The Pragmatic Craftsman :: Simplicity from complexity : by Stanley Kubasek ::

Continuous Learning by Reading

I was slipping…

I got my B.S. in Computer Science from NJIT after four years. I spent another two years there and got my M.S., in CS as well. In between, I got my first full-time job. I can say that everything was going well. What could be better? Yet, not realizing it, I was slipping. I wasn’t learning any new technologies. I wasn’t keeping up with new books. I wasn’t improving myself. Yet I thought I was doing fine.

So what happened? I came across Steve McConnell and The Pragmatic Programmers (Dave Thomas and Andrew Hunt). I met Steve through his classic book, Code Complete. It opened my eyes. It woke me up from my sleep. The Pragmatic Programmers made sure I’m awake.

Steve and The Pragmatic Programmers directed me to a path of continual improvement. In order to improve, they told me, I have to constantly read. They told me to constantly learn and practice new technologies. They told me to invest in my knowledge portfolio continuously, just like I invest in my stocks.

That’s why, I know now, to be a software craftsman, and stay a craftsman, the most critical element for me is to get better every month, every year. Constantly. Reading is a great way to accomplish that.

ReadingReading is probably the best way of improving yourself. There are a lot of experts in the software industry. But we don’t get to meet or hear them (unless we’re lucky). A lot of the experts want to share their information with those that want to learn, though. How do they do that? They do it by writing. We, on the other side, can receive that information by reading their works. Read…

Read books.Read at least 5 to 6 books per year. Steve McConnell recommends reading a book every two months (roughly 35 pages per week). The Pragmatic Programmers recommend reading a book every quarter, and then eventually moving to a book a month (mixing it with non-technical books). I think both of the recommendations are adequate. Steve goes on to say, that if you do that, you’ll distinguish yourself from everybody around you.

I have taken their recommendation to heart. I have started reading a technical book every two months. Recently, I’ve upped it to a book every month. I’ve been on this continuous reading path for over a year now. And you know what? I’ve never been more confident. I want to stay humble here, but I can see that I’m doing more than the guys around me. I’m distinguishing myself more and more every month. I知 feeling good. :-)

But there are so many books to read! Yes, that’s true. But I follow this approach: I read the best books. I read books with a 5-star rating on (or close to it). “I only read the great ones,” said Jerry Weinberg, when asked by Joshua Kerievski how he keeps up with all the books that come out. Follow this approach and you’ll be fine.

Read magazine articles and journals.Reading books is great, but you also have to keep up with the industry. You should know what new technology are coming up. You should be aware of your surroundings. The best way to do that is by reading magazines and journals.

I read a lot of magazines. I start off a week by checking out eWeek and InfoWorld (both free). Every other week I receive an issue of SD Times (free). These 3 magazines are the Newsweek for IT, they tell me what’s happening. Every month I get JDJ, Communications of the ACM, Queue, IEEE Computer, Software Development (very good; free), Better Software (very good), and an issue of CrossTalk (free). Every other month I receive the IEEE Software (my favorite). These magazines tell me about new technologies. They tell me about new development techniques. They teach me new ways of doing development. And they also lead me to good books. All of this for almost nothing (I only pay for IEEE Software).

Read blogs and newsletters.I read books every month, magazines every week, and I read software blogs every day. There are so many good, expert bloggers out there that I think it would be a waste not to check out what they have to say. You have to pick what you like as there are a lot of good developers writing/bloggin. Reading Joel on Software (especially the archive) is one of the best, though. (I have over 100 feeds at my Bloglines account.)

When I graduated from college, I thought I knew it all. I thought that on-the-job learning and experience will be enough. It might have been enough for my current job, but what would happen if I lost that job? Would I be prepared? No! I have to take things into my own hands. I have to learn for myself and by myself. Reading continuously is a great way to learn and has been my savior for my renewed confidence.

Steve made me realize that it doesn’t take that much to be one of the best in your group, to be on par with the best in the software industry, to feel like you belong in the software industry. My advice? Read constantly and you’ll get there.

I’ve recently changed the way I work as well. I said it to myself, I have two things to do at work: one, to do what’s asked of me in the best possible way, and two, to improve myself as a developer, and I do that by reading books and technical blogs. I have virtually eliminated reading news, sports, and other time consuming resources. I’m on a mission here: I want to be one of the best in the industry. I want to be a software craftsman.

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