Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Book Review: The Innovators

The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital RevolutionThe Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will say unequivocally, anyone who is in the IT field - software, hardware, architecture, telephony, networking, management - you should read this book. If I ever have the chance to meet Sir Tim Berners-Lee, I am buying that man a beer and giving him a hug.

The Innovators is a very well written, historical narrative on the forwarding thinking and progressive thought leaders that brought forth the digital age. Most shockingly, the idea's and experiments that lead to the technology we use today started in the 1800's. The book goes on to explain the machines - and I mean physical gear turning machines - were developed to help add, subtract, and predict number sequences. At this time it was not only dreamt, but felt that it was within their lifetime that machines would become programmable devices that could be fed data (via punchcard) to instruct future mechanics.

Obviously, they were wrong on the timeframe, but incredibly forward thinking on the application! And that is exactly the insight this book provides, what and how so many individuals thought about technology at their time, and what it lead to for us to use today. Machine, programmability, electricity, microprocessors, system-on-a-chip, open architecture, closed architecture, software development, the Internet - that is in essence how this book flows. Isaacson shows how rarely one individual had both dreamt of a solution AND capitalized on it. Rather, one would have the idea, and others would find a way to provide the solution to the masses.

All in all, this book is a great tale of how teamwork and leadership played a role in helping even the brightest of the bright succeed. What I wish this book had done was provide more application in a business sense, just because I feel that this book was really a hundred mini history lessons. Again, it was well researched and written, but in a way each chapter, and some subsections of each chapter, were all in a ways independent of one another. I know Isaacson isn't one to write business leadership books, but if he had been, this would have been the perfect jumping off point. I also have a little concern for the technical nature of this book.  It’s not a science book in any way, but when the book makes periodic reference to TCP\IP, the importance of an Operating System, or perhaps readable\writeable memory, it may be a little cumbersome for a reader who is not inherently technical.  It’s difficult for any author, let alone Isaacson, to dive in and explain what TCP\IP is.. or it’s importance..  so these things need to be mentioned in order to give an appropriate history, but I do worry that at times the text can become a little tech-heavy.

I had read Einstein: His Life and Universe many years ago, and quite honestly it was the best book I've ever read. In some regards, it's unfair to compare The Innovators to Einstein. However, it is a worthwhile read, and ultimately I stand by my opening statement.. if you're in IT.. read this book! It will give you a great appreciation for the field your in and the insight so many before us had had that provides us with an opportunity to excel today.

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