So the year 2014 is over and I wrote few posts about books that I enjoyed reading over this period. However, reading IT books about frameworks, processes or practices can be a tiring activity. So once in a while I feel the need to grab a book of a different kind and recently I started reading about the history of our field and also the company side of things – especially startups. In this post I want to offer a short review of books that stood out to me the most and maybe entice you a bit to give them a chance and learn valuable lessons described in them (and there are quite few of them). So without further ado, I present to you my top 3 books of 2014.
The Innovators – Walter Isaacson
Well researched book about history of computers and technology from esteemed author Walter Isaacson. In his book, Isaacson takes the reader on an epic journey throughout history leaving the reader in an awe of the chain of events leading up to the current state of tech industry as well as the society itself. The journey starts with a 19th century mathematicians coining the first proposal of algorithms and machines capable of running them. Then we glance at the birth of first computers, entertainment machines, Bletchley Park and the Internet. Author describes each individual involved in various stages, from germination of an idea to its implementation and development.
I feel this a must read for everyone involved in tech lacking historical insights as I did. Isaacson has a way to bring less known heroes of computer age to the spotlight and crediting them for their contribution to our field. Even though this book describes the history of computers, it deserves to be read by professionals from other industries as well. Two key insights that are apparent throughout the book are: collaboration provides means for innovation and the fact that the best innovators are the ones that stand at the intersection of the arts and the sciences.
Available here: Amazon
Zero to One – Peter Thiel
I admired the work of Peter Thiel for a long time and I was thrilled when I read that he is about to publish a book about startups. One of the first things that sets the tone of this book is Thiels stock interview question ‘What is something you think is true, but that most people disagree with you on?’ Pretty hard to answer (especially during an interview 🙂 ). This thinking exercise is just a warm-up for things to come. Author tackles topics like business strategy, cleantech critique, monopoly, the real value and many more. This is that kind of book you can’t read just once because there are just too many things to grasp and understand, so I will have to pick it up some time in the near future. However, the biggest theme in the book is to stop focusing on incremental improvements and strive for an improvement of an order of magnitude (hence the title Zero to One).
I had a chance to attend a short small group Q&A with Thiel when he was visiting Trinity College in Dublin and I must say this guy is really smart. Several attendees even questioned some points mentioned in this book and he was able to defend his stands in a way that even these people were satisfied and understanding. Definitely a must-read business book.
Available here: Amazon
How Google Works – Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg
I have never put so much emphasis on company culture during a job search as I do after reading How Google Works. In this book, Schmidt and Rosenberg provide a look at early days of Google and challenges companies have to face on a day-to-day basis. This book touches many topics from company culture, strategy, hiring, decision making and approaches and methods used in Google in general. If you think that Google is all about search engine, Android and huge data-centers this book will show you just how much you don’t see right now. Have you ever wondered what makes Google such an awesome place to work in? The answers are in this book. The biggest revelation for me was the realization it all begins and ends with both company culture and people.
This book is very enjoyable to read and packed with a lot of insights. Granted, it is a Google book so some parts serve partly for PR purposes, but it is not overwhelming and reader can easily get past that and enjoy the true value of this publication. Definitely a must read for managers and also really valuable for programmers as well. I believe that this book should be bundled with DeMarcos Peopleware and handed to management teams in all departments.
Available here: Amazon
So this was my pick of top three books of 2014 (coincidentally all books mentioned in my list were released in 2014 as well). However, there were some other great books I read in 2014 that didn’t make the list. Even though one of the following publications was not released in 2014 and the other one is not even a book, I decided to include them here as an honorary mentions since I read them in 2014 and they were full of insights and pleasure to read.
Hackers & Painters – Paul Graham
When my friend Peter recommended this book to me, I didn’t expect it to be this enjoyable. First thing that struck me was authors background – Paul Graham is well-known figure in the startup tech community and co-founder of the Y Combinator seed capital firm. Given its format – bunch of standalone and self-contained essays – might be off-putting to some, but I think it is this property that gives this book its charm and value (besides authors unique way of writing). Hackers & Painters is not a technical read (even though some essays contain tech related jargon I still highly recommend this book to the non-tech readers as well) and provides a wide range of topics from critique of society and educational system, income inequality, difference between wealth and money to the fact, that you can’t do anything really well unless you truly love the thing you do. Besides these topic author provides insight into the lives of hackers, nerds, entrepreneurs and programmers. What makes this book really stand out is the way it describes how changes in technology and IT has changed economic and social landscape. Some essays will make you smile, some will make you feel nostalgic and others will enlighten you. If you are looking for a relaxing read, this book is definitely worth checking out.
Available here: Amazon
77 Failed startup post mortems
Another essays collection, I know. I feel like there is something strangely appealing about essays even though I hated it when I was forced to write/read them during my school years. However, this is a different kind of startup essays. We all love success stories and media keep showing us the winners in the startup game. But closer look at the life of a startup reveals painful and sad reality – most of the startups fail and they fail hard. Have you ever wondered what was the story behind some startup you knew that doesn’t exist anymore? I did and this was my reason for researching this topic.
And this is how I discovered this collection of blog posts from people running their startups and describing what went wrong and what they wish was handled differently. This collection contains wide array of business domains and approaches to running a startup. Besides that you will get an insight into the emotional state of these people and glance upon the amount of work and pressure these people had to handle everyday. Do you want to start your own startup? Read this!
Available here: Download