Ben McCormick

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2020 Roundup

2020 was the 7th full year of this blog, and it was by far the quietest in terms of output. For reasons that are both obvious (global pandemic!) and personal (toddler, puppy, still learning a new job) writing has been on the backburner for a year. I hope to change that in 2021, but with another child on the way in February I’m not foolish enough to make any promises here.

I only published 5 posts this year, with the posts generally focused on what I was reading and learning as an engineering manager.

Most Read Post Published in 2020

Simple Burnout Triage - This post got picked up by The Changelog which led to a pretty large spike — but it also is obviously a topic that a lot of people are working through in 2020. Given that this got 70x more views than any of my other new posts this year, it can hog the summary spotlight all by itself this year.

Languages and Libraries I used a lot of in 2020

JavaScript (ES6 + TypeScript), React, Node + Express, lodash, Jest, Redux

But realistically this was my first year spending significantly more time focused on people & product management than hands on software work

Tech I want to try in 2021

My code time is limited these days — but I’d like to go deeper into some of the cool new stuff around React like Server Components, and also learn Terraform.

Blogs I started following in 2020

The Beautiful Mess by John Cutler

Blogs I read every post from in 2020

Software I used (nearly) every day in 2020

MacOS/iOS, Google Search, Chrome, GMail/MailPlane 3, Twitter/Tweetbot, Feedbin/Reeder, iMessage, Slack, Jira, 1Password, VS Code, iTerm, Fish Shell, Github, Fantastical, Spotify, Bear -> Roam Research, CloudApp, Dash, Postman, Complice

Best Technical Books I read in 2020

  • Designing Data-Intensive Applications - An information rich exploration of the technologies behind modern “data heavy” information systems. I learned a lot from this and expect that I’ll be referencing it regularly in the future
  • Site Reliability Engineering - A set of essays describing how Google maintains their production systems that has served as a template for the SRE role at other companies. Was an interesting read, even as I’m skeptical of applying “gigantic-corp” strategies at smaller or less technically savvy companies. With essays like this I always find it more interesting to understand the problems that companies were seeing and how they approached finding a solution than I am with the details of the final solution, and this book does a good job laying that out.

Best Technical Leadership Books I Read in 2020

  • How To Measure Anything - This was a great read on how to think about measuring things that defy easy measurement. It starts with a lot of great general principals before going into some more technical / detailed topics in the back half of the book. Most people could probably benefit from reading at least the opening chapters of this book, with the rest open to skimming based on interests.
  • Inspired - This was probably my favorite “work book” I read all year. It’s aimed at product managers, but was helpful for me as an engineering manager to understand what “great product process” looks like and think through how I can work with PMs well and collaborate on our shared goal of building a great product.
  • Making Work Visible - A breezy walkthrough of the principles behind Kanban. I don’t use Kanban to organize my teams at work, but because of the focus on foundational ideas I still found this bok extremely helpful.
  • Team Topologies - This is pretty specific and nerdy, but for engineering leaders looking to figure out the best way to evolve teams and split off new ones over time as their companies grow and change, this is a great read. It argues persuasively for the importance of team structure to productivity and product success. Highly recommended.

Best Non-Technical Books I read in 2020

  • Andrew Carnegie - A detailed biography of a fascinating historical figure who defied easy characterization. Carnegie was an immigrant born in poverty who through hard work and good timing became one of the richest men in the world, a union buster who viewed himself as a “friend of the workers”, a philantropist who wanted to give away his whole fortune, and a political force who aimed for world peace — and protection for his own interests. It was a great reminder in the sometimes overly black and white world of 2020 that real humans are complicated and don’t fit neatly in our tight political boxes.
  • Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat - I’m not the primary cook in my family — I’m blessed to regularly enjoy my wife’s far superior cooking. But I enjoy it as an occasional activity and this book helped spark even more interest. Unlike most cookbooks this book is focused on the science and “whys” of cooking rather than procedural formulas for making a particular dish. It felt empowering and exciting rather than my typical frustration with recipes that didn’t turn out like the images in the cookbook.
  • Atomic Habits - Over the last few years I’ve made a personal transition to focusing more on the habits and routines I’m making part of my life and less on ambitious long term goals. This book gave me a framework for thinking about that transition as well as practical tips for doing it better. A quick and helpful read.
  • How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen - An incredibly practical book for how to interact with toddlers. I’ve found a bunch of helpful parenting books, but none beat this for giving parents practical actionable advice that will reduce stress in your house and help you build a relationship with your kids.
  • House of X / Powers of X - For the comics fans out there, I’ve been really enjoying Jonathan Hickman’s run on the X-Men, starting with this graphic novel that soft-reboots the whole world of mutants

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