A tip: if you’re going to read this book, don’t flip through to the back and read the ‘Authors note.’ It doesn’t actually give away the story, but there are clues that you won’t want to know. I should know, that’s what I did.
Fortunately, although you can predict the tone of the end of the book, there are more than a few surprises in store.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
What is the story about?
La Honda is a small, non-profit research centre. They design the biggest, most powerful computers in exchange for sponsorship. The biggest sponsor is a semiconductor company called Omega Logic Corporation, a small competitor to Intel, and they’re relying on the La Honda team to design the next generation chip, the 686.
Andy Caspar, a new recruit, wants to work on this project but, for reasons that only become apparent when you read the book, he’s not allowed to start there and ends up working on a $300 computer. He soon become the subject of ridicule — this is not the kind of project that La Honda are supposed to do. It’s not big, it’s not sexy and it’s not what Omega want.
Andy is eventually hounded out and ends up starting his own company along with the people he managed to lure onto the project at La Honda and the occasional help of his next-door neighbour, Alisa. A battle of wit’s ensues, La Honda and real life against Andy’s tiny start-up,
But what’s it like?
Brosnen obviously knows what he’s talking about. In “$20M” he’s managed to weave a suitably convincing yarn about fictional companies while still leaving the real Silicon Valley (and Redmond based) companies intact. In fact, some of the comments about Microsoft are particularly relevant at the moment.
He also knows the kind of people that work in the computer industry. Even though I work five and a half thousand miles from Silicon Valley, I know people like each of the main characters. They’re likeable and true to life, although some way short of Douglas Coupland’s characters in Microserfs.
And finally, although the life of a start-up seems to involve one good idea, a few people and a fantastic number of long nights in front of a computer — which might have it’s moments but wouldn’t make good reading — Brosnen manages to inject a certain amount of humour and style into the prose. He’s in there with the character rather than criticising them as would have been so easy for a mainstream journalist to do (he writes for, among others, Wired).
If you’re sick of yet more high-powered books on C++ and CORBA, and need a little light reading, then “$20 Million” might just fit the bill.
You rarely see this kind of thing in real life without actually doing it yourself. This book might be the best, lowest risk way of finding out what its like to be in a high-tech start-up. It’s easy to read, true to life and fun. Not the best book I’ve ever read, but definitely worth a trip to Amazon.
Author: Po Brosnen