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Book Pushers

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The last large contract I worked on, we had the book guy -- you know, the guy who brought a new book in every week. Each book was awesome, and many of us usually gathered around to hear how he was enjoying it. We sat around drooling over the book jackets. Very sad. (grin)

I got some good books based on conversations with that guy, but I also got burnt-out. Every week a new book! After a couple of months my "to-read" stack had gotten completely out of control, taking up it's own corner in the house. After four months I almost started dreading to see which new book he would bring.

You know, I got so burnt-out on books that I stopped reading for almost six months? I actually started resenting the guy, calling him a "book dealer" and "book pusher", just like the comparable "drug dealer" and "drug pusher". I tried to be friendly, and I liked the guy, but it was just too much.

Of course, it's nothing like drugs: books are good for you, even books that aren't written so well. Living in the boonies, I have learned everything I know from reading books, so of all people, I'm definitely not one to complain! And his and my reading speed were completely different: he took large chunks of time to read, while I found other things to do.

And -- to beat all, I ended up starting hn-books, a site dedicated to using books to answering questions hackers might have by telling them what other hackers are recommending to each other.

If there is a Great Kahuna, he has to be laughing about now.

What I've found with my book experiences: with being self-taught, with getting great book ideas from other hackers, with writing a couple of small pieces for programming books, with starting my own site -- is that books and hackers go together in a way that I think is even tighter than fiction authors and their readers. As hackers, things are changing constantly: somebody told me once that every two years, the cutting edge of programming ditches about 80% of what they knew and pick up something else. I don't know if that's true or not, but I know that this business is fast-moving and dynamically-changing in ways other businesses are not. And I know that books contain the key to mastering that in a way that conferences and verbal communication does not.

Not only do we learn around books, we socialize around books too. I'll never forget the first team I had in which everybody had read Code Complete. Woo hoo! We're really going to crank out some good code now! Or the first time I met somebody else who grokked analysis from reading Coad-Yourdon's Object-Oriented Analysis. If you asked me today to name the one technical problem I see over and over again with companies, it's failure to understand OOA and how it's different from OOD or OOP. Everybody just lumps them all together, and nobody knows how to do analysis. Crying-out loud shame.

We even measure our professional lives by books. I can remember many points in my career where reading a certain book made a big difference in the way I did my job and the way I looked at others. Many times I took the ideas in the book too far, eventually figuring out that books are much more advisory than instructive, but that's part of growing in your career as well.

So I have really enjoyed getting back into reading books on hn-books over the last couple of months. I've also enjoyed getting emails from other guys who are also writing book sites. Just today there was a cool one posted on hn, "hackerbooks" And I've had a bunch of other guys tell me their sites are almost done.

I think that's great, and I can't wait to see what ideas others have. The stuff we do as hackers is so complex, there are so many moving pieces, that we need to do whatever we can to help each other try to sort out what's a good thing to read versus what's a waste of time. Because if we don't do it, the book publishers aren't going to do it for us. This isn't "what did Stephen King write lately". This is "What do I need to know to achieve goal X?" A hell of a lot more important.

We are coming up on 12 reviews for hn-books, after which I promised to take a look at the numbers. My early impressions are the site will never be more than a hobby, perhaps paying for the books I read and maybe a bit more, but even if that's the case, it's still valuable to me. And I think to the community as a whole.

Maybe being a book pusher isn't that bad of a thing after all.

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This page contains a single entry by DanielBMarkham published on February 22, 2011 11:11 AM.

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Recently I created a list of books that hackers recommend to each other -- what are the books super hackers use to help guide them form their own startups and make millions? hn-books might be a site you'd like to check out.
On the low-end of the spectrum, I realized that a lot of people have problems logging into Facebook, of all things. So I created a micro-site to help folks learn how to log-in correctly, and to share various funny pictures and such that folks might like to share with their friends. It's called (appropriately enough) facebook login help