In this revealing exploration of programming, programmers, and their far-reaching influence, Wired columnist Thompson (Smarter Than You Think) opens up an insular world and explores its design philosophy’s consequences, some of them unintended. Through interviews and anecdotes, Thompson expertly plumbs the temperament and motivations of programmers. Thompson explains how an avowedly meritocratic profession nevertheless tends to sideline those who are not white male graduates of prestigious university computer science programs, tracing this male-dominated culture back to 1960s and early ’70s MIT, where the “hacker ethic” was first born. Remarkably, though, he makes clear that programming is an unusual field in that successful practitioners are often self-taught, many having started out with only simple tools, such as a Commodore computer running the BASIC programming language. This book contains possibly the best argument yet for how social media maneuvers users into more extreme political positions, since “any ranking system based partly on tallying up the reactions to posts will wind up favoring intense material.” Impressive in its clarity and thoroughness, Thompson’s survey shines a much-needed light on a group of people who have exerted a powerful effect on almost every aspect of the modern world. (Apr.)
Fascinating. Thompson is an excellent writer and his subjects are themselves gripping. . . . [W]hat Thompson does differently is to get really close to the people he writes about: it’s the narrative equivalent of Technicolor, 3D and the microscope. . . . People who interact with coders routinely, as colleagues, friends or family, could benefit tremendously from these insights.” —Nature
“With an anthropologist’s eye, [Thompson] outlines [coders’] different personality traits, their history and cultural touchstones. He explores how they live, what motivates them and what they fight about. By breaking down what the actual world of coding looks like . . . he removes the mystery and brings it into the legible world for the rest of us to debate. Human beings and their foibles are the reason the internet is how it is—for better and often, as this book shows, for worse.” —The New York Times Book Review
“An outstanding author and long-form journalist. . . . I particularly enjoyed [Thompson’s] section on automation.” —Tim Ferriss
“[An] enjoyable primer on the world of computer programmers. . . . Coders are building the infrastructure on which twenty-first century society rests, and their work has every chance of surviving as long, and being as important, as the Brooklyn Bridge—or, for that matter, the Constitution.” —Bookforum
“Thompson delivers again with this well-written narrative on coders, individual histories, and the culture of coder life, at home and work. . . . In addition to analyzing the work-life of coders, he brilliantly reveals several examples of how they live in their respective relationships. Throughout, Thompson also does a great job exploring the various drivers that permeate the industry: merit, openness of code, long coding stints without sleep, and how the culture tends toward start-up culture even when companies are established. This engaging work will appeal to readers who wish to learn more about the intersection of technology and culture, and the space in which they blur together.” —Library Journal, starred review
“Thompson offers a broad cultural view of the world of coders and programmers from the field’s origins in the mid-twentieth century to the present. In this highly readable and entertaining narrative, he notes the sense of scale and logical efficiency in coding and the enthusiasm with which programmers go about creating new features and finding bugs. . . . [A] comprehensive look at the people behind the digital systems now essential to everyday life.”—Booklist
“Looks at some of the stalwarts and heroes of the coding world, many of them not well-known. . . . Thompson is an enthusiast and a learned scholar alike. . . . Fans of Markoff, Levy, Lanier, et al. will want to have a look at this intriguing portrait of coding and coders.” —Kirkus
“In this revealing exploration of programming, programmers, and their far-reaching influence, Wired columnist Thompson opens up an insular world and explores its design philosophy’s consequences, some of them unintended. Through interviews and anecdotes, Thompson expertly plumbs the temperament and motivations of programmers. . . . [Coders] contains possibly the best argument yet for how social media maneuvers users into more extreme political positions. . . . Impressive in its clarity and thoroughness, Thompson’s survey shines a much-needed light on a group of people who have exerted a powerful effect on almost every aspect of the modern world.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"As a person who has spent a lot of time writing code, I can confirm that you need to be a little bit of a weirdo to love it. Clive Thompson’s book is an essential field guide to the eccentric breed of architects who are building the algorithms that shape our future, and the AIs who will eventually rise up and enslave us. Good luck, humans!” —Jonathan Coulton, musician
“Clive Thompson is more than a gifted reporter and writer. He is a brilliant social anthropologist. And, in this masterful book, he illuminates both the fascinating coders and the bewildering technological forces that are transforming the world in which we live.” —David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z and Killers of the Flower Moon
