The other week, I had a one-on-one with an engineer. They were working through their approach to a project. There were a few options the engineer already had in mind for how to break down the epic, and they were thinking through the best approach for the work. They had more data about some of these approaches, but they were only scratching the surface of others. Some of the approaches were riskier but had upside; others were safer and cheaper. I knew none of this when I started the conversation. When we finished, they had a few next steps including some metrics to track down and some people to consult.
Nearly two weeks ago, the violence that has been perpetuated against Asian Americans continued as six Asian Americans and eight people in total were killed in an act of domestic terror in Georgia. The violence was an attack predicated on racial stereotypes that have for too long pervaded American culture. Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Sun Cha Kim, and Yong Ae Yue lived lives. Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng lived lives.
In 2020, I set out to read 40 books. Somewhere in the middle, a lot of goals and plans went upside-down. Amid the chaos, I found more time to read. And so I ended up reading 50 books over the course of the hellish year. Some were short, some were long. I read some fiction and some non-fiction. I read a few things to help me grow as an engineering manager, I read a few things for fun, and a few of the things I read fit both categories. Here are my top twelve reads of 2020 – in the order in which I read them – with a few pullquotes here and there.
Last time, I wrote on my learning methodology, Scatter and Sweep. In this approach, I “scatter” my learning through solving different problems and researching where needed and I “sweep” by picking a topic and going deep on it. By combining these two approaches, I am able to increase my chances of having the knowledge I need the first time I see the problem and give an extra boost to retaining the knowledge I learned the first time when I see a problem again. When I apply this methodology with my preferred ways of learning, I end up with my learning practice as an Engineering Manager.
One of my favorite one-on-one topics is “learning”. I get lots of questions in one-on-ones that lead to this topic: How did you learn when you were an engineer? What blogs or books do you recommend? And a lot of my answers really go back to the core question of “how do you learn?” Regardless of the engineers’ favorite media for learning, there’s an approach I’ve found that always helps me both see more information and retain it for when I need it. I call the approach Scatter and Sweep. Before we go into how it works, let’s start with some first principles.