2021: Year in Review

It has been quite the year!

As the pandemic has been dragging on, ramping up, slowing down, generally continuing to drag on.

Thoughts

I am excited for 2022.

2022! How did that happen?

This year has been a real learning journey for me. On the business/work side of things I helped prep for an acquisition and participated in the due diligence for the acquisition from the acquired company’s perspective. I’d been on the other side before but this was new.

And I am continuing to learn about it! Now that we’ve been acquired I am working to stabilize and grow the team and get them on solid footing inside a new, much larger company. Still a lot to learn there.

One thing that did come through as important though is the need to understand how to lead through periods of dramatic change. If you are leading people go learn about change management. You’re going to need it.

Aside, Things that have worked for me:

  1. Build trust before you need it
  2. Be as transparent as possible
  3. Communicate early and often
  4. Admit when you don’t know the answer or can’t divulge the answer openly
  5. Provide space for people to ask questions and express concerns
  6. Give your team something to focus on down the road
  7. follow up and follow through

As part of that effort I’ve worked to build a culture in engineering where people coming and going is normal. We’ve started doing “Last Lectures” for all engineers who leave the company, and it’s been a good way to express our appreciation and also normalize shifting staffing.

The setup is pretty simple, each person is given an hour to talk about whatever they want to. That’s it. Managers across the company are invited, and all of engineering. We record it and send it around to anyone who wants to see it. So far they have all been great!

On the other side I’ve been able to be in the room for diligence discussions, and prepped data for the data room. Building slide decks and presenting about security posture and engineering team and structure have all been both illuminating and exhausting.

I’d been on the technical review side before, which helped give me some perspective. For anyone interested there has got to be a better way to handle this exchange of information. Creating so many one off presentations and passing slides around is very inefficient. #freesaasidea

It’s also been a long year for our family. We’ve been in and out of the ER multiple times with kids. We’ve kept plans. We’ve canceled plans. We’ve masked. We’ve been disappointed. We’ve been scared. We’ve been tired. We’ve lost friends to cancer.

We’ve been a lot and experienced a lot.

We also got to visit family, and spend time near the Pacific. There have been wonderful family moments on our numerous hikes in the mountains around our home, and in the redwood forests of California.

And with that, I am looking forward to the next year. Happy New Year y’all!

Below you’ll find a large sampling of the media I consumed this year with short write ups for many of them. But since you probably don’t want to read all of them here are the top items from each category below:

Books

This year I used a mix of audio books and normal reading to cruise through these. Here’s the list, along with short reviews. Wound up with right around 40 books for the year, which is maybe a little less than I would like, but not bad all things considered.

Part of this was a shift away from podcasts and to audio books and is a continuation of that whole no-commute thing that comes with working from home and a pandemic. We’ll see what the future holds.

Rage - Bob Woodward

This first of several Woodward books on this list. This one is a pretty terrifying look into the inner workings of the Trump presidency. I look forward to reading the historical commentary around this presidency more than any other in my lifetime. There is going to be a lot, and Woodward’s journalism gives us a good start.

When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi

Emotional read, that was moving. I enjoyed it.

Becoming - Michelle Obama

The start of several books by Presidents, in this case a First Lady. I’ll say this now, I think Michelle is hands down a better writer than her husband.

Essentialism - Greg McKeown

This one makes another appearance. I liked it better the second time.

Sapiens - Yucal Noah Harari

A fascinating read, read it because our CEO really loves it.

Atomic Habits - James Clear

Good early year read and companion to Essentialism.

Ready Player Two - Ernest Cline

This is a popcorn book. It’s a quick and easy read that doesn’t challenge you to think very hard. Fun, it by no means great literature.

Homo Deus - Yuval Noah Harari

Going to cause controversy by saying this book was meh. Too pro trans humanism for me. Draws with a very broad brush historically and uses that to draw intentional conclusions about the future. Not as good as people think it is.

A Promised Land - Barack Obama

Good story telling. Not as good as Becoming, but a good read about Barack Obama the man.

Decision Points - George W. Bush, Ron McLarty

So this book is interesting. It details the most critical moments of W’s presidency and while a little defensive, does reveal a lot about who he is as a person and why he made decisions. It is a fascinating look into the thoughts of one of our living presidents.

