When I was in college, I used to laugh at the “technical books” section of the bookstore in the mall. Well, actually I didn’t, because at the time, I would go there exculsively to drool over all the science fiction books.. $3.50 or so each.. that I could not afford, as I was living on ramen noodles and cans of peas, because that’s all I could afford. (link)
Then, when I became a working stiff paid professional, I would go to the technical books section and laugh, because.. I knew all that stuff. There was a lot less to know in the early 1990’s, and there was a lot of stuff “beneath me” (Dbase II, FoxPro, etc). (I was cool, I was porting apps from Clipper S87 to 6.0, and nothing came even close to the beauty of LPC)
In the late 1990’s, I would sneer, because I was a close-minded anti-microsoft pro-linux-perl guy, and I really did not want to know MFC. I did, however, buy and own the Perl Cookbook, which opened my mind to the amazing ways to hack things into place to get things done. I used that book a LOT. (The next year, i got sent to C# class because they had an extra spot, and I have changed my mind about Microsoft) actually, I would say that Microsoft changed, and no longer annoyed me. C# was almost as awesome as LPC. (link)
For a while, in 2006 – when I found myself facing unemployment (it lasted all of about 2 weeks), i found myself browsing technical books, lamenting: so much to learn, what shall I learn? I ended up gravitating towards unit testing and Asp.Net WebForms, which I learned almost entirely via google, not from a book. Thank you .Net Rocks and http://www.hanselminutes.com/ for the pointers! In this case, the dead-tree books did not do anything for me, and being unemployed, I felt I shouldn’t be spending $$$ if stuff was available on the internet for free.
I did buy some technical books in 2008 to read on vacation – wow, that was a rousing success. (Not). I hardly picked them up. A waste of $100+. (Patterns and Practises in C#, something else). They’re still too expensive, when all of that knowledge is available for relatively free on the internet.
So, i repeat the question:
Why would I ever buy a technical book?
I bought one two nights ago. I wanted to know about how to use EF Code First – I couldn’t sleep – I bought the book on my iPad Kindle – and I read it, cover to cover, in about 45 minutes. And my lightbulb was born.
Here is what is different:
- I have a very specific application, for which I might need the technology. This is not “reading for fun”, but rather, reading to get a specific job done.
- I don’t know enough about the technology to know what to search for. (searching online only gave me introductory examples, nothing with real meat.)
- I’m approaching it not as “a ton of money spent for a dead paperweight that I’ll never look at again”, but rather as a fairly inexpensive class briefing me in a specific subject which i can refer back to later. Most of these books cost me less than an hour’s work, after taxes. (I am a professional, and I need to know as much as possible, as quickly as possible, to give my client the kind of service that I want to give them.)
- I have an e-reader. on my iPad, and pretty soon, on an e-ink device. I can archive with impunity, without killing bookshelves.
And thus, I’m sold. Here’s what I choose to read up on for my current client, to ensure I’m giving them the best that I can:
- PostgresSQL (done) (pdf, free)
- EF CodeFirst (done) ($10)
- EF (general)
- Asp.Net MVC 3 +/- Razor
- Dependency Injection (Structuremap vs Unity)