I’ve just listen to new .NET Rocks podcast with Don Box, and Chris Sells about, well – about myriad of things, but main topic was technical books and ways of learning new technologies. They mostly focused on shrinking market of books, as blogs become more popular and people gain their knowledge from blogs more and more and less from books.
However, I thing there is one difference that they barely touched, although it’s the most important one. There will be place for books, and not only as a way to get the zen of a technology, but as a way to be introduced to technology. Every technology, weather its a new language, framework, or tool, has a set of basic things you need to know, pitfalls you should avoid and best practices, like ‘when you do lot of manipulations on strings, use StringBuilder’. Sure – you can find those kind of information on the blogs as well, but it’s scattered, fragmented, it’s easy to have white places on your map of understanding, when you learn only from blogs or, podcasts.
Book on the other hand (at least introductory books) is written with the purpose to be complete map. It starts with the beginning and leads you through the various corners of technology to give you, maybe shallow, but more or less complete coverage of technology. When I read a book, I almost always read it from beginning to end, without skipping chapters, and I read chapters in the order.
Other thing, directly connected to the previous is: books are focused. Every blog (ok, almost) is focused on more than one thing. In other words, there is lot of information you need, but far more you don’t. You can use ‘search’ but still, it’s a hassle and it may filter out some information you need. A good example of such a ‘bloggy’ book, is ‘Effective C#‘. It’s 50 concise chapters, most of them few pages long about tricks and best practices to follow to write good c# code. Probably all of those tips can be found on blogs, but what if you want to look up something quickly? Will you google it up, and filter the information you need from the flood of answers, or grab a book, and look it up there, with confidence that you’ll find exactly what you need. In most cases the latter choice will be both, faster and better.
Next thing possibly not so important for everyone, but certainly for most people is – books are off-line medium. It has several important implications.
- I get easily distracted by IM notifications, incoming emails, and by blogposts by themselves. For example I read a blogpost, and there is some tool mentioned. It’s not important, but I’m tempted to skip reading, and go, grab it, install it and play with it. During this time I may completely forget what the blogpost was about.
- You can get a book and read it literally everywhere. Your book’s battery won’t die, because book doesn’t have a battery. You can read it in the sun, and it is stll readable, unlike on your laptop, you can even read it in places you would not take laptop with you, like in a bus or train (its a act of brevity of stupidity to use a laptop in Polish train).
My way of learning a new technology, is to read one introductory book, one intermediate, advanced, and then – when I have good idea what it is about – dive into blogs. And how about you?