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The never-more-necessary return of one of our most vital and eloquent voices on technology and culture, from the author of the seminal Close to the Machine. When Ellen Ullman moved to San Francisco and became a computer programmer in the late 1970s, she was joining an idealistic, exclusive, and almost exclusively male cadre that had dreams and aspirations to change the worl The never-more-necessary return of one of our most vital and eloquent voices on technology and culture, from the author of the seminal Close to the Machine. When Ellen Ullman moved to San Francisco and became a computer programmer in the late 1970s, she was joining an idealistic, exclusive, and almost exclusively male cadre that had dreams and aspirations to change the world. In 1997, she wrote Close to the Machine, the now classic and still definitive account of life as a coder at the birth of what would be a sweeping technological, cultural, and financial revolution. The intervening twenty years has seen, among other things, the rise of the Internet, the ubiquity of once unimaginably powerful computers, and the thorough transformation of our economy and society—as Ullman’s clique of socially awkward West Coast geeks became our new elite, elevated for and insulated by a technical mastery that few could achieve. In Life in Code, Ullman presents a series of essays that unlock and explain—and don’t necessarily celebrate—how we got to now, as only she can, with a fluency and expertise that’s unusual in someone with her humanistic worldview, and with the sharp insight and brilliant prose that are uniquely her own. Life in Code is an essential text toward our understanding of the last twenty years—and the next twenty.


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The never-more-necessary return of one of our most vital and eloquent voices on technology and culture, from the author of the seminal Close to the Machine. When Ellen Ullman moved to San Francisco and became a computer programmer in the late 1970s, she was joining an idealistic, exclusive, and almost exclusively male cadre that had dreams and aspirations to change the worl The never-more-necessary return of one of our most vital and eloquent voices on technology and culture, from the author of the seminal Close to the Machine. When Ellen Ullman moved to San Francisco and became a computer programmer in the late 1970s, she was joining an idealistic, exclusive, and almost exclusively male cadre that had dreams and aspirations to change the world. In 1997, she wrote Close to the Machine, the now classic and still definitive account of life as a coder at the birth of what would be a sweeping technological, cultural, and financial revolution. The intervening twenty years has seen, among other things, the rise of the Internet, the ubiquity of once unimaginably powerful computers, and the thorough transformation of our economy and society—as Ullman’s clique of socially awkward West Coast geeks became our new elite, elevated for and insulated by a technical mastery that few could achieve. In Life in Code, Ullman presents a series of essays that unlock and explain—and don’t necessarily celebrate—how we got to now, as only she can, with a fluency and expertise that’s unusual in someone with her humanistic worldview, and with the sharp insight and brilliant prose that are uniquely her own. Life in Code is an essential text toward our understanding of the last twenty years—and the next twenty.

30 review for Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. My Y2K with SAP R/3: "A Life in Code - A Personal History of Technology" By Ellen Ullman If you want to get a glimpse of what was the Y2K Bug craze in 1999 Ullman’s chapter on it is a must.   Millenniums may ask: “What was the Y2K bug?” Well, as one who was actively working in IT at the time, it basically was the number of seriously heavyweight IT-reliant- and IT-provider-based organizations running crapped out, moth-eaten, disaster-ready If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. My Y2K with SAP R/3: "A Life in Code - A Personal History of Technology" By Ellen Ullman If you want to get a glimpse of what was the Y2K Bug craze in 1999 Ullman’s chapter on it is a must.   Millenniums may ask: “What was the Y2K bug?” Well, as one who was actively working in IT at the time, it basically was the number of seriously heavyweight IT-reliant- and IT-provider-based organizations running crapped out, moth-eaten, disaster-ready systems for critical public service and infrastructure functions, systems that were originally developed for Noah's GPSing around Ararat, beggars belief. The problem with the earlier Y2K and other system's potential 1970s-based clock issue and its siblings was and is their potential for cascading. The Y2K bug did, indeed, bite a lot of systems, but it did not go critical and ignite a runaway reaction. However, before the event absolutely no-one on the planet knew for sure whether it would or not.     If you're into Computer Science of the Personal Kind, read on. 

