My book has been released in beta

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Book

Well, it’s been a while hasn’t it? Yes, yes it has. The last post on this site was on 21st June 2019 and it announced that I had a book deal. Here we are, six months later.

This post is to tell you that the beta release of the book is now available for you to purchase. It’s called Become an Effective Software Engineering Manager, because that’s precisely what it’s about.

The front cover of the book.

What beta means is that you get early DRM-free access to the first 240 pages. That’s 13 chapters in total. More chapters, content and edits will follow as they are worked on and finished. I’ve currently drafted 17 chapters, with 2 left to write. I’m almost there. When it’s done, after more editing and finalizing, it’ll go off to print for those that enjoy owning hard copies made from trees. It’ll also become available in all good book stores, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The cover of the book is a murmuration of starlings. It’s a nod to Brighton, the place where I live and work in the UK. Brighton and Hove is a quirky coastal city. It’s a place of dualities. It can be ugly in winter, yet achingly beautiful in the late summer evenings. It can be unbearably hectic during peak season, yet calm, comforting and familiar when you have it to yourself and your thickest jacket. 

At various times of the year, the starlings put on an incredible spectacle. Thousands of birds collectively flow and throb together over the shore, percolating in unison, no shape or form repeated. People stop in their tracks to watch even if it’s going to make them late. Each individual bird is making continual corrections to its path based on the actions of those around them, and the collective actions form a cohesive and majestic whole. Given the subject material of what I’ve written, you can probably see where I’m going here.

Writing a book has been a liberating and meditative experience. As my job has become larger and more chaotic, being able to retreat into a dialog with myself every single day – even when I don’t want to –  has been food for the soul. It has helped me reflect on my career so far and remind myself just how much that I have learned along the way. So how much have I learned? I guess around 350 pages worth. And although I won’t be making a cultural impact in the same way that an accomplished novel does, I do firmly believe that I have written something that will help many people with their careers and maybe even with their lives. After all, I wrote the book for myself ten years ago, when I found myself in a whole new world with no field manual. That alone makes me happy. I really don’t care how many copies I sell. At the very least, I’ve given my past self what I wanted.

So, writing. What advice would I give to any aspiring writer? Well, I don’t know. Writing has always been something that has come naturally to me and I have been doing it consistently for over a decade. I guess you could say that I enjoy it. For the book to materialize, I wrote articles weekly for many years. My rough count indicates that I’ve written over 100,000 words in blog articles alone. Before that I wrote a PhD thesis, which was a substantial undertaking of similar size. Before I went to university to study computer science, I did an internship at the BBC where I wrote local news articles. I used to write music reviews for fun as a teenager. I had a blog at school. I’ve pressed these keys many times before.

However, there are a number of things that I do know. Becoming competent at anything takes continual training. It’s a slow, frustrating and often lonely process: after all, it’s you that makes yourself better, regardless of how much talent you may already have. I’ve had some talent, but privately I’ve always been sharpening my tools. I’ve never been one to talk too much about what I’m doing, because I’d rather the world engaged with something I have done when it is ready to show. That way I can spend time on doing, rather than endlessly talking about doing. 

Writing is a solitary process. You need to be comfortable with your mind and your thoughts and be able to handle your frustrations and weaknesses. You need to be able to go through the motions when you don’t feel like producing. You need to understand that time is never created or destroyed, it is merely allocated. Then you need to work out where to allocate it, no matter how hard that is, or how tired you are.

In the last month, I’ve begun to pick up other books to read now that I can see that the end of my own book is in sight. Reading other authors, especially those that are talented, can be disheartening. “Why can’t I write this well?” I think, wondering how they managed to arrange the words in that particular order to form that particular sentence in that wonderfully constructed paragraph. Yet, after finishing Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, I felt like I had found a kindred spirit. 

