I spent many, many years writing reviews — of plays, movies and books. Over the next few weeks, it’s my turn to be on the receiving end. I have vowed to savor the praise, to engage with the honest feedback, and to avoid tiresome quarrels with any pans. Hold me to that if I slip, okay?
I got some warm advance comments from Joel Spolsky earlier this week, and that was cool — since Joel’s reliably entertaining commentary was one of the factors that persuaded me it’s possible to write about programming without putting readers to sleep. Today marked my first mainstream review, in BusinessWeek. They liked the book, calling it “a fascinating look inside one software-development project” and saying that I “know my subject” and “its scenes are vivid.” I’m grateful for the praise.
BusinessWeek also said that it was “frustrating” that, at the end of the book, Chandler still isn’t done: “Under deadline pressure from his publisher, [Rosenberg] sat down to write the book even though the project had not been completed.”
In fact, the decision to wrap up when we did was mine. No one at Crown, my publisher, pressured me. No publisher wants to wait forever for a manuscript, I guess. But I’m sure if I’d gone to Crown and said, “It will be a better book if we wait another six months,” they’d have approved.
If it had looked like the product was going to be complete (or reach some critical milestone) in only a few more months, I’d have just pushed back my writing schedule. But at the end of 2005, which is where the book’s saga leaves off, there was still no way to predict when the Chandler story would end.
More important, I felt that I’d already unearthed more answers to the questions I’d set out with — why is making software so hard? why does it take so long? what can we learn by observing the intricacies of a real-world project? — than I could possibly fit in one book.
One of the themes at the heart of Dreaming in Code is the strange nature of what I call “software time.” Working on software often means entering a sort of twilight zone in which the normal timeline of the calendar becomes a bottomless black hole.
If the Chandler story had provided a slam-bang finale, that’s how I’d have ended the book. Instead I tried to give Dreaming in Code a conclusion that’s peculiarly true to the material, in a way that I hope readers will find pleasing.
At book’s end, the Chandler team was just beginning to use their own program in “dogfood” fashion. I’ll be posting more soon about what’s happened with Chandler since that point; 2006 saw considerable further development, with a new focus on a “ship-it mindset,” and a fully usable “preview” edition is now scheduled for an April 2007 release. (Katie Parlante, one of the Chandler team’s key managers, has posted an update over at the OSAF blog with more details.)
[tags]osaf, chandler, book reviews, dreaming in code, businessweek, joel spolsky[/tags]
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