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The Mythical Man Month
Frederick P. Brooks Jr.
This enduring classic is often a feature of “top 10” lists and still resonates 34 years after it first appeared. The book is organised into a number of essays on various aspects of software engineering, mainly from a management perspective. It is fascinating to hear Fred Brooks advocate two tools that “are still not widely used” - High-Level Language and Interactive Programming. It is these sections that demonstrate the book’s age; but that doesn’t mean to say it has aged badly. I enjoyed all the essays in the book and found it educational to compare the problems Fred encountered around 1975 with the problems I encounter today.
Some of the essays contained within this book have entered into programming folklore, including No silver bullet and the essay that gives the book its name, The Mythical Man Month; the source of the now famous “Brooks’s law:
Adding manpower to a late sofware project makes it later.”
In addition to the original text, the 1995 edition (reviewed) adds new chapters that revisit the key themes of the book. One example where Fred Brooks has changed his view regards “Build One To Throw Away”. Fred Brooks now points out that there is an implicit mistake in this statement; the assumption that the classical sequential (or waterfall) model of software construction is being followed. Today the waterfall model has been widely replaced by an incremental model (agile). This extra content offers a fascinating insight into how times have changed in the last 30+ years. At the same time, it is equally fascinating to see what hasn't changed!
Today I am more convinced than ever. Conceptual intergrity is central to product quality. Having a system architect is the most important single step toward conceptual integrity.”
The book itself is well written and eminantly readable and well referenced without the references getting in the way. Chapter 18 also provides a very handy list of “propositions” from the entire book; a sort of one-chapter summary.
This is a book I would definitely recommend to anyone involved in software management or development.