How Books Have Helped Ella Botting, Founder of CyberWomen, with Just About Every Decision Made
Ella Botting is the founder of CyberWomen.co.uk, where she increases the visibility of women and non-binary people working in the tech and digital field. Ella has an #InterviewSeries, where she celebrates their successes.
She grew up in the UAE, studied Psychology (bachelor’s degree) and got her master’s (Social & Political Thought) in Leeds. Ella’s currently living in London, where she works as a public sector user researcher. Her role is to liaise with stakeholders, represent users’ needs & promote user-centred design.
Ella realized she loves writing, so her blog also became a personal space, where she reflects on her own experiences.
For 2019, Ella has set as a goal to read the ~50 non-fiction books she’s bought recently.
From our interview you’ll learn more about the authors that had an impact on her, why she changed how she commutes to work (spoiler alert: to get more reading done! 😛 ), her filtering system for the books she chooses to read, and more. Enjoy!
What books had the biggest impact on you? Perhaps changed the way you see things or dramatically changed your career path.
So many books have had a big impact on me, it’s honestly hard to pick. But I’ll try whittle it down to three. The first is George Orwell’s 1984. This book marked a fundamental shift in my mental model and the way I process and consider things. This book taught to never take things at face value and to always challenge information that is presented to me, both of these skills make me a better researcher. It taught me to be empathetic and was a stark reminder that things aren’t always what they seem, on a personal and on a macro level. Considering it’s eerie similarities to the society we now live in, it also taught me to be cautious of systems of governance but not in an over-the-top conspiracy theory way.
The second is James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. The book is a semi-fictional novel/ memoir that reflects on Frey’s battle with addiction. His story really hit home with me, he reached rock-bottom which I think I have or nearly have on a number of occasions, and overcame it. I really resonate with those kind of stories (another book is Scar Tissue), they stay with me and inspire me daily. When I feel burnt out, I think of Frey’s journey and it reminds me to take a step back and re-focus on my self-care.
The third book is Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. This may be the best book I’ve ever read. It’s a long old book and I bloody love a long book. I don’t possess the vocabulary to describe this book – it was so good, but I’d say it was an intricate analysis of the character’s daily lives and their daily lives are hella intense at times. This book reminded me that while success in the workplace is very important to me, so is the time spent with loved ones. All three of those books have both drastically changed the way I see things and helped me in my career and personal journey. They also taught me in varying ways that I really can accomplish the things I want to accomplish as well as the importance of recognising my own privilege.
Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell us about it?
Oh god yes! Several moments. Books have helped me with just about every decision I’ve ever made. One that sticks out to me was reading Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. There’s a moment in the book where Matt talks about wanting to kill himself but not having the gusto to go through with it. And I’ve been there before, in pretty much the exact circumstances he describes. I thankfully got help and I’m all good now, but it felt reassuring to read that experience and almost share it with him and know that he and maybe other people get it. It’s hard to explain but sometimes when you feel suicidal having people worry makes you feel annoyed, but being able to almost joke about it, in the way Matt does, feels quite cathartic. Although I’m certainly not saying anything about suicide is funny!
What five books would you recommend to someone who’s just starting their career? Why?
1. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho. A lovely story about how the journey is often more important than the reward. Don’t stay in a job you hate just for the big bucks.
2. Factfulness – Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund / The Perils of Perception – Bobby Duffy. You’ll be wrong at work. Lots of people don’t like getting things wrong. Both these books explain the cognitive biases that lead people to being wrong every day. Both of them helped me accept being wrong graciously.
3. The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson. You’ll meet a lot of d*ck heads at work. This book helps you prioritise how you spend your energy. I liked how Mark used examples from his real life to explain his points, means you can relate to his whole ideology more.
4. Economics, the User’s Guide – Ha-Joon Chang. A simple but in depth guide to economics that isn’t patronising. Always good to know about money & financial systems once you start earning!
5. 1984 – George Orwell. For the reasons mentioned above. This book enabled me to do a complete 360 in my mental model. Don’t take things for granted, question everything and set boundaries, especially when you’re starting a new job.
