Study recommendations from Coders at Work

August 2015

Peter Seibel (the author of Coders at Work) asked all his interviewees how people could become better programmers. The responses mostly weren’t incredibly interesting, but here are a few:

I definitely became a better programmer while I was [at Lucid]. Largely because that was really the smartest group of people I’ve been around. Everyone who worked there was brilliant. –Jamie Zawinski

I got so much more involved in the open source community once I started going to all these conferences because then I would meet people and see who was respected, and who was cool. –Brad Fitzpatrick

Deal with people on mailing lists a lot. –Brad Fitzpatrick

One of the things I’ve been pushing is code reading. I think that is the most useful thing that a community of programmers can do for each other—spend time on a regular basis reading each other’s code. –Douglas Crockford

I should have exposed myself to more areas, inside and outside of computer science. The more things you learn and the younger you learn them, the better off you are. –Joshua Bloch

The really good programmers spend a lot of time programming. I haven’t seen very good programmers who don’t spend a lot of time programming. –Joe Armstrong

You were asking earlier what should one do to become a better programmer? Spend 20 percent of your time learning stuff—because it’s compounded. –Joe Armstrong

More interesting were the various specific things that the interviewees suggested reading or studying:

There was another book—what was it called?—about debugging, written by someone from Microsoft. –Jamie Zawinski

I’ve read a lot about APL and I understand why it lost, but it was really neat and I never spent any time with it and that was unfortunate. –Douglas Crockford

I did like Brian Kernighan’s books; I thought they were neat, because they would build up a small amount of code, and start reusing it as you go, and modularizing. And Knuth’s Art of Computer Programming, Volumes 1–3, especially the seminumerical stuff. –Brendan Eich

Another old one is Frederick Brooks’s The Mythical Man Month. –Joshua Bloch

There’s not much code out there that’s good enough that you could read it for fun. Knuth wrote some. Fraser and Hanson have a C compiler that is literate; it’s very good. –Douglas Crockford

Prolog is a beautiful language but not widely used… Prolog is so different to all the other programming languages. It’s just this amazing way of thinking. –Joe Armstrong

Well, you should definitely read Jon Bentley’s Programming Pearls. Speaking of pearls, Brian Hayes has a lovely chapter in this book Beautiful Code entitled, “Writing Programs for ‘The Book’” where I think by “The Book” he means a program that will have eternal beauty. –Simon Peyton Jones

Chris Okasaki’s book Purely Functional Data Structures. Fantastic. It’s like Arthur Norman’s course only spread out to a whole book. –Simon Peyton Jones

Read the books that tell you both the mechanics of language and the whole enterprise of debugging and testing: Code Complete or some equivalent of that. –Peter Norvig

You can go in and read the source to Linux, if you want to. Reading the source to TeX was a valuable exercise just because it was a large body of well-thought-out, well-debugged code. –Guy Steele

[Are there any books you’d recommend?] No. –Dan Ingalls

We ought to publish code. The Lions Book is available. And Bill Atkinson’s programs are now publicly available thanks to Apple, and it won’t be too long before we’ll be able to read that. –Donald Knuth

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