The Books I Read This Year (2022)
December 20, 2022
Every year I try to take a short inventory of the books I read through that year. I find that doing so helps me solidify the concrete things I learned from each. You can see last year’s list too if you would like.
Let’s jump right in.
Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Frank Herbert
Code was such a fun read! We read this book as part of our engineering book club at Policygenius and it was remarkable how much we all (seasoned engineers) learned or gained a deeper understanding of our craft. I particularly enjoyed the history of how morse code, braile, and even Paul Revere’s lamps lead overtime to the building blocks of the Internet. It’s also fascinating how one small rethinking or breakthrough in an area leads to waves of innovation.
Write Useful Books by Rob Fitzpatrick
I re-read this book part way through the year as I’ve been working on my own book a lot this past years. In particular, I like Rob’s push to involve potential readers as early as possible in the writing process - something the Agile-ists would appreciate. I’ve even joined the Useful Authors community online to help get feedback on what I’ve written and generate ideas for marketing. If you are considering writing a book, I highly recommend this one as a guide.
The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God by Dallas Willard
Dallas Willard is a gifted communicator. He has the ability to provoke deep though, has a witty sense of humor, and is somehow still easy to read. I picked up The Divine Conspiracy after hearing many other authors and pastors refer to his work. The book aims to use Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as a blueprint for how to live the Christian life. Willard is methodical in his approach and builds a strong argument that many Christians don’t see Jesus has a teacher - they only see him as a rescuer. What I found most thought provoking here was the idea of not just doing what Jesus said, but doing what he did. “If Jesus needed 40 days in the wilderness, I probably could use 3 or 4.”
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
This was my first book by Ryan Holiday. I’ve followed some of his blog and newsletter for a while, and finally decided I should read one of his books. Ego is the Enemy was a refreshing take on the value of humility beyond simply “being a person of charcter.” Growth in our lifes always requires us admitting that we don’t know something. We realize we must put our ego aside to learn or ask for help. While I felt it was a little long, I appreciated the lessons in this book. I’ll likely pick up another Holiday book in 2023.
Acclerate by Nicole Forgsen
Acclerate is the compilation of massive research into what makes successful software engineering teams, well, successful. When I joined Policygenius late last year, I was pretty stunned at how fast developers could get code into production - all via seamless CI/CD pipelines and no fuss. Most of the ideas were from Acclerate, so I decided I should pick up a copy. I learned a lot about how successful engineering teams operate and have been trying to move my own team to adopt many of the patterns in the book. The biggest takeaway for me (and I think most others) is that the best way to build stable software is to make it so easy to deploy that you can deploy multiple times a day.
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Commer
John Mark Commer is one of the best synthesizers I’ve ever read. He has a natural ability to connect seemingly disparate schools of thought and research into a singular compelling idea. In this book, John Mark really walks readers through the teachings of Jesus, especially around rest, sabbath, and intentionally living not in a hurry. John does an excellent job of relating our current inability to rest with our lack of discipline - which is somewhat a paradox for our “hustle” culture. My wife and I have been working through how we practice regular sabbath as a result and are thankful for a call to have a rule of life.
Team of Teams by General Stanely McCrystal
I read Team of Teams after hearing our CTO Dave Kaplan mention it when discussing our company culture and decided to pick it up. General McCrystal does a good job of taking the reader into the challenges of the military after 9/11 and how they had to pivot their strategies to combat the changing world. The heart of the book is the idea of dencentralized command via transparency: give teams the information they need and let them act on it. Much like Accelerate and other ideas within the software industry, the fast flow of work is how to win in the marketplace; the fast flow of information to and from aligned teams is how to get there. I appreciated the insights here about how to lead teams and delegate responsibility effectively.
Staff Engineer: Leadership Beyond the Management Track by Will Larson
I was introduced to Will Larson’s work late last year when I first learned about the “staff” role. I had honestly never heard this term used before, but once I learned what it was, I realized that is what I wanted to do. I want to help build incredible software teams, but as a technical leader and not a manager. Staff Engineer has helped me navigate my own career path up to this point and plan a course towards the Staff role. A key component that I have been learning alongside of reading this book is that building relationships. I’ve always thought intra-team relationships were important, but I neglected the inter-team ones. My advice: start building them earlier than you think. I’m grateful for this book and am confident I’ll reference it in the years to come.
Thanks for the Feedback by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone
I’ll be honest: I wasn’t able to finish every page of this book. After a while, I felt it was a bit repeditive. But! I think this is an excellent book overall. I’m so glad there was a book about how to recieve feedback and not just about giving it. As we learn to recieve feedback better and better, we also learn how to be better givers too. My favorite takeaways were the classification of feedback (coaching, appreciation, and evaluation) and the realization that often people are having two-track conversations, resulting always talking past one another. I’m trying to practice this (it’s hard!) in my own career and I’ve even incorporated a lot of thse ideas into my upcoming book Code Review Champion!
The Pyschology of Money by Morgan Housel
Money advice is a dime a dozen. Everyone has an opinion and a system to follow an how to build wealth. What I really appreciated about this book was the ability to hold the many various opinions with open hands and seeks to learn from each of them. There were two main takeaways for me. First, the reminder that everyone has different experiences, so we need to be cautious when we try to apply it to our own situations, and that we need to avoid judgement. Second was the admonition to avoid getting pulled into the “having things” trap. No one is as impressed with your possessions as you think. I’m glad to keep learning and solidifying more own understanding of how to manage and grow my own money.
The Unicorn Project by Gene Kim
I was a big fan of Gene Kim’s The Phoenix Project. It was a refreshing take on how IT offices feel overwhelmed, overloaded, and unable to keep up with demand. The Unicorn Project tells the story of Parts Unlimited from a slightly different (but overlapping) angle: that of developers at the company. Developers can often feel the same strains, feeling overwhelmed and overworked. However, some developers never “see the forest for the trees” if there are walls to communicate between developers, operations, product leaders, etc. This booked really helped me understand why “the improvement of daily work is the most important work” of all for development teams. I’m glad that we’ve made a lot of investments towards that goal at Policygenius.
Lead Like it Matters to God by Richard Sterns
This book was a parting gift from the VP of engineering when I left Bandwidth. I’ve been learning more and more what it means to be a software leader this past year, and the road is difficult sometimes. Expectations continue to rise, your time becomes limited, and you have to learn how to accomplish goals through others. What I appreciated about this book wasn’t a focus on how to achieve goals, but how to achieve goals with integrity. The result isn’t that meaningful if you had to sacrifice your character to get there. This book and my own experiences this year have also helped me remember the fastest way to lose credibility as a leader is being too stubborn to admit when you were wrong.
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Dan Goslen is a software engineer, climber, and coffee drinker. He has spent 10 years writing software systems that range from monoliths to micro-services and everywhere in between. He's passionate about building great software teams that build great software. He currently works as a software engineer in Raleigh, NC where he lives with his wife and son.