|Why Does Software Cost So Much? And other Puzzles of The Information Age|
|summary||An older collection of essays, some good, some bad, from one of the most respected names in the software management field.|
Summary:An older collection of essays, some good, some bad, from one of the most respected names in the software management field. An interesting read, not least because of the amusement to be gained from how things have, and haven't, changed. Worth reading if you have the time, but not as essential as some of his other titles.
Check your sources.Tom DeMarco is an established industry figure who occupies that rarest of market niches - he's a management consultant/guru who has the respect of technical people. He's the co-author (with Tom Lister) of the classic "Peopleware" (which I suggest you rush out and read), and it's on the strength of that title that I read his work. I normally lack even the slightest interest in management titles, on the basis that Sturgeon's Law seems to be especially strict in that genre. For example, both my copies of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" and "The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari" ended up in the bin. (If it helps, I have a library of about 5K books [mainly novels], and have only ever thrown out 4.)
What's this book about?This is a 1995 title, and as such is interesting for historical value. The blurb states:
"Drawing together several essays published previously, plus ten all-new papers never seen beyond his circle of colleagues, Tom DeMarco tackles a multitude of tough subjects and wrestles fresh insight out of them. Here's a compact, compelling edition of this acclaimed consultant's views of managing the software process."
What you get is 230 pages of essays or opinion pieces. There are 24 pieces, ranging from a couple of pages to a couple of dozen pages. A smattering of titles:
- Why does software cost so much?
- Management-aided software engineering
- Lean and mean
- If we did only one thing to improve...
- Software development: State of the art vs State of the practice
- Software productivity: The Covert Agenda
As the titles suggest, the focus is on software projects specifically, although much of the discussion re managing the effort could apply to many technical disciplines. All pieces which refer to surveys don't use numbers pulled from a hat, they use numbers pulled from the bibliography at the back.
Target audienceIt's a mix. Most of the pieces seem aimed at management, from team leader to project manager, but the discussion will be of interest to most programmers, especially those suffering from the Bad Management Blues, or who are thinking of taking a step sideways into a team lead role.
What's good?Quite a lot. This isn't a long book, and it's not going to revolutionize your life, but it makes for a decent couple of hours reading. The author can certainly write, with a chatty style obviously honed by a career based on presentations. All the pieces are easily digested, and usually contain a nugget of something interesting.
There are a few nice points in here re how and why you should manage your software project, but for me, the interesting thing about this older title is that it's a very different world he's talking about! For example, one piece, from 1989, talks about the difference between programmers working on identical tasks. They show nice charts and I was amazed to see PASCAL and BASIC in there. I expected to see COBOL of course, but the small size of the C wedge was shocking. Of course, there was no wedge for C++, let alone Java or Perl.
As with any older title, there are technological fossils like this to be marveled over in several essays, but it's quite interesting how the author pronouncements are generally, well, reasonable and right. He's not Nostradamus, and doesn't predict specifics, but there is a nice discussion on language uptake (he rails against FORTRAN and COBOL in a world of Modula-2, Oberon and SmallTalk! I suspect more people now now use the either of the former languages than all the latter languages put together). In this essay, he talks about how some of the third generation languages are wonderful, but suffer from inadequate or confusing libraries. He suggests that only wide and deep libraries really make people change languages in the real world. I know (from reading his new title, "Slack", review coming) that he's much further from the code now, but I wonder what he makes of Perl or Java? (Certainly the thing that lured me from C++ to Java was the libraries. Well, I missed the STL which makes the Collections API look like a child's homework.)
Other essays talk about the Microsoft anti-trust trial, or the fate of IBM. In both cases he seems to be more-or-less on the money, simply by being slightly cynical and not making any mad assumptions. Of course, by the same token, nothing he predicts is particularly startling, but still, of interest when reading.
There are a quite a few pages devoted to things which don't relate to technology specifically, and hence, don't appear dated now. These generally concern scheduling, or people management, and generally are as good as people expect this author to be. When he's good, he's very good. I want to work with a manager like him someday, just to see what it's like! However, even in these people-skills sections, I can't help but wonder what he'd revise in the light of the whole dot-con debacle.
What's bad?Well, this is a fix-up title, and some of the essays are, to be frank, crap. I doubt any but his most ardently completist fans want to read an essay on his experiences trying to work with desktop video for example. A couple of the essays just struck me as, well, rather pointless. Sometimes funny, but pointless. These tended to be the "Not previously published" ones, and I think there's a reason for that.
Alternate titlesOh, sure. There's a shelf full of titles like this in your nearest bookshop. I don't generally like any of them though, so I'll just recommend his earlier Peopleware and his latest, Slack.
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