I've always thought of myself as being a reader. Growing up I loved to lose myself in a book and explore the ideas that the author created in the pages. However, during my time at university 🎓 I fell out the habit of reading books for fun. I felt that any time I was reading it needed to be related to software engineering and continued this after university when reading had to be related specifically to iOS development. When I did try to read non-technical books I felt a pang of guilt about it that quickly had me returning to technical reading.
This mindset was, of course, unintentional and went unnoticed for many years. It wasn't until early 2017 when I picked a copy of Difficult Conversations off a bookshelf that I re-discovered how important reading more widely than just your profession is. Reading a book on any topic is almost never wasted time and the books that I've been reading while not directly related to development have, I believe, made me a better developer - whether that's having a better understanding how to convey an idea or handling disagreement in a more constructive manner or even how to use pacing in my writing to create a sense of excitement to entice the reader to keep going. My increased exposure to reading outside of directly technical books has proven to be a mini-revolution for me 🚀.
However, I noticed that when I was reading books, the insights and knowledge that I gained would stick with me for only a short period. Within weeks only the main points would still be there and within months even those often faded to only an idea or two. After years - pfft forget it. I felt that this was a waste 💩. I knew from my school days that in order to reinforce my learning that I should write about it but I'm busy and I don't really want to write an essay about each book I read. When searching for a strategy to ensure that my reading wasn't wasted but that wasn't too time-intensive I discovered Mind Maps. A mind map is a quick visual representation of (in this case) a book's main ideas. Each mind map should be highly personal to the creator of that mind map and as such may not make a lot of sense to our people - that's fine, it's your learning and is meant to jog your memory 🏃. I find mind mapping to be a perfect approach between reinforcing my learning and allowing me to move onto the next idea without significant delay.
Despite mind maps being highly personal in nature, I've decided to share them with you below, in case you can gain some value from them.
We've all been in conversations that we would rather avoid. Having to tell someone that you don't agree with something they have done can be an incredibly difficult and fraught thing to do. Those conversations if not handled correctly can be incredibly destructive.
Difficult Conversations is part self-help, part practical guide. The first ~200 pages are about knowing yourself and questioning your own reasons for wanting to have that conversation (or for wanting to avoid it). The rest of the book covers strategies for having that conversation - the strategies are varied and detailed, with believable examples to learn from.
Difficult Conversations helped me to understand that often it's not that difficult people are arseholes or bad-guys but rather that everyone finds themselves in shitty situations from time to time and that most people are just trying to do their best. Of course, their best may have a negative impact on you but that impact is often unintentional.
Most importantly it details that feeling upset about a situation is perfectly normal and that we shouldn't ignore our emotions but equally, we can be driven purely by them.
It was in 2011 when I first came across
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by
Stephen King when a colleague mentioned that if I was serious about writing I needed to read it. But I didn't. In fact, it was not until the tail end of 2018 that I finally did, after stumbling upon it at a local charity shop. Part of my reasoning was that I was interested in writing nonfiction and I wasn't too sure if the content in this book would be a good fit for that. The other part of my reasoning was that the time it would take me to read the book was time that I could have spent actually writing - you know, actually doing it. Needless to say, this line of thought is an example of false economy and I should have read this book a lot sooner than I did.
Having read a few of Stephen King's books (mainly the non-horror ones) I really enjoy his style and it continues here - he has an ability to draw you and hand out his pearls of wisdom in an easy to understand, causal and entertaining manner.
While not all the points he raised are relevant to my writing needs, my main takeaways are:
- Be honest in your writing.
- You can't please everyone.
- Write without fear.
Soft Skills covers a range of topics related to programming but not programming itself. Topics covered are:
- Marketing yourself
So a real mix bag of topics. I decided to read it mainly for the
Marketing yourself and
Learning topics but I also ended up reading
Spirit. I found the point raised in this book to be interesting if not groundbreaking, a lot of the points I had already learnt through various blog posts and books that I've read over the years. It was however useful to see all these points collected together in the one place with one voice looking at each that meant that each point flowed into the next. This allowed for improved comprehension in each of those topics and made it easier to link them together into a plan.
