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Nick Janetakis - Favorite Books of a A Self-Taught Web Dev & Teacher

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In the past 18 months, over 20,000 people have taken one of Nick Janetakis‘ online courses. A self-taught full stack web developer and teacher, Nick’s been programming for 20 years.

He’s been doing freelance consulting work for most of his time, until a few years ago, when his income slowed down. He then decided to take a shot at teaching online courses, an idea he validated through a successful Kickstarter campaign for a Flask course.

Nick now spends most of his time creating content for his courses, writing, learning and programming, but still does freelance consulting as well.

From our interview you’ll find out what books he read that drastically changed the way he thinks and lives his life (for the better). From stoic readings to ones related to marketing, mindset, or biographies, you’ll find a varied list of titles that he recommends.

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

My favorite book is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Despite its name, it’s not necessarily about going out and making friends, but instead, it will alter how you communicate with people in general. This makes it very valuable for anyone to read.

I don’t read fiction books and in my mind, nearly everything else is considered business to me.

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

I remember reading Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life which is filled with epic quotes and insights but one quote stuck with me, which is:

“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”

This is so true. I’m generally pretty cheap when it comes to spending money but I’m also that guy who will spend 3 days planning out and building a custom desk instead of buying one.

However, after reading that quote, it woke me up to the reality that I’m going to die eventually and if I want to accomplish everything I want to accomplish then I should stop screwing around with my time.

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

Nothing has ever pushed me into a different career path but A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech can really alter how you think.

It’s a very fun book to read because Roger is constantly throwing puzzles at you and systematically training you on how to be more of an independent and creative thinker.

For anyone in the business of selling and creating products, writing copy or writing code this book will get your head spinning with ideas and tactics that you can use right away on how to solve problems.

One of the biggest takeaways from the book is that often times there’s more than 1 right answer, so stop trying to find “the only answer”.

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

I used to think selling was all about talking about me and tricking people. In my mind “sales” meant being a stereotypical used car salesman (no offense!).

Now I see that it’s completely different. It’s letting people know about your product and just showing how your product can make people’s lives better. You’re not trying to force or trick them into buying anything. You’re giving them valuable information and in return, they are making their own decision on whether or not to purchase it.

Here’s a few books I recommend (in this order) on learning how to write effective copy:

The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert;
Advertising Secrets of the Written Word by Joseph Sugerman;
Kickass Writing Secrets of a Marketing Rebel by John Carlton.

But writing copy is only 1 piece of the puzzle. You still need to get work done at the end of the day, so motivation and inspiration is a real thing.

I classify the next list of books as “mindset” books. They help level up your brain and some of them will help you defeat your own demons. Here they are in no specific order:

Tools of the Titans by Tim Ferris has awesome stories from some of the most successful people in the world;
Psycho Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz will open your eyes on the topic of self image;
Mike Tyson’s Autobiography by Larry Sloman will motivate you to no end, Mike Tyson is a remarkable person.

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

I walk at least 1 hour a day and it’s a perfect time to listen to audiobooks. In most cases you can finish a full book or 2 per week depending on its length.

I tend to listen to mindset related books in audio format, but I read copywriting books on paper or as ebooks. I don’t read nearly as much as I listen to audiobooks, maybe 2 hours a week.

How do you make time for reading?

With walking, I naturally have time to listen to audiobooks but I try not to think of it as “making time”.

To me, these books take priority over everything because they amplify everything else around me in a good way.

If I read a book and it moves me the right way, it might motivate or inspire me to be much more productive than normal. Reading a book might enable you to accomplish something faster and by not having read it you’re actually losing time.

If you’re looking for an easy win, you could try listening to audiobooks while commuting to work.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

I used to take detailed notes but now I consume books in a different way.

Instead of going through a book once and carefully reading it while taking meticulous notes I just read the book at a brisk pace and absorb what I can with the intent that I’ll come back and re-read bits and pieces when I need it.

I find this strategy much more enjoyable. You can read way more books and ultimately that’s going to improve you as a whole at a faster rate. There’s a million websites that offer free summaries to jog your memory of the finer details.

How do you choose what books to read next?

I tend to split up reading and researching into different actions.

I’ll just block out a period of time (let’s say 2 hours) and do nothing other than research which books I should read.

A session like that could yield 5 or 10 books and if you read a book every week or so, that will keep you going for a while.

As for finding which books to read, I usually go at it from a “problem / solution” angle which is how I learned to be a software developer.

For example if I want to learn more about copywriting then I’ll Google for “best copywriting books” and read a bunch of lists that other people assembled. I might do this for an hour straight and then pick out all of the books that everyone seems to be recommending.

Once I have that narrowed down list, I’ll find people who are at the top of that industry and Google their name along with the book to cross reference if whether or not they ever recommended the book personally. Another good tip is to read books that those top book authors recommend.

I wouldn’t use Amazon reviews too heavily. Maybe as a last resort but if you do, just pay attention to the percentage of 5 star reviews. If it trumps everything else by a huge margin (60-70%) then the book is likely decent.

Lastly, autobiographies can often be a fun read if you’re looking for a break from what you normally read.

Do you prioritize those recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

I used to think reading things in order was super important but it’s really not unless you’re talking about fiction series. The most important thing you can do is to just start reading. Pick something and go go go.

Google is the best book recommendations guru that I know of because Google will narrow down a list of books that match your interests exactly.

Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

I’m going to start reading Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick this week.

I used to goto 2600 meetings back when he was arrested for wire fraud and other hacking related shenanigans in the mid 1990s.

I’m fascinated by things like social engineering and language in general. In the end, I just want to be entertained by his stories.

For someone who is into computer programming, a book like this is pretty close to porn!

Links where you can follow Nick Janetakis and find out more about his projects:

Books mentioned by Nick in this interview:

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
  • On the Shortness of Life – Seneca
  • A Whack on the Side of the Head – Roger von Oech
  • The Boron Letters – Gary Halbert
  • Advertising Secrets of the Written Word – Joseph Sugerman
  • Tools of the Titans – Tim Ferris
  • Psycho Cybernetics – Maxwell Maltz
  • Undisputed Truth – Mike Tyson’s Autobiography – Larry Sloman
  • Ghost in the Wires – Kevin Mitnick

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