Writing by Peter Hilton

Talk about technical books

Learning how to become a better software/product developer/manager - 13 April 2021 #books #learning

People talking about a book

unsplash-logoAlexis Brown

Read technical books, by which I mean books about your profession’s techniques, or whose index contains its jargon. If you make a habit of it, you’ll need to figure out how to find good books, along with what good even means.

Looking for good new ideas and new books means trying to figure which ones to try, because you can’t read them all. Fortunately, this presents a worthwhile side quest.

Talk to people about good books

Discussing books with other people helps you figure out what to read. It turns out that everyone has a different notion of good, and a different top three books on any given topic, so you can learn a lot from figuring out your own version.

Talking about good books also exposes another useful side effect: learning about different parts of your field. You don’t get far trying to list the top books for a whole profession, so you have to narrow it down. However, when you zoom into a specialist field, you discover a fractal geometry of topics: you’ll always find a smaller niche for a top-three books list.

Write book reviews

If talking (or tweeting) about books works for you, it may escalate into writing about books, typically in the form of book reviews. Whatever your motivation for reviewing books, expecting to write a review helps you focus on reading a book properly. You can write a book review however you like, but if you don’t know where to start, this outline works for me:

  1. Start by describing the book’s topic and scope.
  2. Highlight the book’s central idea, or summarise the key ideas from each third of the book.
  3. Share some insights you gained from the book.
  4. Conclude with your recommendation for who should read the book, if anyone.

These steps force me to think about a book in more detail than one that I merely read. I also find that it helps to take notes, even if only in the form of my favourite quotations from each chapter, to remind me what stood out.

Curate a library

If you read enough books, for long enough, you get to build your own library, either physical or electronic. Collecting books on a topic gives you the opportunity to understand how they relate to each other. Even if you don’t find your perfect book, books in a collection may compensate for each others’ weaknesses. That explains why you feel less pressure recommending three books on a topic, instead of just one.

If you have space, and some shelves, physical books also improve your online meetings’ bookcase credibility. And if you need stretch goals in life, you might find inspiration inpictures of bookcases you can’t have.