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Reading technical (technical!) books

What's your completion percentage distribution for technical books?  I'm trying to figure out if I have a poor attention span or not.

My first programming/technical book ever, "Teach Yourself C", I only got about halfway through.  My second C book--also about halfway through.  Pascal book--all the way through (for a class).  Java book--about 4 chapters in of 15.  Access developer's handbook - halfway through.  Delphi book bought cheap--never really opened, of course I didn't even have the compiler so what does that do for me.  Lisp book - three chapters in before throwing in the towel.  HTML book-about three chapters, then I flip back and forth for reference whenever I need it.  Introduction to Databases by Date - I think I managed a chapter or so.

The first book I read cover to cover was Eric Gunnerson's "C# for Programmers" book, partially because I was very interested in C#/.NET and partially because there was no extra/boring fluff.  I haven't finished any book completely since that time.

So I score pretty poorly.  Only one book I completely finished, and I average about a third of a book before moving on.  I love all sorts of novels (the latest is Umberto Eco's tangled web "Foucault's Pendulum") but I just can't seem to sit down and run through an entire technical manual.

So what does it take for you all to wade through a technical book?  A conservatory?  Motivation?  Coding experiments?  Because whatever it takes, apparently I don't have that...whatever that is.

attention span - and there it goes
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I typically don't finish technical books with the possible exception of the for dummies books..

Generally I'll read parts of technical books, but for the most part use them as references.

Zach M
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I usually finish the technical books I've gotten, if by "finished" you mean "looked at every page."

In general, I don't really *read* technical books anymore; I skim them, get the general idea of what they're talking about and file it away for later use. For some reason my brain is really good about "oh yeah, I read about that in xxx" type recollection. So skimming gives me enough so that when I hit the problem later I know where to look.

Chris Tavares
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

i read the majority of Balena's book. I skipped a good deal of the Graphics chapters. Very informative and LONG book (over 1200 pages).

I highly recommend this book. But, more of a reference/example and read what's important to you book. When it was all said and done, i remember very little of it. Mainly because there was soooooooooooo muuuuuuuuuchhhhhhhh!

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Friend of mine read the first Java reference manual three times cover to cover when it first came out.

He has since had an excellent Java career.

Me, I'm the chapter one king of the universe. Wish I had more concentration.

anonymous for this one.
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I used to be dogmatic about finishing every tech book I started.  I would get pangs of guilt seeing unfinished works on my bookshelf.

Gradually I've gotten over it.  Now I read the first 1/4 quickly then either skim the rest or just use them for reference.

I read an interview with Charles Petzold ("Programming Windows") in which remarked that he was always surprised to meet someone that read the entire book.  He envisioned that readers would just look at the parts they needed.

Yet another anon
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

>>Me, I'm the chapter one king of the universe. Wish I had more concentration.


I must be the prince then. Ive been getting better since getting a safari subscription.


Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I have a couple that I have read completely but they're the exception not the rule!

Mostly I use them as a reference when I need them, or for learning something totally new will read as much as is necessary to start feeling comfortable then go away and experiment, referring back when needed.

Of course, there are one or two that I never even got that far with!

James U-S
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

I've found active reading helps a lot.  (not the same as speed reading). 

The idea is you skim through, pick the chapters you want to get most out of, like pointers in C.  Write down specific questions about the chapter you are seeking answers to.  Read through to find those answers.  answer those questions on paper, yes writing it down helps. 

That way you get as much out of a technical book in the areas as you really needed.  You also get a lot of background info on the general topic.  It is totally different to the Read Every Word On Every Page And Not Move On Until You Understand It method.  The REWOEPANMOUYUI method is why most people don't finish tech books.  You get bogged down in the bits you don't fully understand which may or may not be important to you and it drains away all your energy and initial interest to read it. 

One other thing that has made a big difference to me is to realise that making notes in the margins is not scarligous, it aids understanding which is the purpose of the book.  I used to keep each book pristine but since I started to use a pen (don't be tentiative and use a pencil) to make my own personal notes I have understood subjects better.  Also helps when you review or give the book to someone else. 

Ian Cheung
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

<code complete>
<writing solid code>
<the c programming language>
<debug application>

That's enough to help you earn high salary and pretend to be a hacker.

<test driven development>
<Rapid Development>
enough to manage a project.


Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Skimmer / non-finisher here, same as everybody else.  The exceptions so far:

The Pragmatic Programer

Coder to Developer

I found every chapter in TPP engaging and the whole thing is an enjoyable read.  I'm on Chapter 5 of C2D right now, but I can see it's the same way.

Ian, great suggestions for active reading!  I'm going to try those.

Also, I do a lot of my tech reading on the eliptical machine at the gym.  I think that helps because working out is so mind-numbingly boring the book is riveting by comparison.  It's cool too because it motivates me to workout, which motivates me to read.  The downside is looking like the biggest nerd in the gym, but that would probably be the case with or without book in hand.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

i've had success from looking up reviews online before purchasing a book. 

there aren't too many tech authors who are entertaining writers.  most of 'em are excrutiatingly boring (microsoft press books come to mind)  joel's a good example of a guy that's technically savvy yet easy to read.  --yeah, i'm wiping mouth, so what!  :P--  don box is another...

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

If the books are like the ones redguard mentioned, they are easy to read cover-to-cover. If they are like "xslt cookbook" or "spidering hacks," then I bought them for one of the chapters or a piece of code.

I don't get bent out of shape if I don't finish a technical book. Some of the books can best be described as "here is my code and you are welcome to it."

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

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