Being Geek

Michael Lopp, or Rands as he is better known on line, at least by those who read his blog, released this year Being Geek, subtitled “The Software Developer’s Career Handbook” through O’Reilly Media.

The book brings together much of the content from Rands’ blog about working in technology as well as managing technology. I don’t know how this book may relate to his 2007 book “Managing Humans”, but I suspect there is a lot of overlap, but I may take the opportunity to investigate later.

Being Geek is many things. It provides information on how to ensure your career is growing. On how to identify when it’s time to ‘jump ship’ and move on from one company to another. It stresses, time and again, that you alone can drive your personal and professional growth. It gives solid advice on interviewing, and not only how to do well in an Interview, but how you can get the information that you need to determine if a job is appropriate for you as well.

The discussion about how to find the right job was the most interesting, as I’m fast approaching a time when circumstance will require me to move on from my current job, but more than that, it drove home the nagging feeling that I’ve been carrying, that I’m ready to move on.

The majority of the rest of the book talks about Management. Rands assumes that anyone reading the book has the mentality to be a domain expert, and to do well in a variety of jobs, but, in his words, we’re taught to “manage bits, not people.” A lot of Engineers struggle greatly when they make the transition to management because we usually just don’t know what to do.

At this point in my career, the management lessons are slightly less relevant, but even if you’re not making that jump (now or ever), they’re worth reading. Poor managers can sometimes be made better with a tiny bit of management from their people. And thinking, even a little bit, like a manager, can help you identify a good manager when you’re thinking about making a move.

In some ways, I wish that less of this book dealt with the issues of managing people. They’re important, surely, but I wonder if it would have been possible to put in more of the content from the first section, the one that was most relevant to me at this time. However, the content that was present, I believe will be invaluable.

This isn’t a job hunting book. It also isn’t really a management book. Yes, it contains a lot of data on both, and maybe it contains enough on both subjects. But the book is exactly what the subtitle says: It’s a book about managing your career.

My father has worked for the same company since 1980. My mother, has worked for maybe a half-dozen companies, and the latest she’s been with for over fifteen years. I’ve been out of school for five years now, and I’ve been with two companies, implying I’m well on my way to beating those numbers. And that’s become the norm for many people. Technology has very much become a field where if you’re not a growing, you’re shrinking, and you need to always be looking for something new and bigger, if not for the personal gratification of it, to make sure that if you ever need to go looking for a job, people will take notice.

Being Geek also has what I consider something of a ‘bonus’ chapter. “The Nerd Handbook” is a chapter meant not for you, but for your significant other. In fact, I would almost suggest that you not read it, because having someone nail your personality and habits so accurately is…a little depressing. And while this book is called “Being Geek”, understand that it’s very much about computer geeks, maybe just general engineering geeks too, but I’m not wholly sure. My wife is at least as big of a geek as I am, but her focus is on biology and phylogenetics. While there are overlaps in the behaviors described in this chapter, it definitely applies more strongly to me, and not her.

If I were faculty in Computer Science, I would probably build a list of required reading I’d hand every senior after they applied for graduation. Hell, I’m going to make that list anyway. This book would be at the top of that list. I would call it excellent reading for any technology geek at any stage of their career, but for geeks under 30, it should be mandatory.