Book Review: Effective Java by Joshua Bloch

This is not your ordinary book review. You have been warned!

So, you’re working with Java, right?
Go, read this book!

You’ve learned Java at the university, or in a boot camp, perhaps as a self-thought programmer?
Go, read this book!

Maybe you’re thinking about becoming a Java developer, hm?
Well, learn the basics, and then read this book!

I think you get the point.

My shortest book review ever

Cover - Effective Java Book Review

It’s a very pragmatic book in nature. It contains 90 items divided into 12 sections each centered around different topics like lambdas, exceptions, serialization, etc. Writing Java code which works is one thing. This book will help you to write code which is effective, clear and easy to maintain.

Every Java developer should read this book. Period.

Take Action

Knowledge without action is worthless, especially when we take this book. After every item in this book I stopped reading and started thinking: is this something I can apply to the project I’m working on?

Then a searched. I found some issues. And I fixed them.

More often than not the code I had to patch was mine. But that’s OK. That is called progress. None of us writes perfect code, but this book helps us to get better at it. If you read this book as a junior developer, it might prevent you from making a lot of mistakes in the first place!

As the Java language evolves, so does this book. The current one is the 3rd edition. I’ll make sure to read the next one when it comes out to see if there are any new best practices. If there will be only one Java book you read this year, let it be this one. And of course, don’t forget to take action on it!

Before you go

In case you’ve already read this book, feel free to share your experience in the comments below. The most eye-opening items for me were: static factory methods, enum sets, and the cost of reflection. Which ones were yours?

Buy on Amazon: Effective Java, 3rd Edition, Joshua Bloch
Read another one of my book reviews: Console Wars, Blake J. Harris.

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

“First, there is a mountain, Then there is no mountain, Then there is.”

Is this some kind of magic trick? Nope, this is how business to business marketing works in the high tech industry. And this what Crossing the Chasm book is about: marketing and selling technology products to mainstream customers.

Before you stop reading because “marketing is not for me”, I promise it’s going to be interesting just bear with me for a little longer. In fact, I think every developer should read that book to get a wider perspective on what happens with the code we write. How it becomes a real product and how marketing decisions can drive a product with superior technology into the ground while a seemingly inferior product triumphs.

Crossing the Chasm book cover
Crossing the Chasm book cover

Disruptive Innovation

First, we have to understand the distinction between continuous and discontinuous or disruptive innovation. BMW offering a faster, more dynamic gasoline car with a slightly better design is an example of continuous innovation. In contrast, all electric cars from Tesla represent a discontinuous innovation. Because they demand significant changes not only by the customer but also by the supporting infrastructure. We cannot just stop, fill up our electric car and be on our way in a matter of minutes – or at least not for now. We need to stop for like 30 minutes maybe have a bite while our car gets charged. In exchange, we get a cleaner, more sustainable and more efficient form of transportation.

The Technology Adoption Life Cycle

“The Technology Adoption Life Cycle model describes the market penetration of any new technology product in terms of a progression in the types of consumers it attracts throughout its useful life. The groups are distinguished from each other in terms of how they react to disruptive innovation.”

Innovators or technology enthusiasts pursue technology products simply for the pleasure of exploring the new capabilities they provide. Early adopters or visionaries appreciate the benefits of a new technology. They typically have a greater vision and they see how a new technology product could support their goals. The early majority shares the early adopter’s ability to relate to technology, but they are driven by practicality. They want to see how other people making out before they invest substantially. The late majority is even more conservative they wait until the new technology becomes a standard. Laggards are people who only buy the technology when it becomes a necessity or when it’s so deeply integrated with something existing that they don’t even know they bought it. Each group has a unique psychographic profile – price sensitivity, expectations, and priorities. Therefore selling products to customers in each group requires fundamentally different approach and marketing communication.

Discovering the Chasm

As we work ourselves through the technology adoption lifecycle we discover that the psychographic groups are divided from each other by gaps. “This symbolizes … the difficulty any group will have in accepting a new product if it is presented in the same way as it was to the group to its immediate left”. The biggest disconnect is between the innovators and the early majority – this is the chasm that many start-up ventures have fallen into. And because there are so many business customers on the right side of it crossing the chasm is fundamental to making any significant profits.

