“We build our computer systems like we build our cities - over time, without a plan, on top of ruins.” — Ellen Ullman
…and was prompted to search the web for the author. Wasn't at all disappointed when I read this interview, and decided to share.
Airplanes crash, money is lost, data is stolen but nobody seems to care.
So we will keep winging it.
I also liked the interview posted by OP, it summarizes her opinions in a slightly different format. I somehow managed to miss it when I searched for interviews with her after reading the book. Thanks OP!
Things from the book that reverberated with me:
- Her relationship with her father, how she wrote some code to help him with his business. This mirrors a very similar experience I've had, writing simple applications for my dad during junior high and high school to help him with various things for his job. That was a sort of bonding between us.
- Her work in IBM, and how soul-crushingly it was, also reminding me of my first few months in a "real" job.
- Her work in a sort of artists' collective as a young woman, and how they slept in a remote farm and helped the farmer there. Which is wholly different from my own experience and therefore like a peek into a distant world, and yet very real.
- Her fluid sexuality - she had a girlfriend but is now married to a man, which the book mentions in passing but doesn't make a great deal of, which I found refreshing.
Edited to add: - Her descriptions of how San Francisco has changed over the years by the technology boom and bust cycles.
- How she almost became one of the first employees in Google because Larry Page was interested in her opinions.
And that quote from this book already referenced in a sibling comment, “We build our computer systems like we build our cities - over time, without a plan, on top of ruins.”...
That quote also affected me deeply since it has a deep connection to my day to day work. For the last decade I've been part of a changing team, maintaining a big sort of internal legacy system, that is sort of mission critical, which started as a messy semi-personal project years ago, and then grew and grew to the point where no one knows it all.
I've printed out this quote and hang it above my desk. I don't explain it to people, but the ones who bother to read it nod their head in understanding.
: The original was posted on Google+ and is, of course, long-since gone. Wayback machine also doesn't seem to have captured it, but I found https://josh.works/dizzying-but-invisible-depth, which matches what I remember.
Is it any surprise the code we right at the direction of these organizations does the same thing?
In other words, I don't think it's our relationship with code turning us into automatons. I think its our relationship with each other that pushes both our organizations and our code into those paths.
Good luck with that 'new army' thing.
You can hear the calls growing daily, in the EU, from Elon Musk, and from the political classes: "make the algorithms public."
Reality check, coming right up.