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317 comments

Still one of the best "I-was-there" books (3, Interesting)

ab762 (138582) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463121)

Fred's account of the 360 project still has lessons to teach, despite the intervening years. If you haven't read it, go read it.

It has helped me tremendously (2, Insightful)

Dan667 (564390) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463238)

the surgeon team, advice that more people does not necessarily make the project get done faster, no silver bullet, and on and on. Great information and even dated stories on things like the conversion of paper to microfiche is entertaining as well...

Re:Still one of the best "I-was-there" books (4, Interesting)

LittleGuy (267282) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463257)

Fred's account of the 360 project still has lessons to teach, despite the intervening years. If you haven't read it, go read it.

And from an outsider's view of another "I Was There" project, try Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. Both books were required reading in Computer Science at college about 20 years ago.

Now, is MMM still relevant in the current Microsoft-dominant environment, with a new Operating System every few years, impacting software development? Is the concept of software development still valid, or is it a matter of hobbling "off the shelf" solutions together?

Re:Still one of the best "I-was-there" books (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463337)

Now, is MMM still relevant in the current Microsoft-dominant environment, with a new Operating System every few years

Not to be picky but Microsoft is hardly putting out an OS every few years. Most companies are still using Windows 2000 which is by my math over 4 years old and Longhorn is still way off. And you also make it seem like this Microsoft domination is something new. It's been that way for pretty much over a decade now.

All that aside, a lot of in-house application development is either focusing on webbased platforms (ASP, PHP, JSP, etc.) or in platform independent languages.

Re:Still one of the best "I-was-there" books (1)

LittleGuy (267282) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463444)

Not to be picky but Microsoft is hardly putting out an OS every few years. Most companies are still using Windows 2000 which is by my math over 4 years old and Longhorn is still way off. And you also make it seem like this Microsoft domination is something new. It's been that way for pretty much over a decade now.

Just pointing out that between now and when TMMM came out, you have the rise of the microcomputers (Apple and the IBM Clones) and the operating systems which run them (DOS, Windows, Mac, Linux, et. al).

Does Brooks' model change from that when the behemoth computers of the 60's walked the Tech World?

Re:Still one of the best "I-was-there" books (3, Insightful)

robnauta (716284) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463418)

Actually I believe it was about OS/370 ? The main point was that when a team makes a first OS, it'll be small, fast, elegant, essentials-only. When they then make their second OS, it will have all the 'cool' features in it that they scrapped in the first one, and the result will be a bloated, slow, complex and buggy monster.

Re:Still one of the best "I-was-there" books (3, Informative)

Detritus (11846) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463525)

It was OS/360.

It's called the "second-system effect".

Am I the only one... (3, Interesting)

byolinux (535260) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463123)

...who'd never heard of this book?

Maybe I'm just uneducated, or maybe it's an American thing... here in England, we probably have dozens of books that are unknown anywhere else.

Re:Am I the only one... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463180)

"Maybe I'm just uneducated, or maybe it's an American thing... here in England, we probably have dozens of books that are unknown anywhere else. "

I'm from England. I love that book and it was taught to us as a college set text. so it's not an Americvan thing ;)

Re:Am I the only one... (1)

plumby (179557) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463200)

I'm in England and pretty much everyone I know in my IT dept. has at least come across "The Mythical Man Month", if not read it.

It was probably the first non-technical IT book I read (many years ago), and I remember it had a very big influence on me back then. I really ought to re-read it.

Re:Am I the only one... (4, Informative)

baywulf (214371) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463270)

It is a very thin book but I have only skimmed through it. The name of the book basically comes from this idea...

If you were for example painting a big house or something it my take one man two months to complete. But if you had two men then it takes one month. The more people you add the faster the job it done. So we often talk about how many man months are needed to complete a job. But that are many tasks that cannot be made faster by adding more people. Brooks states that programming is one of those tasks. Adding too many people to the programming effort will only make it take longer because of interdependencies, communication and coordination required. The programmer and time are not fungible. We cannot simple expect to complete a project that takes 1 man 18 months with 18 men in 1 month. As you add more men the time improvements become less and less.

Re:Am I the only one... (1)

byolinux (535260) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463383)

That's what I need... a decent synopsis of the book.

