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Coders

The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World
Written by: Clive Thompson
Narrated by: René Ruiz
Length: 13 hrs and 22 mins
Categories: Business & Money, Commerce
5 out of 5 stars (5 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Hello, world.

Facebook's algorithms shaping the news. Self-driving cars roaming the streets. Revolution on Twitter and romance on Tinder. We live in a world constructed of code - and coders are the ones who built it for us. From acclaimed tech writer Clive Thompson comes a brilliant anthropological reckoning with the most powerful tribe in the world today, computer programmers, in a book that interrogates who they are, how they think, what qualifies as greatness in their world, and what should give us pause. They are the most quietly influential people on the planet, and Coders shines a light on their culture. 

In pop culture and media, the people who create the code that rules our world are regularly portrayed in hackneyed, simplified terms, as ciphers in hoodies. Thompson goes far deeper, dramatizing the psychology of the invisible architects of the culture, exploring their passions and their values, as well as their messy history. In nuanced portraits, Coders takes us close to some of the great programmers of our time, including the creators of Facebook's News Feed, Instagram, Google's cutting-edge AI, and more. Speaking to everyone from revered "10X" elites to neophytes, back-end engineers, and front-end designers, Thompson explores the distinctive psychology of this vocation - which combines a love of logic, an obsession with efficiency, the joy of puzzle-solving, and a superhuman tolerance for mind-bending frustration. 

Along the way, Coders thoughtfully ponders the morality and politics of code, including its implications for civic life and the economy. Programmers shape our everyday behavior: When they make something easy to do, we do more of it. When they make it hard or impossible, we do less of it. Thompson wrestles with the major controversies of our era, from the "disruption" fetish of Silicon Valley to the struggle for inclusion by marginalized groups.

In his accessible, erudite style, Thompson unpacks the surprising history of the field, beginning with the first coders - brilliant and pioneering women, who, despite crafting some of the earliest personal computers and programming languages, were later written out of history. Coders introduces modern crypto-hackers fighting for your privacy, AI engineers building eerie new forms of machine cognition, teenage girls losing sleep at 24/7 hackathons, and unemployed Kentucky coal-miners learning a new career. 

At the same time, the book deftly illustrates how programming has become a marvelous new art form - a source of delight and creativity, not merely danger. To get as close to his subject as possible, Thompson picks up the thread of his own long-abandoned coding skills as he reckons with what superb programming looks like. 

To understand the world today, we need to understand code and its consequences. With Coders, Thompson gives a definitive look into the heart of the machine.

©2019 Clive Thompson (P)2019 Penguin Audio

What the critics say

“In this revealing exploration of programming, programmers, and their far-reaching influence, Wired columnist Thompson opens up an insular world and explores its design philosophy’s consequences, some of them unintended. Through interviews and anecdotes, Thompson expertly plumbs the temperament and motivations of programmers.... [Coders] contains possibly the best argument yet for how social media maneuvers users into more extreme political positions..... Impressive in its clarity and thoroughness, Thompson’s survey shines a much-needed light on a group of people who have exerted a powerful effect on almost every aspect of the modern world.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Clive Thompson is more than a gifted reporter and writer. He is a brilliant social anthropologist. And, in this masterful book, he illuminates both the fascinating coders and the bewildering technological forces that are transforming the world in which we live.” (David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z and Killers of the Flower Moon)

“Looks at some of the stalwarts and heroes of the coding world, many of them not well-known.... Thompson is an enthusiast and a learned scholar alike.... Fans of Markoff, Levy, Lanier, et al. will want to have a look at this intriguing portrait of coding and coders.” (Kirkus)

What members say

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2019-03-27

Enjoyed the book! But...

I really enjoyed this book and was fascinated by the history and culture surrounding programming. The book is a great balance of inspiring and humbling. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in some behind the scenes and not regularly pondered areas of coding.
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That being said though I did have some issues with the book. I felt like the author repeated himself a lot, as well as relentlessly try and hammer home his own personal viewpoints on countless matters. Most of which were based on politics and equality (not a bad discussion to have I agree). I found this to be the most exausting part of the book (I am not exaggerating, this took up 33% of the total volume). I can understand his feelings and activist points of view. But bombarding your listeners with political thought experiments and diving so deeply into race and sex in a book about coding seemed out of place and frankly verging on false advertising. It struck me as either filler material or a moral obligation, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that it was the latter.
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Overall I found the book refreshing and enlightening and reccomend it to anyone.