Murakami is an accomplished runner as well as a writer, having completed almost as many marathons and triathlons as I’ve had years on this planet. He believes that running daily has been life affirming and critical to his development as a novelist: it allows him to face pain and manage suffering, and it forces him to confront his thoughts, his ego and his weaknesses. I agree with him. After all, facing reality is what it really means to be alive. I run privately and certainly less adeptly, but it does have parallels to the writing process. It exposes you to yourself. It removes the endless loopback narrative in your brain. It slows down time and lets you focus on the present moment. It often hurts and frustrates. But you get through it. And when you do, the accomplishment is self-evident. The more you practice, the better you get.

I’m hoping to have the book finished next month, and then it’ll go into final editing and copyediting. In the meantime, the beta should continue to unfold, offering you new chapters and content if you have been so kind as to purchase it. If you have, thank you very much. I truly appreciate it. I hope it helps you in some way. 

It’s not quite Norwegian Wood, but who knows what I might end up doing in the future.

I have a book deal

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Book

Hello, there.

It’s been a number of weeks since I published an article on this site. Don’t worry though; nothing untoward has happened. In fact, something – erm – toward has happened instead.

Last week I signed a contract to turn The Engineering Manager into a book! A while back, I asked those on my mailing list what they would like to see in the future direction of this website.  Should I be focussing on management, current affairs, technology, or something else? The answer was predominantly that I should try and turn what I’ve written into a complete tome. I’m excited to say that it’s now going to happen.

I wrote short pitches to a number of publishers and some of those turned into longer book proposals with sample material. After a bunch of emails and calls, I was extremely lucky to be offered to sign with my number one choice: The Pragmatic Bookshelf, who produce some of the best books for developers out there, including the developer’s bible: The Pragmatic Programmer. Not only do they give their authors a good deal – 50% royalties compared to the usual 10% from other publishers – they also give their editors a cut of the proceeds.

“But,” I hear you cry, “Isn’t this a book about management?”

Well, yes. But my target audience isn’t existing managers. It’s the millions of developers worldwide who are interested in making the jump. My book is going to be a practical and pragmatic hands-on guide to becoming a fantastic manager. It’ll be a career companion to excel in the role, written by someone who’s been there before (me!). It’ll give readers the tools and techniques to succeed.

If I was to boil down the book to core competencies, then readers will:

  • Go from zero to hero: They will learn the essential toolkit for any new manager. They’ll be able to feel confident in their skills and face this new world head on. Their colleagues will think they’ve been doing this job for years.
  • Master practical methods: Like programming, management is about repeatable techniques and tools. Readers will learn how to run meetings, do performance reviews, hire, negotiate, debate, coach and mentor like a pro. 
  • Apply psychology: Good leadership comes from within. Readers will explore how to deal with common challenges they will face with their staff, their boss and themselves in a way that allows them to stay happy and healthy.
  • Supercharge their department: Our readers can also use their new found skills to make their department a better place. They will learn how to develop career tracks, tackle diversity issues, form guilds and committees, ensure best practice and support flexible and remote working.
  • Plan for the future: Readers will go through an exercise to plan the next 5 years of their career. They can then take this away and do the same with their staff.

As of today I’ve met my managing editor and my editor, and we’re working on the structure together. I’m really looking forward to getting started. It’s going to be a long and challenging process – it’ll be much, much longer than my Ph.D. thesis – but I’ve always dreamed about being a published author.

During the call we were talking through the process of writing and editing, and when my editor mentioned the point that Amazon, Barnes & Noble and O’Reilly are notified that it’s coming, I got a little flutter in my stomach. Now it’s just a case of generating a lot of words and putting them in the right order.  Can hard how be that?

We reckon it’ll land around the middle of next year. I hope not to be in a complete hole until then, but I won’t be dishing out the articles regularly. If you’ve been reading this site for the last couple of years, then thank you: your feedback and comments have very much helped me end up here. I will try to do you proud on dead wood (or ebook; your choice).

If you want me, I’ll be at my desk.