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Being Geek: The Software Developer's Career Handbook [Paperback]

Michael Lopp

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Book Description

Aug. 13 2010

As a software engineer, you recognize at some point that there's much more to your career than dealing with code. Is it time to become a manager? Tell your boss he’s a jerk? Join that startup? Author Michael Lopp recalls his own make-or-break moments with Silicon Valley giants such as Apple, Netscape, and Symantec in Being Geek -- an insightful and entertaining book that will help you make better career decisions.

With more than 40 standalone stories, Lopp walks through a complete job life cycle, starting with the job interview and ending with the realization that it might be time to find another gig. Many books teach you how to interview for a job or how to manage a project successfully, but only this book helps you handle the baffling circumstances you may encounter throughout your career.

  • Decide what you're worth with the chapter on "The Business"
  • Determine the nature of the miracle your CEO wants with "The Impossible"
  • Give effective presentations with "How Not to Throw Up"
  • Handle liars and people with devious agendas with "Managing Werewolves"
  • Realize when you should be looking for a new gig with "The Itch"

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Being Geek: The Software Developer's Career Handbook + Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager
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Product Details

Product Description

About the Author

Michael Lopp is a Silicon Valley-based engineering manager. When he's not worrying about staying relevant, he writes about pens, bridges, people, and werewolves at the popular weblog, Rands in Repose. Michael wrote a book called "Managing Humans" which explains that while you might be rewarded for what you produce, you will only be successful because of your people.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  42 reviews
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lots of buried gems if you dig Sept. 3 2010
By G. A Wheeler - Published on
Lopp is the well known "Rands" of "Rands in Repose" blog fame. If you read his blog regularly, you will find little new in this book, which is largely a collection of blog entries arranged in an arc covering a typical job life span (from interviewing to moving on). They are well written and entertaining though, and still enjoyable a second time around. I give the book three stars for such readers.

If you have not read his blog, you will find lots of good tips here. However, they are buried in the narrative and must be mined - this is no bullet-point reference work. The book is worth five stars in this case - if you're willing to do the work. Those looking for a quick fix or easy reference guide should look elsewhere.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars mostly a compilation of blog posts Nov. 26 2010
By Nadyne Richmond - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've been reading Lopp's blog, Rands in Repose, for some time. Lopp has a pretty good geek resume, with experience at Symantec, Borland, Netscape, and Apple. His blog is one that I always read, since he's got a great gift for distilling lessons out of his experiences. This book is mostly a compilation of his blog posts, with some new essays added to help define the overall arc of a geek's career as defined by starting at a new job to deciding to move on to the next one.

Looking on my own experience in tech companies, I think that his advice is often spot-on. There have been times when I've read one of his blog posts after a difficult situation and found myself understanding it better. He's got a keen eye for detail and for understanding the nuances of geek behaviour, as well as all of the interacting forces that come into play when you're working for a big geek company. I've gone back to read half-remembered posts that I felt were pertinent to a given situation.

I found it amusing that Lopp says in his introduction that he's not writing a book that gives you ten steps for anything, or that will define the five characteristics of a top leader, but most of his essays are structured in just that form: distill a situation into some archetypes, identified by Capital Letters. For an occasional blog post, I don't mind this style; as a book, this structure got rather repetitive. While I love the blog, I found that I couldn't read the book for more than a half-hour without losing interest because the style just didn't work for an actual book.

Honestly, I was hoping for more. The blog is excellent. I hoped that a book would use the blog as a starting point and give more consideration, more depth. But it's not there. If, like me, you've been reading his blog for some time, I can't really recommend this book. You've read most of it before, albeit in a different order. The new pieces don't really add that much. If you're not a reader of his blog, this book is a good look at moving through your geek career. I'd recommend adding his blog to your reading list while you're at it.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for the techno-geek who doesn't quite understand how companies operate... Aug. 23 2010
By Thomas Duff - Published on
I had the pleasure of reviewing the manuscript of Being Geek: The Software Developer's Career Handbook by Michael Lopp when it was still in the development stage. To put it simply, I was really impressed. I'm not a regular reader of Rands In Repose, so I hadn't seen most of the material before. It didn't take long before I saw the value in what he wrote, and started thinking of names of people who needed to read this when it was published.

