2016 in Review: Reading and Writing Highlights

2016 was a wild year for plenty of folks. Me too, I guess. The wildest part was joining Pivotal and signing up for a job I’d never done before. I kept busy in other ways in 2016, including teaching a couple of courses for Pluralsight, traveling around to speak at conferences, writing a bunch for InfoQ.com, and blogging here with semi-regularity. 2017 should be more of the same (minus a job change!), plus another kiddo on the way.

I tend to read a lot, and write a bit, so each year I like to reflect on my favorites.

Favorite Blog Posts and Articles I Wrote

I create stuff in a handful of locations—this blog, InfoQ.com, Pivotal blog—and here were the content pieces I liked the most.

[My Blog] Modern Open Source Messaging: Apache Kafka, RabbitMQ and NATS in Action. This was my most popular blog post this year, by far. Application integration and messaging are experience a renaissance in this age of cloud and microservices, and OSS software is leading the way. If you want to watch my conference presentation that sparked this blog post, head to the BizTalk360 site.

[My Blog] Trying out the “standard” and “enterprise” templates in Azure Logic Apps. Speaking of app integration, Microsoft turned a corner in 2016 and has its first clear direction in years. Logic Apps is a big part of that future, and I gave the new stuff a spin. FYI, since I wrote the original post, the Enterprise Integration Pack shipped with a slightly changed user experience.

[My Blog] Characteristics of great managers. I often looked at “management” as a necessary evil, but a good manager actually makes a big difference. Upon reflection, I listed some of the characteristics of my best managers.

[My Blog] Using Concourse to continuously deliver a Service Bus-powered Java app to Pivotal Cloud Foundry on Azure. 15 years. That’s how long it had been since I touched Java. When I joined Pivotal, the company behind the defacto Java framework called Spring, I committed to re-learning it. Blog posts like this, and my new Pluralsight course, demonstrated that I learned SOMETHING.

[InfoQ] Outside of my regular InfoQ contributions covering industry news, I ran a series on the topic of “cloud lock-in.” I wrote an article called “Everything is Lock-In: Focus on Switching Costs” and facilitated a rowdy expert roundtable.

[InfoQ] Wolfram Wants to Deliver “Computation Everywhere” with New Private Cloud. I purposely choose to write about things I’m not familiar with. How else am I supposed to learn? In this case, I dug into the Wolfram offerings a bit, and interviewed a delightful chap.

[Pivotal] Pivotal Conversations Podcast. You never know what may happen when you say “yes” to something. I agreed to be a guest on a podcast earlier this year, and as a result, my delightfully bearded work colleague Coté asked me to restart the Pivotal podcast with him. Every week we talk about the news, and some tech topic. It’s been one of my favorite things this year.

[Pivotal] Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Supercharging Your Microservices with NetflixOSS and Spring Cloud. I volunteered to write a whitepaper about microservices scaffolding and Spring Cloud, and here’s the result. It was cool to see thousands of folks check it out.

[Pivotal blog] 250k Containers In Production: A Real Test For The Real World. Scale matters, and I enjoyed writing up the results of an impressive benchmark by the Cloud Foundry team. While I believe our industry is giving outsized attention to the topic of containers, the people who *should care* about them (i.e. platform builders) want tech they can trust at scale.

[Pivotal blog] To Avoid Getting Caught In The Developer Skills Gap, Do This. It’s hard to find good help these days. Apparently companies struggle to fill open developer positions, and I offered some advice for closing the skills gap.

Favorite Books I Read

I left my trusty Kindle 3 behind on an airplane this year, and replaced it with a new Kindle Paperwhite. Despite this hiccup, I still finished 31 books this year. Here are the best ones I read.

The Hike. I don’t read much fantasy-type stuff, but I love Drew’s writing and gave this a shot. Not disappointed. Funny, tense, and absurd tale that was one of my favorite books of the year. You’ll never look at crustaceans the same way again.

The Prey Series. I’m a sucker for mystery/thriller books and thought I’d dig into this  long-running series. Ended up reading the first six of them this year. Compelling protagonist, downright freaky villains.

The Last Policeman Trilogy. I’m not sure where I saw the recommendation for these books, but I’m glad I did. Just fantastic. I plowed through Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3 in about 10 days. It starts as a “cop solving a mystery even though the world is about to end” and carries onward with a riveting sense of urgency.

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. I really enjoyed this. Extremely engaging story about a turning point in human history. It was tough keeping all the characters straight after a while, but I have a new appreciation for the time period and the (literally) cutthroat politics.

