|The Tao of Programming / Geoffrey James|
|Reviewed by Tal Cohen||Friday, 27 August 1999|
The simple, humoristic representation of experienced software developers as “masters” and inexperienced ones as “apprentices”, the characterization of managers as unintelligent, sometimes plain stupid people, combined with the simple wisdom of the text is just part of what makes The Tao of Programming such am amusing booklet for programmers. I think many readers will find that they are reminded of the Dilbert comic strips.
The stories are presented with an aura of oriental wisdom; some of them are paraphrases of famous oriental stories. For example, the point of the story in which Grand Master Turing dreams that he is a machine (and wakes up wondering if he is really Turing, or a machine dreaming that it is Turing) will probably be missed by those not familiar with the story about Confucius and the butterfly.
The Tao of Programming consists of nine “books” -- each with wisdom about a different area, such as design, coding, maintenance, and so on. All in all, there are about fifty short stories like the two quoted above, and it will probably make a great gift to any programmer. If you haven't read it yet, you should probably buy yourself this gift. In the computer programmers' Humor Hall of Fame, this book resides up there with canons such as the Jargon file (“The Hacker’s Dictionary”).
The Zen of Programming was published by James a year after The Tao, and it contains numerous short Koan-like stories of the same spirit -- the kind of stories only computer nerds could possibly enjoy. However, much like the stories in the third book, Computer Parables: Enlightenment in the Information Age, the stories in The Zen of Programming lack the special, naive magic that made the first book so enjoyable. The stories in these two books don't try just to entertain -- they try to teach a lesson, and often fail miserably. And yet some stories (especially in Computer Parables) do hit the nail on the head. Consider, for example, the following story:
The amazing thing is that this piece was published years before the World Wide Web came to be; it is even more amazing if you consider the fact that it is titled “The Navigator”.
Other stories from Computer Parables that had a similar surprising (or should I say sobering?) effect, at least for me, include “The Computer Pornographer” and “The Museum”. But apart from these rare gems, the two sequels generally do not stand up to the quality of the first.