The top 5 books I read in 2020

The top 5 books I read in 2020

Best things happens even in difficult times


7 min read

It is a little late into 2021 to be doing a 2020 review. I was busy all January, moving back to the city I work. I thought I should at least give a list of the best books I read last year. This is just the non-fiction list. Most fiction books I read are in Tamil, I don't usually talk about them in this blog. Let's get started.

1. Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual

By John Z. Sonmez

This book kick-started my focus on my own career growth. I was learning alone, whatever needed for the job, and whatever interests me. Never cared about building a reputation for myself. This book convinced me to do a few things,

  • Networking through Twitter
  • Blogging

I tried both of them and the results are awesome. The book also talks about fitness, money, interview skills, negotiation skills, soft skills. This book literally shifted my mindset from "trying to be the best within the workplace" to "trying to be known as one of the best outside the industry". I'm not quite there yet, but the transformation of mindset was a gift.

If you're in the first few years of your software development career, this is a must-read.

2. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

By William Zinsser

Personally, this book was a game-changer. Neither English nor writing is natural for me. I sucked at writing and editing. I was suffering imposter syndrome because of poor writing skills. After reading this I gained enough confidence to overcome those fears.

If you read older blog posts on this site and recent ones, you can see a clear difference in the recent ones. The main reason is this book. I also wrote a short summary for this book here

If you are aspiring about writing in any subject, I highly recommend this book.

3. How to Take Smart Notes

By Sönke Ahrens

This book changed how I consume information. I was a passive reader. This convinced me to read better and take notes for later use.

This book describes a note-taking framework created and used by German sociologist Niklas Luhmann. It is known as Slip-box/Zettlekasten.

In essence, this framework ensures that you won't consume material or take notes without internalizing it. After setting up my slip box, I started taking better notes and they are a goldmine when I want to create something.

I highly recommend this book for any knowledge worker.

4. The Mom Test

By Rob Fitzpatrick

After reading the first book on this list, I tried to create my own Saas product. I started my first one with no experience areas other than code. I made a lot of mistakes, which eventually lead to burnout. I never launched that first product.

I picked this book after that failure. The author broke my beliefs about validating a business idea. This book is a very practical guide on how to validate your idea in the right way without any false positives.

I recommend this for anyone who wants to build their own products.

5. Sweating Bullets: Notes about Inventing PowerPoint

By Robert Gaskins

This is sort of a biography of Microsoft Powerpoint. This book may not be on most people's recommended list. I follow the advice from David Perell on reading obscure, hard to read books.

If you read what everybody else is reading, you’ll think what everybody else is thinking. Have a bias for books that would push most people away, especially if they are still in print after many years. Source

I landed on this book by accident when I was reading about the transformation from old computers to PC. This is a great book, the author had a unique position. He led the team, writing a product (outside of Apple and Microsoft) for Mac and Windows in their infancy.

I learned a lot about how people developed and shipped software in the old days. You can't really understand those struggles in our continuous integration era.

After reading this book, I landed on this excellent blog post about why users won't upgrade their software. People in the old times had greater care about software quality and user experience than we do now. Mainly because any sort of redistribution will cost millions and might take you out of business.

I recommend this to anyone who is interested in history and software development. This book is the perfect combination of both.

I hope you liked reading this. If you are interested, you can see the other books I read here. Let me know what you read, and what you liked in the comments or DM me on Twitter.