Barnes and Noble's website couldn't offer that as far as I could see...

Thanks

Re:Am I the only one... (4, Insightful)

talexb (223672) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463385)

And in fact as you add more people it takes longer and longer.

The trick is to have a team just small enough that you get the project done as quickly as possible. It's sort of like the marginal revenue curve .. charge more and fewer people will buy the item, charge less and your profit is less.

But the comparison to a surgical team is apt: You don't add more surgeons, necessarily, you add assistants to hand instruments to the surgeon, keep tabs on the patient, hold the light, etc.

Re:Am I the only one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463387)

As my boss likes to say, 9 women can't have a baby in a month ....

Re:Am I the only one... (1)

IMarvinTPA (104941) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463586)

My favorite take on that is: "It still takes 9 months to have a baby, no matter how many women you assign the task."

Marv

Re:Am I the only one... (4, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463390)

The programmer and time are not fungible. We cannot simple expect to complete a project that takes 1 man 18 months with 18 men in 1 month. As you add more men the time improvements become less and less.

In other words, programmers tend to run afoul of Amdahl's Law [wlu.edu]. ;-)

Actually, Amdahl's Law would probably be a good way of calculating the maximum effective team size. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to ascertain a value for the "work" needed on a project. Not to mention the "human factor" of programmers who are faster, less experienced programmers, and "cowboy coders" who refuse to check any of their work into version control.

Re:Am I the only one... (4, Informative)

YetAnotherName (168064) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463402)

Right. My favorite way of helping "managers" see this is by rhetorically asking, "So, why can't nine women make a baby in just one month?"

A simpler metaphor (1)

epepke (462220) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463456)

You can't get a baby in one month by making nine women pregnant.

Re:A simpler metaphor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463537)

Yes but I can try, dammit.

Re:Am I the only one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463498)

Sounds like the pregnant woman theory to me....
If it takes nine months for a woman to have a baby, how long will it take nine women to have a baby?

Re:Am I the only one... (5, Funny)

fijimf (676893) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463591)

Since one human year equals seven dog years, couldn't we save time while keeping the team size small by hiring dogs as developers?

Re:Am I the only one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463512)

I'm English and I'm reading the Mythical Man Month right now. I've been meaning to buy it for years.

Maybe I'm just uneducated, or maybe it's an American thing..

I'd wager it's the former. Do you read The Daily Mirror by any chance?

Re:Am I the only one... (1)

gorre (519164) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463671)

I've heard of the book but never read it. Before I start my third year at university though I have a list of books the department recommends I read over the summer and this book is on it. Can somebody tell me if it's really worth reading, I mean is there anything in this book except the (seemingly obvious*) observation that adding more people to a project doesn't make it finish faster and actually may in fact cause problems making it take longer?

* Although perhaps it only seems obvious now and wasn't before this book was written.

fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463125)

This is my first post! omg!

Compression (4, Funny)

14erCleaner (745600) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463135)

Since all the blather about "internet time" in the intervening years, I'm surprised they didn't re-release it under a new title:
The Mythical Man-Week.

Re:Compression (5, Funny)

14erCleaner (745600) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463343)

Although now that I think of it, they could also kowtow to modern sensibilities vis-a-vis gender and religion by retitling it:
The Hypothetical Person-Week

Switch to the metric month! (5, Funny)

Hamlet D'Arcy (316713) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463144)

My company used to have a lot of problems with the mythical man month... that is until we switched to metric month.
We've found that we get a lot more accomplished by switching to the 10 day work week and 10 hour work days.

Now, if only Swatch would come out with a metric time piece.

Re:Switch to the metric month! (3, Funny)

byolinux (535260) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463183)

Now, if only Swatch would come out with a metric time piece.

Psh. Real geeks use binary [thinkgeek.com].

A must read since it uses "Modus Operandi" instead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463154)

of the more familiar, watered down version, Mmmm...Ohhhhh..., one of the favorite abbreviations of the "nucular" club.

Updated 20 year old book... (0, Troll)

CmdrTostado (653672) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463157)

he should have revised the title to something a little less gender biased. This is 2004 after all.