Section 1 - A Career Playbook: How To Win; A List of Three; The Itch; The Sanity Check; The Nerves; The Button; The Business
Section 2 - Deconstructing Management: The Culture Chart; Managing Managers; The Issue with the Doof; The Leaper; The Enemy; The Impossible; Knee Jerks; A Deep Breath; Gaming the System; Managing Werewolves; BAB; Your People; Wanted; The Toxic Paradox; The Pond
Section 3 - Your Daily Toolkit: The Nerd Handbook; The Taste of the Day; The Trickle List; The Crisis and the Creative; The Foamy Rules for Rabid Tools; Up to Nothing; How to Not Throw Up; Out Loud; Bits, Features, and Truth; The Reveal
Section 4 - Your Next Gig: The Screw-Me Scenario; No Surprises; A Deliberate Career; The Curse of the Silicon Valley; A Disclosure; Mind the Gap; The Exodus; Bad News About Your Bright Future; Hurry; The Rules of Back Alley Bridge

The author sets out to help the technologist, one who wonders why the world of people doesn't run with the same rules and precision as computers, navigate through the real world of how life works in an organization. Rather than approach the subject with a slick methodology meant to be understood by business people, he cuts to the core of the topics using language and stories that any geek would understand. And that's the value here... the techie will say "YES! I struggle/deal with that exact same problem" as the author has been there, done that, and thinks the same way they do. It's written in a no-nonsense, no-bs style which is just what most techies want.

It seems like too many books on managing and surviving in a corporate environment assume a certain type of personality that is closer to the average office worker than the hard-core technologist. Or books that *do* focus on organizational skills for technology workers seem to take a process approach or methodology, thinking that a set of rules to follow will work all the time. The author here assumes that the real world is messy, nothing fits into neat boxes, and the techno-geek is a different animal. As such, his advice is much more realistic than most other books that attempt to cover this topic in some way, shape, or form.

This is targeted squarely at the person for whom technology is a passion, not just a job that is 9 to 5. These people are comfortable with other geeks or on their own digging into a problem, but they don't easily or readily grasp the intricacies and realities of social interaction or corporate politics and gamesmanship. They need someone to explain what's going on, why things work that way, and how they can figure out the rules so they have some shot at surviving long enough to do what they love to do... build things.

I also appreciate that he tries to cover the entire scope of a person's stay with a company or organization. From being hired to leaving for the next gig, from trying to relate to management to standing in front of a group making an important presentation, this book gives you three to six pages on various topics, easily digested when you need to get a reality check in a given situation.

I've seen too many people who were technically brilliant, but that you didn't want to let out of a locked room because you knew they'd get eaten alive in the real world. Being Geek gives them a fighting chance to adapt if they care to do so.

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book, but horribly misnamed Jan. 6 2011
By Eric Kassan - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a well written and entertaining memoir of a silicon Valley engineer turned engineering manager. While there are lessons one can learn from, this is a far cry from "the software developer's career handbook".

In many ways, the author takes his specific experiences and incorrectly generalizes them. Perhaps they are commonplace in Silicon Valley, but not in technology in general.

Further, key information is omitted. For example, he states that a good way of getting adversarial coworkers to get along better, is to get them to play Back Alley Bridge during lunch - but that crosses two management challenges - getting employees to do non-work events and getting employees to sacrifice their lunch hours. No advice whatsoever is given on how to deal with either.

Probably the worst oversight is assuming that the career path is limited to either staying a developer or moving into management.

That said, I think this is an enjoyable book that one can learn from, but that it should not be interpreted in any way as a career handbook.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting and insightful book from author's work experience Aug. 17 2010
By Andy Zhang - Published on
In its unique voice and style, this book contains many short chapters that each deal with some aspects of work life as a software developer. There is little doubt about it, the author has seen and experienced some really crazy and dysfunctional software development environments. From CEO that unable to make a termination decision for incompetent people to managers who have disconnected with developers.

There are times the author has made brilliant categorizations of meetings, events, and people. For example, the interrogator, the raging bull, the randomizer, and the illuminator. Other times I have read some witty comments about salary negotiation, when it is time to move on, etc. Some generalization of geeks (such as "Your Nerds Loves Toys and Puzzles") can be either interpreted as stereotype or author's way of being funny.

After completed the book, I feel I have gained some fresh perspectives on a few things. The author narrated the chapters in such a casual style--as if I have heard the stories from a developer who has been telling me everything during his exit interview.

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