Masterminds of Programming book wins JOLT award

By Andy Oram
August 4, 2010

Masterminds of Programming is a unique book, and I was thrilled yesterday to find out that a bunch of people at Dr. Dobbs' JOLT awards recognized the historic offering it represents.

Many of the people interviewed in this book are household names among programmers. Some of the languages are still used by hundreds of thousands of people today; others are in less common use but play a widely recognized role in advancing the computer field.

Guest editors Federico Biancuzzi and Shane Warden didn't just pull together a stunning list of people who created programming languages--they engaged them in serious, respectful, deep discusions of what drove them to create the languages, what they have learned about programming over the years, and what they think the computer field needs now. There is no easy way to summarize the insights in this book, or even convey the range of topics discussed. Every set of contributors had a unique life viewpoint that comes across under the incisive questioning of Federico and Shane.

My role on this book was fairly modest compared to most of the books I shepherd through O'Reilly's editorial process. I suggested some questions, signed up some of the interviewees, reordered and edited some of the interviews, and handled the difficult logistics created by working with a couple dozen busy contributors.

The heavy lifting was done by the interviewees, who generously donated many hours to answering questions and editing transcriptions, along with Federico and Shane, who applied a profound understanding of computing history and software engineering.

In some ways, this book was a race against time. Two of the prospective interviewees died while we were planning the book and making contacts. Another interviewee, Robin Milner passed away a few months ago. A few other people whom we managed to contact could not participate for lack of time or for other reasons (which answers the only complaints I've ever heard about the book: "Why didn't you also interview so-and-so?").

The set of interviews included is so significant that there's little point in counting up the complementary set that we wish had been included. I have no qualms recommending this book to every programmer. You will come out feeling different about your work and about the awe-inspiring tools you have inherited. And incidentally, the e-book version is on sale for one day tomorrow (Thursday, August 5).

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