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I.M. Wright’s “Hard Code”: A Decade of Hard-Won Lessons from Microsoft – #programming #bookreview

I.M. Wright’s “Hard Code”: A Decade of Hard-Won Lessons from Microsoft
By Eric Brechner
(Microsoft Press,  $44.99, paperback; $35.99, Kindle)

Good news, Eric Brechner fans. His alter ego “I.M. Wright” is back in print with an updated edition of “Hard Code,” a collection of columns that frequently delivers the “hard” truth about the ongoing battles among software developers, software testers and project managers facing tight deadlines to deliver (mostly) bug-free products.

This second edition contains 42 columns written since the first edition of “Hard Code” was published in 2007. Brechner’s “I.M. Wright” columns have appeared in a Microsoft internal magazine, Interface, since 2001 and are read, he says, “by thousands of Microsoft engineers and managers each month.” Brechner has held posts that include development lead, development director and director of engineering learning and development at Microsoft.

Gathered in book form for public consumption, his “Hard Code” columns by “I.M. Wright” have gained many fans, because Brechner’s alter ego rips straight into the “brutal truth” about the difficulties, turf wars and inefficiencies that frequently arise during software development and testing. But “I.M. Wright” also is unafraid to tackle high-sounding yet unmeasurable goals put forth by Human Resources, as well as various time-wasting processes that can lengthen rather than shorten product-release cycle times.

His goals are to stimulate discussion and debate and fuel imagination and change, when change will benefit and streamline the sometimes-warring processes of developing and testing software.

The new edition groups “I.M.  Wright” columns by topic into 10 chapters. “The first six chapters dissect the software development process,” Brechner points out, “the next three target people issues, and the last chapter critiques how the software business is run. Tools, techniques, and tips for improvement are spread throughout the book….”

The chapters are:

  1. Project Mismanagement
  2. Process Improvement, Sans Magic
  3. Inefficiency Eradicated
  4. Cross Disciplines
  5. Software Quality – More than a Dream
  6. Software Design If We Have the Time
  7. Adventures in Career Development
  8. Personal Bug Fixing
  9. Being a Manager, Yet Not Evil Incarnate
  10. Microsoft, Ya Gotta Love It

Being a great manager is hard, but being a good manager is not, “I.M. Wright” argues. “Being a good manager is easy. A good manager only has to focus on two things—two very simple things that anyone can do…[e]nsure her employees are able to work…[and] [c]are about her employees.

“That’s it. No magic, no motivational videos, no 24-hour days are necessary. A good manager just needs to ensure his employees can work, and he must care about them.”

(As someone who used to work in software development and testing, I can attest to the truth of that “I.M. Wright” basic wisdom. In different two companies, I spent several weeks just waiting to receive the right tools and software so I could work. And I got little help from managers each time I asked for some useful assignments. They were bogged down in the problems of their own little worlds and didn’t really care that I had nothing worthwhile to do at my empty, unequipped desk. So I got paid well for reading, re-reading and re-re-reading corporate policy manuals and taking frequent walks to explore the various hallways, floors and break rooms.)

If you work in software development, software testing or software project management, you need this book.

If you are connected to any aspect of a company where software and “progress” are supposed to be the most important products, you need this book.

And if you are planning to pursue a career anywhere in the world of software development, you definitely need this book.

Si Dunn



  • Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, photojournalist, and book reviewer. His published books include: DARK SIGNALS, a Vietnam War memoir; ERWIN'S LAW, a private-detective novel; and JUMP, a novella about a combat veteran suffering from PTSD and alienation while trying to work for newspapers as a journalist. Several of his feature screenplays recently were under option to movie producers. He spent nearly 15 years working as a technical writer and software tester in the telecommunications industry. His current programming interests include Go, JavaScript, Python, R, Angular, and other languages and frameworks. He is a U.S. Navy veteran and a graduate of the University of North Texas.

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