Book Review

Book Review. The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders by Camille Fournier

There are 27 million Software Developers world wide according recent estimations. If we will take average span of control as 10, we will get roughly 2,5 million Engineering Managers. That is an impressive number. But who are those people?

While it is clear what a Software Developer should do well (write good quality code), it is not that straightforward what set of skills an Engineering Manager should have. Or how career path from a Developer to a Manager may look like in tech companies today. Of course, every mid- or large size organization has a blueprint that describe career ladder and number of job descriptions for Engineering organization. But it does not help a lot in practice.

The book outlines a path from Software Developer to a VP of Engineering/CTO in today’s IT world. It describes all intermediate states – Technical Lead, Engineering Manager, Manager of managers and etc in a very structured way. It starts from very basic fundamental knowledge and takes a reader to more complicated topics, like organizational culture, stakeholders management and etc.

If you are a manager today, this book most probably will not give you a lot of insights. But if you are in the beginning of your career and looking for a management position, it will be definitely useful. The book indeed gives a path that is almost the same in every enterprise that has an Engineering organization.

The author spends a lot of time explaining technical leads/senior engineer role in a team. IMHO, this role is underestimated in a lot of companies and the book has ready to implement guidelines.

Overall score – 4 out of 5. I can recommend this book to folks in the beginning of a career in Engineering organizations or Senior Engineers who would like to make a step to a management role.

Write in comments – how a good manager should look like?

Check out my other book reviews.


Book Review. Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas

I was always astonished how group of people can form an organization that successfully solves highly complex, highly ambiguous challenges and innovates. The organization can continue to produce great products or solutions for a long period of time. But at some point something breaks. Same individuals change their decision making process and instead of nurturing crazy ideas, they start to bury them.

Why it is like that? What is the root cause? Definitely, organization structure has something to do with that. But what else impacts human behaviour in a group?

Those are some of questions that the book is trying to answer. The author uses phase transition theory to explain sudden change in group behaviour. He also proves that individual behaviour has much less impact than organization structure. More is different is one of the key points of the book.

There are a lot of interesting ideas around how balance can be achieved between “artists” and “soldiers” in organization. How to manage transition of innovative ideas from prototype to stable product? This is a classical problem it IT, based on my personal experience. Too many great ideas too often never made it to implementation. So, the book provides a blueprint how to overcome this.

I really enjoyed chapters where the author applied scientific method to solve the challenge every organization is trying to solve – “Where does an employee invest last working hour of the day? Will he or she try to add value to assigned projects or spend time on building networking and internal politics?” This equation includes multiple variables – span of control, equity fraction and many others.

The author distinguishes two types of innovation – product (P-type) and strategy (S-type). In short, if a company concentrates only on “the latest and greatest” products, it can stuck in the vicious cycle. It will concentrate only on “faster and bigger” features, even there is no market for it. This what book calls “Moses Trap”.

The book is also great source of stories about how innovation products and companies were born. There are examples from almost all industries – aviation, photography, IT, pharmaceutical and etc. So, if you are collecting and memorizing stories like I do, this book has a nice pack of them.

Overall, great book – 5 out of 5. I recommend to read it together with other books about innovation. Check out my reviews here and here.


Book Review: The Elements of Style by William Strunk

Humanity is a civilization of text. More precise – civilization of text written in English language. Good it or bad is another debate. The fact is 1 billion people use English as second language.

I have studied language at school and university. But education system was focusing more on speaking and reading skills than on writing skills. So, I never had opportunity to learn proper English writing style.

The more I progress in professional life, the more I see importance of writing. The greatest Zoom/Chime/Teams call will not have progress if minutes of meeting is not clear for participants. You cannot transfer context of a problem without clear definition what is the problem. Plus dozens of other examples – emails, feature requests, account plans and etc.

