We’ve lost another titan of Computer Science- Dr Frederick Brooks dead at 91

Posted on Saturday, Dec 3, 2022 by Chris Hayner

Featured in this episode of Chaos Lever

There are a few concepts in Computer Science that are absolutely bedrock to how we got from a world that could be described as “basically no computers anywhere” to our current world of “basically all computers everywhere all the time like literally even some are implanted in our bodies now” - all in a brief span of 80-ish years. One of them was pioneered by Dr Brooks, who died at his home last week.

His first claim to fame was his computer science theory and practice tome- with the invigorating title of “Architecture of the IBM System/360.” The idea he and the 360 team was simple: design systems for compatibility. Crazy right? But at the time, way back in the early 60’s, every computer that came out was its own beautiful snowflake. You had IBMs, sure, but you also had UNIVACs, NCRs and the like, all building one-off bespoke devices. If you are a master of one, well… that was it. Learning on a new one- even a new model from the same company- meant starting from scratch.

The 360 aimed to resolve this with Dr Brooks’ strategy. Fortune Magazine called it a “bet the company” venture at the time- and the bet, as you can clearly see from the literally billions of interconnected devices all around you, paid off. He later wrote the quirky and influential “The Mythical Man-Month” about the intricacies and difficulties of software engineering, which became gospel to generations of SEs. Written in 1975 some of its wisdom rings true even today, and if you haven’t read that one- well.. Fix that. I promise it’s worth it- even if you just read the quotes page online.