  2. 4 out of 5

    Julie Ehlers

    Ellen Ullman's memoir Close to the Machine is one of the books I remember most vividly from the 1990s. She followed it up with two novels; I admired but didn't love 2003's The Bug, but I thought By Blood, from 2012, was fantastic. When I found out about Life in Code, I was ecstatic, expecting Ullman would take the writing chops she'd honed with her novels and combine it with the fascinating subject matter of Close to the Machine, resulting in an an artful, up-to-the minute document of our times. Ellen Ullman's memoir Close to the Machine is one of the books I remember most vividly from the 1990s. She followed it up with two novels; I admired but didn't love 2003's The Bug, but I thought By Blood, from 2012, was fantastic. When I found out about Life in Code, I was ecstatic, expecting Ullman would take the writing chops she'd honed with her novels and combine it with the fascinating subject matter of Close to the Machine, resulting in an an artful, up-to-the minute document of our times. What could be better? But that's not quite what's happening with Life in Code. I'd been under the impression that this was a memoir, but in fact it's actually a collection of essays that span 20 years. I hadn't read any of them so it was all new to me, but that doesn't mean it was all... new. An essay about the Y2K bug was interesting, for example, and taught me a lot I didn't know back then, but without some kind of present-day commentary it felt pretty irrelevant. There's also a lot of material in here discussing whether we can make computers or robots that are sentient in the same way humans are. Presumably this issue loomed large back when it first seemed possible that we could do this, but it just doesn't feel as urgent now. As a culture, we've moved on. Expectations are everything. I was initially disappointed when I realized what Life in Code consisted of, and I put it aside for a bit. When I returned with adjusted expectations, I liked the book much more. It helped that as the essays went on, they became more relevant to the present day, addressing the battle for the internet (individual vs. corporation vs. government); the way companies (like Google and, ahem, Amazon) are mining our data to market to us and we kind of don't even care anymore; the ever-changing role of our online activity in our day-to-day lives; and the ever-changing Bay Area now that the startups have moved in, shut down, moved in again. This stuff was fascinating, and I regretted having a library copy because there was so much I wanted to underline and remember and contemplate further. Life in Code did also delve into Ullman's personal life, with some amusing essays about her early jobs in programming, a touching piece about her elderly pet cat, some remarks on how she came to write By Blood (which was a major departure for her, writing-wise, and wholly a success, in my opinion), and ruminations on where she sees herself now in the world of software engineering, in her longtime home of San Francisco, and in Trump's America. As I had hoped and expected, Ullman's writing has become even better over the years, and she's able to move from topic to topic gracefully, always entertaining and informative, smart but not intimidating, filled with compassion for human beings but not afraid to criticize those of us she thinks are on the wrong path. Granted, I have no idea if there are other software engineers out there writing at Ellen Ullman's level. It's possible that if I call this book essential I'm just displaying my ignorance of all the other books and authors doing exactly the same thing she does. But, oh well—surely there are a lot of other amateurs out there who, like me, would benefit from reading about topics like these presented this invitingly. So I'm going to go ahead and deem Life in Code essential.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    A pretty good, if variable, collection of essays. Many were previously published in pretty obscure places, and the author has revised many of the older ones. They were written between 1994 and last year, and document her ups and downs in the computer-programming business, and in life. The downs are mostly related to the white males (and Asians) who dominate the business. In Ullman's view, they are mostly misogynistic and trapped in a time-warp. But she really likes tech and writing code, and doe A pretty good, if variable, collection of essays. Many were previously published in pretty obscure places, and the author has revised many of the older ones. They were written between 1994 and last year, and document her ups and downs in the computer-programming business, and in life. The downs are mostly related to the white males (and Asians) who dominate the business. In Ullman's view, they are mostly misogynistic and trapped in a time-warp. But she really likes tech and writing code, and doesn't mind the oddities of her fellow code-writers, so long as they don't crap on her. And she has some good stories. She's suffered a lot of disappointments since college, and gone through a lot of changes, some of which are written up here. I generally enjoyed reading them, though some are pretty dated. The one really outstanding essay, for me, was her 21-year relationship with Sadie, her cat. Overall, I'm giving the book 3.4 stars. Interesting, but not really compelling, reading -- but I loved her cat memoir. Worth picking it up for that, and then browse around. Here's the review that led me to read the book. It's what you should read first. The reviewer's reaction was mixed, but more positive than mine. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/17/bo... "Don’t panic, non-nerds. In addition to writing code in multiple computer languages, Ullman has an Ivy League degree in English and knows how to decode her tech-world adventures into accessible narratives for word people: “Time went on; I graduated from Cornell and moved to San Francisco, where, one day in 1979, I walked past a Radio Shack store on Market Street and saw in the window a microcomputer called the TRS-80. Reader, I bought it.” "She has many stories of her own to share on the topic of gender relations in the office and points out that not all of them were bad. In one case, she tolerates frequent comments about her hair from one addled man in order to learn more about various aspects of computing from him. “I did have pretty hair; I went on to become a software engineer.” "As for Twitter, Ullman considers the service a broadcaster of “thought farts.”

