Hello

Hello. Welcome to my blog. If you know who I am you’re probably either my mother or have read my book Practical Common Lisp. Or possibly you’ve either seen the video of a talk I gave at Google’s New York office last May or heard the IT Conversations interview I did with Phil Windley of Technometria. Any of which — except in the case where you’re my mother — might lead you to expect that this blog is going to be about Lisp. Which, though I’ll probably have occasional things to say about Lisp, it mostly won’t. But I’m hoping you might stick around anyway. (Yeah, Mom, I know you will.)

So what can you expect if you do? You’ll get to see me exploring ideas that I hope will eventually turn into another book. Since Practical Common Lisp came out in April 2005, I’ve been consulting — mostly Lisp work, some not. I wound all that down last September in anticipation of the arrival of a baby, my daughter Amelia. Now, much as my wife’s memories of the pain of childbirth are fading, my own memories of the pain of writing a book have faded from visceral to merely intellectual. I remember saying, “I’m never ever going to do this again,” but I can no longer summon up the feeling that led me to say it. Which must mean it’s time to write another one.

At a recent get together of the Bay Area Lispniks I asked the folks at my table what computer-related book they felt was missing. One fellow suggested a book on the programming language D. Hmmmm, I think I’ve already done my bit trying to promote a deserving but unappreciated language to a wider audience. (And I don’t really know enough about D to say whether it’s really deserving. Though any language that starts from the premise that C++ needs to replaced is at least starting out on the right foot.) Another guy suggested a book on “programming for the data center” — i.e. how to write programs that are going to run on a Google-style room full of computers. That sounded a bit more promising but not something that I have any particular expertise in; someone at Google should write it. Then, speaking of Google, Peter Norvig suggested a book about how to program in groups. By which he meant a book that explains all the stuff that a programmer needs to know to be an effective member of a team; the stuff that a lone-hacker, either self-taught or fresh out of a comp sci program, typically has to learn on the job. Norvig claimed — and I tend to agree, based on my own bookshelf — that there isn’t really a good book on that topic. There are books about how to be a better programmer, as an individual. And there are books about project management from which an enterprising developer could back out some lessons about how to be an effective contributor to a team. But nothing that I’ve seen aimed at helping an individual developer develop the skills that are specific to working in the context of a development team.

This suggestion immediately pricked my interest: I’ve always been interested in the question of “what is the best way to develop software?” One way to look at my interest in Lisp is that it is part of an answer to this bigger question. But as much as I love Lisp, I recognize it’s not a complete answer — most software shops would probably get more bang for their buck from adopting techniques that allow groups of people to work together most effectively than they would from switching to a better programming language, even Lisp. So now I’m excited to start writing about that.

My basic plan is to talk to everyone I know who’s involved in developing software and anyone they’ll introduce me to and to read or reread anything and everything relevant I can get my hands on. Then I’ll be ready to apply the Gigamonkey Four-Step Algorithm for Writing a Book that I developed while writing Practical Common Lisp. If you have suggestions of people I should talk to or things I should read please drop me a note. Since all that talking and reading will take a while, it’ll probably be a while before I can get down to the writing phase proper. In the meantime I plan to use this blog as a place to think out loud and to try to keep up my writing chops. And if the stuff I write here helps either to drum up advance interest in the book or to attract folks interested in hiring me as a consultant, that’d be fine too. (Unlike when I wrote Practical Common Lisp, when I spent two years without working other than on the book, this time around I plan to try to combine writing with consulting, both because I’ve got a new mouth to feed and because the right kind of consulting gigs will actually give me more material for the book. See the section “Gigamonkeys Consulting” in the sidebar if you’re interested in hiring me.)

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