“Say, how many books did you read this year?” (Markus Gärtner)

On December 28, 2011, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing

At the beginning of November I attended a conference together with my boss Henning Wolf. While flying back to Hamburg, waiting for our plane, we talked about things, and I mentioned some lessons from a book that I was reading at that time. “Say, how many books do you read within a year?” he asked. I couldn’t answer that question directly, as keeping in mind that this was my seventeenth book would distract me from reading the content. So, I looked it up, and was amazed.

I am sure, I do not exceed the number of books that for example Michael Larsen read this year, but I was still amazed about the number – having estimated it at about ten or twelve. I decided to visit back the books I read, and see which lessons stayed current even after having read them. This list is based upon my notes over at Library Thing, where I looked up which books I finished this year. Some of them I started back in 2010. Some of them are also in German. some have an English translation, others don’t. Maybe time learning some German for some of my readers. 🙂

Training From the Back of the Room! – Sharon L. Bowman

I made this an expedite in my reading list. My colleague Stefan Roock visited the course back in 2010, and reported great things from it. I started to read this book back in January, read through in one week, and immediately started to incorporate the lessons into my training. I received some new inspiration from Sharon back in November when I visited her course as well. Great book, great insights, a must-read for any trainer and workshop moderator.

How to Read a Book – Mortime J. Adler, Charles Van Doren

I started to read this back in 2010. I got inspired by it on how I could test better. Initially this was a recommendation from Ilja Preuss with whom I exchanged some e-mails back before my time at it-agile – and also his. It explains why you shouldn’t bother reading every book, because some of them are not worthwhile to read cover to cover. This is especially the case when you face a book that is written badly, or that has some beginners content which you are already familiar with. The book also explains how to find out about it. Recently I worked through my to read list, and prioritized the 30 or so to read books based on the recommendations from this book. While the title might be confusing, definitely a book worth reading – maybe not cover to cover, but that’s how I did it.

Please Understand Me II – David Kirsey

Having dug deeper in the first part of this series, I was wondering what I would face when starting this one. This is also a relict from 2010. I enjoyed the insights about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator from this book, but also the different temperaments which you may find in the different SP, SJ, NT and NF preferences. I learned some new stuff which I also incorporated in my trainings on a meta-level. For example, I remember one training where I was facing a detailed-oriented S-preference and knew based on this book what I had to do. Today, I might question the lesson I tried back then, but it helped in this particular situation. If you’re unsure about other people surrounding you, you should probably read one of these – but be prepared that this is a psychology book. I had no problem with that, since I had educational science back in school with a psychology teacher. But you might find it dry to read.

Kanban – David J. Anderson

This is another expedite book in my reading list for 2011. I decided to jump deeper into the topic of Kanban back in February. My colleagues were discussing how to extend our knowledge about Kanban and our ability to coach companies adopting Kanban. I felt I had to dig deeper. I found this book interesting to read, but at times the lessons felt a bit too managerial. Being a tester that is suspicious about any metrics, I also had problems reading this part. I think Kanban is an interesting method, and it surely will evolve over the course of the next years even more.

Exploring Requirements – Quality before Design – Don C. Gause, Gerald M. Weinberg

Since I read Bridging the Communication Gap back in 2009 I had this on my book shelf. Finally I got to read this book. I enjoyed it. Especially I enjoyed reading about different requirements elicitation techniques, as well as the Mary Had a Little Lamb Heuristic. I applied it from time to time on some particular pieces on my blog – which readers thought to be a bit nitpicking. Unfortunately I was already aware of most of the lessons. Yet the authors achieved to teach me some new things as well.

Weinberg on Writing – The Fieldstone Method – Gerald M. Weinberg

A book on writing by an author that has written more than 50 technology books in the past 50 years. This was an awesome read. Since I am working on some pieces of writing myself, Jerry could give me some great hints on what to try out, and how to digest ideas. I also watched two different Alive in Wonderland movies as a result of reading this book. Great tips from a book writing guru.

Pömpel, Patt und Pillepoppen – Matthias E. Borner

This is a book on the German dialect as it is used in the region of Bielefeld – the place where I grew up and studied. It is covered with some stories about Bielefeld, a small city with a 300k population. I enjoyed diving out of the usual readings in English, and reading some humor back at that time.

Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes and Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity – David Sibbet

Back in February we organized a Visual Facilitation course in our company. I finally learned how to draw flipcharts nicely, and what to do to make them colorful and engaging. As a result, I ordered several books on visual facilitation afterwards. This is the first one I started to read. Oh dear, I have to train my flipchart skills some more. Recently I found out that I still have to work more on them. Maybe a resolution for 2012.

Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management – Johanna Rothman, Esther Derby

Before attending the Problem-solving leadership course back in May, I already had this book. I asked both Johanna and Esther to sign it for me back in Albuquerque, NM. I enjoyed the management story alongside the explanations about good management. It’s not a business novel alone. It’s a business novel aided with theoretical insights about management. I think I read this in two maybe three weeks, which is quite fast for me. And you really had to force me to turn this down.

Pömpel, Patt und Pillepoppen 2 – Matthias E. Borner

The second volume from the Bielefeld dialect. This is the volume where I ran into the following saying for the first time:

Bielefeld is the nicest city in the world. Everyone who says other lies – or has been somewhere else.

Having been somewhere else, I think the author is right about it. 🙂

Rethinking Systems Analysis and Design – Gerald M. Weinberg

I enjoyed reading this book on system analysis and design. In one of the first few chapters, Jerry claims that you will think differently about design once you finish this book. He was right about it. He raises many questions about what we call software design, and really makes you think about it differently by doing so. A must read for any wannabe designer. I think Design Thinking could be originated based on this book.

xkcd – Volume 0 – Randall Munroe

This is an awesome geek comic on the web. I had to read the book once I saw it came out. It covers many comics based on science, geek-wisdom, and other stuff. A must read for geeks.

