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Good Books

I wish there was an eighth day in the week set aside for reading only. I always mean to read more books but never seem to have enough time. Here are few books on engineering/business that I have really liked. I always appreciate recommendations on books so if you have any send them my way (use the contact the admin form on the about page).

  • Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki - I learned a lot of painful lessons at my first company out of college, which at that time was a small start-up / University spin-off. That was a valuable experience and I have no regrets save one. After reading this book I really wish I could reach back through time and slap myself (and a few others) for being so obnoxious and clueless. If you have any inkling to start your own business read this book first. I guarantee you will get laughed at less.

  • Inviting Disaster by James R. Chiles - As an embedded controls engineer for power conversion equipment I have probably been involved in (and been directly responsible for) way more spectacular explosions than the average engineer. The reason behind those explosions was that I and the other people I was working with were pushing the equipment we were designing beyond its limits. Thus far in my career those explosions occurred in the lab during the design phase. This book describes what happens when design flaws and schedule pressures push explosions out of the lab. I thought the patterns that appear in the stories in this book were instructive as a person that designs high reliability electrical equipment.

  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell - My opinion has always been that working hard is only part of the story. A little luck as

    far as being in the right time at the right place is a big factor in being successful. The book digs into the pre-fame story of several mega successful people and details what else besides work ethic and being generally smart was key to their success (i.e. how the became ready before the opportunity came along). This book also has emperical data that clearly supports the idea that you get better at what you do and the better you get the more you are allowed to do it. 

  • The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder - An engrossing book about the daily work of engineers would seem like a contradiction but that's what this book is. Until I read this book if you asked me why I worked 70 hour weeks for months on end (pre kids) I would have probably said "you wouldn't understand". I would say that because I probably didn't really understand myself at the time honestly. After reading this book I had a better answer which was "because I said I would finish the job and my ego does not allow me the option of quitting".

  • iWoz by Steve Wozniak - This book is full of great stories. At the end the Woz offers advice on how to be a great engineer: don't waver, see things in grayscale (i.e. its never black or white), and work alone. It was the work alone point that really got me. There seems to be lots corporate dogma about teamwork and decisions/working by consensus, which I think gets taken too far sometimes (i.e into the micromanagement zone). I seem to get more done and do it better when I am working basically alone and it was great to hear that from somebody with unassailable credentials like Wozniak. Not that I can do it all alone but I strongly believe a group of people each responsible and accountable for their own individual scope will run circles around a group of people that are all jointly responsible or the entire scope.

  • The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen - Even if you are an engineer who detest reading about marketing, sales, and general business (not me) this book is well worth reading. It has objective examples about how companies do all the right things and still sail over the cliff to being out of business because they ignore new technology.

  • The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker - An engineer who sees this book might be put off by the term "executive" in the title. However what Drucker really means by executive is any knowledge worker (i.e. somebody not working on the factory floor) which includes engineers. The book spells out how to learn to use your time more wisely. It was therapeutic when I read it.

  • Code Complete and Software Project Survival Guide by Steve McConnell - If you are an embedded developer that started off in a small, development focused company, like me, you probably didn't get a lot of exposure to industry standard software development processes. The first software process I followed could be classified as "The Wild Wild West".  If you make a switch from a small to a big company do yourself a favor and use a book like this to give yourself a good idea about the heavy weight procedures that big companies use on big projects. Note: if you are allowed the freedom I would pick (insist) on a process like IDD. The point is the more processes you have knowledge of the better, even if you don't like or use some of those processes. 

  • Legoland Idea Book 6000 by Lego - This really isn't an engineering or business book but its kinda related as its about something I bet a lot of engineers are big fans of. My all time favorite building toy from the time I was knee high through today was and is Legos. The modern Lego sets have lots of custom pieces which look great but I still love the old blocky sets where a majority of the pieces were either basic bricks or plates. Back in the mid 1980s Lego put out several idea books which contained pages and pages of building instructions loosely linked together through a story. You can still find the old Lego Ideas Books on reseller sites like Brinklink. If you are in the mood for retro Lego building goodness these books are a great place to start.

  • To Engineer is Human by Henry Petroski - This was similar to Inviting Disaster by James R. Chiles which I really liked. It has more of focus on civil engineering and material science which as an electrical guy is farther away from where I spend most of my time. Even with that the stories and perspective are still relevant to any engineer and worth reading.

  • Presenting to Win by Jerry Weissman - The title kinda makes it sound like a muckity muck book but its useful, I think, for any engineer as part of your job is communicating your ideas. It details how to figure out your story, improve your story telling skills, and get people interested in what you have to say.

  • Failure is not an Option by Gene Kranz - It may mark me as a geek (big surprise) but I was way more interested in the rockets than the astronauts as a kid. I caught the last few minutes of a documentary that had Gene Kranz and John Aaron sitting around talking about the Apollo missions and I wanted to learn more about what made those guys tick. One surprising thing I learned from reading this book was the power of the simple, almost boring checklist to make extraordinarily complex and dangerous task manageable.