Book Review: Team Geek

Team Geek

Order from: (don’t forget your SASAG or LOPSA membership discount code)

Authors: Brian W. Fitzpatrick, Ben Collins-Sussman
Related URL:
Pub: July, 2012, O’Reilly
156 pages

Recommendation: Get this book and read it.

I attended a talk presented by Brian (aka Fitz) and Ben at googleIO a few weeks ago. Their presentation was cogent and useful to the point where I approached them to consider a talk proposal for the 2013 Cascadia IT Conference. I was also very interested in getting my hands on the book they announced at their talk. As soon as the book was available I requested a reviewer copy from O’Reilly. I got my eyes on the book on Wednesday and finished reading it a few hours ago.

The book contains roughly 130 pages of actual material. This is a book that should not daunt or scare anyone away. It’s an easy, at times fun, read. The ideas are well presented and backed with numerous anecdotes from Google, the Subversion Project, and many other IT-related activities.

The book ostensibly is aimed at “Software Engineers” (it says so, many times, in the front matter/introduction) but it could just as easily apply to System Administrators or, for that matter, anyone in any creative or team-based profession/trade/association*. They write it with the dev spin but it is pretty easy to find/replace as needed for SA-applicability. And there is a lot of applicability. I found myself disagreeing with very few of their points and most of those disagreements were simply “my experience as a system admin doesn’t jive with what you are saying as software engineers”.

The book starts with you as the topic, moves on to teams, then management (both “you as managee” and “you as manager”) and closes with organizational challenges. This matches with the order they presented their talk at IO and is a very good build. Their main theme is HRT — Humility, Respect, Trust — pronounced heart for obvious reasons. They return to this theme frequently in every chapter. At no point did I feel like I was being preached to or bludgeoned with it but it was decidedly and prominently there. I don’t want to go too deeply into this since you should get the material from the book, not from me but I will say I’ve learned some things that I hope to put into practice over the next few weeks/months/years.

I plan to hand the book to my student SA for two reasons. 1. I think he (and a lot of other people) will benefit greatly from reading it. 2. I want his feedback on how well I’m doing as his manager in terms of the things they say make a good manager. The best manager I ever worked for was an MBA at IBM Research. His attitude was “I hired you to be the expert, so go be the expert. Let me know if you need anything.” My memory of his style is consistent with the things described in Team Geek. As I’ve tried to emulate him in my management, I’m curious to know how well I’ve done.

I hope to be co-presenting the Habits of the Successful System Administrator tutorial again soon. I plan to include a few slides on HRT in it as well as adding this book to the list of books we encourage our students to read.

One note on eBook format, footnotes move to the end of chapters. Their relevance can be lost by the time you get there if you don’t jump back and forth (which breaks up the thought process). In the interest of full disclosure I should add that while I requested (and was shipped) the paper version, I read it as an ePub on the Nook software on a Nexus 7. I don’t have the paper copy yet, it was shipped to the wrong address and won’t get to me until next week at the earliest, so I don’t know if the footnotes are done the same way there.


* – check page 140 if you don’t believe me.