Author Who Made a Difference

Writers are privileged sometimes by the depth and scope of impact they can make through their work. Recently I recounted a Book That Made A Difference. Today I want to recount an author who did the same. 

The author is Steve McConnell. His books Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules and Software Project Survival Guide came along at just the right time when I was struggling in an unwanted and difficult leadership role on a project gone awry. 

When my boss handed me the reigns, he honestly believed all that was needed was to move the system to production. That's what he'd been told! The system had been coded and tested and was ready to go live. But you know what? None of that was the case.

Suddenly I was responsible for delivering a system I did not design, had no role in designing, and that frankly did not live up its design. Even worse, the design itself did not meet the needs of the client who had hired us. We spent more than year on a long death-march of a do-over. 

I must take a pause here and commend my former boss for giving me the leeway to pursue excellence by making the time to truly understand and deliver what our client needed.

In one of my  darkest moments I reached out to Steve by email. His kindness in taking the time to reply was a beacon of light to this storm-tossed technical person struggling to reach the shore of completion.

I was out of my depth. I was an expert coder with good communication skills and the ability to communicate comfortably with other programmers and the different levels of management at our client. But I was without leadership experience of my own and was scrambling to read what I hoped were some good books and absorb some wisdom to help me navigate from a death-march toward an acceptable conclusion.

Steve's books helped, as did some good books by other authors, but what I remember most was that Steve responded personally, and his response gave me courage. Suddenly I felt less alone, and it made a difference that such a well-known author took the time to speak to me as equal. It may be shallow of me to admit this, but just being in contact with someone notable like Steve helped me to keep my own self-esteem together at a time when it was pretty much unraveling. 

And what of the project? Completing it felt like landing a kayak on a rocky shoreline during a thunderstorm, but we did get it done and one of my proudest moments was when our client wrote these words to me in the official closing letter for the engagement:

"In my opinion, it is a shame you weren't involved with this project from the beginning because your abilities and professionalism would have brought the project to a more successful, and far earlier, conclusion." 

I treasure my copy of that closing letter to this day.

And what of Steve? He was destined to help a second time, when I later found myself staring down the barrel of a book deal. Without him, it's possible my writing career might not have happened. 

Purchasing a book does not imply a free consulting engagement. Authors cannot always respond to every email, nor is it possible to keep every discussion flowing for as long as some readers might like. Yet authors who are able to respond to readers, and who do respond, may find someday that their time that is spent in engaging with readers has powerful and lasting impact. 

WritingJonathan Gennick