is an astonishing bookastonishing in the sense that a person who lives to
be 125 years old is astonishing. We are in a fast-changing business. No other
computer book, as far as I know, ever lived to be twenty-five years old.
more astonishing to me is the fact that I wrote it, because at the time, I never
imagined there was anything special going on. I had been writing code, leading
groups of programmers, and training and consulting with programmers for about
fifteen years. I thought of writing a novel about the computer programming business
(which was then little known to the outside world), but I realized I wasn't a
sufficiently skilled writer to make anyone believe it. So, on an inspired eight-week
vacation in Italy, I wrote the first draft of The Psychology of Computer Programming.
had, at that time, written a couple of best-selling books on how to program various
machines, but Psychology was a new venture for me. I had a hard time getting
it publishedsomething that hadn't happened with any of my previous books.
One publisher's editors received great internal reviews of the manuscript, but
said they didn't believe anybody would buy such a book. Another publisher reluctantly
said it would publish itif I would agree to let it publish some of my money-making
"technical" books. I decided I needed a publisher with a bit more enthusiasm
than that, so I offered it to four more andsince two years had elapseddecided
I would go with the first acceptance. That came from a company that ultimately
fired my editor the day the book came out, "for not understanding the computer
In spite of that publisher's opinion, the book quickly
became a best-seller among technical titles, running through more than twenty
printings and staying in print for twenty-five yearsuntil they sold the
rights in 1996 to another company. After some negotiating, I acquired control
of the rights and asked Dorset House to publish this Silver Anniversary edition.
I had several reasons for doing so:
1. to make the book available to a new
generation of software people
2. to offer a sense of history that is often
lacking in our field
3. to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
didn't do it to update the field of software psychology. For one thing, Ben Shneiderman
and others are doing a much better job of that than I could. For another, as Ben
once remarked, the book is really more about software anthropology than software
psychologyand I've continued to write about that in my other books.
of all, I think, I wanted to pause and take stock of where I had come in twenty-five
years. Though the first edition may not have been a turning point for the industry,
it was a turning point for me. Since that time, I've written far less code and
done little managing of groups. On the other hand, I've trained thousands of programmers
and team leaders, and I've consulted on hundreds of software projects. I've done
more code reviewing, designing, design reviewing, requirements development, and
requirements reviews. I've especially spent a lot of time training would-be software
managers and consulting with them.
Part of me still wishes I could just
go back to writing code, full time, and not dwell upon these "other"
issues. That's a common feeling in the industry.
One thing I can see clearly
now is that the first edition of The Psychology of Computer Programming
was a prescription for my own studies, such as the study of teams. I've spent
two and one-half decades filling in those topics that seemed both important and
insufficiently understood. Looking at the books I've written during that period,
I can now clearly see myself filling the "holes." In the period between
1991 and 1997, I decided to wrap up all I knew about the management of software
efforts and software people in the four-volume Quality Software Management
Dorset House series, taking up the psychological subjects of systems thinking,
measurement, action, and change.
With the QSM series, I felt that
I had wrapped up the subject that I had started to explore a quarter-century earlier.
Looking back over these years, especially with the perspective of the first edition
of Psychology, I see that I turned out to be a worse prognosticator than
I thought, but to my credit, I anticipated as much. Actually, to put the emotional
component on it, it was just like any technical reviewworse than I'd hoped,
but not as bad as I'd feared.
For this Silver Anniversary edition, I decided
to take my own advice to reviewees and not try to hide my errors, for they would
be the source of the most learning for my readers. I decided to leave the original
text as it wasantiques and allfor your illumination, and simply to
add some "wisdom of hindsight" remarks whenever the spirit moved me.
I hope you find the perspective brought by this time-capsule contrast as useful
to you as they were to me.