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Three Books And A New Programming Language April 12, 2008

Posted by Pankaj Chawla in Book Review, Design, Innovation, Python, Software Engineering, Starbucks.
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The week that is gone by started with a three day long weekend. Add to that my wife along with our son went off on a holiday to visit her parents just befire the long weekend started. So I had all the time in the world and what better way to use it then to read a few books and learn a few new tricks. So here I am seven days later, done with three books and started learning a new programming langauge. Lets start with the three books first.

The first to go down was “How STARBUCKS Saved My Life” by Michael Gill.  Its the true story of Michael Gill who one fine day after spending 25 years in his high flying job gets laid-off. At 63 he is too old to spin his magic that worked for him all 25 years and with nowhere to go he lands up as a barista at a Starbucks in New York. The story is about his time at Starbucks interweaved with the stories from the past. Its a good read and pretty inspiring even though it has gone overboard at a lot of places in projecting Starbucks as larger than life brand. I think the real inspiration is that he gets laid off, gets a job as a barista, use his talents of yesteryears to weave a heart warming story into a book and make a few million dollars. The story doesnt end here, Tom Hanks recently bought movie rights for the book and the movie will be released in 2008 with Tom Hanks playing the lead role. Now that is called smart thinking and worth taking inspiration from.

The second book of the week was “Ship It! A Practical Guide to Successful Software Projects” by Jared Richardson and William Gwaltney Jr. It a small 200 page book that is easy to read and full of practical advise. The only problem is that most of the things written in the book are already known and mostly not followed in most software organizations. The place where the book wins is the way it presents those well known processes and interlinks them together to make a strong case for adoption if not already being used. If I have to recommend this book I will surely recommend it to all the budding startups. There is valuable advise to follow that can let them focus on whats most important to a startup – to get a successful product out that can make a first impression. This book may not make a lot of sense to large organizations as they already have a lot of processes but if your existing processes are not working then this book can atleast tell you whats wrong with your processes.  Its a book about light weight processes that add value and the best thing is that its a light weight book that you can finish in a day and get going on fixing the problems.

After an inspirational memoir and a software processes book it was time to pick a book on whats my new found love these days – Design and Innovation and what better book to pick than “The Art of Innovation” by Tom Kelley. The interesting story about this book is that it has been on my bookshelf for about five years now. I had received this book as part of the welcome kit of a conference that I attended in 2003 (or was it 2002?) but I never got time to read it (for whatever reasons 🙂 ). Now 5 years later I finally picked this book and I am glad that I read it. Its a wonderful book on the art of innovation. Tom Kelley is the General Manager of IDEO which is one of the leading powerhouses of design and innovation and this book is a lot about how IDEO goes about doing its job. Even though the book talks a lot of IDEO and its way of doing things and it gets a bit over the board sometimes but as the book progresses there are some invaluable lessons to learn. I will recommend this book to anybody who cares about Design and Innovation and if you are running short on time then atleast surely read the following chapters (they are eye openers in many ways): Chapter 3-“Innovation Begins With An Eye”, Chapter 4-“The Perfect Brainstorm”, Chapter 6-“Prototyping Is The Shorthand Of Innovation” and Chapter 12-“Coloring Outside The Lines”.

So that was the story of the three books and my take on each of them. Now coming to the new programming language. Its been 14 years since I committed myself to C/C++ and I never felt a need to pick another language. Not that I felt a new found need but sometimes you get introduced to things and then take it from there. As I read “Ship It” I decided to try out some of the stuff recommended by it and started with an Opensource CI system which after the download I found was implemented in Python. So I went ahead and downloaded Python and there in started the urge to learn a new language. But wait did I say I am learning Python ? I only downloaded it so that I can try out the CI system but as I looked through the code the simplicity of a scripting language coupled with the added power that the scripting langauges of today come with, it was only natural to get attracted to it. So here I am learning Tcl/Tk for last 2 days ( Stumped you, didnt I? I downloaded Python and am learning Tcl/Tk instead 🙂 . Why I did it? Maybe I will tell the story some other day but Python lovers can rest assured that after Tcl, its next on my radar.) and I must say its fun learning it. More detailed analysis of the language once I am done with first pass of the learning.

Till then happy reading and happy learning!