Software Pioneers: Contributions to Software Engineering
Author: Manfred Broy & Ernst Denert (Eds)
Publisher: Springer, 2002
Pages: 728
ISBN: 978-3540430810
Aimed at: Those interested in history and the people who pioneered software development
Rating: 5
Pros: Unique historical value
Cons: Non-standard DVD format
Reviewed by: Sue Gee

This book is based on a conference that took place in 2001 and if that sounds as though it might be dull and boring, think again. The speakers at the event in Bonn, Germany (which was also broadcast on the web) included many of the most legendary names in the history of software development who were asked to reflect on their own pioneering contributions to software engineering in the 20th century. Thanks to video footage you can see and hear them for yourself, complete with jokes and off-the-cuff comments and the laughter and applause of those fortunate to be in the audience. The four DVDs are a valuable part of the package but also a potential source of frustration as they install a non-standard DVD player which has an unfamiliar interface and whose menu is in German. In fact the videos are viewable with other DVD players, including WinDVD and PowerDVD, and the bonus material resources they contain - slides from the lectures, their transcripts and transcripts of historical lectures can be viewed as PDFs from the DVD without the menu provided by the DVD Connector software. However to make any of this work you need to know how to explore a DVD.

Part of the proceedings, including the introductory sessions presented by conference organisers Ernst Denert and Manfred Broy, is in German with English subtitles provided. The majority of the 12 hours of presentation are, however, delivered in English (without subtitles) and all the printed lectures from the 2001conference are in English. Of the historical documents reprinted in the book only those by Friedrich Bauer (inventor of the stack principle and of ALGOL) are in German.  The book’s reprints include documents that we may have heard about but never read – Dijkstra’s Go To Statement Considered Harmful being one good example, and Design Patterns: Abstraction and Reuse of Object-Oriented Design by Erich Gamma et al another – and it is an important volume considered just as a source of historical material.

Although the more recent lectures are relatively short they are equally fascinating and with references that make them invaluable jumping-off points for students who want to research topics such as object orientation, program design, abstract data types and software economics. Most readers, however, are also going to be interested in the speakers themselves. The conference overview introduces all sixteen of the illustrious participants – including Niklaus Wirth, founder of Pascal; Alan Kay the inventor of the graphical user interface and Michael Jackson, whose structured programming concept underpins much of today’s programming methodology – and is in itself an interesting document. Following this it is a privilege to watch each of them address the conference with the added benefit of being able to re-read their lectures.

This is a "must have" resource for anyone even slightly interested in the history of computing.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 08 February 2009 )