Human behavior and Releasing to Production
July was unusually hot here in the south of Sweden. Days dragged on like hot molasses. Slow, moist, and sticky. Beaches and restaurants were full, beaming with tourists that flocked in masses in their camper vans. I've never been a fan of summer vibes and this year was not an exception. It was nice to see the town come to life, I will give you that. But I prefer the cold and empty streets of winter.
That would have been half as bad if I didn't have my 4 weeks of vacation exactly in July. Except for a short excursion to get some beer or to one of the more secluded nearby lakes, going out was not an option. That left me with two choices. Mindless browsing through YouTube, HBO, Netflix, Disney, and Amazon Prime or reading a book. I managed to dig up some strength to get myself out of the summer laziness and I got down to reading. And, for the first time in two years, I managed to finish two books in a single month.
July's book selection
I usually get bored quickly by almost any book. To get around that, I decided to start two and switch between them. Luckily, both were quite different and quite good at the same time. They were quite a pleasurable read.
From my experience as a software developer, we rarely get to see how things work in production. Although every company these days says it's Agile, we as developers rarely get to talk to our customers or run things in production. To stop caring once you ship your software to the Operations team is easy! It is much more difficult when you need to think it through, all the way to the end. The whole DevOps shift is trying to change this for the better. But often DevOps is misunderstood and terribly implemented (If you have a DevOps team, you are doing it wrong!!).
In the second edition of Release It, Michael T. Nygard talks about all the little (and big) things you need to think about when designing and writing software for production. It teaches you how to design for stability and easy recoverability. In order to achieve that, there are a whole lot of aspects you need to consider and this book mentions most of them! However, if I get to pick a single lesson that you can learn from this book that is that all software fails in production. Having that in mind, you need have mechanisms to get your software up and running quickly and then have the means to figure out why it failed in the first place.
This is a book that anyone that is involved in the production of software can benefit from. I warmly recommend it to all software developers, regardless of the language or technology you are using. And although it discusses some advanced concepts, I don't think you should shy away from it even if you have very little experience. I just wish I had the chance to read it at the beginning of my career.
It would be best if you find the time and energy to read as a whole, but you can also use it as a reference. Nygard lays out many different principles, ways of working, techniques, and approaches that you will need to return to from time to time. I will most definitely keep it on my desk at all times from now on. I will use it as dumb-stopper i.e. a tool that will prevent me from doing stupid things.
While I was reading it I couldn't stop thinking about the career that Nygard must have had to learn this and amass this knowledge. I've been working for 15 years and I feel light years away from his ways of thinking. How does one get to that level??
This is a book about behavioral economics, the way it came to be, and how it started making a big impact on the world. The author, Richard H. Thaler, was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to behavioral economics! If you are into behavioral economics, do you need any bigger recommendations than that?
But look, I don't know the first thing about economics and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The main reason for that is that this is a book primarily about human behavior. That behavior is just viewed through the prism of economics and the way it affects the "classical" economics theory. As such, I think Misbehaving would be a nice read for anyone that is interested in psychology and how irrational human behavior is.
It did teach me quite a lot and I found a lot of new concepts here that I didn't know about before. Some of those are prospect theory, the sunk cost fallacy, agency theory, Walter Mischel's cookie experiments, ultimate and dictator games, cognitive dissonance, conditional cooperation, efficient market hypothesis, the number guessing game (the beauty contest), black Monday, paternalism, and the list goes on. This book contains a wealth of information.
Names are another thing this book does not lack. Oh my goodness, so many people are mentioned, it quickly becomes quite overwhelming. Thankfully, Thaler's writing is easy to read and he uses just enough smart humor to make all that information overload quite bearable.
Apart from all the behavior and economics-related knowledge that you can acquire, there is another aspect I found quite interesting. That is life in the world of academia. It seems like that is a dog-eat-dog world in which you need superhuman powers in order to succeed. You need to write so many papers, and they need to be so precisely written in a nit-picky almost anal way, and well researched and supported with great experiments. Even on its own, that is huge work but it can turn out it could be all for nothing if they are rejected. And they can be rejected, over and over again. After a journal accepts the paper there is always someone more respected than you that will tell you that your work is crap.
And you do that year after year, and when you reach 40, by Thaler's words, "you still need to sit at the table for the babies" because the main stage is reserved for Nobel prize winners and people that have been writing papers a decade or two before you. You need nerves of steel to survive all that and to push through all the antagonism. In the end, however, perseverance is always rewarded... or at least it was in Thaler's case.
All that work in academia also requires a lot of traveling and moving from one university to another to find the right people to cooperate with, people that are like-minded as you. While reading the book, I was just starting to wonder how big of an impact that must have had on Thaler's private life when he mentioned in the book that he was going through a divorce. It figures! Not every partner would be able to hang on for the rest of the ride. It's a tough life.
But, I digress.
The most important takeaway from this book is that humans act irrationally. We can't expect them to act in the best possible way. Mostly because they don't have all the information. But even if they do, they very often have no idea what to do with it and instead make irrational gut-feeling decisions. If your models are based on a rational human that always makes the best possible decision (or Econ as Thaler calls them) then you should be ready for a lot of anomalies.
From Misbehaving I also got two great book recommendations I plan to read soon. Those are The Nudge (by the same author) and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
This is a great book about human behavior that anyone interested in psychology (or economics) should read. I strongly recommend it.
July Book Additions
I haven't been writing for a very long time. So long, in fact, it feels like I've forgotten how to write. In an attempt to up my game, I ordered two books about storytelling. Stories That Stick by Kindra Hall I found recommended on a YouTube video. Unleash the Power of Storytelling by Rob Biesenbach was recommended by Amazon while I was buying the previous one.
Stayed tuned for more info about those next month.
- Cove photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash
- Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics
- Release It!: Design and Deploy Production-Ready Software
- Stories That Stick: How Storytelling Can Captivate Customers, Influence Audiences, and Transform Your Business
- Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results