Review: Symbian for Software Leaders
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Normally the Wiley Press books from Symbian arrive to my door with a note from the postman that he’ll be taking the next day off because having to deliver three thousand page tomes on the intricacies of Symbian OS takes a little bit out of him. Not so with David Wood’s first book “Symbian for Software Leaders”. With the subtitle of “Principles of Successful Smartphone Development Projects”, this isn’t your normal programming reference book. It is, put simply, a pretty comprehensive guide to how to manage the massive scale of a project such as Symbian OS, from inception through delivery.
David Wood is the perfect person to write this book, having been with Psion since before the creation of Symbian, and he is still with Symbian (currently as Executive VP of Research). Having pushed through the object-orientation focussed approach at Psion, and then overseeing the development of the Symbian OS architecture, he has both the experience and the background to craft the story of Symbian.
And that’s one of the strengths of this title – it actually is a story. It’s not as light a read as the biographies of other PDA companies (such as “Piloting Palm”) and this is mainly due to the narrative structure being held together by computer code, rather than the people behind Symbian. Humanizing the Symbian code base is an interesting approach, but given the target readership isn’t your regular Amazon user, it makes good sense to structure around the evolving OS.
Naturally the book delves into some deep theory of how modern smartphones should work. Be warned that the Symbian viewpoint is pretty much the only viewpoint presented in the book – but to see just how they read the market in a certain way, and how that reflects in the OS and Symbian's historic choices makes good reading.
Split into four sections, the text is well laid out. Starting with a look at Symbian’s place in the smartphone revolution, how Symbian relates to its hardware partners, and why smartphones are different from PDA’s and organisers. It’s a light introduction (compared to the rest of the book) and makes a great primer for anyone wanting to know how Symbian got to where it is today.
Given his management role, it’s no surprise that the guts of “Symbian for Software Leaders” is how a complex project is managed. It’s in these chapters (under the ‘Thriving on Scale’ section) where the book becomes an insight into the management of Symbian, as opposed to the programming. It’s clearly a departure for Wiley and Symbian Press, but it works. Naturally there are many areas that aren’t covered, but even a glance through chapters on managing testing, tools, interfaces and integration show how all these areas come together. It’s a fascinating look at just what’s expected from the upper levels of a company.
Finally, the last section takes a step back from the coding concepts and philosophy to examine more personnel management issues, with chapters on project management, keeping staff fresh and interested, and communication between all the different parts in the project.
With Symbian being such a large project, and with David Wood continuing to prove that he is an excellent communicator (witness the ongoing series of “Insight” articles on the Symbian web site) it makes a great topic for a business management book, which is effectively what it is. There’s more than enough depth for the smartphone hacker to have a number of “ah… that’s why!” moments, but this is, essentially, a look at how to manage a large organisation, with Symbian as the living example.
Definitely recommended reading for Symbian historians, and those looking at the company from beyond a need to code a killer application, “Symbian for Software Leaders” is a welcome change from your typical Symbian book, but deserves a place on the shelf as much as any of the other tomes from Wiley.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at