A seed for this book was planted when Jim Gray passed through New York in the spring of 1999 on his way to pick up his Turing Award, an accolade that has been called the Nobel prize of computer science.A California native, Gray was educated at Berkeley in the 1960s and has worked nearly all his life in Silicon Valley. Gray is a veteran of many a business cycle in the Valley, and he shook his head with bemused disdain at the Internet investment mania of the time — all elevator pitches and IPOs. People seemed to be a lot more excited about money than about technology - a world askew, by Gray's standards.
Sure, he said, people with skills make a good living in the field. "But it's not about money," Gray observed. "The joy and the real appeal is to be able to play and build things with this cool technology of software."
I thought it might be fun to take a deeper look at the history of computer programming, and talk to the architects and builders of the software world that we increasingly live in. An added benefit was that because computing has moved so rapidly - and is such a comparatively recent field - most of the pioneers of programming are still alive.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Some others thought it might be an intriguing project as well, and they deserve my thanks. Without the encouragement the agents at Brockman Inc. — John Brockman and Katinka Matson - I would not have gotten started in the first place. Basic Books made a commitment, and Elizabeth Maguire, the editorial director of Basic, and William Morrison were deft and thoughtful editors. The NewYork Times, and especially the executive editor, Joseph Lelyveld, generously gave me a leave of absence - an absence that lasted longer than advertised.
Tom Goldstein, the dean of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, kindly offered me a place to work from while I was away from the Times.
I am most grateful to the Alfred P Sloan Foundation and Doron Weber,