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Being Geek: The Software Developer's Career Handbook Paperback – August 13, 2010
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About the Author
Michael Lopp is a Silicon Valley-based engineering manager. When he's not worrying about staying relevant, he writes about pens, bridges, people, and werewolves at the popular weblog, Rands in Repose. Michael wrote a book called "Managing Humans" which explains that while you might be rewarded for what you produce, you will only be successful because of your people.
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On page 11 is the following: ... those who are closest to the code are imminently [sic] qualified ...
With all the automated spell checkers and grammar checkers available, such compilation-like errors should be rare ... for all intensive purposes [my favorite Malaprop].
Looking on my own experience in tech companies, I think that his advice is often spot-on. There have been times when I've read one of his blog posts after a difficult situation and found myself understanding it better. He's got a keen eye for detail and for understanding the nuances of geek behaviour, as well as all of the interacting forces that come into play when you're working for a big geek company. I've gone back to read half-remembered posts that I felt were pertinent to a given situation.
I found it amusing that Lopp says in his introduction that he's not writing a book that gives you ten steps for anything, or that will define the five characteristics of a top leader, but most of his essays are structured in just that form: distill a situation into some archetypes, identified by Capital Letters. For an occasional blog post, I don't mind this style; as a book, this structure got rather repetitive. While I love the blog, I found that I couldn't read the book for more than a half-hour without losing interest because the style just didn't work for an actual book.
Honestly, I was hoping for more. The blog is excellent. I hoped that a book would use the blog as a starting point and give more consideration, more depth. But it's not there. If, like me, you've been reading his blog for some time, I can't really recommend this book. You've read most of it before, albeit in a different order. The new pieces don't really add that much. If you're not a reader of his blog, this book is a good look at moving through your geek career. I'd recommend adding his blog to your reading list while you're at it.
"Being Geek", by Michael Lopp, scores high on all three points. As someone with a background in software development management, "Being Geek" struck home with me. I recognized myself, my staff, and many of my friends in the pages. I also got some good ideas on how to become a better software developer and development manager myself.
The book's genesis is in blog posts from the Rands in Repose blog, but edited, expanded, and organized. There's also some new material. The book is organized into several sections - how to manage your own career and job search process, how to deal with management: managing up, managing down, managing sideways, and managing toxicity, tactics and strategies for dealing with the day-to-day panics and crises of life as a developer, and how to think about how, why, and when to consider your next gig.
The two sections that I found most valuable, and will be returning to, are these: first, prioritization and keeping both a task list and a "trickle list" - strategic items that need a little bit of attention every day, not necessarily a big box of attention and then they're done. Second, the chapter on managing managers - communication styles, meeting schedules, and dealing with surprises - led me to some useful introspection about my own strengths and weaknesses as a manager. The section on "The Nerd Handbook" didn't really resonate for me, but the stereotyping in the chapter certainly has plenty of basis in fact.
Lopp has a clear and conversational style of writing that gives you the feeling of sitting with him at a table (probably on your second glass of good beer each) and a notepad between you for quick diagrams, while he explains his view of how software development teams work. He's opinionated, he doesn't pull punches, and he's occasionally pottymouthed for emphasis, but it all works. The book offers advice and food for thought both on how to get through the day, and how to get to where you want to be in your career.
Several other reviewers commented on bad editing and proofreading in the book. I also found this to be true in the first advance copy I was sent. However, a subsequent drop of the ebook had fixed the dozen or so errors I found in the initial draft, and I think they're also addressed in the print version.
If you're a software developer, you owe it to yourself to read this book. If you're not sure, check out the Rands in Repose blog as a sampler of the material that's here, but also be aware that there's material in the book that's not on the blog - the book is more than a collection of posts. I wish this book had been out 15 years ago when I was contemplating moving into management; I think I'd have gotten better faster.
O'Reilly offered me a free copy of the ebook in exchange for the review. I'll likely be buying the dead tree version anyway, in order to loan it to some friends who really really really need to read it.
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