Re:Updated 20 year old book... (1)

CmdrTostado (653672) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463181)

Oh, i'm sorry, they didn't update the book. This guy just got it read and reviewed. My mistake.

Re:Updated 20 year old book... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463446)

Perhaps he should have formed a team of 20 reader/reviewers and they could have had this review done 1 year after the book was published (unless he knew he was behind schedule then it would have taken longer than it did alone) ..... what's that equation again...

Re:Updated 20 year old book... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463223)

What would you propose as an alternative, The Mythical Woman Month?

Re:Updated 20 year old book... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463295)

Given the popularity of misandry in western culture, I think he should update the title to be even more gender biased.

Re:Updated 20 year old book... (1)

RocketSHE (686478) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463360)

1975, when men were men, and women were men, and .... At least the old gender-confused language beats the current practice of calling people "heads".

Re:Updated 20 year old book... (1)

surreal-maitland (711954) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463429)

as a female software engineer, i would argue that the title is not gender biased. the phrase in use is man month, not person period or woman week or anything else. people use the words man or mankind to refer to both genders all the time. it doesn't make them sexist, as long as you don't imply that a woman-month would be anything different.

Re:Updated 20 year old book... (2, Insightful)

surreal-maitland (711954) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463665)

or maybe i just didn't realize you were kidding. there are plenty of people who don't joke about these things. :)

what a stupid article (4, Insightful)

ror omg wtf (789247) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463166)

next on slashdot, O'Reilley makes fun of Henry Ford for not using computer controlled robots on the assembly line.

Re:what a stupid article (1)

byolinux (535260) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463513)

Er.. we're all controlled by computers. Haven't you seen that documentary? The Matrix!

The more things change ... (5, Informative)

YetAnotherName (168064) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463170)

Brooks put forth a lot of good ideas, some of which morphed and/or were independently discovered and some that were true then as they are today. For example, he says, "Build one to throw away." Amen to that.

Another concept he brought to light was originally Harlan Mills's, that of making the programming team like a surgical team. A surgeon, or chief programmer, has primary architectural, design, and implementation responsibility, but is assisted by a copilot, administrator, editor, two secretaries, and a program clerk.

While I've never seen such a team, I have witnessed pair programming that the XP (not Windows, eXtreme Programming) folks praise, and it works quite well. It may not be a full-fledged surgical team as Brooks would've liked, but the productivity of a pilot on the keyboard and a copilot following after every little mistake certainly improves productivity.

Re:The more things change ... (1)

CmdrTostado (653672) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463234)

I want the dude helping my surgeon to be a surgeon's assistant, no some layed off co-pilot, that picked up a easy job at the hospital.

Re:The more things change ... (4, Interesting)

TomorrowPlusX (571956) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463357)

An anecdote about XP...

My first programming gig was writing device diagnostics for prototype set-top boxes in the mid-nineties. I was still in college, and my programming experience was basically just C -- and on windows and mac machines ( I was a kid ).

The lead programmer could tell I had potential, but knew that the only way I'd be able to do a good job was to work *with* him, since I had to learn VI and learn how to work on an old sparc ( where we crosscompiled for the embedded platform ) he figured the learning curve would be easier if he sat at the keyboard and I went over the algorithms alongside him.

It worked beautifully; we shared responsibility and caught eachother's bugs. After a while as I demonstrated that I was catching up ( read: I learned vi ), we began to take turns as keyboard jockey -- but regardless our combined productivity was much greater than by ourselves.

The comeraderie was great. He was an old-school AT&T programmer and I had a hoot working with him and he had a hoot teaching me how to write *tight* low level code.

The only troublesome part was, since we were developing a precursor to modern video on demand boxes, and it was back in 1995, we had a distinct lack of movie-length mpegs to test against. So we had only _Demolition Man_ and _The Crush_... Which means that for proper testing I must have seen each at least 100 times during my employment there.

Plus we were testing picture in picture and looping stuff for multiple mpeg streams and this meant I sometimes would be watcing demolition man while Alicia Silverstone's stunt-butt scene would loop *forever* in a mini-window.

It drove me mad.

