Most Influential Books On My Career - Part 2
Posted by Charlie Recksieck
More Generic, Business-Related
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Last week we looked at books that I’ve been able to use directly in my career as a software developer. Here in Part 2, I’ve listed the most influential books I’ve read that have helped my with my career that aren’t directly about software. Some are lighter reading, and the first two below are incredibly dense. But I really think there’s something for everybody here.
* Introduction To Algorithms by Thomas H. Cormen, Charles E. Leiserson, Ronald L. Rivest, and Clifford Stein
Originally published 30 years ago, this book is still huge - both literally and figuratively amongst practical engineers and in the classroom. This is not for beginners; I don't have a math background so I struggle with a lot of this & much of it is over my head or not relevant. But there's so much here, I've just browsed and focused on a couple sections and tried what they suggested and learned a couple of tricks that I did use professionally. This not something you read cover to cover and it's some pretty strong meat. But if you think your job is anywhere near this ballpark, check it out.
* Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter
I read this right after college, when my brain might have been a little stronger than my brain is now. (The human body, including the brain, peaks pretty much at 23.) And although it may have tied Infinite Jest or Gravity's Rainbow as the toughest read of my life, it's just as rewarding if you're up for the challenge. It's a deep (deep!) meditation using the work of influential minds, a mathematician, artist and composer but more about how human intelligence can read and create complex patterns. Really a mind-blower. I firmly believe that reading this book made me smarter. Also, if you're into music like I am and you're not scared of having to re-read almost every page 2 or 3 times, then take a look-see. Also re: music, check out So This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel J. Levitin
* The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman
This is more about functional design of physical objects than would, on the surface, help you with graphic design or web design. I read this in college, and it introduced me to the idea that award-winning or "fancy" design sometimes gets things wrong. Truly great design is always practical and I remember this book really securing the priority of usability over aesthetics in my mind. There is no more indelible image of a design "fail" as the teapot with the handle and spout on the same side (take a moment to picture what happens when you try to pour the teapot); it's not just a funny image but a perfect example of something that could have been designed on paper and isn't discovered to be a disaster until you have a prototype. Norman has written a lot of other seminal books on design - check him out.
* Life Is A Contact Sport by Ken Kragen
This isn't just a "how to succeed in business" book, although there's plenty of great, traditional advice for how to cultivate and blend personal/professional relationships. The author was Kenny Rogers' and Lionel Richie's manager and the creator of "Hands Across America" (ask your father, or grandfather). Such a positive guy, but also super practical. Far and away the best book I've read about marketing. One section that's always stayed with me is the Magic Of Threes where you try to have 3 simultaneous things to legitimately promote at roughly the same time or in quick succession for your artist or your company. Having multiple valid press-worthy events getting coverage around the same time really makes people believe you are killing it in your field and creates real momentum. I perhaps recommend this one most strongly of any book in this article, particularly because it makes sense no matter what business you're in.
* Next by Michael Lewis
You know Michael Lewis. Liar's Poker put him on the map, and he's more famous for Moneyball, The Big Short and The Blind Side. I've loved so many of his books. But Next was pretty influential for me as well as being way ahead of its time. Published in 2001, it was still in the early days of the internet. Each chapter was sort of a standalone essay but all point to the change in power structures. Basically, it observed the diminished role of experts in our society which continues to worsen (e.g. the "fake news" phenomenon). We’re still reckoning with what the "democratization of the internet"; some of it has been great, some hasn’t. Really good stuff. At the very least, I think reading this makes you a smarter consumer of information going forward.
* The Art Of War by Sun-Tzu
This 2500-year-old classic is about military strategy on its surface, but all kinds of people in so many businesses take lessons from it. And they're not wrong. It's really about outsmarting your competition. You may have even read it before. But I strongly suggest keeping it on a nearby shelf or somewhere were you'll flip through it time to time. You will get something out of it every time.