The Author's Code... with Benjamin Jakobus
Benjamin Jakobus talks about his experience co-authoring “Leadership Paradigms for Remote Agile Development: How to lead your Team Remotely” with Pedro Henrique Lobato Sena and Claudio Souza. Benjamin shared some terrific insights about his motivation and writing process, along with tips for overcoming writer’s block. He also has quite a collection of favorite authors.
Q: What was your main reason/inspiration for writing this book?
When we first set out to write this book, our goal was to compile a large list of common behaviors and practices that caused agile projects to fail — from faulty hiring processes to bad management. This list was rooted in shared frustrations, failed projects, and (what we perceived to be) difficult work environments. If we were to be perfectly honest with ourselves, we probably recorded these observations merely to air our grievances. But as we began analyzing and discussing our notes among ourselves, it quickly became evident to us that the true value in writing lies in the clarity that it provided us about our own thoughts and experiences.
Q: How would you describe the writing experience? Easier or harder than expected?
I would say the experience was as expected. "Leadership Paradigms for Remote Agile Development" isn’t my first book, so I had a fair idea of the level of effort involved. Pedro Henrique Lobato Sena, Claudio Souza, and I are former colleagues, which made planning and collaboration smooth.
Q: Can you describe your writing schedule/process?
If we were forced to summarize our writing process in one word, then I would choose iteration. We began the book by creating a list of bullet points that accurately captured our personal experiences of failed projects. Over time, and very slowly, this list of failures turned into a conversation. A conversation that we edited, tore apart, re-wrote, and refined. Over and over again, just like one would roll a snowball which eventually turns into a snowman.
We uncovered new hidden debts to our past experiences—we saw how what we learned was not just shaped by the negative: indeed, the excellent colleagues, great bosses, and productive work environments were what helped us get to where we are today. As this book progressed, we tried to marry our experiences with the latest studies and theories in the field. We tried breaking down the problem of leadership just as a software engineer would break down a programming problem.
Q: Are there things you would do differently if you were to write another book?
Not really. We applied the project management techniques that we learned over the course of our careers to the writing of this book, essentially treating it like an engineering challenge. This worked out quite well for us.
Q: Most tech authors write their books alongside work/life responsibilities—how did you find the time?
We did not start looking for a publisher until we had a fairly complete first draft of our book. This meant that the initial phase of the book we could tackle as and when we saw fit. Once Apress became involved, having sufficient content ready, helped us plan for surprises and gave us the luxury of only defining a delivery schedule that we knew we could meet.
Q: How did you get started on your career path?
When I was a child, my Dad always had old hardware lying around the house, so my passion developed naturally. At age 12, I started teaching myself Visual Basic. Later I moved on to C and ASM, and my interest in IT grew from there. From an early age onwards I knew that wanted to work with technology when I grew up.
Q: Did you have writer’s block? How did you overcome it?
In my experience, mental blocks are a natural part of any creative process. The important thing is to keep moving. Keep progressing. The pieces will fall into place eventually. Unable to finish a chapter? Move on to the next! Don’t know how to best phrase something? Just throw words down on a page and come back to it. Difficulty planning a chapter? Start with bullet points!
Q: Based on this experience, would you ever write another book?
Absolutely. For me, the true value in writing lies in the clarity that it provides me. The process of putting my thoughts down on paper helps me uncover gaps in my own knowledge, and sharing my experiences with Pedro and Claudio helped me to reflect on my own experiences, sometimes seeing them in a different light. I find writing therapeutic and I learned a lot from my co-authors - something for which I am very grateful.
Q: What is your favorite book? Favorite author?
Reading is my passion. I believe it was Ralph Emerson that said: “I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” Continuing with the comparison between books and food (and I don’t remember where I read this): some books are like a fine wine—meant to be enjoyed slowly, whilst others are like junk food: easy to devour quickly but with less substance. As such, giving someone a single favorite book or author is difficult for me. There are too many. Some authors that I am especially fond of are George Orwell, Christopher Hitchens, Mary Shelley, Ayn Rand, Arthur Schopenhauer, HG Wells, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Defoe, Ken Follett, Norman Mailer, Jon Krakauer, and Sam Harris.
Benjamin Jakobus is a tech lead at a large Fintech company. Over the course of his career, he has worked as a software engineer across a range of industries, from large multinationals to small silicon valley startups. He is the author of "Mastering Bootstrap 4", published in two editions by Packt Publishing, and occasionally writes and contributes to technical and scientific articles.
He received his M.Sc. in "Advanced Computing" from Imperial College London, and his B.Sc. in Computer Science from University College Cork. Born in Germany and raised in Ireland, he currently lives in Brazil.