22 of 22 people found this review helpful

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  • Erika Parker
  • 2019-05-18

great introduction to coding world

good for those considering the world of coding for themselves or their children, sharing prospects, insights into work environments, personality fits, and resources.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Zach Meyer
  • Fort Wayne, In, US
  • 2019-05-10

Overall good read

I listened at 1.5 and did not have a problem following along. Overall I found this book to be informative and entertaining. I just wish it would of been less political, which I thought took away from some of the main points.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Trevyn
  • 2019-04-08

Not for me

This book can be insightful and detailed about certain aspects of technological development and the people/culture behind it. Then, for large parts of several chapters, it devolves into a one-sided social justice crusade that fails to seriously engage in the idea that differences in gender and racial representation might be in part because of different distributions of traits and interests in populations. This is a review, not an argument, so I'll leave it at that. I get that the author might feel like he has a duty to address perceived injustices, and I can appreciate points of view other than my own, but the book really hits you over the head with an over-arching narrative that casts groups of individuals as solid blocks of identity and casts white men as the villains. If you don't want to spend half of your time in this audiobook listening to that message, maybe it's not for you, either.

10 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Baskin Tapkan
  • White Bear Lake, MN
  • 2019-10-06

A bit all over the place

Lots of stereotyping of coders discussed, and history is presented however lacks a main theme or an action item. Leaves it all out there which is fine, but can’t say for sure I learned something new

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  • Ben N.
  • Pittsburgh, PA USA
  • 2019-10-04

Skip this book

I've been a "coder" for 20+ years, and so thought it would be interesting to get an outsider's perspective on the field. For the first few chapters I enjoyed the book, and I think he got a lot right - coding is a roller-coaster ride, it takes immortal-amounts of patience, it can make us cantankerous and grumpy, and it might not always be great for our emotional well-being...BUT it's immensely satisfying to build something from nothing and the profession has much less of the posturing and BS than perhaps others do. Your code works, or it doesn't. You fixed the problem, or you didn't. The book captures a lot of these dichotomies, and it was cool to have this articulated more deftly/elegantly than if one of us coders wrote it!

That being said, the political agenda that is artificially woven into an otherwise great exploration of the psyche and importance of coding was, in my opinion, unnecessary, off-base/invalid, and almost offensive. I get the facts - women make up a minority of coders, but that wasn't always the case. The problem is, only one explanation is offered: that male coders must be creating a toxic environment for women...and then the author parades out a bunch of anecdotes in support. For example, the woman who received overly-critical feedback in code reviews. Guess what? That's totally normal in the field. In fact, see preceding chapters: coders are cranky and impatient. I get slammed in code reviews *all the time*. Is it worse for women? I doubt it, but maybe. Or how about the stats that women don't contribute to open source at the rates that men do? In the open source world, no one knows who you are! Not your sex, your race, your age, anything. You have a pseudonym. Your identity doesn't matter. That's the beauty of it. If you have a good pull request, it'll get accepted on the merits - it has nothing to do with your gender. If women are not contributing to open source at the same rate, then does that speak to a toxic culture toward women? Or just that women, for whatever reason, are not contributing to open source. The point is that it would be intellectually more honest to at least offer the possibility of another explanation - that there ARE biological differences between the genders, and it's possible that women by nature aren't, on average, as interested in the largely anti-social professional pursuit of programming.

In all, the book is well written, but I found the social commentary insulting.

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  • Drew
  • Green Brook, NJ, United States
  • 2019-09-20

A treat

Very well written, very informative, superbly presented. Enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

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  • Joe D'Amico
  • Washington, DC United States
  • 2019-09-09

For every Coder

Fascinating insights into the psychology, history and future of what being a computer programmer is all about.

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  • Steve
  • 2019-08-10

Must read for all Coders and spouses!

Great comprehensive coverage of the history and mentality of the Coders tribe from the beginning to date.

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  • Tim
  • 2019-07-19

Excellent, well-researched information

This is a great listen for both coders and non-coders alike. I was impressed with the extensive research and interviews done for this book. The author does a good job of getting multiple perspectives on a wide range of topics related to coding. As a coder myself, much of this book was already familiar to me. But I still learned new things, and was able to see myself and my industry through a more objective lens.