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alyssa Frazee

    I don’t really give five star reviews and I was hesitant about this one, but this book made me feel things. I especially loved the essay “Dining with Robots” because it painted cooking and programming (art and science?) as two different things, valuable in their own right but certainly not the same, which I thought showed an all-too-rare appreciation for magic outside of science and logic and tech. I also felt like Ellen articulated much of what scares me and puts me off about tech, but does so I don’t really give five star reviews and I was hesitant about this one, but this book made me feel things. I especially loved the essay “Dining with Robots” because it painted cooking and programming (art and science?) as two different things, valuable in their own right but certainly not the same, which I thought showed an all-too-rare appreciation for magic outside of science and logic and tech. I also felt like Ellen articulated much of what scares me and puts me off about tech, but does so in a way that isn’t disdainful. Her debugging story made me smile and ache because of how familiar it felt. Would recommend.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Ginensky

    This was a collection of essays that were written from 1994 - 2017. The earlier essays were all 10/10!! There's something so interesting about early internet history, especially from someone with a programming background (as opposed to Lurking which was written by a regular ol' internet user). I learned some of the details of Y2K that I had never heard before (it wasn't a hoax!!) and why the dot com bust ACTUALLY happened (hello Tesla 2021). Hearing the Ellen's thoughts on programmers' role in i This was a collection of essays that were written from 1994 - 2017. The earlier essays were all 10/10!! There's something so interesting about early internet history, especially from someone with a programming background (as opposed to Lurking which was written by a regular ol' internet user). I learned some of the details of Y2K that I had never heard before (it wasn't a hoax!!) and why the dot com bust ACTUALLY happened (hello Tesla 2021). Hearing the Ellen's thoughts on programmers' role in interfering with user's desires from 20 years ago... WHEWWEE how relevant that came to be. If the type of gossip that interests you involves Larry Page at a party in 1999 then maybe you'll find some of these essays interesting. What I'll say is that things go down hill once she gets to artificial intelligence, which unfortunately is the second half of the book. After transitioning from programmer to author, I think she loses her insight. She doesn't add anything meaningful to the conversation of technology, ethics, automation, capitalism, or Silicon Valley culture. The last essay ends with an anecdote of the thrilling feeling of walking in the Women's March with a pink pussy hat ("which I know will become symbols of female defiance" LOL). There are really some 2 star essays in here but I went with 4 overall because of how much fun I had in the beginning :)

  6. 5 out of 5

    JDK1962

    I got about halfway through this and abandoned it. I have been writing software my entire professional life, which at this point amounts to about 35 years. I think I'm pretty much a contemporary of the author in that we started coding around the same time in our lives. I have an undergrad degree in mathematics, and an MS where I specialized in AI. I worked for one of the "big 4" AI companies of the 80s. I say all this as background, so that when I say I disagree with what the author writes, that I got about halfway through this and abandoned it. I have been writing software my entire professional life, which at this point amounts to about 35 years. I think I'm pretty much a contemporary of the author in that we started coding around the same time in our lives. I have an undergrad degree in mathematics, and an MS where I specialized in AI. I worked for one of the "big 4" AI companies of the 80s. I say all this as background, so that when I say I disagree with what the author writes, that's not a completely uninformed opinion. At first, there were simply some niggles. The whole thing about writing "closer to the machine" was, IMHO, crap: first, no one *wants* to program in assembler (yes, I have: in 6502 and whatever the old DEC VAX system used...it's incredibly tedious), and second, I'm not really aware of some pecking order among software engineers where those of us writing in C are casting envious glances at the guys writing in assembler. But what finally made me give up was the section on artificial intelligence/life. She insists on taking a philosophical stance that separating the body from the mind is somehow this massive error that researchers have made--despite the fact that they're primarily interested in what we think of as "intelligence" rather than "bodily functions"--quotes philosophers as her evidence that this is somehow a mistake, and makes the somewhat Whorfian argument that, because intelligence evolved because of the way our bodies are and what they can do, the body cannot be ignored. But what she fails to do is cite any reason why it's necessary to take the body into account when modeling higher brain function. And I am absolutely positive that any researcher, if they came to a point where some aspect of body needed to be modeled, would go ahead and model it, and would not get tangled up in a philosophical underwear twist of "oh no, I can't model THAT, I'm only interested in the MIND." And the section closes off with this infuriating thought: "And that's what human sentience is: ...too complex to understand fully by rational means..what finally we give up and call "an act of God."" And in these words, I realized that she doesn't even understand the point of science, that (at this point in time) we try to replicate interesting features of intelligence not to create a sentient being, but to understand better the nature of intelligence and sentience, to understand what we're missing, and to realize how much further we have to go. If she's given up, that's fine...but we've barely scratched the surface of understanding how intelligence works, let alone sentience. Anyway, at that point, I realized that I had no interest in reading further from this author.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Autumn

