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Joel on Software: And on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers, Designers, and Managers, and to Those Who, Whether by Good Fortune or Ill Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity
by Joel Spolsky

ISBN: 1590593898
Publisher: Apress
Pages: 362

After almost five years, probably as the last person in the universe of software developers, I finally discovered Joel Spolsky's entertaining weblog. Since I did I keep visiting his homepage regularly and this book was a good way for me to catch up with those years I've missed.

This book is a collection of the best essays from Joel on Software. As its subtitle suggests, the essays covers a very broad ground. The subjects vary from relative low-level technical discussions of string implementations, via advices for writing high-quality functional specifications, to business strategies. The only thing these subjects have in common is that Joel has a strong opinion on either one of them. There's no excuses, no humble in-my-opinion introductions, and it is highly subjective. This style of writing is kind-of a trademark for Joel Spolsky. It's different, but I personally find his style both liberating and refreshing.

Except being entertaining, do the essays convey more value than that? They definitely do. My favorite is Joel's rather detailed recommendation on how to use Excel for schedules and why MS Project isn't a particular good idea for software projects. Such an advice is immediately applicable. Another favorite that springs to mind is his Guerilla Guide to Interviewing, which is a brilliant piece on how to hire the right people.

Many of the essays are built around anecdotes from Joel's time at Microsoft. These essays have more than one side; insightful discussions like How Microsoft Lost the API War, others flavored with some Microsoft bashing and also, maybe more important, pointing out all the things Microsoft actually do really well.

As much as I like, enjoy and recommend Joel's reading, I don't agree with everything he writes. Not necessarily a bad thing; except being thought provoking, this is probably inevitable with almost 400 pages filled with strong opinions. Too me, some of the inconsistencies are more bothering. For example, as appendix there's a collection of answers to readers questions. In an answer Joel makes a strong recommendation not to care about what the competitors do. Turn two pages and he suddenly recommends including a buffer for unexpected competitive response in the schedule! Confusing, but really just a small thing in a great book. It is together with his strong, persuasive style of writing that it starts to feel weird.

Reviewed November 2005

©2005 Adam Petersen