Saturday 12 February 2011

The Tao of Programming

The Tao of Programming by Geoffrey James
The Tao of Programming by Geoffrey James is a short book of humourous computer parables inspired by an ancient Chinese text, the Tao Te Ching.

The Tao Te Ching is believed to have been written 2500 years ago by Lao Tzu and provides the basis for Taoist philosophy. The book is separated into 81 (34) short chapters of parables and proverbs.

James divides The Tao of Programming into 32 (25) chapters, a mix of tales paraphrased from the Tao Te Ching and anecdotes advocating the key principles of the hacker ethic:

  • code should be small, elegant and easy to read
  • management shouldn't interfere with programming

The preface (not included in the online copy) describes how James, an amateur computer archaeologist, stumbled upon and decoded The Tao of Programming while searching through a stack of obsolete punch cards.

My favourite chapter has to be the description of well-written programs closely followed by Turing's dream:

“A program should be light and agile, its subroutines connected like a string of pearls. The spirit and intent of the program should be retained throughout. There should be neither too little or too much, neither needless loops nor useless variables, neither lack of structure nor overwhelming rigidity.”
-- The Tao of Programming, Chapter 4.1

“Grand Master Turing once dreamed that he was a machine. When he awoke he exclaimed:

‘I don't know whether I am Turing dreaming that I am a machine, or a machine dreaming that I am Turing!’”
-- The Tao of Programming, Chapter 2.2

Although the book is short and you probably won't learn anything new, it's definitely worth a read if you have 30 minutes to spare.

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