Useful books for digital professionals

Over time I’ve managed to build up a number of books on work-related subjects some of these, others might find interesting.

I do have a Kindle (somewhere) which gets dusted off for going on holiday but I spend so much time looking at some sort of screen that I much prefer the tactile experience of a ‘real’ book.

Some of my colleagues started to mock my ever-increasing pile of books building up on my desk which I wasn’t really sure what to do with. I could bin them off obviously but I found myself referring back to some of them and recommending them to people to try. I now make a point of lending them to colleagues if I think they might be interested.

Who knows maybe some fellow digital professionals might find these interesting. I’ll add to this reading list over time.

Artificial intelligence

Deep thinking coverDeep Thinking: Where artificial intelligence ends and human creativity begins

By Garry Kasparov

This is the Kasparov version of both his battles against IBM Deep Blue including his landmark defeat in 1997. The book also includes a history of computer chess programmes going back to the 1940s and how successful they were at both training and trying to beat human players. Kasparov shows how Chess has been changed by computers particularly in training, with Grand Masters now coming from more diverse backgrounds largely thanks to the easy availability of match data and strong chess software to practice against. He also includes a new section talking about the recent victories of Deep Mind over Chess and Go champions by using reinforcement learning to teach itself advanced game knowledge in just a few hours.


Content design coverContent Design

by Sarah Richards

This book is a great introduction for someone interested in a Government Digital Service influenced idea of user-focused content design. This might be described as ‘give them what they need’ instead of ‘tell them what we want them to hear’. The book is simple and easy to follow and you’ll pick up the vibe in a couple of hours. It’s very good. It did occur to me though that a paperback book possibly isn’t the natural format for this kind of information. Could it have been a blog instead?

Future gazing

I love reading books which contain bold predictions about the future which can’t in any way be proven.

Postcapitalism coverPostcapitalism: A guide to our future

by Paul Mason

This book makes a genuine and interesting attempt to examine and explain the info-tech revolution as part of a Kondratiev wave – a recurring economic cycle every 50 years where there is a paradigm shift in innovation. We think of the internet being a massive deal (it is) but this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened. Mason talks about how politicians are unable to understand how technology is changing the world and offer any decent ideas of what to do next. He then suggests how the state can support the new world which has greater automation, putting many people out of work but can also set people free of mundane tasks and offer goods at near zero cost. I don’t agree with all his conclusions but it was certainly an interesting read.

Management and leadership

Managers path coverThe manager’s path: A guide for tech leaders navigating growth and change

by Camille Fournier

This book takes you through a list of great, logical advice for techies to advance their careers and become tech managers, right up to CTO level. The advice is really well thought out, easy to follow and totally transferable to most careers even outside the tech industry. A good place to start for an aspiring manager. Probably the book most people want to borrow from me.

7 habits coverThe 7 habits of highly effective people

by Steven R. Covey

This book is a mix of moral guidance and self-improvement mixed with business and work success. This might sound awful but stay with me for a moment. I picked it up for a few pence in a charity shop and must admit to being a bit sceptical at first. However, once I started to read further it was a really detailed well thought out plan to become a better colleague and person. Some of the core ideas like emotional bank accounts and sharpening the saw are fantastic. I also loved the idea that if you’re a dick you won’t be able to convince anyone you’re a decent person. You would be better served trying not to be a dick. It’s sold over 10 million copies so must be doing something right.

Turn this ship around coverTurn this ship around: A story of building leaders by breaking the rules

by Capt. David Marquet

I found this to be a book of excellent advice set against an inspiring tale of a Captain who helped the worst performing submarine in the US Navy become the best. To do this he installed his own ‘leader-leader’ model and pushed existing Navy regulations to their absolute limits, and then a little further. His basic idea was that he didn’t want to give any orders to the crew other than to fire weapons. The crew were told to report their intentions to the superiors rather than await orders. Everyone had to become a leader. Some of the stuff in this book really struck a chord with me around the way organisations could be. Some of my favourites ideas were pushing authority to information and deliberate action among several others. Marquet also believes there is only one organisational metric worth anything – frequency of promotions.

