The Computer Boys Take Over

Nathan L. Ensmenger

Published by

MIT Press

ISBN

978-0-262-05093-7

RRP

£22.95

Reviewed by

George Williams MBCS CITP

Score

10 out of 10

An extensive bibliography reveals the tremendous amount of research that has been undertaken in the writing of this excellent book, charting the rise of the ‘computer boys’ primarily in corporate settings, but also in government and society in general.

The book is split into nine chapters, supported by a comprehensive set of individual chapter notes and an excellent bibliography.

It is not always immediately clear from the chapter title what you are likely to find inside, as some of the titles are quite cryptic! But suffice it to say that the journey starts around the 1940s and spins through to the present day.

The Computer Boys Take Over invoked many memories for me of situations long gone, of programming languages committed to long-term memory, of copious software testing and debugging, of imploring operations managers for just one more source code compilation, the introduction of structured design methods and the tensions between company management and the authority vested in us - the computer boys.

The book is written in a very engaging style, easily readable and well thought through. There is a wealth of really interesting, nostalgic information for anyone interested in computer programming history, though not much in the way of pictures and graphics to break up the text, save for two example job advertisements in the early chapters.

Perhaps the chapter that stood out the most for me was ‘The Computer Revolutionaries’, the introductory chapter, which grabbed my attention and hooked me in, as I am sure it will do for most readers.

Once beyond the scene setting introduction, we happen upon chapters with intriguing titles such as ‘The Black Art of Programming;’ ‘Chess Players, Music Lovers and Mathematicians;’ ‘The Tower of Babel’ and ‘The Cosa Nostra of the Data Processing Industry,’ which serve only to invite further exploration and provide merely a broad hint of what succulent detail lies within.

Littered throughout the book are many interesting quotes and some delightful acronyms of days long gone in the early pioneering days.

I have enjoyed reading this book so much that I could simply republish it ‘verbatim’ as my review - so that you can appreciate every single droplet. It is quite simply a ‘must read’ for any programming type and especially so for those of us who entered the industry from the university or polytechnic milk round of the seventies and beyond. All is revealed!

Further Information: MIT Press

May 2011