Re:The more things change ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463616)

Hmmm. Couldnt help but empathise with the video sotry there. In the mod 90s I was writing audio/video streaming software. I had test files that tested various properties of the codecs(ie one would have heavy base, one would have lotsa high freq, one was a sine wave(one and just BTW... Korns song Freak On a Leash starts with an almost pure sine wave in case anyones interested)). Anywas... I have about a dozen songs and a couple of movie indelibly etched into my neurons.

Re:The more things change ... (4, Interesting)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463403)

One of things that advances like email and voicemail have cost us is the elimination of secretaries and clerks.

Those workers carried alot of instituional knowledge and brought alot of unseen benefits to organizations.

Build one to throw away (3, Insightful)

Smallpond (221300) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463425)

Hey, Boss, we're going to do all the development work needed to create the product, then we're going to pitch it, take what we've learned and start over.

Donald: You're fired!

My Thoughts (2, Interesting)

USAPatriot (730422) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463186)

If I've learned one thing it's that in IS/IT/CS you either adapt and move on or you end up doing tech support on the midnight shift. Plain and simple. I think Fred Brooks touched on it in "The Mythical Man Month" when he said that computer programming will never be a mature field because to excel in it you must always be changing your language focus. Lets face it, all one has to do is take a quick look at the demand for certain skill sets on the net to get a pretty good feel for what's relevant today and I'm not sure c++ is anywhere on that radar screen. Most of my work as of late has been all Java and c#, with some legacy C programming done (on low level systems only of course, nobody would pay someone by the hour to have app level work done in C these days) Sometimes I wonder when I hear people complain about how the CS industry tends to shun the old timers when the truth is that a lot of these old timers are trying to hang on to legacy technology like C++ or perl when the industry has moved onto bigger and better things.

Re:My Thoughts (1)

byolinux (535260) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463220)

Didn't Microsoft say that C++ was still the best way to develop for Windows?

I'm doing C# mostly now.

Typo... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463255)

You put "bigger and better things", that should read "bigger and slower things".

Re:My Thoughts (4, Insightful)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463263)

Kinda funny. All that trash talk over the decades about C++ versus C, and who is still here.

Like I care, I do most of my work in scripting languages. (IncrTCL if anyone cares.)

Re:My Thoughts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463637)

TCL, like most programs, is written in C.

$ tar tvf tcl8.5a1-src.tar | grep "\.c" | wc
174 1044 13728

Re:My Thoughts (1)

BigGar' (411008) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463646)

Kinda funny. All that trash talk over the decades about C++ versus C, and who is still here.

Ummmm, COBOL??

Re:My Thoughts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463469)

the truth is that a lot of these old timers are trying to hang on to legacy technology like C++ or perl when the industry has moved onto bigger and better things.

Assembly, C, and Perl. There may be bigger things, but there are none better.

A Classic Book (3, Interesting)

CharAznable (702598) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463190)

The Mythical Man Month is the canonical text for managing software projects. I told my non-techie boss to read it before asking me to do stuff, so what he has an idea of what is reasonable, what is not, and what kind of hurdles we might encounter.

Re:A Classic Book (5, Insightful)

NeoFunk (654048) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463245)

Yeah, I think you're right here - I think the problem is that most techies read this book and roll their eyes and say "yeah, tell me something I DON'T know". However, I think it would be a quite valuable read for a non-techie boss-type who wants to successfully "manage" a software project

They should make this book required reading in all MBA programs, in other words :)

Re:A Classic Book (3, Informative)

jbelcher56 (694028) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463618)

It's funny you should mention this. I am finishing up my MBA (MIS concentration) and in my system analysis and design class, we studied nearly all of the topics discussed in this book. I believe the text that we used even cited many passages from this book. We then had to complete a group project, which forced us to utilize the material in a somewhat realistic setting (creating a project time tracking app). So the MBA's that want to work in technology are getting at least exposed to this. Hopefully this will make for better management, but who know's.

Re:A Classic Book (2, Funny)

barzok (26681) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463355)

But did he learn anything?

Re:A Classic Book (1)

CharAznable (702598) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463503)

Well, he's being exceptionally patient, so I suppose he did!
the interesting thing, is that everything is going exactly as the book said it would.. We're getting ready to throw out the first one!