41 - George W. Bush

This is my favorite of W’s books. We have only had two father/son presidents and this is the only son who has written about his president father. John Quincy Adams, you should have written a book! Full of insights into his father’s presidency and his family. I think this is more telling about him than his father in some ways.

A Higher Loyalty - James Comey

A good book about principles and values and living up to them. As well as a look into what will likely be one of the most written about presidencies in American history.

Good to Great - Jim Collins

This is a classic for lots of reasons. Worth a read.

Zen in the Art of Writing - Ray Bradbury

I love books about writing. I think that writing literature and writing software have lots of things in common. They are both written forms of communication, they both involve massive creativity, and they are both challenging. This is a new favorite in that genre of non-fiction.

Home Work - Julie Andrews

Grabbed this to listen to on our family road trip to California this summer. Really fun. So many things I didn’t know about her and an interesting look into early Disney and Hollywood.

Every Tool’s a Hammer - Adam Savage

I’ve been a fan of Adam’s since the Mythbusters days. His youtube channel is lots of fun and falls squarely in the realm of things I enjoy. It’s a really good book about problem solving, and engineering, and life.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee - David Treuer

This is a strong piece of literature. Contextualized through the experiences of the author who is Ojibwe. It interweaves reservation life and lived experience with the context of US policy towards Native Americans in a compelling way. One of the better books on this topic.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou

Heartbreaking and beautiful. Maya Angelou’s prose is great.

The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, The Shadow Rising, and The Fires of Heaven - Robert Jordan

Decided to start working through the Wheel of Time series. It’s big, and epic, and sometimes confusing. I see why Brandon Sanderson was the right choice to finish it after Robert Jordan’s passing. I like it enough to continue reading it.

Team of Teams - General Stanley McChrystal

This was recommended by a friend, and is great. If you haven’t read it it should be on your list.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Haruki Murakami

Another genre I tend to enjoy is endurance athletes writing about their sports. This book mixes that with “writers writing about writing” and bam: awesome. Good pacing, good book.

Block Chain - Stephen P. Williams

I remember little of this. Other than that it was wide eyed optimism without tackling any of the ethical and social complications of the blockchain as we have it today. I should write my thoughts about it someday… but this is not that day. Book was a pass.

Thanks a Thousand - A. J. Jacobs

This book is a fascinating journey into thankfulness. Not a long read and one worth doing. I really want to get back to improving my thankfulness practice.

Digital Minimalism - Cal Newport

I loved this book. Go read it.

How Innovation Works - Matt Ridley

This was honestly pretty meh. There are better books on the topic, and it rehashes a lot of what they say while adding very little. Pass.

Dune - Frank Herbert

Another re-read on the list. Good as always. And the movie is too.

Just Work - Kim Scott

Kim Scott has become one of my favorite business and team authors. This book dives into building equitable and safe teams for diverse team members in an introspective way. An important read.

Pastoral Song - James Rebank

One of my favorite books this year. I enjoy everything of Rebank’s that I have read. This is a great walk through the transition to industrial farming, and the tradeoffs that were made. Points to a sustainable future and discusses all we’ve lost and gained in the process. Really good.

Rising Strong - Brene Brown

A really good book on team dynamics. Really enjoyed this one, enough that I wrote about some thoughts from it in one of my newsletters.

1st Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction - Joseph M. Spencer

This series of books provides a really gret additional perspective on the books of the Books of Mormon. I really enjoyed them and they pushed and challenged my beliefs in powerful ways. Got me excited to learn more again.

2nd Nephi (The Book of Mormon: Brief Theological Introductions) - Terryl Givens

Same as the previous. Really really good.

My Own Words - Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mary Hartnett, Wendy W. Williams

Wow. Really fascinating read about a fascinating Supreme Court Justice. Enjoyed it.

Theodore Rex - Jonathan Edmund Morris

I appreciate Teddy as a president and a person. This book is a really interesting biography, and delves into the sides I admire and those I don’t. Teddy was a much better statesman than he often gets credit for.

