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Secrets of the Rock Star Programmers: Riding the IT Crest by Ed Burns

Book Review Team
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Posts: 944
<pre>Author/s : Ed Burns
Publisher : McGraw-Hill Osborne Media
Review : Link
Reviewed by : Katrina Owen
Rating : 6 horseshoes

</pre>
The list of Rock Stars in "The Secrets of Rock Star Programmers" seems somewhat arbitrary. Probably great programmers, but not all of them would have come to mind if someone asked me who I considered Rock Star programmers, and many of the names that do come to mind aren't listed. Then again, who am I to judge, huh?

Did I learn anything? Well, nothing technical, at any rate. I learned a little bit about the lives and personalities and careers of a few programmers I've heard of, a couple of author's whose books I've read, and it inspired me to think a bit about my own mindset and what inspires me or frustrates me or helps me do things better.

That said, I really enjoyed reading this rather informal book which explores how some programmers approach their craft.

So in short: No secrets appear to have been revealed, and after reading the book, I'm not quite certain what qualifies a programmer as being of rock star quality.


More info at Amazon.com
Ed Burns
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    5
Thanks for the review, Katrina. Can you please share those names that came to mind who were not listed? There were some I approached who declined to be interviewed, so perhaps they were on your list.

Sincerely,

Ed
Ernest Friedman-Hill
author and iconoclast
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  34

Some of the names that come to my mind: John Carmack, Michael Abrash, Linus Torvalds, Herb Sutter, Theo de Raadt, Scott Meyers, Josh Bloch, Kent Beck, Eric Meyer, Erich Gamma, Doug Lea, Richard Stallman, and Don Knuth.

Some of these folks are very generous with their time for authors/interviewers; some, like Knuth, I know are impossible.


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Katrina Owen
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  17
Hi Ed,

The first names that came to mind were Linus Thorvalds, the Gang of Four (though admittedly not all of them can be interviewed), Donald Knuth, Martin Fowler, and my personal hero Kathy Sierra (someone corrected me and said she's a Rockstar Programming Educator).

I'm certain that if I had been obsessed with encryption, I'd probably have come up with the RSA trio first, and if your main area of interest was compilers I'm sure I wouldn't recognize any of the names on your list.

Actually, now that you ask, I'm curious. I'm going to ask the people at work who comes to mind. I'm pretty sure the .NET people will have different answers than the SysAdmin or the people more into scripting languages.
[ May 20, 2008: Message edited by: Katrina Owen ]
Jeanne Boyarsky
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I haven't finished the book yet (on page 195), but I'm not clear on the definition of a rock star programmer as used by the book. I found a few:
- successful software developer (vs leader in field?)
- "fanboys"/following
- skill
- at right place at right time (this is the riding the IT crest subtitle)


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Jeanne Boyarsky
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Originally posted by Katrina Owen:
and my personal hero Kathy Sierra (someone corrected me and said she's a Rockstar Programming Educator).

Herb Schildt is an author/teacher of Java too, isn't he? Or at least that's the impression I got reading the chapter on him in the book.
Kishore Dandu
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Originally posted by Katrina Owen:
Hi Ed,

The first names that came to mind were Linus Thorvalds, the Gang of Four (though admittedly not all of them can be interviewed), Donald Knuth, Martin Fowler, and my personal hero Kathy Sierra (someone corrected me and said she's a Rockstar Programming Educator).

I'm certain that if I had been obsessed with encryption, I'd probably have come up with the RSA trio first, and if your main area of interest was compilers I'm sure I wouldn't recognize any of the names on your list.

Actually, now that you ask, I'm curious. I'm going to ask the people at work who comes to mind. I'm pretty sure the .NET people will have different answers than the SysAdmin or the people more into scripting languages.

[ May 20, 2008: Message edited by: Katrina Owen ]


Some of these folks have big time attitude, so it could be difficult to get their time to get their thoughts. Why would they tell their tricks unless they are payed bigtime.


Kishore
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Ulf Dittmer
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  65
Some of these folks have big time attitude

What (or whom) exactly are you referring to?

Why would they tell their tricks unless they are payed bigtime.

Because they no longer need the money, or are keen on sharing knowledge? Lots of people provide their time for free; unless you have specific reason to assume the ones mentioned wouldn't do that, I think it's best not to assume anything.


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Michael Ernest
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What about someone like Eric Allman, who has turned one application (sendmail) into an entire career?


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Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
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You know, Ed seems to have captured the "passionate" spirit here. He has us discussing his book! I'll post my review over the weekend once I've finished reading my copy.
Book Review Team
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<pre>Author/s : Ed Burns
Publisher : McGraw-Hill Osborne Media
Review : Link
Reviewed by : Jeanne Boyarsky
Rating : 6 horseshoes
</pre>
"Secrets of the Rock Star Programmers: Riding the IT Crest" is a series of 13 (or 14) interviews with different people that are known in the programming community. The fourteenth is for "Weird Al Yankovic" which has nothing to do with programming, so I won't count it.

Even after reading the book, I'm not sure what criteria was used in determining who is a Rock Star Programmer. It seems to be some combination of successful software developer, entrepreneur, those with a fanbase, some specific skills and being in the right place at the right time (riding the crest.) Then there are the exceptions such as Herb Schildt who is a programming educator and author.

I would have enjoyed this more as a series of articles than as a book. I felt the chapters jumped around a lot and had different voices. Largely due to the dynamic in individual interviews. Some interviews flowed well and others had a number of disfluencies ("right", "okay", etc.)

The author was trying to tie everything together. He adds cross references, observations when interviewees say similar or contrasting things. There is a table in the back to direct you to which interviewees answered a given question.

Some themes in the book are knowledge of ignorance, the right thing vs the quick thing, a non-IT plan B, continual optimization of environment, outsourcing and personal/professional balance. Many of the interviewees gave their thoughts on their expertise which was nice. It left me wanting more though. I think that is because I would read a book on the topic to get the opinions.

More info at Amazon.com
Kishore Dandu
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Posts: 1934
Originally posted by Ulf Dittmer:

Because they no longer need the money, or are keen on sharing knowledge? Lots of people provide their time for free; unless you have specific reason to assume the ones mentioned wouldn't do that, I think it's best not to assume anything.


If you can answer yes to the questions below for any one of the super star programmers, i would accept your statement
1. Have you attended a conference where the star programmers have given free lecture?
2. Do you think they collaborate after achieving their stardom without a zeal for something bigger(more payday for their talks or books)?
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
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Joined: May 26, 2003
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Originally posted by Kishore Dandu:
2. Do you think they collaborate after achieving their stardom without a zeal for something bigger(more payday for their talks or books)?

Even if we accept that everything is money driven, exposure drives talks/books. Why would we assume that someone wouldn't if nobody asked them?
Ulf Dittmer
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Joined: Mar 22, 2005
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  65
If you can answer yes to the questions below for any one of the super star programmers, i would accept your statement
1. Have you attended a conference where the star programmers have given free lecture?
2. Do you think they collaborate after achieving their stardom without a zeal for something bigger (more payday for their talks or books)?

I don't see how #1 is relevant; most often, either everyone or noone gets paid. As to #2, you assume that "something bigger" is the same as "more payday". That assumption falls somewhere between "obviously false" and "rather insulting", IMO. Otherwise, how would open source projects work? Do you really think Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman -to name just two that got mentioned above- continue to work on their projects for the money?
[ May 28, 2008: Message edited by: Ulf Dittmer ]
 
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