Is ‘The Soul Of A New Machine’ a Good Read?

Book Cover

Why I got hooked on this book?

This book is one of the best books that I have ever read and is definitely the best computer-related book that I have read in my life. In fact, it’s almost a double-edged sword because once you read Kidder’s The Soul Of A New Machine, reading computer-related books becomes a drag because there are no computer-related books that are on this level. I first began looking for a computer-related book to read at the start of summer because I wanted to prepare myself for the new university semester and my aim was to learn more about the tech world by reading more computer-related books. So I did the typical thing that most students looking for books on a subject do. I went on google and wrote the best computing books to read and I found a selection of books on the GoodReads website that was all computer-related.

I would read the prologues of each book and give it an inspectional read which would include an X-Ray of the book. Many of the books that I did this for were very poorly written or books that were above my league in the technical sense. Just before I gave up hope, I came across this book which had an amazing title and cover page. “The Soul Of A New Machine”. Immediately I thought that this could be the exact book that I was looking for. What could information do this book with the spiritual like title contain? I had to find out. I opened the book and the prologue just blew me away. It contained an interesting incident about a unique man called Tom West and a psychologist who was observing him whilst they were on a boat in the middle of the storm.

There were many other people on this boat whilst the storm was happening. Naturally, they would all be attempting to socialize but whenever Tom West was asked about his profession he refused to speak about work whilst he was on a holiday. He didn’t want to talk about ‘work’ when he wasn’t working. The psychologist later discovered, upon observing this unique man, that he never slept for four nights in a row. The prologue ended there. I understood that Tom West would be one of the main figureheads of the book and sure enough this seemingly obscure figure would have a lasting impact on the technology world and on me as well. For me what really attracted me to the book was the prologue. It was so engaging and perfectly written that I immediately knew the rest of the book would follow this pattern. Sure enough, it did. There’s a reason why it is ranked 1 in GoodReads list of ‘Essential Computer History and Information Revolution Books’.

Book Description

“The computer revolution brought with it new methods of getting work doneβ€”just look at today’s news for reports of hard-driven, highly-motivated young software and online commerce developers who sacrifice evenings and weekends to meet impossible deadlines. Tracy Kidder got a preview of this world in the late 1970s when he observed the engineers of Data General design and build a new 32-bit minicomputer in just one year. His thoughtful, prescient book, The Soul of a New Machine, tells stories of 35-year-old “veteran” engineers hiring recent college graduates and encouraging them to work harder and faster on complex and difficult projects, exploiting the youngsters’ ignorance of normal scheduling processes while engendering a new kind of work ethic.

These days, we are used to the “total commitment” philosophy of managing technical creation, but Kidder was surprised and even a little alarmed at the obsessions and compulsions he found. From in-house political struggles to workers being permitted to tease management to marathon 24-hour work sessions, The Soul of a New Machine explores concepts that already seem familiar, even old-hat, less than 20 years later. Kidder plainly admires his subjects; while he admits to hopeless confusion about their work, he finds their dedication heroic. The reader wonders, though, what will become of it all, now and in the future. β€”Rob Lightner“.

My Review

There are so many things which I enjoyed about the book. For one, the story behind Tom West and his team working hard at data general to build a computer was a fascinating story and piece of history in itself. I enjoyed reading about the inner politics going on within the data general company, the battles between huge tech companies like IBM and others as well as the interesting individual stories of some of the prominent workers there. I liked how the author described everything about each worker, their specialties as well as their contributions. I enjoyed learning about their great mindsets and I almost felt like I was in their facilities listening to their conversations and watching them work 60+ hour work weeks. It just felt cozy hearing about the team working deep into the night and then (some of them) coming 4am in the morning to continue working.

Data General Headquarters

The team work between all the workers must have been a sight to behold. I remember reading about two workers who would debate and argue quite a lot. Many people assumed that they didn’t get along. Yet when the first worker would complete his shift, the second worker would come in and look at his sticky notes and have this sought of mental chemistry that was amazing. It was very infectious for me how everyone at data general really were passionate about their science. It fulfilled one of my personal goals. One of the reasons why I decided to start reading this book was because I was looking to have my passion for computers to be reborn and this book did exactly that for me. In that sense, reading this book was just so very worth it and I will definitely re-read this book at some point in the future. That is the sign of a great book. One that is so good that you want to re-read it again.

I suppose the greatest benefit I took out of reading this book was the fact that I learnt how difficult it is to be a successful engineer. The fact that Tom West would wake up (long after leaving data general) sometimes at the middle of the night unable to re-adjust to normal life after years of working all day everyday (and he is an intelligent person) just showed me how much hard work is needed to be put into being a successful computer engineer. Workers at data general mentioned how they didn’t have time to do anything else in their personal lives. The just didn’t have personal lives because of how hard they were working regularly. Upon finishing the book, I had a profound respect for those workers and anyone whos working in the tech corporate world as a computer engineer. These were highly educated specialists who knew their profession inside out. Some of them were fresh out of college and did well working in this company. Their efforts pushed the tech industry forward. Not just for their companies or country, but for the entire human race. I feel like if anyone is interested in reading a book about technology, this is the best book for them to read. For me, the book is a 5/5.

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Published by Muaad

21. Enjoy reading, travelling, meeting people and living life to the fullest.

2 thoughts on “Is ‘The Soul Of A New Machine’ a Good Read?

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