The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s easy to glamorize significant construction projects, but this story does a masterful job showing you the glory *and* pain. I was inspired reading it, so much so that I wrote up a blog post comparing software engineering to bridge-building.

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914. You’ve gotta invest some serious time to get through McCullough’s books, but I’ve never regretted it. This one is about the tortured history of building the Panama Canal. Just an unbelievable level of effort and loss of life to make it happen. It’s definitely a lesson on preparedness and perseverance.

The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution. Instead of only ingesting hot-takes about American history and the Founder’s intent, it’s good to take time to actually read about it! I seem to read an American history book each year, and this one was solid. Good pacing, great details.

The Liberator: One World War II Soldier’s 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau. I also seem to read a WWII book every year, and this one really stayed with me. I don’t believe in luck, but it’s hard to attribute this man’s survival to much else. Story of hope, stress, disaster, and bravery.

Navigating Genesis: A Scientist’s Journey through Genesis 1–11. Intriguing investigation into the overlap between the biblical account and scientific research into the origins of the universe.  Less conflict than you may think.

Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution. I’m a hoops fan, but it’s easy to look at young basketball players as spoiled millionaires. That may be true, but it’s the result of a system that doesn’t set these athletes up for success. Sobering story that reveals how elusive that success really is.

Yes, My Accent Is Real: And Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You. This was such a charming set of autobiographical essays from The Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar. It’s an easy read, and one that provides a fun behind-the-scenes look at “making it” in Hollywood.

Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success. One of my former colleagues, Jim Newkirk, recommended this book from Phil Jackson. Jim said that Jackson’s philosophy influenced how he thinks about software teams. Part autobiography, part leadership guide, this book includes a lot of advice that’s applicable to managers in any profession.

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble. I laughed, I cried, and then I panicked when I realized that I had just joined a startup myself. Fortunately, Pivotal bore no resemblance to the living caricature that is/was HubSpot. Read this book from Lyons before you jump ship from a meaningful company to a glossy startup.

Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of ComprehensionThe thesis of this book is that we’re building systems that cannot be totally understood. The author then goes into depth explaining how to approach complex systems, how to explore them when things go wrong, and how to use caution when unleashing this complexity on customers.

Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. If you were completely shocked by the result of the US presidential election, then you might want to read this book. This election was about persuasion, not policy. The “godfather of persuasion” talks about psychological framing and using privileged moments to impact a person’s choice. Great read for anyone in sales and marketing.

Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions. How can you influence people’s memories and have them act on what you think is important? That’s what this book attempts to answer. Lots of practical info grounded in research studies. If you’re trying to land a message in a noisy marketplace, you’ll like this book.

Win Your Case: How to Present, Persuade, and Prevail–Every Place, Every Time. I apparently read a lot about persuasion this  year. This one is targeted at trial lawyers, but many of the same components of influence (e.g. trust, credibility) apply to other audiences.

The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results. Thought-provoking stuff here. The author’s assertion is that the hard part of selling today isn’t about the supplier struggling to sell their product, but about the customer’s struggle to buy them. An average of 5.4 people are involved in purchasing decisions, and it’s about using “commercial insight” to help them create consensus early on.

The DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations. This is the new companion book to the DevOps classic, The Phoenix Project. It contains tons of advice for those trying to change culture and instill a delivery mindset within the organization. It’s full of case studies from companies small and large. Highly recommended.

Start and Scaling DevOps in the Enterprise. Working at Pivotal, this is one of the questions we hear most from Global 2000 companies: how do I scale agile/DevOps practices to my whole organization? This short book tackles that question with some practical guidance and relevant examples.

A sincere thanks to all of you for reading my blog, watching my Pluralsight courses, and engaging me on Twitter in 2016. I am such a better technologist and human because of these interactions with so many interesting people!

Author: Richard Seroter

Richard Seroter is Director of Developer Relations and Outbound Product Management at Google Cloud. He’s also an instructor at Pluralsight, a frequent public speaker, the author of multiple books on software design and development, and a former InfoQ.com editor plus former 12-time Microsoft MVP for cloud. As Director of Developer Relations and Outbound Product Management, Richard leads an organization of Google Cloud developer advocates, engineers, platform builders, and outbound product managers that help customers find success in their cloud journey. Richard maintains a regularly updated blog on topics of architecture and solution design and can be found on Twitter as @rseroter.

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