Books for software engineers and managers



Why Generatlists Triumph in a Specialized  World

by David Epstein

Engineering Manager,
Tech Recruiter

How strongly do I recommend Range?
9 / 10

Review of Range

Range is highly readable and I highly recommend it for both parents and young professionals.

The author argues that we limit our creative problem solving abilities by focusing too narrowly early in life on a particular field. Instead, we should go broad early in life. With a broad range of knowledge, we can connect ideas across multiple domains. That’s the definition of creativity.

Sampling periods precede  eliteness

Greatness is often preceded by dabbling. Most elite athletes don’t focus on a single sport until college or later. Many experts try other professions, then change careers later to align with their curiosity and skills.

After sampling, we see an explosion of deliberate practice.

Sampling periods encourage better matches because we have a better understanding of our other options. We can perform better comparisons and make more informed decisions about what’s right or wrong for us.

Generally speaking, the younger you are the more your sampling should assume high risk and high reward, with high informational value.

Before starting, list quitting  conditions

Prior to starting a new endeavour like a job, relationship, or experiment, you should enumerate the conditions under which you would quit. What are your dealbreakers?

For instance, if you start a new business you might set a dealbreaker of $X revenue for the first year. By setting this quitting condition, you empower yourself with a tool for identifying when perseverance is warranted vs. foolish. At the outset, you’re more likely to be a rationale actor because you’re less susceptible to sunk cost fallacies.

As ambiguity increases, so does the importance of  breadth

This is where I think breadth really helps software engineers within a startup environment.

Startup oles and problems are often ambiguous. Finding product/market fit is genuinely both difficult and without recipe. Results are often surprising and counter-intuitive.

In other words, startups exist in a wicked environment. In wicked environments, we need breadth of experience to devise creative solutions.

Take facts from experts, not  opinions

Subject matter experts are steeped in knowledge. They have lots and lots of facts. But their knowledge primarily exists within one domain.

When solving problems, look to the experts for facts and information, but reserve opinions and judgements for yourself. Play the role of integrator, bringing together information from multiple experts and domains to arrive at an informed conclusion.

Leaders should hunt for bad  news

Good engineering managers often face a communications paradox. We build strong relationships with our team. Open lines of communication, trust, and motivation abound.

In this environment, your employees don’t want to let you down. They will hold back bad news. It’s human.

You need to sniff out the bad news, pull it out of them, and reward them for telling you.

This section of Range reminded me of the executive retreats at Microsoft, where Bill Gates war gamed worst-case-scenarios with his most trusted team.

Early specialization promotes research, not  search

Early specialization means you’re often studying what someone else has already studied. In fact, to receive a research grant you often need to know or anticipate the outcomes in advance. You’re doing re-search, not search.

Search is unpredictable and volatile. It can also be incredibly rewarding.

There’s a great quote in this book about how search is a lot like baseball, but not quite how people think because rules of play are vastly expanded.

In baseball, you often strikeout but sometimes you hit a homerun. But you’re still limited to 4 runs. In life, you sometimes hit a homerun and score a thousand runs.