SOFT SKILLS: A very useful ‘life manual’ for software developers – #programming #bookreview

Soft Skills

The Software Developer’s Life Manual

John Z. Sonmez

Manning paperback

I really wish I had had this book when I started a 14-year career in software development and testing. I was hired back in the days when you could get a software job by having a college degree (in anything), a couple of positive references and some decent writing skills. If you could also turn on a computer and bring up the DOS prompt, so much the better.

No matter how many skills you actually had, you were going to spend a couple of months learning your new environment and your new job, while also attending free, company-sponsored training classes (during working hours). Meanwhile, if you had any questions, you could just go ask the C guru down the hall or dour Mister Assembler, who lived in the big, corner cubicle and seemed to have no other life.

I am retired now from the corporate world of software. And when, out of curiosity, I look at today’s help-wanted postings for developers and testers, I am stunned by how much knowledge, training and verifiable skills one person is expected to bring to the table. At least ten jobs, it seems, have been rolled into one.

For that reason and more, I highly recommend Soft Skills by John Z. Sonmez. He believes, he says, in taking “a holistic approach to software development. This means that I think that if you want to be a better software developer—a better anything, really—you need to focus on the entire person, not just one or two areas of your life.”

Sonmez offers up a wealth of how-to information and useful advice covering everything from “hacking” a job interview to developing a personal brand and staying physically fit in a job that requires long hours sitting on one’s butt. He also offers tips for learning new things quickly, staying productive (using a modified version of the Pomodoro Technique)–and investing part of your paycheck so you can retire early or at least have a comfortable cushion if you get laid off and decide to become an independent consultant.

Yes, there is a lot of common advice sense in Soft Skills–the kind of advice you likely have heard before but ignored. Still, Sonmez’s book makes clear, compelling cases for why you really do have to watch out for–and take care of–yourself these days. You seemingly can’t count on an employer to do much of anything anymore, except view you as a unit of cost to be reduced or eliminated as soon as possible.

“Most software developers starting out in their careers make a few huge mistakes,” Sonmez writes. “The biggest of those mistakes, by far, is not treating their software development career as a business. Don’t be fooled; when you set out into the world to write code for a living, you’re no different than the blacksmith of old times setting up shop in a medieval town. Times may have changed, and most of us work for a company, but our skills and our trade belong to us and we can always choose to set up shop somewhere else. This kind of mindset is crucial to managing your career, because when you start to think of yourself as a business, you start to make good business decisions.”

This is a mindset I wish I had acquired and expanded when I got my first job in software and then began to surf the periodic waves of layoffs. If you are new at working in software development or still trying to get your foot in the door, you can get some very good information and guidance from this book. The same goes if your career currently is floundering and needs a reboot. Don’t just hit CTRL-ALT-DEL and go storming out the door. Try reading some of Sonmez’s chapters first–and at least have your resume reworked by experts who can help you boost your personal “brand.”

Si Dunn

 

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NODE.js IN PRACTICE – A well-focused guide to understanding & using this powerful web development platform – #programming #bookreview

 

Node.js in Practice

Alex Young and Marc Harter

Manning – paperback

I have had a long-term, love-ignore relationship with Node.js. I have taken Node classes, read Node books, and tinkered with Node programming both on Windows and Linux machines. Sometimes I have loved working with Node.js. Other times, I have ignored it for months at a stretch while I rush around trying out other choices and development distractions: Clojure, Erlang, Grails, Hadoop, and Ember.js, for example — the list goes on and on.

Node.js in Practice is aimed at intermediate Node.js programmers and even advanced Node.js programmers. There is some awareness that beginners also may be reading this book. So the authors start by explaining Node from the standpoint of “what it is, how it works, and why it’s something you can’t live without.” Then they quickly recommend that Node newcomers should stop for now and read another good, but more basic, how-to book first: Node.js in Action.

In Node.js in Practice, the learning curve can start getting steep fairly quickly, especially for those of us who have worked somewhat superficially with Node in web projects that also involve other software (such as the MEAN stack: MongoDB, Express and AngularJS, plus Node). Fortunately, the authors, Alex Young and Marc Harter, take a very focused, three-part approach that keeps Node.js centered in the spotlight and promotes deeper understanding.

Part One focuses on “Node’s core fundamentals” and “what’s possible using only Node’s core modules (no third-party modules).” Part Two moves into “real-world development recipes” and shows how to “master four highly applicable skills—testing, web development, debugging, and running Node in production.” Some third-party modules also are introduced. Part Three, meanwhile, emphasizes “creating your own Node modules in a straightforward manner that ties in all kinds of ways to use npm commands for packaging, running, testing, benchmarking, and sharing modules. It also includes helpful tips on versioning projects effectively.”

The book offers “115 techniques…each module covering a specific Node.js topic or task, and each divided into practical Problem/Solution/Discussion sections.” I really like this approach, and the illustrated discussions that accompany each short code example are especially helpful.

For me, it has been a pleasure to upgrade to the latest version of Node.js and reconnect with it using this new book. Despite my previous experience with Node.js, I see a lot to learn! My thanks to Manning for providing a review copy of Node.js in Practice.

 

GUN STREET GIRL: Detective Sean Duffy is back in action, by popular demand! – #mystery #fiction #bookreview

Gun Street Girl

A Detective Sean Duffy Novel

Adrian McKinty

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

At first glance, “Gun Street Girl” seems like the title for a cheap, unpromising paperback potboiler. But the good news is, it’s actually Adrian McKinty’s latest Detective Sean Duffy mystery.

Readers literally begged McKinty to keep Duffy alive after the novelist finished writing his “Troubles Trilogy,” which features Duffy as a detective in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) during Northern Ireland’s civil and religious unrest and murderous violence in the 1980s.