Re:A Classic Book (1)

Cragen (697038) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463632)

hey, most of us /.'ers don't RTFA, but he wants his boss to RTFB?

(IANA/BIPOIRF: I am not a /.'er but I play one in real life.)

Lions, Tigers, and Gods! Oh, MY!

Re:A Classic Book (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463542)

I told my non-techie boss to read it before asking me to do stuff

I asked my boss too, telling him it should not take more than an hour to read it. He said he has no time and told his two secretaries to read it and come back in half an hour with a recapitulation of it.

A wonderful dissection (4, Funny)

tcopeland (32225) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463191)

Well done indeed:

================
Regarding source code documentation:

"The most serious objection is the increase in the size of the source code that must be stored. As the discipline moves more and more toward on-line storage of source code, this has become a growing consideration. I find myself being briefer in comments to an APL program, which will live on disk, then on a PL/I one that I will store as cards."

For who among us is this not true? Honestly, you just can't shut me up on cards.
================

Definitely worth a read. To coin a phrase: LOL.

Re:A wonderful dissection (1)

Alomex (148003) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463543)

Funny, indeed, but somewhat childish. TMMM contains so many deep truths that it seems shallow to focus on the out-of-date parts of it. To quote the chinese proverb:

When the sage points to the sky, the idiot sees the finger.

Re:A wonderful dissection (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463579)

"The most serious objection is the increase in the size of the source code that must be stored. As the discipline moves more and more toward on-line storage of source code, this has become a growing consideration. I find myself being briefer in comments to an APL program, which will live on disk, then on a PL/I one that I will store as cards."

For who among us is this not true? Honestly, you just can't shut me up on cards.


It was these types of snarky comments that put me off of the review. He at least labeled then as "impudent", but still they smacked of condescension and a lack of appreciation of the technical limitations the industry faced 30 years ago.

This might be well done in a more humorous setting, but to make fun of the book on one hand and make serious commentary as well struck me as inappropriate at best.

yes it was "kiloherz" and "kilobytes" in the 1960s (3, Insightful)

peter303 (12292) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463205)

Moores law predicts an increase of a thousand every 15 years. We are now in gigas, transitting into teras 40 years later.
A lot of basic technology in compilers, OSes, user interfaces, and artificial intelligence was invented under those terrible constraints.

Man Mythical Month (1, Interesting)

NeoFunk (654048) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463207)

A year ago, I was in a software engineering class where the professor made us read this book.

The only thing about this experience that sticks out in my mind is that the professor always referred to the book at the "Man Mythical Month". It was kind of hard to take any of the in-class discussions seriously with this going on. He knew his stuff, too; he clearly understood the concept of the "man month" and the mysticism surrounding it, yet he continued to hilariously butcher the title day in and day out.

The book itself was halfway interesting, but it didn't say anything that anybody with a couple years of software engineering experience didn't already know.

Victory to the Mujahideen in Iraq! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463235)

Tahya al-Moqawamah al-Iraqiyah, motherfuckers, and death to American imperialists.

Perpetual Conflicts of Interest (5, Interesting)

Moblaster (521614) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463240)

Man months will always be mythical. Unfortunately, it's frequently in the interest of technical workers to provide their clients (internal or external) overly optimistic assessments of project feasibility. That's apart from the naturally rosy estimates of one's one programming/system admin abilities, versus a sober understanding of the full complexity of a project.

It's also hard convincing "novice" customers that will buy into the experience-proven truth that small feasibility projects make the bigger projects cheaper, more productive and more deadline-friendly. The instant gratification complex of customers is at much at fault as the hunger to get and keep jobs among the IT workers.

Also, programmers usually get into programming through hacking, pleasure programming, or other forms of "undisciplined" programming. Often, the impulsive "go at it" style is the only one they know and enjoy. That causes problems too. As anyone who has ever tried project-managing programmers tends to find out, managing programmers (especially newer ones) is a bit like herding cats.

The one ugly truth nobody likes to talk about is that buggy/complicated systems help ensure jobs. Let's face it... the fact that Microsoft software crashes a lot creates good opportunities for consultants and IT staffs to justify their jobs. And does anyone think that Oracle would have grown into a multi-billion company if there weren't so many highly trained DBAs/High Priests running around promoting its mysterious wonders? Who knows how quickly this foul fruit will sour when all of this rot is billed by the hour?

