I have been collecting and reading books on software engineering since the 1970s, but I have found over the decades that the vast majority of programmers (and their managers) are unfamiliar with most of them. More’s the pity, for during the 38 years since I first started working in information technology (BYU Translation Sciences Institute, 1974), I have observed not only the truth of the French proverb Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (“The more things change, the more they stay the same”) but also the truth of George Santayana’s observation:
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends upon retentiveness….Those who will not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (The Life of Reason, 1905)
In my opinion, most of core issues in software engineering and IT project project management were identified decades ago, but our industry suffers from vast institutional ignorance of these works — ‘ignorance’ both in the sense of ‘unaware of’ and ‘paying no attention to’. As I once said in a rather interesting setting1:
Humanity has been developing information technology for half a century. That experience has taught us this unpleasant truth: virtually every information technology project above a certain size or complexity is significantly late and over budget or fails altogether; those that don’t fail are often riddled with defects and difficult to enhance. Fred Brooks explored many of the root causes over twenty years ago in The Mythical Man-Month, a classic book that could be regarded as the Bible of information technology because it is universally known, often quoted, occasionally read, and rarely heeded.
To that end, and because I have not been posting much here, I am introducing a new series of posts: Readings in Software Engineering, or RISE. Each post will cover one book (including subsequent editions). I will give what context I have for the book, then quote interesting or relevant excerpts from the book, followed at the end by the book’s table of contents. My intent is not to present “one page summaries” of these books, as are often found for various business books; instead, it is to pull out relevant quotes, in the authors’ own words, in hopes that you’ll actually track down the books and read them yourselves.
A final note: I reserve the right to go back and substantially edit my RISE posts after the fact, particularly as I get several of these under my belt and start to settle in on a standard approach and format. Iterative writing, so to speak. ..bruce..
1In testimony before Congress in 1998. Long story, had to do with Y2K.