Saturday, May 10, 2014

Book Review: Revolution in the Valley

"Revolution in the Valley" is a heart-warming account of early computer engineering in the Silicon Valley. It recounts the work of the hardware and software engineers behind the original Macintosh. Read on to find out why I loved the book.

I have read over a dozen books about the original Macintosh. I never used the original Macintosh or the Apple II but I am impressed by the ideas that those computers popularized. The book "Revolution in the Valley" by Andy Hertzfeld is the first account that I identified with. Andy was a software engineer, a co-creator of the original Macintosh. I am a software engineer as well, and I got a better understanding of the project through his narrative.

The book is a collection of stories that are online at Andy's website You don't need to buy the book, but I would recommend the book for two reasons. First, the book is loosely chronologically arranged. You can see the journey as it happened, all the way till the launch of the Macintosh and the break-up of the original team.  Second, the book is filled with lovely illustrations and images of the original team and the developer's notebooks.

After reading the book, I was filled with a deeper appreciation of the original Macintosh team. They worked in a very different engineering environment, and yet produced something exceptional. It is unlikely that their success can be repeated. Making a computer today requires a lot more effort, and the barrier to entry is much higher. The Mac team was a rare combination of talent, idealism and determination that is also difficult to recreate. Andy shows you some of the design decisions and the reasons behind them. As an engineer, it was a wonderful read.

I was filled with conflicting feelings at the end of the book. I doubt I would have survived Andy's experience. They had terrible management, were poorly compensated, and were overworked.

While the original Macintosh was made during a time of bravado, I'm glad that software engineering is a much more mature field now. Software management is better, co-workers are smarter and more numerous, and the general demands of the job are better understood.

(Image courtesy: Andy's wonderful site)