Unconventional books to level up your software engineer career

Dennis Basyrov
Jun 20 · 5 min read

Do you believe that personal effort is the single way to continue your self-education and accelerate your lifelong learning? Continuous and involved reading is high on the list. As a natural born reader, I read tons of books across all genres and of various lengths. Most of them were from the list of must read non-fiction books and recommended best sellers. It was hard to pick notable books and put together a list of top picks, that helped me to improve necessary visual thinking skills and become a better software engineer. Learning to think visually has many incredible advantages for your career and the way you see the world.

In this list, you will not find classic books recommended for bootcamp students like Eloquent JavaScript or Cracking the Coding Interview. They are great and offers essential bits of advice on developing competitive and hard to find skills. But today I would like to share my personal and mostly unconventional choices. As somebody said: “software engineer is an incredibly multidisciplinary role — inspiration does and should come from everywhere”.

  1. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses

This book describes the most fundamental principles of design and demonstrates how principles used in games also work when you coding your pet project. This is not, however, a book for beginners. My recommendation is to read this book if you already started practicing gamification in your product, or have some experience in game design.

For last 5 years I spent significant time creating and establishing gamification for education products and kept this book on my desk to see how I can improve my current designs. Our product team applied game mechanics from this book to non-game situations to drive motivation, engagement, awareness, and loyalty of our users.

2. The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential

As one of the world’s leading experts on how to use the power of your brain, this book is written in such a way that it can be read quickly and you can remember most of it. I’ve used mind-mapping technics for many years in my career. It’s a great way to organise what you know in an engaging way, and it’s a valid method to visualize your current project. Since I’ve learned this technique I no longer use lists (except for routine tasks), I even use it for analyzing upcoming projects, making action plan for complicated situations, setting tasks and actions for the month etc. As an engineer you can use this technic during brainstorm sessions with your fellow colleagues — write down your ideas and features, map the methods and levels of interface.

3. Graphic Recording: Live Illustrations for Meetings, Conferences Workshops

If you have already read a few books on conveying ideas through drawing — this is your next stop. This book is beautiful, full of inspiring examples of graphic recording from skilled scribes from all over the world. I can’t say that you will find a lot of text inside but Anna Lena Schiller reveals the essential tools of storyboarding and techniques with examples and helpful visuals.

I strongly believe if you would like to see the big picture, you should draw it first. You don’t need extraordinary drawing skills. You can use lines and primitive illustrations to capture your thinking visually, demonstrate key information more clearly, and share what you’ve captured with others. I used principals and methods of scribing to make visual roadmaps and sketching user cases on my latest project.

Just imagine how clear and compelling your presentation can be if you will use some of the ideas and examples from this book.

4. Dear Data

This book is the story of how two designers became friends through revealing to each other the details of their daily lives. They started an old-fashioned correspondence with a data twist — one week, one theme and one postcard, describing what had happened during that time. But they didn’t write what had happened — they drew it.

This is a must read for visual people who might otherwise waste endless hours in oblivion. At first sight, it is a magical blend of images, details, storytelling, and data: a lot of data. There is no easy solution, you would need to spend several painstaking hours to explore each theme every week and dive deep into data collecting.

The idea of collecting data, casually doodling, and unconventional way of sharing information can be really useful for everyday team work. I was inspired (as many others) to start capturing and visualizing my own and my current project data. Some insights from this book helped me communicate with the design team. I can recommend this book for every out-of-the-box thinking professional who closely work with design teams and want to test new development tools.

What unconventional books did you read this year to improve your soft skills?

Kudos to Beto Dute

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade