Book Bytes

How to Code a Sandcastle

By: Josh Funk

Illustrated By: Sara Palacios

Foreword By: Reshma Saujani

Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (January 28, 2021)

As you can probably tell, I like to read. I also often select books to give as gifts. This holiday season I wanted to get my two youngest girl cousins—4-years-old and 6-years-old—a book that could introduce them to computer science. I stumbled upon this perfect read.

How to Code a Sandcastle follows Pearl and her robot sidekick, Pascal, on their last day at the beach. Determined to build an epic sandcastle, Pearl relies on Pascal to complete the task. Pascal, however, needs very specific instructions so Pearl has to explain her ideas in code. This children’s book has amazing illustrations and extremely approachable explanations about some basic coding concepts. This book introduces concepts like sequences, loops, and if/else statements. This book also teaches readers how to break down one big problem into smaller, manageable tasks. In her foreword, Reshma Saujani—the CEO and founder of Girls Who Code—explains that similar to how children learn about animals and history before going to school, coding should also be a familiar part of every child’s world.

I cannot wait to read this book with my cousins over Zoom. I recommend this book for any elementary school teacher or young child who you may know! It’s never too early to start building your digital literacy skills!

Past Book Bytes

The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win

By: Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford

Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (November 17, 2020)

I had just joined the IT department of a club on campus and realized that I didn’t know if or how CS and IT were related. In typical fashion, I decided to turn to a book for guidance.

The Phoenix Project was truly an enjoyable read and after finishing it, I felt more confident in my new position. The book follows the fictional story of Bill, an IT manager at a car-parts company, as he navigates changing leadership positions, meeting deadlines, efficient project management, and more, all while fighting to give his company a competitive edge. Bill has only 90 days to turn around a doomed IT initiative and more importantly, only 90 days to convince his co-workers that strong IT practices must be at the forefront of all effective business strategies.

This book moves away from the nitty gritty of technical concepts and into the realm of management tactics. Along with Bill, the reader learns how to efficiently diagnose problems, improve workplace communication, enhance resource allocation, and understand the sacrifices that it takes to run not only an IT department but also an entire business. Since The Phoenix Project emphasizes the importance of high-level business organization rather than the specifics of, say, computer hardware, this book is an excellent option for any reader interested in applying technical problem solving to relatable, every-day challenges. Readers will be entertained as they follow Bill on his educational-though-never-dull journey to discover the true value of a strong IT department!

Favorite Quote: “You’ve just described ‘technical debt’ that is not being paid down. It comes from taking shortcuts, which may make sense in the short-term. But like financial debt, the compounding interest costs grow over time. If an organization doesn’t pay down its technical debt, every calorie in the organization can be spent just paying interest, in the form of unplanned work.” -The Pheonix Project

Brave Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder

Reshma Saujani

Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (October 9, 2020)

It was January of my freshman year and I had just gotten a 50% on my computer science project and honestly, I should have been relieved since on my first submission of the project, I had gotten a measly 21%. Looking back now, I should have been relieved for another reason: I had failed and the sun still shone and the world still spun. That is to say, I had just proven to myself that failure is not equivalent to the end.

I recall this anecdote because Reshma Saujani’s book, Brave Not Perfect, reminds me to share my failures however big or small. I want to use my failures to lift others up when they themselves are knocked down, to keep myself grounded and humble when my successes outweigh my shortcomings, and to serve as a reminder for all those times I was brave enough to fail in the first place.

Enough about me though!

Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, uses this book to expand on concepts which she first introduced in her famous TED Talk (check out the video below!) . She explores the ways in which girls are conditioned to behave, think, and dream differently than boys. Rather than gripe about the injustice that this perpetuates, Saujani explains how any hope for gender equality starts with you and me. She pushes her readers to consciously unlearn the quietness and perfectness that women are taught to idolize. Through lessons found in young computer science classrooms, interviews with girls and women across the country, and aspects of Saujani’s own career journey, Brave Not Perfect empowers readers to find acts of bravery in their everyday lives

This book is a must-read for any girl or woman, especially when it comes to being in a new environment where it seems bravery is reserved for the older and bolder. This book exposes how girls are “trained for perfection,” why bravery is so important, and finally how to let go of the perfect girl we hoped to be. Only by being brave, not perfect, will women learn to become their most authentic and most fulfilled selves.

Favorite Quote: “Perfection might feel good for a few fleeting moments, but bravery powers us through the difficult times and deep losses that can feel insurmountable. By being brave, not perfect, we get to create and live lives that don’t just look good but are authentically, joyfully, messily, and completely ours.” -Reshma Saujani

Check out Reshma Saujani’s TED Talk!

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

By: Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths

Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (September 25, 2020)

“Algorithm” seemed like a mysterious and complex word that would always be just beyond the scope of my comprehension. After reading this book by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths—and with some help from COSC-051and 052!—I was able to recognize how computing algorithms are applied to our everyday lives. Being able to relate what is discussed in the classroom to human decision making is an incredibly helpful way to not only better understand algorithms but also to better understand your own thought process.

Christian and Griffiths explore how a multitude of computing algorithms apply to our everyday lives. Their book takes an algorithmic—though never robotic nor mechanical—approach towards assessing “human questions.” They pose strategies that can help with everything from finding a parking spot to optimizing a busy schedule. Algorithms to Live By examines optimal stopping, networking, randomness and more by striking a unique balance between the world of computer science and the world in which we live.

With thought-provoking narration and the minimum level of technical jargon necessary, readers are not only able to understand the logic behind these algorithms but are also able to relate to what these algorithms accomplish. This book is great for readers who are interested in the intersection of computer science and decision-making and want to be introduced to the logic behind algorithms. Algorithms to Live By reveals how similar our problems are to the problems of computers and I am certain that every reader will put down this book with an enhanced ability to recognize the patterns that quietly rule our lives.

Favorite Quote: “The next pages begin our journey through some of the biggest challenges faced by computers and human minds alike: how to manage finite space, finite time, limited attention, unknown unknowns, incomplete information, and an unforeseeable future; how to do so with grace and confidence; and how to do so in a community with others who are all simultaneously trying to do the same.” -Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech

By: Sara Wachter-Boettcher

Reviewed By: Morgan Lopez (September 4, 2020)

Bits and bytes aside, computer science has another side to which we all engage with daily: design. Whether it’s tactful marketing, pleasing aesthetic, or familiar color combinations, we have not only witnessed technological inclusion in daily life but have also been unknowing drivers for this technical revolution.

Technically Wrong demands its readers to think critically about the tech we use everyday. Wachter-Boettcher uses provocative case studies to reveal the ways in which biased design and imperfect algorithms underpin the tech world. Her book explores the meaning behind default settings, why we have “funny” virtual assistants, and the harm of claiming to be an all-knowing, unbiased machine. She examines everything from data privacy to “algorithmic inequality” to examples of when well-intentioned-though-poorly-thought-out procedures overstep boundaries. In a quick-though-thorough exploration, Wachter-Boettcher encourages her readers to become critical thinkers when it comes to technology.

After finishing Technically Wrong readers will be able to make informed decisions about the tech they use and support. I will never be able to look at tech the same way and now feel compelled to demand the tech industry become a safer, more inclusive space as well as empowered to actively participate in bringing about this change. Anyone interested in learning to acknowledge and dismantle the bias that designs our tech will deeply benefit from reading Technically Wrong.

Favorite Quote: “It’s up to us to demand that those choices be made differently—not because we want to see technology fail, but rather because we want it to succeed, on terms that work for all of us. After all, most of us don’t hate tech. We love it. It’s time we demand that it love us back.” -Sara Wachter-Boettcher