Archive for the “Book Reviews” Category

I’ve included below my Amazon.com review of the book “Making It Big In Software: Get the Job, Work the Org, Become Great”. I diligently read this book from cover to cover and just couldn’t seem to like it. It became pretty monotonous after a while to go through what felt like a very academic handling of what could have been a very interesting topic. This is in stark contrast to the other book I’m reading now, “Delivering Happiness” by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, which is a pragmatic blow-by-blow tale of how someone actually made it big by leveraging technology. My review:


I really wanted to like Sam Lightstone’s book “Making It Big In Software” and read it cover-to-cover, at some times forcing myself to read on. There are some good points in the book, which at its best represents a blend between the interviewing style of “Founders at Work” and the pragmatic advice of “Career Warfare”. Unfortunately, the book is at its best far too infrequently to make it a recommended read.

Aside from really lacking any really original advice or insights that are fairly common knowledge to folks who have spent a couple of years in the software industry, there are several other reasons I probably won’t be referring back to this book very frequently:

  • The questions were pretty much the same for every interview. That’s great for statistical comparability but really didn’t do much to draw out the stories from the interviewees. At one point, I found myself thumbing to the end of each interview to find out if the “Do you think graduate degrees are professionally valuable?” question was going to be asked again.
  • An earlier reviewer pointed out the value in the use of personas to illustrate examples. Done correctly, I agree that this is a very powerful technique. However, the software development antics of Moe, Larry, and Curly in this book seemed less like personas and more like an attempt to compensate for the lack of more illustrative examples.
  • Lots of borrowed material. Much of it from the standard software journeyman’s body of knowledge and some of it from popular authors such as Steven Covey, who seems to be a personal favorite of the author.
  • A chapter on compensation with salary ranges? C’mon, really? Aside from immediately dating the book, this is information that clearly could have been put out on a website and updated periodically so that the reference doesn’t get immediately stale.

This book may be of slightly more value (3 stars) to someone new to the field of software. I hope I’m not being unduly harsh but I find it hard to see how folks who have been around in the industry for 5 – 10 years can rate this book with 4 or 5 starts.

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I picked up this gem of a book when it first came out in eBook format during the PDC. I sent it over to my Kindle and got through the entire book during session downtimes. I planned on being the first to post a review of this book on Amazon but I’ve sat it out too long and will now be the fifth review.

Ultra-Fast ASP.NET

The first four reviewers did a pretty respectable job of providing and overview of Mr. Kiessig’s qualifications and the book content and have all awarded the book the entirely deserved 5 start rating. Rather than pile on more information about Rick Kiessig or what’s in the book, I’m going to tell you why, as a person who has spent a good amount of time looking at .NET application performance, I recommend this book to every person I work with as mandatory reading:

  • Although there are great rules out there for web site optimization and corresponding tools to test these rules (e.g. Yahoo’s Yslow), it’s great to see the client side examples from an ASP.NET specific point of view.
  • It’s interesting to see someone who bucks the current trends and provides some real insight on when it’s appropriate to use ORM’s, saying essentially that objects are good but ORM’s might not be the best engine if you’re building a Formula 1 race car.
  • Try finding another book that will even touch web gardens, partitioning an application into different AppPools, or using the /3GB switch. Try finding a Microsoft engineer who will talk to you about those items and offer objective guidance.
  • The write-up and source code on asynchonous web pages and background worker threads – worth the price of the book alone.
  • Creative, out-of-the-box ideas: using SQL Server Express for caching, using BI services to support the web tier of the application, etc. – not the kind of advice you find in your typical MSDN article.

It would be interesting to see how ASP.NET MVC and Silverlight play out performance-wise but alas, these technologies are a bit newer and Mr. Kiessig had to get a book to press. I’d gladly pay for the second edition of this book if it includes a couple of additional chapters that address these technologies. Until then, this is by far the most thorough and pragmatic book on ASP.NET performance to be had on the market. It might be simply an eye-opening read or the book that saves your skin one day. Either way, you won’t regret picking this book up.

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Facebook has long been for me one of the last unexplored realms of social networking. Finally, when trying to convince new recruits to join me in using Twitter, I realized that so many of my friends, acquaintances, and colleagues were hooked on Facebook, I stood little chance of winning them over to Twitter without a deeper understanding of where Facebook fits in the social networking mix. I turned to the book “Facebook Me!” by Dave Awl to provide a solid background in how Facebook might work best for me and to help me understand how to integrate Facebook with the rest of the Web 2.0 applications I use. My review of this book from Amazon.com can be found below.

