Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Leveraging Books

As I talk about leveraging community to be more effective at what you do, let's start out with books. I think this is a good theme to develop because it really shows how the three levels of passive, engaged, and committed involvement provide successively more benefit. Books are also an easy gateway into improving yourself because people are used to reading as a learning method — we did it in school, and we're used to picking up a book on a programming language and moving on from there.

Just picking up a book and reading it is a pretty passive approach. You're letting the author push information to you without doing anything to better assimilate it. Even at this level there are some things you can do though:

  • reading intentionally, as espoused in , The Passionate Programmer
  • working on exercises presented in the book, or that you come up with yourself
  • or just taking notes in the margins or in a lab book about how you plan on using the ideas presented.

You can do better by writing or talking about the book. If you run a blog or belong to a user group (discussed in later articles in this series), you can write or present a book review or a synopsis. You could send out a short 'what I learned' email to co-workers. You could even bring these ideas out in a code review or similar setting. By synthesizing the ideas from the book with your existing expertise, you're forced to work with them in a way that teaches you more than just reading.

To really get the most out of the book, it helps to work with other people. Join a reading group (or start one). You don't have to be super formal about it, just get together with some friends over lunch or on-line. Set up a reading schedule and talk about it. Joshua Kerievsky has put together a great guide to book study groups. Even if you're going for something less structured than he discusses, there are some great ideas to be mined there.
It takes more effort, and sometimes means stepping out of you comfort zone, to be committed rather than just passively involved. The rewards are tremendous though. I'd encourage everyone to use books to become better at whatever it is you do. What books are you reading/studying? What are you doing to wring more value out of them?

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Parag said...

Nice article. It reminds me of an article I read a long time back. The author in that article describes "how he talks with books, by writing in the margins"

Having study groups is also a very good idea. One thought is to have virtual study groups for books. I believe such websites do exist, where readers can post comments and have communication around books.


gnupate said...

thanks for the comment. I like the idea of 'talking with books'. Marginalia used to bother me, then I read somewhere that it indicated the readers interest in what was written and I started to see it not as vandalism but as an enhancement.

Srdjan said...

Good article. Also, to further enhance the group study point, this could be a use case for Google Wave. It's a collaborative task and one that should be done in real-time.

Maybe the moderator or group leader could post points from a specific chapter and have the group edit and discuss the points and the chapter like that.

gnupate said...

Using Google Wave to run a book study group online is a great idea. I wonder if anyone's doing something like that yet.