First! Break all the Rules - Gartner

I think if I had read this before I read lots of other books it would have hit home more. It’s clear where Instructure got a lot of its management styles that worked. Something managers should read, but if you’ve read lots of other good things you can skip it. If you’re looking for a good general management book good.

Measure What Matters - John Doerr

OKRs. This is one of the key books if you’re going down that road. Recommend reading it.

Self-Reliance - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I like Emerson. I didn’t really like this book. It’s short, very short, but his ideas about radical individualism don’t resonate with me as much as they might have int he past.

Peril - Bob Woodward, Robert Costa

Dang. The lat moments of the Trump presidency and the beginnings of the Biden presidency. A historical moment covered with some solid journalism.

Termination Shock - Neal Stephenson

It starts with hunting giant feral hogs in Texas and covers so many things around climate engineering. A good piece of SciFi by one of the greats of the genre.

The Magician’s Nephew - C.S. Lewis

Look, I love the Chronicles of Narnia. And reading them with my daughter has been great so far. This one is a good place to start if you’re tackling them. Then move onto The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Videos

Why There are Now So Many Shortages (It’s Not COVID)

The better (and easier) way to bleed Shimano brakes | Syd Fixes Bikes

The Need for a Mass Coming Together in This Moment of Crisis | William Barber II | 2021

Your Users Can Code - Building Programming Languages for your Users

Why Position Trumps Power ft. Lanterne Rouge

Bela Fleck teaches us his ’three-finger’ style banjo technique

Three Bluegrass Banjo Styles Explained with Noam Pikelny | Reverb Interview

This injury almost broke me. Now I’m fighting back.

Podcasts

Recognizing and Responding to the Voice of the Spirit as a Leader | An Interview with Elder Craig A. Cardon

Pure Doctrines Relearned | An Interview with Fiona and Terryl Givens

The Moth Radio Hour: In Service Of

Episode #43: Troy Blanchard-“Choose Your Own Adventure”

A Life of Leadership | An Interview with Brent Top

Stepping Up to Leadership Opportunities | An Interview with Jeff Burningham

Episode #65: Mr. Rick Crowley-&ldquolIt’s In You”

America’s Monuments | 58,000 Names | 6

Episode #80: Daniel Sellers-“Life Is A Project Together”

Articles

Not very article I read… but some high points.

Comprehension of computer code relies primarily on domain-general executive brain regions

Upshot is reading code uses both the parts of the brain used for math and for language processing. Not just one of them.

How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation

Lethal Autonomous Weapons Exist; They Must Be Banned

Big O Notation - explained as easily as possible

The Forgotten History of OOP

Mapping the immovable objects in engineering projects

The Skill of Org Design

How We Turn Authorization Logic into SQL

What Impossible Meant to Richard Feynman

The Denialist Playbook

Why Disagreement is Vital to Advancing Human Understanding

The Everlasting Noel

What the Heck is a Data Mesh?!

Writing Practices and Culture

Using Generative Adversarial Networks to Break and Protect Captchas

Mavenlink development teams achieve success by aligning over shared values and strengthening cohesion through open, empathetic communication

Validate and monitor your BigQuery data

My experience as a Gazan girl getting into Silicon Valley companies

How committees invent - Melvin E. Conway

Why are you so slow? Misattribution of transmission delay to attributes of the conversation partner at the far end - Schoenenberg, Raake, Koeppe

Movies

This is not all the movies that I watched this year. But I am going to throw out a few highlights from this year.

Dune (2021)

Yeah. Just watch it. On the biggest screen with the best sound system you can find.

Encanto

Someone pointed out that this is one of the movies where the moral is “get a therapist”. It’s a great family movie. The soundtrack is amazing as well.

In The Heights

Lin Manual Miranda deserves as many spots on this list as he can get.

Free Guy

Better than it should have been. Good popcorn movie

Tick Tick Boom

I love musicals. I love musicals about creating musicals, just like books about writing books.

Respect

Excellent. Nothing more to say.

Mitchells vs. the Machines

Possibly the most fun family movie of the year.

FIN

Congrats! you made it to the end! Happy New Year

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If you enjoyed this article please share it! I have a newsletter that you might enjoy as well. Thanks for stopping by! -Daniel

Published: 30 December 2021 | Tags: leadership , risk , leader , leading