Recommended: The Soul of a New Machine

The Soul of a New Machine

The Soul of a New Machine

I had the recent good fortune to pass a colleague a copy of Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine.

Kidder’s chronicle of the struggle to design and build a 32-bit minicomputer beneath the radar of politicized executive management came out nearly thirty years ago, and while there remains a faint whiff of naugahyde and Old Milwaukee, many of the roadblocks encountered by project leader Tom West are no different than the pitfalls confronting production managers today.

West is infamous for his motto, “Not everything worth doing is worth doing well,” but should also be appreciated for his smaller strategic insights: that hiring young allows you to leverage the imagination of those who don’t yet know what they can’t do, that the key to selling an idea within a large organization is to present it in different ways to different stakeholders, that motivating staff means understanding what each team member wants to get out of a project, and that for many, the greatest reward for a difficult challenge is simply the joy of pinball: the privilege to perform the same task again and again, as long as one’s talent and patience hold out.

Wired Magazine ran a retrospective on West back in 2000:

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