Amazon takes writing very serious. Narrative is one of the corner-stones of Amazon culture. Text does not rely on person presentation skills. Text allows to break borders of PowerPoint slide and transfer full context from a writer to readers. Well written text does not leave space for misinterpretation and confusion.

The Elements of Style is 100 year bestseller that teaches how to write in plain and clear English. The book has prescriptive guidance about punctuation, syntaxis and style. It also uses easy to comprehend examples of a good and bad style. It is short – around 100 pages.

Some of rules and examples were so subtle that I was unable to feel a difference between good and bad. Both examples were good enough for my non-native speaker eye 🙂

A lot of daily communication has moved to instant messengers, like Slack. IM communication is shorter, more frequent and has lower bar for writing skills. But average attention span time has drastically reduced over last decade. So, a writer should very concise and clear to make people read a text. And it requires practicing and skill development.

I highly recommend this book for every person who uses English language for professional communication.


Book Review: The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

I have started new job in September 2020 – after 6 months in a “working-from-home” mode. Some of the questions I was asking myself after signing new contract were:

“Will I be able to connect with my new peers, my manager and feel myself part of the team?”

“How can I connect with company’s culture without meeting people physically?”

These questions are extremely relevant in the modern society. We are becoming more and more lonely, while becoming more and more digitally connected. Paradox. Check out this 30 year vision from SoftBank for more insights on that. It was created in 2010 and their predictions are pretty accurate so far.

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Book review: Winter road. General Pepelyaev and anarchist Strod in Yakutia. 1922-1923

Beginning of 1922. The Russian Civil War is almost over. Soviet government established on the major part of territory which is soon become known as USSR. The last piece of “old Russia” is Far East with a center in Vladivostok. But its time is running out as well.

Red Army defeated its rival White Army. Ex-officers, ex-soldiers and everybody else who are not welcomed in Soviet Russia are evacuating to all possible directions. Very soon Istanbul, Paris, Berlin and Harbin will become centers of Russian immigration. One of them is my grand-grand-father. He will settle in Manchuria and, like many other his combatants, will train Chinese troops to confront Japanese invasion that will happen in 15 years.

This non-fiction book is about one of many ex-generals Pepelyaev who fought and lost in Civil war. He immigrated to China. After hearing news about anti-communist uprising in Yakutia, he decides to organize last “crusade” against Soviets. He and almost 1000 volunteers will sail to Okhotsk and spend 1 year in deep Yakutian forests. They will fight for their Russia.

On the other side of barricades is commanding officer Strod. He is also fighting for Russia. Just his comrades ideas about world order could not co-exist with ideas of Pepelyaev’s volunteers brigade.

Both sides will suffer from hunger and extreme Yakutia weather conditions. Both sides will kill each other against the background of extraterrestrial Siberia winter nature. People will walk 30 km per day without roads and with -50 degrees outside. People will be on the edge of human body capabilities.

The book is not selecting sides. Instead it is trying to answer what made these people to be so committed to their ideas? What motivated 1000 people to take this suicide journey? How these two antipodes, Pepelyaev and Strod, will communicate with each other?

The book is based on diaries of participants and court records against Pepelyaev and others. It is very well written, I would say one of the best non-fiction books that I ever read. If you speak Russian and like history, I highly recommend it.

Overall score – 5 out of 5.


What is your favorite non-fiction book? Write a comment with your answer!

Book Review: New Sales. Simplified by Mike Weinberg

I have started my career as account manager for Small and Medium Businesses at mobile service provider in Novosibirsk, Russia.

While I was reading the book New Sales memories of that period of my life started to appear in my head.

It was a time full of cold-calls, sales pitches and a lot of leg work. One time per week I visited random business center where 20-30 small businesses were operating. I was going door to door, knock and start a sales call with phrase below:

“Hello, my name is Roman Gorge from XYZ Company. With whom I can talk about you Internet and mobile connectivity needs?”

