Tag Archive for Review

What I read on my holidays – Uber Geek Edition!

Having only started in my new role at the start of July, I was fortunate enough to sneak in a cheeky week off work at the end of the kids summer holidays. My wife and I have done a fair bit of travelling in the past, but being parents of young children, we do not currently go in for big sightseeing tours. My ears can only survive hearing “my feet hurt” and “I need a wee” so many times before I give in to temptation and leave the kids by the side of the road!…

As I would prefer not to go to prison, instead we had a pretty chilled out week at a resort and I was able to get a wee bit of reading in; which was nice!

readingTypically I like to vary my reading between something for enjoyment, followed by something educational, then rinse and repeat. The former is generally some kind of fiction, especially science fiction / fantasy / humour.

IMO, Terry Pratchett was a true genius and is my favourite author by a huge margin, and he manages to achieve all three of these categories, and then some! Unfortunately, Terry passed away in March last year, leaving millions of fans deeply saddened. The two fiction books below were in fact originally recommended by him, and I would certainly echo this recommendation!

  • openstack-explainedOpenStack Explained – Giuseppe Paternò
    • I was fortunate enough to see Guiseppe present on OpenStack at this year’s Tech Unplugged event in London (see playlist of YouTube vids here and Guiseppe’s session recording is here), at the end of which he gave everyone a copy of his book for nothing, except the ask that we donated some money to charity for it. Very honourable indeed!

      I suggest if you do download the ebook from the above link, you do the same for your favourite charity! If you are struggling to choose one, I suggest Willen Hospice, who provided amazing care to a family member of mine recently (Donation Link Here).Anyway, the session was excellent and Guiseppe gave some insights into the growing adoption of OpenStack in the Enterprise today. In fact it led me to post the following tweet at the time:

      Guiseppe’s book is a great intro to all of the basics elements of OpenStack and what they do; well worth the cost of a donation for a download!

  • leaky4The Leaky Establishment – David Langford (or eBook here)
    • As an ex-press officer in the civil nuclear industry, Pratchett described this as the book he should have written!
      The satirical black comedy focuses around our hero, Roy Tappen, who accidentally smuggles a “pit” (i.e. a nuclear warhead core!) out of the nuclear weapons research facility he (regrettably) works in!

      Needless to say, his wife is none too impressed with him keeping a multi-megatonne explosive source in the house, and hilarity ensues as Roy plots to smuggle it back into work!

      Parts of this book had me in stitches; well worth a read!

  • openstack-cloud-computing-cookbookThe OpenStack Cookbook – Kev Jackson & Cody Bunch
    • I currently have the second edition of their book so it’s not 100% up to date, but as I was on holiday I wasn’t actually running through the labs specifically. Instead, I read the main content in each section to get a better understanding of how each of the OpenStack components connect together.

      The book is very well researched and written, with clear and easy to follow instructions for you to build your own OpenStack homelab. I will definitely be upgrading to the Third Edition when it comes time to build my own lab!

  • evolutionmanThe Evolution Man, Or, How I Ate My Father – Roy Lewis
    • This is one of the strangest books I have read in a long time, but a really enjoyable read! Originally written in 1960, it is a story about a tribe of cavemen of the Pleistocene era, trying to pass through multiple evolutionary leaps within a single generation, and covers everything from their discovery of fire, cooking, improved hunting techniques, domestication of animals, etc, but ultimately it is a story about the friction between progress and those who wish to avoid it!You might be wondering how the author manages any compelling dialogue with prehistoric tribespeople? The good news is, that’s the best bit!

      All of the characters speak as if out of the pages of a 1920’s period drama, or perhaps even the drawing room of Charles Darwin himself! The juxtaposition of the characters and their dialogue is really what makes the book so special in my opinion.

      AFAIK this isn’t available in eBook format, but in this case, I think good old fashion print just adds to the anachronistic experience! 🙂

  • SecondMachineAgeThe Second Machine Age – Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee
    • This book blends analysis of the history of technical innovations, with economics. It’s not my usual type of read, but it turned out to be fascinating on multiple levels.

      The geek in me enjoyed reading about the developments in technology and analyses of how they impacted the modern world, along with the predictions about where and how the authors believe technology will change our future.

      The parent in me took a lot of great ideas about how to advise and guide my children when they get to the age that they need to start thinking about their careers and university choices. One of the key recommendations made in the book was how people can remain valuable knowledge workers in the new machine age: “work to improve the skills of ideation, large-frame pattern recognition, and complex communication instead of just the three Rs”. If you want to understand this more either for your children or yourself, I definitely recommend you read this book!

