Life in Code
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 wroteClose 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.

Life in Code Details

TitleLife in Code
Author
ReleaseAug 8th, 2017
PublisherMCD
ISBN-139780374534516
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Science, Technology, Writing, Essays, Womens

Life in Code Review

  • Marks54
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Jenny GB
    January 1, 1970
    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.
  • Rowena
    January 1, 1970
    ~3.5An insightful, inspiring, warily hopeful and deftly written memoir. Parts I and II were most engaging, synthesizing technical details and personal moments into thoughtful conclusions on the clean edge of a penetrating style. The second half was not as well connected to Ullman's actual experiences with technology, sometimes being only tangentially related, and felt a bit more like proselytizing (though this may be appropriate given the larger societal topics).A reprise of the AI section, give ~3.5An insightful, inspiring, warily hopeful and deftly written memoir. Parts I and II were most engaging, synthesizing technical details and personal moments into thoughtful conclusions on the clean edge of a penetrating style. The second half was not as well connected to Ullman's actual experiences with technology, sometimes being only tangentially related, and felt a bit more like proselytizing (though this may be appropriate given the larger societal topics).A reprise of the AI section, given its current mainstream surge, would have been a great read; I'm sure she could have expounded elegantly on the issue of bias in deep learning. I also think she could have mentioned an increased focus on human-centered design (though, admittedly, maybe this doesn't get to the root of the issue she points out, that more often than not, the goal is to build something new and disruptive, which ignores systems/structures already in place).Overall a worthy and supremely topical read; I especially appreciate Ullman's perspective as a woman who started her career in the toddler age of tech, despite initial lack of intention.
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  • Marty Suter
    January 1, 1970
    Interesting perspective from Ullman on the last 25+ years in technology development, programming, and everything Internet but have to admit I was a little disappointed that her essays veered off into meandering personal offerings, especially the long description of her relationship with her cat. I respect her views on the seedy underbelly of programming and where the Internet/tech startups have taken us--the divide of haves and have nots continues to widen, especially when it comes to career opp Interesting perspective from Ullman on the last 25+ years in technology development, programming, and everything Internet but have to admit I was a little disappointed that her essays veered off into meandering personal offerings, especially the long description of her relationship with her cat. I respect her views on the seedy underbelly of programming and where the Internet/tech startups have taken us--the divide of haves and have nots continues to widen, especially when it comes to career opportunities in coding (dominated by white/Asian men certainly) and general access to technology. However, overall can only give this one 3 stars but maybe that's on me since I don't like overly negative stories, especially when they aren't well structured. Book lived up to its billing, though, as a personal history.
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  • Kate
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Sweta Agrawal
    January 1, 1970
    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!
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  • Frank
    January 1, 1970
    Most of the way through I wanted to give this three stars. It was an interesting read, but nothing very different from other stories of life in tech in the 90s. But then the last two chapters, mostly about the current tech wave, were excellent and tied back to so much from the first few chapters. So four stars it is!
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  • Gabby
    January 1, 1970
    An interesting and unique view of the world of programming. Intriguing connections made between the rise of technology and changes in our worldview.
  • Mark
    January 1, 1970
    Interesting view of the last few decades of technology from a perspective that is not frequently heard from. If you are in technology you should read it, men specifically.
  • amy
    January 1, 1970
    "Do they not teach labor history in schools anymore?" Nope.
  • Tel Monks
    January 1, 1970
    The first few chapters were excellent for anyone who has ever programmed a computer, or wishes to know something about the people who do. Later chapters disappointed me, but still a very good read.
  • Darlene
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoyed Life in Code. As a former computer programmer (1965-2002) I enjoyed the essay about the error in the Cobol program. I also enjoyed reading about what's new in the profession today. The young, white and Asian male dominance is troubling. The 70-80 hour work week might be discouraging women from entering the profession as software engineers.
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