The new book not only keeps Sean Duffy investigating murders amid great personal danger (he’s a Catholic cop working in a Protestant police station and living, at high risk, in a Protestant neighborhood). The book also brings greater depth and detail to the whys and hows of his character.

At one point, Lawson, a young cop, tells Duffy that he’s “not interested in promotion, I just want to do good for the community.” And Duffy tells him what an older cop, Dickie Bently, told hm during his first month on the job. “Dickie schooled me pretty quick in the ways of getting things done, Lawson. It’s not just ‘doing good,’ sometimes it’s doing bad too for the greater good, Lawson. It’s a bastard of a job.”

Indeed, Duffy sometimes goes well beyond the accepted limits and laws to achieve justice. He often bends or breaks rules, and sometimes he disobeys direct orders, especially when they get in the way of how he investigates.

In Gun Street Girl, Sean Duffy is fighting total burn-out while he tries to solve a grisly double murder and apparent suicide. Yet his investigative work soon starts uncovering very troubling links to high places, both in Great Britain and across the “pond.” Suddenly, danger is everywhere for Duffy, and the risk of assassination–by bomb or by bullet–now is very high. Meanwhile, he and other members of the Carrickfergus RUC must put aside police work occasionally, suit up in with riot gear and shields, and move into the deadly middle between warring Protestants and Catholics in Belfast and surrounding communities. There, they must endure bricks, firebombs, taunts and other threats to earn a little extra money.

If you’ve never read one of the Sean Duffy novels, Gun Street Girl can be a superb place to start. Then you will want to jump back and read the three books in the Troubles Trilogy: The Cold Cold Ground, I Hear the Sirens in the Streets, and In the Morning, I’ll Be Gone.

I have read and reviewed many detective novels, and Gun Street Girl now has emerged as my all-time favorite. I love its depth of character, its hair-trigger settings, its action, its twists and its turns. And I relish Sean Duffy’s dogged belief that justice must be achieved, no matter how tough or dangerous it can be to follow the necessary and ad hoc procedures.

Adrian McKinty is a master mystery writer. I hope his Detective Sean Duffy will stay on the job for a few more books, even if he has to give in to burn-out, retire from the Royal Ulster Constabulary and become a private eye somewhere else–Australia, maybe?

Si Dunn

Little Nation and Other Stories: A noteworthy collection with focuses on key Chicano themes – #fiction #bookreview

Little Nation

 Little Nation and Other Stories

Alejandro Morales

Translated from the Spanish by Adam Spires

Arte Público Press – paperback

At least four key themes infuse the well-written short stories in this important collection: identity, injustice, marginalization, and the Chicano community’s seemingly endless search for space it can comfortably call “home.” The stories’ author, Alejandro Morales, has penned several novels, including River of Angels, and is a professor at the University of California at Irvine.

In an excellent essay that precedes the collection, translator Adam Spires explores both the long writing career of Morales and Morales’s strong focus on economic inequality, borders and “the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country–a border culture….”

Spires writes that “nowhere is the economic imbalance more ruthless than at the border itself, where multi-nationals set up their interim maquiladoras to exploit a disadvantaged Mexican workforce. Arguably,” Spires contends, “the only thing worse than poverty is poverty surrounded by abundant wealth: high-tech wealth, drug cartel wealth and the alluring Gringo wealth on the other side. The social costs at the margins of the global economy are staggering, and it is here that Morales fixes his gaze and takes up his pen, chronicling the extremes of injustice in a body of work distinguished by its poignant portrayal of spatial dynamics and social disparities.”

Morales also is a master at portraying everyday people and situations within a Chicano community in Los Angeles County. Some of his stories are warm and gentle, such as “Mama Concha,” in which a young boy enjoys what his grandmother is teaching him about loving the land and the fruits and vegetable it can produce. Other stories in the collection deal with troubling situations. And some deal head-on with shocking violence.

Overall, however, Little Nation and Other Stories is infused with currents of hope for the future of Chicano communities and appreciation for the people who live there.

Si Dunn

Bendición: The complete (and excellent) poems of a Manhattan Puerto Rican poet – #poetry #bookreview

Bendicion Covers qx_5.5

Bendición

The Complete Poetry of Tato Laviera

Arte Público Presspaperback

Before his death in 2013 at age 54, Manhattan poet Tato Laviera achieved fame both for his excellent performance poetry and for his strong advocacy of Puerto Rico as an important part of American life and culture.

Laviera was born in Puerto Rico and had some of his early schooling there. But he spent much of his life living and working in New York City. He had several books published, including Enclave, winner of the American Book Award. And a number of his plays were produced in New York City and Chicago.

Bendición is an excellent tribute to Laviera’s writing skills and style. His poems often are in English, but sometimes in Spanish, and sometimes in delightful mixtures of English and Spanish.

Laviera believed that being positive has important powers, even as he stood up strongly and vocally for those in racial and economic minorities in America.

“If there is anyone conspicuously absent from Tato’s cosmology,” writes Nicholás Kanellos in his preface to Bendición, “it is those New Yorkers who reign in board rooms and penthouses, the ‘one-percenters’ who ignore or disdain the lives that command Tato’s and our attention and compassion. Tato focuses fifty stories below to his fellow street-level survivors, hailing from all parts of the world and struggling to eke out a living in cramped sweatshops, dank factories, steamy kitchens or in the cacophony and miasma of the streets.”

But Laviera also was “a poet of love” and a very good one, indeed, Kanellos emphasizes.

Along with being a “complete” collection of published works, Bendición contains a number of Tato Laviera’s previously unpublished poems.

If you like poetry and American poets, this book can be a real eye-opener. How did you previously miss Tato Laviera’s fine, clear voice that is edged with very some mixed roots: Puerto Rico and its American possessor, plus Africa and Europe?

Si Dunn