Connor Smyth

Weekly Newsletter – May 11, 2020

I thought I would take some time this week to reflect on the books I’ve read thus far this year. I enjoy reading non-fiction in a variety of genres, here are some:

  • Software development
  • Electronics hardware
  • Anthropology
  • Socio-economics
  • Biographies

Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs

Creative Selection: Inside Apple's Design Process During the ...

Ken Kocienda

I think there are two approaches to reading Ken’s book. First is as an Apple fan and the other is as a developer looking to learn from one of the best. Ken is most well known for engineering the Safari web browser and the iPhone keyboard, both stories are told in the book.

People often talk about how it can help junior developers to talk about your failures and mistakes and this book is a great example of that. He tells the story of when he realized that the work he was doing wasn’t considered a priority by Apple. He told his manager that he wanted to be put on the secret internal project he had heard about or else he would be exploring options at Google. Although that project ended up being the infamous Project Purple, or as you may know it better, the iPhone, he gives the advice that this is not the best way to go about asking for a transfer.

Ken also provides insight into the Apple design process, what it’s like to work in the small eating your own dog food team, and some good insights on when it’s best to bring someone new onto a team. He tells the story of when they were in a rut getting an MVP for Safari working. They eventually brought someone in who was able to look at their problem in a whole new way and create a working MVP for them. It shows how someone else can provide new insight. Even if you don’t end up going their route, they can unblock your engineering rut with just a change of perspective.

https://www.amazon.ca/dp/1250203414/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_jcHTEbBTPMMWQ

Permanent Record

Edward Snowden

I had seen a lot of people posting on Twitter about this book when it came out. What I found interesting is many of those who posted are members of the infosec community. I would have thought that Edward Snowden’s book would have been taboo to discuss in the infosec community for the risk of employment. As it turns out, many people are interested in his cause and want to learn more about his story.

He tells many of his own stories and stories of significance to his own. For example, he tells the story of the original whistleblowers and the Whistleblower Protection Act. Through these stories, you learn about the gross misconduct of American and other national intelligence agencies.

I think by the end of the book you end up seeing how the arguments made against Snowden, calling him “unpatriotic”, you see how his actions were by definition of the constitution actually patriotic.

https://www.amazon.ca/dp/1250772907/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_GiHTEbJPN00T3

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Yuval Noah Harari

I realize that I may have read this book “out of order” according to some since I have never read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, but I think the book can still be discussed as a stand alone.

I don’t usually enjoy reading futurism books for the reason that it’s difficult to tell when a prediction, even when backed up with evidence to support why it could occur, is too far off base to be a reality. This book, while it makes some interesting predictions, suffers from this issue for me as well. Especially the predictions around A.I. and the “A.I. uprising”.

Where I find the book does do well is with its prose. The book doesn’t oversimplify concepts for its audience in order to tell a good story the way someone like Malcolm Gladwell does. I would put this book in the same realm of approachability as Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.

https://www.amazon.ca/dp/0771038704/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_2nHTEbYYHYKHC

Books I’m Reading Now

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair GameMichael Lewis

The Omnivore’s DilemmaMichael Pollan

Soft Skills – John Z. Sonmez
I wanted to make a disclaimer about this book. I borrowed this book from the Toronto Public Library because I had read about it from The 25 best programming books of all-time. A data-backed answer. I have not linked to the book nor the author due to the insensitive comments he has made. I discovered these comments about a third of the way through reading the book and so I will continue to finish it. I haven’t yet decided if I want to comment further on the book in any posts.