A look at how our perception of the world is often distorted because of basic human instincts and how we can challenge those instincts to get a better view of how things really are. All backed up by data and kept moving by insightful and entertaining stories.
A set of tips and techniques on how to get more from the time that we spend working and studying. It explores the different types of work that exist and how different systems work for different people. My main takeaway was that in order to get the most from any form of work you must remove all distractions when you are working and set tight time limits for that work - once the time limit has been passed you should stop so that you burn out.
An in-depth look at how humanity came to dominate the plant and what the future could hold for us in both spirituality and technology. Really thought-provoking stuff and set in the very near future so extremely relevant. You can actually see some of the ideas coming to pass with the new health features on the Apple Watch series 4.
A look at how the All Blacks engineered their culture to turn them into the most successful international rugby team ever and how those social engineering points can be applied to ourselves and our own teams. The book itself has 15 chapters and IMHO 7 topics:
- Handling pressure.
- Creating a learning environment.
- Setting expectations/goals.
- Adapting to change.
While some of the 15 chapters felt like repeats of earlier chapters I found this book to be a useful read and if like me you are an avid rugby fan actually really enjoyable.
If you don't ask, you don't get.
The Negotiation Book is a look at how to get what you want from a negotiation. Once you understand what type of negotiation you are in, the author then details the different techniques that can be used to ensure that are happy with the outcome. It sounds like it should be a dry book but
Steve Gates does a great job in turning it into an entertaining read and I don't think I would be exaggerating to say that I found it an actual page-turner.
I've always enjoyed writing, especially the ability it gives you to take your time and really think through an idea before describing it. Conversation by comparison can often seem more ad-hoc and prone to the failings of your own memory. Despite valuing the written word so highly, for many years I devalued how the structure of that writing can have a massive impact on the success of that writing to convey an idea. I found
How to write better essays to be a really useful book for describing different techniques on structure my writing. While it's aimed at students writing graded essays rather than bloggers sharing their thoughts, I found large sections of it to be really useful.
Change happens, we can either help get the wheels turning and then steer it or be trampled under those wheels. This book offers simple techniques on how to conduct change and common issues often derail the change. Most points in the book boil down to communicating well and being honest.
A detailed (but brief) look at what mind mapping is - including practical steps on how to get the most from our mind maps.
Each game is different with its own set of rules, objectives and culture. Some games have cultures that are toxic and some delightful. This book looks at how that culture is created and how by manipulating different aspects of a game, the culture of surrounding a game can be shaped. More a psychology book than anything else and one that just happened to use gaming as a background. I was able to take away a number of insights in this book that I applied to the team I was leading at that time. Highly recommend reading this book to anyone interested in either gaming or building a company/team culture. Delightful.
No one wants to be a bad leader but we have all meet bad leaders - why is that?. Often people are placed into positions of leadership without any guidance because they were good at being a follower. I've had the good fortune of leading two different iOS development teams at two different companies and it's fair to say that I made my own share of mistakes (and dare I say a few successes in there), I found this book to be insightful about what leadership means and how to be an effective leader without the book itself being a tomb. Useful reading.
A self-help guide to using mental techniques to handle the challenges that everyday life can throw at all of us. This was very much an impulse purchase and I only dipped into a few chapters but the chapters that appealed to me provided to be highly insightful.
No denying that PayPal is a success story and that the founders of PayPal have gone on to further success demonstrates that they really had something special about them. As one of those founders,
Peter Thiel shares his views on business in
Zero to Hero. This book was certainly an interesting read and well worth it especially the sections on what is required to turn a good idea into a successful product: finding your niche, trying to avoid competition for as long as possible and planning well to reduce your reliance on luck.