Are Programming Books Worth It? 3 Things To Keep In Mind

So, you’re trying to learn how to code and want to know if programming books are worth your time and energy? Well, as a programmer who has done everything from university courses, online learning, building my own projects, and obviously reading books, I can tell you they are definitely worth it.

However, there is a strong caveat that comes with that statement. Although books can be a great way to solidify your knowledge and improve the foundation that you continue to learn from, they can also be a huge waste of time. Below I am going to outline a few things to look for when deciding which books to read to better your knowledge and when to read them.

So without further ado, let’s jump into how we can make programming books worth it!

1. Look For The Highest Quality Books

This one might sound obvious, but please do not waste your time with outdated or poorly written books. You want to be reading books from people who are both knowledgable in what they’re talking about and also well written and provide real value to you.

Not sure where to find books like this? Online reviews can be very helpful. I personally like going to amazon and filtering by the highest-rated books. This is how I filter books.

This way, you can search for any type of topic you want to learn about and can read reviews right on the platform, and then obtain the book by whatever means you want later.

I generally like to do some additional research. Such as looking up some Reddit reviews from real people or watching some youtube videos to make sure the book truly was helpful in teaching what you want to learn. From there, it’s as simple as putting in the time to read!

2. Read About Concepts, Not Technologies

A second, very important aspect of reading books to keep in mind is to not read about specific technologies! Why? Because technologies change quickly and books about them become outdated.

If you want to learn React, for example, it’s better to learn by reading documentation and creating your own projects. Learning React may take you a couple of months but that learning process looks a lot different now than it did a few years ago.

Whereas the concepts in a book like Clean Code or The Pragmatic Programmer are timeless. Simply because they teach you transferable skills that you can carry with you in your coding career. They focus a lot more on how to write good code and ideologies to follow and less on specific coding practices.

In addition to these generalized books. I found a lot of benefits in getting algorithm or data structures books like The Algorithm Design Manual which teaches subjects in a very practical way with reading material that doesn’t change.

No matter what you decide to learn, just make sure it’s knowledge that will carry you through your career and not on a specific technology that will become outdated quickly. For instance, studying language design can help a lot in learning new languages but reading books on a specific language probably won’t be as helpful. You are better off learning by doing!

3. Use Books As Supplementary Learning, Not Primary Learning Material

This brings us to our final point. Do not ever use books as your primary way of learning how to code! Reading is a great supplementary exercise. Especially when your brain is too fried to actually do any more programming for the day. It is a way for you to gain generalized knowledge from those more experienced than you and utilize it in your practice.

As a self-taught developer with minimal schooling, I felt it was very helpful to read books from authors that are well regarded because it ensured me I was on the right path when I had no other mentors.

Reading books helped me gain a lot of knowledge in a short amount of time which really pushed me to re-evaluate how I was writing code and being the best programmer I could be.

That being said, if I only read books or barely coded, I wouldn’t retain any of that knowledge. Nor would it be any use because I wouldn’t be improving my actual coding skills.

Summary

So that’s about it! Are programming books really worth it? Definitely, but programming books are only a tool and it really depends on how you are using them.

For programming books to be effective you need to remember three things:

  1. Make sure to read high-quality books. Do some research on the author and their background. Do they actually know what they are talking about? Have they worked in the industry long? etc. In addition to that, you want to be sure the book actually portrays their knowledge well. I have had many teachers who are incredibly intelligent but terrible communicators. Ultimately, there wasn’t much I could take away from their thoughts or experiences that I couldn’t directly see about them because of that fact.
  2. Stick to content that will persist. If the book you are reading will be out of date in a few years, it probably isn’t going to be worth your time and energy to read it. If you want to learn a specific programming language or framework, just read to documentation and start using it. Reading a book about these will likely just slow you down. If you want to learn how all programming languages work, now that’s a different story.
  3. Only use it as supplementary material: Programming books can be great to gain a deeper understanding of the field you are in and to better yourself. However, if you want to be a great coder, you need to code and code a lot! Don’t let books take up too much of your time. If it takes away from your programming practice hours, don’t do it.

That’s about it! How to make programming books worth it. If you are a new developer just getting started in web development, check out my list of free resources here. If you want to check out some great courses on web development, you can find them here.

Happy coding!