Books are still the most comprehensive method to learn a new tech topic whether be it a language, library, framework, protocol, software in general or whatsoever. Learn why it is valuable to stay on top of which books are/will be in stock and how to do so. Furthermore I'm introducing you to my favourite publishers.
Reading tech books is inextricably linked with our occupation. I don't think that many businesses are as vibrant as ours. While on one hand it's fascinating to live in such interesting times on the other hand it's hard to keep up with everything that is constantly changing around us. To keep ahead you should invest your time in the best available and also most contemporary sources. So let's invest in your knowledge portfolio.
Book releases as measurement method
I would like to begin with a simple heuristic I've come up with:
“A tech topic can only be taken seriously if there are one or more books about it.”— Yours truly
This heuristic concludes that the new topics & trends that are emerging in our industry can be identified by simply monitoring new tech book releases. Of course there are, and always will be, some vibrant topics which don't have a book covering them, but eventually, these topics will be covered by paper. The point is that being backed by books says several things:
- the topic has already been considered to have sufficient relevance and maturity that a publisher accepted it
- the topic seems interesting enough for the target audience of the publisher
- the topic may be around to stay and may even gain popularity
- the ideas/technology is serious enough that your business can rely on it
- someone else has already undertaken the task of developing and introducing the topic which could save you valuable time
Staying atop of new topics and trends is essential because you certainly don't want to be the next COBOL programmer ;D. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing as long as you know that and are comfortable with this. Keep in mind that although your knowledge is always a question of supply and demand, this shouldn't be the sole reason you learn something.
How to stay up-to-date
Most of the publishers mentioned below provide pretty obvious possibilities:
- subscribe to the newsletter of their new or upcoming title
- subscribe to the RSS/Atom Feed of their new or upcoming title
- monitor their twitter messages
- look at their bestseller lists:
- O'Reilly Bestsellers
- The Pragmatic Bookshelf Bestsellers as part of their monthly released magazine
- Manning Bestsellers (scroll down)
- or just the Amazon bestsellers in the category “Computers & Internet".
Which publishers are trustworthy?
While there are certainly more publishers than I have listed below but those I know and recommend.
The important four are (no not these):
- The Pragmatic Bookshelf
The lingua franca in the geek world is certainly English, which is the reason why I'm mainly presenting publishers who put out English books. Some of the publishers also have translations of their books in stock. But when in doubt always choose the original version. The worst case scenario is where you buy the recently translated version and three weeks later the second edition is published.
The books I recommend could now be outdated, so please note their release dates ...
Probably the best publisher when quality is concerned. They offer a great variety of topics and are responsible for some classics like: Mastering Regular Expressions, Programming Perl (Camel Book) or Head First Java. The publisher's distinguishing characteristic are the animal woodcuts shown on many of their book covers.
Tim O'Reilly, a developer himself contributed to Perl and is a very influential person in the tech business. He has his finger on the pulse and often shares his insights (e.g. his well thought-out web 2.0 definition). He has his own corner around the O'Reilly site.
An interesting service is the possibility to read finished chapters of a book before it even is released. O'Reilly calls this service Rough Cuts. I haven't tried it yet, but when you are desperately looking for an up-to-date book and need it as soon as possible, this would certainly help out.
Furthermore O'Reilly writes about "insight, analysis, and research about emerging technologies" in the O'Reilly Radar blog. Sometimes it can be a bit wordy but there are definitely some interesting articles.
- HTML5: Up and Running 08/2010
- Mastering Regular Expressions 7/2006
- Learning the vi and vim Editors 7/2008
- Head First Java 2/2005
- slide:ology - The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations 8/2008
- Just a Geek 6/2004
- pocket guides in general
The Pragmatic Bookshelf (imprint of The Prag. Prog., LLC.)
"The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master" was the first book written by Andrew Hunt and Dave Thomas. The book was very well received and is now considered to be a classic read. It's success got them started in the book business and resulted in the establishment of "The Pragmatic Bookshelf".
Most of their books are about Ruby on Rails, Agile Practices, Java and JVM Languages or Tools, Frameworks and Languages in general but there are also some lesser known topics. Some of their special interest books are only available as ebook.
They produce a really good monthly released magazine about software development which is fun to read.
- Seven Languages in Seven Weeks 10/2010
- The Passionate Programmer 5/2009
- Practices of an Agile Programmer 4/2006
- The Pragmatic Programmer 10/1999
Apress Books are easily recognizable because their book covers are all colored in yellow and black. The range of books is almost always targeted towards web developers with topics like Rails, Django, Drupal, JS Libraries, ASP, Flash, Silverlight, HTML5 and CSS. Some of their books are specifically written for either beginners or professionals often having titles like "Beginning with X" or "Pro Y".
Similar to the Rough Cuts Service offered by O'Reilly, Apress is providing a service called Alpha Program which provides access to future publications by Apress and friends of ED (Imprint of Apress).
- The Definitive Guide to Django: Web Development Done Right 7/2009
- Practical Django Projects 6/2009
Manning mimics the successful unique characteristics of O'Reilly (the woodcut animals) by using regional dress customs from 200 years ago on their book covers. Titles span from Java and .Net topics (the majority) over several frameworks, tools or languages related to web development or mobile topics.
I've only read two books published by Manning so far, but those titles were really good and they certainly won't be the last that I read.
Similar to the Rough Cuts Service from O'Reilly and the Alpha Program from Apress Manning is providing MEAP (Manning Early Access Program). It's great to see this type of service becoming mainstream.
The remaining Publishers
Publishers I haven't mentioned yet and which I observe less frequently:
- Packt Publishing (covers often interesting niche topics)
- Addison-Wesley (imprint of Pearson Education, Inc.)
- Wrox Press (imprint of the John Wiley & Sons)
- Peachpit (the target audience is more focused to designers) and New Riders (imprint of Peachpit).
Reasonable German publishers
There are also some German books I really enjoyed reading.