A self-taught computer programmer and one of the few women in the industry, Ellen Ullman wrote code from the 1970s to the 1990s. Then, to redeem the human from the machine, she wrote a pair of brilliant novels and the sharply observed, engaging, and very smart essays gathered here. Life in Code (MCD, $27) both evaluates the promise and reality of the internet and looks back at important moments —Y2k, the dotcom boom and bust, several generations of hard- and software—that brought us to where we are today. Ullman is a deeply informed, witty, and often passionate writer. Unlike most of her colleagues, she never aspired to change the world with technology, though she believes the web should be more than a platform for shopping, advertising, and surveillance. Also unlike the young white and Asian men who still define “the closed society where code gets written,” Ullman craves human contact. Conversation. Openness. She wants to “stick a needle into the shiny bubble of the technical world’s received wisdom,” and remind it of messy human emotions, bodies, and stories. By putting her insights about technology into the context of difficult bosses, gentrification, marriage, cats, and dinner parties (how would a programmer translate social cues and multiple forks for a robot?), she vividly reminds us that even today, as more and more people adopt the 24/7-online habits of alienated tech geeks, “technology is not the driver of change, what drives technology is human desire.” People are still in charge.
Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology - Ellen Ullman