A cover of a book called Kill It With Fire. There is a flaming dumpster illustration

Book review: Kill It With Fire, by Marianne Belotti

I read this book slowly, not because it is long, or difficult, but because it is incredibly thought-provoking. Belotti has spent time doing the grinding work of upgrading the brownest of fields, and has managed to retain a sense of curiosity and fresh thinking that comes through in every example. The book’s layout is clear, helpful, and concrete, and her suggestions for exercises are all sound, and sometimes piercing. For example, I took a picture of my ereader to send a friend this quote:

Study the cadence, topics, and invite lists of meetings. Too often, meetings are maladapted attempts to solve problems. So if you want to know what parts of the project are suffering the most, pay attention to what the team is having meetings about, how often meetings are held, and who is being dragged into those meetings. In particular, look for meetings with long invite lists. Large meetings are less effective than small meetings, but they do convincingly spread the blame around by giving everyone the impression that all parties were consulted and all opinions were explored. Meetings with ever-expanding invite lists suggest something is wrong in that area of the project.

Bellotti, Marianne. Kill It with Fire (p. 99). No Starch Press. Kindle Edition.

In fact, there are literally dozens of highlights that I made as I was reading this book, both things that I agreed with violently and things that made me stop and think. I think this would be a great little book for a work book club.

Managing technical debt is about restoring consistency.

Bellotti, Marianne. Kill It with Fire (p. 39). No Starch Press. Kindle Edition.

I found it descriptive of projects that I’ve been on. I’m not sure how useful it will be for people who haven’t had a few work experiences in the dark world of “transformation”, but it might be useful to have a map for what is pretty much inevitably going to happen.

If you’re thinking about rearchitecting a system and cannot tie the effort back to some kind of business goal, you probably shouldn’t be doing it at all.

Bellotti, Marianne. Kill It with Fire (p. 79). No Starch Press. Kindle Edition.

Read if: You want a funny, sympathetic, and experienced take on software modernization. You want to stare into space at least a few times thinking about things like “why are Unix commands so short?”. You’re looking for a technical book that is true without taking itself too seriously.

Skip if: You’re looking for a tool-by-tool roadmap for your DevOps Transformation. You are too smart to have the same problems everyone else has had throughout history.

Also read: Project to Product, for a look at how to keep everyone aligned while you’re moving all the pieces around.