    As our world becomes more and more technically dominated, it's important that we educate ourselves on what happens behind the scenes. Ellen does just this in Life in Code. This book covers everything from Y2K to AI to why there is so little diversity in tech. An immensely valuable and important read. As our world becomes more and more technically dominated, it's important that we educate ourselves on what happens behind the scenes. Ellen does just this in Life in Code. This book covers everything from Y2K to AI to why there is so little diversity in tech. An immensely valuable and important read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Louis

    MOOC chapter is amazing

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Her description of tech culture was relatable from my experiences at school and work, and her personal stories were enlightening. Her criticism of tech culture made me think deeply about its social and economic effects - how it actively excludes populations and widens the gap between the rich and the poor.

  10. 5 out of 5

    David

    Another must-read, and a pleasure to read, given the quality of her thinking and writing. And I say that despite the fact that it is a collection of pieces from across three decades, only one of which was written in early 2017. If you are in my age group, and particularly if you lived in San Francisco, you will recognize some of what the author is writing about. If you are younger, you may benefit from her perspective -- which sounds like I'm saying 'you kids today...,' but what I mean is, don't Another must-read, and a pleasure to read, given the quality of her thinking and writing. And I say that despite the fact that it is a collection of pieces from across three decades, only one of which was written in early 2017. If you are in my age group, and particularly if you lived in San Francisco, you will recognize some of what the author is writing about. If you are younger, you may benefit from her perspective -- which sounds like I'm saying 'you kids today...,' but what I mean is, don't dismiss her because she's been around a while, read this book and I bet you'll like her. She's really great fun, amid also very serious -- an unbeatable combination. The second-to-last essay, "Programming for the Millions," starts with an idea I find very appealing: The non-techies should "invade" the world of code, try to understand it, and perhaps in doing so accomplish two important things. One, break the spell of coding as the sphere of the elite, who are smarter than you and therefore deserve to be unquestionably in control. And two, change the culture of coding by bringing so many different people into the mix that it can no longer be the exclusive domain of overgrown white boys who won't let any mere mortals into their club. After reading "Weapons of Math Destruction," about how we are all at the mercy of the algorithms of the powerful, this message strikes me as fairly urgent. I don't know if I can force myself to learn coding, I would so much prefer to know less about computers, rather than more. But I might try, rather than just dump all my hopes on the generations coming up now, as guys like me tend to do at my age. Whatever I do, my hope is that women will not allow the sexist culture of tech to continue: The planet won't survive too much more of the boys with their toys, if you ask me.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Augustin Erba

    I programmed computers back in the 80s and I have been longing for someone who would put that experience in words. This book does that. I usually dislike recycled literature, but in this case, I admit that the selection of essays and articles came together. I mostly enjoyed the stories about programming, the other, more general musings, was similar of listening in on a conversation, which was fine, and her thinking is much more interesting and fact-based than, say Steven Pinker. She also makes a I programmed computers back in the 80s and I have been longing for someone who would put that experience in words. This book does that. I usually dislike recycled literature, but in this case, I admit that the selection of essays and articles came together. I mostly enjoyed the stories about programming, the other, more general musings, was similar of listening in on a conversation, which was fine, and her thinking is much more interesting and fact-based than, say Steven Pinker. She also makes a strong case against the sexism and discrimination within the tech industry. It is an important reminder that some of the people who design the fabric of our online lives do not care for all of us, but only for some.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is a very thoughtful book of essays by a woman who has long experience as a software engineer while morphing into a career as a novelist and essayist. The book comprises chapters that span Ullman's career from the 1990s up through 2017. She remembers her life in programming and the toxic environment that still prevails for women in technology careers. In the middle of this, she also talks about artificial intelligence, philosophy, government policy and the future of the Internet, the perver This is a very thoughtful book of essays by a woman who has long experience as a software engineer while morphing into a career as a novelist and essayist. The book comprises chapters that span Ullman's career from the 1990s up through 2017. She remembers her life in programming and the toxic environment that still prevails for women in technology careers. In the middle of this, she also talks about artificial intelligence, philosophy, government policy and the future of the Internet, the perverse development of her neighborhood in San Francisco, and a bunch of other topics. She even signs up for and comments on a number of popular MOOCs in high technology topics and provides a sharp assessment of how these courses could be beneficial for those unable to afford top tier university training. She is a fierce critic of how technology and the Internet have evolved (as well as who has been left behind) from its beginnings and she is insightful about how the technology workplace has evolved as well. This is mixed in with her personal experiences from her college days up through the present. What makes the book especially good is the superb writing. This is a very unusual book and hard to put down. With so much written about technology, it is valuable to read an informed, wise, and witty critic who argues that everyone deserves a place at the technology table, not just the stereotypical bros of popular lore and legend.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    A diverse range of thought-provoking and reflective essays on technology in relation to society, culture, and personal experiences. I loved the measured tone, the details, and the special moments of recognizing an interior thought expressed by someone else. Reading this made me both marvel at computer science and question its trajectory. I wrote a more comprehensive review here if you're interested. A diverse range of thought-provoking and reflective essays on technology in relation to society, culture, and personal experiences. I loved the measured tone, the details, and the special moments of recognizing an interior thought expressed by someone else. Reading this made me both marvel at computer science and question its trajectory. I wrote a more comprehensive review here if you're interested.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Warren Mcpherson

