While it’s great to gain new programming skills, developers also need to advance their business abilities. It won’t help your career if you’re a brilliant programmer who can’t talk with users, or a great designer who can’t convince management to implement your suggestions. So when you create your reading list, be sure to include a few code-free books on the shelf. Here are three to explore.
Even if spend most of your time hiding out in a cubicle, at some point you need to get other people to agree to your strategy and ideas. Doing so doesn’t always require giving a formal slide-based presentation. Often, you just have to convince someone to let you do things your way.
I can think of no better guide for this than “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience,” by Carmine Gallo. No matter what you think of the company or the man, Steve Jobs is an accomplished presenter. Wouldn’t it be nice to gain some of his skills in creating a Reality Distortion Field of your own?
Yes, you’ll gain some PowerPoint presentation skills, but most of the book is showing how to get people to listen to you. It is a wonderful put-it-to-use treatise about good leadership and passion—qualities that any developer should learn (even if only to identify the people with whom you want to work).
An entire chapter is devoted to dressing up the numbers by using analogies and by putting them into context. Gallo shows how to control how others perceive your announcement or message by creating Twitter-like headlines. The book is chock-full of examples (not all from Jobs’ presentations, so you can see how other accomplished presenters succeed with the same methods), and each chapter summarizes the key messages to take away.
Ultimately, this book is about leadership. For example, he spends quite a bit of time discussing how Jobs has—and imparts—a messianic sense of purpose. Jobs’ presentations don’t aim to tell you about a product with new features. He communicates to the audience that by buying into his message, they are changing the world. People want to make a difference, Gallo points out, and Jobs helps people believe they’re doing that.
“Ask yourself, ‘What am I really selling?’ ” Gallo writes. “Here’s a hint: It’s not the widget, but what the widget can do to improve the lives of your customers. What you’re selling is the dream of a better life. Once you identify your true passion, share it with gusto.”
You may have read Mireille Guiliano’s best-selling “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” Who’d think that a book about eating right (with champagne) could lead to a career book for women? Yet Guiliano is a woman who “made it” in a traditional male-dominated industry, which describes IT as well.
In “Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility,” Guiliano emphasizes the importance (or at least usefulness) of finding a mentor who can guide you in career decisions. She stresses the need to both recognize your differences (yes, in a male-dominated industry, you will stand out; use that recognition to your advantage!) and to set them aside (you still have to be brilliant at what you do, so, truly, gender doesn’t matter).
Some of the author’s advice isn’t helpful. There are many industries in which her suggestions about perfume and wardrobe are relevant, but I have a hard time imagining my women programmer friends dutifully running out to buy cashmere cardigans and silk scarves. (I don’t mind if you buy me one, though.) However, I appreciated her advice on choosing the right company and position (“not necessarily just what feels good today, but what can prepare you for tomorrow”), perhaps because it took me so long to learn to give attention to that.
I liked her emphasis on women (re)learning the “gentle art of conversation” as a business skill; as Guiliano says, “Here’s where women often excel but do not exploit their talent.” Plus (maybe because I like to cook) I appreciated her advice about the importance of business entertaining, and the suggestion that developing three outstanding but low-stress menus can take you through most of your career.
Speaking of which, that brings me to “Your Next Move: The Leader’s Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions.” I have strongly mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the advice that Michael Watkins offers is valuable, and a few of his suggestions caused me to have major “Aha!” realizations. On the other hand, it’s written in such corporatese that I felt as though I was reading the bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation. It’s worth reading, but this book is dry as the Mojave Desert.
Watkins explains the actions someone needs to take in a new job with chapters devoted to each sort of promotion or job change: leading former peers, corporate diplomacy, onboarding, international moves, turnarounds and realignments. He’s very clear about the challenges unique to each situation.
Most of the book is written for senior managers and CIOs, but ordinary developers probably can find useful advice, even if only to understand how management works. For example, in an overview of the challenges common to anyone promoted, Watkins points out that moving up the corporate ladder changes how decisions are made. “The process becomes more political—less about authority and more about influence—which isn’t good or bad, simply inevitable,” he writes.
Later sections of the book address the need to create alliances and learn to influence rather than to give orders. I wish a previous employer would have used the “new-leader assimilation process” that Watkins enumerates, which is an anonymous survey collecting answers to questions like, “What do you want to know about the new leader? What do you want the new leader to know about you?” It might have prevented a huge meltdown when a new boss (from outside) came into my company.
Esther Schindler is a technical writer based in Scottsdale, Ariz.