2021 in Review: Reading and Writing Highlights

I didn’t have much to complain about in 2021. My immediate family stayed healthy and happy, the kids went back to in-person learning at school, working at Google Cloud remained interesting, and I took a few short trips. Not too bad!

From a productivity perspective, I felt more balanced in 2021. After a decade or so writing and leading at InfoQ, I stepped back from my role there. I still wrote a dozen+ blog posts here and elsewhere, but wasn’t as prolific as years past. That said, I wasn’t a total slouch in 2021, as I created three Pluralsight courses, had fun creating a few long Twitter threads, spoke at a handful of (virtual) events, grew the size of my team at work, mentored five folks, and learned something about all the tech topics I wanted to learn about. While I read fewer books than last year—on purpose, as 67 was too many in 2020—I still finished 47 good books, many listed here. Below are some of the things I wrote (or said) in 2021, and 20-ish of the best books I read.

Things I Wrote or Said

I *almost* agreed to write another book in 2021, and glad I declined. It’s more fun for me to write short form (e.g. blog posts, tweets) instead. I shared many of my dubious opinions in both written and verbal form last year, and here were some highlights:

[videos] Multicloud conversations with Richard Seroter. Our Google Cloud social media team asked me to come up with an interesting way to talk about the idea of using multiple clouds. I figured that asking bright folks to share their perspective was a good idea. These short eight videos were well-received, watched by a few thousand folks, and educational for me.

[event] Google Cloud Next: Keynote Live Demo. I helped put together and deliver a 20 minute session at our flagship annual conference. It was a ton of work, and ton of fun.

[blog] So, what the heck is *outbound* product management, and should you have this function too? This was for me as much as the rest of you! I found it helpful to articulate more about the role I’m in as a way to work through some open questions. And it led a handful of folks to ping me about starting their own OPM teams.

[blog] Using the new Google Cloud Config Controller to provision and manage cloud services via the Kubernetes Resource Model. Feels like we’re in the early stages of a new wave of infrastructure automation. Here, I played with an approach we’re advocating for. Related post also here.

[blog] Exploring a fast inner dev loop for Spring Boot apps targeting Google Cloud Run.  I got back into Spring Boot again in 2021 (see my two update Pluralsight courses from late last year) and this offered me a good chance to see why Google Cloud is such a useful home for Spring developers.

[blog] Let’s compare the cloud shells offered by AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. I had suspicions that we offered the best shell experience for developers, and this investigation proved it.

[Google blog] Five do’s and don’ts of multicloud, according to the experts. Here’s a recap of my first four expert interviews about the topic of multicloud.

[Google blog] Congrats, you bought Anthos! Now what? I guess that my schtick is helping people understand how to actually use the tech they’ve chosen. Here’s my guide for those who just bought Google’s Anthos product.

[event] InfoQ Roundtable: Multi-Cloud Microservices: Separating Fact from Fiction. I participated in this panel discussion with four smart people and me, and offered a few hot takes.

[podcast] The Future of Google Cloud with Richard Seroter. For some reason, Corey welcomed me back to his Screaming in the Cloud podcast, and we talked about cloudy things. Good times were had by all.

Things I Read

This past year, I read my usual mix of books on a wide range of topics. I started on a couple new fiction book series—including Ian Fleming’s James Bond series and the Longmire books from Craig Johnson—and read some terrific biographies. Here are 23 of the best I finished in 2021:

Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam (@realhomerhickam). Wonderful biography that explores Hickam’s life growing up in Coalwood, West Virginia and launching rockets. Probably my favorite book of the year.

Kill It with Fire: Manage Aging Computer Systems (and Future Proof Modern Ones) by Marianne Bellotti (@bellmar). Building new things is amazing, but resuscitating old things can be awesome too. Bellotti’s book takes a holistic view at legacy modernization and is jam-packed with helpful advice and mind-shifting perspective.

The 50th Law by 50 Cent (@50cent) and Robert Greene (@RobertGreene). “The less you fear, the more power you will have and the more fully you will live.” That’s the heart of this super-engaging book by Fifty and Greene. The authors created a terrific mix of biographical info with historical examples of fearlessness.

Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure by Jerry Kaplan (@Jerry_Kaplan). I learned more about startups from this book than participating in 3 of them. Excellent story about GO, a pioneer of pen-based computing and their frantic effort to survive long enough to make an impact. After reading this book, I can also understand why folks still harbor ill will towards Microsoft and IBM!

The Truth About Employee Engagement: A Fable About Addressing the Three Root Causes of Job Misery by Patrick Lencioni (@patricklencioni). I always enjoy Lencioni’s books. Whether you’re a tech professional, baseball pitcher, or pizza delivery person, there are three things that determine whether you’re happy at work. This fun-to-read fictional tale outlines them.

Hannibal by Patrick N. Hunt. I knew the name, and I now I know the man. Hannibal may be one of the greatest strategic thinkers and military leaders of all time. This biography takes you inside his bloody battles, unpredictable tactics, and eventual defeat.

