Book Review: Smart And Get Things Done by Joel Spolsky

July 4, 2007


I just recently finished the book Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky’s Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent. Joel Spolsky is the author of the very popular blog Joel On Software and owner of Fog Creek Software. This is another one of those books that is very unique when it comes to technical writing. It is both entertaining and informative. I don’t really think there is any other book like this out there. It is a fresh perspective on hiring technical talent written from the perspective of a developer who has been through the process of finding great talent.

The thesis of the book is that if you want to be successful in software, you have to hire the best developers and they will in turn develop the best software. The problem is, hiring the best developers is not an easy task as they never really tend to be looking for a job. The title comes from the basic description of what makes a great developer: Someone show is smart and gets things done.

Joel makes many assertions in this book that many companies don’t want to hear. Treat your software developers right. Buy them nice equipment. Give them private offices (gasp!). Apparently Joel practices what he preaches because nobody has ever quit their job from his company Fog Creak Software! That is amazing. That is the kind of company I want to work for.

Even if you are not a recruiter or heavily involved in hiring technical workers, this book still has plenty of value to you. If you are a developer, you can get a very good feeling for how good you are (are you smart and get things done?) and how to measure a company’s commitment to getting the best developers and making the best software.

There are a couple of points made in this book that I found very interesting and had never thought about before. First, the fact that the best developers are not really in it for the money – they just want to be taken care of by the company they work for. This is not really obvious to most companies who are hiring developers. Just look at how most startups try to attract talent.

The other interesting point was that what a company actually does makes a big difference to most developers. They want to work on something fun that they believe in. I wonder what effect this has on the quality of software that is not fun? How do you convince somebody to come write software for your cow manure processing plant?

This book is definitely worth the hour or two that it takes to read through it. Joel has a great writing style that is both engaging and informative.


Book Review: Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

July 3, 2007

Don't Make Me Think - Steve Krug

I know I am probably late to the game but I have just completed reading through Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. I have recently become very interested in learning more about what I can do as a developer to improve the user experience of the apps I write. The thing is, I am not and will never be much of a graphic designer or even a pro interaction designer. I do, however, think it is very important that I at least understand what it takes to be part of these disciplines.

Practice What You Preach

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.

There are so many things that I loved about this book but the main one is the fact that it really tries to follow its own advice. It is a book about good design and making things simple and it does exactly that with a simple layout and clear narrative. This may seem like a small thing but it most definitely is not. Making things very clear and concise is much more difficult than just writing and rambling. This book was designed to be read in a single airplane ride so it is fairly light weight. But this does not mean that the content is not deep.

It sounds like writing the second edition of this book was an exercise in usability testing and paring down to the bare minimum. Mr. Krug took his readers suggestions and comments about the first edition and took them to heart. As a result, there were chapters that were taken out in the transition for the good of the book. This is really a remarkable move by the author. Usually authors are trying to add more and more content to their books to sell more copies. Don’t feel left out if you don’t buy the first edition because the missing chapters are available online.

Worth Its Weight In Gold

To me, the chapter on how to do usability testing for cheap is worth more than the price of the entire book. Krug spells out a very simple and clear way in which you can do usability testing on your own for about $600 or less. I have already brought this up in my company and received approval to go forward with some testing. I am really excited about getting real fresh input on some of our web sites.

One thing I Didn’t Like

I felt that the numerous footnotes in this book really distracted from the message of the book. I found myself constantly looking at the bottom of a page to read a footnote and losing my train of thought. Or, sometime I would reach the end of a page and see that there were footnotes on that page so I would go back and find the reference that I had missed. Again, this just distracted from the flow of the book. In many cases, the footnotes were just little jokes that could have been interjected into the text. I understand that the book is meant to be witty and easy to read, but many of the “jokes” just got in the way.

So go out now and buy this book. And let me know what you think and how you plan to apply it to your work.