How I Used Bookclub to Combat My Social Ineptitude: A Memoir

A few months into my time at Seller Labs, I realized that I only ever associated with engineers. I rarely interacted with any other department, and that seemed dumb. What does marketing do? Do they make commercials? Is that Jeff guy like Don Draper? I had no idea.

But I know what you are thinking – I could just, you know, talk to people. But that is absurd. I’m a software engineer; we don’t talk to people on purpose. So, I had to intentionally and consistently put myself in a situation to develop friendships with people outside of the engineering team.

My plan was simple – I had to pick something that I was interested in, start a group at work, and then talk to the people. It would be really scary great!

At first, I considered running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign for any interested peers. I love DnD, and I run two campaigns already. It would be easy! But I needed to interact with people who were NOT on the engineering team. So that wouldn’t work.

I also considered joining one of our company’s intramural teams. I then remembered why I was in marching band throughout high school, and I knew that would not work either.

But, one day, I was trying to justify another round of book purchases to my wife, and I realized that I could knock out two birds with one stone – I could start a book club! I like reading. Other people like reading. If I started a book club, I could interact with peers outside of my department, push my taste in books on them, and then justify the books as a business expense.

I created a basic literature survey, started a #bookclub Slack channel, and threw the information into our general Slack channel.

Two years later, we are still going strong. Here is what works for us.

On the first Monday of every month, we meet during lunch to discuss the previous month’s novel. We pick our books two months in advance using a simple poll. This allows adequate time to get a copy, and ample time for reading. People can opt in or out whenever they like. It is low commitment, easy to maintain, and a lot of fun.

We have read fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, young adult, memoirs, short stories, and nonfiction. We have regular members from engineering, marketing, management, and customer success. My scheme has been a resounding success so far.

Here is what we have read:

TitleAuthorMonth ReadRecommended By
Killers of the Flower MoonDavid GrannDec 2017
A Darker Shade of MagicVE SchwabJan 2018
A Gathering of ShadowsVE SchwabFeb 2018
Brain on FireSusannah CahalanMar 2018
EmberBrock AdamsApr 2018
AnnihilationJeff VandermeerMay 2018
Smoke & MirrorsNeil GaimanJun 2018
The Song of AchillesMadeline MillerJul 2018Caroline
An Unkindness of GhostsRivers SolomonAug 2018
The Golem and the JinniHelene WeckerSep 2018
And Then There Were NoneAgatha ChristieOct 2018
The Storied Life of AJ FikryGabrielle ZevinNov 2018
The Tattooist of AuschwitzHeather MorrisDec 2018Hayley
Alif, The UnseenG. Willow WilsonJan 2019
My Sister, The Serial KillerOyinkan BraithwaiteFeb 2019
The Feather ThiefKirk W. JohnsonMar 2019
Oil & MarbleStephanie StoreyApr 2019
Twelfth NightWilliam ShakespeareMay 2019
The Wicked DeepShea EarnshawJun 2019
Norse MythologyNeil GaimanJul 2019
Spinning SilverNaomi NovikAug 2019Alli
This is How You Lose the Time WarAmal El-Mohtar and Max GladstoneSep 2019Alli
Fahrenheit 451Ray BradburyOct 2019Hayley
The Haunting of Hill HouseShirley JacksonNov 2019
Ninth HouseLeigh BardugoDec 2019
A Woman of No ImportanceSonia PurnellJan 2020
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella FortunaJuliet GramesFeb 2020
The Silent PatientAlex MichaelidesMar 2020
LannyMax PorterApr 2020
The ABC MurdersAgatha ChristieMay 2020
LegionBrandon SandersonJun 2020Jake
The Water DancerTa-Nehisi CoatesJul 2020

Seller Labs Bookclub is one of my favorite parts of my job. It is a small time investment for a huge relational return. I have developed friendships with members from every department at the company, which has made me a better, more empathetic engineer. I understand what other departments actually do (even marketing), and I now see how my code directly affects my peers.

If you are interested in starting your own book club, feel free to use my initial interest poll, and monthly novel selection poll. Furthermore, feel free to contact me with specific questions. I am always happy to discuss books!

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