Book Review: Software Configuration Management Patterns

Software Configuration Management Patterns Software Configuration Management Patterns
Effective Teamwork, Practical Integration
by Stephen P. Berczuk with Brad Appleton
©2003 Addison-Wesley

I must say I’m amazed that this received a four+ star rating on Amazon.com. This is at best a two-star book. I might even give it only one star, depending on my mood.

The author (Stephen P. Berczuk) is obviously an earnest sort of fellow, and well-schooled in SCM, but his effort here is:

WORDY. The content could be cut by 50% without batting an eye, which is a big deal for a book that already has way too much whitespace.

DRY. This is a boring read. No specific anecodes, only summaries, and lots of repetitive three-dollar words. Lots of pedantism (is that a word?): for example:

When you check in code changes, you may, despite your best intentions, introduce build errors.

Huh, no shit. Who would have guessed that might happen from time to time?

UNENLIGHTENING. I’m coming at this book as an SCM practitioner, and I wonder who the audience is. In his Preface he says he hopes that “anyone who builds software and uses a configuration management system can learn from this book.” If you’re working with SCM issues in your daily job, this content is too simple. If you don’t use SCM in your daily job, the content is mis-targeted, in my opinion.

ACADEMIC. Berczuk sprinkles little footnotes and attributions throughout the text in an attempt (I guess) to appear more authoritative. A classic one is in Chapter 14, “Unit Test”, when he writes:

Unit testing is indispensable when making changes to the structure of the code that should not affect behavior, such as when you are refactoring (Fowler 1999).

Why exactly did he need to attribute that? I’m confused. This gets me to my next problem with the book, which is that it is

BLAND. The author has very few strong opinions and prefers to float above the fray, oblivious to the real nitty-gritty world of choices and tradeoffs that define today’s SCM battlefield. He’s like the policy wonks at the Defense Intelligence Agency who write documents about theoretical wars – a couple levels removed from real life. In my experience, SCM is very messy, even with great tool support, precisely because there are so many ways to skin the cat — and everyone has good and bad experiences with virtually every aspect of the practice, from tools, to policies, to communications, to actual operational mechanics. People pull their hair out all the time when SCM goes horribly wrong. Take a stand, man!

I think I spent $39.99 on this book at Barnes and Noble. Conclusion: Ouch!

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