Monday, January 29, 2007

Dreaming In Code - Scott Rosenberg

If you are in software, and you are considering reading this book, heed my warning.

Just as Yoda tells Luke in Star Wars: to enter the dark tunnel that is the history of OSAF's Chandler, you have to be ready to face your fears. Not scared? You Will Be.

In 2002 the Open Source Application Foundation formed, and kicked off their first project: Chandler.

Chandler was meant to completely revolutionize the way we organize and use our personal information. Notes, Tasks, Calendar Events, were all supposed to seamlessly blend together into a "siloless" world. Instead, all the competing ideas and creative forces at OSAF combined into a spiral of escalating delays and ever slower development.

I also started a software company in 2002. That company also focuses on revolutionizing the way information is organized and used. The name of that company (Tamale Software) is similarly difficult to explain to others. In those and many other ways, this book was like staring into a mirror.

There are some significant differences. We found (and fixed) more bugs (north of 6000 as of now). We released to our initial 5 customers on a nearly daily basis for over 6 months in the early stages. We started our company in the downturn because we were all either out of work or about to be out of work. The air was filled not just with "urgency", but a desperate drive to survive. We worked as though our livelihoods depended on success, because, well, our livelihoods depended on success.

I managed to read this book in a single day, and I am grateful. Rosenberg has created a detailed and realistic account of my worst nightmare. For me, the joy of making software is seeing it run, of meeting people, real actual people that use what I made. At one point the Chandler project is described as a "train wreck". Reading this book is like rubber-necking -- but for too long. It goes past the point of sating your curiosity. This book actually makes you feel like your project is late, and as though you haven't made a clear decision in years.

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