Mothman Prophecies and Point Pleasent (-1, Offtopic)

ecliptik (160746) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463284)

After seeing the Mothman Prophecies [imdb.com], I realized that Point Pleasent West Virginia was pretty close to where I was going to school last year, so I took a trip down there.

The town has a very strange feeling to it, but they're proud of their strange legacy, and are very willing to talk to you about it. The vistors center even features extensive Mothman information.

A good trip to take if you're interested in creepy urban legands, and makes for some cheap adventuring.

Here's a good site for some more info: Mothman Lives [mothmanlives.com]

Re:Mothman Prophecies and Point Pleasent (-1, Offtopic)

ecliptik (160746) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463374)

Whoops, not even close to being on topic, oh well, hopefully this is interesting still.

Open source (5, Insightful)

Unnngh! (731758) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463286)

From the article...

There is a certain smugness at work in the idea that the architect will make better decisions here than the user will. Certainly this view is out of favor now. We normally try to find out what the user wants (somehow) and then find a way to design our software to provide this to them in the most sensible manner we can envision. I can't imagine saying "no" to the user regarding a feature...

It seems that a lot of open source development actually adheres to the original architect premise here. In this case, the developer is the user and therefore knows best, at least for himself. I always find gathering requirements to be frustrating, and it never feels like a completed task. Especially when the developer is green in whatever industry they're developing to, the users can kill the usability of an app by nitpicking it to death--there is no real overall vision.

It's a shame, IMO...

Re:Open source (3, Funny)

rjstanford (69735) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463317)

Especially when the developer is green in whatever industry they're developing to, the users can kill the usability of an app by nitpicking it to death--there is no real overall vision.

So... if the developer tries to do something in a field that he has no exposure to, and the users complain that he's missed the point, its somehow their fault? Hmm... whatever.

Re:Open source (1)

Unnngh! (731758) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463373)

Well, if they missed the point, that is not good, and the users should obviously be able to point that out. But I have often seen users give one explanation of how something works, change their mind completely on the mechanics of the thing halfway through the project, then hand it off to another user with differing opinions. Good project management should forego this but it's often just developer-user with little intervention. The Mythical Man Month provides good pointers for someone in this position, actually.

Funny how Willis... (4, Insightful)

jbellis (142590) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463287)

takes TMMM as an endorsement of everything XP. That's not what I took home from it...

I guess eye of the beholder and all that. :)

Infantile review (5, Insightful)

Thagg (9904) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463375)

I believe it was Mark Twain that said "History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes."

Picking on Fred Brooks' TMMM by noting it's anacrhonisms is about the most juvenile thing I can imagine. I can only surmise that the alleged reviewer was forced to read the book by somebody he did not like, and while he read the words he certainly didn't extrapolate the lessons to his present day situations.

When I re-read The Mythical Man Month I can see, in every paragraph, perfect analogies to my work today, and the work I see of other people in other fields. I can't wait to have the reviewer look at The Soul of the New Machine and laugh about how people used to build CPUs out of discrete parts, and how therefore none of the lessons of that book have any applicability today.

Who hasn't seen -- or lived -- an example of Brooks's "The Second System Effect?" The movie that I just finished working on, The Chronicles of Riddick was precisely an example of that paradigm with respect to Pitch Black. Every page of the chapter on The Second System Effect has one-to-one correspondences to the work on this movie.

There are few things that I'm dogmatic about -- but Everybody needs to read this book!

Thad Beier

Re:Infantile review (4, Insightful)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463641)

Not only does everyone need to read this book, it needs to be kept on the shelf right next to their reference material.

It's a book that requires a mature mindset to appreciate properly. (Kind of like object oriented programming.) It only makes sense after you yourself have hit the very walls the book describes.

Shanon's theorum states that information is measured by it's surprise, what you weren't expecting. This book is one non-intuitive (at least to the layman) observation after another. But they are all true. And they all make sense once you are in the feild.

It's that "you would have had to have been there" they makes the book such a difficult read to the layman and the newb. It's also what makes it so damn interesting to the veteren. You know you are ready for the book when every chapter you feel relief that you aren't the only person in the world who has gone through that.

