Tag Archives: review

Radical Candor

Radical Candor” is one of those phrases that I’ve heard and wondered about. Is it another vacuous management phrase? Does it mean anything? I saw it in the library and thought I’d find out. I’m cynical about these things but it doesn’t mean I’m closed minded!

The pitch is “Be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity” which sounds positive but I don’t manage people at work. Even if it contained genuine insight, would there be anything I could use?

The book starts with a description of what “Radical Candor1” is and finishes with how to apply the theory, an approach that I prefer to “How To Win Friends and Influence People” where the story is scattered throughout the text.

The examples vary in how useful or relatable they are. Some I was nodding with recognition. Others were some way out of my experience.

There’s an example early on where the author says “Um” too much in a meeting and her boss immediately offers a speech coach.

How many people get that experience?

I’ve never been offered a coach, not even when my failings have been much more significant than the occasional “Umm”! Have I been working for the wrong companies or have I been in the wrong jobs?

I guess the idea is that if someone who name-drops half of Silicon Valley can use “Radical Candor,” then so can you.

But much of the rest of the book did work for me. The idea of building trust and then providing rapid, honest feedback seems (self evidently?) like a good thing. I could imagine past conversations where I could apply the advice. I understood some cases where I’d done a good job; others where I’d missed.

I don’t think you need to be in a management position for this book to be useful. Anyone in a job where there’s an element of leadership might get something from it.

Do you need to go on a training course or read the full book to get the gist? Unlikely. But is there some value here? Absolutely.


  1. I’m going to use the American spelling as that’s the name of the book, but I can’t say I’m happy about it. ↩︎

Cloud Without Compromise

I couple of years ago I did a conference talk called “On Cloud Nine: How to be happy migrating your in-memory computing platform to the cloud.” I wish I’d had “Cloud Without Compromise” back then. It covers much of the same ground but, as you’d expect in a book rather than a forty minute conference talk, in much greater depth. More importantly, it puts some concepts into context much more clearly that I did, either by explaining it better or by giving it a good name.

One of the main takeaways of the book, something that is mentioned throughout, is the mantra “Cloud is a capability rather than a destination.” In my talk I hint strongly at that but never made it explicit. I always felt that “the cloud is just somebody else’s computer” didn’t fully encapsulate the magnitude of change but wasn’t able to articulate it concisely. Well, here’s the line to use.

This book took a long time to read. Not because it’s badly written or exceptionally long but because every few paragraphs I had had to stop and think about the implications, how the subject applied to my recent work or research a new tool that I had not come across previously.

There have not been many technical books I’ve read recently that have had this impact. Naturally not everything was new to me, but even then rephrasing a concept or putting it into context can be immensely useful.

It is also very approachable. There’s a nice appendix on some of the more technical aspects, there are some nice anecdotes and even a little humour.

“You’re the most unromantic person I know.”

If there’s a criticism, it’s that some parts read as an advertisement for IBM and RedHat. The last chapter in particular, which is about automation, could be a White Paper for Ansible. Sure, the focus of the book is on hybrid cloud, where the other big vendors are pushing their own agenda, but the OpenShift advocacy would be less signifiant were it not for the fact that a couple of the authors work for IBM. On the one hand you have to write what you know. On the other, shilling your employers products in what’s supposed to be a vendor neutral book sits awkwardly.

For what it’s worth, the advice does not appear to be incorrect but I wish there had been more discussion about competing products or they’d stayed clear of talking specifics at all.

Overall, though, “Cloud Without Compromise” comes highly recommended.

Reading 2021

I failed to reach my target of reading twelve books in 2021 by quite some margin this year. I finished only ten books, and that’s including the cheat of counting two short stories as two books!

Despite my objective of reading more fiction, I also failed with that (just the one novel and the two short stories).

While the volume was down both on previous years and my target, the quality was actually pretty good. From the story of the company behind the BlackBerry to the story of the Seventies, how to build a computer and how computers were made. All were worth a read.

The low-light was undoubtedly Malcom Gladwell’s “Talking to Strangers.” A reasonable “long read” blog post but stretched very thin over an entire book.

For 2022 I have the same target as 2021. Will I do better this time? Watch this space…

Talking of which, what is the point of these posts? Are they reviews? Not really, they’re thoughts or recollections or highlights of reading the books. Some read more like reviews, others are tangents, things that reading the book made me think about or consider in a new light.

