The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder is one of the best books I have read in my life. The book is a chronicle of how project Eagle came into being at the company Data Central and its progress. The most important thing about the book is it doesn’t chronicle the technological milestones, rather the people and their (let me say) soul.
One thing that really struck me is how those engineers involved were portrayed as human beings who were vulnerable, who feared, who were unsure yet persisted and how it was not a super-human who carried it forward. Having born so late into this world when computers were already ubiquitous, and the people who were involved in their development had already become cult idols, it struck me very differently, giving a grasp into the reality.
Personally speaking– I, for one thing, clearly understood the meaning of “bigger than oneself”. The looked back 7-15 years in my life and understand why certain things happened that way.
Some of the things that I highlighted while reading is:
Most Engineers, I think, consider themselves to be professionals, like doctors or lawyers, and though some of it clearly serves only the interests of corporations, engineers do have a professional code. Among its tenets is the general idea that the engineer’s right environment is a highly structured one, in which only right and wrong answers exist. It’s a binary world; the computer might be its paradigm. And many engineers seem to aspire to be binary people within it. No wonder. The prospect is alluring. It doesn’t matter if you’re ugly or graceless or even half crazy, if you produce right results in this world, your colleagues must accept you…
West usually left to work for a little after seven in the morning and set out for home a little less than twelve hours later. The drive took only about twenty minutes, but the distance he traveled couldn’t be measured that way.
Engineers are supposed to stand among the privileged members of industrial enterprises, but …. are not content with their jobs. Among the terms used to describe their malaise are declining technical challenge, misutilization; limited freedom of action; tight control of working patterns. No one who made it through the Eagle project could in fairness have raised such objections.
I think, there are actually far more important lines to note and I haven’t done it because I was enjoying it so much I didn’t want to spoil it by stopping to read and do highlighting.