I went back to France for Christmas holidays, by train as usual. I have a full day of travel, with a lot of time to spend, and some quiet time at my parents. I prepared it well: I downloaded several books from Safari Books Online on my tablet. Here’s what I’ve read, from cover to cover, or in diagonal.

The year without pants

The book is about Scott Berkun’s experiment in Automattic, the company behind Wordpress, where he was asked to see what could be the role of a team manager in such a flat organisation at that time. I’ve read it entirely, it’s an easy and fluid style, like a polished version of a series of blog posts. I recommend it. First, you learn a lot about how Wordpress is developed, that’s always interesting, but the two points that I really enjoyed were how a team so distributed managed to work, and second, his take on management. Basically, to work distributed, you need to understand what is enough communication. Does this silence mean that she’s working, in the zone, or that it’s a bad day? Because you can’t see people physically (hence the title), it’s dificult to read them, without body language. That’s a recurring theme, and the author takes many shots at it. It’s interesting to see the evolution of his opinion and actions. The second point is about management, or his take on management, i.e. what can I do to enable my team? No wonder he was asked to join in Automattic to run such an experiment. That would have been a disaster had it been the kind of person that imposes his style without listening or even considering his team (yes, I know you have met some of those as well). He writes about it in detail, the questions he raises, how to be the most useful and efficient for his team, when to fade out and when to step up. How to train some members of the team to promote them; I haven’t seen that often. I’ve learned a lot while having a good time.

Rest in practice

That one, only the half, and in diagonal. I know it’s there, I may get back to it at some point if I need to. Nothing really new to me, but that’s because I’ve alrady done some homework on REST. What I need is more practice. And for that I have yada, from which I will learn a lot while getting a lot done. To get back to the book, what turned me off were first the code samples in XML, in 2016 it’s a bit too much, and the extended style, by that I mean not concise enough to my taste. I still think it can be a good introductory/advanced book, it’s just that it’s not for me.

Storytelling with data

Read it in diagonal as well. Same comments as above. She does a good job at explaining in depth the dos and don’ts, but I know many of them already. I was more expecting a book on how to tell the story around the data, not how to present it to tell the story, if that makes sense. I was expecting more text and more use cases. I just got the wrong book for what I was looking for. If you want to have a clear and extended introduction on how to put care into presenting your data to convey a message, then you should read it.

The leader’s guide to negotiation

Why not, I thought. I went through the first fifty pages of win-win for leaders, in diagonal as you might expect. Then several more to tell me that I should put myself in the shoes of the person I am negotiating with, to understand him or her. Which I already knew, but I understand the author. Then some more, further on, and I stopped. Once again, not a bad book, just a wrong pick for me.

Peopleware

Well, what to say about that one. “Read it” is probably the best thing to say. It was on my read list for a long time, as I was hearing from it often and from many different sources. I still don’t understand why so many managers either don’t know about it, or do but don’t read it, or have read it but don’t use it. I’m not a manager and a lot of stuff inside already applies to me. What I like most in this book is that it’s 1) well grounded on studies and experience, 2) not patronizing and 3) fluid and concise, even funny at some points. The key takeaways are simple: invest in your people and enable them. Sounds common sense, right? Then why don’t we see it more often? Anyway, I more than recommend it. I know that I’ll be reading it regularly.

Epilogue

I’d like to stress that Safari Books Online is great value for the price. With my yearly subscription, which is 172 euros, i.e. less than 15 euros/month, I get unlimited access to their library.

Now that I’ve read some management books, I’m switching to technical ones, on Clojure, web applications, databases (SQL and PostgreSQL in particular), etc.

Any recommendations?

14 Jan 2017