[book review] You had me at Hello, World

Did you ever want to have a mentor? Someone who can give you a piece of advice. Someone who can share their experience and help you avoid repeating their mistakes.

Dona Sarkar’s book “You had me at Hello, World” is not about finding a mentor. There is one chapter about that, but it is not the topic of the entire book. Dona writes about the lessons she learned from her mentors.

Even though it is a book for people working in the tech industry, there is nothing about tools, frameworks, programming languages. The lessons described by Dona are about more general skills. She writes about topics like your goals, reputation, communication, and professional relationships.

The first part of the book is about finding your “superpower.” A “superpower” is defined as the set of skills in which you want to become an expert. Dona makes an observation that there are not many real experts in tech. That observation reminds me of Cal Newport’s book “So good they can’t ignore you.”

“Don’t choose something that is relevant to only your company, choose something that is relevant to your industry and go deep.”

There is also another side of that advice. Dona Sarkar claims that the tech industry is a perfect environment for multihyphenates — people with many roles. In my opinion, it does not mean that you should have some general skills, but that you can specialize in more than one area.

Naturally, all of that may look like a suggestion to focus on working and learning, at the cost of neglecting your personal life. Quite the contrary. Dona also summarizes her mentoring session about life/work balance. Her advice is to pick one additional thing on top of your daily job, focus on that and don’t feel guilty about not doing anything else.

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It should not worry you that you can accomplish only one additional goal. If you do just that one thing, you outperform most other people anyway.

“We are building products for people who have lives. Shouldn’t we understand our customers better by… having lives?”

I strongly relate to one more advice. According to Dona, engineers should practice writing skills. Written communication is crucial because we write on a daily basis. We need such skills every time you send an email, write documentation, do code review, clarify a task, and write comments in your code.

“Almost every engineer has to (write) and the most successful ones are the ones with great written communication.”

The last thing I will remember for a long time is the advice to re-prioritize every six months. Your life has changed, your work has changed, maybe your priorities have changed too.

Dona thinks that the best time to re-prioritize is after you return from vacation. After returning from vacation, you should look at your list of tasks. Most likely you will see three groups of tasks:

  • things you have not done and nobody noticed, perhaps you can ignore such responsibilities and stop doing them

  • things you have not done and someone else done it, maybe you are not the person who should be doing it

  • things which caused problems because you have not done them that should become your new priority

Dona’s book is one of those books which you should read more than once.
I am sure I will reread it in a few months, and I know I will find some new bits of advice which I did not notice this time.

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Bartosz Mikulski
Bartosz Mikulski * MLOps Engineer / data engineer * conference speaker * co-founder of Software Craft Poznan & Poznan Scala User Group

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