Losing the Signal

I have a confession to make. I had a BlackBerry for a few months and I hated it. To be fair I was late to the party. By the time I used one, the iPhone had launched and and the BlackBerry was not the Cool Thing any more.

Nevertheless, a few years before that I remember seeing them all the time around the City and Canary Wharf. They had an impressive tactile quality, where were people continually touching them, scrolling the side-wheel or the spinning the little trackball on the later models. By the time I started using one, the hardware itself was still great but the software was incredibly dated.

Clearly there was something about the BlackBerry that was interesting. This book, “Losing the Signal,” is about the maker of the BlackBerry.

It’s a history going from the foundation of the company to roughly the resignation of the co-CEOs that had run the company for years. Since we all know how it ended, the simple chronological structure works well. The authors interviewed just about everyone on the record. They managed to get both the good and the bad out of those they talked to, making it neither a hagiography nor uncritical.

In the end, the story is one of hubris. Early on, it was a huge advantage to the company. Everyone else knew that mobile email was at best niche, at worst a waste of time. Everyone, of course, was wrong and RIM was right. But in 2007, when the iPhone launched, that hubris started to work against them.

Unlike rival handset makers, Lazaridis didn’t come to Barcelona armed with 4G prototypes, but with a physics lecture... Now he was going to explain to Verizon why they were wrong about 4G.

I’ve seen this behaviour before – from my own employer at times – the supplier telling the customer that they’re Doing It Wrong. They knew that the next generation of cellular technology wasn’t a big deal – the speed was unnecessary, the power consumption was a problem – knew that customers valued the security of the BlackBerry above the web browser of the iPhone or the App Store of Android. Only this time they were wrong.

I knew some of the story, having seen the devices and read articles, especially post-Android, post-iPhone, but it was good to read the whole history. The access the authors had to the key people is impressive and they made good use of it.

In the end, if you’re interested in the earliest successful smartphones, BlackBerry is the company to follow and this book is well worth reading.

Little Book of Humanism

While there is nothing wrong with “The Little Book of Humanism,” it wasn’t for me. Some people need to see aphorisms or testimony about their chosen faith. If that’s you, if you’re a humanist, then this book fits the bill. Similarly, if you’re Humanism-curious, then this book might fill in some gaps in your knowledge.

None of the sections span more than a few pages and it’s filled with quotes and stories by people who were publicly Humanist or at least espoused the same values. The vignettes cover life from birth to death and everything in between. Some I’d heard of before, others were new to me. It’s longer than I was expecting, though it’s easy to dip in and out; there’s no need to read the whole thing beginning to end.

I don’t think I need these stories or quotes. This says more about me than the book. I was never religious, meaning I have no need to replace a sacred text. And I have never found other people’s testimony persuasive1. But if hearing about other people with a similar outlook gives you the warm fuzzies, or if you’re curious about what Humanism means, then this book might be what you’re looking for.


  1. I always found it odd that many believers go straight to testimony as a way to convince you that their particular brand of faith is the right one. Is it that the approach works or is it that people enjoy talking about themselves? ↩︎

Code- The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

While I have more than enough books on my “to read” list, I am always up for suggestions. “Code” came up in a Twitter conversations about computer hardware. I noted that one of my favourite courses from my Computer Science degree (in hindsight if not at the time) was where we went from “What is electricity?” right up to a pretty much fully working CPU. “Code” was recommended as it covers the same ground.

If you’d like to refresh your memory or you never took such a course, this is great introduction to how computers work.

It’s a book of two halves.

The first half starts with the foundations and principles. It starts with the concepts, like Morse Code, before building up from relays, to logic gates, to half-adders, to a complete, working CPU.

That bit is great. Clear steps and descriptions. I was reminded of many things that I first picked up at university and learned some details that I’d either completely forgotten or had never internalised at all.

After you get a working CPU the book largely turns into a history lessen, albeit from the year 2000. It talks about the rest of the computer but, out of necessity, in significantly less detail.

I found this second part to be weaker, though this may be because I’m coming at it from 2021 rather than 2000. These last sections have dated much more than the earlier, CPU-bound section and I wonder if the book had been about building just the CPU rather than the whole computer it would have dated better?

Having said all that, while weaker than the first half, it’s still well written and easy to understand.

Even if you skim the later sections, what quickly becomes apparent is that a computer has layer upon layer of abstractions. You may not understand every layer in the same amount of detail but knowing that they exist is, I think, useful as a software developer.

I can’t help but recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject.