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Grey Baker, Co-Founder of Dependabot, Turns to Reading to Change His State of Mind

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After cycling around the world (for almost 30,000 km!), Grey Baker got back wanting to change it by starting a startup in healthcare. In the meantime, he co-founded Dependabot as a side project – a service that automatically pulls requests to keep your Ruby, Python, JavaScript, PHP, Elixir and Java dependencies up-to-date.

Dependabot is a product where he already knew exactly what to build, part of an industry he perfectly understood. Grey worked as a strategy consultant for a couple of years, before teaching himself how to code.

He also spent 4 years as VP of Product and Engineering of GoCardless startup, where he contributed to the growth of the company: from 6 employees to over 100, and from a monthly volume of £100,000 to £100m. He also built the company’s AML (Anti Money Laundering) and anti-fraud systems, and wrote the (successful) application to become an FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) Authorised Payments Institution.

Grey volunteers full time, helping a healthcare organization with their software decisions.

Find out more about his favorite books, how they impacted him and the lessons he learned.

Estimated reading time for this interview is 6 minutes. If you'd rather listen to it, you can do it on iTunes, Google Play or Stitcher.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

Fiction: The Waves, by Virginia Woolf. The language is so beautiful, and was so different to anything I’d read before. I remember feeling swept along by it for hours.

Non-fiction: I read very little non-fiction, and even fewer business-related books. The best thing I read recently was A History of the World in 100 Objects, which is absolutely brilliant. It charts the history of humanity through objects from the British Museum’s collection, and is wonderfully holistic. I can’t recommend it enough for anyone looking to broaden their perspective.

Perhaps the only business book I’ve read and truly loved is Taiichi Ohno’s “The Toyota Production System”. It’s referenced a lot as the origin of the “Lean” movement, but it’s a much more enjoyable read than that makes it sound. Rather than management guru speak, it’s a wonderful book about the hard-won lessons Taiichi Ohno learned on the factory floor at Toyota. It won’t teach you what kanban means in modern management, but learning about Ohno’s desire to build an information nervous system for Toyota’s plants is so much more interesting!

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

I mainly read to decompress and change my state of mind, so it’s hard to point to an insight I read that helped me. Reading fiction has pulled me out of a bad mood more times than I can count, though, and always reenergises me to attack problems that had stumped me again.

That said, I read and loved Don Norman’s “The Design of Everyday Things”, and it’s helped me think through design problems ever since.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

I read The Lean Startup just after leaving my job at McKinsey & Co., when I was just beginning to think about startups. The advice it gives has become part of the core cannon of startup advice these days, and might feel like old rope to someone starting out now, but it was eye-opening for me. I ended up taking on small product challenges at GoCardless as a result of the iterative approach it espouses, which also fitted the way I’d worked at McKinsey before. I’m not sure I would have ended up running product at GC if I hadn’t read that book.

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

They’re already mentioned above, but I can’t recommend the following highly enough:

– Taichi Ono’s “The Toyota Production System”. It will make you question everything from first principles, which is essential if you’re going to make the right decisions for your startup. As a bonus, it will also make you smile every time you hear someone parrot words like “kanban” with no idea of the history of the word.
– Don Norman’s “The Design of Everyday Things”. You’ll never think about product design the same afterwards.
– Neil McGregor’s “A History of the World in 100 Objects”. It will help keep your mind broad, and you never know when those insights will help you.

Links where you can follow Grey Baker or find out more about his projects:

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