Book Reviews

A selection of tech and career related books which I've read this year.

2021


The book How Computers Really Work

How Computers Really Work

by Matthew Justice

I have to admit I was initially going to give this book 3 stars. Last week however, I was struggling to understand something at work and then I remembered that the concept was discussed in the book! I was able to go back and use it as a reference! I love books that pull me back in after I’ve finished reading them. 4 stars!

I learnt a number of things from this book. Mainly I learnt that I *definitely* want to stick to the software side of computers. The hardware just doesn’t interest me at all! I really struggled getting through the first half of the book because of this. It took me 2 months to get through this book mainly because sitting down and reading through basically a textbook about ‘math with digital circuits’ made me want to cry.

This book broadly covers concepts from basic electrical circuits, all the way up to modern technologies like blockchain. Each chapter includes projects to really help you understand but you need a raspberry pi set up to do these. Unfortunately I don’t have one so I had to skip the projects. As a result I don’t think I got as much out of the book as I could have.

If you have lots of time, an interest in computer hardware, and own a raspberry pi (or are willing to buy one) then you will probably love this book! For me personally, I just found an occasional nugget of knowledge that was really valuable to my career as a software engineer / web dev. Also the next time my parents ask me what bitcoin mining is, I’ll have an answer!

I think for the right target audience this book could be a really excellent resource and I’m super grateful to No Starch Press for sending me this copy! Thank you! ❤️

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Purchase How Computers Really Work from No Starch Press

The audio book of Deep Work

Deep Work

by Cal Newport

I’m giving this book a reluctant 4 stars. It’s reluctant because this book is full of long winded anecdotes about people who work deeply. Which is fine, but ironically it distracted me from the key takeaways of *how* to work deeply. To the point that I’m listening to it a second time because I feel like I tuned out a bit! 😅

Saying all this however, this book has inspired me to improve my daily habits. Since starting this book I have become much better at time blocking and scheduling my day. I also removed all social media apps from my phone during the working week. It’s been *really* hard but I actually didn’t miss them as much as I thought I would.

Other key takeaways from the book:

  • Have a consistent cut off time to finish work for the day (rest is important for deep work!)
  • Deep work takes *lots* of practise
  • Even the most successful people can’t do more than 4 hours of deep work per day.
  • Productive meditation is important: using the time when you’re physically busy but mentally not (eg. walking the dog for me) to mull over a problem

If you love stories and anecdotes of successful people and how they work, you’ll probably love this book! If you don’t, it will be more of a struggle but it’s definitely a good kick in the pants to take some action towards improving your focus.

I'm quite keen to check out Cal's book on 'Digital Minimalism' sometime soon.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Purchase Deep Work from Booktopia

The audio book Indistractable

Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

by Nir Eyal, Julie Li

My unplanned bonus book of January. If you’ve never read anything at all, ever, about distraction or habits or focus then this is probably a good place to start! But there’s nothing really new or groundbreaking. One chapter felt like a summarised version of Atomic Habits (which I’ve already read and loved!). Others chapters were common sense, eg. remove apps and notifications from your phone.

There were some good tips in there but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. Also, a great question came from @hilarycallaghan who asked me if I thought it would apply to neurodiverse folk: I highly doubt it.

⭐️⭐️

Purchase Indistractable from Booktopia

The book Technically Wrong

Technically Wrong

by Sara Wachter-Boettcher

I *loved* this book! Definitely one of my favourites that I’ve read lately!

If you’ve read Invisible Women it does touch on a lot of similar concepts but this book is way shorter, way less intense, and won’t leave you feeling emotionally drained. It also raises broader issues in the tech industry. It touches on the myth of meritocracy as most of these types of books do, but it looks more closely at tech companies and examples of when things have gone wrong.

There’s examples from Twitter, Facebook, Uber, Reddit, Google, Tumblr, etc. that prove time and time again what happens when the people who are designing and building products all look the same, all think the same. They’re famous examples so if you keep on top of this sort of news, many of them won’t be a surprise to you - but if you’re new to tech like I am it’s very interesting to read about!

There’s also a great concept in the book about designing with “stress cases” in mind rather than “edge cases”.

If you work in the tech industry and haven’t yet begun researching the types of impact badly designed technology can have (let alone the tech industry itself), I highly recommend this book as a great place to start.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Purchase Technically Wrong from Booktopia

The book Digital Minimalism

Digital Minimalism

by Cal Newport

Having now read two of Cal’s books (Deep Work was my first), I’ve now come to the firm decision that his way of writing is probably not for me. However, the content is right up my alley!

While some of the content in Deep Work was great and useful, most of it was rambling stories of people who have successfully worked deeply in the past. Digital Minimalism is much more practical and although it still explores background information to back up each suggestion, I found I wasn’t tuning out as much as I had with Deep Work. It is a definite improvement!

For the month of March I’ve been undertaking the suggested “digital declutter”. I created rules for the digital products that I would be taking a break from, and for most part so far I have stuck to them. I’m interested to see how I feel after the end of the month when I’m “allowed” to return to these services. I’m hoping to put some of the suggestions in this book into practise to limit my social media usage.