Ed may be missing the point... (5, Insightful)

landoltjp (676315) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463395)

[in response to a passage about developers needing their own machine (singular), and that it is supported]

I just bet this is the root of all my problems -- I have not one but two machines all to myself at work. Do I have any systems programmers or operators? Not a one. It's a miracle I can accomplish anything at all, under the circumstances.

Ed is missing the point here. I think that such a comment by the original author was based on the time-share days, not the more modern workstation days. "Back then", you all worked on terminals and did batch work on a central frame. Nowadays, the central server is good for no more than saving your Pr0n

If one were to generalize, I think that it would be better to say that "Teams building core applications need a dedicated developent environment in which to work; a system that is up to the task, properly isolated, and properly supported"

Re:Ed may be missing the point... (4, Insightful)

tommasz (36259) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463528)

Brooks was writing in a time and for a time. Ed, as you've noticed, is reading the book in the now. Nothing wrong with that, but he spends far too much time in the beginning of the article laughing at Brooks' words and examples and too little time at the end in dealing with the principles that Brooks was trying to get across. Since the book is still widely read, it would have been far more helpful if he had stuck to a critique of Brooks' points in terms of today's software development environment.

Re:Ed may be missing the point... (1)

adam872 (652411) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463548)

I run a systems environment for a software development and testing team right now and I can tell you that Brooks' comment is as true now as it was then. My experience is that the Software Engineers I work with are great at writing and testing software and not so good at managing systems. This is OK, as they have someone like me who has complementary skills in that area. I have just inherited a collection of machines that were previously run by a small group of developers (Solaris, Linux and Window). What a shambles!

So, I don't buy the author's opinion that System Admins are not necessary in a development shop. Bollocks I say. They should be spending 100% of their time gathering requirements, designing, building and testing and leave the mundane systems stuff to someone who is trained to do it. Just because you cut code in C++ or Java doesn't mean that you know anything about systems.

Re:Ed may be missing the point... (4, Insightful)

kpharmer (452893) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463626)

> frame. Nowadays, the central server is good for no more than saving your Pr0n

No, things haven't chanaged that much on many software projects.

Want to develop with real data? It often makes sense to share a development database - that can be designed, populated, and maintained by the dba.

Developing large, complex analytical applications? Is your production destination a massive cluster? Then you'll probably need a development environment that's at least a small cluster. And no - every developer doesn't get their own cluster.

Need to interface with MQSeries, Websphere, a content manager, and a workflow manager? You really don't want to spend the time to get all that crap working on everyone's pc. Once again, you'll be way better off sharing a development server.

etc, etc.

Zeno's Paradox (2, Interesting)

TXP (592446) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463412)

Part of the reason for a mythical man month in my opinion is zeno's paradox. Lead Developers create massive amounts of code and then expect the hired help to come along and understand all of their code and as well produce work of their own. Just as the hired help catchs up in understanding the Lead Developer has already replaced or added more code. It is the responsibility of the Lead Developer to create and section off as much of their's and others code as possible through API's libs, jars... Create as many Black boxes's as possible. Take responsibility for your own black box. Of course this is going to break down quickly when someone starts writing broken black boxs. Then you end up playing the blame game.

Old Timers Take on the MMM (3, Insightful)

stinkyfingers (588428) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463414)

I worked for a guy who wasn't very technical. He was old school Navy, but he knew all the contacts in the government so he could keep them at bay while we were trying to write software. He used to say ... Three men and a woman can't make a baby in 3 months.

Re:Old Timers Take on the MMM (1)

TrentL (761772) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463441)

Three men and a woman can't make a baby in 3 months.

Yes, but these days one man and one woman can make 7 babies in 9 months.

Re:Old Timers Take on the MMM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463473)

That's odd, the Navy guy that I knew used to say that three men could make a woman in one night.

Re:Old Timers Take on the MMM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9463494)

"Crash programs fail because they are based on theory that, with nine women
pregnant, you can get a baby a month."

