Review: Career Superpowers

Posted in Engineering, Reading

Self-improvement books – at least the ones I read – fall into two categories. There are those who claim to unmask universal truths via research and corroboration across many different sources, and the rest draw from personal anecdotes to provide lessons. In general, I lean more towards data, so I find the researched advice more convincing. Individual stories, though, are usually more fun to read and serve as sources of inspiration.

Career Superpowers was a fun read.

The book is largely about the career lessons learned from the author as he progressed from an ambitious grad student to a renowned expert in the tech industry. He stresses early on about how working hard is necessary but not sufficient; career progression requires going beyond the “table stakes” exhibited by peers and colleagues. He talks about how politics can work in the modern corporation, and how to perhaps use it to your advantage (or at least navigate it successfully).

The major caveat to all this advice is that much of it is not relatable to the vast majority of readers. The author rarely slows down to distill the truths behind his anecdotes before barging head-first into the next story. Thus, the pace and the accomplishments feel like a humblebrag: it’s impressive that he jumped from Microsoft to Google then back to Microsoft while bumping his title and salary, but spends ample time patting himself on the back for being able to “enjoy…executive privileges”1. If he intends to make his readers feel inadequate in their career achievements, he does a pretty decent job.

All that said, I found myself agreeing with a lot of his points and his philosophies. I also believe in spending the time and effort to find the right things to work as opposed to just working hard for someone else. Like the author, I tried to pick technical specialties that I thought needed more experts, and thus would have less competition: he sought out software testing and security, while I chose front-end development (back in 2005) and management. He notes the value of mentors and career-long relationships outside of company boundaries, and I’m beginning to appreciate that viewpoint as well.

And hearing the stories of smart folks who’ve made something of themselves is a great way to feel motivated. On this, Career Superpowers is definitely fun and offers software engineers a solid role model.


  1. Throwing disdain at his former managers along the way.