The Shape of Code » Rereading The Mythical Man-Month

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2023-11-20 16:00:03

The book The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks, first published in 1975, continues to be widely referenced, my 1995 edition cites over 250K copies in print. In the past I have found it to be a pleasant, relatively content free, read.

Having spent some time analyzing computing data from the 1960s, I thought it would be interesting to reread Brooks in the light of what I had recently learned. I cannot remember when I last read the book, and only keep a copy to be able to check when others cite it as a source.

Each of the 15 chapters, in the 1975 edition, takes the form of a short five/six page management briefing on some project related topic; chapters start with a picture of some work or art on one page, and a short quote from a famous source occupies the opposite page. The 20th anniversary edition adds four chapters, two of which ‘refire’ Brooks’ 1986 paper introducing the term No Silver Bullet (that no single technlogy will produce an order of magnitude improvement in productivity).

Rereading, I found the 1975 contents to be sufficiently non-specific that my newly acquired knowledge did not change anything. It was a pleasant read, various ideas and some data points are presented, the work of others is covered and cited, a few points are briefly summarised and the chapter ends. The added chapters have a different character than the earlier ones, being more detailed in their discussion and more specific in suggesting outcomes. The ‘No Silver Bullet’ material dismisses some of the various claimed discoveries of a silver bullet.

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