Wernher von Braun

Re:Old Timers Take on the MMM (1)

xmas2003 (739875) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463672)

Just to echo that comment, the classic example I use to amplify Brook's theory that "throwing people" at the project won't make it get done any faster (and will often make it take longer) is that a woman can have a baby in 9 months, but 9 women can't have a baby in 1 month.

Yea, I know 9 women can have 9 babies in 9 months (i.e. you can multi-thread/process! ;-), but if you are focused on a specific project, what I say above applies.

I read this book a decade or two ago - haven't read it for years, but truly a classic in the field with a lot of it still applicable today.

Programming Large scale systems (4, Insightful)

plcurechax (247883) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463501)

I think Ed Willis missed one major point of Fred Brook's writing, and that is that when he was the manager of the OS/360 team, programming was focused on large system development. "Computers" weren't cheap microcomputers you store under the desk, but very expensive systems where priests (operators) in white robes (lab coats) keep it going, and commercial users were billed in dollars per seconds of computer time.

Brook's writing is focused on programming large systems like operating systems, or major Information Systems (IS) like bank's accounting, or a Wall-Mart's inventory system. These are still large complex tasks, which isn't done using a couple of programmers sitting side-by-side writing a bunch of code on a couple of PCs.

Willis' comparison to a classic book to modern programming method is laughable, because all those said modern methods (XP, Agile, iterative development, refactoring) were influenced by Brook's writings.

IMHO Willis' piece at ONLamp wasn't very insightful and didn't do much for me. I would recommend to any new or young programmer to read The Mythical Man-Month, it's consider a classic for a reason and don't get bogged down with the historic context in which it was written or trying to poorly graft modern programming paradigms onto MMM.

Project Managers can't read (3, Insightful)

_critic (145603) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463506)

When I began my most recent job as a Unix Sys Admin, I made a point of buying a copy the this book and giving it to the project manager. I think it's still gathering dust on a cube-shelf somewhere.

When I think of the problems we've encountered in the intervening years and how much time, energy, money and emotional stress would have been alleviated by simply understanding half of what Brooks covers in his book, I want to cry; okay, sometimes I want to just laugh maniacally . . .

silver bullet(s) (3, Insightful)

happyfrogcow (708359) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463572)

He admits freely the possibility that combinations of improvements may yield this order-of-magnitude improvement -- he draws the line at single factors. So there is no one, single silver bullet.

There is no such thing as multiple silver bullets. "silver bullet" is a term derived from killing werewolves, where it takes a single silver bullet to kill the beast. not 2, not 3, but one. One thing and it's done.

The author of the article implies that there may be several silver bullets. that's how i read this section. saying "so there is no one, single silver bullet" is redundant and alludes to the fact that there is a concept of multiple silver bullets. that's wrong.

there is no silver bullet. just leave well enough alone.

Ed Willis leaves a lot to be desired (2, Insightful)

rfc1394 (155777) | more than 9 years ago | (#9463607)

In his commentary on Brooks' work. There are a number of issues Willis comments about, including a 'sneer' at the software rent and memory rent. And other comments on the expensive costs of computers at that time. Realize Brooks' is talking about programming on mainframes, machines where you mostly did batch processing and served hundreds or thousands of users.

It wasn't all that long ago when parts for micro computers were expensive, very expensive. I remember when 16 megabytes of memory - and a lot slower than what is available now - cost US$400. I remember when an 80 megabyte hard drive cost US$420.00. I remember these prices because that's what I paid. This is less than 15 years ago. The availablility of really powerful computers for individuals at astonishingly low prices is an extremely recent development.

The lowering of prices (and the resultant raising of the standard of living for those who buy those things) has been going on for thousands of years, as long as we've had free markets to allow this to happen. But initially (or as long as someone has had monopoly control over supply) prices were high and often the items were difficult to obtain. As products become commodities, prices drop. This is why 640 MB CDs (commodity) are now as low as 16c each (qty. 100), 50c each qty. 1. 4,200 MB DVD-Rs are $1 each (qty 4), while 100MB zip disks (proprietary) are still about $8 each (almost no discount in quantity).

Willis is comparing terms and conditions now with the situation of (much worse scarcity) of 30-35 years ago, then cracks up in laughter at his own ignorance of the past.

Paul Robinson <Postmaster@paul.washington.dc.us [mailto]>
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