2018 in Review: Reading and Writing Highlights

Well, that was quite a year. Maybe for you too. I ended up speaking at a half-dozen events, delivered 2+ new Pluralsight courses, helped organize a conference, kept writing news and such for InfoQ.com, blogged a bit, was granted the Microsoft MVP award again, and wrote a book. At work, I played a small part in helping Pivotal become a public company, and somehow got promoted to Vice President.

For the 11th year in a row, I thought it’d be fun to list out what I enjoyed writing and reading this year.

Things I Wrote

I kept up a decent pace of writing this year across InfoQ, my personal blog, and the Pivotal blog. Here are a few things I enjoyed writing.

[Book] Modernizing .NET Applications. I’ve told anyone that would listen that I’d never write another book. Clearly, I’m a filthy liar. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity this year, and it gave me a chance to write down some things bouncing around in my head.

[InfoQ] Recap of AWS re:Invent 2018 Announcements. re:Invent is such an industry-defining event each year. It was a lot of work to read through the announcements and synthesize it all into one piece. I think it turned out ok.

[InfoQ] The InfoQ eMag: Testing Your Distributed (Cloud) Systems. I need to do more of these, but here’s a collection of articles I commissioned and curated into a single downloadable asset.

[Blog] 10 Characteristics of a Successful Internal IT Champion. Being a champion for change can be a challenging experience. Especially in IT departments. Here’s some advice for you.

[Blog] Wait, THAT runs on Pivotal Cloud Foundry? This was a series of five blog posts in five days that looked an unexpected workloads that run on Pivotal’s flagship platform. I look for any excuse to keep up my coding chops!

[Blog] Creating a continuous integration pipeline in Concourse for a test-infused ASP.NET Core app. Whoever gets good code to production fastest, wins! Here, it was fun to play with one of my favorite continuous integration tools (Concourse) and my favorite programming framework (.NET).

[Blog] How to use the Kafka interface of Azure Event Hubs with Spring Cloud Stream. Microsoft’s been sticking standard facades in front of their proprietary services, so I thought it’d be useful to try one out.

[Pivotal Blog] You Deserve a Continuously Integrated Platform. Here’s Why It Matters. Build it, or buy it? It’s an age-old debate. In this post, I explained why certain things (like app platforms) should be bought from those who have expertise at building them.

[Pivotal Blog] You’re Investing In .NET, and so Are We. Pivotal Is Now a Corporate Sponsor of The .NET Foundation. I was happy to see Pivotal take a bigger step to help .NET developers. This post looks at what we’re doing about it, besides just throwing money at the .NET Foundation.

Things I Read

Over the course of 2018, I read 35 books on a variety of topics. Here’s a subset of the ones that stood out to me the most.

Grant, by Ron Chernow. This book is a monster in size, but maybe the best thing I read in 2018. Meticulously research but entirely readable, the book walks through U.S. Grant’s incredible life. Unbelievable highs, crushing lows.

Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Safe to say this was the most impactful business-y book that I read in 2018. While attention was paid to effectively giving feedback, the bulk of the book was about receiving feedback. I’ve read very little about that, and this book completely changed my thinking on the topic.

Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations, by Nichole Forsgren (@nicolefv), Jez Humble (@jezhumble), and Gene Kim (@RealGeneKim). Clearly put, this book explains the findings and methods behind a long-standing DevOps survey. Besides laying out their methods, Forsgren and team thoroughly explain the key capabilities that separate the best from the worst. If you’ve been lacking the ammunition to initiate a software revolution at your company, it’s time to purchase and devour this book.

Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, by David Garrow. I was historically ignorant about this time period, and needed to correct that. What a powerful book about a complex, flawed, courageous individual who carried an unparalleled burden while under constant scrutiny. Well-written, eye-opening book.

Discrimination and Disparities, by Thomas Sowell. I followed up the previous book with this one. Wanted to hear more on this topic. Sowell is an insightful economist, and explores the role that discrimination does, and doesn’t, play in disparities we see around us. He attempts to escape emotional appeals and find rational answers.

Designing Data-Intensive Applications: The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable, and Maintainable Systems, by Martin Kleppmann (@martinkl). This should be foundational reading for anyone designing or building distributed systems. It’s wonderfully written, comprehensive, and extremely useful. Buy this book.

Streaming Systems: The What, Where, When, and How of Large-Scale Data Processing, by Tyler Akidau (@takidau), Slava Chernyak, Reuven Lax (@reuvenlax). This book has some complex ideas, but it’s a must-read for those shifting their mindset from static data to data in motion. The authors have an approachable writing style, that makes even the most dense topics relatable.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Question for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown (@DJamesBrown). I think this was my favorite book of 2018. The author made me care deeply about the characters, and the writing was legitimately thrilling during the races. It was also insightful to read about a Seattle that was barely in the public consciousness at the time.

Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, by Steve Alten (@meg82159). I admittedly didn’t know about this book series until the movie came out in 2018, but who doesn’t love giant sharks? The book wasn’t the same as the movie; it was better. Fun read.

The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Parts of Any Bold Venture, by Scott Belsky (@scottbelsky). Good book. Really, a series of short, advice-filled chapters. Belsky deftly uses his own experiences as an entrepreneur and investor to help the reader recognize the leader’s role during the highs and lows of a company/project/initiative.

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, by Eric Metaxas (@ericmetaxas). I read a book about a freakin’ prehistoric shark, yet this book about a 16th century monk had some of the most thrilling moments I read this year. My knowledge of Martin Luther was limited to “something something Reformation” and “something something 95 theses”, but this book helped me recognize his massive contribution to the world. We owe many of the freedoms we have today to Luther’s courageous stand.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou (@JohnCarreyrou). Wow, what a book. I was peripherally aware of this company (Theranos) and storyline already, but this book is an eye-opening account of what really happened. I’m not even sure there’s a “good intentions” angle here, as it just seems like bad people doing bad things.

Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great, by Carmine Gallo (@carminegallo). If you’re wondering why your career is stagnant, there’s a chance it’s because you’re a subpar communicator. Gallo makes the case that moving others to action is the quintessential skill of this century. His book uses tons of anecdotes to drive the point home, and he sprinkles in plenty of actionable advice.

The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change, by Camille Fournier (@skamille). This is a book aimed at new managers of technical teams. There’s some general advice in here that’s useful for managers of any type of team, but it’s most helpful if you lead (or want to empathize with) a tech team. Fournier’s experience shines through, in this easy-to-read book.

How Christianity Changed the World, by Alvin J. Schmidt. Good book that outlined the massive impact of Christianity on Western society. Regardless of what you believe (or don’t!), it’s impressive to recognize that Christianity elevated the value of human life (by bringing an end to infanticide, child abandonment, gladiator battles) and women’s rights, introduced orphanages, old-age homes, and hospitals, erected the first universities, colleges, and public school systems, and ushered in a new era of art, science, and government. Wild stuff.

To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, by Daniel H. Pink (@DanielPink). Most of us are selling something, whether we recognize it or not. Pink lays out the reality, and why our ability to move others is key to success. And importantly, he offers some legitimately useful ways to make that happen.

The F*It List: Lessons fro a Human Crash Test Dummy, by Eric Byrnes (@byrnes22). I knew Byrnes, the colorful professional baseball player. I did not know Eric Byrnes, the uber-athlete and ultra-marathoner. He’s got a refreshing approach to life, and wrote a compelling autobiography. Thanks to @wearsy for the recommendation.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown (@GregoryMcKeown). This book stands to have the biggest impact on my life in 2019. It’s about constantly stopping and evaluating whether we’re working on the right things. On purpose. I’m giving myself permission to be more selective in 2019, and will be more mindful about where I can make the biggest impact.

The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission, by Jim Bell (@Jim_Bell). Thanks to this book and the movie “The Farthest”, I became obsessed with the Voyager missions. I even did a couple talks about it to tech audiences this year. Bell’s book is detailed, exciting, and inspirational.

The Industrial Revolutionaries: The Making of the Modern World, 1776-1914, by Gavin Weightman. I read about how artificial intelligence will upend the world and economy as we know it, so I thought it’d be smart to look at the last world-changing revolution. This was a fascinating book and I learned a lot. It still blows me away that many comforts of our current life are fairly recent inventions.

Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin. The authors call out five questions at the heart of the business strategy: what’s your winning aspiration, where to play, how to win, what capabilities must be in place, and what management systems are required. I found the book engaging, relevant, and motivational.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz (@bhorowitz). This book stressed me out, but in a good way. Horowitz doesn’t tiptoe around the tension of building and sustaining something. The book is absolutely full of useful advice that really landed for me.

High Output Management, by Andy Grove. Best business book that I read all year. It’s also one that Horowitz refers to a lot in his book (above). Every manager should read this. Grove focuses on value and outcomes, and lays out what good management looks like.

The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity, by Mark Clark (@markaclark). Mark’s a mesmerizing speaker that I’ve heard in-person a few times. Here, he makes a well-rounded, logical, compelling case for Christian faith.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Daniel H Pink (@DanielPink). Sheesh, two Pink books in the same year? The man writes a good tome, what can I say? This is a book about timing. What time of day we should perform certain activities. When and how to “start” things, when to end. And how to synchronize teams. As always, an engaging read that made me rethink my approaches.

Showstopper!: The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft, by G Pascal Zachary. If you didn’t think a story about creating Windows NT could be compelling, THINK AGAIN. Part history lesson and part adventure tale, this book provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes featuring some characters you’ll recognize.
I probably say this every year, but sincerely, thank you all for being on this journey with me. Each day, I learn so much from the people (virtually and physically) around me. Let’s all have a 2019 where we learn a lot and make those around us better.

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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