We’re interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How do you make time for reading? How often do you read? What format do you prefer?
I read religiously on my commute to and from work. I switched from driving to work to getting the train, just so I could read. It’s the best way to clear my mind before work and destress after work. It’s almost like meditation for me. If I’m super into a book I’ll just continue reading when I get home. I’ll read about four or five books when I’m on vacation, sometimes more. I know people often struggle to fit reading in, so my advice would be to read on your commute and to make some ad hoc time where you’d usually be watching TV to read, but not to feel guilty if you can’t manage it. I don’t like to be too prescriptive, I find setting myself too many metrics such as ‘read every day’ to actually be reductive because the more metrics I have the more anxious I feel, thus the less likely I am to stick to the goal or metric.
I’ll pick reading a physical book over every other format every day. I find time away from screens to be most enjoyable and better for my mental health and I love how good a bookshelf looks in a home. However, if I’m travelling or commuting I will often use my Kindle, purely to save space and weight. I also listen to audiobooks every night, I was an insomniac for years and listening to audiobooks has completely revolutionised my sleep routine. I love the sleep-timer setting on audible. However, I only listen to books that aren’t going to spike my interest too much, else I won’t want to stop listening.'Books have helped me with just about every decision I’ve ever made' - book-talk with @botting_ella, founder of CyberWomen.co.uk Click To Tweet
You set as a goal for the year to read ~50 books, mostly non-fiction. How do you filter them in the first place and decide what books are worthy of your attention? Do you leave any room for serendipity – impulsive shopping and reading? And what happens if you really dislike a book?
I’ve always loved stories and have always been hypercritical of non-fiction, often dismissing without even reading a blurb. The turning point was reading autobiographies, another genre I previously disregarded. This got me thinking if I don’t actually hate autobiographies do I actually hate non-fiction? Turns out I don’t! The reason that the majority are non-fiction on my list is purely based on me having some catching up to do. Pretty much every book on my list has been recommended by someone I admire which makes them easy to filter in the first place. I didn’t want to leave room for serendipity because I’ve spent a lot of money on the books that I’ve bought and my bookshelf is nearly full, but as an extremely spontaneous person I haven’t been able to stick to that and have already bought and read two fiction books not on that list. I will however, try my hardest to stick to the list.
I realllllllly struggle when it comes to disliking books, nothing irritates me more than starting a book and not finishing it and I think that risk is higher with non-fiction books. I often find them repetitive, sometimes boring and a bit self indulgent. I think a lot of non-fiction books on my list could be articles instead of whole books. I am going to not punish myself anymore though – if I dislike a book, I’m not going to force myself to read it, I did far too much of that whilst I was at university!
How do you make sure you retain and apply as much information from what you read? Do you have a note-taking system?
I definitely don’t have photographic memory, but when I’m reading and something stands out to me I can pretty much always remember what was said and where it was on the page, which is obviously useful. I’m a hoarder with books, so if I need a specific quote again I can usually find it quite quickly. When I’m on my kindle I highlight quotes, but have rarely returned to read those quotes again. I have tried lots of note-taking systems and never really stuck to one. My favorite is to hand-write it down stuff down in my life book, which is probably the only thing I re-read. I’ve tried loads of different project management tools and disliked them all, I do however, use notes on my iPhone which is great for blog writing and things because the iCloud makes the note magically appear on all my devices.
What are things that other people spend way too much time doing that you generally stay away from?
I don’t have a TV so I only ever watch stuff when I specifically chose to on my laptop. It’s never just on for the sake of it. But it’s only because my boyfriend and I have never been bothered to go and buy one, we don’t think we’re better than anyone who does have a TV.
Links where you can follow Ella Botting or learn more about her projects:
All books mentioned by Ella Botting in our interview:
- 1984, by George Orwell
- A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey
- Scar Tissue, by Anthony Kiedis and Larry Sloman
- A Little Life: A Novel, by Hanya Yanagihara
- Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig
- The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
- Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Ronnlund, and Ola Rosling
- The Perils of Perception: Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything, by Bobby Duffy
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, by Mark Manson
- Economics: The User’s Guide, by Ha-Joon Chang