Two quarter-century-old classics updated

reviewed by Conrad Weisert, October, 1999

These two books were first published in the early 1970s. Although the computing field has changed radically since then, the principles they put forth remain valid and timely, so much so that they have been in print continuously since then. Recently publishers have elected to release new editions containing some new material.

Both books appeal both to managers and to practitioners. They should be on the shelf of every I.T. professional, perhaps your first and second purchases for your own professional library.

Neither book contains enough material to serve as the primary text for a course, but either one would be an excellent second text in a course on software project management.

Frederick P. Brooks, jr.:
The Mythical Man-Month
Gerald M. Weinberg:
The Psychology of Computer Programming
Addison-Wesley, 1995, ISBN 0-201-83595-9,
"The original book plus four additional chapters"
Dorset House, 1998, ISBN 0-932633-42-0,
"Silver Anniversary Edition"
Originally: Addison-Wesley, 1975, ISBN 0-201-00650-2 Originally: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1971, ISBN 0-442-29264-3
You won't learn how to plan and control a project from this collection of essays, but you will learn many valuable lessons that you can apply to every project.

Fred Brooks was the original project manager for IBM's OS/360 development in the mid 1960s, then the largest software development project ever attempted. Although OS/360 and its successors were enormously successful in the long run, its early days were plagued by highly publicized schedule slippages, deferred features, and unplanned incompatibilities.

Dr. Brooks shares with the readers the lessons he learned from those experiences, written from the perspective of just a few years later, after he had left IBM for the academic world.

very highly recommended


2013 Update

Today's editors would object to Dr. Brooks's consistent use of "he" and " man" referring to a programmer or other person. No, Dr. Brooks was no male chauvinist. That was just the style, accepted and recommended by English teachers. before the 1970s for impersonal references.

Less defensible is Dr. Brooks's surprising choice of two atrocious code examples (pp.170-173) to illustrate Self-Documenting Programs. (Dr. Brooks never claimed to be a programmer.) Effective project management is impossible without well-organized readable and maintainable code.

Some younger programmers may get impatient with the references to obsolete activities, such as keypunching and submitting a debugging run, but they shouldn't stop reading. Nearly every page of this book conveys valuable insights into the nature of programming.

The book is readable and entertaining, a professional book you'll read for pleasure and re-read.

Weinberg adds no new chapters, nor does he edit obsolete content. Even the pagination is the same as in the original. Instead the Silver Anniversary Edition appends to each chapter a "Comments on the chapter" section in which the author relates the content you've just read to the world of today.

See also the review of another book by the same author.

very highly recommended

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Last Updated January 9, 2013