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Mike Riley

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The Passionate Programmer Book Review

April 28, 2009

Chad Fowler, well-known author and Ruby on Rails community organizer, has updated and changed the title of his previous book to this 2009 incarnation of his ideas on what constitutes a passionate programmer.  Read on to find out if this revised edition succeeds.

Chad's story of how he discovered his work passion is similar to many developers I know.  Realizing this as both an interesting story and a revelation in what constitutes the core of outstanding star developer attributes, The Passionate Programmer: Creating A Remarkable Career in Software Development, reveals the author's personal story and his distilled discoveries along the way.

The Passionate Programmer is the second edition of sorts of the author's earlier book, "My Job Went to India (And All I Got Was This Lousy Book): 52 Ways to Save Your Job."  Chad concedes in his introduction that the original book's title and cover image of a guy holding up a sign that said 'Will Code for Food' "was funny, and its title and shocking red cover were meant to play on the Western world’s fears that their jobs were going to be outsourced to low-cost offshore programming teams."  Chad continues, " The problem, though, is that it painted the wrong picture. The truth of the matter is, if you need to “save” your job, I can’t help you. This book isn’t about struggling to maintain the level of mediocrity required not to get fired. It’s about being awesome. It’s about winning."

Honestly, it was because of the flippant original title's shock value that I had little interest in reading the first edition.  I am not much interested for alarmist, reactionary call-to-arms propaganda, and while I am certain this was not Chad's original intent, his book's cover communicated blurred intentions.  When I saw the title The Passionate Programmer, I was immediately compelled to investigate, knowing how important that passion  for the craft must emanate from within.  Like many readers, I have met both those types of fellow employees that had 'followed the money' during the dot com heyday and those that programmed because they absolutely loved the challenge, learning opportunities and sheer joy of designing and coding innovative applications.  Nearly every one of those people who originally entered the practice for money have long since moved on to a different career while those who were deeply passionate about technology creation and propagation are now senior developers and CTO's.  In fact, I didn't even realize this was Chad's second edition until he disclosed it in his opening text.  After reading the book, I understand now the context of the original title but also how the new title embodies the book's contents so much more appropriately.

The book consists of 5 chapters: Choosing Your Market, Investing in Your Product, Executing, Marketing... Not Just for Suits and Maintaining Your Edge.  These topics somewhat remind me of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, right down to the last chapter's title nearly equivalent to Covey's 7th habit, "Sharpening the Saw".  What gives Chad's book the programmer's edge is the context for which it was written.  7 Habits is an excellent generic self-improvement guide while The Passionate Programmer kibitzes among coders, as if Mr. Covey became an application developer himself and was channeled through Mr. Fowler's writings.  There are several scenarios in the book that I could immediately relate to, nodding my head in agreement of the optimal outcome recommended by the author.  By the end of the book, I felt as though I had spent the day with a seasoned veteran of the software wars whose sage advice would help me avoid the snags in my own professional development while simultaneously giving me the insight to help foster the passion in like-minded peers and motivated direct reports.

Ultimately, the takeaway message from Chad's book is the same as mythologist Joseph Campbell.  "Follow your bliss."  When journalist Bill Moyers asked Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth, "What happens when you follow your bliss?" Campbell responded with the obvious - "You come to bliss."  The Passionate Programmer provides a guide for those who are following their bliss as well as a strong affirmation for those who have already arrived.




Title: The Passionate Programmer: Creating A Remarkable Career in Software Development
Author: Chad Fowler
Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf
ISBN: 978-1934356340
Price: $23.95 US

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