Programmers At Work

January 11, 2008

Programmers At Work Revisited

Back in the 80’s I wrote a book entitled Programmers at Work. It consisted of 19 in-depth interviews with a handful of the amazing individuals who spurred the PC revolution through their creation of key software programs and companies. My aim was to explore the creative process, what sparked the software they created, what ideas and techniques went into their work, what their coding habits were, their motivations, their reflections on the results, and their thoughts about the future of the software industry.

Now, more than 20 years later conversations about these interviews continue. This amazes me and keeps the great memory I have of the experience of writing the book alive. On the 20th anniversary of its publication, Jon Erickson at Dr. Dobb’s held a lively forum with myself and many of the individuals originally featured in PAW. Scott Rosenberg, co-founder of Salon, wrote about the forum on salon and in his blog. In 2006, I was approached by Rich Pattis, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, about whether we could do a limited reprint in order to give it away to all the attendees at the SIGCSE conference where he was being honored as an outstanding educator. He said he gives away Programmers at Work every year to his star student in computer science. His enthusiasm was contagious; we got the book reprinted in a limited edition with the help of Microsoft. I continue to periodically receive inquiring emails from fans of the book and I was totally flattered to see that Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google had written a review of it on Amazon.

Many people have urged me over the years to do a second PAW with a new generation of programmers and I’ve sketched out the project, made lists of new folks to feature, done inquiries, thought about going back to talk to the guys in the original edition, and other variations . Now with this web site, I will make the original interviews available online, and perhaps it will become the seed for a more “thoroughly modern” approach to the PAW series. What I’m hoping we can kindle on this site is an ongoing exploration and dynamic conversation with the “connected” community of programmers on the web about the creative process in programming.

My fundamental goal is to share the interviews online in one place since the book is not in print (though they remain copyrighted). I will start by posting the old interviews, beginning at the beginning, with Charles Simonyi, in hopes that it will usher in the new!

I loved doing the book and am happy to be able to share it on the web and see where it goes from here. Come back often to read the interviews as I post them and to offer your two-cents worth. I’d love to hear from you. –Susan Lammers

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