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My 2015 Reading List

This year has been really good for reading for me. Starting off from last year’s list and the 5-ish books I read in 2014, I made it to 16 this year. Some of them were very short but nonetheless an improvement. One of my goals for 2015 was to read more and I definitely managed to accomplish that. My goal for 2016 is to read more than 20 books. If you’re interested in keeping up to date over the year, I usually post my progress and reviews on Goodreads as well.

So without further ado, here’s my reading list for 2015:

The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer

As mentioned last year I started reading this book in 2014 and finished it early 2015. I overall liked it and it was really good in giving me different ways to think about feminism and how the whole system works together to enable sexism and exploitation. It’s also a good resource to understand better how closely related feminism and capitalism really are. However it comes with a really serious trigger warning. Germaine Greer is known to have very transphobic/cissexist views and this book is no exception. It is restricted to one chapter but those opinions - which I don’t share at all - are definitely in there. So if this is a trigger for you, it’s probably better to skip this book.

The pattern of devaluing women’s contribution is as old as human civilization

Feminism is for Everybody by Bell Hooks

I’ve known about this book for a while now, but up until early 2015 it was only available in print. And since I don’t really like owning physical books and read exclusively on my Kindle and iPhone I hadn’t bought it yet. So when I found out there is a Kindle version now, I immediately bought it. As expected, the book is really good and gives a good primer on feminism and the historical context from the author’s perspective. It reads less extreme to me as Greer which is very much in line with Hooks' other writing. Definitely highly recommended for learning more about feminism.

Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.

Designing for Performance by Lara Hogan

My coworker Lara wrote this book last year and it was a lot of fun watching her process and how she knocked out that book. Since then it was on my list of books to read. Especially since I tend to shy away from frontend things in my day job and want to get better at not doing that. The book is a wonderful introduction into web performance especially from a design view. It gives very solid technical details on a lot of things like browser rendering and image formats that I only had very superficial knowledge of before. I really enjoyed it and the book lead me to reduce the page weight of this blog by 92% which was tons of fun to do as well.

The largest hurdle to creating and maintaining stellar site performance is the culture of your organization.

Manage your Day-to-Day by Jocelyn Glei

This book sparked my interest while I was looking for improving my daily routines. I was often just starting the day as it happened often leaving me feel disorganized, unproductive, and imbalanced. Reading “Manage your Day-to-Day” gave me a lot of ideas of what things to try and add to my daily routine. And also to try and even have a daily routine. Something I picked up again through this book was journaling and while it has been on and off for the last couple of months I really enjoy it. The book was not mind blowing for me but I enjoyed reading it and definitely would recommend it if you are looking for inspiration for your daily routine.

It takes willpower to switch off the world, even for an hour.

Leading Snowflakes by Oren Ellenbogen

I’ve heard about this book ever since it was released and a lot of people I know speak very highly of it. And they weren’t wrong, I basically devoured the book in a weekend. It’s very well written and has a ton of actionable advice for engineers becoming managers. But I would argue that this description really limits the value of the book. I have no intention to become a manager at the moment however the book was really interesting and helpful for me. I think it’s a great read for anyone looking to grow more into a leadership position.

The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron

I had no idea about the concept of highly sensitive people until I read this article. It has a pretty click-baity headline but it really hit home for me. So I decided to learn more about it and this book was the most prominent resource to pop up in my search. It’s a really good book with a lot of great psychological insights and explicit case studies. At times the way high sensitivity was described was a bit too feel-good for my taste. At other times I would almost throw my kindle across the room as the author managed to really sneak up on and hijack my sensitivity. The book focuses a lot on what usually goes wrong during childhood for highly sensitive people and makes it a point to relive memories and traumas through the lense of high sensitivity. This is a practice I really enjoyed although it felt a bit much to me at times as I consider my childhood to have been a happy one. On the other hand I started to do this practice with every day situations at work to help me understand why I feel what I feel in different situations. I identify myself as a highly sensitive person and the book was an extremely good read to help me understand better what this could mean for me and my days.

Recoding Gender by Janet Abbate

I have a very complex relationship with the profession of “software engineering” and how it’s often defined in a non-inclusive way and as the profession of the golden children of society. Part of that is that I had always known a bit about the origins of programming and that a majority of programmers used to be women. But I didn’t know a lot about it which is why I was excited to read this book. And it was great! The book walks you through the beginnings before and during WWII and what programming meant back then. It discusses how the emerging industry in this field changed job prospects and economic chances for women. But it also discusses how the image of a programmer changed as more and more men participated. It’s full of historical facts and documents and a more than wonderful read. It sparked a lot of thoughts for me and changed the way I think about my profession even more.

the traits that managers found most problematic in programmers were those stereotypically associated with men

You had me at ‘Hello World’ by Dona Sarkar

I found this book through Camille tweeting about the fact that she was also interviewed for it. “You had me at ‘Hellow World’” is a collection of interviews with industry leaders from successful companies about the many aspects of leadership and mentoring. It’s a pretty lightweight read and a great resource to get some insight how successful people talk about those topics. It does a great job in conveying how important skills outside of writing code are. And it provides good examples of how to use those for your advantage.

