Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Review: Making it Big in Software




In Making it Big in Software, Sam Lightstone has the ambitious task of giving you "all the information you need to jumpstart your software career: the best ways to get hired, move up, and blaze your way to the top!". It's an ambitious claim.

I read the introduction that stated the book would give me the skills to get started and the skills to be a visionary and leader. Honestly, this seemed too broad a topic to cover in one book - even a 400+ page one. However, I decided to push on and evaluate if the book was a good read for our software apprentices. I ended up reading the whole book cover to cover. In my opinion the book succeeds in its mission. The book made me recall many of the mentoring discussions and off hand comments I have heard throughout my career from successful people. I enjoyed Lightstone's candor and his frank advice. Some ideas are big - if you want to be successful don't be a "cookie cutter" developer. Some are simple - engineering internships/apprenticeships are better than co-ops. He also says a number of times that if you want to succeed you are going to put in a lot of hours. You will need to work smart AND hard. Another topic I really liked seeing was a discussion about managing one's career. He presents two individuals with equal ability and potential. One follows a typical career path. Without a long term plan, he decides to follow some interesting work and makes a couple of lateral moves. He eventually becomes a senior manager. By all accounts he had a successful career. But, the other person decides he want to become CEO. They see how many "hops" it will take to get there and manages their career such that every couple years they make the necessary hop. If they find that they can't make a hop where they are, they move on - fast. I was given similar advice while at Northwestern University. There it fell under the term "career engineering". I was also given the same advice by one of my customers (a young CTO) I encountered while working at IBM. However, I have found describing how to manage a career to past colleagues in this way has been met with skepticism or out right hostility. I am happy to see it presented as a legitimate option for those who choose to pursue it.

Another thing I do that past colleagues have determined I am an oddity for doing is to have a spreadsheet evaluating each job I have ever had and any potential opportunity that come along. I use this so that I can look at things objectively and not fall into the shiny object syndrome. Near the end of the book Lightstone suggests using a similar technique.

As for the interviews: I found a few of them fascinating. Each one had a little bit of information that was useful and news to me. Unfortunately, Lightstone asks the same questions in each interview. This leads the interviews to follow a predictable path rather than follow what makes each interviewee uniquely interesting. Overall good, but I wouldn't pick up the book only for the interviews.

Conclusion

Similar advice can be found elsewhere in parts, but this one collects it into an all-in-one package. I'm not sure that if I had read this when I first entered the workplace I would have groked all of it. This is a book you should read a few times in your career to get the maximum effect. You are likely to read it a little differently depending on where you are at. Overall, it does what it says it will do. It's helpful for those starting their career or hoping to kick start one in progress.

:: Originally Posted on Pathfinder Development's Blog ::

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