Visionaries or innovators expect a radical discontinuity between the old ways and the new, and they are prepared to fight the resistance. They are prepared to bear with the inevitable bugs and glitches of the new product. By contrast, what early majority wants is a productivity improvement for existing operations. They do not want to debug someone else’s product. They are looking for a solution integrated with current systems. Because of these incompatibilities, visionaries do not make good references for early majority. The only suitable reference, it turns out, is another member of the same group. This leads us to a catch-22 situation which needs to be solved because references play an utmost role in buying decisions of early majority customers.

Crossing the Chasm

To cross the chasm high technology companies need to launch a D-day type of invasion where they first focus on a single niche market segment to secure the beachhead. All development and marketing efforts should be focused on a single target. This is the only way to cross the channel … sorry, the chasm. Once the beachhead is secured you can advance to adjacent market segments until you become the market leader. But how to choose which beachhead to attack? You will need to select a market segment with an acute problem and provide a solution that current mainstream products cannot provide. They neglect a particular segment perhaps because they can make a tremendous amount of profit with a more general product.

Let me illustrate this with an example from the book. When farmaceutical companies introduce a new drug they deal with a very complicated documentation process. They were often delays just because the tracking and versioning of the documentation was a nightmare. Then came a company called Documentum that solved this literally million dollars a day problem. Guess what, effective document handling is also important in a number of other niches like finance, human resources etc. The trick is once you dominate a segment with customers of the early majority they serve as a very good reference for the same type of customers in adjacent segments.

Creating the Competition

When choosing the point of attack try to select a small pond where you can be the big fish. Of course, the pond should be big enough to keep you alive. And in any big enough pond there will be a competition. But competition is good, in fact, pragmatists resist to buy until they can compare. You will need two companies to put your product on the map like GPS satellites tell your position on the globe. One of them is the market alternative with established customer base you are after. This could be for example Microsoft SharePoint in document sharing. The other is the product alternative also harnessing the same disruptive innovation as your solution. This could be something like Dropbox with its ease of use and polished user experience. By pointing out that there is a product alternative you also weaken the position of the market alternative company. This is done by giving customers the notion that there is an undergoing paradigm shift in the marketplace. Your intent should be to acknowledge this new technology but to differentiate from the product alternative by virtue or your own segment focus.

Leaving the Chasm Behind

There is a sad revelation to make once you have successfully crossed the chasm. People who made this breakthrough possible most probably won’t carry you forward. Rockstar developers will want to work on the “next big thing” and salespeople who are able to sell to visionaries might not be as successful with conservatives. This transition won’t happen overnight but it will happen almost inevitably.

Personal Notes

I found two things very interesting in the book: subsequent editions after the first one haven’t been written because market dynamics have changed significantly. They work nearly the same way today as they were in 1991 when the book was first released. The reason for new editions was that companies come and go and the examples in the book had to be updated. Who heard of Lotus or Silicon Graphix? Will Facebook be still known in 10, 20 or 25 years time? Maybe, maybe not. It always fascinates me how fast paced our industry is.

The second thing is: the D-day type strategy might work withing a single enterprise just as well as in the wider market. I see a fractal pattern where departments inside a firm behave as adjacent market segments at a smaller scale. Departments working with less business critical applications will adopt any new technology first. Once it’s established at least in one department it will be easier to sell the technology to other department heads.

As a closure, I would like to recommend this book to developers and owners of small technology companies. A strategy that proved itself many times with big companies can be applied on a smaller scale as well. It might not be the same league but it surely is the same game!

