Ten Must-Read Books for Business Technologists

 
 
By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 10-26-2015 Email
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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    Ten Must-Read Books for Business Technologists
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    Ten Must-Read Books for Business Technologists

    Business tech is a demanding profession, and these compelling works can help you get a better handle on strategic thinking and the human dimensions of technology.
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    Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software
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    Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

    By Charles Petzold, (Microsoft Press/1999). From Kaplan: "Petzold explains how simple on-off switches can be combined into the mightiest of computational machines. Having read this book, you won't be able to design circuits, but you'll be able to understand how circuits get designed."
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    Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date
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    Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date

    By Robert X. Cringely (Addison-Wesley/1992). From Kaplan: "Microsoft's acquisition of Q-DOS. IBM's decision to build the PC. Apple's growing pains … Cringely touches on some many-told tales, but he also delves into aspects of the technology industry that few talk about."
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    The Reckoning
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    The Reckoning

    By David Halberstam (William Morrow/1986). From Kaplan: "The Reckoning documents the rise of Nissan and the declining market share of US automakers. Why is this an important technology book? Because it provides a cautionary tale of many of the pitfalls business technologists must avoid: suspicion of new approaches, short-term decision making, managerial distance from frontline operations and distortive managerial accounting."
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    The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
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    The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

    By Edward Tufte (Graphics Press/1982). From Kaplan: "Tufte points out that communicating information is the purpose of written communications, that far too many charts don't have much information in them at all, and that well-designed graphics allow us to absorb tremendous amounts of information quickly."
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    Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle
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    Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle

    By Stephen Biddle (Princeton University Press/2005). From Kaplan: "Biddle shows that force deployment—a tightly interrelated complex of cover, concealment, dispersion, suppression, small-unit independent maneuvers, combined arms, depth, reserves, and differential concentration—has been winning battles since World War I … You can make the same case about enterprise IT."
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    A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon
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    A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon

    By Neil Sheehan (Random House/2009). From Kaplan: "Provides fascinating insights into how … Strategic Air Command deteriorated from an innovative, nonhierarchical organization into a dogmatic bureaucracy and how Schriever and his team convinced the Eisenhower administration to bet on a generational leap from bombers to missiles."
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    Why the Allies Won
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    Why the Allies Won

    By Richard Overy (W. W. Norton/1996). From Kaplan: "Overy demonstrates that the Allies didn't just out-produce the Axis—they made better and more rational decisions using the resources they had … Any IT executive who has argued that his or her servers must be configured just so should read the passages comparing how the Red Army deployed a few types of trucks and tanks at scale."
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    The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage
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    The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage

    By Cliff Stoll (Doubleday/1989). From Kaplan: "Stoll's account of tracing a 75-cent accounting anomaly back to a KGB-funded, German spy ring introduced many of us who grew up in the 1980s to the idea of information security. It provides an invaluable reminder that protecting sensitive information depends far more on the ability to ask intelligent questions than on the latest and most loudly promoted security tools."
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    Show Stopper! The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft
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    Show Stopper! The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft

    By G. Pascal Zachary (Free Press/1994). From Kaplan: "Developing a new commercial operating system (requires) not only big technology bets, but also the coordinated effort of thousands of business analysts, technical architects, developers, testers, product managers, marketers, and others. Zachary … recognizes that such efforts are as much human events as technological ones."
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    Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System
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    Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System

    By Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost (MIT Press/2009). From Kaplan: "In today's multicore world, developing for a platform with the processing and memory limitations of an Atari 2600 is all but unimaginable … (Racing the Beam) explains the coding techniques the era's developers used to deliver exciting, compelling games. Their creativity and problem solving is an inspiration to technologists struggling to deliver compelling user experiences with today's far more advanced platforms."
 

By now, it's abundantly clear that being a CIO is as much about the business of technology as the technology of business. Few organizations can claim as much collective expertise in this area as McKinsey and Co., the celebrated global management consulting firm. In a recent article, McKinsey principal James Kaplan reveals his top 10 list of must-read books for business technologists. Interestingly enough, a few of the titles aren't about tech or business, instead focusing on intriguing, military/intelligence-themed historic narratives. Regardless of the setting, however, Kaplan contends that CIOs and other business and tech leaders can learn much from these works. "None of the books that came to mind related to the latest technology trends (social! mobile! machine learning!)—those are important, but they change quickly," he writes. "The books that really shaped my thinking provided perspectives, often historical, on the organizational, strategic, and human dimensions of business technology … Business technology is a demanding profession. Getting value from technology investments at scale requires integrating insights across business strategy, engineering, information theory, communications, operations, group psychology and other areas. Personally, I find insights from previous generations of technology and other disciplines such as military history to be invaluable." (Editor’s note: Most links connect to either the author's page or the publisher's site. When such links could not be found, we've provided an Amazon link.)

 
 
 
 
 
Dennis McCafferty is a freelance writer for Baseline Magazine.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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