Give and Take – Chester L. Karrass

This was a recommendation from Jerry Weinberg at PSL to me. At dinner I joined Esther Derby and Jerry Weinberg for some personal coaching. On our way back to the hotel, we discussed the issue of the psychological contracts. Jerry recommended this book to me. I enjoyed reading it, and it cleared up my mind for things I can do to set expectations about my work more clearly, and how to work with concessions. At times I found the structure a bit unnatural, but as a lookup reference it’s awesome.

5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides) – Matthew Inman

This is the first Oatmeal book. Another one in the series of the comics I enjoy reading. Humorous at times, thought-provoking at other times.

Runtime Error: Not Invented Here Book 1 – Bill Barnes, Paul Southworth

Another web comic I read regularly. This one covers the first few episodes of the Not Invented Here comic. A strip on a software development comic which seems dysfunctional at times.

The Gift of Time – Fiona Charles (ed.)

This was a gift – both for me as well as for Jerry Weinberg. Back in 2010 I asked Michael Bolton whether he had written any book, as I wanted to get a sign from him on one of his pieces. He said, there was a chapter from him in this book. I couldn’t find a copy, so he brought it to me when we met for the first time at the Agile Testing Days in Berlin. The book is a gift for Jerry Weinberg’s 75th birthday in 2008. It covers a lot of stories about his life, his courses on PSL and the SHAPE forums, and how he helped to gain the testing profession more momentum. It’s a must read for any self-claimed student of Jerry.

Agile in a Flash: Speed-Learning Agile Software Development – Jeff Langer, Tim Ottinger und Susannah Pfalzer

This is not necessarily a book, but a set of cards. Each card has one aspect of Agile software development on it. It gave me some insights, and re-taught things I already had forgotten. I had the urge to introduce it to a client of mine for lunch and learn events. It worked to some degree. Since then I am reconsidering how to use it with clients. I think it’s awesome, but might be too dense for Agile beginners.

Computer Programming Fundamentals – Herbert D. Leeds, Gerald M. Weinberg

This book is 50 years old. Yet, I found it interesting to read about things that still hold true in the first few chapters. The book seems outdated at times, but it covers the field of software testing for the first time in our industry. After reading James Bach’s chapter in the Gift of Time, I had to dive into this book. I was glad to find a used copy, as you can’t buy a new copy of it. While the technology seems a bit outdated, the psychological insights about programming are still up-to-date. If this doesn’t scare you, then maybe one of these quotes I noted down while reading it:

All good rules should not be applied with unthinking faith.

One of the more dangerous occupational hazards in computing is the habit of working out a set of diagrams, formulas, and figures until some impressive statement like “twice as efficient” emerges.

If we produce a new vocabulary word (subroutine) we must not produce something sloppy or something that may be misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Knowledge of only the instructions on a computer will permit one to code; but to be a programmer of any professional standing, computer operation must be understood.

Facilitating Organization Change: Lessons From Complexity Science – Edwin E. Olson, Glenda Eyowang

When Diana Larsen visited us back in July, she spoke about a program called Human Systems Dynamics. One of my colleagues, Jens Coldewey immediately booked this certification course as well. I decided to first dive into the topic some more before coming up with a decision about it. This book covers some aspects of complexity thinking. It states that uncertainty is fine in self-organized systems, that you can work with containers, differences, and exchanges to bring in organizational change. The model seems to have some power. Currently I am working on getting the pieces from PSL together with this model from Complexity Thinking. I hope to get my thoughts down soon on it.

Ten Years of Userfriendly.Org – Illiad D. Frazer

I think userfriendly was the first comic I read online. This book covers ten years of it – nearly completely. It’s a pity that Illiad had to turn to different priorities recently. I don’t know when I started reading this book. It must have been back in 2009. I finally read through all the comics. It’s thick, heavy, and I liked it a lot.

Geschichten vom Scrum: Von Sprints, Retrospektiven und agilen Werten – Holger Koschek

This is a little novel on Scrum. My first thoughts were that this book started a bit too slow for me. Over time I enjoyed the tiny tale about the land of scrum where unicorns use Scrum for any project. You join a dragon trap team which uses Scrum to build a flexible dragon trap. Along the way the unicorn – the Scrum coach – explains some insights about Scrum to you. An awesome story, a nice book, unfortunately just available in German. The Power of Scrum could be an alternative for business people, but this is one goes deeper on the topic.

Die menschliche Seite des Projekterfolgs: Was Softwerker über (verborgene) Denkautomatismen und -modelle in der Projektarbeit wissen müssen – Peter Siwon

Another “only German” book. I think this is a must read for any German speaking student of Jerry Weinberg. It explains some of the things that we encounter in projects in a way that was easily accessible for me. It is nicely structured for an NT-type like myself, but might be too mechanic for an NF one. It covers the human side of project success as the title claims. The author digs really deep into the material, and tells a lot of stories about his studies of projects from about twenty years. A great read, but I think it’s a bit biased towards the German culture – which is why it’s ok to have it not translated, maybe. 🙂

Dilbert 2.0: 20 Years of Dilbert – Scott Adams

A selection of 20 years of Dilbert comics. Being comic fanatic, I enjoyed the insights about comic author life here. Adams describes how he got started as a comic writer, and how Dilbert took off. In Weinberg on Writing, Jerry writes that Scott Adams and Jerry had the same inspiration for some of their stories. Jerry for his writing, Adams for Dilbert. I love both of their styles.

Hope I could bring you some inspirations. I don’t mind about the count. If you would like to read more about my insights from different books, please drop me a line, and I might publish them more often in 2012.

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