The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus by Mark Clark (@markaclark). Clark is my favorite pastor, and his second book is challenging, informational, and inspirational. He provides compelling historical context and addresses many topics that aren’t “safe” or “easy.”

Moonraker by Ian Fleming. In 2021, I started reading Fleming’s series of James Bond books. I’ve enjoyed every one. Great storytelling, and a different Bond than what we’ve seen in the movies. In addition to Moonraker, check out Diamonds are Forever, From Russia With Love, and Live and Let Die.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford. Here’s another case where I knew the name (Genghis Khan), but nothing else. This outstanding book explains the rise of the Khans and the Mongols, their peak of conquering 30 countries (on the modern map) and changing the culture across Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, and their eventual decline.

The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather (@jackfairweather). I’m constantly struck by how many stories I don’t know about. I’ve read a dozen books on WWII, but never came across the person who purposely went to Auschwitz and helped create rebellion with his underground army. Tense, inspirational, heart-breaking and sobering.

Death Without Company: A Longmire Mystery by Craig Johnson (@ucrosspop25). I started this set of books, and also watched the entire television series. It almost made me want to move to Wyoming. Longmire is a sheriff there, and I love the character(s) and stories that Johnson created. Also check out The Dark Horse and Junkyard Dogs.

The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues by Patrick Lencioni (@patricklencioni). I’ve hired great people by accident. At Google, I’m finally more methodical about what to look for when interviewing people, and Lencioni’s book gave me tools for figuring out who is a team player. This enjoyable tale follows business leaders as they discover that what they need on their team are those who are hungry, humble, and (people) smart.

Build Better Products: A Modern Approach to Building Successful User-Centered Products by Laura Klein (@lauraklein). Good products make a huge difference in people’s lives. Klein’s book offers advice, tools, and exercises to identify customer goals, create value for the business, and perform effective research throughout the product lifecycle.

Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter by Timothy Keller (@timkellernyc). I’ve noticed so much pessimism about the future, which may stem from folks being let down by whatever they’ve mistakenly put their hope in. Pastor Keller has a timely book for those of us who crave something more durable and eternal.

Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century by Michael Hiltzik (@hiltzikm). Who would’ve thought that a book about water rights could be so compelling? The Hoover Dam was the largest federal project of its kind, and transformed the American West Coast. I thoroughly enjoyed this story of how the Dam came to be, how it was built, and the generational implications of it.

The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene (@RobertGreene). Out of hundreds of books on my Kindle, this is the most “highlighted” one. It’s the book on strategy I’d been looking for. Greene anchors the book in the military sphere, but you can apply these lessons to business, (some) relationships, and your fantasy football league.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. I didn’t know what to expect from this book. While spinning a yarn about practicing for the US Memory Championship (yes, that’s a real thing), Foer explains all about memorization, and why memory palaces work. Great book.

Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn by Daniel Gordis (@DanielGordis). A country that exists against all odds, Israel has a remarkable history. Gordis primarily looks at the last 140 years and walks us through the dramatic formation of the Jewish state, regional wars that challenged it, and how Israel has thrived since then.

The House of Gucci: A True Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed by Sara Gay Forden (@saraforden). What a book. From humble beginnings to an international powerhouse, Gucci is compelling. The business success and multiple re-inventions are commendable, but the real story is the absurd family drama. Forden does a terrific job drawing you into the madness.

Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage by Laura Huang (@LauraHuangLA). As someone who isn’t excellent at any particular thing, I’m drawn to research that claims unique experiences and skill combinations are actually an asset. Huang challenges us to know ourselves better, explains how to guide the perception of others, and encourages us to confidently embrace our particular path and edge.

America, 1908: The Dawn of Flight, the Race to the Pole, the Invention of the Model T and the Making of a Modern Nation by Jim Rasenberger. We all seem to get historical amnesia. By every measure, we’re better off than we were in 1908, even though we’re somehow less optimistic about the future. 1908 was indeed a pivotal year in American history, however. So many things happened that shaped society for decades to come. This book does a terrific job of stitching it all together.

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis. You may know the movie, but the book is better. Follow the story of Michael Oher who was rescued from a tragic life, and discovered a natural talent to protect others on the football field.

How Google Works by Eric Schmidt (@ericschmidt) and Jonathan Rosenberg (@jjrosenberg). Maybe I should have read this book before I joined, but it certainly wouldn’t have changed my decision! Schmidt and Rosenberg lay out some modern thinking on management they learned while building Google into the company it is today. Tons of great tidbits in here.

I hope 2022 finds you in good health and a positive frame of mind. Thanks for engaging with me in 2021, and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you on your journey.

Author: Richard Seroter

Richard Seroter is Director of Outbound Product Management at Google Cloud, with a master’s degree in Engineering from the University of Colorado. He’s also an instructor at Pluralsight, a frequent public speaker, the author of multiple books on software design and development, plus former InfoQ.com editor and former 12-time Microsoft MVP for cloud. As Director of Outbound Product Management at Google Cloud, Richard leads a team focused on products that help teams build and run modern software. 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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