Programmers at Work - Susan Lammers

Programmers at Work was the inspiration for Coders at Work. Whereas Coders at Work covers the web generation, Programmers at Work was published in 1986. There are plenty of big names interviewed - it starts with Charles Simonyi, Butler Lampson, John Warnock, Gary Kildall and Bill Gates. Later chapters include Jef Raskin, Andy Hertzfeld and Jaron Lanier.

The last one is one of the most fun - Jaron Lanier was working on his company 'VPL', dealing with 'Visual Programming Languages', except really the big thing was... virtual reality. He alludes to it in the book, presumably not quite being out of stealth mode. It's interesting to see this bit when we are finally, 30 years later, seeing the technology come to fruition now we have the performance and technology needed to hit the baseline of acceptability for VR.

Many of the interviewees are people who Got Rich Quick on spreadsheets, the killer app of the early '80s. With the exception of Bricklin, they aren't really big names any more - bear that in mind, web entrepreneurs of today. ;) One of the interviewees worked on a sound system for George Lucas. I had not realised how visionary Lucas was about the computerisation of film-making. He may have some suspect ideas about Star Wars, but he was bang on about the technology of visual media.

Much of the rest is absorbing, in terms of what has stayed the same, and what's different. The constraints of systems in the early '80s meant that performance was vital. On the other hand, they were small enough that big sellers could be made by tiny teams - the founders were the coders. However, when you look at the people who are still in the game, and still big hitters, they're the ones that could see the future was full of growth - faster computers, more computers, embedded computers and the rest. They saw that early PCs weren't the end-state, and could see where they were going. No-one talks about large-scale networks. The magical future was going to be CD-ROM. I guess it was for a while.


Posted 2015-09-26.