My 2023 Reading Journey with Top Key Takeaways from Each Book

Nuray Fahri
18 min readJan 7, 2024

This year my reading time was significantly limited due to the dynamics in my professional and personal life but I am still satisfied with the outcomes.

In my pursuit of growth during my second year as a line manager, I chose to focus on books centered around IT and Engineering management, people management, self-improvement and business-related topics. Rather than focusing solely on technical aspects, I believe improving my skills in these areas was crucial for my development.

As an avid reader, my approach is to extract 1 to a maximum of 4 key takeaways or concepts from each book. I believe this approach is not only practical but also optimal for improving my learning retention.

In this article, I will share the key takeaways from each book I read in 2023, presented in the following order:

  1. The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win
  2. The Unicorn Project: A Novel about Developers, Digital Disruption, and Thriving in the Age of Data
  3. The Deadline: A Novel About Project Management
  4. Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager
  5. The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You
  6. Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams
  7. The Startup Way: How Modern Companies Use Entrepreneurial Management to Transform Culture and Drive Long-Term Growth
  8. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company
  9. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
  10. Shoemaker: The Untold Story of the British Family Firm that Became a Global Brand
  11. Ego Is the Enemy
  12. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
  13. Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds
  14. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

1. The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win

1. “Everytime that we let Brent fix something that none of us can replicate, Brent gets a little smarter and the entire system gets dumper. We’ve got to put and end to that”

This was an “aha” moment for me, as I realized a similar situation was occurring within our team. It highlights the importance of implementing a structured rotation system for assigning tasks, managing documentation, and facilitating handovers. The objective should be to increase team’s Bus Factor: https://www.getclockwise.com/blog/what-is-your-bus-factor.

2. “Unlike the other categories of work, unplanned work is recovery work, which almost always takes you away from your goals. That’s why it’s so important to know where your unplanned work is coming from”

We should remember that unplanned work kills our ability to do planned work. Yes, we will always have unplanned work(incidents, crisis or any other) but it must be handled efficiently.

Paying down our technical debt(saying“no” to shortcuts) is crucial, so our problems and amount of unplanned work does not continue to increase over time.

3. “A great team doesn’t mean that they had the smartest people. What made those teams great is that everyone trusted one another. It can be powerful thing when that magic dynamic exists.”

Reminder for the importance of a trust in a team. That’s why the bottom of the pyramid and the launchpad for all five dysfunctions in Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is an absence of trust.

4. “It almost does not matter what you improve as long as you’re improving something. Why? Because if you are not improving, entropy guarantees that you are actually getting worse”

Too many people and too many organizations “settle” and take shortcuts accepting that “good” is enough and that they don’t need to do the really hard work to get better and better, as Patrick Lencioni says in “Good to Great” being just good is the enemy of being great.

2. The Unicorn Project: A Novel about Developers, Digital Disruption, and Thriving in the Age of Data

1. “You can choose to build new features or you can choote to pay down complexity debt. When a fool spends all their time on features the inevitable outcame is that even easy tasks become difficult and take longer to execute. And no matter how hard you try or how many people you have, it eventually collapses under it’s own weight, forcing you to start over from scratch.

The book effectively highlights the significance of addressing technical debt. It emphasizes the importance of managing technical debt to prevent situations where products inevitably require complete reimplementation. Coincidentally, our team is currently grappling with a similar challenge: a product that has accumulated technical debt over the past seven years now needs a redevelopment from the scratch.

2. “I’ve been here for fifteen years, and we’ve been playing this game of outsourcing and insourcing IT the whole time. The last time around we outsourced everything. We eventually brought most of it back in-house but everything we got was in worse shape than ever. And we’ve lost the capability to do some even the most basic things ourselves. ‘Last year, we had to make a simple schema change for our data warehouse. We put out the request to our normal list of outsourcing partners. It took them about three weeks to get an estimate back to us. They said the work would take about ten thousand hours to complete’ she says. Before we outsourced IT, this was something we could have done in a couple of hours.”

