|wickensonline.co.uk Retrochallenge 2010 Winter Warmup Entry Final|
The Soul of a New Machine
Little, Brown & Company 1981
I've just finished reading 'The Soul of a New Machine' by Tracy Kidder. The book
describes the project, management, team, people, politics and technical details
involved in the design and building of the Data General Eclipse MV/8000, code
named Eagle, announced to the world on April 20th, 1980. Most of the design and
development was completed in an eighteen month window. The books author was
comissioned by the project manager to document the process.
What strikes me about the book is how accurately it potrays the unique traits of
a computer engineering project. Although I've only been an applications software
developer and this book primarily covers the hardware and microcode teams, the
parallels ring uncannily true.
The Project - a machine born of one managers determination to prove their teams
worth inspite of decisions made higher up the chain of command.
The Management - hard-faced and uncompromising, a common enemy to distract from
in fighting, when it's all over the team members either view them with
the utmost respect or have no idea what their purpose was.
The Team - fresh graduates of academic excellence and old hands (describing
those over 30) bond in a journey of self-fulfillment.
The People - each uniquely described from start to finish, their way of working,
the effect the project has on their personalities, outlooks, family life
The Politics - a team of engineers left behind when an internal project to
develop a rival to the VAX moves across the USA. A 32-bit extension to
an existing 16-bit machine with 'no-mode bit'. The final outcome of the
machine - when it's taken off the team and marketed.
The Technical Details - on occasion described in intricate detail - 4096 lines
of microcode, 240 pages of schematics, 200,000 lines of system software,
hundreds of engineering changes from debugging.
The end result of the book is slightly sad, much as I would expect of the final
chapter of a book about the NASA manned missions to the moon.
That said, a highly recommended read for hardware and software engineers, those
in the computer industry and those looking for a 'feel' of the state of the
computer industry in the late 70's.
Here are a couple of my favourite pages:
Thanks for listening...