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Three Books You Get When You Start at WonderProxy

Paul Reinheimer Oct 5, 2016 Culture

I've found three books tremendously transformative when it comes to how I view the world around me: The Design of Everyday Things, Turn the Ship Around!, and The Checklist Manifesto. Each of them impacted me enough that I want everyone at WonderProxy to have their insight as well.

The Design of Everyday Things

Calling this a design book makes it sound like a book for designers, but I think a more appropriate framing would be a book for anyone who will make anything to be used by anyone else. The front cover illustrates an improbable and laughable kettle – surely no one would design anything so useless. Yet, reading through the book, you realize that you encounter things made with equally little thought to the end user every day. Ever pull on a push door? You wouldn't have if the handle had been designed such that its use was clear. Ever turn on the wrong light? You wouldn't have if the relationship between the switches and lights had been more clear.

We make things at WonderProxy. We have several products and websites used by people around the world every day. Designing products that are intuitive to use is everyone's job. I hope the lens through which the book asks you to view design is useful to everyone.

Turn the Ship Around!

This is a book about leadership and it presents a different view on leadership than some of us may be used to. It covers the real life story of its author, Captain David Marquet, a captain in the US nuclear submarine fleet. Specifically, it talks about how his views on leadership transformed when he realized that many of those serving on his ship had more knowledge about specific aspects of its operation than he did. For me, the two key concepts in the book are: change the environment, not the individual; and push authority to information, not information to authority.

We're a tiny but growing organisation. I'm hoping by showing everyone what I think real leadership looks like, they can embrace it themselves, and help me realize when I fail to demonstrate it. Changing the environment has been particularly helpful to me: when folks weren’t responding to support tickets as quickly as I’d hoped, asking them why (not enough information about how specific clients are billed), and fixing that (documenting billing processes for our non-standard clients) was much more effective than yelling.

The Checklist Manifesto

This book makes a very convincing argument that checklists are helpful to reduce errors, even when the people performing the work are highly trained professionals. The Checklist Manifesto describes how checklists revolutionized the airline industry and details how the author is trying to do the same for medicine. Pilots & surgeons, are both highly trained professionals for whom checklists reduce errors... yet software developers resist such incursion :).

We do many different things at WonderProxy: we build software, we run servers, we buy servers from people in foreign languages, we help customers. Many of us do most or all of those things (we're small, we have to). Checklists for deploys, setting up a new server, or migrating an old one, and checklists fancy cousin automation already help us in several different ways.

None of these three books address software development directly — they certainly don’t talk about proxies or localization testing, which is our core business. Yet, they provide plenty to think about - new ways to consider user interfaces, interpersonal interactions, and processes. I think there’s a lot that all of us can learn from each book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them, and have enjoyed chatting with the other WonderFolks as they’ve worked through their copies.

I don’t think this is revolutionary: It isn’t. I’ve had plenty of jobs that gave me a book or two when I started. But I do think these three are particularly useful for a company that’s focused on sustainable growth, helping our users achieve their goals, and bettering the internet. And none of them is particularly long, which is bonus nice.

Paul Reinheimer

Developer, support engineer, and occasional manager. I enjoy working on new products, listening to customers, and forgetting to bill them. Also: co-founder.