Darkened Software

Tag: Book Review

Book Review: Sparks of Genius

by on Feb.26, 2012, under Development, Industry

This book hits on a topic a friend of mine and I have been arguing about for years, do people need to be multidisciplinary or should they specialize in one skill set and focus their time learning to do it perfectly.

I took the theory that our worlds of knowledge are growing way to fast for one to have time to become skillful enough in the other fields that it would help your main career that much.  My friend took the theory that it was still possible to learn multiple different skill sets and that they will make your main discipline much strong.  A few years back I realized that after learning new types of poker my Hold’em game became significantly stronger.  Then I started collecting new programming languages and my C++ code became much cleaner.  Thus I started to believe my theory was on shaky ground and I might soon be sending someone a bottle of scotch soon.  After reading this book though I realized just how wrong I was, but at least the book was nice enough to fully explain why and what I could do about it.

Their theory is to take your mind and problem solving abilities to the highest level you need the following 13 skills:

  • Observing
  • Imaging
  • Abstracting
  • Recognizing Patterns
  • Forming Patterns
  • Analogizing
  • Body Thinking
  • Empathizing
  • Dimensional Thinking
  • Modeling
  • Playing
  • Transforming
  • Synthesizing

Looking at this any my own game programming career thus far it actively trains maybe about 5 of those skills really hard and another 3 of them moderately.  Thus my career is not providing very much practice time in about 1/2 the skills needed to really excel in this field.  Unintuitive as it seems I need to spend less doing software development and more time in another field that is mainly about these other skills.  Looking at this list it is clear I have to either pick up music, drama or  painting to complete the tool set.

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Book Review: Eat that Frog

by on Sep.07, 2010, under Development

Book Eat That Frog

My first day at Microsoft they recommended reading this book as they explained you will eventually become overwhelmed with more possible work than anyone could complete and you need to be very good at scheduling what your going to take on and what your going to punt.  Odd I thought they would then recommend a book about how to stop Procrastinating but I picked the book up and read it anyway.  Turned out it was a great little book that covers both topics.

First section of the book is all about learning to ignore the myth that everything is important and needs to be done.  In reality only about 20% of the work you do is game changing work and the other 80% can at the very least be put off if not punted all together.  Tricky part is really identifying or get your boss to commit to which 20% is the critical at the time and there are some good recommendations on how to do so.  In the game industry we call this the “bits on the disk test”, if it does not help us put better bits on the disk we ignore it.

Second section is about doing enough is needed to prevent procrastination and other time wasting behaviors.

Procrastination = The fear you are going to fail

You mind decides to then save you from failing by looking for other stuff to do or wasting time, eventually you run out of time and your mind can write it off “I did not fail, I ran out of time”.  In reality 95% of the time the reason you’re mind fears it is going to fail is it does not fully understand the problem and what it takes to fix it.  Experienced programmer break problems down into little parts so that their mind never goes down this path.  The book gives some good examples on breaking this pattern and deconstructing problems.

Last section of the book is about scheduling your time and building out large blocks of time to work on your tasks.  This is one part of the book that everyone misreads and takes way to far.  True it is very important to have blocks of time so you can get into deep tasks that take a lot of concentration and have big ramp up and ramp down times.  But this does not mean going to insane extremes like only answering your email once every 24 hours or scheduling days with no meetings.  If you think answering my email is distracting you should try not answering it and having me in your office.  Similarly if you have a daily meeting that can not happen on one day so it is a meeting free day then it most likely should not have been a daily meeting in the first place.

There is no reason people can not check and respond to their emails before the day starts, after lunch before returning to serious work and before they leave for the night.  Given that many in the game industry start around 10 am it is better to get all meetings out of the way in the morning because you are interrupting a short block of work anyway and leave the 6 hour block open for a serious stretch of coding.

Good little book and worth the 10$ price tag.

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Book Review: Pragmatic thinking and learning by Andy Hunt

by on Aug.27, 2010, under Programming

PragmaticThinkingAndLearning

This book should be within the top top 3 in your list of books to read this year.  Andy Hunt managed to follow up his amazing first book ” The Pragmatic Programmer” with sequel that might even be more profound.

It starts off with a basic breakdown of how the different parts of the brain work and the interactions between them.  Nothing revolutionary and all things you could find in other books like “How the mind works”.  But then he starts to tie it back to our daily programming tasks and show how each of our different skill sets taxes the different parts and some common things we do that make it harder on ourselves.  A great example was music, most programmer listen to something while coding and debugging.  But voice process is handled by the left side of the brain which needs to be thinking about the code your writing.  Music without words is fine as only the right side of the brain is needed to process it.

He found some research that goes against the theory that your born with the max # of brains cells and you just slowly loose them over time.  For years they thought his because mice in labs never seem to gain new ones.  But then someone finally wondered if environment played a factor and put the mice in a more natural and interesting environment instead of just a cage.  They started growing new brain cells right away and rewiring how their mind worked.  Something to think about at your current job, are you stuck in a cubical cage running the same maze every night and not growing your brain?

He also shows how programmers really need to not neglect the right side of their brain as it is instrumental for tasks like debugging which we think are left brain but really not.  We have all had that moment were on the drive home we think of the solution to a problem that we could not get all day.  Its not that we did not know the solution all along it’s just the right side of our brain was blocked by the left all day and could not give us the answer.   Learning how to get answers from the right side quickly instead of at the pace of 1 per night is very important and he does a great job of explaining how to help this process.

That is just the tip of the iceberg of all the info in “Programmatic thinking and learning”, I could go on for pages about all the things I learned.  Its a great book that ever programmer should read twice.

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