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Mike Riley

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97 Things Every Programmer Should Know Book Review

March 22, 2010

I have always found reading and listening to what experienced peers in the software development business have to say about their craft. So it was with great anticipation that I anticipated reading O'Reilly's compilation from the book's coding contributors. Did it satisfy? Read on to find out.97 Things Every Programmer Should Know reprints the thoughts of 73 semi-known, mainly US-based software developers. Each idea is granted two pages to expound upon. Some of these expositions could have been condensed into a single paragraph (indeed, some could have even been distilled into a single sentence) while others could have benefited from an additional page or two (including those submitted by OOP guru Robert Martin, or Greg Colvin's "Know Your Limits" entry).

Unfortunately, most of the ideas presented in this book are already well known by career software developers, and while their echoing by such industry luminaries offers positive reinforcement of their presented principles, there is little new to learn. Perhaps the book's target market was intended for greenhorns and CS students, though I can think of several other books to offer such a demographic.

I finished reading the book in about an hour and only re-read a handful of the entries as thoughtful reminders. The rest of the ideas presented in the book were either woefully obvious (learn continuously, use version control) or near-redundant (beauty is in simplicity, simplicity comes from reduction). Such is the problem with a book hosting many authors. While I'm sure editor Kevlin Henney grappled with organizing and minimizing the book's failure to stay DRY, there's only so much one can reshape before losing the author's voice.

In conclusion, I was disappointed in this overpriced book. Developers interested in reading about what other programmers think should refer to what some of the contributors in this book had referenced. The two most memorable for me are Joel Spolsky's matter-of-fact real-world Joel on Software, and the excellent The Pragmatic Programmer by Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas. Indeed, 97 Things could have been condensed down to just 2: read Joel's and the Pragmatic Programmer's books for a more meaningful and enlightening experience.

Title: 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know Edited By: Kevlin Henney Publisher: O'Reilly Media ISBN: 978-0-596-80948-5 Pages: 256 Price: $29.99 US

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