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The Mythical Man-Month

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The Mythical Man-Month

Essays on Software Engineering


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Classic collection of philosophy and practicality on software and planning: part manual, part Zen Koan, all enlightening.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


This book is a classic for a reason. Every essay by Frederick P. Brooks Jr. addresses software engineering and proves invaluable for those interested in the history and processes of that field. getAbstract also recommends Brooks’ book to anyone who plans or organizes major projects. The collection remains timely due to the clarity of his thought and the educated loveliness of his prose. When Brooks is writing about programming, he’s never just writing about programming. He's writing about the complexities of life, and about how best to plan, organize and communicate the concepts you need to overcome those complexities. This 20th-anniversary edition contains new essays in which Brooks reflects on his earlier writing – especially his principles and predications – and responds to his critics. The result showcases a singular, markedly honest mind at work.


The Pleasures and Challenges of Programming

Why do people enjoy programming? They like making things, especially useful things. They savor the complexity of it all, and the learning that comes with it. They appreciate the joy of “working in such a tractable medium.” Like poets, programmers work with almost pure thought. But unlike poets, programmers’ thoughts create real changes in the physical world. Like magicians, programmers must perform their craft perfectly – and, yet, any program always has countless bugs. Moreover, anytime you create a good working program, you know it is doomed to become obsolete soon, as technology advances and new programs emerge.

“Large-system programming” involves special complexities, but “programmers are optimists” and assume everything will work out well. Further, people have a common, fundamental misunderstanding of how work works. The metric called a “man-month,” which measures time by how many people are needed for how many months to complete a task, makes dangerous, faulty assumptions. It posits that “men and months are interchangeable” – that is, that project managers can divide work perfectly, that anyone can do any job and that...

About the Author

Frederick P. Brooks Jr. is the author of The Design of Design and other works. He won the Association for Computing Machinery’s A. M. Turing Award in 1999.

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