February 18, 2011
Reading for Programmers of All Persuasions
Sometime in the 1970s I made the choice to write, then decided my language would be English instead of COBOL or Pascal. "Bigger audience," I told myself, though I was not necessarily thinking of millions of personal computers or even more applications. But writing is writing, and a couple of links from 3000 developers help make that point.
Brian Edminster contacted us with a pointer to Stack Exchange and the sub-site writers.stackexchange.com. "It's a blog entry about writing and programming," said Edminster, who's an expert on open source tools suited to 3000-architected shops. "It strikes me as a site you could contribute to, and perhaps even benefit from as well. We all have room to grow -- even us 'experts'. " Jeff Atwood pumps out Stack Overflow, a subcategory of his blog Coding Horror, at Stack Exchange. How to Write Without Writing starts like this:
If you have an interest in becoming a better communicator, Atwood proposes you blog a few times a week. It's like heading to the gym to improve your fitness.
I have a confession to make: in a way, I founded Stack Overflow to trick my fellow programmers. Before you trot out the pitchforks and torches, let me explain.
Over the last six years, I've come to believe deeply in the idea that that becoming a great programmer has very little to do with programming. Yes, it takes a modicum of technical skill and dogged persistence, absolutely. But even more than that, it takes serious communication skills. How do I get my fellow programmers to blog without blogging, to write without writing? By cheating like hell, that's how.
I would have the same trepidation about writing COBOL now as some of you may have starting a blog. But with the wide audience for English, you can get response about your efforts from a broader readership.
As another warmup, you could answer questions or post to the 3000-L mailing list, or chip in some help at the LinkedIn group HP 3000 Community. Out on Stack Overflow, one fan responded with a plan to strike out in the same territory as Coding Horror.
I know that you said that writing your Coding Horror blog helped you greatly in refining your writing over the years. Stack Overflow has been doing the same for me and I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity. I’ve decided to setup a coding blog in your footsteps and I just registered a domain today.
The web resource lets you "write an answer, get immediate feedback on its quality (particularly when writing quality trumps technical correctness, such as subjective questions) and see other people's attempts as well and how they compare."
In a more traditional vein of reading for programming, Craig Lalley of EchoTech drew a pointer for me to the seminal In the Beginning... Was the Command Line. (A free PDF version.)
Years ago I went to visit Alfredo Rego in Sun Valley. Alfredo gave me this excellent gift. This book written by Neal Stephenson is an excellent book, small (150 pages), and written in 1999. But it has some useful insight. In particular are its perspectives on Apple, Microsoft and the reason for Linux's rise.
Stephenson will be familiar to the science fiction fan as the author of Cryptonomicon. (I can recommend his Snow Crash as a wild ride through a near future full of ironic humor.)
In the Beginning... Was the Command Line may feel a little out of date in places; it was updated in 2004 with Stephenson's permission, by Garrett Birkel. But in one segment I sampled out of the original, Linux is compared to getting a cab in Egypt, while Microsoft and Apple cabs feel more like the Manhattan system of transportation. The Linux "distros" are like guides who meet you at the airport, Stephenson adds. This year Egypt has become a fresh story, even though it's very old at its core. Come to think of it, that's a bit like the HP 3000 transition issues of today.
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