I cant believe how fast 2018 have been going for me. I went lot of new challenges, good thing most of them turn out quite well. In 2018, I’ve ventured into new areas at work, managed bigger team and took terrifying steps into the big financial commitment (i bought a house on mortgage). Been hell-a-lot of personal developments which was exciting and scary at the same time.
Speaking of personal developments, ill share top three great books that I’ve read last year with interesting points from each. These books helped me find perspective and calmed me down during roller coaster ride. I hope this list give you ideas on what to read to start your 2019 right.
Hard Things About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz
For someone who currently works in a tech startup, ive never read books who are as relatable and insightful as this one. Ben Horowitz is one-half of Andreseen-Horowitz , one of the super venture capital in Silicon Valley. Name any tech unicorns and most probably a16z has investment in that. Prior to investing, Ben Horowitz started his career in Netscape and this book chronicles his career from founding startups called Loudcloud up to selling it to Hewlett-Packard.
Whats interesting about this book is Horowitz write a lot of insights on how to navigate your way as a tech startup. A startup is a different beast than corporate and understanding the nuance of each is crucial anybody who wants to switch career from either side of the pond. One of my favorite bits in this book is Horowitz advice on the difference of expectation for managers / executive on working in a startups and corporate and how to screen this early in a interview session. I made summary in a table below
Horowitz wrote this book very honestly and you can feel his struggle and hardships as a CEO. If other business book makes you want to be at the top of corporate chain, this book made me feel the opposite.
It Doesnt Have To Be Crazy At Work – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
After Getting Real and Remote, this is the third book from what-used-to-be 37 signals that ive read. Jason Fried and DHH has very distinctive writing styles which carry around on all of their books. Their books are written in short chapters, very direct and less wordy hence its comfortable to digest.
In this book, Fried and Hansson, propose the idea that work doesnt have to be hectic, exhausting and crazy. The Basecamp Duo argues that long hours at work and highly stressful work place its not normal and there are lots of decision that can be taken to reduce that.
Two reasons why craziness happens at work: (1) constant physical and virtual distractions which encouraged to happen in the office; (2) harmful obsession with growth at any price. Fried and Hansson then elaborate how they reduce both of these in the daily operations of Basecamp.
Several tips that piqued my interest :
- Eliminate costly status meetings. Eight people in a room sharing updates do not cost one hour but eight working hour just for updating. Replace this by daily or weekly updates in written format hence any member can read the updates at their own pace.
- Major distractions at work mostly came from inside such as wandering managers constantly interrupting team members. Office should be made as distraction-free as possible to enable each member have long uninterrupted work hours. Workplace should have similar rules to library, with quite as the default condition and rooms are provided to facilitate noisy collaboration.
- Sleep is crucial in any creative work that needs high-order thinking. Its never worth trading sleep for a few extra hours of work. Sleep-deprived person not only become more stupid but also less patience which prone to create toxic environment at work.
- Group chat (e.g Slack) should be treated asynchronously. Participating in a group chat is like being stuck in a never ending meeting with random agendas. Two rules regarding chat : (1) Asynchronous most of the times, real-time sometimes; (2) If its, important, slow down and write it up.
- Rather than spending 100 percent effort on every single thing, try putting less effort for things which less important. Being clear which product / feature / project needs to be perfect and which can be bare-minimum reduce unnecessary pressure in workplace
This book offer great alternative views to the common wisdom that work hard all-the-time and at all cost is the only way to be successful. My only criticism is all of the examples are based on their own companies which they have complete control (Basecamp is famous for not taking VC money). Hence not all tips can be practiced in common workplace settings.
Blood, Sweat and Pixels – Jason Schreier
This is a great books if youre an avid gamer like me. Jason Schreier, game journalist and editor at game publication Kotaku, gave a behind the scene insights on how various popular games are made. In this book, he covers various games from blockbuster AAA games up to popular indie game which coded by a single guy.
The book perfectly captures the complexity of making video games, the drama surrounding development and the pressure of each person along the process. Each chapter is dedicated to one game and it is such a roller coaster ride, i feel like reading a fiction novel. It is very entertaining books even though not much business insight that i can get from this reading.
Key takeaways i can write here is there are 3 reason why game-development is the hardest type of software development :
- Video games are interactive. Games dont run in a fixed linear way. Players can do variety of actions and developers need to consider the impact and logic for every actions (and reactions) that the player makes.
- Game engine and technology are constantly changing. Developing games is like making movies but you have to build camera from scartch every time you start shooting. Computing technology level up every year, and game are pressured to have higher quality image, bigger worlds and complex game play every time the technology evolve. On top of that, game designers are expected to work with plethora of specialized software and engine which differ from studio to studio.
- Scheduling is impossible. In tradition software life cycle, schedule can be determined based on how long task have been developed in the past. But in video games, games is measured by how much fun is the gameplay and this can be measure only when the game are finished. Developers can predict but until players are experiencing the games, theres no way to tell whether each actions such as simple jumping up to opening inventory menu bring joy to the players. This is why every video game development is almost always late and crunch time (working 10-15 hours every day to meet the deadline) is the norm in game development.