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Book Review: Being Geek


Author: Michael Lopp
Publish Date: July 2010
URL: @ Amazon and @ O'reilly
Atul's Rating: ***

Michael Lopp's definition of a geek/nerd:

We seek definition to understand the system so that we can discern the rules so that we know what to do next so that we win.

Does that describe you ? Then you completely belong, just read on. He packs both a career development and management philosophy into a list of three items:

  1. Technical direction: Are you actively defining the technical direction for your product?
  2. Growth: Do you understand what you need to do in order to grow?
  3. Delivery: Are you hitting your dates? Are you meeting your commitments? Are you doing what you say you're going to do?

I hope you are intrigued, you are explained in lucid detail. In case you are not convinced, you are very likely to be when you read the chapter 'A List of Three'.

In the following chapters, Michael enables you to decide whether you are happy at your current workplace or not. And if not, what you should do about it, right through the initials, the interviews, the people you are likely to meet, and the aftermath. Knowing the 'Buttons' should be important to you.

Michael has good advice for you through Section One on all aspects of a job offer. Many of them, understably, are not directly applicable outside of the united states of america, you will need to tweak for your environment.

The Second Section is a treat for all technical people trying to understand management :) Culture, meetings (and their kinds), status reports, skip levels, kinds of folks who appear out of nowwhere when you make a *mistake*, strategic emptiness (really), surprise and kinds of responses to it, networking how-to as well as getting along, treating hiring requisitions and *when* you are really done, and not the least of all, bosses ! You get a perspective on all of this. The game of 'Werewolf' is just the right analogy, especially for the geek, to understand people behaviour. I learned that managers were Organic and/or Mechanic.

I liked this section very much, not only because it satisfies my need to understand the system, but also because I learnt to identify and tweak behaviour so that I don't for example become 'The Doof'.

If you like psychoanalysis, the Third Section helps you understand a nerd at length. Highly useful for both self and the significant other. Standard as well as unusual methods for time management and achieving success through 'productivity minimalism' are sure to provoke you to tune your current rythm. But thats for the bread-and-butter, and cakes-and-icecreams are equally important too - which is addressed by the Trickle list. Really nice, not only because I do a bit of that myself, but also because this is the nicest way in which I could have conveyed it to someone else, but didn't. :)

He writes "The point of your productivity system is not to keep absolute track of your tasks. The point is to keep the important information in the front of your brain where it will improve your improvisation and inform your whims. A task tracking system gives you just enough information to calculate your chaos while reminding you to create and act on random moments of high potential."

You can read Michael and entirely stop feeling guilty about your 'Up to Nothing' moments, and be spurred to sharpen your presentation (communication) skills into fluency. See the difference between a speech and a presentation. Learn how important a demo is as well how to prepare and what to expect when doing a demo :)

The last, Section Four, brings you back on your toes over stepping stones to career success. Some insights - 'some' because people are even more complex - into your reviews (appraisals), setting your own expectation right so as to avoid dissappointments, advice on startups vs established companies (to work for), as well as that 'crossing the chasm' dilemma on 'management vs development', invaluable notes on what it means to be in management, and managing departures - large and small - in your teams.

This set of chapters largely mirrors your work world because even as you make plans for your career, you will experience some of the trials and tribulations via moves or other people on your teams ! Through the seemingly random behaviour, the world at large is trying to be fair you know :)

Chapter 40, 'Bad News About Your Bright Future' urges you to recognize your biases and overcome complacency, and reminds you that you are in a hurry - the chapter I liked best.

Overall, a great conversational style and a very different (geeky, if you will) vocabulary, give a refreshing flavour to this reading. You may be discomforted if you are a stickler for parliamentary language, but I never heard of any geek in parliament yet! :) It can be difficult to find the flow in the book, but irrespective, all chapters make up the parts of the main theme that you should be able to put together in your mind. The reviews on the book cover aren't hyperbole - if you are person with a technical or engineering bent of mind, then this book is an essential read for you. Period.

Michael blogs at Rands In Repose. You may want to subscribe.

Links to other reviews:
Mike Riley: A down-to-earth career handbook for developers
Duffbert: It didn't take long before I saw the value in what he wrote ...
GoodReads: ... but only this book will help you handle many of the baffling circumstances you may encounter in your career.

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