With heat waves bearing down on much of the country and people getting in their last bits of vacation, we asked a group of state chief information officers and other government IT officials what they’ve been reading this summer.
Replies included a few business, management and tech books, but also several history volumes, biographies, memoirs and rediscoveries of a few sci-fi classics. The recommendations are reminders that — like the rest of us — CIOs have their beach reads.
Vermont CIO John Quinn says he recently got through “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty,” a 1997 book on networking by the longtime syndicated business columnist Harvey Mackay. The book’s inside flap bills it as an authoritative guide to professional networking.
“It’s a good refresher on the connections you make, whether you’re in college or a sales job or a CIO,” Quinn says. “The relationships you keep in your life.”
Quinn says he’s also been reading Ashlee Vance’s 2015 biography of Elon Musk. While published at a time when Musk was more as the enigmatic founder of Tesla and SpaceX rather than the chaotic billionaire who tries to buy out Twitter in a fit over its content policies, Vance’s book contains possible lessons, Quinn says.
“I often reflect on my time in state government and [Musk’s] drive to get things down and how it relates to what we’re trying to do,” he said. “How his tactics would go over here. I can often be seen as someone who drives people a little hard sometimes.”
San Francisco CIO Linda Gerull says she’s been reading “The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias,” by Pamela Fuller and Mark Murphy of the business coaching group Franklin Covey, and AT&T Business CEO Anne Chow. Gerull says its one of several books focusing on social and workplace equity that she’s been looking at.
“I plan to take my management team through some of the exercises,” she says. “We have a very strong focus on equity in San Francisco. [Mayor London Breed] has an office dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion. We’ve all hired equity coordinators and there are efforts across the board to be more diverse in our hiring, though I think in tech we’re ahead.”
Other CIOs’ summer reading lists run a bit more extracurricular. Texas CIO Amanda Crawford names “Big Wonderful Thing,” Stephen Harrigan’s 2019 history of her home state, which runs from the mid-16th century, when a wayward band of Spanish explorers washed up on what’s now Galveston Island, to the present day. Crawford also lists Lily King’s 2020 novel “Writers & Lovers,” and the humorist David Sedaris’ recent memoir, “A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries.”
Brady Vaughn, Crawford’s director of budget and public affairs at the Texas Department of Resources, says he’s been leafing through the autobiography of Alex Ferguson, the longtime Manchester United manager who won 13 Premier League titles over his coaching career. Vaughn says his Man U. fandom goes back to the club’s 2001 acquisition of Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, whom he first encountered through the FIFA video game series.
“When he came to Man United, I never missed a game,” Vaughn says.
A few state CIOs say they’ve been nudged by recent Hollywood adaptations of science-fiction classics to revisit the source materials. Illinois CIO Jennifer Ricker says last year’s “Dune: Part One,” which won six Academy Awards, prompted her to pick up Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel.
“I think my brain has needed a complete escape in my reading lately,” Ricker says. “I enjoyed last year’s movie and decided I should go back and read the classic.”
Ricker says she’s also checked out Richard Phillips’ “The Endarian Prophecy” series, as well as a pair of World War II-set historical fictions — Mark Sullivan’s “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” and Kate Quinn’s “The Rose Code.”
Meanwhile, New Hampshire CIO Denis Goulet says watching Amazon Prime’s “The Wheel of Time” got him to revisit Robert Jordan’s 14-volume epic series.
While the Amazon show recently got picked up for a third season, Goulet called it a bit underwhelming, but a reason to go back to the books: “It reminds me of how much I loved the series,” he says.