Important books that I read in the past two years

I’d like to share some of the books that I read over the past year or two that have been memorable. In general, the selections deal with programming, entrepreneurship, or finance.

Finance

I remember filing my taxes for the previous year and being furious at the amount of taxes my wife and I paid. It made me realize that I knew little about the tax system and how to make more tax-advantaged (i.e., not paying more than you should or even saving on taxes) investments. Here are some books that were really helpful (in no particular order).

Financial Fitness Forever

Cheesy title, yes. However, the book has several pages that outline example portfolio allocation percentages. Paul Merriman is great at not beating the horse of passive investing that you’d find in the Little Book of Common Sense Investing, but complements that investment philosophy with practical percentage breakdowns (amount to invest in small cap vs large cap vs alternatives, etc).

All About Index Funds

Once you’re sold on passive investing (i.e., not trying to beat the market by investing in individual companies but instead investing in index funds), it’s helpful to understand what index funds actually are and gain insight into the numerous funds out there. This book was a comprehensive overview of that type of investment. It’s dense, but not a hard read.

Tax-free Wealth

This book was one of my all-time favorites. It’s a fantastic introductory book into the world of tax-advantaged ways of investing your money. It talks about stocks, real-estate, starting companies, and more. It was hard to put this book down. I recommend it to anyone who thinks they don’t have a lot of time/energy to put into traversing the world of (personal) finance.

Entrepreneurship

Wantrepreneur here. One day, one of the products/tools that I build will take off. Until then, I’ll keep coding and trying to learn from others. Here are some books that were enjoyable/informative.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

This is a similarly great read compared to the Steve Jobs biography. The Musk book was an entertaining overview of his various ventures with an emphasis on his extreme focus and perseverance.

I’ve found inspiration in that extreme focus and bold attitude towards the impact one could have on society.

The Hard Thing about the Hard Things

Hands down one of the greatest accounts of entrepreneurship. It’s raw, entertaining, and full of rich insights. It’s a must-read.

In terms of takeaways, it makes me more nervous to take the leap and follow my gut on commanding control of my life’s work. The survivorship bias (only hearing about people who make it) is real and hearing accounts of those who barely made it is humbling and a necessary gut check.

Anything You Want

I really enjoyed this quick read. It talks about one person’s stumbling onto a venture and figuring it out along the way.

This was an uplifting read (balanced by Hard Thing about the Hard Things) that further reinforces that anyone with resolve to build something can build something. Some just wait for opportunities to fall in their lap or continue to complain about not having time to make something of themselves. It’s always great to read books that get you over the hump.

Programming

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age

I just recently finished this and it was a dense, but enjoyable read. Tesla wasn’t a programmer, but his technique to invention is applicable.

Tesla was great at internalizing and iterating on complex mental models (something that I struggle with). It was reassuring to know that others have that skill — convincing me that it’s something I need to work on.

Working within complex systems involves keeping large systems in your head and trying to iterate on (or reason about) them mentally. This book further reinforced the merits of that. It’s also aligned with the “think-twice, code once” practice of thinking deeply about the problem before trying to code a solution.

Tesla’s ability to constantly innovate and think differently was also inspiring. He was stubborn, cocky, thorough, and immensely creative. His lack of a large commercial success, however, was another takeaway: marketing is just as important as the product/invention.

The Inner Game of Music

This book is so incredibly important to the craft of programming. Yes, it’s a book whose context is music, but the teachings/concepts reach far beyond that domain.

For me, the essence of the book boiled down to understanding the two triangles: AWT (Awareness, Will, and Trust) and PEL (Performance, Experience, Learning). A more thorough book review is necessary to really bite into those triangles.

The key takeaways for me:

  • Every interaction that you have with someone can either help or hinder their awareness. e.g., the way you ask questions, your tone/attitude in conversation, singling people out in positive/negative contexts, how you comment on their work.
  • Becoming more aware of yourself (habits, strengths, weaknesses, fears) is the key to leveling up.

I encourage anyone who wants to improve their skill as a programmer to check out this book. It’s not about a language/tool, it’s about your consciousness.

The Effective Engineer

The biggest takeaway for me was that I need to always work on the highest leverage tasks (i.e., the most challenging/important problems) and be constantly aware of those priorities when I decide to work on something.

Another great one is to pre-plan what you’ll work on given time constraints to avoid wasting precious time figuring out your agenda. As a new father, this has been an eye-opener given the little amount of free-time that I have each night. If I only have 30 minutes, knowing ahead of time what I would do if I had 30 minutes allows me to hit the ground running.

The Passionate Programmer

The biggest takeaway for me was to “be where you are.” In that you should realize where you are in your career and excel at that place instead of always focusing on the future and being mediocre in the present.

There are many many many more insights in that book, but that’s the one that resonated with where I’m at in my career.

Refactoring

This was a constant recommendation from a colleague and it was eye-opening.

Programming felt (and still somewhat does) feel informal as a discipline. I’ve always sought/longed-for the type of training that chefs undergo to become masters of their craft. Refactoring is one important book in that process.

Refactoring increases your performance and awareness as a programmer. Its formalism helps to objectively know how/when to apply techniques to what would otherwise be gut (or experienced-based) hunches.

A few books I’m looking forward to reading

If you have any recommendations that you think I’d appreciate, feel free to ping me on twitter: @mrjoelkemp.