Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Summer Reading for the Technical Writer

Summer reading lists are abounding on the web just now as you might expect. I ran into one targeting IT professionals and decided to give it a look. While my reading tastes aren't identical to that of a sysadmin or a coder, there were a few suggested books that piqued my interest.

Actually, the first one I selected was recommended at the Write the Docs conference several weeks ago. I ordered it and it's sitting on my desk, but there's a couple of other books I need to work my way through before I tackle Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind.

According to the marketing blurb at Amazon:
The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: artists, inventors, storytellers-creative and holistic "right-brain" thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn't.
It makes sense that a book aimed at "information workers" should be at the top of my list.

Then there's Katie Hafner's Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet, which chronicles the origin and development of the Internet, from the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s until the publication date of the book in 1998.

I've read this book twice before thanks to it being available at my local public library. It's a short and easy read and yet full of fascinating details from the creation of the first router, which was about the size of a refrigerator, to how telnet was invented almost by accident. I highly recommend it for history and trivia buffs.

Next up is Christian Rudder's Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking). The review at Amazon says:
In this daring and original book, Rudder explains how Facebook "likes" can predict, with surprising accuracy, a person’s sexual orientation and even intelligence; how attractive women receive exponentially more interview requests; and why you must have haters to be hot.
Since I work for an organization that mitigates online, card-not-present fraud for merchants, banks, insurance companies, and other such entities, I have a certain curiosity about identity theft and data privacy (or the lack thereof).

I recently read Marc Goodman's book Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It, and although I am aware that our information on the web is less secure than we imagine, the portrait painted by Goodman is truly frightening. Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray couldn't be more terrifying...or revealing.

Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains tackles the popular question, "Is the Internet making us stupid?" Particularly for millennials and the generation of children now growing up who never experienced a world without the Internet, this is a particularly relevant and poignant question.

We like to think we're getting smarter because we have such quick and easy access to vast amounts of information, but that access means we don't have to do any mental work to acquire and retain that data. Imagine what doing even simple addition and subtraction was like before the invention of the cheap calculator vs. now. Can today's high school student working at a fast foot joint make change without the cash register "doing the math?"

Last on my list (for now) is Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.
In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture.
This speaks to me quite directly since I'm an introvert and working is groups is difficult if not occasionally painful. Yet it's an absolute necessity in my day-to-day job and existence, particularly since I'm supposed to innovate and create, and yet, promoting that to my employer is an enormous chore I wish would go away or be done by someone else.

Maybe Cain has some ideas that I can explore and leverage for what I do in my day job and how I experience "the real me."

Anyone out there have other books you think should be on my list?


  1. Nice list, James! Thanks for posting. I'm in the middle of The Shallows now and it's wonderful. My wife (an engineer) loved Quiet.

    One suggestion for a book that changed my way of thinking about structuring content: Every Page is Page One, by Mark Baker. That's probably been the paradigm shifter for me.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Scot. I'll add Every Page is Page One to my list.


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