“With his trademark clarity and insight, Clive Thompson gives us an unparalleled vista into the mind-set and culture of programmers, the often-invisible architects and legislators of the digital age.” —Steven Johnson, author of How We Got to Now
“If you have to work with programmers, it’s essential to understand that programming has a culture. This book will help you understand what programmers do, how they do it, and why. It decodes the culture of code.” —Kevin Kelly, senior maverick for Wired
“Clive Thompson is the ideal guide to who coders are, what they do, and how they wound up taking over the world. For a book this important, inspiring, and scary, it’s sinfully fun to read.” —Steven Levy, author of In the Plex
“It’s a delight to follow Clive Thompson’s roving, rollicking mind anywhere. When that ‘anywhere’ is the realm of the programmers, the pleasure takes on extra ballast. Coders is an engrossing, deeply clued-in ethnography, and it’s also a book about power, a new kind: where it comes from, how it feels to wield it, who gets to try—and how all that is changing.” —Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
“Clive Thompson has deftly picked apart the myth of a tech meritocracy. Guiding readers through the undercovered history of programming’s female roots, Coders points with assurance to the inequities that have come to define coding today, as both a profession and the basis of the technology that shapes our lives. Readable, revealing, and in many ways infuriating.” —Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad
“Code shapes coders, and coders shape the code that changes how we think, every day of our lives. If you want to create a more humanistic digital world, read this book to get started.” —Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT; author of Reclaiming Conversation and Alone Together
“Thompson has accomplished the nearly impossible task of portraying the coding world exactly as it is: messy, inspiring, naive, and—at times—shameful. Coders is a beautifully written and refreshingly fair portrayal of a young industry that’s accomplished so much and still has a lot to learn.” —Saron Yitbarek, CEO and founder of CodeNewbie
Technology journalist Thompson (Smarter than You Think) delivers again with this well-written narrative on coders, individual histories, and the culture of coder life, at home and work. Thompson accomplishes this by describing his own coding experiences and how they might explain the motivations of the people profiled: the women who worked at Bletchley Park; Mary Allen Wilkes, who worked on LINC (Laboratory INstrument Computer) at MIT; and Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux and git. Thompson also considers the state of the industry over time and how women have rotated into and out of the field based on changing opinions about code's importance in the overall realm of computing. In addition to analyzing the work-life of coders, he brilliantly reveals several examples of how they live in their respective relationships. Throughout, Thompson also does a great job exploring the various drivers that permeate the industry: merit, openness of code, long coding stints without sleep, and how the culture tends toward start-up culture even when companies are established. VERDICT This engaging work will appeal to readers who wish to learn more about the intersection of technology and culture, and the space in which they blur together.—Jesse A. Lambertson, Georgetown Univ. Libs.
Of computer technology and its discontents.
Computers can do all kinds of cool things. The reason they can, writes tech journalist Thompson (Smarter than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, 2013), is that a coder has gotten to the problem. "Programmers spend their days trying to get computers to do new things," he writes, "so they're often very good at understanding the crazy what-ifs that computers make possible." Some of those things, of course, have proven noxious: Facebook allows you to keep in touch with high school friends but at the expense of spying on your every online movement. Yet they're kind of comprehensible, since they're based on language: Coding problems are problems of words and thoughts and not numbers alone. Thompson looks at some of the stalwarts and heroes of the coding world, many of them not well-known—Ruchi Sanghvi, for example, who worked at Facebook and Dropbox before starting a sort of think tank "aimed at convincing members to pick a truly new, weird area to examine." If you want weird these days, you get into artificial intelligence, of which the author has a qualified view. Humans may be displaced by machines, but the vaunted singularity probably won't happen anytime soon. Probably. Thompson is an enthusiast and a learned scholar alike: He reckons that BASIC is one of the great inventions of history, being one of the ways "for teenagers to grasp, in such visceral and palpable ways, the fabric of infinity." Though big tech is in the ascendant, he writes, there's a growing number of young programmers who are attuned to the ethical issues surrounding what they do, demanding, for instance, that Microsoft not provide software to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Those coders, writes Thompson, are "the one group of people VCs and CEOs cannot afford to entirely ignore," making them the heroes of the piece in more ways than one.
Fans of Markoff, Levy, Lanier et al. will want to have a look at this intriguing portrait of coding and coders.