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Diomidis Spinellis Publications


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Book Review: The software development edge

Diomidis Spinellis
Athens University of Economics and Business

The software development edge: essays on managing successful projects
Marasco J., Addison-Wesley Professional, 2005. 336 pp.

Cynics quip that the topmost layer of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) reference model is politics. Despite the nods that this statement will bring about among software professionals, little has been written on the intermingling of politics and technology. Joe Marasco’s essay collection devotes a chapter to this topic, and those pages alone are worth the book’s price. In that chapter Marasco, a retired senior VP and business unit manager for Rational Software, explains why we can’t solve technical problems with politics, why engineers hate politics, and why decisions outside the technological realm will inevitably involve politics. He then goes on to group techniques used in politics into good, neutral, and bad, and explains why high trust environments are extremely efficient.

The book’s 24 essays deal mostly with software development management. They address general management topics, software development, project management, the human element, and a mishmash of other topics. Some of the essays are brilliant, others address their topic in a unique, down-to-earth style. Two aspects make the book stand out. First Marasco isn’t afraid to address difficult issues, like developer compensation, negotiating deadlines, and how our outlook and responsibilities change as we advance through our career. More importantly, the author doesn’t simply present his view, but in most cases builds it step by step. Using tools like charts, back of the envelope calculations, analogies, and Excel worksheets, he explains not only why a particular relationship holds, but also how we could analyze similar problems on our own. At other times he enlivens his presentation through dialogues with Roscoe Leroy, a delightfully unpretentious straight-thinking mining engineer who prefers to work with round numbers: “sticks of dynamite and whole people.” Roscoe, having little patience for thick layers of theory or fuzzy excuses, keeps the discussion simple, honest, and eminently practical.

The Software Development Edge treads on the path blazed by Frederick P. Brooks, Jr. with his legendary book The Mythical Man Month. Clearly, we can learn a lot about software project management from the experiences of battle-hardened technical leaders.