Life in Code is a consummate insider’s take, rich with local color and anecdotes ... Ullman has a pure passion for computing that doesn’t stop her from recognizing all the ways it can isolate and intimidate — or how unconscious bias works like a sort of snow blindness on the striving (and yes, still overwhelmingly white and male) dreamers who would call themselves disrupters. Like all great writers, she finds the universal in the specific, mixing memoir with industry gossip (cameos by Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, a wry Microsoft dig) and ancillary tales of house cats, dairy farmers, and Julia Child. Code is illuminating and unfailingly clever, but above all it’s a deeply human book: urgent, eloquent, and heartfelt.
Don’t panic, non-nerds. In addition to writing code in multiple computer languages, Ullman has an Ivy League degree in English and knows how to decode her tech-world adventures into accessible narratives for word people ... The first three-fifths of Life in Code is primarily composed of essays published elsewhere between 1994 and 2004, while newer material from 2012 to early 2017 fills out the rest. The technology mentioned within those early chapters often recalls quaint discovery, like finding a chunky, clunky Nokia cellphone in the back of the junk drawer. The piece on preparing computers for the Year 2000 has a musty time-capsule feel, but the philosophical questions posed in other chapters — like those on robotics and artificial intelligence — still resonate.
The essays in Life in Code, Ellen Ullman’s smart, civic-minded new book, were written over a period of almost 25 years. The newest entry, completed a few months ago, is as current as could be ... Not all of these essays are unadulterated gems. Ullman is a longtime San Francisco resident, but her brief piece about the changing complexion of SoMa never quite coheres. Most of the entries, however, are excellent ...her experience informs her clear-eyed assessments of the tech economy, artificial intelligence and the industry’s power dynamics ... This is a measured perspective, and like the rest of Life in Code, it figures to stand up over time.