Tagged: History

Mini review: “Coders: Who They Are, What They Think and How They Are Changing Our World” by Clive Thompson (audiobook edition)

This book is a must read if you are considering becoming a coder – and also if you work with them. The first half or so of the book goes into detail about how most people get into writing software (formal education or being self taught), the nature of the job (what they do all day), possible career paths and the personality characteristics found in many coders – both good and bad. It looks at the different types of people coming into the industry, the misleading myths that have built up, the particular challenges for women and the realistic outlook if you are looking for a mid-career job change – coming in from a different industry. Very interesting, and not something that I recall seeing dealt with in such detail elsewhere.

The remainder of the book examines the tech scene in more general terms – a look at the early days of computing and how people got into computers in previous decades, the decline in the proportion of women in the profession over time, the rise of AI and machine learning, the social problems (little predicted at the beginning but now very much in evidence) that arise with becoming a massive scale platform and how the venture capital industry determines how companies have to behave.

There is a bit of repetition as things that are mentioned briefly in the first part are dealt with in more depth in the second, but the author does a good-enough job at bringing things back to how these things are relevant to coders. The final chapter on “blue collar” coders is particularly good, so the book finishes on a high. It should give people thinking about going into this field some things to consider, which can only be a good thing.

The narration of the audiobook is interesting – often the soul of these technology / business books is sucked out of them by a narrator who talks in some “default-American” tone, unremarkable and uninspiring. At first I thought that this was going to be yet another example, but the performance is more nuanced – it feels like it is the author reading their own text but it is more professional. He gets the tone just right.

Podcast: Spacebridge (Showcase from Radiotopia)

Showcase from Radiotopia is a podcast which has featured a number of miniseries. I subscribed early on as I’m a fan of Radiotopia’s content and I like a bit of serendipity in my podcast listening, but up until now the series haven’t really appealed.

Spacebridge is right up my street – a bit of Cold War history that I hadn’t heard about before.

The website describes it as:

Spacebridge tells a largely-forgotten saga of the late Cold War, when despair about the prospects of a nuclear conflict gripped the world. Both Soviets and Americans grasped at emerging communication technology via satellite and early Internet “spacebridges” that brought together citizen diplomats ranging from New Agers to tech-enthusiasts to astronauts. The urge to “just connect” helped tilt the world from top-down broadcasting to the more horizontal, Internet-levelled society where we all now live…for better and/or for worse.

For all it’s talk of early internet, that only really appears in the last of the four episodes. Mainly we are talking about two-way satellite connections on big screens, allowing people from both the USSR and the US to ask questions about one another.

There are a few main characters but the one that jumped out for me was Steve Wozniak (of Apple lore). He set up a couple of music festivals and a Spacebridge happened at the second. It sounds very much like a Woz thing to do – positive, idealistic, fun, educational.

This is a really interesting miniseries and well worth checking out.

Also…

It’s a good listen to but thanks to YouTube, you can also watch the actual event… 😃

• Radiotopia: Showcase series archive

• Radiotopia: Spacebridge

• Wikipedia: U.S.–Soviet Space Bridge

• calend.ru: Проведен первый космический телемост Москва – Лос-Анджелес

• ria.ru: Первый космический телемост: история из первых уст

Mini review: “Troublemakers: How a Generation of Silicon Valley Upstarts Invented The Future” by Leslie Berlin

troublemakers_cover

This unconventional, informative and entertaining book looks at the history of Silicon Valley between 1969 and 1984 by interweaving the personal stories of seven people who are not necessarily widely known.

I was drawn to the book by the fact that Bob Taylor featured, who I knew played an important role at Xerox PARC and at the beginnings of the ARPANET, which would go on to form the basis of the internet. I had recently read about him in an article in Rolling Stone magazine from 1972 and wanted to find out more. Mike Markkula was also a name that rang a bell but I did not know about his story. It was really interesting to find out the essential role he played in the early days of Apple Computer – I follow Apple news closely so I was surprised how little I knew about him.

It was also good to have a couple of women amongst the men – this book takes a good look at their particular battles against the attitudes of the time. Having said that, it is not the only reason they have been included. All the stories – regardless of gender – highlight the skills, hard work and dedication needed to succeed, and also how they dealt with setback or failure.

What was occurring in Silicon Valley at that time really was remarkable, even if it did not always seem that way to the people there at the time, and even if the magic of that moment was not to last.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Silicon Valley, especially if they work in the field of IT – a bit of insight into how we got to where we are today would be valuable, and this is an easy, likeable read.

Also:

• Spare Cycles: Article: “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce” by Tom Wolfe (an excellent article if you want to go back to the very earliest days of the Valley, from the 1950’s to the 1970’s).