I have experience working in consulting/service companies and currently employed in a product company. Having been on both sides, I believe that critical products for companies should always be developed in-house rather than outsourced. Of course having adequate resources or the ability to acquire them is a must…..simply even the level of commitment from internal teams to their products is notably different, i will not mention other pros…..But I also want to emphasize that if we find a reliable vendor who knows their stuff and supports us without any politics, i saw outsourcing working effectively.

3. “When something goes wrong, we ask ‘what caused the problem’, not ‘who’. We commit to doing what it takes to make tomorrow better than today. Every incident is learning opportunity an unplanned investment that was made without our consent.”

We should shift our focus from ‘who’ caused the problem to ‘what’ caused it. Our objective should be to make the system stronger, better with each incident or issue, ensuring that an individual’s actions cannot lead to major crisis situations. As articulated in the book, ‘A bad system will prevail over a good person every time.

3. The Deadline: A Novel About Project Management

1. “A day lost at the beginning of a project hurts just as much as a day lost at the end”

This quote for me emphasizes the importance of time management and efficiency in project planning and execution. Delays or setbacks, whether they occur at the initial stages of a project or towards its completion, have a significant impact on the overall success and timeline of the project.

2. “ ‘Extended overtime is a productivity-reduction technique.’ They all thought about that. ‘I can believe it.” Belinda said. ‘We all know that overtime has it’s negatives: burnout, lost energy, increased error rate..’

‘Wasted time during the normal workday’ Aristotle added.

‘Because people convince themselves it’s okay to have lots of meetings and to permit interruptions because they expect to make it up the evening hours.’ “

I never considered overtime from this perspective before. After reading this, I realized that I often allow and attend non-mandatory meetings during the workday, despite having numerous other tasks to complete. I would tell myself that I’ll finish those tasks in the evening when there are no meetings, without fully considering the negative long-term effects of this approach.

4. Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager

1. “I’ve gone back and forth on whether managers should code, and my opinion is: don’t stop coding. Each week that passes where you don’t share the joys, despair and discovery of software development is a week when you slowly forget what it means to be a software developer. Over time it means you’ll have a harder time talking to engineers because you’ll forget how they think and how the become bored”

I fully agree with this statement. Currently, I manage two teams consisting of around 20 developers and QAs(6 internal & 14 contractors), and I face challenges in finding time for coding. However, instead of handling complex features and user stories, I actively participate in code review processes, write unit tests, address incidents/bugs, implement smaller features, lead technical discussions and brainstorming sessions, and provide support for more complex features. I believe it is crucial to maintain hands-on coding involvement.

2. “There’s an industry standart regarding the amount of time it takes to make a hire, and it’s 90 days. New managers hate when i tell them this because they’re so giddy they’ve got new requisition and, bot, watch how fast i can hire. Yes, yes. I appreciate your velocity, but i’m not going to worry about your hire for 90 days.”

This is so true. No matter how well-prepared and organized a series of interviews are, several hours are never sufficient to assess individuals completely. We need to address challenges, engage in collaborative brainstorming with the new hire and observe their performance in various circumstances to ensure the correctness of the hiring decision and for this we need at least months.

Similarly, the same principle applies to our job. It takes a comprehensive 90-day period to complete our job interview process.

3. “My management style is to allow the team to argue as long as possible. I’ve got a collaborative management style because i know the more brains and more time the team spends staring at an idea, the stronger the idea becomes. Consequently, i’m certain it means our output is higher quality because we’ve taken the time to consider what the hell we are doing.”

Conducting weekly team meetings where team members can freely discuss ideas, improvements, and problems is essential. Engaging in thorough discussions, even for minor issues or ideas, not only strengthens the team’s cohesion but also leads to better decisions in the end.

5. The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You

1. “When my team became six or so, I was still the lead designer for a complex project that demanded many hours of the week. Because my management responsibilities were also growing, every time something out of the ordinary happened — a report needed extra 1:1 attention or team had multiple reviews to prepare for that week — i wouldn’t have time to devote to my own project. The quality of my work suffered, my peers got frustrated, and the balls i was desperately trying to juggle plopped to the ground.