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

I’ve read this magnificent book recently and I would like to share some of my findings with you. It’s going to be less of a formal review but rather an ad-hoc collection of subjective thoughts about the ideas presented in the book. You may say: “this is just one those worthless self-help books” or “This is just another scam”. But I can assure you nothing is further from the truth. This book can really help those who seek ways to improve their personal and business relationships, or simply just want to better understand themselves and their place in the world.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People book cover
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

The core of the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People consists of two parts: private and public victories. This division catches the essence of the revelation that in order to be successful in our interpersonal relationships we first need to build our own character. You cannot win by hacking at the leaves without taking care of the problems at the root. Now let’s have a look at the 7 habits of highly effective people.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Act and not be acted upon. So simple, but so powerful. Arguably one of the greatest sources of frustration is that we feel like we are not in control of our own life. The book says: “we find two ways to put ourselves in control of our lives immediately. We can make a promise – and keep it. Or we can set a goal – and work to achieve it“. By doing so, we build a character that will serve as a strong foundation we can build upon.

Habit 2: Start with the End in Mind

How would like to be remembered after you are gone? What kind of husband, wife father, mother, colleague or friend were you? Did my yesterday behavior bring me closer to what I’ve just imagined who I want to be? If you start with the end in mind you will find yourself working towards your life goals and not wandering on side roads. “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

For the many of us, and I’m no exception, there is a deep chasm between what we say are important things to us, and how we actually allocate our time. That’s not always as evident as choosing between going to a gym or watch another episode of our favorite TV show. Sometimes we think: oh, it would be very important to read that book or take that course, but I’ll do these million little things first.
To say yes to important priorities, you have to learn to say no to other activities, sometimes apparently urgent thigs.” And it’s tricky because finishing up little tasks gives us the feel of progress while we are neglecting other things that would contribute to our long-term growth. Put first things first is the last one of private victories.

The first 3 habits are concluded with an analogy to which IT people can easily relate too. We need to realize that we are the “programmers” of our own life (habit 1). We need to “write” the program with the desired end result in mind (habit 2). Then we need to “execute” (habit 3). Each step builds upon the previous one, just like developing personal victories serves as a foundation for public victories.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Who is winning in your marriage? is a ridiculous question. If both people aren’t winning, both are losing.” Life, in most cases, is not a zero sum game. For you to win another person does not necessarily have to lose. Most people are scripted in scarcity mentality – there is only one pie out there, and if someone were to get a piece, it would mean less for everybody else. This is how mediocre people see the world. On the other hand, people with abundance mentality realize how sharing of prestige, recognition, and profit springs new possibilities for even greater successes. Having abundance mentality is essential to be able to think win-win.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood

Since our childhood, we put tremendous efforts into improving our communication skills both written and verbal. But what about listening? “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. To try to help somebody without seeing things from the other person perspective first is like prescribing medicine without examination. Our ability to think win-win is greatly affected by how carefully we intend to listen. It happened to me in the past, probably more than once, that a UI developer came to me complaining about the API I wrote as a backend developer. It didn’t make any sense to me. I was thinking: “It suits the requirements why can’t he just use it!” Now I know, I couldn’t understand him because I didn’t intent to listen.

Habit 6: Synergize

What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself.” By exercising habits 4 and 5 we often reach a synergistic solution that is better than either of the originally proposed ones. “The essence of synergy is to value the differences. Sameness is not oneness; uniformity is not unity.” Probably the aforementioned API would have turned out to be much better if a synergistic solution had been reached.

Habit 7: Sharpen The Saw

If you take a little time to sharpen the saw you will be able to cut down a tree much faster. It’s a very simple principle, but still, people often fail to recognize it in their own life. “Going to the gym takes to much time”. Well, how much time will you spend at doctors if you ruin your health? Sharpen the saw is basically improving our production capability today. Because for the great struggles of the future, you have to prepare today.

These are the 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Cover. Of course, the book goes into greater lengths and explains each topic in much more detail. The book is enriched with real life stories about the author’s family. Reading these stories was full of aha moments when I realized that something similar has happened to me in the past and now I can understand why things played out as they did. The cool thing about these stories is that the author does not try to hide his own mistakes. We learn that sometimes he failed to respond to a given situation in harmony with the seven habits. However, sincerely admitting our mistakes is not a weakness but quite the contrary a manifestation of great strength. Remember: success lies on the far side of failure.