So what’s next on my list I hear you ask? (Well maybe not, but I’m going to tell you anyway!)… The Tin Men by Michael Frayn (another Pratchett recommendation), most likely followed by Google’s recent Site Reliability Engineering publication.

7 Reasons Why You Should Read The Phoenix Project

The Phoenix Project

I began reading The Phoenix Project with no preconceptions, other than having been told that it is a great book, and hearing it mentioned many times on Eric Wright‘s GC On Demand podcast.

Written by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Stafford, it is told as a first-person narrative from the perspective of Bill, a middleware team manager who is promoted into a senior IT management role for a business in jeopardy. Through his experiences and a guiding hand from another key character, together we work through the problems facing the business, the IT department and the individuals within.

The story is told in an easy to read, informal style, and I made quick work of it over the course of just a few days. I really enjoyed it on numerous levels:

  1. I recognised every single character in the book as somebody I have worked with (or indeed currently work with!). I guarantee you will feel the same!
  2. The book was pretty well written, and the story arc itself was compelling. I was really rooting for Bill to succeed in his endeavours! (But did he? You will have to read the book to find out!)
  3. The authors obviously have a great sense of humour! Quotes such as “Show me a dev who isn’t crashing production systems, and I’ll show you one who can’t fog a mirror. Or more likely, is on vacation.” had me laughing out loud on the train in front of other passengers!
  4. The book is approachable and not elitist. You could pick it up as a cable monkey or an IT director (or maybe even a Sales person!!!), and relate to the concepts and methods described.
  5. I learned a huge amount about different methods for handling and improving processes around WIP (Work in Progress), such as the Theory of Constraints or the use of Kanban boards (I am currently testing this with my pre-sales customer workloads using Trello, but I’m told Kanbanize is also very good). Resilience Engineering (think Netflix Simian Army) and numerous other techniques are also covered, along with the overarching “Three Ways” (very Zen!).
  6. I actually picked up a few key tips which could be applied directly to my pre-sales design and requirements gathering workshops with my customer stakeholders.
  7. Finally, it didn’t feel “preachy”, which is always a risk when trying to sell an idea / concept as your main theme and I was initially concerned that the book would be ramming DevOps culture down my neck throughout. This could not be farther from the truth, and the full DevOps concepts do not come into play until the story is almost complete. There are many lessons to be learned throughout the story, which could be applied to any organisation!

The Phoenix Project Cover

Here are another few choice quotes from The Phoenix Project, both humorous and insightful:

“The only thing more dangerous than a developer is a developer conspiring with Security. The two working together gives us means, motive, and opportunity.”

“How can we manage production if we don’t know what the demand, priorities, status of work in process, and resource availability are?”

“You just described ‘technical debt’ that is not being paid down. It comes from taking shortcuts, which may make sense in the short-term. But like financial debt, the compounding interest costs grow over time. If an organization doesn’t pay down its technical debt, every calorie in the organization can be spent just paying interest, in the form of unplanned work.”

“On the other hand, if a resource is ninety percent busy, the wait time is ‘ninety percent divided by ten percent’, or nine hours. In other words, our task would wait in queue nine times longer than if the resource were fifty percent idle.”

In case you hadn’t felt like I was positive enough about The Phoenix Project yet, I would say that this book should be provided as mandatory training to every person working in every IT department today, from the guys plugging in cables to the CIO!

If you do read and enjoy the book, I highly recommend also reading The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. I was a little surprised, to say the least, that this appears to be a very similar story, following a similar arc and some almost identical characters to The Phoenix Project. That said, I am half way through it at the moment and still thoroughly enjoying it, though I am not too worried about missing the movie version!

The Goal by Eli Goldratt CoverThe Goal delves even deeper into the Theory of Constraints and explains some of the tools we can use to mitigate, bypass or remove constraints in a system. All of these tools and methods can be applied as easily to IT as they can to production lines, which (without stating the bleeding obvious) is exactly the point of The Phoenix Project!

Anyway, if you want to do yourself a favour both in terms of your career development, but also a really compelling story and a thoroughly decent book, you could do a lot worse than spending £5 on the Kindle Edition of The Phoenix Project!

Where To Get Them

For anything technical, I like to buy ebooks these days for both portability and the fact that I wont be chopping down trees needlessly. Both of the above titles are available very inexpensively on Kindle:

And Finally…

Sincerest apologies for one of the most click bait-y blog titles I’ve ever posted! Even worse than this one. Honestly, I feel ashamed!

I’ll get my coat…

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