The IT exec's reading list
They say you can tell a lot about people by the pile of books on their nightstands—or, in the modern-day equivalent, by the digital books or podcasts on their mobile devices.
Despite relentless schedules and high-pressure business demands, CIOs and other IT leaders regularly take the time to curl up with a book—or at least think fondly of the books that have influenced their careers. Their eclectic reading lists include everything from fiction to best-selling business books to the early staples of young adulthood.
For IT leaders, the reading list serves a variety of purposes. For some, it’s a way to stay abreast of the latest business trends or deep dive into specific hot-button technologies such as DevOps, security, and artificial intelligence. For others, the reading list is an opportunity to nurture a broader understanding of life lessons, including how to work more effectively with people or realistically set goals.
To see what’s resonating with today’s IT leaders, I asked computer industry influencers what’s on their recommended reading lists.
Management and other skill refreshers
"Who Moved My Cheese," a motivational business parable, had a lasting impact on Jo Peterson, vice president of cloud services at Clarify360. In the heyday of the early dot-com boom, Peterson saw the book, given to her by a mentor, as a motivational message, encouraging tech professionals like herself to always be on the lookout for more “cheese,” meaning hunting for new clients in order to sell new products and services. Some time after the bubble burst in 2000, Peterson reread the book and came away with a completely different interpretation. “On second pass, I realized the book wasn’t just about selling and success—it contained life lessons,” she says.
The same book had a major influence on Luigi Danakos, a consultant at Blurt Media Group. He happened upon it in eighth grade. “I read 'Who Moved My Cheese' for a business class, and it taught me to be flexible in learning and to not become stagnant,” he recounts. “It was a major motivator for how I handled life both professionally and personally. It is also probably the reason I have so many interests.”
Business books and technical guides can keep skills fresh and provide guidance on management issues—not only as a means of improving dialogue and collaboration with direct reports, but also for interacting with C-suite executives as part of their own career goals and advancement.
Cybersecurity expert Scott Schober, president of Berkeley Varitronics Systems, has several favorites that have provided perspective and how-to guidance that help him run his family’s 46-year-old business. But the first one that comes to mind is "Winning," by General Electric’s Jack Welch. It imparted core foundational principles Schober used to manage and grow his family business even though it wasn’t close to the scale of GE’s operation. "'Winning' inspired me to be a better leader and consider each employee as both an asset and a person,” he says. The first time he read the book, he was in a hot tub during an overdue Caribbean vacation, and his wife had to force him to put the book down so he wouldn’t “boil” into dinner. “By separating this factor from the noise of running a business, I have found more creative ways to connect with [employees] in order to motivate them better,” he says.
For creative direction on hiring, Kayne McGladrey, co-founder of Include Cybersecurity, turned to "Who," by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. “This is a book I consistently recommend to all managers and directors who are responsible for hiring personnel, in that it defines a consistent and repeatable technique for identifying and hiring high-performing candidates,” McGladrey says. “When I started as a manager, I followed a lot of the pseudo-science that I’d seen from prior managers and found it wasn’t reliable advice.”
The strategic CIOs Playbook: This 56-page guide explores key plays that, if executed successfully, enable successful and sustainable digital transformation.
Popular business strategy and management books were other favorites cited by the influencers. Brian E. Thomas, deputy CIO for Johnson County, Kansas, highlights "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People," and "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. Gary Mintchell, CEO of The Manufacturing Connection, called out "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig and “anything by Peter Drucker.”
Other mainstream books have inspired IT leaders to think more globally. Kevin Kelly’s "The Inevitable" got Jonathan Reichental, CIO of the city of Palo Alto, California, thinking about the future and the variability of different paths.
Not everyone was influenced primarily by business books. For Richard Buckle, CEO of Pyalla Technologies, books that made the greatest mark include classics such as Charles Dickens’ "Tale of Two Cities" and works by Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Specifically, two quotes from Clarke serve as guiding principles, Buckle says: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.” These authors’ messages are so compelling and timeless, Buckle says, that he introduced his daughter to them when she was 12. Today, she’s pursuing a master’s degree in ancient history.
This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.
Beth Stackpole is a veteran writer and editor who's been covering the intersection of business and technology for 25-plus years for a variety of leading publications and websites.