There’s an old story that’s meant to promote the value of investing in your team. It goes something like this.
A CTO and a CEO are discussing the budget for the upcoming year. The CTO is trying to carve out budget for education for his team. The CEO is unsure. CEO: “What if we we set aside this educational budget for our employees and they leave?” CTO: “What if we don’t, and they stay?”
Before most of the software engineering world quickly pivoted to remote work in 2020, I was an advocate for the one-on-one notebook. In fact, I had a notebook that I carried with me everywhere. Medium-sized with a 100 or so pages, I usually filled one up in about three months time.
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.