUN. Joel's casual writing style is almost conversational and makes for a read that's more like listening to a story than reading a manual. I read it cover to cover in two days.
One of the things that I, as a Microsoft employee, love about the book is that Joel published his thoughts at "points in time" and his opinions evolve over time. It's important to remember this as you read the book. His opinions as a former Microsoft employee are also interesting. Some of them I see as dead on. Others tainted by the years between now and when Joel worked at Microsoft and distance between Microsoft's strategy then and now, and, of course, Joel's morphed perspective as the owner of a growing Software Vender. None the less, this is the kind of guy you'd wanna have dinner with. (Joel, can I buy you dinner next time I'm in New York ?)
Above all Joel's perspective on software development is, pragmatic and honest and his style of communication is direct, even blunt (which I love.)
The book is divided into five parts.
1. The practice of programming.
2. Managing Developers
3. Random thoughts on Not-So-Random Topics
4. Microsoft's .NET
5. The Best of Ask Joel
Part one on the practice of programming is full of hard nosed, pragmatic guides for developing great software including Joel's somewhat famous "12 Step Test", the importance of writing specs (and HOW to), scheduling software projects, why you MUST daily build, "Hard-Assed bug fixin', the Five Worlds of Software Development, Paper Prototyping, "Architecture Astronauts" (WICH I LOVED) , Fire & Motion, Wrong Ideal from Computer Science, Biculturalism, and Crash Reports (brilliant!).
Part two can basically be viewed as a forensic guide to (organizationally) why software development projects often fail and how to manage software development so that it doesn't fail. He bucks conventional management theory in explaining that most "incentive programs" in software development are counter-productive, that the industry fails to appropriately hire and keep software testers, developers NEED workspaces with walls and doors, and "Things you should never do" including some really interesting theory on "leaky abstractions".
Part three is all "Joelisms" !
I'm not going to describe this section too much - you really need to read it for yourself, but here are some of the chapter subjects.
" Rick Chapman's In search of Stupidity.
" What is the work of Dogs in the country?
" Getting things done when you're only a grunt. (MANDATORY READING !)
" Big Macs vs. The Naked Chef.
" Nothing is as simple as it seems.
" Defending "Not Invented Here" Syndrome.
" Ben & Jerry's versus Amazon.com
" Chicken and Egg Problems
" Bloatware & the 80/20 myth.
" The Economics of Open Source
" Murphy's Law gone wild.
" How Microsoft lost the API War.
Part four is Joel's reactions, over time, to .NET Tools and Technologies.
Part five is the Best of Ask Joel, selections from his forums.
In summary. GREAT BOOK, whether you agree with Joel's opinions or not. As easy as this book is to read, everyone that works in some part of Software Development or IT should read it.
I hope Joel writes another opinion based book. There are lots of folks writing books that help you learn, far fewer folks are writing books that make you THINK.
Lastly, the thing I liked the very most about this book is that it's reminded me how much I want to write MY OWN book.
Why one loves reading Joel:
1. He presents a very human face; any article he writes is as if he is trying to talk directly to his reader.
2. Writes about very useful stuff that you dont get to read in textbooks (and other expensive, impressive books :-)
3. He condenses what he has to say into Lists (GMTA)
Some of my favorite articles (and included in the book):
1. Law of leaky abstractions: A very insightful essay on the tradeoff between the piles of abstraction layers we have in todays development world and the inefficiencies they cause.
2. Getting Things Done When You're Only a Grunt: A practical, funny and very useful article on how be a good developer when you are a bit low on the company's totem pole.
3. Two Stories: A thought provoking article about Joel's contrasting experience working in Microsoft and Juno. (he was the project manager for an earlier version of MS Excel)
All in all, whether you subsequently agree to his opinions or not, Joel is a must-read.
This is the latest in a trend of books based on a compilation of a person's blog writing. In Joel On Software, a selection of important and insightful entries over the last four years are gathered and presented in a single volume. In some ways, it's a selective "best of..." book that distills down the writings that the author feels are still worth examining. This could be due to truths that haven't changed or to show how much things *have* changed since the original entry. You could say why read the book, as you can get it all on the web site. True, but you don't get the opportunity to have the writer add any clarification based on hindsight.
Joel will make you think about issues you've likely ignored, and he'll also teach you a few things in the process. For instance, you may think you know everything about Unicode, but count on some new stuff in the essay "The Absolute Minimum Every Software Developer Absolutely, Positively Must Know About Unicode and Character Sets (No Excuses!)". And if you want to understand the two methods of growing your business, read "Ben & Jerry's vs. Amazon". Really good stuff to ponder...
This book will challenge, encourage, upset, and entertain you. Spolsky knows his stuff, and he's got the war wounds to prove it. This book is worth the price of admission...
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