Austin Gebauer

Software Engineer | Hashicorp | Seattle, WA

The books I read in 2019

Published December 27, 2019

In the last quarter of 2019, I decided to read a new book every month. As a tradition, I’ll be posting short reviews for each book that I read over each year.

So here are all of the books that I read in 2019, starting with what I read in September and ending with December.

Rework - September

Rework is an incredibly insightful business book that questions the status quo and current state of affairs for how things get done in the workplace.

I was introduced to one of the authors, David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH), during college when his technology, Ruby on Rails, was becoming very popular in the software industry. All of his messages really resonated with me. When I found out that him and Jason Fried, co-creator of basecamp , wrote a book together, Rework popped up to the top of my reading stack.

I highly recommend reading this book if you like exposure to new ideas for business and the way works gets done. Each piece of advice is incredibly digestible and accompanied by neat artwork that you’ll want to tear out of the book and hang up somewhere.

The Ray Tracer Challenge - October

The Ray Tracer Challenge is a cohesive, hands-on, test-driven introduction to graphics programming. The author does an incredible job of stacking concepts on top of each other and tying chapters together in a way that makes sense to someone completely unfamiliar with graphics. For example, you’ll start with the primitive building blocks of a 3D world (e.g., points, vectors, matricies), and then you’ll build higher level abstractions (e.g, rays, cameras, worlds) on top of them.

Everything you do in this book will be from scratch, so that you have a complete picture of how the renderings come together. I really liked how the book is test-driven and programming language agnostic.

So pick a programming language, write the tests outlined in the book, implement the algorithms to make the tests pass, and before you know it, you’ll be producing photorealistic 3D renderings!

I enjoyed this book so much, that I wrote a blog post on my learnings.

Skunk Works - November

This book explores the inner workings of the notorious Lockheed Martin aerospace engineering team named the Skunk Works. Most of the stories in the book take place in the 1960’s to early 1990’s, during the era of leadership from Kelly Johnson and his successor, Ben Rich.

Ben Rich explains the Skunk Works principles of operation by diving into stories of some of their most incredible engineering accomplishments. You’ll hear the stories behind the U2, SR-71 Blackbird, and F117A Stealth Fighter. I was especially delighted to learn about the politics involved in the defense industry during different presidential eras.

My biggest takeaway from this book was the principles that Kelly Johnson baked into the Skunk Works team that allowed them to achieve unprecedented innovation and speed. This book would be an excellent read for leaders of teams trying to achieve engineering innovation.

It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work - December

I liked Rework so much that I decided to squeeze another book from Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) into my 2019 reading list. As the title suggests, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work makes the point that craziness in the workplace is a choice. The book uses real examples to drive the point that running a successful business does not preclude a calm working environment.

The idea of “office hours” introduced in the book hit close to home for me. In a previous position that I had writing software in a large, globally distributed team, our chat tools were constantly buzzing. I was losing 2-4 hours of work time to chat apps and people dropping by my desk to talk every day. The authors take the idea of “office hours” from academia into the workplace. They suggest that employees who’re losing time to unwarranted chat should post their own “office hours” for others to become familiar with. If someone is in their “office hours”, then expect that they’ll not be responding in chat apps or entertaining random drop bys.

I wish that I would’ve read this book earlier. It would’ve saved me some stress and helped me keep things more calm at work.