10 Books for the Technical Marketing Professional
By Matthew Edgar · Last Updated: March 01, 2022
Technical marketers have to understand people and technology. More often than not, we seek out information online in short-form content. While that is useful, there are also a lot of great books that offer a deeper look at these subjects. With that in mind, here are ten books that I’ve found helpful in deepening my understanding of technology, how humans interact with technology, and, more generally, the way technology intersects with our lives.
Living with Complexity, Don Norman
Design of Everyday Things is Don Norman’s most notable work and should be considered mandatory reading for anybody who works in any aspect of user experience, including SEO. However, I’d also highly recommend Norman’s Living with Complexity which explores simplicity and complexity, showing why they aren’t opposites. I’m as guilty as anybody as saying that things should be simple, but that isn’t exactly right. Things don’t need to be simple; things need to be understandable—or not confusing as Norman would put it. What he shows in this book is that complex systems differ from complicated systems. Complex systems can be simple and don’t have to be confusing if you remove the complications.
Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
There are many books out there about how our brains work, but Kahneman’s take explores concepts at a deeper level than other books. The main idea shared by Kahneman is that there are two systems operating in our brains: System 1 is instinctive and automatic while System 2 is deliberative and logical. Kahneman also discusses a number of biases and heuristics that show the struggles in our thought patterns. I’ve found the ideas shared in this book helpful as a way of improving my own thought process and reflecting on how I’m arriving at decisions. However, this is also helpful as you approach organizing content on websites—are ideas and concepts communicated in the right way for both Systems?
Designing with the Mind in Mind, Jeff Johnson
Now in the third edition, this book offers a great analysis of how the brain works specifically as it relates to designing interfaces. This includes memory, vision, attention span, hand-eye coordination, and more. Even for somebody who isn’t a designer, this book is a great way to understand how we interact with technology. What I really appreciate is that Johnson covers the theory but also provides examples of each issue. Johnson also walks through practical steps that can be taken to alter designs given the nature of our minds. It is a very straightforward read and also a great reference book (my copy is heavily dog-eared). Finally, it is well worth the investment to get this one in paperback so you can look at all the graphics and data shared more easily.
Naked Statistics, Charles Wheelan
Statistics is part of nearly every aspect of technical marketing and machine learning. Yet, learning statistics can be challenging and somewhat counterintuitive. There are so many books about statistics, but Wheelan’s Naked Statistics is one of the better introductions I’ve seen. This book also works effectively as a refresher on statistics concepts. He doesn’t expect deep mathematical knowledge to be able to engage with the book and, in fact, he avoids formulas almost entirely. Instead, he takes real care to show the logic behind statistical ideas and show how those ideas apply to various situations. What is also nice is that Wheelan applies statistics to some of the more important questions facing society today, instead of elaborating endlessly on coin flipping like so many other statistics books do.
Code, Charles Petzold
This book is amazing and is not only of my favorite tech books but also just one of my favorite books in general. It discusses how computers and programming languages work. That sounds tedious and dry but Petzold manages to make this an incredibly engaging read. In the book, he takes a step-by-step approach walking through the problems computers were designed to solve, literally building a computer from the ground up chapter by chapter. Petzold’s explanation of hexadecimal and binary counting is probably among the best I’ve ever seen. Along the way, he also weaves in the history of how computers came to be and discusses some of the people involved in that history. While a bit dated with things like a discussion of CRT monitors, it is amazing how much of this technology is still relevant to our world today. Sadly, the print version of this book seems to have a number of issues based on current reviews, so I’d recommend the Kindle version instead.
Make Sense of Any Mess, Abby Covert
The polar bear book might be the definitive information architecture book but it can be a bit intimating as a starting point. Make Sense of Any Mess from Covert offers a short but very educational read walking through various techniques that are helpful when trying to organize a large volume of information. The walkthrough of different types of diagrams was one area I found particularly useful and the way the diagrams were presented makes this book an easy reference point that I’ve referred to often. Also, part of what makes this book fun is that the techniques work on websites, sure, but the way Covert explains things, the techniques could really work in any context. This book is definitely worth getting in paperback for easier reference and to clearly see all of the diagrams.
Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande
Working on the technical side of SEO and UX means finding ways to work more effectively with and better understand complex systems. But working within complex systems can be a challenge and it is easy to forget steps along the way. I know I’m guilty of occasionally forgetting basic steps, especially on tasks I’ve done thousands of times. Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto explores how checklists are a tool to help people work within complex systems. If utilized correctly, checklists can help people remember to do the basic steps, especially for experts who repeat the same tasks regularly. While the book focuses largely on the medical domain, it is easy to see how checklists can be applied to many other disciplines. Personally, I’ve found that utilizing checklists on routine tasks has generally been an effective way of offsetting my memory lapses and generally improving the overall quality of the work I do.
Are Your Lights On, Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg
This book is an incredibly fun read and offers a helpful and effective walkthrough of how to approach and solve problems. The book is old, first published in 1982, but still holds up today because problem solving really hasn’t changed all that much. With animations and short, “whimsical” phrasing (to quote the jacket) this book may not seem like a serious book about problem solving but I’d argue it is one of the most effective I’ve read. This book has so many great quotes but one quote I come back to often: “The fledgling problem solver invariably rushes in with solutions before taking the time to define the problem being solved.” As Weinberg and Gause quickly note, this tendency isn’t only unique to fledgling problem solvers. There is something appealing about coming in with solutions right away when what you really ought to do, and what this book so carefully demonstrates, is take the time to really understand the problem before working toward solutions.
Four Internets, Kieron O’Hara and Wendy Hall
I try very hard to avoid discussing politics online, but this book recommendation will deviate from that slightly. In Four Internets, O’Hara and Hall take a deep dive into the different approaches taken by countries when it comes to managing and governing the internet. Before reading this, I had a general idea of how the US differed from the EU, and how both differed from China but I wasn’t clear on the history or the details. As well, the way the US’s approach has changed wasn’t something I fully appreciated prior to reading this book. While political in nature, the book is thankfully focused on the research and describing the situations at play instead of advocating for a particular view. Because of that more academic tone, the book is very insightful regardless of your political views.
Fabric of Civilization, Virginia Postrel
Admittedly an odd choice, but this is a really intriguing book exploring the history of textiles and the influence textiles have had on, well, everything, including technology and the rise of modern computing. As well, Postrel’s analysis of fabric and textiles also explores the innovation—and that history makes our current era look not so unusual. Before reading this, I never really gave much thought to the impact textiles have had on history (or the textile industry in general) and before reading this, I wouldn’t have thought my job working on websites had anything to do with textiles. Needless to say, this book shifted my perspective and that is why I would highly recommend it if you are looking for a book to shift your perspective.
Two Other Book Suggestions
If you are looking for more, I’d humbly suggest my two books.
My book, Tech SEO Guide, provides a resource to answer key questions about technical SEO, ranging from error handling to redirects to managing how robots crawl a website.
In Elements of a Successful Website, I reviewed and discussed the five main themes of website usability and how, by using those themes, you can improve your website’s overall performance (across SEO, CRO, and UX).