Facebook Me

This book provides the ideal balance between introduction to the Facebook application and reference manual for the more experienced user. The first few chapters will prove a bit superfluous to all but the greenest of newbies. After that, you can count on some pretty solid information on using Facebook to enhance your online social communications leveraging the breadth of Facebook’s communication features. Several elements of the book appealed to me particularly:

  • Very visual and, for the most part (ca. July 2009), up-to-date with respect to the latest enhancements to the Facebook user interface
  • Offers pragmatic advice on using Facebook features without overhyping features such as messaging, where there are clearly other capable mediums.
  • Provides a balanced view of Facebook’s features and alternatives for integrating other alternative mechanisms in with Facebook to augment the out-of-the-box offering.

I can’t emphasize the importance of the last two points to my assessment of the book. It showed me how to integrate other Web 2.0 technologies that I’m very happy with, e.g. FlickR for photos and Twitter for status updates, into Facebook. This integration allows me to enjoy what I believe to be the best of what Facebook has to offer (a huge social network of people you already know) with dramatically more sophisticated, open, and evolved media and messaging capabilities of other platforms.

For the new to intermediate Facebook user, this may be the only book they’ll ever need. More dedicated and fanatical Facebook users might find that this book doesn’t go deep enough. I find myself somewhere in between. I’ve caught on to Facebook pretty quickly but I still don’t plan on using the majority of features outlined in this book. That’s why the book is a solid 4 starts for me. Were I a bit more into Facebook and a bit less into other Web 2.0 technologies, I could see this being a 4.5 or 5 start book.

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Since jumping back on the blogging bandwagon, I’ve been looking to get more familiar with the top social networking sites. I’ve had some experiences with most of the major players except Twitter, which I never did manage to get into. I decided to give Twitter a fair chance and see if it worked for me. In order to do this, I felt some basic background / guidance was necessary before jumping in heads-first. Turns out that The Twitter Book from Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein was really all that I needed. My Amazon review follows:

The Twitter Book

Think of The Twitter Book not as a book but rather like a longer, really well done, Powerpoint presentation. For the most part, the top of every other page of the book has a really clear storyboard message which is explained on the subsequent two pages with creative examples, both textual and using simple, colorful graphics. As countless reviewers have already pointed out, it’s a case of the book medium emulating the tool it’s describing – terse and colorful.

The book is an easy read in an hour, give or take 10 minutes. It also functions well as a reference document if you need to go back and look up Twitter features, such as hashtags and retweets, as you gain more familiarity with the Twitter service. At 231 not-so-dense pages, the book is rightsized for a service that enforces a 140 character message limit.

If you’ve looked at Twitter before and didn’t get what all the fuss was about, give it another shot after reading this book. Try the “Three Weeks or Your Money Back – Guaranteed” plan in chapter 1. You’ve got lots to gain and very little to lose.

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Release-It!

A review long overdue for a Jolt Award winner and one of the best architecture books on my bookshelf, Release-It!

I’ve recommended this book to many colleagues of mine and haven’t heard a disappointing review to date. I’ve heard the terms ‘pessimistic’ and ‘realistic’ used with equal frequency to describe this book. Having just completed my second reading, I can affirm that these terms are both representative take-aways. Nygard openly admits to being more than a bit paranoid about the way he approaches enterprise application architecture. Although this may seem alarming to many new to the IT field, those of us who have been around for a while recognize this as a necessary, at times life saving, defense mechanism.

Despite the presence of patterns, this is not really a pattern book that can be read piecemeal. It’s best read and enjoyed end-to-end. The books serves to teach us old dogs some new tricks as well as serving as a way to say “welcome to the field of enterprise application architecture” to team members new to this role.

Book Strengths

  • Real world production incidents, just in case you think: (a) you’re the only one who ever gets into such situations; or (b) such things don’t happen in the real world with large enterprise applications (where do you work?)
  • The patterns. Even though there’s no sample code, the real value is in describing and cataloging these patterns.

Book Weaknesses

  • Organizational inconsistency. Two sections of the book (Stability and Capacity) follow the anti-pattern / pattern approach while the other sections of the book (General System Design and Operations) follow more of a narrative approach.

Yeah, the book focuses almost entirely on Java-based systems but almost all of the book has direct applicability to other enterprise technologies. In the last chapter of the book, Adaptation, Nygard’s writing style tends to wander a bit and deviate towards a rant. However, it’s hard to fault him for this, especially when he states things so eloquently:

Real enterprises are always messier than the enterprise architecture would ever admit. New technologies never quite fully supplant old ones. A mishmash of integration technologies will be found, from flat-file transfer with batch processing to publish/subscribe messaging. Any strategy formulated predicated on creating a monoculture—whether it is a single integration technology or a single programming language—is doomed to be a costly failure.

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