Exploring the strange and hazy days before nerds ruled the earth, tech writer Steve Lohr's Go To: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists and Iconoclasts--The Programmers Who Created the Software Revolution is a great introduction to the softer side of the Information Age. Sure, he covers the Microsoft and Apple stories, but he also digs deeply to learn how Fortran and COBOL were developed and ventures into the open-source world. Lohr is adept at personalising the process of software development, which serves to make some of the business and technical decisions more comprehensible to the lay reader.
IBM conducted yearly employee reviews called the "Performance Improvement Program" or Pip, for short. The Pip, like most such programs today, followed a rigid formula, with numbers and rankings. [John] Backus decided the Pip system was ill suited for measuring the performance of his programmers, so his approach was to mostly ignore it. One afternoon, for example, he called Lois Haibt over for a chat. He talked about her work, said she had been doing an excellent job and then pushed a small piece of paper across the desk saying, "This is your new salary," a pleasing raise, as Haibt recalled. As she got up to leave, Backus mentioned in passing, "In case anyone should ask, this was your Pip."
Since he starts early in the history of the field, Lohr gets to share some of the oddities of the days before programming was professionalised. Developers were kids, musicians, game experts, and practically anyone who showed an interest. Many readers will be surprised and delighted to read of the strong recruitment of women and their many contributions to software development--an aspect of geek history, which has long been neglected. Go To should break down a few preconceptions while building up a new respect for the coders who guided us into the 21st century. --Rob Lightner [via]