Monday, November 7, 2011

Joel on Software

The following article was first published in the October 2011 edition of Orange Byte, the quarterly newsletter published by Nagpur centre of Persistent Systems Ltd.

Joel on Software

-Raghunath Soman

I always look forward to the 1500-km journey to my hometown, Ponda-Goa. Apart from the destination itself, the journey gives me a chance to indulge in one of my passions – reading. Over the last five years, I have read a number of books on these trips, and invariably each of them has turned out to be a memorable one.

The latest entry to this list is an equally illustrious one: Joel on Software (And on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers, Designers, and Managers, and to Those Who, Whether by Good Fortune or Ill Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity),  written by Joel Spolsky.

Since 2000, Joel Spolsky has been writing a wildly popular blog with same name on software development; and this book is a collection of selected articles from the blog, with some additional commentary by the author.

The book is divided in five parts. First part is targeted towards software developers; and it contains tips on best practices in programming and lot of pragmatic advice on how to be a better programmer. Part two talks about how to manage a team of programmers, right from how to interview a candidate to how to measure performance.

Parts three and four have relatively diverse topics, ranging from musings on strategy to a detailed account of API wars. Part five, titled Appendix, contains a selection of questions posted by readers of the blog and Joel’s responses.

It is difficult to handpick one or more chapters as personal favourites, since all the articles are thought provoking, and immensely interesting. Still, some of my personal favourites are:
  • The Joel Test: 12 steps to better code
  • Daily builds are your friend
  • Rick Chapman in search of stupidity
  • Getting things done when you’re only a grunt
  • Strategy letters
  • A Week of Murphy’s Laws
  • How Microsoft lost the API war
 It would suffice to say that whether you are a programmer or you are managing a team of programmers, this is one book you cannot afford to miss.

Apart from the content, much attention has been paid to the presentation of the book, right from the extra-ordinarily long title, and the picture (known as “Colophon”) on title page to large, easy-on-eye font. These minor things add to the joy of reading.

Do pick this one up… you probably may not agree with everything Joel has to say, but one thing I can guarantee for sure – you are in for a few hours of riveting reading.

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