I finally realized that i had to give up wanting to be both a design manager and a designer, because in attempting to do both, i was doing neither well. At time in which your team becomes four or five people, you should have a plan for how to scale back your individual contributor responsibilities so that you can be best manager for your people”

Recognizing the right time to step back, scale and restructure your team is crucial. Currently, I am encountering same challenges within my team.

2. “No one is perfect, and managers are no exceptions. You will make mistakes. You will let people down. You will have moments where you say the wrong thing and make the situation worse rather than better. When that happens, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because you’re the boss, you can’t admit your shortcomings or weaknesses. Instead, apologize. Admit that you screwed up, and take meaningful action to do better in the future.”

We should not shy away from being vulnerable in front of our team, as Brene Brown says: “Vulnerability sounds like and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness”.

3. “Having a great bench means your lieutenants could take over for you if you’re unexpectedly called out of the office. It means you are not the single point of failure. Having a great bench is one of the strongest signs of stellar leadership because it means the team you’ve build can steer the ship and thrive, even if ou are not at the helm.”

I’m trying to achieve this through effective delegation, assigning diverse tasks to each team member(skill diversification) and involving everyone in various discussions and meetings(collaborative environment).

6. Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams

1. “The single biggest key to successfully managing programmers is to have the technical respect of those you manage and your peers…..

..The real takeaway from this discussion is to strive to be technical leader who can command the respect of your staff, not only being good technically but by demonstrating strong personal values that your staff can and will respect”

Once again, the importance of not stopping coding and continuous technical growth while transitioning to a people leadership/management role is well emphasized.

2. “Provide an umbrella for your team. It’s not so important that they think it’s a sunny day as that they’re kept dry. In fact, they’ll appreciate you more when, knowing they are dry, they see rain all around them”

It’s good we engage in discussions with the team about recent customer inquiries, requests, opportunities, or discussions, as it serves as motivation. By sharing these updates, we inform the team there was more going on than they might know about, and implicitly let them know they were not being buffeted by the requests, they were protected.

3. ” Regardless, product management guru Mart Cagan is skeptical when the percentage of time teams spend on technical items falls below 20%.

‘ The deal with engineering goes like this: Product management takes 20% of the team’s capacity right off the top and gives this to engineering to spend on…whatever they believe is necessary to avoid ever having to come to the team and say, “we need to stop and rewrite.”….I get nervous when i find teams that think they can get away with much less than 20%’ “

The quote underlines the value of the time allocated to the development team. It emphasizes that this time can be effectively utilized for addressing technical debt, creating documentation, implementing unit tests, enhancing the build process or any other activity that helps prevent the need for reimplementation of solutions after several years.

Some other good quotes from the book:

4. “Documentation is like sex. When it is good, it is very, very good and when it’s bad, it’s better than nothing”

5. “The quality of code you demand during the first week of a project is the quality of code you’ll get every week thereafter”

6. “If anything goes bad, i did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes real good, you did it.”

7. The Startup Way: How Modern Companies Use Entrepreneurial Management to Transform Culture and Drive Long-Term Growth

1. “The team was scandalized to learn that employees hated the software so much that they were using a wide array of work-arounds to avoid using it at all. Some employees were actually duplicating the system’s calculations by hand on paper. Customers, even internal ones, always have a choice. No corporate mandate can ever hope to achieve 100 percent compliance unless employees buy in”

At the beginning of the year, I found this idea appealing, thinking it would reshape my mindset. Unfortunately, I recently realized I fell back into the same pattern. We had a discussion about a process where our employees (business developers) need to approve something via email. During the discussion, I suggested we shouldn’t invest much time in designing the email templates as we do for our customers/consumers and just focus on adding content and some buttons. While this may be practical, I noticed my underlying assumption again was that, since they are employees, they should automatically use our product which is not correct.

8. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company

1. “I thought there was one lesson in this story, the obvious one about the importance of taking responsability when you screw up. That’s true and significant. In your work, in your life, you will be more respected and trusted by the people if around you if you honestly own up your mistakes.”

As mentioned earlier about embracing vulnerability, it’s important to admit when we make mistakes, share our learnings and be open about our experiences.

2. “ I knew the board would demand solutions, and, as a general rule, I don’t like to lay out problems without offering a plan for addressing them.”

I try to follow the approach of presenting solutions along with problems when discussing issues with my manager. Similarly, we should encourage our team to adopt this practice — it’s acceptable to bring problems to me, but it’s even more valuable when accompanied by potential solutions.

9. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

1. “You are not your idea and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged. To set up a healthy feedback system, you must remove power dynamics from the equation — you must enable yourself, in other words, to focus on the problem, not the person.”

It’s important to create an environment where ideas and problems can be openly discussed without fear of affecting others or conflicting opinions. Embracing diverse viewpoints is additive, not competitive. In a healthy, creative culture, individuals feel free to voice differing views, contributing to clarity and understanding. This concept is very well explained in the book.

2. “There are two parts of to any failure: There is the event itself, with all it’s attendant disappointment, confusion and shame, and then there is our reaction to it. It is this second part that we control. Do we become introspective, or do we bury our heads in the sand? Do we make it safe for others to acknowledge and learn from problems, or do we shut down discussion by looking for people to blame? We must remember that failure give us chances to grow”

I like this, we should always strive to use failure as an opportunity for growth and learning….It’s a fundamental principle in Stoicism: we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can always decide how we react to it. Our response is our responsibility, it’s a choice.

So are we going to make this a lose-lose situation for ourselves? Or will it be a lose…and then win?

3. “ We’ve all experienced times when other people see the same event we see but remember it differently(Typically , we think our view is the correct one.) The differences arise because of the ways our separate “mental models” shape what we see. Our mental models aren’t reality. They are tools, like the models weather forecasters use to predict the weather. But, as we know all too well, sometimes the forecast says rains and boom , the sun comes out. The tool is not reality. The key is knowing the difference. “

In the books it’s also mentioned how neuroscientists say that only about 40 percent of what we think we “see” comes in trough our eyes. “The rest is made up from memory or patterns that we recognize from past experience”. So, we should always respect others perspectives, experiences, and memories, acknowledging that our own thoughts and recollections may not be 100% accurate.

10. Shoemaker: The Untold Story of the British Family Firm that Became a Global Brand

1. “Some people run to beat others. I ran to beat myself”

My takeaway from this quote is that we shouldn’t compete with others in work or life; instead, we should compete with ourselves. Every day, our goal should be to be better than we were yesterday.

11. Ego Is the Enemy

1. “Learn from everyone and everything. At every step and every juncture in life, there is the opportunity to learn - even if the lesson is remedial we should not let ego blocks us from hearing it again.”

As Emerson said: “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”

Also in the book the concept of Dead Time and Alive Time is explained. Dead time occurs when people are passive and waiting, while alive time is when people are learning, taking action, and utilizing every second. Every moment of failure, every situation presents a choice: Alive time or Dead time.

2. “As you become successful in your own field your responsibilities may become to change. Days begin less and less about doing and more and more about making decisions, such is the nature of leadership. This transitions requires reevaluating and updating your identity. It requires a certain humility to put aside from some of the more enjoyable or satisfying parts of your previous job. It means accepting that others might be more qualified in areas in which you considered yourself competent — or at least their time is better spend on them than yours.“

This, for example, is a valuable lesson for those transitioning from a Senior Developer role to a more leadership-oriented position. Acknowledging that, in the long term, our coding proficiency may not be as strong as before is a thoughtful consideration.

12. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

1. “When all the members of the laboratary have the same knowledge at their disposal, then when a problem arises, a group of similar minded individuals will not provide more information to make anologies than a single individual. It’s sort of like the stock market. You need a mixture of strategies”

The same principle is highly applicable to development teams. To enable our team to find the best solutions and generate great ideas, diversity within the team is crucial. This diversity can span across age, ability, nationality, ethnicity, personal history, professional background, skills, gender and more and more.…

2. “ So when Geveden became CEO, he wrote a short memo on his expectations for teamwork. ‘I told them i expect disagreement with my decisions at the time we are trying to make decisions, and that’s a sign of organizational health. After the decisions are made, we want to compliance and support”

Once again, we observe the same principle mentioned earlier — the significance of embracing diverse views and ideas, openly discussing them within the team before making any decisions.

13. Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds

1. “That means digging down to the macro leven and doing something that sucks every day. Even if it’s as simple as making your bed, doing the dishes, ironing your clothes, or getting up before dawn and running two miles each dat. Once that becomes comfortable, take it to five, then ten miles…We often choose to focus on our strengths rather than our weaknesses. Use this time to make your weaknesses your stengths. Doing things — even small things — that make you uncomfartable will help make you strong. The more often you get uncomfortable the stronger you’ll become, and soon you’ll develop a more productive, can-do dialogue with yourself in stressful situations”

I believe that growth requires stepping out of our comfort zone, which also helps eliminate fear. For instance, I was initially uncomfortable speaking in front of a large audience and had a fear of it. However, by stepping out of my comfort zone and doing it repeatedly, it became a more normal activity. Now, I apply the same principle to smaller activities, such as doing dishes or going for a run, which brings a great sense of accomplishment.

2. “I know we all want the whole victory today, but when i was teaching myself to read i would be happy when i could understand every word in a single paragraph……You don’t drop one hundred points in less than a three months without loosing five pounds in a week first. Those first five points I lost were a small accomplishment, and it doesn’t sound like a lot, but at the time it was proof that i could lose weight and that my goal, however improbable, was not impossible! We all need small sparks, and small accomplishments in our lives to fuel the big ones.”

This is a valuable insight. Just as in programming, where we start as juniors and progress step by step, achieving seniority takes time — it’s a gradual process. The same principle applies to management; starting as a junior manager involves continuous learning and daily accomplishments…. We should consistently acknowledge and celebrate even the smallest accomplishments, as they signify our progress and affirm that we are on the right path.

3. “Rather than focusing on bullshit you cannot change, imagine visualizing the things you can. Choose any obstacle in your way, or set a new goal, and visualize overcoming or achieving it. Before i engage in any challenging activity, i start by painting by a picture of what my success looks and feels like…You must also visualize the challenges that are likely to arise and determine how you will attack those problems when they do. That way you can be as prepares as possible on the journey…You can’t prepare for everything but if you engage in strategic visualization ahead of time, you’ll be as prepares as you possibly can be”

Practice of visualization and mental preparation is also key in Stoicism, it can be powerful tool to face life’s challenges. However i read a research which shows that while goal visualization is important , after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress. After spending so much time thinking about a task, we start to feel that we’ve gotten closer to achieving it. Or worse, when things get though, we feel we can toss the whole project aside because we’ve given it our best try, although of course we haven’t. So, we should be really careful with this technique.

14. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

1. “Have found that external rewards and punishments — both carrots and sticks — can work nicely for algorithmic tasks. But they can be devastating for heuristic ones…Intrinsic motivation is conductive to creativity; controlling extrinsic motivation is detrimental to creativity”

The main idea of the book is that the good old “reward good behavior with carrot, punish bad behavior with stick” motivation model does not work. Instead, we need to appeal to people’s intrinsic motivations, namely, their desire for: autonomy — the desire to make their own decisions.

Example with open source projects is given in the book how they depend on intrinsic motivation with the same ferocity that older business models relay on extrinsic motivation like the fun of mastering the challenge of a given software problem and the desire to give a gift to the programmer community..

Writing this article was a truly rewarding experience for me, as it allowed me to recollect various insights. I hope it provides readers with valuable examples, lessons, or at the very least, some recommendations for good books! :)

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