    A rich philosophical discussion of technology. A striking contrast to literature whose philosophical moments rarely seem to reach past adolescence. Explores questions about the mindset of technology. The genius and self-doubt. Questions about artificial intelligence, intelligence itself, and the essential elements of our humanity. Her description of the experience of working as a programmer had many vignettes that were familiar. The TRS-80, working in the attic of a building, problems in old for A rich philosophical discussion of technology. A striking contrast to literature whose philosophical moments rarely seem to reach past adolescence. Explores questions about the mindset of technology. The genius and self-doubt. Questions about artificial intelligence, intelligence itself, and the essential elements of our humanity. Her description of the experience of working as a programmer had many vignettes that were familiar. The TRS-80, working in the attic of a building, problems in old forgotten code. She discusses the pattern of dis-intermediation repeated through many internet applications and the unintended consequences for society itself. The intermediaries that have been cut out by direct web-based interaction have often been experts and had good incomes that could support their families. As we move away from travel agents and newspapers we have lost some of the stabilizing forces in our society. Even the architecture of a tech-focused city seems to discourage the small businesses that nourish communities. The book carefully looks for biases that the world of technology has been looking past. Algorithms can hide bias. Programmers welcoming outsiders to join their world of wonderful "hard problems" do so in ways that unintentionally obstruct many of the people around them. "Truth, like love and sleep resents approaches that are too intense." WH Auden As the book drew to a close I found myself hoping she would wrap it up in a neat brilliant summary. But there is no stack overflow that you can cut and paste into your current project. We are left with an approach to the truth of technology. A reflection on our moments of brilliance and the things we need to do better.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    The only negative thing about these essays is that they're all paced the same; Ullman has a very deliberate style that occasionally felt too slow to me. This may be because of my familiarity with many of the ideas and areas she's writing about, and I never was completely bogged down. The early essays are frighteningly prophetic (maybe anyone who was in a similar position would've had the same thoughts, but Ullman articulates them extremely well) and also just frightening. How far we've come. What The only negative thing about these essays is that they're all paced the same; Ullman has a very deliberate style that occasionally felt too slow to me. This may be because of my familiarity with many of the ideas and areas she's writing about, and I never was completely bogged down. The early essays are frighteningly prophetic (maybe anyone who was in a similar position would've had the same thoughts, but Ullman articulates them extremely well) and also just frightening. How far we've come. What a mess we've made. I highlighted more than I normally do - entire paragraphs kept striking chords with me. This is a very good collection. It is also very depressing, if you've spent any significant portion of your life around the Internet and even in the margins of programming. (It also made a good companion piece to Lindy West's Shrill, which I read just before this.) A world floating atop a sea of programs we've come to rely on but no longer truly control. Code and forget, code and forget: programming as a collective exercise in incremental forgetting. On a computer, there is no basement or attic. At any moment, while you are whiling away time, maybe avoiding another task, or just daring yourself to think of the past, you might go "click", and then it all pops out at you: fresh, unyellowed, cruelly unchanged.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Melanie H

    My rating: 4.75 If ever there were a book that perfectly captures why diversity of perspective is so very necessary to the conversation, this is that book. Part memoir, part discussion on the unfolding history of technology and programming, Ullman brings a unique voice to the conversation about the forces shaping the design of technology and the greater Bay Area. This collection of essays made me want to throw down my smartphone (has it really only been ten years?) while simultaneously planting t My rating: 4.75 If ever there were a book that perfectly captures why diversity of perspective is so very necessary to the conversation, this is that book. Part memoir, part discussion on the unfolding history of technology and programming, Ullman brings a unique voice to the conversation about the forces shaping the design of technology and the greater Bay Area. This collection of essays made me want to throw down my smartphone (has it really only been ten years?) while simultaneously planting the seed that I want to take up programming. As an added bonus, I found the section detailing the behind the scenes drama leading up to the Y2k switch absolutely riveting. So here it is friends, we have to have more than boys in hoodies with beer bottles creating our future. If you take one thing from Ullman, this is it. PS I loved that a man reviewed this book and mentioned he wasn't interested in her relationship with her cat. Ugh.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sweta Agrawal

    Read via audiobook. GREAT book. At most, maybe half or so is spent explicitly discussing tech culture and its lack of diversity, etc, but the other half is insightful analysis/commentary about tech and computers and life. A real love of coding and computers that made me want to dive deeper and learn more. Beautifully written with catchy phrases (i.e. "thought fart" in reference to Donald's tweets). Really inspirational and thought-provoking. First time I finally understood what y2k actually was. Read via audiobook. GREAT book. At most, maybe half or so is spent explicitly discussing tech culture and its lack of diversity, etc, but the other half is insightful analysis/commentary about tech and computers and life. A real love of coding and computers that made me want to dive deeper and learn more. Beautifully written with catchy phrases (i.e. "thought fart" in reference to Donald's tweets). Really inspirational and thought-provoking. First time I finally understood what y2k actually was. I will certainly reread this book someday. Please read it!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    An interesting collection of essays about programming and technology through the years. I really enjoyed ‘The Rise and First Fall of the Internet’ written in 1998. Ullman's fears about the Internet and its affect on our culture are largely true today. I also enjoyed Ullman's personal stories about being a female programmer in a male dominated field in the 1970’s-90’s. Sadly much of what she experienced is probably still true today. If you’ve been in the field of technology for a while, this book An interesting collection of essays about programming and technology through the years. I really enjoyed ‘The Rise and First Fall of the Internet’ written in 1998. Ullman's fears about the Internet and its affect on our culture are largely true today. I also enjoyed Ullman's personal stories about being a female programmer in a male dominated field in the 1970’s-90’s. Sadly much of what she experienced is probably still true today. If you’ve been in the field of technology for a while, this book is a fun and somewhat geeky walk down memory lane.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Parker

    This is a really wonderful collection of essays spanning Ullman's decades in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco tech scenes. Sometimes these kinds of collections can be disjointed or not cohesive, feeling like an afterthought. Life in Code is so well edited and structured that it avoids those problems entirely, presenting a coherent idea through a handful of pieces written across some 25 years. As worldviews go, Ullman's has that rare benefit of coming from somebody who is extremely thoughtful This is a really wonderful collection of essays spanning Ullman's decades in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco tech scenes. Sometimes these kinds of collections can be disjointed or not cohesive, feeling like an afterthought. Life in Code is so well edited and structured that it avoids those problems entirely, presenting a coherent idea through a handful of pieces written across some 25 years. As worldviews go, Ullman's has that rare benefit of coming from somebody who is extremely thoughtful and knowledgeable about software and the technology industry and just as compelling a writer.

  20. 5 out of 5

    jess

    I picked this up because Ellen Ullman was on my favorite podcast (Note to Self) and I liked some of the things she said. This book was interesting both for the historic perspective (she was a computer programmer in the 70s and has watched technology and culture evolve together), and also for her insights into life, culture, technology, privacy, and activism. I could probably re-read this book every year and still glean a lot of insight and perspective from it, and I hope it will be one I will re I picked this up because Ellen Ullman was on my favorite podcast (Note to Self) and I liked some of the things she said. This book was interesting both for the historic perspective (she was a computer programmer in the 70s and has watched technology and culture evolve together), and also for her insights into life, culture, technology, privacy, and activism. I could probably re-read this book every year and still glean a lot of insight and perspective from it, and I hope it will be one I will return to.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Meg

    interesting! early days of code, Y2K crisis, the impact of tech startups in San Francisco. I really want to read her other memoir now. Here is my favourite quote about Ullman's entry into programming: "Yet I had a cocky courage and went ahead, armed with little but some knowledge about video, the understanding that I can was not afraid of machines, and an honors thesis on Macbeth." p240 Who said humanities were worthless!?? interesting! early days of code, Y2K crisis, the impact of tech startups in San Francisco. I really want to read her other memoir now. Here is my favourite quote about Ullman's entry into programming: "Yet I had a cocky courage and went ahead, armed with little but some knowledge about video, the understanding that I can was not afraid of machines, and an honors thesis on Macbeth." p240 Who said humanities were worthless!??

