Monday, June 15, 2009

Book Review: The Pragmatic Programmer

The Pragmatic Programmer - from journeyman to master by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas (Addison-Wesley, 2000)

After having this book recommend several times, I got my work to buy it for the office. And I'm quite happy that I did that.

The goal of this book is to give programmers (or rather systems developers) a set if tips on how to become better, by becoming more pragmatic. In this, the book is quite successful.

When you've worked in the IT field for some years, as I have, you'll probably have heard most, or all, of the ideas before. Indeed, many of them are industry standards by now (e.g. using source control). Even so, it's good to have them all explained in one place, and it might remind people to actually do things the right way, instead of cutting corners, which will come back an haunt the project later.

If you're new to the field, I think this book is a must-read, especially if you're going to work in project-oriented environments (e.g. as a consultant). I'm certainly going to recommend that we get inexperienced new employees to read this book when they start.

Now, to the actual content of the book. It covers a lot of ground, not in depth, but well enough to give people a feel of the subject. The first two chapters ("A Pragmatic Philosophy" and "A Pragmatic Approach") explains the ideas and reasons behind being pragmatic, and how it applies to systems development. The next chapter ("The Basic Tools"), tells what tools are available and should be used. This is probably the most dated chapter, especially when it comes to the examples, but it's still possible to get the general idea.

Chapter 4 ("Pragmatic Paranoia") and 5 ("Bend, Or Break") deals with two areas where many people are too relaxed in my opinion: testing and coding defensively (ensuring valid input data etc.). I cannot recommend these two chapters too highly.

"While You Are Coding" explains how to code better, and (more importantly in my opinion) when and how to refactor. The last two chapters ("Before the Project" and "Pragmatic Projects") gives tips on how to set up and run projects in a pragmatic way.

There are of course tips that I disagree with, or which I would have put less emphasis on, and the book is obviously written before agile methods, like scrum, became widespread (though eXtreme Programming is mentioned). Still, even so, I can really recommend the book to everyone, novices and experienced developers alike.

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