A dated and personal view . . .

The history of programming


Nathan Ensmenger: The Computer Boys Take Over—Computers, Progrmmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise ,
2010, MIT Press, ISBN 978-0-262-05093-7, 310 pages
reviewed by Conrad Weisert, February 2011


General impression

I enjoyed reading this book mainly because it's loaded with reminiscences of significant trends that I witnessed, participated in, or heard about from colleagues. Computing nostalgia buffs will find it entertaining.

In its nine chapters The Computer Boys Take Over explores the role and status of computer programmers from the dawn of computing through the Y2K crisis. Professor Ensmenger rarely reveals his own sympathies. It remains unclear whether he regards computing professionals with esteem or with disdain.

Repetitions, lengthy and almost verbatim, convey the impression that the chapters were written at widely separated times as separate articles rather than planned as a unified work.

Surprising omissions

The recent publication date leads readers to expect some discussion of the impact of recent programming languages and tools and of various fad methodologies that have come to dominate much of today's programming world. But if you look in the comprehensive index at the back, you won't find entries for:
  • agile methodology
  • C
  • extreme programming
  • event-driven programs
  • incremental development
    • Java
    • object-oriented programming
    • Microsoft
    • test-driven development
    • Visual Basic

    It's as if the author had stopped invesigating the computing milieu about twenty years before publishing the work.

    Recommended, especially for nostalgia buffs, but it's not a textbook for a history of computing course


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    Last modified February 13, 2011