  22. 5 out of 5

    Candace Dorn

    From the geeky life of computer programmers to serious theoretical discussions of technology, this book has it all! Entertaining and well written, you don't need to be a data scientist or programmer to enjoy. If you exist in this crazy thing we call the Information Age, there is something in this book for you. From the geeky life of computer programmers to serious theoretical discussions of technology, this book has it all! Entertaining and well written, you don't need to be a data scientist or programmer to enjoy. If you exist in this crazy thing we call the Information Age, there is something in this book for you.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jenny GB

    A great series of essays that look at the evolution of technology from the 90's to now. Ullman gives a very personal look at her experiences and thoughts on the changing state of our world through the eyes of technology. A great series of essays that look at the evolution of technology from the 90's to now. Ullman gives a very personal look at her experiences and thoughts on the changing state of our world through the eyes of technology.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Ullman is exactly as mad as you think she ought to be about everything.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Vicky

    Incredible, well-written collection of essays on programming, having a sort of work affair over email, graphical interfaces like Microsoft wizards that attempt to replace code and make everything this out-of-box template, the Y2K bug that I never fully understood about how systems couldn't accommodate more than two digits in YY and its real-life impact, San Francisco gentrification observations, human vs. machine (the challenge of AI), the one on Sadie the cat made me tear up a little on the bus Incredible, well-written collection of essays on programming, having a sort of work affair over email, graphical interfaces like Microsoft wizards that attempt to replace code and make everything this out-of-box template, the Y2K bug that I never fully understood about how systems couldn't accommodate more than two digits in YY and its real-life impact, San Francisco gentrification observations, human vs. machine (the challenge of AI), the one on Sadie the cat made me tear up a little on the bus, memories associated with a personal computer, the novels written with each, file naming and storing thought process, workplace bug project, the Richards family on the farm that were driven into further poverty with the introduction of the "bulk tank": how technology and efficiency can devastate lives, making a living, families. . . This book convinced me that you can totally write about the mundane problems you face at work and still be riveting. In "Close to the Mainframe," I really appreciated following Ellen Ullman from the time she got hired until the time she left the job, fixated on this one bug in the system that turned out to have been caused by this underscore that was used instead of a hyphen. Therefore no one ever knew how a particular class was doing, the percent of change from this week's sales to last week's, and everyone seemed to have given up on solving it, lol. Minus one phrase and the "Programming for the Millions" essay at the end, I thoroughly enjoyed slowly reading this book and feel inspired about practicing writing, practicing programming, and continuing my theme of 2019: SLOWING DOWN + BEING HUMAN (take breaks, eat, sleep, hang out, do stuff that's not work-related) Recommended to: Bonnie, my team at work, people who believe accepting new technology is inevitable or that it makes them look cool/up-to-date (eyeroll), fans of Black Mirror, anyone who believes their startup or tech company will "change the world" ***but also anyone who wants to think critically about technology in our lives and does not mind paragraphs that delve into some nitty-gritty

  26. 4 out of 5

    Julian

    This is a book whose essays span from the 90s to the present, and what's strange is that the oldest essays feel the freshest and most prescient. I feel that Ellen Ullman is better at revealing the truths of my profession than anyone else I've read. Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents and The Bug are both favorites of mine that have sparked a lot of reflection over the years. The essays in this book about programming itself or the work environments of programming are excellent, This is a book whose essays span from the 90s to the present, and what's strange is that the oldest essays feel the freshest and most prescient. I feel that Ellen Ullman is better at revealing the truths of my profession than anyone else I've read. Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents and The Bug are both favorites of mine that have sparked a lot of reflection over the years. The essays in this book about programming itself or the work environments of programming are excellent, and are essential reading for anyone involved in or tangential to that work. The early essays on the Internet cover ground that has been tread by others, but are still eerily prescient; right now is a particularly appropriate time to read them. Mid-way into the book, there are several essays on artificial intelligence; while I don't disagree with her thesis (and I enjoyed how some of these ideas were explored in The Bug), these essays seem stale and redundant. AI snake oil has long since moved on, and I would have appreciated reading Ullman's take on the new hype cycle, rather than the drawn-out leftovers of the AI winter. Unfortunately a lot of the rest of the book, which addresses things like MOOCs and gatekeeping, or the startup goldrush destroying San Francisco, is like hearing someone rant for too long, a bit too bitterly and off the mark, about something on which you both fundamentally agree. I found myself mentally replying with "ok boomer" at one point, which is not something I've ever said before. So I'd say this book is still essential reading, for anyone interested in programming, the Internet, or feminism. It's possible my negative reaction to much of the latter half of the book is entirely personal, and this being a personal history of technology, that's appropriate.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bernardo

