Being Geek: The Software Developer’s Career Handbook

Michael Lopp’s Being Geek condenses the major events in your career into a useful guide that helps shed light on how to anticipate, detect, and handle them. Lopp looks at everything from the job search, interview, and negotiation process to building relationships between people on a team and dealing with problems like missed deadlines, but he describes them using terminology and emotional references that perfectly describe each situation. For example, realizing you’re ready for a new gig is “the itch”, the phone screen is “the sanity check”, and the interview itself is a “crucible” (p. 31):

An interview is a crucible where everything you’ve learned and everything you’ve done is being measured and understood in a day, and it’s your responsibility to elegantly and eloquently describe this experience to a bunch of strangers.

Lopp strongly suggests that you create your own job offer as a way to measure how well a potential employer’s offer would compensate you, so that you can negotiate from a position of knowing what each part of the offer should contain (p. 48):

You send off a set of references, sit in bed replaying interviews in your head, and send thank-you emails to the interview team. All professional karma-aligning activities, but what you really need to do is build your own offer letter. Just like you built your compensation, I want you to build your offer.

Lopp also offers great advice for those on the other side of the interview table. In “Hire for Your Career” (p. 145), he says:

Your professional relationship with those you hire and work with is never over. If you’re hiring well, you’re hiring people not just for this job, but for your career. These are the people who, for better or worse will explain to others what it is like to work with you. They’ll explain your quirks, your weaknesses, and your strengths. When they eventually leave the group, they’re taking your reputation with them. You may never talk to them again, but they’ll continue to talk about you, and my question is, what stories are they going to tell?

Your daily, hands-on management of your hiring isn’t going to improve your hiring process; it’s going to improve your career because from the first moment you interact with your future employee, you demonstrate that you care.

He makes a humble and resonant point about those who spend less and less time doing what they were trained to do and instead fill their time with ego-boosting and fame-chasing activities (p. 296):

Like any industry, high-tech is full of folks who are confusing success and fame with experience. They’re thinking that showing up at conferences, giving interviews, and writing books about things they did in the past is experience. It’s not. It’s storytelling, and while it might be valuable storytelling, these people are slowly becoming echoes of who they were and moving further from the work they did that matters. They’re confusing compliments for experience.

The most interesting people are those who strike a balance between sharing ideas in the public sphere, and privately working on things that push the envelope and create new experiences worthy of sharing.

At the beginning of the book, Lopp discusses “A List of Three” – items he uses to define successful career progress and good management (p. 15):

For me, technical direction is a reminder to care daily about my work. Growth is actively watching my career and making sure that today is not a dull repetition of yesterday. Finally delivery is my daily investment in my reputation. Keeping this list in my head keeps me asking questions, and, more importantly, keeps me growing.

Lopp’s book is about using your intuition to judge each situation, preparing for events both expected and unexpected, and nurturing your career with daily attention instead of an occasional resume update only when you need a new job.

My favorite part of reviewing a book is that point when I discover something in it so relevant to my own work that it compels me to take action right away. Being Geek is full of such relevant points that will make you want to bring the book to work every day.

Being Geek, by Michael Lopp – 336 pages, O’Reilly, Amazon.

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