Key takeaways:

  • Do a 30 day “digital declutter”. Make sure you define the rules, take a 30 day break, and then reintroduce only the technologies that add a lot of value to your life.
  • Replace time on digital products with high quality leisure activities
  • Make things (I’ve started crocheting again)
  • Join something (I’ve joined a dog obedience club)
  • Delete social media from your phone - desktop only (this is hard for Instagram!)
  • Don’t click ‘like’ - have conversations with people instead
  • Plan for and block out time for your leisure activities

I’m giving this one 4 stars as well, but it’s a strong 4 stars rather than the reluctant 4 stars I gave Deep Work. I like Cal’s content, but I appreciated the more direct practical advice of Digital Minimalism.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Purchase Digital Minimalism from Booktopia

The audio book of Deep Work

Deep Work

by Cal Newport

I’m giving this book a reluctant 4 stars. It’s reluctant because this book is full of long winded anecdotes about people who work deeply. Which is fine, but ironically it distracted me from the key takeaways of *how* to work deeply. To the point that I’m listening to it a second time because I feel like I tuned out a bit! 😅

Saying all this however, this book has inspired me to improve my daily habits. Since starting this book I have become much better at time blocking and scheduling my day. I also removed all social media apps from my phone during the working week. It’s been *really* hard but I actually didn’t miss them as much as I thought I would.

Other key takeaways from the book:

  • Have a consistent cut off time to finish work for the day (rest is important for deep work!)
  • Deep work takes *lots* of practise
  • Even the most successful people can’t do more than 4 hours of deep work per day.
  • Productive meditation is important: using the time when you’re physically busy but mentally not (eg. walking the dog for me) to mull over a problem

If you love stories and anecdotes of successful people and how they work, you’ll probably love this book! If you don’t, it will be more of a struggle but it’s definitely a good kick in the pants to take some action towards improving your focus.

I'm quite keen to check out Cal's book on 'Digital Minimalism' sometime soon.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Purchase Deep Work from Booktopia

The audio book Indistractable

Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

by Nir Eyal, Julie Li

My unplanned bonus book of January. If you’ve never read anything at all, ever, about distraction or habits or focus then this is probably a good place to start! But there’s nothing really new or groundbreaking. One chapter felt like a summarised version of Atomic Habits (which I’ve already read and loved!). Others chapters were common sense, eg. remove apps and notifications from your phone.

There were some good tips in there but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. Also, a great question came from @hilarycallaghan who asked me if I thought it would apply to neurodiverse folk: I highly doubt it.

⭐️⭐️

Purchase Indistractable from Booktopia

The book Technically Wrong

Technically Wrong

by Sara Wachter-Boettcher

I *loved* this book! Definitely one of my favourites that I’ve read lately!

If you’ve read Invisible Women it does touch on a lot of similar concepts but this book is way shorter, way less intense, and won’t leave you feeling emotionally drained. It also raises broader issues in the tech industry. It touches on the myth of meritocracy as most of these types of books do, but it looks more closely at tech companies and examples of when things have gone wrong.

There’s examples from Twitter, Facebook, Uber, Reddit, Google, Tumblr, etc. that prove time and time again what happens when the people who are designing and building products all look the same, all think the same. They’re famous examples so if you keep on top of this sort of news, many of them won’t be a surprise to you - but if you’re new to tech like I am it’s very interesting to read about!

There’s also a great concept in the book about designing with “stress cases” in mind rather than “edge cases”.

If you work in the tech industry and haven’t yet begun researching the types of impact badly designed technology can have (let alone the tech industry itself), I highly recommend this book as a great place to start.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Purchase Technically Wrong from Booktopia

Audio book of Algorithms of Oppression

Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism

by Safiya Umoja Noble

This book is definitely not a fun, light and easy read. Even listening to the audiobook, it was difficult to focus at times. But many parts were so interesting! ⁣

This book covers so many topics, including:

  • search algorithms being biased
  • the racism and sexism that is in search results
  • the lack of diversity in decision making positions in big tech companies that create these products
  • the history of discrimination in media
  • the laws around bias in media and how that applies to the internet
  • Google’s position having a monopoly on information
  • and so much more!

It raises large concerns around biased information being interpreted as accurate & objective. A huge takeaway for me was how most people believe the results they get from a Google search are unbiased. Many don’t even realise they’re being advertised to. Is it any wonder the world is currently so divided when people on opposing sides see the information they’re provided with on the internet as unbiased when it is anything but?

It asks a huge question - if Google is not responsible for the results of their own algorithm, then who is?

Definitely worth a read! I would have given it 5 stars had it included more research on the algorithms themselves - but of course, this is difficult since they’re kept under wraps by the big companies!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Purchase Algorithms of Oppression from Booktopia

The book Invisible Women on a desk

Invisible Women

by Caroline Criado Perez

Okay, technically I reviewed this late 2020 but it's too good not to include here. It was a tough read but so important. Definitely not the sort of book you read to relax...

It will make you feel anger, sadness, disappointment, and just complete outrage. Or at least, it should. If you’re a woman it will also be full of “mmmhmmm!” moments of validation.

⁣ It covers data bias in technology, urban planning, medicine, the myth of meritocracy, politics, disasters, even snow clearing, and much more. ⁣

I honestly think this book should be required reading in all schools and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Just be prepared for a hard and emotional read (especially if you are a woman). 😓

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Purchase Invisible Women from Booktopia