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Valerica Plesu
Valerica Plesu

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Soft skills: Coders by Clive Thompson – book review

“Code shapes coders, and coders shape the code that changes how we think, every day of our lives. If you want to create a more humanistic digital world, read this book to get started” - Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT.

On my way to becoming a well-rounded software developer, I found myself reading Coders (The Making of a New Tribe and Remaking of the World) by Clive Thompson.


The reason for picking up this book was that like everybody else I do read a decent amount of books about technical subjects but what about the remaining part of life as a developer? I do want to equip myself with soft skills that complement technical skills, so this is the main reason for choosing this book.

Content of the book:

The book is written by Clive Thompson who from my point of view has done a very good job by putting down in words who coders are, what they do and what’s the culture of code.
The book is divided into 11 chapters, it’s quick to read and guides readers through the undercovered history of programming and a better understanding of programmers.

As the author states, in a world made of software, programmers are thus among the most quietly influential people on the planet, they are the architects.
We want to understand how today’s world works but first we need to understand who are the people building it, what makes them tick, what’s their personality.

I found out that the first record use of “Hello World!” was in 1972 by Brian Kernighan, a young computer scientist. The idea came watching a cartoon of a chick coming out of an egg, saying “Hello, World!”. Nowadays, every single guide to a programming language has the “Hello, World!” how to do a tutorial.

The author blows my mind multiple times when describing how coders are. An interesting explanation is that “The default state of everything that you’re working on is fucking broken. The type of people who end up being programmers is self-selected by the people who can endure that agony. That’s a special kind of crazy. You’ve got to be a little nut to do it.”

“The programmer personality is someone who has the ability to drive a tremendous sense of joy from an incredible small moment of success”. I do this day by day, and at the moment I quash a bug I’m like Sherlock Holmes in his moments of cerebral triumph.

Trying to dive into understanding what coding is, the author often says that coding isn’t easy, you have to sit alone for hours and trying to mentally inhabit the twisty nuances of a piece of software.
There are no niceties. If there is an error into the code, it just spits out an error message and the coder needs to figure out what he did wrong.
When you meet a coder, you meet someone whose core daily job is of unending failure and grinding frustration. This is going into his mind and personality. Coders tend to be good at thinking logically, systematically.

A nice analogy is that the programmers are “near Sisyphean” - day by day are resigned failure, watching the boulder roll back down the hill… until one day it tips over the crest. And what do they behold on the other side? Another hill.
One central plank of coder psychology it’s a boundless, nigh masochistic ability to endure brutal, grinding frustration. That’s because most of the time they are finding bugs.

I felt particularly attracted by “coding it’s a refuge from the unpredictability of humans, from their gray-scale emotions and needs”. When I do code I’m sure that the computer would execute what I tell him to do, nothing can surprise me. Of course, the computer is a complete asshole, it will not help me and will fail completely and spectacularly for any tiniest error, but still, humans are the ones unpredictable.

Programmers are poets of bits. The author is giving us what’s the culture of a coder. Code is a form of artistic expression, they are giving it freely to everyone who wonders “Hey, how’d you do that?” this way people are going to learn it. All of this went to be known today as “free and open-source software”.

Going page by page, chapter by chapter, the author successfully surprised me by unpacking the coder in different ways, like unpacking a new pair of sneakers. Who does not like the unpackaging process?

Reaching the end of the book it gives you a clear idea about how awesome programming is and why not give it a try yourself?


I 100% recommend this book to anyone. If you are a programmer or you have to work with programmers it’s important to understand their culture.
I enjoyed the book and I hope you have found this review useful.
Thank you for reading this. If you have any questions, comments or funny jokes comment below.

Top comments (3)

snaye profile image

Good read!

dana94 profile image
Dana Ottaviani

I just finished this book and I agree, it's worth the read.

desi profile image

Thanks for the review! This book has been on my list for awhile.