Book Review: Team Geek by Brian W. Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman

In Book Reviews, Software Engineering on January 1, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Yesterday I posted a lukewarm review about Driving Technical Change. I had high hopes for it and it just didn’t resonate with me. Today is a different story and a great way to start off the new year.

The bottom like for this book is: If you’re a software engineer who wants to do great things, enjoy your work, and work on a super team, read this book! I’ve been going through a lot of books on the subject of technical leadership, soft skills for engineers, creating great development teams, and so on. I’ve found a few that I thought were quite good and they either have become or will become part of the material for my software engineering, and other software engineering based courses. But this book trumps them all so far. If you only read one book in the next year on this topic, read this book.

The authors, Ben and Fitz, work at Google. They’ve held several positions with Google and other companies. They have been associated with the Subversion open source project for years. In short, they’re real engineers who know how to build and shop software. They also have a great insight into what it takes to build a great team, how to keep it together and growing, and how individuals can become a part of such teams.

Ben and Fitz have clearly experienced many of the same types of organizations and personalities that I’ve encountered over the course of my industrial career.When I read an early section, “The Contents of this Book are not Taught in School,” I was hooked. They say “At press time, we’re not aware of any curriculum that actually teaches you how to communicate and collaborate in a team or a company. Sure, most students are required to participate in a group project at some point in their academic career, but there’s a big difference between teaching someone how to successfully work with another person and throwing him into a situation of forced collaboration. Most students end up jaded by the experience.” Well, if you’ve been in one of my software engineering classes, you know this isn’t true. That’s exactly what I try to teach and pretty much the way I do it. These two and I share a similar mind set.

The book describes several types of people, and provides stories of how to get these different types working well with a team while maintaining a team’s culture. They have great stories that I was able to identify with. They don’t try to mold these stories into patterns. They just tell it like it is—and it works for me. I finished the book in a few hours of enjoyable reading.

Ben and Fitz have had the opportunity, it seems, to have been able to choose the types of teams they work with as well as the type of companies that they’ve been employed by. Not everyone has that luxury. What the authors think dysfunctional companies and organizations are simply the norm for a lot of folks. Don’t let that put you off if you’re in one of those type of organizations. You’ll find good advice on how to navigate through the bureaucracies and get things done.

If you are a software engineer—whether you’re starting out or have been at it for years—read this book if you want to be better at what you do and if you want to get more satisfaction from your job. If you don’t get anything out of it, you are either the perfect software engineer (which is about as real as the Easter Bunny) or you’re in the wrong profession and should probably look for something else to do. The time spent reading this book will yield many rewards.


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