    The beginning was a bit slow at first, till I understood where the author was going with the rest of the book. It has many interesting discussions like chapters about AI and what it means for us. More than a book about technology, this is a book about what it means to be human as technology evolves and tries to replicate our behaviours and patterns. Are we a set o pre-programmed actions? What is the "self"? What is our identity? The book discusses not only the point of view of the author, but al The beginning was a bit slow at first, till I understood where the author was going with the rest of the book. It has many interesting discussions like chapters about AI and what it means for us. More than a book about technology, this is a book about what it means to be human as technology evolves and tries to replicate our behaviours and patterns. Are we a set o pre-programmed actions? What is the "self"? What is our identity? The book discusses not only the point of view of the author, but also from many other people working on the AI/robotics field with surprising diversity of thought. It doesn't only cover this though, it goes to mention how technology is permeating our lives and changing it in many ways that I haven't though before. It goes on to discuss how closed the programming community is and its biases, but at the same time it urges people to learn more about it to understand that the technology that rules our lives are made by humans and has all the biases of one. Sometimes technology is not the solution at all, especially in our current context. All in all a refreshing and eye opening read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

    This isn't really a memoir, but a collection of essays, some more interesting and relevant than others. But Ullman writes from a unique perspective, someone passionate about programming who sees the cracks and the flaws in our Brave New World given over to the machine. I particularly enjoyed her essay about AI and robots that learn by mimicking human reactions. Also, I appreciate her comments about the way technology is a perpetuator of the economic divide and has not been used to address and me This isn't really a memoir, but a collection of essays, some more interesting and relevant than others. But Ullman writes from a unique perspective, someone passionate about programming who sees the cracks and the flaws in our Brave New World given over to the machine. I particularly enjoyed her essay about AI and robots that learn by mimicking human reactions. Also, I appreciate her comments about the way technology is a perpetuator of the economic divide and has not been used to address and mend inequities. In the final pages, she writes about Trump as the product of technology -- a leader who doesn't lead, but Tweets, communicating without filter to people who have learned to scorn experts, mock science, and denigrate the professional press. Ullman makes a strong case that technology has brought us to this impasse of horror. Where will it take us next? According to Ullman, after Uber has used up its gig workers data mining for auto-driving cars they, too, will be abandoned. This is all sobering stuff. This would be a good book for discussion -- for those willing to go there.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cady Johnson

    An interesting read. As a female working in technology (although not an engineer myself) I found the first 1/3 to be very interesting and helped explain some phenomena I have observed. 4 our of 5 stars because there was a middle section which talked about AI for what seemed like a really long time without a lot of the personal narratives and writing style to which I had become accustomed and enjoyed from this writer. The last third came back to relating personal stories and expressed some feelin An interesting read. As a female working in technology (although not an engineer myself) I found the first 1/3 to be very interesting and helped explain some phenomena I have observed. 4 our of 5 stars because there was a middle section which talked about AI for what seemed like a really long time without a lot of the personal narratives and writing style to which I had become accustomed and enjoyed from this writer. The last third came back to relating personal stories and expressed some feelings I’ve had about the barriers to entry and startup culture that have been hard for me to put into words. It was refreshing for me to hear someone that someone feels the same.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    An engaging, non-linear extended essay about technology development, the author's life as a software engineer -- both the code and the workplace reality of being a woman in almost entirely male-dominated profession -- and a big warning about how the use of the internet, apps, web sites have taken over our lives, driven us apart and in some places replaced actual reality. Ullman goes into the have-and-have notes nature of tech hotbeds like San Francisco, where venture-funded, almost entirely whit An engaging, non-linear extended essay about technology development, the author's life as a software engineer -- both the code and the workplace reality of being a woman in almost entirely male-dominated profession -- and a big warning about how the use of the internet, apps, web sites have taken over our lives, driven us apart and in some places replaced actual reality. Ullman goes into the have-and-have notes nature of tech hotbeds like San Francisco, where venture-funded, almost entirely white millionaires live in outrageously priced real estate while on the streets they are served by a diverse, underpaid mix of delivery people, janitors, nurses and teachers who can't begin to afford to live where they work.

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