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Software Craftsmanship: The New Imperative Paperback – Aug 23 2001

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; 1 edition (Aug. 23 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201733862
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201733860
  • Product Dimensions: 18.5 x 1.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #522,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From the Inside Flap

Craftsmanship is a return to the roots of software development: Good software developers have always understood that programming is a craft skill. Regardless of the amount of arcane and detailed technical knowledge that a person has, in the end, application development comes down to feel and experience. Someone can know all of the esoteric technical details of the Java programming language, but that person will never be able to master application development unless he or she develops a feel for the aesthetics of software. Conversely, once a person gets the feel for software development, the specific technical details become almost irrelevant. Great developers are always picking up and using new technology and techniques; learning a new technology is just a normal part of the life of a software developer.

The term software engineering was coined in 1967 by a NATO study group that recommended a conference to discuss “the problems of software.” The report from this 1968 conference, which was sponsored by the NATO Science Committee and took place in Garmish, Germany, was titled Software Engineering.1 In the report, Peter Naur and Brian Randell stated, “The phrase ‘software engineering’ was deliberately chosen to be provocative, in implying the need for software manufacture to be based on the types of theoretical foundations and practical disciplines that are traditional in the established branches of engineering.”

In the same spirit, it is the intention of this book to be deliberately provocative in implying the need for practitioners to start paying attention to the craft of software development. Software craftsmanship is important because it takes us away from the manufacturing metaphor that software engineering invokes and makes us pay attention to the people who do software development. Craftsmanship brings with it the metaphor of skilled practitioners intent on mastering their craft, of pride in and responsibility for, the fruits of their labor.

Software craftsmanship is not the opposite of software engineering or computer science. Rather, craftsmanship is a different tradition that happily coexists with and benefits from science and engineering. Just as the modern blacksmith benefits from better tools, materials, and understanding, so software craftsmanship benefits from better computers, reusable components, and programming languages. Just as blacksmiths transcend science and engineering with their skill and artistry, software craftsmanship can transcend computer science and software engineering to produce great programs, applications, and systems. UNIX and the modern-day GNU Linux are probably the best-known examples of this—systems that are thriving due to the craft, skill, and dedication of their creators.

Software craftsmanship is a response to the problems of trying to force-fit software engineering into commercial application development. Software engineering was developed to meet the needs of NATO in developing very large defense systems. Commercial application development differs from the development of defense and government systems in that applications are a whole lot smaller and normally have to be up and running in less than 18 months. It is rare for a commercial application to be developed by a team of more than 20 people, and most application developers work in teams with fewer than 10 members. Software engineering is good at handling the problems of really large teams of 200 or more people, but it has little to say about how the individuals in a team should practice their craft.

Software engineering encourages the “human wave” 2 approach to software development. Rather than solving the problem of how to develop highly skilled developers, software engineering attempts to deskill software development by suggesting that every problem can be solved by throwing more people at it.

Although this approach sometimes succeeds, the resulting software is junk. Slow and bloated, it just never feels right. Users are dazzled by the graphics and animation but never really manage to come to grips with the software. They are thwarted by their inability to learn the software and use only a small fraction of the available features.

Software does not have to be like that.

All too often I see application development teams shipping valuable applications that provide real, measurable business benefit, but apologizing for not following software engineering best practices. For me, the real test of a team is whether it manages to ship and then enhance and extend the application for years afterward. Timely shipping of the first release is important, but it is more important that subsequent releases occur in a timely fashion and that each new release improves the application.

Whenever I’m asked about hiring developers, I tell people to look for developers who have shipped a few applications successfully and then stuck around long enough to handle the next enhancement or maintenance release. Shipping proves that the developer can make something work; staying around for the next release allows the developer to experience the effects of the way that he or she built the application in the first place. If a developer has done this three times, my guess is that he or she is skilled and experienced enough in the craft of software development to be successful again.

Software craftsmanship is the new imperative because many members of the software development community are starting to chase technology for its own sake, forgetting what is important. The purpose of software development is to create high-quality, robust software applications that deliver value to their users. What matters is growing a new generation of developers who can do that.

Software craftsmanship stands for putting the joy and excitement back into creating applications for our users.

1 Naur, Peter, and Brian Randell, (eds.), Software Engineering: A Report on a Conference Spnsored by the NATO Science Committee,NATO, 1969.

2 Levy, Steven, Hackers, Penguin Books, 1994, p. 88.


From the Back Cover

By recognizing that software development is not a mechanical task, you can create better applications.

Today’s software development projects are often based on the traditional software engineering model, which was created to develop large-scale defense projects. Projects that use this antiquated industrial model tend to take longer, promise more, and deliver less.

As the demand for software has exploded, the software engineering establishment has attempted to adapt to the changing times with short training programs that teach the syntax of coding languages. But writing code is no longer the hard part of development; the hard part is figuring out what to write. This kind of know-how demands a skilled craftsman, not someone who knows only how to pass a certification course.

Software Craftsmanship presents an alternative—a craft model that focuses on the people involved in commercial software development. This book illustrates that it is imperative to turn from the technology-for-its-own-sake model to one that is grounded in delivering value to customers. The author, Pete McBreen, presents a method to nurture mastery in the programmer, develop creative collaboration in small developer teams, and enhance communications with the customer. The end result—skilled developers who can create, extend, and enhance robust applications.

