Thursday, January 05, 2012

Book Review - Making it Big in Software

There is a great "secret" I tell software professionals. That "secret" is that if you want to rise to the top of your field, it's not that hard to do because so few people do the simple things to rise to the top. You will learn those things in this book.

Making it Big in Software brings a great perspective to the idea of breaking through to becoming an elite thought leader in the software profession. The first thing that caught my eye was the stellar nature of the people Sam Lightstone interviewed for this book. These include James Gosling, the inventor of Java, Steve Wozniak, inventor of the Apple computer, Grady Booch, co-founder of Rational Software, and many other luminaries in our field.

Lightstone anticipates the question most people have right out of the gate, "Why bother?"

"But with long hours, considerable stress, and no guarantees, the obvious question is whether it’s even worth trying to make it big. I believe the answer is unequivocally yes. The most compelling reason is that, in most cases, you have to show up to the office and work like a lunatic anyway—it’s really not optional (if you want to eat). So if the difference between being a midlevel career programmer and making it big is an incremental strategic investment of time and energy, then it’s more than worth it for you and for your family. In the long run, the benefits are significant: a more satisfying career, greater influence and impact within your company and the industry, more fun, and more money. And while there may not be less “crap” to do, at least it’s strategic work rather than “grunt” work."

Some of the enticing things about making it big are:
  • Fun and interesting work
  • Corporate and industrial influence
  • The betterment of society
  • Freedom to work on what you want, when you want (Lightstone makes clear that this is what you want to work on, not how much you have to work!)
  • Fame
  • Travel

(As an aside, I humbly say that as a minor software testing celebrity, I experience these things on a regular basis and it is good. While travel can become a chore, it is cool to teach in Rome twice a year.)

Software testers and QA professionals will appreciate Chapter 2, "What Good Software is Really About." This chapter is a concise case for better software and why we need to refine our craft, profession, or whatever you call what we do as software people.

Lightstone lays out all kinds of practical, real-world advice, such as "What to Look for in a Company." I like this list and it reinforces a key idea that you do not have to strike out on your own to make it big.

"1. Is this a company that has experience in building professional, high-quality systems?

2. Are there really talented people here I can learn from?

3. Is the position I’m being offered one that is interesting, with long-term growth potential on something I can believe in?

4. Do they have savvy business executives who really understand the business requirements for success and have a track record for delivering it?

5. Does the company have clarity of vision for the product it produces?

6. Is there an independent research arm?

7. How does the company innovate, and how profound has their innovation been?

8. Is the work environment pleasant and flexible, and does it suit my lifestyle?

9. Does the company seem stable? Do I believe it will still be around in ten years?

10. Is the pay in line with industry standards?"

The book goes back and forth between interviews and practical guidance, which is a good thing. The interviews let you get inside the heads and hearts of these gurus, while the guidance gives you a plan of attack.

Good economy or bad economy, it doesn't matter in terms of the importance of standing out and making your mark. Economies rise and fall. We all need to learn to not let our jobs distract us from our careers. This book helps light the way to do that. I highly recommend it to anyone in the software field!

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