I love things about Microsoft, particularly stories behind the scenes. From the “why does a feature behave like so” to “here’s why so and so happened” type of stories by Raymond Chen (a prominent blogger and senior programmer of Microsoft) to various podcasts and technical tips from different Microsoft employees, I have been searching for in-depth stories, particularly stories that depict the process – from the beginning to the end of a development process. There have been (mini) stories from people like Kraig Brockschmidt, Larry Osterman, Ben Bathi (on Windows Vista’s predecessor Longhorn) and others.
Until I stumbled upon this book.
Showstopper! The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and The Next Generation at Microsoft (phew, what a title) (or, Showstopper! for short) describes the story of the development of Windows NT. The story of the birth of the underlying engine which powered the Windows operating system we know today was told in a vivid way. With a huge number of people working on the project which spanned several years, Dave Cutler and the gang shaped the future, literally.
When I first read the beginning part of Showstopper!, I was quite excited for the journey the developers are about to embark – to develop a new operating system that is portable/universal, and is shaped not for the current moment, but for the future. It reminded me of the excitement when a new project phase began. Potential ideas were explored and deep thoughts were given whether to implement and how to implement. It all seemed fun on paper.
As I continue reading, I got nervous as they hit a lot of road bumps. Missed deadline, huge amounts of bugs, bug catching and solving that seemed never ending, and countless disappointment and anger across the team. Yet, they never gave up, continue squashing the “priority one” and “priority two” bugs, and the infamous showstopper bugs — problems within the system that prevented from normal use, e.g. system and program crashes and destruction of data. The team leads were understandably furious of the appearances of these classes of bugs as they rushed against time to meet the deadlines for various schedules.
A late release constitutes to missed opportunities.
Software developers or people who enjoy stories about software in general will definitely appreciate this book where it detailed aspects about software and project management. I get stressed out when I read the part where Dave raged towards his team, as if I was in his team. Thankfully, my workplace did not have this culture hence the calmer side on my part. However, the story written was quite vivid (in my opinion) that I felt the atmosphere and emotion together with the team. From the part where they hyped towards success, especially killing bugs, to facing depression from various aspects of life, of which it was derived from the moments and atmosphere of Windows NT development that affected them deeply, the various perspective being told added elements of the human aspects in the software development side.
I had re-read this book twice (as of this writing). At times when I opened Kindle, I would jump to a chapter I find interesting and continued from there. I often ended rewinding to earlier chapters to pursue the fun of reading this book.
This book has been translated to Chinese and Japanese, and has received positive reviews too. I plan to buy the translated copies sometime in the future…
You can read a sample (preview) portion of the book, which covered the Introduction and the first chapter, Code Warrior, which introduced Dave Cutler, one of his days in the Build Lab (a place where a new, incrementally built copy of Windows NT being produced), and his younger days and days prior joining Microsoft.
Have you read this book before?