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Reading Update: Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg

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Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg

Scott Rosenberg, who is a journalist writing for Salon, followed the team of the Chandler Personal Information Manager (PIM) around for the half a dozen years since their founding back in the early naughties.

The Chandler project was started by Mitch Kapor, the original author of Lotus 1-2-3. His goals for the project were ambitious and idealistic – he wanted to build something that could not just replace Microsoft Exchange, but that was also Open Source, decentralized and more generic. Like himself, the team around Kapor consisted of many veterans of successful software products. Despite that, the book ended up chronicling a tragic history, rather than an epic tale of success.

Over 5 or 6 years Rosenberg documented the progress of the project, it was redesigned from scratch again and again, important components were thrown out and rewritten, and personnel joined and left – all without anything being released that was actually useful to end-users.

Rosenberg writes in a way that is understandable for non-programmers – there are some technical terms, but for the most part the book is about the people, their motivations and their interactions. The book gives the reader some impression as to why large software projects are hard, but at the cost of making it sound like a mystical, nobody-knows-what-they’re-doing kind of process.

For programmers, there is a lot of classic computer science history – weaved through Chandlers tale – that is probably not very interesting, but that’s fairly easy to skim over. As a software engineer, I did cringe as I read about mistake after mistake that the Chandler team made – all of this seemed way too familiar.

If anything, Chandler serves as a warning as to what can go wrong with a software project.


Written by aristillus

November 25, 2013 at 00:12