A few months ago, I found an interesting looking book, written by a woman about living as a software engineer in the nineties. I loved the cover, so I picked it up and read it all that same day. It was so good.
Ellen Ullman’s Close to the Machine is fantastic in so many ways. For one, just because it’s written by a female software engineer, the book is not just about what it’s like to be a female software engineer. This was refreshing to me, since most things I read about by women in technology is about, well, women in technology and not the technology itself. Ullman talks about the ethical quandaries she faced when working on an AIDS patient application, the types of folks – yes, mostly male – with whom she spent long nights eating chips and debugging with, and other things that I myself have thought and experienced as a young programmer.
Most interestingly, she discusses the need to keep up with the latest languages; in the book, a colleague was saying that he was going to learn a new language called Java. She questioned over and over again if burning out was worth keeping up with the younger folks. Her musical analogies with technology made me think of my interests and how they paralleled with those of musicians (I was in a relationship with one at the time I was reading this). Overall, the book made me feel good about the eccentricity of the field, myself as an always-on-the-brink-of-burning-out kid, and confidence in my potential to be a badass older woman in tech like Ullman became.
I GIVE THIS BOOK 4.5 OUT OF 5 JAVA PRINT STATEMENTS.
Now, I first mentioned that I loved the cover of the book, and that’s why I initially picked it up. The USB cord snake with the gold background was incredibly catchy. Yes, I am not ashamed to admit it – I JUDGE BOOKS BY THEIR COVER. I have friends who design book covers, or used to design book covers, and have made a career out of making books look sexy as hell on the shelves. I’m only human, get off my dong.
There has only been one instance, though, where I’ve put a book down instead of purchasing it because the cover was lame – and later regretted it. I used to work at Montclair Book Center, and I would regularly troll our paltry technology section for good reads. We had a few copies of this book that looked like it was designed by characters in Hackers (to be fair, the book came out in 1997). I couldn’t get past the cover, so I never looked into what it was about. Also, words like technophilia kind of give me the DCs.
Yeah, that’s right. The same gawddamn book has been under my nose for several years, and I avoided it because of the cover. Ullman wrote a new novel, and part of its release this year was the reprinting of her past books, hence the new Close to the Machine cover. So three cheers to reprints, yes?