This book addresses the following topics, among others:

  • Understanding customer requirements
  • Identifying when a project may go off track
  • Selecting software craftsmen for a particular project
  • Designing goals for application development
  • Managing software craftsmen
  • Software Craftsmanship is written for programmers who want to become exceptional at their craft and for the project manager who wants to hire them.


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    Customer Reviews

    4.2 out of 5 stars
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    Top Customer Reviews

    Format: Paperback
    The book starts by making several good observations:
    (1) Software Engineering, with it's focus on big-up-front design, is not working well in the business world.
    (2) Emergent Design and Iterative Development actually work for business systems.
    (3) An apprentice/journeyman/master system relying on communication and OJT will be more effective than a BS in CS and a one-week course in SQL.
    (4) The focus on buzzwords and bleeding edge technologies is actually harmful to our craft.
    (5) The idea that learning is somehow bad because it implies the learner doesn't know everything is bogus and wrong. In fact, the idea that there is a single 'right way to do it' is equally bogus. We should instead grow developers with a wide knowledge of different techniques and allow them to find the right technique for each project.
    (6) The mobility and job-hopping of developers is counter-productive to effectiveness. People are not cogs. Therefore ...
    (7) Developers who are widely successfull and stay at a company long enough be of real value should be highly compensated; the author suggests up to $250,000/year and that super-stars should be paid higher than the managers (and possibly executives) who they report to. Without this, ambitious developers are forced into becoming consultants, trainers, or managers.

    ---> That said, there were a few things that make this book less-than-five-stars:
    (1) The work isn't really 'new.' The book is a neat combination of the work of Deming, DeMarco, Dave Thomas (The pragmatic programmer, not the Wendy's CEO), and the XP/Agile Crowd. A lot of the book is Deming applied to software, but readable and enjoyable.
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    Format: Paperback
    This book presents a totally new angle on software engineering career. The model is of a craftsman, like a woodworker (as pictured on the cover), starting as an apprentice, then on to journeyman and finally master. It recasts projects in this new light and shows advantages over the current software engineering "programming by horde" model. It also presents the traits of a craftsman, perpetual learning, teaching, belief in quality, embracing, but also being critical of new technologies.
    If you really don't believe in the current "anyone could do your job" management view of software engineering you will find this book, and it's mindset, a refreshing change. Software is an art. Professional engineers have a lifelong passion and respect for that art.
    There are several books that present this point of view, foremost is The Pragmatic Programmer, which is also an excellent book. If you have to decide between the two (and you really shouldn't) I would pick The Pragmatic Programmer. Spend the money, buy both, they complement each other and you won't regret either purchase.
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    Format: Paperback
    This is a one sentence summary of the book. But what does it mean? McBreen gives a well structured argument that Software Engineering and Software Craftsmanship are two different things. The former is for large scale, mission critical projects, where as the latter is for business applications. Having worked on both kinds of systems, I can say that the author is dead on. The typical government/defense project uses large (over 100 engineers) development teams with cutting edge software and hardware. These situations call for the engineering approach because the software is not the dominating cost. However, business applications are usually built by small teams using stable technology (or they should be as the auther points out).
    The craft approach emphasizes delivery high quality, easily modified applications by teams lead by master craftsmen. The craftsman puts his reputation on the line each time his team delivers an application, for he is responsible for the journeyman and apprentices that work under him. This accountability to the customer builds trust between the two. Too many applications are built and handed off to someone else to maintain. Not so in the craftsmanship model. The team that developes the application stays with it through its lifetime or until they have sufficiently trained the next maintainer. The auther draws a strong parallel to Open Source development to support this concept.
    While the concepts the author presents ring true, it is going to be difficult to switch on a dime from software engineering to software craftsmanship. Luckily, the final chapters of the book give some gradual steps that can be taken toward the craft approach: hiring people that you know to have a good reputation, design for testing and maintenance, and continual learning. These would also benefit software engineering, but they are necessary for the craft approach.
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    Format: Paperback
    The book is very easy to read, fits any IT-aware reader however, it spots very interesting topics for any experienced software developer. First, it emphasizes that programming is not the job for the youngsters only: a truly great developer is worth at leas as much as any manager (including the CEO). Why the people who worked as programmers for 15 years and reached the craftsmanship-experience should find that their salary has reached the maximum level established by the company, and move to another, more paid career, for example, to manage of a horde of dumb inexperienced developers? Why don't developers focus their attention on becoming really good at using the existing tools? A craftsman programmer is really deserving to be paid much. Stop overpaying underqualifying newbies just because they have Java and other ten programming languages in their resume. A person may only be skilled in one, maximum two languages she is constantly practicing.
    Another fresh idea is that "Software Engineering" metaphor is no longer valid. Software development is not an engineering activity, it is a craftsmanship. A team should consist of craftsmen, journeymen and apprentices. In a blacksmith, for example, a 60-year old craftsman might still show highest skills and awesome productivity. A master craftsman may learn a new technology from an apprentice, but it doesn't mean that she is no longer a master. Apprenticeship is much more effective than schooling.
    The author also shows that the "reusable code" is a myth. Truly reusable components are possible, but these are not internally developed components. Reusable components need an entire organization dedicated to their creation and support. The issue here is use, not reuse.
    I would recommend "Agile Software Development" by Alistair Cockburn in addition to this book.
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