Project management

Scrum coverScrum: The art of doing twice the work in half the time

by Jeff Sutherland

This is a reasonable guide of the scrum framework of agile software development. You can hand this to someone to leaf through to give them an idea what it’s all about. It’s written by the founder of scrum so he’s thrown in the sales pitch – usual stuff about how it solves all problems imaginable and changes the world. The format allows you to skip over the indoctrination guff if you want to. Is it the best book about agile or scrum? I don’t know. It would be a pretty bleak task to read all the agile books ever written and rank them according to different criteria. Someone has probably done it but I won’t. If you want to find out about scrum quickly this will do the job.

Thought stuff

UX specialists and designers may find some of these books interesting. I read them as a means to try and understand while people make certain choices and the things that can influence their decisions.

blind spot coverBlind spot: Hidden biases of good people

by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald

Prejudice is all around us and is based on humans incessant need to put everyone into different groupings – be it age, gender, race, nationality, football team, the list goes on. Like it or not we have certain programmed preconceptions about all these groups. To remove yourself from situations where these prejudices might come to the surface seems extremely difficult as anyone who has tried any of the Harvard University Implicit bias tests will know- try them if you dare, you might not like the results. This book has been the first step for me on a journey of total inadequacy. It does a really good job of explaining the concepts in an engaging and thought-provoking way.

Nudge coverNudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness

by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

This book talks about choice architecture, subtle(ish) tweaks called ‘nudges’ to help people make better decisions. Examples are provided from healthcare, pensions and a whole load of other settings. UX natives and designers will probably shrug reading most of this and wonder what all the fuss is about. Nick Clegg loved all this stuff and introduced a nudge unit to the UK government. I found this book had some interesting ideas but the writing style isn’t great and ends up making it a much longer and clunky read than it needed to be. On the other hand, it did make me think about my own behaviour on big, complex decisions and my attitude to risk.

Work culture

Maverick! coverMaverick!: The success story behind the world’s most unusual workplace

by Ricardo Semler

Incredible story about a Brazilian businessman in the 80s who reinvents his company in order to save it from the volatile Brazilian economy and stress which threatens to snuff him out at the tender age of just 25. He concludes that full democratisation of Semco is the best way forward. Staff decide their own projects, targets and salaries. Staff recruit and appraise their managers. All information is open and shared across the company. A hugely inspiring tale of how things can be done differently. Required reading for new starters in some companies.

Rework coverRework: Change the way you work forever

by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Much of what this book says makes sense and I don’t have too much of a problem with. It didn’t rock my world though. It’s not the sort of book you’ll spend the three years quoting either to yourself or others. Maybe they saw writing a book as a great way of creating some valuable PR for Basecamp. The use of large type and illustrations made me feel they were padding it out so it would have more pages and look nice on the shelf. It’s fine but perhaps a bit entry level. I prefer their blog.

Seven Day Weekend coverThe Seven Day Weekend: A better way to work in the 21st Century

by Ricardo Semler

A follow-on from Maverick! continuing many of Semler’s ideas of how we need to think differently about the way we work. If it’s OK to expect employees to pick up emails at weekends then why can’t the same staff take their kids to the cinema on Monday afternoons? Why isn’t the way we use our time more flexible?

Work Rules! coverWork Rules!: Insights from inside Google that will transform the way you live and lead

by Laszlo Bock

Some interesting ideas on how Google manages staff from their former manager of ‘people analytics’ or HR as most people call it. In his first week, Laszlo is told they need to increase recruitment from 700 to 2000 people a week without a loss in quality of the candidate. What’s interesting is all the experts they hire to conduct all this in-depth research into the best ways to recruit people. Most the conclusions match what Ricardo Semler worked out 20 years previously without any fancy nerds. This can read like one long Google advert at times but it’s still interesting.

James Mullarkey

I write about the web and digital, mediocre sporting performances and places I've been, for this blog and only this blog.