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg

This has been recommended by many people I work with as a wonderful resource about positive human communication. And as - especially in a growing engineering org - communication is one of the most important skills to try to master, I decided to finally read this one. It’s a very interesting book with an approach to communication that is rarely taught especially not to men. It focuses on a collaborative rather than a competitive style of communication and the goal to reach agreements over winning arguments. The examples in the book are often pretty extreme coming from the author’s work as a diplomat. And even though those are great to demonstrate how this way of communicating can work in the most extreme cases, it also shifts its focus a lot on explicit diplomatic style discussions. There are more examples that are more directed towards every day situations and even though the author is very explicit about this being useful in regular work meetings as well, I had a very hard time understanding how to practically apply those lessons in a meeting for example. That being said however it made me think a lot more about the way I communicate and what I’m saying versus what I want to say. I have also applied that way of communicating successfully at least once since reading the book. And I look forward to try it out more.

The Retrospective Handbook by Patrick Kua

At work we have a group of people which I’m part of that work on making sure we have good frameworks in place for blameless postmortems and organizational learning as a whole. Part of that is moving past only investigating failure (via postmortems) and also look into investigating successes (via retrospectives). So in a similar way to how I’ve spent time understanding the unhelpful concept of human error, I wanted to learn more about the theoretical concepts of successful retrospectives. Unfortunately this was completely the wrong book for this. It is a great and very practical read for retrospectives in the agile sense and how to run successful meetings in general. However I wasn’t looking for that so I constantly kept thinking when we are going to dive into the meaty, theoretical stuff. This is in no way the authors fault and I would highly recommend the book as inspiration for improving your meetings. But for the theoretical underpinnings of retrospectives as an organizational learning tool I’m still on the lookout. Let me know if you have recommendations :).

Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet by Laurie Penny

This short book by Laurie Penny is a very good read about sexism in the age of social networks and the omnipresent Internet. It does a great job at talking about how a lot of familiar concepts of “offline sexism” are reinvented online and no news to women. It’s short and insightful enough to recommend reading it without hesitation.

Perhaps one reason that women writers and technologists have, so far, the calmest and most comprehensive understanding of what surveillance technology really does to the human condition is that women grow up being watched.

The Boy Kings by Katherine Losse

The biography of Kate Losse about her time at (earl stage) Facebook is in my mind a must read for any software engineer and especially if you’re a man. It gives an extremely good insight view into what happens when young men are suddenly in charge of a ton of money. But more importantly it talks very bluntly about how engineers are treated differently from most other employees for our supposed gift to turn any idea into gold with code.

Technology carries with it all the biases of the people who make it, so simply making the world more technical was not going to save us.

The Art of Mindfulness by Thích Nhất Hạnh

This is another super short read and the de-facto introductory book to mindfulness meditation. There’s not a lot to say here. It’s good, give it a read as it’s short enough to not matter if you end up not liking it. I started meditating regularly after reading it and it has been a great experience.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

This collection of essays titled for the aggressive tendency of men to always have to explain things to women while assuming they have no idea what they are talking about. The first essay brings this to a point by telling a story of a party where a man mansplains to the author the book she herself wrote. Without having actually read it. The book than continues with more essays that talk about a lot more darker things like discussing domestic violence. The over arching theme is that the credibility of and respect towards women is continuously diminished to maintain the status quo and its power imbalance. Some of the essays towards the end of the book are not easy to read but it’s more than worth it.

Credibility is a basic survival tool.

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

I’m one of those engineers who used to happily claim to not have any frontend skills and just not be good at design. I came to loathe this thinking over the years and decided that if I can’t do something I want to learn at least the basics. This is one of the reasons why I read “Designing for Performance” as mentioned above. Thankfully I also work with a ton of talented designers and one of them is Jessica Harllee. I talked to her about suggestions to get started with learning about design. And she said I should read “Don’t make me think”. And she wasn’t wrong. The book is a wonderful introduction into usability and design. The beauty of it is that while reading it, all of the things mentioned are total no-brainers. But you have to remember it while designing things. The other interesting thing for me was that while all of the examples in the book are web based (with some brief stints into mobile) I could totally think of CLI apps I’ve written in the past that totally do the wrong thing design-wise. Definitely a recommended read.

The Internet of Garbage by Sarah Jeong

In this book Sarah Jeong - a journalist trained as a lawyer at Harvard Law School - talks about the problem of online harassment. It’s another short but really good one. I’ve learned a ton about copyright law and the limitations of current legislation when it comes to online harassment. But also things that do work and what things could be attempted. It’s a very sobering look at the current state of social networks, online harassment and tooling and legislation to help fight it. Definitely worth a read if you spend any time on the internet.