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

8 Comments »

  1. This is great, I look forward to reading more–follow-ups with the original cast and interviews with the new. I believe works such as PAW can influence folks to pursue technical careers, and what made PAW unique among books is the access you had to the original artifacts of the design, coding and creative process. As I mentioned here, the simple and humble wonder that most of these interview subjects expressed seems so different compared to a lot of the post-dotcom face of technology. While the humble scientists and technologists are still there, they tend to be even deeper behind the scenes than they were in the early days of personal computing.

    Comment by Chris — February 29, 2008 @ 3:35 am | Reply

  2. Hi. I loved your book and I re-read parts of it every year as it inspires me so much. I’ve been hoping for a new version for years now and it is good to see my dream might be coming true. As for candidates, it is hard these days as software is more complicated and solo programmers do not often stand out. However I can think of people like James Gosling, Anders Hejlsberg, Rod Johnson etc. Perhaps even a team interview for outstanding products?

    Comment by Ron — February 29, 2008 @ 6:25 pm | Reply

  3. Brilliant !
    I just wanted to thank-you. I sincerely believe that PAW was the most single important influence in my choice of further education and profession. Over the last twenty years or so I have enjoyed my profession in IT (almost) every day. A the time I dabbled with my Sinclair computers – this book opened my eyes to serious computing and just like Ron I reread a parts of it every year for inspiration.

    Comment by Peter — March 1, 2008 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

  4. Susan, there is still hope for the software industry, please check out our website for details and contact me for more details.

    Comment by Sandy Klausner — March 2, 2008 @ 10:51 pm | Reply

  5. PAW continues to be one of my favorite books. Thanks for putting up this website. I’m sure more than a few of us hope this will lead to PAW II, and I have a suggestion on candidate interviewees: look back at the programmers in PAW I and find a connection.

    For example, Dan Bricklin of PAW I is currently working on software for the OLPC. Then how about interviewing Ivan Krstic, “Chief TroubleMaker at OLPC” for PAW II? More about him on Google Video: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4285568518538296189

    Then there’s Andy Hertzfeld and Jef Raskin of Macintosh renown in PAW I. Well, Jonathan Ive would be interesting as he is the principal designer of the iMac, iPod, and iPhone.

    This approach pays homage to the past and looks toward the present and future. It also helps you whittle down a growing list of talented progammers.

    Later,

    Mike Y.

    Comment by Michael Yam — March 4, 2008 @ 6:21 pm | Reply

  6. […] Programmers At Work Revisited « Programmers At Work – The original 1986 intereviews and more. […]

    Pingback by del.icio.us bookmarks for February 29th, 2008 through March 4th, 2008 < Subject Code — March 5, 2008 @ 12:33 am | Reply

  7. I own a copy of PAW and love it. I first read it around 2005. I am not a programmer, although I did take some classes in C++ in the early part of this decade. While reading the book, I often thought about about what it would be like to read not only interviews with the programmers of today, but new interviews with the programmers of the first edition. I would love to read the thoughts of these programmers now especially when they are reminded/prompted about their original interviews. Would/does Bill Gates still be as concerned with how efficient the programming method is today as he was in 1986? Stuff like that.

    Anyway, it’s great to see that there is excitement for this book!

    Thanks for listening!

    Comment by Chris Buckmister — November 9, 2009 @ 3:13 am | Reply

  8. cool, I read this book back in the 80s, it was nerd tastic, just found this site as suggesting the book to someone on a linkedin jobs board, will direct him to this site

    Comment by jason palmer — December 22, 2009 @ 10:46 am | Reply


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