Books of 2017

Below you can find a list of technical and self-improvement books that I have read in 2017. The list is ordered by how much value it brought to my life, so you can treat as a set of recommendations.

How do I read?

First, I select the books based on the number of times I have heard about them from various sources in the past: friends, bestseller lists, blog posts, internet comments and so on. Next, I limit the choices to books available as audiobooks, because that’s the most time-effective way of reading for me - I listen to them every day during commute time and walking the dog (in rare cases I fallback to ebooks, when audiobooks are not available). I compose the list and put them all on my phone. I listen to them in whatever order I feel at the moment, but typically I switch between technical, self-improvement, popular-science and fiction to keep the right balance. During the reading(listening) I make notes with most important points and archive it afterwards - that’s how I was able to compose this list.

The List

1. Peopleware

Book for everyone who would like to understand the psychology behind software development, on individuals, teams and organizations level. It’s really good, especially if you have experience from at least couple of different workplaces so you can compare them in the new light. Tackles wide spectrum of aspects. One thing I learned: impossible to select one thing, but something most surprising: listening to the music lowers creativity because it occupies the right side of the brain.

2. TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking

Must-read for anyone interested in giving talks. And almost everyone should be. Even you have no interest in public speaking it’s almost certain you will have to present some outcome of your work or research to coworkers. I plan to read it again this year. One thing I learned: shorter the speech, more time you need to prepare.

3. Fiction in English

English is not my mother tongue and I constantly try to improve it. In February I finally had an opportunity to work in an English-first environment but that wasn’t enough. I always liked reading books, mostly science-fiction and fantasy, just for pure pleasure. Last year I realised I can join the fun with self-improvement and switch all my pleasure-reading to English. I have no proof if that improves my skills or not but I hope so(I’m the fan of heuristics anyway). In 2017 I’ve read 2 books from Altered Carbon series, 6 from Discworld, 2 from The Wheel of Time and 1 from Jack Reacher, but it really doesn’t matter. Books from this category have to be fun to read and easy to digest so I don’t have to force myself to read it even when I’m utterly exhausted.

4. Be Obsessed or Be Average

Another motivational self-help book directed to a typical young-and-ambitious reader - at least this is how I see it. Easy language, no hard data backing the thesis, full of energy. When I read this kind of books I always do it in kind of a mental sandbox - I put an additional layer of scepticism between the content and my mind. Still, this was a very valuable resource to me. In a world where everyone speaks about work-life balance, it’s healthy to read something completely opposite. One thing I learned: you should not spend the energy on saving money, instead put it into increasing your income.

5. Thinking Fast and Slow

Extremely valuable source of knowledge about human psychology and decisions making. Contains plenty of hard data and references to scientific studies. One thing I learned: something as trivial as changing the font in tricky questions can change the number of errors from 90% to 35%.

6. Don’t make me think

The first book about usability and user experience that I’ve read. I approached it with a bit wrong expectations because I’d read somewhere that it’s about usability in general and not about web UI in particular. Despite the fact that UI is a bit outside my area of interests, it was still valuable, mostly because of emphasis on “don’t make me think” principle which is extremely universal. One thing I learned: don’t make the user think.

7. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

An interesting study of motivation and motivation techniques, backed by multiple research results and examples. One thing I learned: rewards can transform play into work and completely remove any intrinsic motivation from it.

8. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Guideline on how to stay focused and get the most out of the time spent on the given activity. One thing I learned: way of keeping work at work called “shutdown ritual”.

9. The Selfish Gene

Worldwide bestseller about genes, genetics and evolution. Very good reading with relatively easy language and a lot of examples. Why is it so low on the list? It’s general knowledge book, and as such, it won’t change your life dramatically. Still worth reading! One thing I learned: things are what they are because most of the other scenarios were not stable enough to survive to the current moment.

Plans for 2018

I will continue to read fiction books as well as self-improvement and technical ones. Some positions that are currently on my list: Clojure for the Brave and True, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and The Clean Architecture.

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