Smart & Gets Things Done
182 pps, $16.99 ISBN-10: 1-59059-838-5
210 pps, $24.99
Prior to the rise explosion of blogs, books were either original content or anthologies of papers from journals or conferences. Nowadays though, an ever increasing option is to bind a series of your blog entries together and call it a book. This has meant a fresh wave of authors who might not have had the time to produce a traditional book is getting exposure, but it also means that there is greater chance of less than stellar product ending up on the shelves. This review covers two books which showcases both ends of this spectrum.
Before I begin with Joel Spolsky's new collection of articles about hiring technical people, I should mention that I am a big fan of his writing and have been reading his Joel on Software blog for a number of years. Because of this I was excited when he announced the book and I quickly got a copy. My excitement was quickly replaced by disappointment though. Smart & Gets Things Done is a collection of seven articles about finding, hiring and retaining technical people, each of which can be found on his site. This wouldn't be too great a fault if each of the articles was updated and expanded for print but each has pretty much the same content as you can find online. Only the last article, "Fixing Suboptimal Teams appears" to be unique to the book. In addition to not adding value to content I think my biggest complaint about the book is the physical book itself. $16.99 is a lot of money for the content provided (around 40 pages if you printed it yourself double-sided) and a large part of the price likely pays for the hardcover, dust jacket and higher weight paper. Don't get me wrong, what content there is, is of Joel's usual high quality, but if it was soft cover with a price point below $10 I think the value offered would be much greater. But as it is, I recommend just reading the content online.
Michael Lopp's blog-to-book Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager represents the other end of the spectrum. Michael writes the Rands In Repose blog where he posts bits of management and career advice from the perspective of someone who has been living in the IT trenches for a number of years. This dual perspective is one of the strong parts of the book; not only do you as an employee learn how to avoid traps (like becoming a Fez) but as a manager you can learn how to staff and interview (everyone on the role's team, and the organizational bellweathers). Each of the 34 chapters is short and deals with a single topic, much like the originating article would have, but some spot checking shows that each has been edited and updated for publishing. The format of the book is just right too, an appropriately sized soft cover with an easy layout. My one complaint would be the presence of some profanity through the text which belies its blog origins. They could have been easily edited out and have the articles not lose they effectiveness and increase the professionalism. Aside from that nit-pick Managing Humans is a great example of how to convert a blog into a book and even though its content is available online for free, the volume and packaging makes it a worthwhile addition to a bookshelf.
I suspect that we are starting to see the next wave of publishing as more and more blogs get enough content to be bundled as a book. I just hope that they look to books like Managing Humans with its plentiful and edited content in a nice format, rather than Smart & Gets Things Done with its lack.