Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Two Book Reviews

Here are reviews for two books I’ve recently run through.

Stand Back and Deliver by Pollyanna Pixton, et. al. Pub by Addison Wesley, ISBN 0321572882.

This is absolutely one of the best career-shaping books I’ve read, ever. It’s concise, it’s easy to read, and it’s chock full of some seriously vital things you need to get solid in your head as part of successful software delivery.

I found a wide range of great wisdom in this book, some things which were new, and some which were things I'd let slip. There's insight on teams, personnel, risk management, and lots of other goodies. It's all laid out in short, well-written chapters authored by folks who've been around the block a number of times.

While all of the book was extremely helpful, perhaps one of the most valuable things I found was their “Purpose Alignment Model,” (PAM) a simple quad chart with market differentiation on the Y axis and mission criticality on the X. The quads break down in to categories of Who Cares, Partner, Parity, and Differentiating. The authors walk the reader through clear, powerful exercises to help you focus on making decisions that will help you succeed at differentiating you and your company from your competitors – but retaining some focus on things you need to stay in parity with them.

I found all the discussion around the PAM highly stimulating because it fits so well with my fundamental beliefs in being adamant and aggressive about Lean software development. The section on Context Leadership Model is probably just as important: it helps you assess a project’s uncertainty and complexity. Again, the authors do a tremendous job showing you utterly practical, real-world applications of this.

I can’t recommend this book enough if you’re at all interested in improving how you decide what to build, and how you go about it.

The Myths of Security by John Viega, pub by O’Reilly, ISBN 0596523025.

This is a wonderfully contrarian view to much of the information we are fed regarding security. Viega brings a much-needed skeptical view to many of the things we as consumers and workers in the IT industry are fed. He skewers everything from antivirus to identity theft and takes a lot of effort to lay out his propositions around how bad guys are driven by money.

I got a bit weary of the not-quite-shilling for McAffee, the company Viega works for, and there were a couple technical howlers (a server-side application which required 200 servers simply “because it was written in Java”). Those irritants aside, it really is a great read which, whether you agree with his points or not, should make you re-evaluate how you look at security.

Books which make you think are always a Good Thing.

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