How Buildings Learn (and why software is no different)

Series: tangential November 11, 2013

I like to read material from outside of software; I find thinking about how I can apply some lessons from other fields to programming to be very stimulating.

Ideally, I like to find stuff that is approachable to a beginner. If a doctor wanted to learn about how software teams solve problems, we shouldn’t recommend Knuth’s TAOCP; they are probably better with something like Joel on Software or The Mythical Man Month.

I was really pleased to stumble across this MetaFilter curation entitled “What single book is the best introduction to your field for laypeople?”.

One of the fields that piqued my interest was architecture and building construction. From that post, I found a book called How Buildings Learn. I knew this would be good just based on the short summary:

An illustrated book on the evolution of buildings and how buildings adapt to changing requirements over long periods

Replace buildings with software and you’ve probably got a best-seller from Pragmatic Programmers!

I was about to pull the trigger on this book when I found that the author (Steward Brand) actually produced a BBC mini-series about it. And, because we live in an amazing time, Mr. Brand has graciously uploaded the whole thing to YouTube.

And it is really lovely; I watched the whole thing over two evenings. I would highly recommend it to anyone that builds software.

(Warning: there is a very loud and obnoxious beeping during the first 10 seconds or so)

Hit me up on Twitter if you have come across any other cross-displinary gems or if you want me to share more of the ones I have found.

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