Sometimes I was asked to leave immediately, sometimes I was lucky to pitch my sales story and find a new customer. There were no PowerPoint slide decks, I even didn’t have a laptop in my bag – only printed materials, my business cards, pen and notepad.

I met all kinds of people during that time – entrepreneurs, IT guys, accounting and business owners. I will never forget this difficult but great experience.

The book New Sales. Simplified provides well structured guidance how to attract new customers. It covers all aspects of prospecting:

  • How to build a sales story
  • How to create finite list of prospects
  • How to execute sales calls and meetings

Here is what I take with me from this book:

  • What is sales-oriented culture and why it is important?
  • Too many times I attended meetings where time was wasted for “Introduction” and “Company Overview” slides, but now I know how first-call deck should look like
  • How to create sales power statement and use it as a tool for meetings, cold calls and emails
  • Best practices for a sales call structure

I’m not in Sales today, but if I will one day, this book will be the first one I read again.

Total score – 5 out of 5.

Check out Reading List 2021. It has some great titles.

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Book Review: Think Smarter: Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills by Michael Kallet

“If I am paid for my thinking and problem solving skills, how I can become better in this?” – this is a question that I ask myself from time to time.

A book “Think Smarter” provides clear definition of key stages of critical thinking process (clarity, conclusions and decisions) and gives step by step instructions what to do on each of the stages.

Some ideas and instruments can look pretty obvious and well-known but a value of the book in systematic process that author created.

Among multiple things taht I liked in the book are:

  • Visual representation of decision making process – how expiriences, observations, facts and assumptions form our conclusions and how to distinguish fact from observation
  • Definition of “outside the box” thinking. “What is “the box” in thinking?” is a first question to ask to understand
  • Explanation what is premise and why it can be weak or strong. This is important knowledge to measure confidence of the conclusion
  • Abductive thinking – how my conclusions will change if some of my assumptions are wrong? Or how would I think about it if I had not some of my expiriences?

My next step for the topic “Critical Thinking” is to write an article that will apply critical thinking to customer’s requests prioritization.

So, a lot of interesting ideas written in easy to read language. Totally recommend to read.

Check out series of my articles how critical thinking framework applies to prioritization.

Overall rating – 5 out of 5.


Book review: Speed Reading: Learn to Read a 200+ Page Book in 1 Hour by Kim Knight

Excellent book with a lot of practice drills to improve spead of reading. Most of the advices are easy and straightforward to understand, but it will require commiment and time investment to master speed reading skill.

I’m gonna practice following skills:

  • Setting a purpose before starting to read
  • Preview reading materials
  • Space reading
  • Remove subvocalization
  • Reduce fixation and regression
  • Practice peripheral vision
  • Look for key sentences and meanings in text
  • Do recall and review after every 30 minutes of reading
  • Eye exercises at the end of the day

Overall rating – 5 out of 5.

Book review: Influence without Authority by David L. Bradford; Allan R. Cohen

Every person in any organization has a need to influence people – peers, boss, other department. This is just a part of human nature. We prefer to participate in reciprocity process rather than to follow marching orders. Even with direct reports it is much easier to achieve better performance with influence than authority.

This book provides guidance into how to create influence using pretty straightforward process. In the context of the book, influence is an ability to establish trustful relationships and make “win-win” exchanges to achieve the one’s goals.

One of the key ideas of the book – everybody is your potential ally. This idea is very simple, but in practice we tend to mark individuals or groups of people as “bad persons”, if they don’t cooperate or help us right after the first request. Thus, we remove them from list of potential allies and killing the possibility for influence.

The book explains how to avoid this bias, how to understand other side values and goals (currencies in the book’s language) and how to build mutually benefitial reciprocity process in professional environment. The process how to do that explained early in the book and the rest of it concenrates on various situations where and how this process applies – with your boss, cross-functional team or other departmernt.

The key weakness of the book from my point of view – too much speculation and hypothetical thinking in some of examples.

Overall rating – 4 out of 5.